It was a quiet morning.
September 11, 2001.
Jonathon Vrabel, operations manager for the Dayton International Airport, was chatting in the airport director’s office when a startling bit of video interrupted the conversation.
“We’re watching this video of a 767 striking the World Trade Center, and as we watch, we start trying to figure out how a plane could hit a tower in Manhattan. We’re going through the possible scenarios — was there an issue with air traffic control, could it be pilot error, a medical issue,” Vrabel recalled.
“Of course, like so many others, we were still watching when the second plane hit. We had our answer at that moment. This was not a plane crash. Somebody planned this. This was an attack.”
And then director’s phone started ringing.
“My day went to hell real fast,” Vrabel said. “Everything changed in an instant.”
Meanwhile, about 170 miles away, in Huntington, Mike Paugh was part of the morning rush at Marshall University.
A bit older than his classmates, Paugh enrolled after a stint in the United States Marine Corps. He was a reservist based out of Cross Lanes, W.Va. on Sept. 11, 2001.
“I had just walked into my buddy’s dorm lobby and there was a crowd gathered around the television talking about a plane hitting the World Trade Center. I can remember thinking, ‘What an absolutely horrible accident.’ ” Paugh said. “Then we watched the second one hit, live. Boom. Immediately, I knew this was no accident. I remember that specifically, thinking there is no way this was an accident.”
Paugh said he and many others skipped class as news of the morning’s events unfolded. He said he also remembers calling his father.
Then his phone started ringing.
“So during all this I ended up getting a call from a platoon sergeant saying we were on standby,” Paugh recalled. “He said ‘Be ready.’ I’ll never forget that.”
Back in Dayton, Vrabel and other airport staff were scrambling to receive an influx of grounded aircraft, including a TWA 767 the FBI initially suspected could be carrying hijackers.
“That plane landed and the FBI came out. They wanted to interview the crew and then they wanted to interview the passengers. While that was going on, we were on complete lockdown. Nobody was going anywhere,” Vrabel said.
Vrabel said that even as he left for home late that evening, he had no idea just how much everything had already changed.
“At the time, we were still thinking that by the next morning we’d be having planes in and departing passengers. That didn’t happen,” he said.
“I came in the next morning expecting things to be ramped back up and moving, but that’s when we started getting the first information about the new laws coming down. That was all happening behind the scenes. But when I walked into the building that morning, it was quiet. I had never walked into that building where it was quiet like that. You could hear a pin drop from one end to the other. It was a very eerie feeling.”
Vrabel, who serves today as director of the Morgantown Municipal Airport, said there no real way to measure how the events that took place on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 have impacted not only air travel, but daily life.
Paugh, who serves as the floodplain administrator and GIS coordinator for Monongalia County, agrees.
“Luckily, depending on how you look at it. I never had to go. I was out before it all seriously escalated in 2003, 2004. But I had a lot of friends who ended up over there and never came home. I had a really close friend, Josh Wilfong, from Parkersburg. He graduated the year after me. He was killed in Iraq. He and I used to come home together during the holidays when we were on active duty,” Paugh said.
“This country has never been the same since that moment. Our entire perception was permanently changed. It’s just not the same anymore.”