Monday, September 10, 2007

9/11 - Where Are We Now?

I've decided to mark this sixth anniversary by going back just three years, to the day I met a New York City cop-turned-flight attendant named Patrick Marcune. His perspective on 9/11 is personal, powerful and painful. Here, in his own words, is his story.

"The aircraft door is closing. Please be sure that all cell phones are turned off, and any electronic equipment should also be turned off at this time. My name is Patrick and I just retired after 22 years as a New York City police officer. I’m having a ball with Continental – thanks for flying with us."

I see heads pop up all the way down the aisle when I say it. People are talking, reading their magazines, not really listening because it’s the same old routine. And then their heads pop up and they clap. I walk back because I have to do my inspection, make sure everybody’s seat belt is on, and everybody offers a handshake and congratulations.

After 9-11, and after I’d gotten my friends out of the rubble that was down there, I retired and I didn’t know what to do with myself. I went to visit a friend down in Florida and on my return trip I was speaking to a flight attendant. I asked her “How do you like the job?” She said, “It’s a wonderful job. You get to see the country, it’s exciting, you get to meet a lot of people.” And those are things that I like. So, when I got home I went online, put in an application, and they called me a few days later. That’s how it started.

The pilots like the idea that I’m on the plane….it makes them feel more at ease. I watch who comes on the plane. The pilot comes out and wants to use the lavatory, I go right in the middle of the aisle, making sure everyone is sitting down, no one is going to threaten the pilot while he’s walking around the cabin. That’s a natural instinct. So far, I haven’t had a problem. But I watch.

The first month I became a flight attendant I had an emergency landing. Some flight attendants don’t go through that in their whole career. It happened to me in one month. I was sitting in the jump seat, we just took off from Newark. As we were going up, the chimes started – the signal that tells me that there’s a serious emergency. I’m thinking “Oh, no. I just became a flight attendant…one month.” (laughing) “I can’t go now. I don’t want to go now.”

So, I pick up the phone and say “Cap, what’s up?” He says “it’s showing that we have a fire in the cargo. Go back there, check it out.” People hear the chimes going off, they see me jump out of my seat and run to the back of the plane. They’re looking at me, scared. This lady starts crying – she has three young children with her and she says “We’re going to die… Mister….are we going to be okay?”

It felt like I had my firearm out as a cop and somebody was looking to shoot me. You get the adrenaline flowing and your heart is pumping and you just have to calm yourself down. It was the same feeling I had. But, you learn how to say “All right. This is the problem. Let’s see how we’re going to fix it.” That’s what the police department trained me for. I brought it right into the airline. And it works.

I get those four chimes, I was nervous. I thought about my family, too…what’s going to happen here? But I had no time to think about that. I had to worry about making sure those people were safe, and that I’d do the proper procedures if we have to make an emergency landing. The whole point of that job is safety and to protect everyone’s life. God forbid.

I got to the back, and didn’t smell any smoke. I went up and tried to calm that lady down. “Everything’s going to be ok, it’s probably just a malfunction – there’s no smoke.” I held her hand and said, “Don’t worry. I’m a New York City police officer, the pilot’s got 35 years of flying experience, everything’s going to be fine.” Turned out the problem was somebody had a can of hairspray in the cargo. And the smoke detectors don’t just pick up smoke – they pick up any particles in the air. That’s what it was – just a can of hairspray.


I was off on 9-11. The precinct called, they wanted everybody in. I saw what happened on TV – I was already getting dressed. I got into the precinct and they shipped us down to the World Trade Center. I remember walking down Washington Street, and the only thing I was finding was body parts – four blocks away. I found out later on that two close friends of mine were in there and they got killed.

I ended up working there for six months. We were called the Bucket Brigade. Any time the front-end loaders were digging, we were standing right there watching the debris being picked up. If we saw anything we would stop the bulldozer from working, and then we would dig by hand to get the people out.

Then I was transferred to the Staten Island Landfill. We sifted through the debris with our hands, looking for body parts and pieces of the aircraft ⎯ any evidence we could find. We worked up there for about a month, and then Flight 580 crashed in Rockaway. And all of us from the World Trade, the guys are there. That was just as horrible cause there was about five children on that plane. Women and children.

I saw a firefighter pick up a lady with a shovel (long pause). I said “Don’t do that. Don’t pick her up with a shovel.” I mean, if that was my Mom, or somebody else’s mom, you don’t want to pick her up with a shovel. So, I picked her up with my hands, and I put her in the bag. That’s uh…you know, you think those things don’t bother you, and I always thought I was okay.

Then I got very sick after that. I was stressed out. You never know. I thought I was fine. But, it stays up in that brain of yours. You don’t realize how it affects you. I mean, so much stuff you see. God. Two good friends. One was a firefighter. One was a police officer. That’s when I said, “I think I’ve been around too long.”

And I retired, one year after.


The guys tease me about being a flight attendant. By the same token, they realize that it’s such a great job. I have my pension and now I can go anywhere I want, like I have my own private plane. They tease me about it, but then they say, “You know what? It’s a great idea. It’s a perfect job for you.”

I always liked to fly as a kid, and I always was infatuated with the planes and travel. But I never had dreams of being anything but a New York City police officer. I went to John Jay College of Criminal Justice and my Master’s degree was in Public Administration, so I devoted my whole life to public service.

I loved being a cop. (long pause) You know….I wanted to stay. It was the hardest decision I ever had to make in my life, to retire. I miss all my friends. When you have a partner, you’re like brothers. You spend most of your life together.

I made the leap. I miss it something terrible. People tell me it gets easier. You get to adjust.

Yeah. At least nobody’s shooting at me any more.

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