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9-11 remembered

By Staff | Sep 10, 2011

Ten years ago American lives changed forever on Sept. 11.

That Tuesday morning, American Airlines Flight 11 left Logan Airport in Boston to Los Angeles, with United Airlines Flight 175 leaving a few minutes behind to the same destination.

American Flight 77, which departed from Washington D.C. Dulles International, was also headed to LA. Meanwhile, United Flight 93 took off from Newark bound for San Francisco.

The course of those planes abruptly changed when men of Middle Eastern descent overpowered flight crews using boxcutters and made their way into the cockpits and seized control.

At 8:45 a.m., an explosion rocked the north tower of the World Trade Center as American Airlines Flight 11 hit the building. Eighteen minutes later, United Flight 175 slammed into the south tower of the World Trade Center.

At 9:30 a.m. American Flight 77 struck the Pentagon.

The last plane never made it to its destination.

Eight months and 19 days after the towers collapsed in New York the clean-up was completed at Ground Zero. The final tally of the terrorist attack left 2,823 people dead, 1.8 million tons of debris, 108,342 truckloads and 3.1 million man hours.

The events that unfolded on that day a decade ago left a lasting mark on many residents of Southwest Florida.

n Joe Mazurkiewicz

Joe Mazurkiewicz flew into Washington D.C. with 21 high school juniors from the Lee County School District on the night of Sept. 9 10 years ago to take part in a U.S. Rep. Porter Goss program at the capital. The group was scheduled to have a private tour of the capitol on Sept. 11.

On that Tuesday 10 years ago Mazurkiewicz said they were walking in the tunnels from the congressman’s office towards the capitol when a message was relayed to evacuate.

Due to the evacuation, Mazurkiewicz and the 21 students were out on the streets. The experience was “very freaky,” he said, because they were sharing the streets with law enforcement personnel who were carrying automatic weapons.

To get the students off the streets, they were brought into safety at Goss’s residence a block or two from the capitol.

“It was really scary,” Mazurkiewicz said, adding that “I never felt the kids were in danger.”

Once they arrived back to their hotel, the group could see and smell the Pentagon burning as they watched helicopters fly around in the night sky.

“The kids were great,” he said. “They knew it was a crisis situation. They handled it very well.”

Emotions rose that day, he remembered.

“It left a life-long experience on each one of them,” Mazurkiewicz said.

The group was able to catch a 21-hour bus ride, where the parents were ecstatic to see and pick up their sons and daughters.

Mazurkiewicz still thinks about the attacks.

“Just knowing that we were that close to potential danger and walked away with nothing is pretty amazing,” he said. “It was a unique experience that changed all of our lives.”

He said the fact that they were that close to what was considered to be a target, gave them a personal look at the threat to American safety.

n Joseph Andujar

Joseph Andujar, a New York Police Department first responder and survivor, began his day 10 years ago like many other Americans on Sept. 11, 2001 – home asleep and getting ready for the day to start.

The constant ringing of the phone awoke Andujar who thought it was about one of his children who went to school not feeling well. The phone call was not the school, but his mother informing him that a plane had just struck one of the towers of the World Trade Center.

The television was immediately turned on and he watched the replay of the first plane striking the tower. before seeing the second plane hit the tower live on TV.

“I told her I loved her and to trust me and my training,” Andujar said to his mother after watching tragedy unfold on TV. He went on to tell her that he did not know when he would be back, but reassured her that he loved her, but had to go.

Two additional phone calls were made to his wife and sister and nephews, relaying the same information that he loved them.

Andujar, who lived 75 miles northwest of the city, jumped on his motorcycle and traveled more than 100 miles per hour into the city. He said his was the only vehicle on the roadway and he encountered many roadblocks along the way. After showing his credentials he was allowed to continue.

“I crossed the George Washington Bridge … I was literally by myself,” Andujar said.

While driving on the bridge he saw the two towers on fire before arriving at the police station to change into his uniform and sit down with his captain.

The calls for assistance began coming in.

“If anyone could hear my voice, we need all manpower down here now,” he said about the calls they heard.

Eye contact was made between the two of them across the table as his captain gave him the green light to head to Ground Zero. Although his captain could not provide him with a police vehicle, Andujar still made his way there on his motorcycle.

Only three people knew his whereabouts before leaving the police station that day, including those he worked with.

“It was a surreal experience,” Andujar said about his encounter with the dust cloud as he traveled to the attack site.

The dust cloud, he said was about an inch to two inches thick of a texture both gritty and sandy.

“The feel made your throat dry and pasty,” he said. “The further south I got the deeper it became and the more I encountered of it.”

Andujar eventually made it to the pile, the location where the collapse occurred, and could not believe what he saw – patrol cars overturned, on fire and crushed; fire trucks on fire and ambulances left in destruction.

“It was quiet,” Andujar said about his surroundings. “You heard the roar of the flames and felt the heat, but no screams for help. It was a very weird, surreal experience.”

Although he had many years of experience as a police officer and a volunteer fireman, he said nothing prepared him for what unfolded on 9-11.

“It was a perfect storm of catastrophe,” he said: The combination of three destructions simultaneously occurring. Andujar said there was a high rise structure fire that was compounded on top of a airplane stuck in the building, along with structures collapsing.

After taking in his surroundings, he began to conduct a permitter search to look for survivors.

“There was just nothing to be found,” he said. “A very difficult time.”

Andujar decided to head under some of the rubble to further his search before realizing that he was not supposed to go in by himself.

“I made it back out into the light and above the rubble and the pile and saw that ambulances were being loaded and transported with injured firemen and first responders,” he said.

The thought then occurred to him that he should start doing ambulance escorts, which he did, using his motorcycle to accompany ambulances to local hospitals.

At the end of the day, he headed back to his precinct, which surprised everyone because he was considered missing as no one knew his exact whereabouts.

Andujar headed back to Ground Zero with assistance from his colleagues and stayed there for a few days before being ordered from his boss to take some time off. He went back home and spent time with his family before heading back again.

The work continued for 20 hours a day, which only left Andujar with three hours of sleep until nothing else could be picked up.

Twelve of his colleagues were lost that day.

“I think about it every day,” he said. “Every day I get up and I dedicate this day to them. I pledge that I will do everything I can to do right by them to remember them.”

He said although those who were intimately involved with the horrific events of 9-11 will never forget, a buffer has evolved.

“Distance creates a buffer and 10 years is a considerable amount of time,” Andujar said. “Time heals wounds and makes people forget.”

Now, he said, patriotism is not being reflected the same way it was immediately following the attacks.

“Today you don’t see flags on any cars and it is a little disheartening,” he said.

Andujar retired from NYPD in 2004 before accepting a job with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office in 2006. He is now a road deputy in the Bonita Springs area.

n Randy Kraus

The plans that a New York City paramedic had for Sept. 11 10 years ago was to play golf with his friends. That changed once he found out that the Twin Towers had been hit.

“They did a recall of everybody as soon as the plane hit,” Randy Kraus said, adding that he was called into service because the lower Manhattan area was where he worked as a paramedic. “Everything was burning by the time we got there.”

When Kraus arrived at Ground Zero he said what he saw was the worst thing he could have ever imagined in his life.

The scene he remembers was hundreds of people running out of the building towards him seeking help.

“It was unorganized chaos,” he said. “It was a war zone. It was horrible.”

The day did not end until 4 the following morning when he was able to go home.

Because lower Manhattan was his zone he worked by responding to 911 calls instead of doing cleanup at the attack site.

“We had to to cover everybody and still respond to the 911 calls,” Kraus said. “All we did was do our job.”

Those calls came in left and right, he explained due to respiratory problems, along with tending to rescue workers at the cleanup site.

Kraus decided to move to Lee County in October 2003 with his family and six or seven of the guys he worked with because of the events that unfolded after 9-11. He said he was issued bulletproof vests and gas masks while he worked as a paramedic in the city.

“I had enough,” he said.

Kraus lost more than a dozen of his friends that day, including one of his partners.

He is now a lieutenant and medical officer for the Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District.

Although the week of 9-11 has been extremely hard for him over the last 10 years, this year brought forth a unique experience. In July he traveled back to New York with two other guys from the Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District to bring a piece of American history to Lee County.

That piece of history, a piece of the World Trade Center, weighs 700 pounds and is 30 inches by 16 inches by 16 inches. The piece will travel around to different ceremonies in Lee County before making a permanent stop at the Fort Myers Beach Fire Department this weekend.

n Nancy Moylan

Although American Airlines flight attendant Nancy Moylan, who is based out of Boston, was not working on 9-11, the events that unfolded that day forever changed her life.

She had been discharged from the hospital the day before the attacks occurred 10 years ago and was not scheduled to fly for the next three days as a domestic flight attendant.

Moylan was at home with another flight attendant when they saw the plane hit the first tower on television.

“When it hit the second building, we ran to the computer to find who the crew was,” she said about her fellow co-workers on American Airlines flight 11.

No information about the crew was available, because everything was “locked out.”

Moylan said she remembered there being three new flight attendant hires on the plane.

The only thing the flight attendants could do was look at the line, or crew, that was supposed to be on the flight that left Boston that day.

She remembers that they did not find out which crew members flew for 24 hours.

Moylan said because of the efforts of her fellow co-worker, flight attendant Madeleine Amy Sweeney, who was in the back of the plane of Flight 11, they were able to understand what happened.

She said that Amy was able to call the MOD office in Boston due to the plane flying so low. She said 10 years ago planes had phones in them.

“She was able to place the call… they stayed on the phone with them until they hit the building,” she said about Sweeney.

Moylan said because Amy had the opportunity to call from the back of the plane and witness all the horrific things that were going on, she could relay what passengers were onboard, along with knowing when the two terrorists went into the cockpit.

Moylan had just flown with Sweeney a few weeks before 9-11. She said she remembered hearing stories about how Amy had to leave for work quietly because her 3- and 5-year olds used to beg her not to go to work.

“It was certainly something we will never forget in Boston,” she said. “It was very, very hard.”

“I went to 11 funerals in three days,” she said.

Moylan traveled to the World Trade Center at Ground Zero shortly after the attacks occurred and was pleased to see a platform was built for the flight crews that lost their lives.

She said people left notes and prayed at Ground Zero.

A moment that will never leave her memory was the eery feeling of the attack site. Moylan said she remembers hearing terrible, loud construction noises that went silent every time firefighters came out of the hole with another body on a stretcher with a flag draped over them.

Although horrific events occurred 10 years ago, Moylan said she is still flying. She flew domestic for eight years and now is a flight attendant for international flights to London and Paris from Boston.

Fourteen years after she began her career, everything about her job has changed.

She said they no longer carry their keys and no longer have authority to open doors without security.

“People are very careful, we are always looking and watching … you pay more attention to the passengers,” she said. “It’s sad that it has to be like this.”

Last year, Moylan traveled to Cape Coral to participate in the annual A Day of Remembrance at Rumrunners at Cape Harbour. This year she will attend the event again to tell Sweeney’s story.

“I hope no one will ever forget,” Moylan said. “I think it is the day that kind of changed the United States forever.”