From Utah to Quebec, the 9/11 events hit hunters close to home.
All of us can remember exactly where we were when jetliners, piloted by terrorists, struck the Twin Towers and the Pentagon in a horrific attack 10 years ago. Some of us were in our homes, some on the road, some at work and some in remote areas. As we all know, air traffic over North America was immediately shut down, stranding tens of thousands of Americans.
September is a period of prime hunting in the Far North. Caribou, moose and other species are hunted in very remote areas where access is typically by air. In most cases, small bush planes are used to fly hunters to remote outposts and camps.
When four jetliners were taken over by terrorists on that fateful day, the repercussions were felt throughout the world. Some people were stuck in airports, some had to cancel trips, and many hunters sat on the tundra, stranded because their pilots could not fly, and woefully ignorant of what was happening on the East Coast. In other scenarios, many people rented cars and literally drove across the country because flights were cancelled.
Looking back, there are only sad memories of that day. To some, the memories will linger far longer than for most of us.
Here is a collection of stories describing the challenges of hunters—me included—who were caught up in the 9/11 aftermath.
About 7 a.m. Pacific time, on Tuesday, September 11, someone called to tell me to watch the news. The first tower had been struck, and moments later a plane hit the second tower. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I was literally in the process of packing for a once-in-a-lifetime moose hunt in Utah. I’d drawn the tag after 20 years of applying.
When the Pentagon was struck and a fourth jetliner went down in a field in Pennsylvania, I knew I wasn’t going hunting. The world had gone mad. Like most Americans, I watched TV for days, and finally decided to go on the moose hunt several days after the attack.
My intentions had been to go by myself, camp out and spend much of the season looking for one of the big bulls that I knew inhabited the unit. But I was unnerved by the attacks, opting to watch the news unfold and stayed in a nearby motel. I shot the first bull I saw, a small animal that had a 28 inch spread. I knew there were 45 inchers and better in the area. I wanted to get back home as quickly as possible.
Caught In Caribou Camp
Michael Scagnelli, assistant police chief of the NYC Police Department, was hunting caribou in Quebec when the Twin Towers were attacked.
“It had all the makings of a great hunt,” Scagnelli said. “Nine of us were in a remote region in Quebec, anticipating seeing huge herds of caribou. I had a bow and a rifle, and decided on the rifle for the first of the two animals I was allowed. It didn’t take long before I saw a huge bull, and was able to make the shot. We were excited, and I was eager to try for my second bull with a bow.”
The next morning, September 11, Scagnelli left camp with visions of tagging another big caribou.
“I headed out, prepared for a long hike from camp,” Scagnelli added. “We were all assigned different areas, and mine happened to be closest to camp. I’d hiked a long way when I heard shots from the direction of camp. Something wasn’t right. The shots were systematic. I lost little time making my way back to camp where the camp. He told us the outfitter was looking for us. He had a satellite phone, and I feared the news wasn’t good.
“To this day, I will never forget his words,” Scagnelli continued. “‘Michael, there’s been a terrorist attack in the United States,’ the outfitter said. ‘Jetliners struck the Twin Towers in New York, and another plane hit the Pentagon. Another went down in Pennsylvania.’”
Scagnelli was stunned. “Get me out of here,” he said. “I’ve got to get back to New York.” At the time, Michael was a two-star assistant chief working directly under the chief of police. “I had no idea what was going on. For all I knew, it could have been the beginning of World War 3.”
The outfitter called the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) who contacted the NYC Police Department. Indeed, they wanted Michael in New York immediately. At that point, all air traffic in North America was under a no-fly rule. Every aircraft was grounded.
Scagnelli was hustled into a float plane and made a flight to a landing strip which was a drop-off point for hunters, where they would then normally fly in and out of Montreal. A plane was at the strip, with 40 hunters aboard, scheduled to fly out. The aircraft was grounded, but the RCMP, working with the Canadian and U.S. government, gave the pilot permission to fly Scagnelli to Montreal. The other hunters were allowed to remain aboard, and Scagnelli sat in the jump seat up in the cockpit because all the seats were full.
In Montreal, the RCMP secured a Leer jet from Ottawa, and immediately flew Michael to New York City.
“As we approached New York, I could see what was left of the burning buildings,” Scagnelli said. “It was dark, but the fires where the twin Towers once stood were enormous. LaGuardia Airport was strangely dark as we approached. The runway lights suddenly went on as we were a few hundred feet off the ground, and were immediately turned off when we landed. This was a security precaution.”
The Port Authority Police were there to greet Scagnelli.
“The first thing I asked was the situation with my good buddy, Anthony Infante, who was the commanding Police chief of the JFK airport,” Scagnelli said. “I knew he had a meeting at one of the Twin Towers that morning. The news was horrible. The Port Authority policeman was shaken when he told me, ‘Chief, we’re sorry to tell you your friend is dead.’”
The New York State Highway Patrol took Scagnelli to police headquarters where he cleaned up and changed into his uniform. He was still wearing camo clothes from the hunt. At the burning rubble of the trade centers, Scagnelli saw that everything but the steel was ash. Corpses, office equipment, computers, furniture—everything was reduced to ash.
Scagnelli had arrived at the burning towers at 9:20 p.m., which was about 12 hours after the attack. From that point on, Scagnelli worked 12-16 hours a day, along with many members of the NYC Police Department.
“Volunteers arrived from every state,” Scagnelli said. “In fact, so many that we had a tough time assigning them work.
“It was a horrific event, and an incredibly sorrowful time in history,” Scagnelli continued. “I have many memories that will never be forgotten. One was a sign drawn by a child that was placed on a makeshift observation area where families could gather. It simply had a heart drawn on it, and an arrow next to the heart, pointing to the rubble. There was a word on the heart. It said, ‘Daddy.’”
Silence In Alaska
Jon Fossell, former CEO of the Oppenheimer Fund, had long awaited his moose hunt in Alaska. He and his son had been flown to a drop camp in a remote region by an outfitter. They set up camp on Saturday, September 8, 2001, and were looking forward to the hunt that they’d planned for a long time. They had no communication with the outside world—no radios or satellite phones—just they and the enormous wilderness. Base camp was a tent. To Fossell and his son, this was the perfect way to hunt a big Alaska moose.
On Wednesday, September 12, the outfitter flew in to camp. Fossell said he had a strange look on his face.
“Guess you heard about the national disaster, huh?” the outfitter said. Fossell had no idea what he was talking about.
“Two planes hit the Twin Towers in New York,” the outfitter said. “They figure 20,000-30,000 people were killed.
At that point, Fossell thought this was a bad joke. The outfitter must have been pulling his leg. But the look on the outfitter’s face had no trace of a grin or a smile. He was serious.
Fossell couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He had been the CEO of the Oppenheimer Fund, where 350 of his employees worked in the second tower. The Oppenheimer Fund was established in 1960, and currently manages 182 billion in assets with 11 million accounts in the mutual fund program. He had hired many of those people, and they were like family. Fossell was proud of the company and his employees and had retired 5 years before the attack.
The outfitter flew in to tell Fossell the news, despite the no-fly rule. But there was no way for Fossell and his son to fly out because the outfitter was taking a chance just to fly in with the news and had to return immediately to base camp. For 2 days, Fossell sat around the tent, agonizing over the fate of the employees. Moose hunting was no longer of interest.
Finally, Fossell flew out Friday, and made one of the most important phone calls of his life. The news was music to his ears. Every one of the employees made it out safely.
“We learned a lesson when the towers were hit by a bomb attack in 1993,” Fossell related. “When the Port Authority police told the occupants of the second tower on September 11 that everything was okay, my people didn’t believe it. They immediately left the building. They were on floor No. 34, and we all know now that the people who stayed behind never made it.
“It gives me goose bumps—even now, 10 years later—when I think about the attack,” Fossell said. “It took me five years before I could go back to New York, and New York was where much of my career was made. It was kind of like being bucked off a horse and climbing right back on. I couldn’t do that. The pain lingered for a long time.
“But time heals most wounds,” Fossell continued. “The Oppenheimer Fund is now located across the street from where the Twin Towers were. I go back now, but it will never be the same.”
News In The Northwest Territories
Bob Nosler, CEO of Nosler, Inc., was hunting caribou in the Northwest Territories with some pals when the attack occurred. They were done hunting and were preparing to fly out when the outfitter called on a satellite phone.
“He informed us the plane wouldn’t be coming to pick us up because of a terrorist attack in New York and Washington D.C.,” Nosler said.
The outfitter sent Inuit guides to a big diamond mine to learn more about the attacks. The guides had to use a boat to get to the mine, and took a video camera with them to actually film the news from TV broadcasts. They filmed much of the footage that was airing on a TV set in the mess hall of the mine, and returned to the hunting camp.
“There were 14 of us in camp,” Nosler said, “and we crowded around to watch the footage on the tiny 2- by 2-inch screen on the video camera.”
After the no-fly period ended, Nosler and his hunting buddies were able to fly to Yellowknife, in the Northwest Territories, where they watched the news on TV in a hotel. They then flew to Edmonton, Alberta, and finally to Vancouver, British Columbia, but they were unable to fly home because air travel everywhere in North America was in a state of chaos. They rented a car in Vancouver, loaded it up with all their gear and headed for Oregon, where their company is based.
“We were at the border waiting to clear customs and watched officials literally take apart a car in front of us that was occupied by little old ladies,” Nosler said. “Seeing that, we feared the worst, because our vehicle was loaded with guns and ammo. To our surprise, they waved us through, and we hurried home to join our families.”
From And Outfitter’s Eyes
Sammy Cantafio is the owner of Ungava Adventures in Quebec, where his outfit includes many remote outposts in a large area.
“We had a group of eight hunters from Michigan who had arrived the morning of September 11,” Cantafio said. “When we heard the news, everyone started calling home. Unbelievably, one of the hunters had a sister-in-law who was a flight attendant on the jetliner that went down in a field in Pennsylvania. The man was distraught, and wanted to hurry home. His pals calmed him down, and said there was nothing that could be done since no planes were flying. We had no idea when the no-fly rule would be lifted.”
Cantafio’s outfitting operation was seriously impacted by the termination of air traffic because planes were used to shuttle hunters, food and supplies to all the camps.
“We weren’t allowed to fly hunters around,” Cantafio said, “but we were authorized to fly in only food. The planes went in to camps with a load, but came back out empty. It was frustrating for all concerned. There was a profound sense of bewilderment, but my camp managers were able to keep things running smoothly.”
Cantafio said many hunters changed their schedules, and some even drove to Quebec from the West Coast because they were unable to find flights. “It was a real rigmarole,” Cantafio said. “But we struggled through it.”
It Affected Us All
Jerome Knapp, outfitter/owner of Canada North Adventures, recalls an incident where four hunters from Louisiana had arrived in Montreal from a hunt just before the no-fly period was imposed.
“They’d been hunting on Baffin Island and wanted to get home right away when they heard the news,” Knapp said. “We told them this soon would calm down, and the planes would no doubt fly again soon, but they said their country was in danger and they wanted to get home to their families. They hired a van and a driver, packed all their gear and rode all the way home to Louisiana.”
Many people rented cars and drove long distances because they couldn’t fly, despite the very high expense of car rentals. People wanted to get home at any cost. J. Wayne Fears, an outdoor Alabama writer specializing in outdoor survival, was at a meeting in Tucson when the tragedy occurred. He had a rental car to drive back and forth from his hotel to the meeting area, and when he heard the news and saw that the Tucson airport was closed, he went immediately to the rental car agency.
“I told the clerk I had one of their cars and I was driving it to Atlanta with or without their permission,” Fears said. “I indicated if they didn’t let me take it I would steal it and then suffer the consequences later and pay whatever I had to pay.”
The clerk was as upset as every other American, and understood Fears’ predicament. She agreed to let him take the car.
“I wanted to get home as quickly as possible,” Fears said. “My pickup was parked at the Atlanta airport, and my guns were at home. I needed to get there right away.”
It took a while before many people were comfortable enough to fly after the attacks. Many planes were virtually empty shortly after September 11.
Linda Powell, who was Press Relations Manager for Remington Arms at the time, was planning a long awaited Western hunt. She was scheduled to fly from her home in North Carolina on Thursday, September 13.
“As I watched the horrific events on TV that morning, I was mesmerized and in shock and disbelief,” Powell said. “Like everyone else in the nation, what I was doing no longer mattered. Time stood still. I called family and friends to console them and seek comfort. The next morning I returned to the office, wanting some sense of normalcy and to be surrounded by my friends and coworkers. I listened to others express their fears and say they would never fly again. I didn’t agree. I knew we couldn’t let these acts of terrorism bring our nation to a halt.
“Realizing that planes would soon fly again,” Powell added. “I asked our travel agent to find a way to get me out west for the hunt. She thought I’d lost my mind. Somehow, she found flights to get me from North Carolina to Salt Lake City, but no farther. I’d need to continue to the hunt area six hours away in a vehicle. So be it.”
Powell flew from her home to Atlanta in a commuter jet on the first leg of the trip. There were only a few passengers, and the pilot and flight attendants greeted them as they entered the plane and thanked them for flying.
Powell’s recollection of the Atlanta airport, one of the busiest in the world, was most interesting.
“The airport was eerily empty,” Powell said. “I walked from one concourse to another and saw no one. There were only six of us on the big jetliner that would take us to Salt Lake City. I remember looking around at the others on board and reflecting on the leap of faith that six strangers were taking together. Amazingly, before making final flight preparations, the pilot walked into the passenger area and addressed us, personally thanking us for having the courage to fly, and for our patriotism, and promised to get us to Salt Lake safely. Then he shook each of our hands and said, ‘May God Bless America.’”
The Atlanta airport is well known for long lines of planes waiting to take off. On that day, there were no lines and few other planes. They took off immediately, and once arriving in Salt Lake several hours later, Powell and the five other passengers applauded. The pilots and flight crew again thanked each of them as they deplaned.
“After arriving at the town where I’d be staying during the hunt, I received word from my office that our company president had issued a mandate on air travel,” Powell said. “No one was to fly until further notice. Although I was encouraged to return to the office, I stayed for the hunt, and had some difficulty planning a new itinerary to get home.”
“Some people may question why I felt so driven to fly that soon after the attacks,” Powell continued. “Some might even think it was foolish or even selfish to be thinking of a hunt when so many people had been injured and lost their lives. I, like so many other Americans, refused to let terrorists stop us from living our lives and believed that we all needed to surround ourselves with our friends or family and the things we love. To me, hunting is a big part of my life, and for that reason, I was compelled to make the trip.”