Maine Gov. Angus King gives a briefing in the emergency command center at Camp Keyes in Augusta on the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. Joe Phelan / Kennebec Journal file photo

On Sept. 11, 2001, then-Gov. Angus King was commuting from his home in Brunswick to the state capitol, as he did every morning, being one of the few Maine governors to forgo living in Augusta’s Blaine House. He recalled hearing of the first plane striking the World Trade Center’s North Tower just before 9 a.m., while driving to work. He assumed it was just a tragic accident.

It wasn’t until King was in his first meeting of the morning when he found that wasn’t the case.

“I was in the 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,’” King told The Times Record in August. “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.”

King said he and much of his cabinet were moved to an underground facility at Camp Keyes, a National Guard Camp in Augusta, and he got to work seeing if Maine could offer any help to the first responders in Manhattan.

Early September is also forest fire season in Maine and the state relies on using small airplanes to spot smoke from the sky. However, all planes in the country were grounded, so King spent much of the day calling the White House and Federal Aviation Administration to get special permission for the state to continue conducting these small forest fire flights.

All the while, King was worried about his son, Duncan, who worked in the financial district in lower Manhattan and was unaccounted for that morning.

“We didn’t think he was in the World Trade Center, but we knew he worked in that area,” said King.

Around 11 a.m., King gave a press conference, but never mentioned he couldn’t reach his son.

“My job during that press conference was to project confidence and resolution, yet in my heart, I was deeply concerned about my son,” King said. “I realized if I had gone on TV and said ‘I’m worried because I can’t account for my son in southern Manhattan,’ that wouldn’t exactly have been reassuring to people. I had a realization that my job was to overcome my personal anxiety and project confidence and resolution.”

King was later able to reach his son, who was in a nearby building and watched the second plane hit the World Trade Center through a conference room window.

That night, King said he made the decision to stay in Augusta instead of traveling home to Brunswick in case anything happened overnight that required immediate action. Two cots were brought in, one for King and one for the state trooper assigned to protect him that night in the event of an emergency.

“The trooper on duty to look after me was 6-foot, 7-inches and one of my vivid memories of that night was seeing his feet hanging over the end of the cot,” said King.

At 1 a.m., King received word that two of the hijackers who hijacked one of the planes had traveled to Boston through Portland.

His next step became finding where the terrorists came from before arriving in Maine, what they did while in the state and whether they had local connections.

It was discovered that the hijackers – Mohamed Atta and Abdulaziz al-Omari – had traveled to Boston through Portland via Portland International Jetport. The two had driven from up from Boston to Portland on Sept. 10 and stayed the night at a Comfort Inn near the jetport. They flew back to Boston’s Logan airport early the next morning where they would board American Airlines Flight 11, which they would crash into the North Tower of New York’s World Trade Center.

Investigators did not find a terrorist cell or local connections in Maine.

Looking back on 9/11 and the days and weeks that followed, King, now a U.S. Senator, said he believes one of the most impactful realizations the day forced upon Americans was the understanding that the country’s geographical location and separation from other countries doesn’t necessarily serve as protection from foreign threats.

“It was a real psychological blow to the assumed security because of our geographic location, said King. “People suddenly realized we were vulnerable. One of the lessons learned was a failure of imagination. We just didn’t imagine an airplane being used as a weapon. You can have the best-armed services and intelligence agencies in the world, but there were still opportunities for a small group of people to wreak enormous damage.”

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