Chief Warrant Officer 4 Brian Robinson was the pilot-in-command of the C-26 Metroliner that carried a total of 14 Colorado National Guardsmen to and from Washington the second week of September 2001.
He's a senior instructor pilot with Detachment 33 Operational Support Airlift Command.
Col. Larry Ciancio and I were tasked to fly the senior leadership of the Colorado Guard out to Washington for numerous meetings. We arrived on Sept. 10, 2001, and stayed at the Doubletree Hotel, across from the Pentagon.
On the morning of Sept. 11, every member of our flight departed for their respective offices for meetings. Col. Ciancio went as well to meet with National Guard Bureau Aviation.
I stayed in my hotel room.
I was still sleeping when my cell phone rang. It was my wife. She told me to turn on the television. The first plane had hit the World Trade Center. The news was reporting an “accident” had occurred. My wife asked me how that could happen, but I had no answer for her. While we were discussing the “accident,” the second airplane slammed into the Tower Two. It was immediately apparent that the United States was under attack. Our world had changed in an instant. I tried my best to calm my wife, but not much could be done. I ended the call so that I could attempt to get in touch with Col. Ciancio.
I tried to call Col. Ciancio, but all I could get was a busy signal. I figured they would get the news soon enough, and decided to just wait it out.
I sat on my bed watching the news in astonishment. Without warning, the curtains suddenly moved inward toward the room, quickly followed by an extremely loud explosion. I rushed to open the curtains and saw an enormous fireball rising above the Pentagon’s north side. I knew it was no accident and the enormity of what was happening quickly came into literal view.
As I watched people come streaming out of the Pentagon, I felt a rush of differing emotions; dread, fear, confusion. I called my wife. She knew the Pentagon had been attacked before the national news could even report it. I wasn’t sure what to do next. Do I leave the hotel? Where would I go? Where is everybody? Were there some of our people in the Pentagon?
I stayed put, glued to the TV, with the burning Pentagon visible out my window.
It was more than an hour before I heard from anyone. Col. Ciancio called to tell me the group that was at Guard Bureau was heading back to the hotel. At least three were at the Pentagon. No word from them. It was hours before we found out that everyone was safe.
We stayed together for the rest of the day. It was difficult to find food. The hotel had been saturated by the evacuation of Pentagon personnel and was out of food. We were able to find a small grocery store and bought what we could for dinner. We spent the evening together in Col. Ciancio’s room, watching the Pentagon smolder.
We decided that we should get back to Colorado as soon as possible. With a few phone calls, it was determined that we would be allowed to fly home.
We departed Washington’s Dulles airport sometime around noon on Sept. 12. The flight was surreal, with only us and military fighter aircraft allowed to fly.
Usually, there are a dozen or more aircraft talking to a controller as we fly across the country. Communication between aircraft and the controllers is almost a constant background noise, but not on that day. We were it, the only one. The controllers would occasionally announce “Any aircraft airborne without a discrete transponder code is subject to being shot down.” The frequency was otherwise quiet. A very lonely feeling indeed.
Not much was said by anyone during the flight home. We all knew how our lives would never be the same.
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