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The Family of Flight 109

Robert and Alycia Craft reside full-time in Emerald Harbour on Longboat Key.

Capt. Robert Craft had been a combat pilot in Vietnam, but had no idea what he was about to encounter. As he discovered that terrorists had flown their planes into the two World Trade Center buildings, he realized he was not sure if any of the 92 passengers aboard his flight might also be a terrorist, or if there may be a bomb on board.

Having been an experienced pilot, Craft knew he had to take precautions, and all U.S. airports had been shut down and planes already in the air were ordered to land.

The plane Craft was flying was a Boeing 767, which contained a substantial amount of fuel, much like the planes that flew into the World Trade Center. Craft, having served in Vietnam, and his wife, Alycia, who was a flight attendant of 37 years, had both seen their share of life-threatening situations. Alycia even had a loaded gun placed against her head during a hijacking and had experienced two bomb threats on her flights.

Craft knew in this situation he had to act swiftly by landing the plane without sending panic throughout the passengers. The nearest airport was a landing strip on Santa Maria, a small island in a group of islands called the Azores, 1,000 miles off the coast of Portugal.

In the chance that there may be a terrorist on board, Craft instructed the flight attendants to turn off the cabin screen that indicates the position of the plane to the passengers. He then made a gradual descent toward the Azores, and told the crew members to be on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary.

Once he gained clearance, he announced to the passengers that the plane would be landing, and an explanation for the short trip would be given to them once they were safely on the ground and deplaned.

Craft and the crew of Flight 109 deplaned the passengers quickly and without incident, although Craft knew he had to have the plane inspected for any potential bombs. The safety check showed that the plane did not have a bomb, and Craft then returned to the passengers who were now seated at the airport snack bar watching the events of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. As Craft approached the passengers, some were demanding answers, others were visibly upset; one had a daughter that worked in the World Trade Center, another was 9 months pregnant.

The passengers worked to comfort each other, says Craft, and he informed them that were no longer just Delta passengers, but a family who had to work together — the ‘Family of Flight 109.’

After Craft settled the passengers, informed them that all flights to the U.S. were grounded, and updated them on the status of the events that had occurred, he knew he had to contact his wife, Alycia, and let her know he was safe and out of harm’s way. One of the passengers asked if there was anything they could do, and Craft asked to borrow their cell phone to contact Alycia who was relieved that he was alright.

At midnight, the passengers were taken to any hotels on the island that had beds available. Some had to stay three people to a room, but everyone was accommodated, with even some residents of the island opening up their homes.

The next day, Craft said, all passengers returned to the airport terminal to await word from Flight Control on the next available time for departure back to Madrid. A few hours after their arrival at the airport, the passengers were on the next Delta flight to Madrid. The passengers and crew waited for two days in Madrid, says Craft, before they could again board a flight to the United States. When Flight 109 was again on its way to Atlanta, Craft handed each passenger a dispatch that read, “You are the only Delta flight airborne. Pretty eery [sic].”

When the passengers and crew finally arrived in Atlanta, Delta personnel greeted the flight waving American flags and shouted, “Welcome home!”

Craft said what he garnered the most from the experience on that harrowing day, Sept. 11, 2001, was that “People can do amazing things if they work together. If they don’t, then nothing gets done.”

Robert and Alycia Craft have resided full-time in Emerald Harbour on Longboat Key since 2003 and enjoy fishing. What drew the Crafts to Longboat Key were the people.

“This is the place where I found the most interesting people I’ve ever met,” said Craft.

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