Former Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport director recounts 9/11 and subsequent airspace closure

20 years ago this Saturday, thousands of flights were ordered to land immediately after the now-infamous attacks on U.S. soil, and a man in charge of Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport at the time is talking about what happened that day.

On Sept. 11, 2001, the entire U.S. airspace was shut down for the first time ever, and while one might think the situation at Phoenix Sky Harbor would be chaotic, Dave Krietor, who was the airport's director at the time, said their emergency training kept things from becoming chaotic.

Krietor said anger and sadness over what happened only crept in days later.

"The tragedy of what happened and the loss of life, I do think about that on a regular basis," said Krietor.

On that fateful day, Krietor was tasked with grounding all travel in and out of the airport.

"There were all of these planes that were going to different places, and they were all diverted to the closest airports, so all of these commercial flights that shouldn't have been at Sky Harbor in Phoenix had to come down and land at the airport," said Krietor.

Krietor says once he realized the planes hitting the towers was no mistake, he rushed to the airport, where he would be for the next several days. He was running on no sleep, relying on adrenaline.

From there, it was a tactical issue. The airport's Emergency Operations Center immediately put safety measures in place to get planes back in the sky three days later.

"The procedures for security at the airport obviously didn’t work. They needed to be adjusted on the fly," said Krietor. "At U.S. commercial airports, there was very little bomb detection equipment. Not that that’s what happened on 9/11. So there was a huge effort after that to install bomb detection equipment at Sky Harbor and all other airports."

Krietor said changes that were made following the attack will help prevent something like 9/11 from happening again.

"The TSA was created -- There was no Department of Homeland Security. There was no TSA. There was no bomb detection equipment at the airport. All of those things occurred after 9/11," said Krietor.

After 9/11, Kreitor said Sky Harbor was a ghost town, and people were just too afraid to fly again. He said it took about two years or so for the aviation industry to recover.

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