Firefighters make their way through the rubble after terrorists crashed two airliners into the World Trade Center in a deadly series of blows Tuesday that brought down the twin 110-story towers in New York on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. Shawn Baldwin/Associated Press

The morning of Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, began as any other bright, early autumn day in Maine. People dropped their kids off at school, sat in traffic, arrived at work and boarded planes. Before 9 a.m., the world was met with shock and horror when terrorists flew hijacked planes into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon. A fourth crashed into a field in rural Pennsylvania after passengers tried to retake the plane.  

Nearly 3,000 people died in the attacks that reverberated across the nation, including in the Bath-Brunswick area — home to a Naval air station, a bustling warship production facility, and Maine’s then-governor.

This is how that morning transpired in Midcoast Maineas recalled by former Bath Iron Works employees, personnel at Brunswick Naval Air Station, Brunswick Town Manager John Eldridge and Sen. Angus King. 


8:46 a.m. — American Airlines flight 11, carrying 92 people from Boston to Los Angeles, crashes into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

Sean Buck, then-executive officer of Patrol Squadron 26 stationed at Brunswick Naval Air Station: “All of a sudden there was a knock on the door and the young Navy Lieutenant that day — who was serving as our Squadron duty officer — he came in and had a very, very startled look on his face. He walked up to the commanding officer and whispered something into his ear that was out of our earshot and I immediately looked at the facial expression of our Skipper and he looked very distressed and very confused as to what he had just been told … the commanding officer told all of us that were sitting at the table. He said, ‘it appears something really bad is happening right now in New York City.’”

Stephen House, a former BIW tugboat captain. Courtesy of Stephen House.

Stephen House, a former Bath Iron Works tugboat captain: “It was a little before 9 a.m. and my deck hand said he needed to go into the shipyard to go to the bathroom. When we were walking onto shore we walked past some guys and they said, ‘Hey, a plane just crashed into the twin towers.’ I thought someone was an assassin or something but they said ‘No, a passenger plane. This is serious.’”

Steven Theberge, former BIW material clerk at a paint issue station: “I was on the phone with a friend of mine because we were going to be playing golf the next day. He was home on vacation that week and as we were talking, he suddenly said ‘Oh my god, something just hit the World Trade Center.’ He had the news on and he kept talking.'”

Sen. Angus King, then-governor of Maine: “I remember hearing on the news something about a plane hitting the World Trade Center. There had been incidents in the past of smaller planes hitting buildings in New York and I assumed that’s what it was.”

Left: The Brunswick Naval Air Station around 1991. Right: Bath Iron Works Main Yard in 2001. Photos courtesy of the Pejepscot History Center and Bath Iron Works.

Steve Jacunski, former deputy supervisor shipbuilder at NAVSEA/SUPSHIP Bath: “Like for everyone, the day started out pretty typical. I usually got to work around 6 or 6:30 in the morning. At about 9 a.m. someone walked into my office and said ‘You need to come to the command conference room and see this.’ I walked in and the news was playing the scene. One plane had already struck one tower and it was on fire.”

John Eldridge, former Brunswick finance director, now town manager: “I remember being in the hallway when the administrative assistant in codes said that a code enforcement officer has reached back to the office and said that he heard on the radio that a plane hit the World Trade Center. I didn’t think a whole lot about it then, because it just struck me that it must have been a small plane that got off course or something. That has happened in New York before.”


9:03 a.m. — United Airlines Flight 175 hits the South Tower of the World Trade Center.

Stephen House: “I went up and said ‘Holy smokes.’ That was around the time the second plane hit. I went back to my tug and my portable radio’s going off. The people on the drydock were hollering: ‘Get out here, we need you to take these people back to shore now.'” 

Michael Barone:I got to the car and was listening to the news and they said a second plane hit the other tower. I remember turning to my wife and thinking ‘What is going on? This isn’t random.’”

Steven Theberge: “A maintenance guy pulled up in a truck in front of my station. He turned the news on the radio up in the truck and before I knew it there were probably 50 people standing around this truck. We were standing there when the other tower was hit and nobody knew what was going on.”

Sen. Angus King: “I was in a meeting and about 15 or 20 minutes in, my chief of staff knocked on the door and said, ‘A second plane has hit the World Trade Center. It looks like we’re under attack.’ I immediately stood up and said, ‘Ok this meeting is over,’ and closed the state house. At that point, all we knew was the World Trade Center but we didn’t know the extent of the plot or whether there would be attacks on state capitals.”

You knew immediately that it was going to change everything, you just didn’t know what the particulars were.”
– Steve Jacunski

Steve Jacunski: “As we were standing there, shortly after 9 a.m. the second plane hit the other tower while we were watching live. By that time, there were at least 20 people in the conference room staring at the TV. The room got very quiet. My first reaction was, ‘We could be at war.’ There was no doubt in my mind while watching that it was obviously a planned attack.”

Emergency responders assist with recovery and clean up efforts in the aftermat of the collapses. Courtesy of MATF 01 and Michael Clarke.

Sean Buck: “I was watching with my commanding officer and with the senior enlisted member of the squadron … the three of us were watching together and we were just transfixed to television, really in shock and not believing what we were seeing and what we were hearing. And it was really scary. … None of us in America were really understanding what was happening. But it became very apparent, very quickly that our country was under attack.”

Marty McMahon, former air operations officer at Brunswick Naval Air Station: “Nobody knew what the heck was going on. Obviously we had no idea. So we immediately locked down the base … we went to the highest threat condition on the base, locked the gates and everyone had to have their vehicle searched.”


9:37 a.m. —  American Airlines Flight 77 hits the Pentagon.

Sen. Angus King: “I and a good part of the cabinet moved to an underground facility at Camp Keyes, which was set aside by Maine Emergency Management as a command center in case of an emergency. Later on that morning, the plane hit the Pentagon and we knew this was a serious attack.”

Maine Gov. Angus King gives a briefing in the emergency command center at Camp Keyes in Augusta on Tuesday 9/11/2001 morning. Photo by Joe Phelan.

Steve Jacunski: “There was a sense of disbelief — like people had a hard time believing what they were seeing. Then fear turned into resolve that we needed to find who did this and bring them to justice.”

Sean Buck: “We learned all together that that attack was widespread, not only New York City, but all of a sudden they attack the Pentagon in Washington DC. That plane that crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania was ultimately inbound to crash into our nation’s capitol building where all of our lawmakers were. We were shocked. We were scared.”

John Eldridge: “When the Pentagon got hit, I was in the manager’s office. It just ramped up the anxiety in terms of ‘wow, now that’s three. How many more?’ and, again, being someone born and raised in the United States, it’s like ‘wow. This is an attack on the country, and who’s doing it and how many more things like this could possibly happen?’” 


9:59 a.m. —  The South Tower collapses.

Marty McMahon: “I was actually sitting in my office with some of my officers making sure we had everything covered, and I had a TV on in the corner of the room and we actually saw that first tower collapse. It was kind of a surreal moment. One minute the towers there, and there’s a cloud of dust.”

Emergency responders crowd together in the aftermath of 9/11 near Church Street. Courtesy of MATF 01 and Michael Clarke.


10:03 a.m. — United Airlines Flight 93 crashes in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

Michael Barone: “We went to the appointment and the nurses were telling us, ‘Did you hear what happened?’ Nobody knew what was happening and we heard more news reports that all flights were shut down and a plane crashed in Pennsylvania.”

Sean Buck: “We were all still in our hangar, our aircraft hangar at work intently listening to the news … when a third plane crashed into Shanksville, because of those men and women on that airplane that texted and called home to their loved ones, the world knew that that plane had also been hijacked. So that just magnified the feeling of an attack against our country.”


10:28 a.m. — The North Tower collapses.

Sean Buck: “I think it’s fair to say that it was unbelievable. None of us were believing what we were watching. It defied logic. It was horrific. Just complete disbelief that something as grand and as big as the World Trade Centers, built as well as they were built, that something could cause them to collapse.”

Marty McMahon: “We were sitting in my office watching it on television when it happened … my initial thought was the tragic loss of life.”


Following the attacks

John James, then-civilian director of public affairs at the Brunswick Naval Air Station: “It was serious business. We created barriers at our front and back gates. They required cars to slow down and go through a serpentine entrance, IDs were checked, we went to essential personnel on the second day and for a couple of days thereafter.”

The FGS Lutjens, a German destroyer, was leaving England when it pulled alongside the USS Winston S. Churchill, an Arleigh Burke Class Destroyer launched from BIW. The German crew manned the rails and held up a banner made from a bedsheet that read: “We Stand By You,” after the 9/11 attacks. U.S. Navy photo. 

Sean Buck: “We heavily, heavily fortified the front gate of Brunswick Naval Air Station with sandbags, with cement barriers with armed guards. That was highly unusual for safe, solitary Brunswick, Maine. And I remember seeing eight to 10 foot tall walls of sandbag barriers, the cement barriers, a very restricted flow of car traffic.”

“Six months. We flew 24/7 for six months. This country was at a very heightened alert for a long time.”

Comments are not available on this story.