Todd Godfrey was happy to have a window seat on the morning flight from Manchester. Under bright blue skies and no clouds blocking his view, he soaked into the hilly landscape 30,000 feet below.
“You couldn’t ask for a better day to fly,” Godfrey said.
On September 11, 2001, Godfrey and five pals who grew up together in Lebanon set off on a fly-fishing trip to Montana that they had been planning for nearly a year.
The group’s five Upper Valley residents, including Godfrey’s older brother Tim, have left Manchester. To take advantage of the loyalty miles, they have booked different airlines. The sixth member of the group, John Marchewka, of Cape Elizabeth, Maine, started his morning at the Portland airport.
The men planned to meet at noon in Minneapolis to board the same flight to Billings, Mt. That afternoon they would be fishing some of the best trout streams in the country.
Or so they thought.
Chip Metcalf, of Etna, and Nate Seymour, of Lebanon, were somewhere over the Midwest when the pilot announced that due to a “national crisis,” the Federal Aviation Administration ordered all planes line shopping to land immediately at the nearest airport.
“We fell from the sky like a rock,” said Metcalf.
At the Grand Rapids, Michigan airport, Metcalf and Seymour stood with other travelers, watching terminal television screens, watching footage of the two planes crashing into the World Trade Center Twin Towers in New York City.
“Everyone was in shock,” Metcalf said. “They couldn’t believe it.
Back in the Upper Valley, news of the terrorist hijackings quickly reached the administrative offices of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, where Metcalf’s wife, Linda, and Tim Godfrey’s wife, Marge, worked.
They knew their husbands “were still in the air that morning, but didn’t know where,” said Linda Metcalf.
Not everyone on the trip had cell phones, which wasn’t so unusual 20 years ago, but it went on for tense moments before Metcalf and Godfrey only learned from their spouses and the other four who were heading to Montana were safe on the ground – scattered around different cities.
Tom Dupree’s plane made its emergency landing in Milwaukee. When travelers learned that all flights had been canceled, it sparked a mad rush to the car rental counters at the airport.
By the time Dupree, who lives in Lebanon, reached the counter, the stock of rental cars was exhausted. He was trying to get to Chicago, a two-hour drive away, to find Todd Godfrey, who was at O’Hare International Airport when the air travel stopped.
A woman in front of Dupree in the queue who had reserved one of the last cars overheard her conversation with the rental agent.
She would pass through Chicago on her way to Kansas City. “I’ll drive you,” she told Dupree, before apparently rethinking her offer to a complete stranger.
“You are not an ax murderer?” she asked.
Dupree assured him he was not. He worked in sales.
While waiting at O’Hare, Godfrey watched the collapse of the Twin Towers unfold on television. “When I saw what happened to all these people in these buildings, my heart sank,” he said.
One week in Montana, catching rainbows and brunettes on a fly rod – exciting as it sounds – didn’t seem as important as coming home with your wife and two young children.
The next day, the six men met outside of Chicago. (Tim Godfrey arrived after taking a $ 150 cab ride from Detroit to Grand Rapids.)
Todd Godrey and Metcalf, who had two school-aged children, headed their rental car east for a two-day drive to the Upper Valley.
The others piled into a second rental car – bound for Montana, 800 miles west.
By the time we got home, the thefts had resumed. As their plane descended for a stopover in Philadelphia, the pilot pointed to New York City.
In the distance, smoke billowed from the ruins of the World Trade Center.