September 9, 2016 4:50 pm
Updated: September 9, 2016 4:54 pm

Toronto air traffic controller recalls ‘eerie’ events of 9/11 15 years later

Mike Maki was in charge of the airspace at Pearson International Airport on Sept. 11, 2001. In an interview with Global News, he recounts the “eerie” scene that day at Canada’s largest airport.


“I remember it was a nice day. It was sunny and routine operations upstairs, and someone came upstairs and said, ‘A plane has hit the World Trade Center.’”

When Mike Maki first heard a plane had crashed into one of the twin towers in New York, he assumed it was an accident involving a small plane on Sept. 11, 2001. But within the hour, a second plane crashed into the South tower and it became clear the situation was much more serious.

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Maki, an air traffic controller working at Toronto Pearson International Airport, recalled the events at Canada’s busiest airport that day in an interview with Global News.

Shortly after the crashes the phones started ringing, Maki recounted.

“We get our restrictions,” he said. “We can’t send airplanes to New York, we can’t send airplanes to the United States.”

Once the U.S. closed its airspace, NAV Canada enacted a contingency plan for grounding planes. Maki began planning for a substantial amount of flights to arrive at Pearson – clearing runways and freeing up every bit of available space.

But, he says, the scene was surprisingly calm.

“There’s no sense of panic or anything like that,” he said. “It’s just, ‘What do you do with the next airplane?’ As a controller, what do you do with the next airplane you’re going to get? What are we being told from other units?”

Many of the flights Maki was prepared to accept at Pearson didn’t arrive. Instead, they were directed to land at Gander International Airport in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Once all flights had cleared the skies, Maki said it was eerie to be in air traffic control. He couldn’t leave in case emergency services needed to take to the air.

“I can remember towards the end of the shift when most of the arrivals had made it in, it was very eerie,” he said. “Because normally it’s very busy here. You’re constantly talking. And, now I’m not talking. I’m monitoring a frequency that no one’s talking on.

“It’s bizarre. Absolutely bizarre.”

It was only after Maki went home for the day that the gravity of the day’s events began to sink in.

“You start thinking about the people that obviously perished,” he said. “It’s a significant event on a human scale. Tragic.”

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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