In My Seat - A Pilot's Story from Sept 10th - 11th

Uploaded by peterscheibner on 30.08.2011

On an emotional level at first
it didn't really sink in. And I think uhÉ a lot of people that are close to an event
like that, you know, you're kind of in a sort of a dream state for a little bit
and uh you kinda
try to figure out what happened and uh...
I finally started to piece it all together
uh... later on that evening. Megan: And when he finally did get a hold of me he just
kept saying "It wasn't me...
Don't worry; it wasn't me."
Well I've been with American Airlines since 1991, so we're coming up on my
twentieth anniversary
with American.
I have been a pilot a little bit longer than that. I was first
employed by the Navy; I flew P-3's
uh... out of Brunswick, Maine and uh... I was on active duty for eight years.
I got about 35 hundred hours of P-3 time in those eight years.
and then I got hired by American Airlines and currently I fly the boeing 757
and 767 airplanes.
It's interesting 'cause you don't know what's gonna happen September 11th
when you're living september 10th. And i just remember september 10th because
September in New England is beautiful.
It's not quite fall
but it's it's cooler then it would be other places and I'd taken them to the
library and I was sitting outside drinking a coffee while they were in the library
and for the first time really thanking the Lord because I felt safe I thought, "Wow,
we're all here and it's
safe and what in the world could ever happen
in Georgetown, Maine. Steve: September 10th is a date that means you know great deal to
me because
uh... i did what I normally do on September 10th.
The day before I become available to go flying.. And my flying is in blocks of days
of availability.
So I was available to go flying on September 11th.
So at about three o'clock in the afternoon on September 10th I
sat down at the computer and I logged in like I normally do... to check to see
if there was any unassigned flying for the next day.
And sure enough there was one trip that was available on September 11th it
was American Airlines..
uh flight 11 out of Boston's Logan Airport
to Los Angeles.
It was a two-day trip got back on the second day
left at I think about uhÉ 7:40, 7:45 in the morning
something around that timeframe.
And I looked at it and there was no uhÉ pilot assigned to it yet.
so the next thing that I do is I go and check and see
if there's any reserve pilots available. Now i know i'm available but there might
be some other guys available.
And it just so happened that on September 11th, 2001
uh... there was only one guy available to go flying on that day and that was me.
So i've been through this drill a lot of times over the years uh... I went and I...
in fact i told my wifeÉ I said,
"So i'm going to Los Angeles tomorrow."
I went out to the car, opened up the trunk I got my
my dirty luggage out of the trunk, and I threw it in the washing machine, and I packed my
bags with the new clean stuff and took it back out to the car and I said, "I'm going to LA."
And at three o'clock in the afternoon, in fact in those days uh... uh...
what's called crew scheduling at American Airlines would actually
my name to that trip.
I ironed his shirt which I always do
put his epaulets on his shoulder and found the ID, and...
you know made sure he had everything packed he needed and we just prepare.
When you're a military family
you prepare in a certain way. When you're airline family it's the same thing. There's
just a routine
and kind of a checklist you go through to prepare for dad to leave on a trip.
The... the final assignment comes from via the phone call. So they make,
you know, positive contact communication with you. It's not just in the computer
they'll call and they'll say, "Hey, just wanna let you know you've been assigned
a trip."
Now I might know that already by looking into the computer. I could already
see that. But a real person will call you and say, "Scheibner, it's now your trip." And now
at that point once you have that phone conversation,
even if a line pilot wants to they can't bump you off that trip so
they've only got a 30 minute window of opportunity once that phone call gets
made it's a done deal.
I waited for the phone call.
And the phone never rang.
Which is not
completely unusual.
It's not the norm but it's not completely out of the question either. In fact, I
didn't even think about it for a while
uh... it was later on that evening I thought, " You know, they never assigned that trip to me." And I
really didn't give it another thought because, well, what that means is i still
get paid but I've got tomorrow off. I'm still available to go flying, but
you know they were finalized the assignment so I guess I can, you know, brush off my
ambitions to do something else that day.
What was taking place uh...
I was unaware of
was the fact that a fellow by the name of Tom McGuinness
who was one of those line holding pilots little bit senior to me
uh... Tom was celebrating his birthday
on september 10th
with his wife and his children
and Tom did what i did that afternoon about three o'clock in the afternoon.
He went over to the computer
and he logged in and he looked and he saw that that flight was open but my name
had been
penciled in.
And he knew he was is still in that 30 minute window of opportunity.
uh... so Tom called down to American Airlines and said, "Hey you know I
just one check with you am I legal to take this trip. In other words can I
bump Scheibner off that trip."
and uh... they did what they do with the computer down there and they got back to
him and said, "Yep you're legal for that trip but you gotta give us a call back
in the next, you know,
20 minutes
uh... or else we're gonna finalize the assignment."
I assume that Tom had some sort of conversation with his wife
and he called back,
he called American Airlines and he said, "Yeah I'll take that trip."
So at that moment they erased my name off the trip,
they assigned it to Tom; I didn't know any different 'cause they never called,
and uh... Tom showed up for work that day on september 11th. As you recall
on the east coast it was a beautiful day that day.
They pushed back off the gate on time and
uh... they took off on time and they uh...
Tom was actually flying; it was his leg to Los Angeles that day
and uh... they flew up to about twenty three thousand feet and Tom engaged the
autopilot to take them the rest of the way to Los Angeles.
And at that moment uh...
all hell broke loose on the airplane.
I mean, there's not another way to
to express it.

I didn't have a TV on, I didn't have a radio on. We were just doing our schoolwork.
And um... and pretty soon
the head
contractor called me uh... his guys had called him
because they realized that Steve wasn't home. And he called me and said, "You know, where's Steve
And I said, "Well he's in at the Navy." He had gone to work for the Navy that day since he didn't get an
airline trip.
and itÉ the problem with the contractors was they were scared they thought he had
been on that flight they were gonna be dealing with this
distraught woman who had just lost her husband.
uh... It really
started to come home to me the emotional gravity of what happened when my
cellphone started to ring.
But uh...
a secretary at a school that I used to attend,
uh looked up my cell phone number and she was the first person to call.
And uh... I answered the phone
and Evie was on theÉ end of the phone.
and she heard my voice and she started crying.
And when she started crying I started crying
and uh...
so uh...
she was just happy to hear my voice, and it wasn't two minutes after I got off
with her that somebody else called,
friends of ours from down in Texas, And I thought, "I need to get ahead of this and make some phone calls.
I called home, and I called to different places.
I still didn't realize
that that was a flight that
I was supposed to be on.
You know, I'm watching on it on TV like everybody else.
And it didn't click with me.
I knew the flight number and everything; it still didn't click with me. When it
finally clicked with me was later on that evening I thought, "You know, I wonder
who was on that flight."
And I thought, "Well maybe I can go find out the names. 'cause the media wasn't gonna
give you the names for a few days.
but maybe there's a way through the login process through American to find out the
And so I did. I did what I did the day before on September 10th. I logged in and when
the screen
came up in front of me
it looked exactly like it did the day before when it had that trip and it had
my name penciled in,
except this time it had this trip sequence,
my name wasn't there,
and it said these three words:
Sequence Failed
That's code
at the airlines for
'the trip never made it to its destination'.
Wow what an understatement.
Sequence Failed Continuity.
And at that moment when I got that visual look at the screen,
I was overwhelmed.
It uh...
I said, "You know what, I packed my bags to go on that trip."
And then I was even more curious,
who had bumped me.
But uhÉ Words can't describe
that moment
of realizing that you should have been some placeÉ
You asked me about guilt a little while ago.
Yeah, you do have a twinge guilt.
20 years ago
I wrote a life objective.
And my life objective goes like this:
It's to seek, trust, and glorify God
through humble service
and continual prayer.
To raise up qualified disciples as quickly as possible.
So someday I might hear
God say,
Well done my good and faithful servant.
The events of September 11th
took that life objective that I already had
and it intensified it for me.
The fire just keeps gettin' hotter
as I get older.
But someday I want to stand in the Lord's presence
and I want him to say, "Well done."
I would hate to get in God's presence
and have Him say, "Oh, yeah,
ScheibnerÉ I see you're name's down here. Well,
you know, have a seat.
I need to hear the Lord say, "Well done my good and faithful servant."
That's what's on my plate
and that's what's driving me these days.
uh... Why does God take one and leave another? It's not because uh... I'm a
better person,
or God wanted to do more with me that he wanted to with Tom.
I think in God's providence
uh... that's obviously His choice.
What has stuck with me all these years
is the fact that he did leave me behind.
Is that i need to act like I'm living on borrowed time
because i am.
I can look and see my smoking hole
and it was a national TV.
And I saw where
I should have died
but I didn't
and now
there's an obligation that comes with that.
I've gotta live my days
with a sense of urgency.
I have to make sure I get the most out of itÉ and not the most for me.
That'sÉ I think we live in a world where everybody's kinda out to get the most for
them. This is not about me.
This is about the distinct privilege I have been given
to know that Somebody died in my place.
What I know is that
somebody died in my place not once but twice.
That's where God comes into the whole thing for me.
See Tom sat in seat that I was qualified to sit in, and by all rights, that was
my seat that day. I should have been in that seat.
In fact, I've sat in the very seat of that airplane that Tom was in. I've flown all of
757's and 767's American Airlines owns so I know
what it's like a literally to sit in that seat. But I am still
all these years later
so qualified to sit in that seat
and I could've.
But Tom didn't die for my sins.
You see, God sent His own Son to die for my sins.
Jesus Christ was the other one who died in my place. And He hung,
and He bled,
and He suffered on a cross
to pay a price for me
that I was unqualified to pay.
I couldn't have hung on the cross.
I didn't have the same qualifications.
Ao one guy sat in a seat that I should have sat in. the other hung and bled
on a cross.
One is far more significant than the other. That's not to trivialize what happened to
It's to elevate and glorify what God did for me and
for mankind on the cross.