Depot Employees Recall 9/11 Ten Years Ago
September 8, 2011
By Brigitte Rox
A decade has passed and yet it feels like it was just yesterday when September 11th changed the world.
"It was a Tuesday morning. I won't ever forget it," said Mario Orlando Benavides, a machinist with 40 years of civilian service. He was older than most depot employees shuffling around him. He wore a navy blue FDNY baseball cap, a crucifix wrapped in red, white and blue wire hanging around his neck.
"My son bought it for me not long after the tower went down," he said of his cap. "These were selling like hot cakes." The New York Fire Department became heroes that day. So many lost their lives trying to save others.
Benavides recalls hanging out in the machine shop break room with other machinists watching the news around 8 a.m. His story is like so many others. Watching the news as the media covered the first collision in the first tower--before the nation knew it was being attacked.
"I thought it was just a stupid pilot," said Benavides. "Some guy who misread his instruments had collided with the tower."
Then the second plane hit.
"Our jaws dropped," he said. "We started panicking and watching TV. We couldn't work anymore."
It felt like the world had stopped. A nation was glued to the television as people tried to make sense of the disaster unfolding before them.
"We were in disbelief. We witnessed all that. I remember it like it was yesterday."
Pete Barrientes has a similar story. With 30 years of civil service, he's a production tech analyst now but ten years ago he was a supervisor in Engine Test Cells.
There was a television in the engine test cell break area. He caught the local news and watched as the second plane hit.
"I was devastated," he said. "Is that for real?"
The energy at the depot was thick. "We were in shock and denial, hoping this didn't happen," he recalled.
"We started realizing it was an attack when a plane reached the Pentagon."
Barrientes believed it took awhile for word to get out throughout the depot about the attack.
"Ten years ago communication was not like it is now," Barrientes said. Internal communication took awhile. Nowadays, if something happens at the depot there's a system in place to alert the workforce almost immediately.
With a workforce scared and in shock, employees were released that day around noon. The depot was closed. It was closed the next day too.
"From then on, it was so dreadful coming back to base," said Benavides.
Barrientes described the return to work as "horrific."
"It was still a somber moment but we had to move on and do our work," said Linda Castellanos, who worked in Personnel ten years ago. "It was still a down and depressing memory. That's all people talked about."
Security got tight. The lines to the gate were backed up for hours as guards checked every person coming onto the base.
"They were checking every vehicle thoroughly," Benavides recalled.
"Everything was different," Barrientes added. "Even more so than the space shuttles exploding--the Challenger and the Columbia."
"That's when the world changed."