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How 9/11 looked from the air-traffic control center that saw it coming

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There is anger at the persistent conspiracy theories about why military jets weren't scrambled sooner. There is pride at having overcome tremendous logistical hurdles to get other airliners out of the air and at having done all they could to foil the hijackers. And there is sadness that their efforts were not enough.

“I was very proud, intensely proud of my coworkers and the entire aviation community, the pilots, what they had done to secure the nation’s airspace so quickly,” says Tom Roberts. “It was a proud moment, but at same time bittersweet because of the loss of life. That’s the way it still is for me.”

On Sept. 11, Mr. Roberts was at his screen working a nearby sector of air space that Flight 11 was supposed to traverse over Albany, N.Y. But the flight did not show up, and he soon realized a major crisis was emerging.

“It filtered over to me that there was a hijack,” he recalls. “We were trying to follow protocol and get communications reestablished – to see if someone was listening to our commands. That didn’t happen. Then things began to get worse.”

About then, as required, he handed over his air space to the next controller as his shift ended. But as he waited and watched, word of multiple hijackings began to emerge, he says. Other off-duty controllers began to arrive at the facility to help out.

They included Tom Morin, a founder of the National Air Traffic Controllers' Critical Incident Stress Management team, which helps controllers deal with their high-stress work environment.

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