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Remembering September 11, 2001

Posted by Posted by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao

Seventeen years have passed since terrorists attacked our country on September 11, 2001.  The horrific events of that day will never be forgotten.  And the innocent people who perished, their families and loved ones live on in our thoughts and in our hearts.  As we remember them, I would also like to pay special tribute to our DOT colleagues who played such a key role in safeguarding our country on that day and in the aftermath.

While it’s all part of history, it’s good to remind those who weren’t there of the extraordinary actions taken that day. To ensure that all terrorist-controlled aircraft, the historic order was given to shut down civil aviation in our country’s national airspace. For the first time in aviation history, air traffic controllers had to clear U.S. airspace of all commercial traffic. Thanks to their rapid and heroic response, within four hours U.S. airspace was emptied of all aircraft except military and essential medical traffic. For the record, that was approximately 4,500 aircraft safely landed in record time.  In addition, all inbound international flights were diverted from U.S. airspace and U.S. airports.  It was an unprecedented achievement, made possible by the skill, professionalism and dedication of our air traffic controllers and their FAA colleagues. 

But that was just the beginning. The U.S. Coast Guard-- which was part of DOT at the time-- helped safely evacuate more than 350,000 people from Manhattan.  And other transportation systems were impacted, as well. Those of us working in Washington, D.C. at the time remember that the 14th Street bridge, as well as the Metro and automobile traffic between Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia near Reagan National Airport, had to be shut down temporarily.  So in the hours, days and months following the attacks,  DOT modes were called upon to help to reopen roads, tunnels, bridges, harbors and railroads throughout the country, and much more. It’s not an exaggeration to say that DOT played a pivotal role in our country’s recovery from the attacks, which were meant not only to terrorize our citizens but to paralyze our economy.

Despite the passage of time, the heroic response of our DOT colleagues continues to inspire gratitude, confidence and respect to this day. So as we remember the heroes, the fallen, and the families of September 11, 2001, I hope you will also join me in saluting our DOT colleagues whose magnificent effort played a seminal role in our country’s recovery.  I will be thinking of them, and remembering and giving thanks as I participate in a ceremony marking 9/11 at the Pentagon.