By Brian Knox
Originally published Thursday, September 13, 2001
Rex Keese of Decatur has been a pilot for Delta Airlines for 14 years. Like everyone else who watched in horror at Tuesday morning’s events, Keese made an observation about the pilots of the doomed planes.
“My guess is the terrorist who did it knew how to fly. I guarantee you no (commercial) pilots would have flown their plane into a building. They would have to be dead first,” he said.
Access to the cockpit, Keese said, is not difficult because the door is designed so that people can move in or out in an emergency situation.
“The only way a person could gain access would be if someone at the back would be able to sneak a weapon on board,” he said. “That’s security’s worst nightmare. If someone is single-minded enough to get in there and hijack a plane, they will do it. Terrorists these days have resources. They can make their own security badges. It’s a security nightmare.”
Keese said that all pilots go through training to help them handle a hostage situation.
“We talk about things that occur during hostage situations. We go through a canned hijacking in mock-up and we’re basically taught to observe so you can determine how many terrorists you’re facing, where they are, what weapons they have. Flight attendants are taught delay tactics to buy time for hostage negotiators. … Historically our training has been to delay hijacking so negotiators can work with them. Usually there is some sort of ransom involved, a release of prisoners or something, but when you’re talking about a terrorist with a death wish there’s usually no way to prevent it.”
Keese said the type of terrorist attack on Tuesday is the hardest kind to defend against.
“Coming from a military background (eight years in the Air Force) this has been something that has been on the national security agenda for years. This is the sort of thing the U.S. security was afraid would happen. It is the most difficult kind of attack to defend against. You can have your nuclear shield and Star Wars missile defense system, but those things won’t stop something like this.”
Keese said the type of security at airports that has been used lately is at an intermediate level and hasn’t been at the highest level since the last World Trade Center bombing.
He described what the highest level of security would entail.
“Nobody but passengers get past the security check points. There is no drop off of passengers at the curb, people must park and walk. All bags are thoroughly checked.”
Keese was scheduled to fly to Atlanta Tuesday night, but those plans changed. Seeing the day’s events left him in a state of disbelief.
“When your heart’s in your mouth, what can you say? It’s amazing,” he said.
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