Earlier this month, over the noise of Downtown Anaheim traffic and the gardeners' lawn mowers, I heard an airplane approaching. Within seconds of comprehending the abnormally loud sound of a jetliner's engines, another observation was quickly assessed: this meant a plane was flying low over a metropolitan city that was neither in the flight path for LAX nor John Wayne Airport in Orange County.
I ran out onto our balcony and tried desperately to catch a glimpse through the trees of the rumbling plane. As the engines grew louder, panic started to set in. Maybe I could not see the aircraft because I was looking too high up. Just when I thought the phantom plane was about to skim past the pine trees, the roar of the engines just ceased.
I flew back inside and stood frozen in the living room. I was truly expecting to hear or feel the repercussion of a crash. For the majority of my life I have lived in flight paths of Southern California airports. I have flashed the peace sign to passengers in planes flying in low due to Santa Ana winds. But I never thought any of them were about to fall out of the sky.
I jumped when my cell phone rang. When I answered, my mother was speaking in the tone she uses when talking me through a panic attack (or that one time I was trippin’ on marijuana for medicinal purposes).
“Did a plane just fly over there?”
Mom had dropped Marissa off at work and was coming back home when she saw the plane flying away from our neighborhood. She nearly pulled over onto the side of the busy boulevard, convinced she was about to witness a plane crashing into the densely populated Anaheim Resort area.
“It was huge and hovering. Planes are not built to hover. I have never seen a plane do that before.” Mom said in shock. My mom knows a thing or two about airplanes, mainly due to her dad having been a big-shot in the aircraft industry (his expertise was called upon way after his retirement), and having her own experience of working in the aerospace industry.
“I tried really hard to sound calm when I called you.” She told me after. “But seeing it gave me the sickest feeling. It started to turn in a weird, slow way and then it appeared to just put on its brakes. I wanted to get out to take a picture, but then it was coming towards me. I put my foot to the gas. I looked back, but didn‘t see it. I looked up, thinking it had climbed. Then I scanned lower, looking for smoke.”
Marissa was two miles down the street at The Happiest Place on Earth. It has been alleged that Disneyland was scoped out by the 9/11 hijackers days before the horrific events in New York City and Pennsylvania. Like many other high-profiled landmarks, Disneyland tightened their flight restrictions over the Park in response to the terrorist attacks.
While I was on the phone with Mom, Marissa sent me a text message.
“What the bloody hell just flew over Disneyland!?”
Since it was seen above Disneyland, I felt a bit of relief. Disney would certainly contact the FAA. And Guests would surely be Instagraming and tweeting the crap out of it! But it would be nearly nine hours later until I heard anything else about it -- and of how frightening it was.
At seven in the morning on September 11th, 2001, I was pacing the front yard pressing Redial over and over on the cordless phone. As I repeatedly heard the recorded message of being unable to connect to the Manhattan line, I watched our neighbors drive down the street seemingly unaware of what was happening.
I pushed redial again as a jetliner came into my view. Large. Menacing. It was like a missile. I knew it would fly above me as it started to make its descent into the Los Angeles International Airport. I realized too late that I had hung up the phone when I had actually heard a ringtone for the first time. Cursing myself, I pressed redial once more. I was trying to reach mom's good friend who lived in Manhattan — and who we believed had a morning meeting in one of the World Trade Center towers.
As less planes crowded the sky, the louder they sounded. I stayed outside long enough to witness air traffic come to a standstill. I hadn't gotten through to Manhattan yet, and there was now another reason to be worried. A friend was to have flown home to Pennsylvania that morning.
These memories were flooding my mind as frustration grew over the lack of any mention of the plane over Anaheim. We were even told via the Anaheim Community Emergency Response Team's Twitter account that they were "not quite sure" when asked about the plane. There was no follow-up from them when we made it clear people were concerned. And those people included the countless Disney California Adventure Cast Members who went pale when they thought a plane was about to crash into the Disneyland Park.
Marissa had just arrived backstage at Disney California Adventure when she heard the plane. "It was so low, it felt like you could reach up and touch it. It seemed only as high as Tower of Terror (183 feet). And it was huge. Bigger than any C-17 I've seen fly over in the past." Cast Members immediately took out their phones to take pictures. But as the plane started to make a slow turn back around, they stopped and stood in shock. The coffee vendor stopped what he was doing and walked away from his cart. The plane appeared to be flying nose-first into Disneyland.
"We couldn't see it after that because it was too low. I honestly thought I was about to witness my version of 9/11. My first concern was how the Guests at Disneyland were reacting. It must have looked terrifying. I don't understand how no one tweeted about it." Marissa went on to say.
My daughter is one of the most level-headed, rational, not-quick-to jump-to-conclusions individuals I have ever known. So when she told me this was one of the most frightening things that she has seen and how freaked out she was by it, I knew it had to be bad.
"When we no longer heard or saw the plane and there wasn't a crash, everyone just walked away looking stunned."
By the afternoon of September 11th, we had heard from our friends — safe, but shaken. In the days and months — even years — after the terrorist attacks, it was drilled into our heads to remain vigilant, especially when it came to suspicious aircraft. Now nearly twelve years later (and in the same week the TSA decided to drop plans to allow small knives and other banned objects back on planes), not a single reassurance from anyone in our community about the plane over Orange County. And not just any neighborhood in Orange County — but in the world-famous Anaheim Resort district that boasts of being home to The Happiest Place on Earth. A place that allegedly had been on the list to be destroyed on September 11th.
The total disregard to the appearance of this unidentifiable plane over Anaheim is alarming. Not a single person involved with the city's social media sites gave a heads up that they were even aware of the incident. Upon further investigation, I discovered it was not the first time this has happened right in my own neighborhood. About five years ago, residents at an apartment complex saw an extremely low-flying jet barreling down towards them! They too braced for a crash and panicked when it appeared to be flying in the direction of Disneyland. And again, no explanation was offered.
But I have found nothing about what happened on June 3rd. No one else seems to have noticed it or taken the time to question it or to look further into it. Makes you wonder what else is going over people's heads.
How to file Low Flying Aircraft Complaints to your local Flight Standards District Office.