Daily Camera (Boulder)
Reflections on finding peace
Boulder residents who survived attack tell their stories
On Sept. 11, 2001, over 230 miles southeast of New York City, a retired Naval pilot, senior manager of analysis in the Office of Naval Intelligence at the Pentagon and Boulder resident, Mark Pfundstein, had just grabbed his coffee and sat down for a video conference with defense personnel in World Trade Center 2 a little after 9 a.m. EST.
“I distinctly remember telling them, ‘Hey guys, let’s take a quick break and reconvene later because we are getting unconfirmed reports of a plane or something hitting WTC 1 (World Trade Center 1).’ — that was about 9:05 a.m. EST and it was the last time I saw many of them,” Pfundstein, who now lives full time in Boulder, said.
“I think being a retired pilot made me think vastly different from most, because it was an absolutely clear day and the last thing I thought was a Boeing 767 hitting a skyscraper, unless it was a medical emergency like a stroke or heart attack,” Pfundstein said. “I think a lot of people just thought it must have been a pond hopper that had a medical emergency.”
Pfundstein said he sat at his desk trying to make phone calls and make sense of what was going on, and at 9:11 a.m. EST he turned on several news channels.
“It became, I think, abundantly clear to everyone that America was under attack. I don’t think any of us doubted that after we watched a second Boeing aircraft hit the South Tower in what looked to be an intentional hit,” Pfundstein said. “We started scrambling because we had no idea how many more attacks were in route and we heard that Vice President (Dick) Cheney was preparing to order any unresponsive aircraft shot
Before Pfundstein and his colleagues could leave their offices, American Airlines 77, a Boeing 757, struck the Pentagon in Maryland less than an hour after the first plane hit WTC 1 at 9:37 a.m. EST.
“The last thing I remember before the plane hit us was hearing the orders for all government agencies and buildings to begin evacuations at 9:20 a.m. and watching (Dick) Cheney leaving the West Wing office at 9:25 a.m. after he (pled with) the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) to ground all flights nationwide,” Pfundstein said.
During that same time frame, former President George W. Bush was roughly 950 miles south of the White House sitting with an elementary class at Emma E. Booker Elementary in Sarasota, Fla., when he was informed about the first plane crash at 8:50 a.m. EST. Bush was informed of the second plane crash at 9:05 a.m. EST.
The White House order to ground all civilian aircraft regardless of destination was transmitted by the FAA at 9:30 a.m. EST, and that’s when Pfundstein said he began to get himself ready to leave the Pentagon. However, he did not make it out of the Pentagon before the plane crashed into it.
Pfundstein said he had gotten distracted by the president’s address to the nation at 9:30 a.m. EST from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, seven minutes before the Pentagon was hit.
“Honestly, I have no idea how we made it out — any of us, alive, because later we found out that our Naval Intelligence offices were pretty much ground zero at the Pentagon,” Pfundstein said. “I recall seeing other Naval officers crawling to drag out those around us and seeing the Marines come in to help get the kids in the nursery out.”
“I lost, I’m sorry — please give me a moment — sorry, I lost eight friends at the Pentagon that day, two of them very close and dear friends and one was someone I was friendly with daily,” Pfundstein said.
He said by the time he got outside and saw the Pentagon on fire with the aircraft half way through the building, he was filled with anger, but it soon became a mission of peace to resolve national conflicts outside of anger, grief and fear.
Meanwhile, at 9:28 a.m. EST, a fourth aircraft, air traffic control radio transmissions from United Airlines 93, a Boeing 757, included the sounds of those onboard screaming and struggling with hijackers. By 9:45 a.m. EST, Cheney gave the orders to the FAA and U.S. Military to strike down unresponsive civilian aircraft.
“We had a command center just outside, while assessing our situation and making every attempt to save as many as we could, we heard the White House orders to shoot down civilian aircraft that were not responding to air traffic control nationwide,” Pfundstein recalled. “I was really praying that we would not have to ever follow through with that order.”
Pfundstein said although it was tragic, he was relieved to hear “that the fourth plane presumably headed to the White House was brought down near Indian Lake and Shanksville, Pa., at 10:03 a.m. (EST) because we got the official military orders to shoot down the planes at 10 a.m.”
Meanwhile, just before 7 a.m. in Colorado, Dr. John Maynard, a Boulder resident, left for his job as a mental health provider at the local FBI office, completely unaware that a plane had just hit WTC 1 in New York City. His daughter had transferred there from Bos
Mark Pfundstein, who worked as a senior manager of analysis in the Office of Naval Intelligence in Washington, D.C., was working at the Pentagon when American Airlines 77 struck the building on Sept. 11, 2001.
ton as a United Airlines flight attendant the week prior.
“We had no idea what was going on, as I went to work like normal — not knowing that I would soon be a 9/11 first responder sifting through debris to help with the identification and notification process as a mental health expert,” Maynard said. “The worst part was not knowing if our daughter, a United Airlines flight attendant, was alive or dead.”
His daughter Danna Hirsch, then Danna Maynard, frequently worked as a flight attendant on United Airlines Flight 175 — the Boeing 767 that struck WTC 2 at 9:03 a.m. EST, 18 minutes after American Airlines Flight 11, a Boeing 767, struck WTC Tower 1 at 8:46 a.m. EST.
“I found out about the Twin Towers attacks in a nontraditional way,” the Boulder High School graduate said. “I got a call from another airline friend who was my roommate at the time asking me if we knew who was on my normal UA175 route from Boston to Los Angeles — that authorities at that time were saying they couldn’t get in contact with.”
Hirsch, who no longer works as a flight attendant, said she logged into the employee intranet for United Airlines and saw that her two closest friends, Michael Tarrou and Amy King, were onboard. “I was hoping for down communications and wasn’t even suspecting a hijacking at that point.
“I was watching real time, live in-flight information on our company intranet and then suddenly it went completely blank, the entire system,” Hirsch said. “My heart sank into my gut in that moment because it was then that I knew something profoundly bad had just happened and I would never see my friends again.”
Danna Hirsch, nee Maynard, poses for a picture in her United Airlines flight attendant uniform with her grandmother. The Boulder native knew colleagues who died in the coordinated terrorist attack on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. While she was normally scheduled to work the airline’s flight 175, she had taken the day off.
John Maynard, far right, joined other members of an FBI response team that was working at Fresh Kills Landfill in New York City in late September and early October 2001. Maynard said he worked to help identify human remains, and helped support survivors and first responders.
Hirsch said Tarrou and King were a long-time couple planning to get married and often worked in business class together on the United Airlines 175 flight — Hirsch said she flew with the couple about 100 times before that day.
“I first saw the actual images of the towers burning on CNN right before the station cut to a third plane that had just hit the Pentagon,” Hirsch said. “It was at that time I was terrified to go back to the skies and I didn’t get back on another plane for work until Sept. 24, 2001.”
“My love of being airborne died that day as I realized we were no longer just waitresses in the sky — we became first responders in every sense,” Hirsch said. “I continued on as a flight attendant for another almost nine years before I left and it took me most of that time to cope with my survivors’ guilt.”
About 1,800 miles away in Denver, Maynard arrived at work just in time to watch the news stations show the second plane plunging into the South Tower. He had heard about the first plane hitting the North Tower over the radio on his drive from Boulder to his Denver office.
“It became incredibly clear we, the United States, were being attacked as I watched the second plane, presumably my daughter’s typical flight, hit the south tower,” he said.
Sue Maynard, John’s wife and Danna Hirsch’s mother, said, “We prepared ourselves for the worst but prayed for the best.”
“It felt like an eternity before we finally heard from her, I don’t even remember how long it was because communications were down,” John Maynard said.
Sometime in the midafternoon on the East Coast, Hirsch called her parents from her New York City
apartment to tell them she was alive and had switched with another flight attendant to take the day off for personal reasons. The family soon worked out details for her to return to Boulder, where she had graduated from Boulder High School just four years prior.
“We celebrated for a moment that our daughter was alive, shaken, very shaken, but alive,” Maynard said.
The family’s personal experience with the aftermath of 9/11 did not end with her return.
“It’s such a blur these days, but I was called to report in New York City rather quickly as a mental health specialist with the FBI to help with the identification of human remains, notification and support of survivors as well as first responders,” Maynard recalled. “I was in New York helping before my daughter had come home.”
Maynard was on a special flight for the FBI to New York within a few days as his daughter was driving in a caravan with other flight attendants back home to Boulder. Within two weeks Hirsch went back to her New York City apartment but it would be another week before she returned to the skies as a flight attendant.
Within four days, Maynard was stationed 26 miles south of the fallen Twin Towers, on the opposite side of the Statue of Liberty, at a newly designated sorting operation at Fresh Kills Landfill, where he sifted through human remains and the personal property of the 2,996 people who lost their lives that day. Maynard returned periodically to help with clean up efforts until they were completed in 2002. He also returned to provide mental health services periodically for survivors and families.
The Maynards and Pfundstein all say they have since found peace 20 years later and their collective message to Americans who can remember the day and to children who learn about the attacks in a history class is to remember the details, to remember how it brought the nation together, to honor the bravery of every American and to find peace to live on when so many could not.
“It’s absolutely OK to have been angry and maybe still be angry,” John Maynard said, “but what you do with that anger is what defines us all from that day.”
Maynard said the best thing Americans, including veterans of the Afghan war, can do is talk about their experiences and share them with the younger generation.
“I think many are still hurting, especially as we ended this war last month — our 9/11 and Afghanistan veterans are hurting and the best thing we can do for them, for all of us who witnessed it, is to listen,” Maynard explained. “Go for a walk together, play a round of golf or grab a beer and just let it come up in conversation because then we collectively can heal, even if it’s 20 years later.”
Pfundstein said his mission 20 years after the events of 9/11 “is to bring about peace because we cannot act in our anger by talking about our experiences and not reacting or even acting out of our grief or fear.” Today he is a speaker and activist for peaceful resolutions in many universities nationwide.
Pfundstein recalled that one member of Congress, Rep. Barbara Lee, D-calif., was the lone member who opposed Bush’s pleas to go to war in Afghanistan following the events of 9/11.
“It was a relief to me to see that at least one of our congressional members opposed to reacting out of anger and opposed the open-ended authorization for military force in a war against the terrorists hiding in Afghanistan,” Pfundstein said. “What I want our community members and Americans nationwide to do is see how we can peacefully go forward now that the war is over in Afghanistan 20 years after we went in.”