COMMENT:

Seventeen years ago this week I set off from Auckland on a United Airlines flight to Los Angeles and transferred to another United flight to Boston. I was booked on a tour to travel from the Canadian border, down though New England, seeing the glorious autumn colours, learning the history and going south to Philadelphia, finishing in New York.

At LA, the flight to Boston left late and I was surprised how few passengers were on the plane. I was in first class and there was only one other occupant, a man sitting in the back row. The curtain to economy was not drawn and there were just seven men back there scattered around the cabin.

The trip across the country was a joy, a cloudless day. My husband and I had driven extensively years before through the Rockies and deserts and national parks. To see it all laid out beneath the plane was spectacular. The hostess did not seem to know what we were flying over but I think we had crossed Lake Michigan and Lake Erie when night encompassed us very quickly.

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I dozed off and awoke to movement in the cabin. The man in first class had gone back and was talking to the men now grouped in the rear cabin. I am certain we had passed over the Twin Towers, quite low, when the captain came on the intercom saying the plane would arrive late as he had taken a wide detour to avoid a storm coming in from the east and affecting the Boston area.

I noted in my diary it was 10.15pm when we landed at Boston's Logan Airport. There were no staff in the arrivals hall. I walked past closed offices and shuttered stalls and when I went to pick up my bag there were only two other cases on the carousel. I felt quite panicky as I had been told by my travel agent there was a regular shuttle bus to the city that would take me to the Tremont hotel. I could find no phone, I didn't have a cellphone then, and there were no taxis to be seen.

After what seemed ages, a taxi came past and I arrived at the hotel greatly relieved but somewhat shaken.

I was carrying a parcel a friend had asked me to leave for them at the hotel reception for her daughter to collect. So I handed them to the receptionist and told him how spooky the deserted buildings were at Logan and asked if it was normal for no one to be working there at night.

He said probably it was because it was last plane that night and it was very late.
It was a clear night and I asked if there had been a bad storm in Boston earlier. He replied it had been a perfect day.

I had a day in Boston before my tour started and I woke up early that day, September 11, to catch the city tour. We went round the Common, down Beacon Hill, past Liberty Hall and the Port area. It was there that the RT on the bus rang.

The driver stopped and said, "Something terrible has happened. It appears a light plane has crashed into one of the Twin Towers." He said he was worried as his son worked in one of the towers.

The tour continued and perhaps half an hour later the RT went again and this time the driver said a second plane had gone into the other tower. It was now feared it was a terrorist attack. As a precaution central Boston was to be evacuated, and his orders were that passengers had to get off the bus and with the aid of the maps find their own way back to their hotels.

Later in the day I went walking, retracing some of the route traversed in the morning. Everywhere flags were flying at half mast, but hardly a person was to be seen, nothing was open and there was no traffic. On the Common an old man was sitting on the bench. I said, "Hello" and he replied, "I am staying here. This is Armageddon".

Surprisingly next morning the city tour bus ran again. What a change. The central city was almost devoid of people and traffic, and the harbour was empty of ships. Small shops close to the hotel were open. Cars and motorcycles and every window displayed a Stars and Stripes.

The patriotism was amazing and so many people were very kind. The hotel asked me if my room was comfortable and when I said it was the usual "broom cupboard" single travellers on a tour often are given, they moved me to a suite and charged what they called a distressed rate, and included breakfast.

Nine days after I arrived in Boston, having come to love the city and its environs, I was in the first tour group to leave, made up of people who had been stranded in Boston by various cancellations.

In my diary on September 11 I'd wondered if the flight I'd arrived on was one of the United planes from Logan Airport that was flown into one of the Towers. I was shocked to realise, when the details emerged, that my conjecture was probably correct.

I was certainly the last passenger to leave the airport the night before and I had reported the eeriness of the airport to the hotel receptionist. Could I have done more?

Ann Gluckman, now 91, was for many years principal of Nga Tapuwai College in Mangere.