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elmer gozun cato
elmer g cato I WAS airborne that morning and just 30 minutes from New York when the pilot announced that the connecting Northwest Airlines flight I took from Minneapolis was being diverted. New York's La Guardia Airport had just been closed to traffic and the pilot had been directed to proceed to Detroit's Metropolitan Airport.

All the passengers of the Boeing 767 could do was shake their heads in disbelief. After all, we were already close to our destination. It's either our plane had mechanical trouble, which required us to make an emergency landing elsewhere, or something happened at La Guardia, which necessitated the closure of its runway.

I was particularly exasperated. This could not be happening. This was a short side trip I was taking—just three days—and I want each and every moment to count. I just hope this would be a short stop. I did not fly all the way from Honolulu just to get stuck in Michigan for I do not know how long.

Just shortly after, the plane touched down at Detroit Metro. While the aircraft was taxiing, the flight attendants gave the go-ahead for passengers to turn their cellular phones on and get in touch with those waiting in New York.

Phones were ringing as soon as these were switched on. I heard someone seated in the forward section say something about the World Trade Center. I could not easily make out the rest of what he was saying but I think I heard him say "bomb." Another passenger said something about an explosion. I heard another passenger mention an airplane. Someone said something about a fire raging.

What could be happening, I asked myself as images of the bombings a few years earlier of the World Trade Center and of the Federal Building in Oklahoma crossed my mind. I tried to reassure myself. It's just an accident. It's just a fire. It will soon be put under control.

I was listening to my seatmate, a guy named Nathan, as he talked to someone on the other end: "An airplane crashed into the World Trade Center. Wait, two airplanes, not one. They were commercial aircraft? And both towers are on fire? Okay. Thank you."

Nathan shook his head and then turned to me. "Did you just say commercial aircraft?" I asked. He nodded. "You mean those were big jetliners with passengers and not single-engine Cessnas?" Yes. "My God," I remember telling myself, "this is not an accident."

Nathan's phone then rang. He excused himself to take the call. "What? Another plane crashed into the Pentagon? And that another went down in Pennsylvania? There are other planes that are unaccounted for? " I could only shake my head in disbelief as I listened.

It took quite a while before we passengers found ourselves inside the terminal building. Plane after plane started coming in—Northwest, American, United, Delta—creating a monstrous jam at the parking aprons. We found out later that all flights across the US have been grounded. I am stuck in Detroit.

At one of the restaurants inside the terminal, I saw the first images of the destruction. The towers were gone. The World Trade Center is no more. The once towering New York landmark was just one big heap of smoldering ruins. All of us there were in a state of shock. What now?

I was to stay in Detroit for three days. Luckily, we have family friends there. Dr. Rey Franco of Angeles City, his wife, Rosario Malonzo and their daughter, Regina, were kind enough to have me stay in their apartment at Royal Oaks. It was Reggie who rescued me at the airport.

I finally made it to New York on Friday but not after having to go through one cancellation after another. Northwest flights to La Guardia and John F. Kennedy were being cancelled one after the other. I reached New York only because I took a chance with a flight to Newark. From the New Jersey Turnpike, I saw the still smoldering clouds from Ground Zero.

It took quote a while for reality to sink in on me. I thought it was just one of those scenes from a Hollywood action movie. But when it did, there was this sense of anger, of fear, of anxiety. I just do not know how to describe it. I just know that those behind such lunacy will have to pay. They do not deserve a place among us.

[About the author. Elmer Gozun Cato is a Kapampangan journalist turned diplomat known for his advocacy of responsible and responsive journalism in a media career that spans more than 15 years. He first made a name for himself in 1983 when as a 16-year old college freshman became a cub reporter for the crusading newspaper Ang Pahayagang Malaya during the martial law regime of former President Ferdinand Marcos. At 21, he became one of the youngest newspaper publishers in the Philippines when he founded the Angeles Sun in 1988. His journalist experience included stints as correspondent and desk editor in various local, national, regional, and international news organizations, including the Manila Chronicle, the Philippine Daily Globe, Reuters, and GMA News. In 1991, he became one of the first Kapampangan journalists to go overseas when he became a reporter for the Saudi Gazette in Jeddah. In 1997, he became Executive Editor of the Indonesian Observer in Jakarta. He later published K, the Kapampangan Magazine. In 1998, he joined the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) after placing eighth in the Foreign Service Officers Examination. He served in various capacities most prominent of which were as special assistant to two former Secretaries of Foreign Affairs—Domingo L. Siazon Jr. and Vice President Teofisto T. Guingona Jr.; as spokesman and later officer in charge of the Presidential Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement; and later as head of the Regional Consular Office of the DFA in Clark Field. He has been based in New York since 2003 where he serves as Second Secretary with the Philippine Mission to the United Nations.]

-Posted: 4:32 AM 7/29/07 | More of this author on eK!