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Non-Fiction Review – Touching History


Touching History: The Untold Story of the Drama That Unfolded in the Skies Over America on 9/11

by Lynn Spencer


Review Vicky T. (VickyJo)


The Federal Aviation Administration Command Center is located in Herndon, Virginia. The Center is responsible for monitoring and planning the flow of civilian air traffic over the United States. 50 specialists work full time with airlines and air traffic control centers, helping to guide the nearly 50,000 flights operating on any given day in the U.S. They watch flight trajectories and weather patterns on huge screens. Picture NASA’s Mission Control, and you have a good idea of what the FAA’s Command Center is all about.

Ben Sliney was hired as the national operations manager at the Command Center. His job would be to oversee all 50 specialists, and he was very qualified for the position, having been an air traffic controller and then a manager for many years. But still, there was a bit of nervousness on his first day of this new job. We’ve all felt that, right? First day on a job jitters.

There’s one wrinkle, though. Ben Sliney’s first day on the job just happened to be September 11th, 2001. That’s right: 9/11.

Ben Sliney’s story, and the story of scores of other people from the flight industry and the military, is told in the gripping book “Touching History: The Untold Story of the Drama that Unfolded in the Skies over America on 9/11” by Lynn Spencer. Spencer gives us a minute by minute account of that terrible day, allowing us to experience the events of 9/11 through the eyes of other pilots, air traffic controllers, and the military personnel that scrambled to respond to an unthinkable situation.

This book, even though it’s non-fiction, reads like a suspense novel. The minutes and hours tick down as we go from the FAA’s Command Center, to the American Airlines headquarters, to various air traffic controllers, to other pilots in their cockpits. The author is a pilot and a flight instructor, so she does an excellent job of explaining flight terms, and keeping the various characters and agencies straight. I learned a lot about civilian flights, our military response to the threat that day, and about the personalities involved.

It’s the little details that I found fascinating. For instance, when the hijackers picked up the intercom to talk to the passengers in the cabin, they didn’t realize that the intercom didn’t just broadcast to the passengers in the plane; everything they were saying was on the plane radios, and could be heard by other pilots in other aircraft. Another chilling detail: the North American Aerospace Defense Command (or NORAD) is the agency that is responsible for the detection of and response to an attack against the mainland United States. Sept. 11th was the day they had scheduled a training exercise, which would include a simulated hijacking. So when word came in of a plane suspected of being hijacked…everyone thought it was part of the exercise.

Not only did U.S. air flights need to be grounded that day, an incredible decision that poor Ben Sliney had to make, but flights coming into the U.S. had to be re-routed when the unprecedented decision to close American air space came down. It was just too unbelievable for many folks. One radio controller had the task of trying to explain this to an incoming Asian flight. The pilot was enroute to San Francisco, but was told he could not land in the U.S. “No problem, we go to Oakland.” “Negative, Sir, You are unable to land in U.S. airspace.” “Oh..roger! We go to Los Angeles.” “No, sir. You cannot go to the United States. The United States is closed.” The controller then sends the flight to Vancouver. The pilot finally understands the implications of all this, and signs off with a quiet, “Our condolences.”

For an inside look at 9/11 from a unique perspective, be sure to try “Touching History.”





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One Response to “Non-Fiction Review – Touching History”

  1. Shari F. says:

    This book looks really interesting, I would love a copy!

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