9/11: Airport agent who checked in hijackers remembers

WASHINGTON — Most of us who were alive probably remember exactly where we were on Sept. 11, 2001.

For Vaughn Allex of Leesburg, Va., that memory is especially painful. He was an American Airlines station agent at Dulles International Airport and he checked in two of the hijackers on Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon, killing 184 people.

For years, he has struggled with feelings of guilt.

Allex remembers the brothers came in late, and if he hadn't been so efficient, they might not have made the flight, originally destined for Los Angeles. He ran through a set series of questions: “Did you pack your own bag? Has it been in your possession?” He flagged them so they couldn’t get on the plane without their bags, but they ultimately passed through security.

Allex said it wasn’t until he returned to the airport in suburban Washington on Sept. 12 and FBI agents showed him the manifest that he realized what had happened. “I did it, didn’t I?” he said.

He was haunted by the memories of those he checked onto the doomed plane: a retired couple, children on a National Geographic trip.

He considered group therapy, but always felt he couldn’t face people who had lost loved ones. He always felt like he was responsible.

Allex said he's finally recovered. Writing and talking about it has helped. So has going to work at the Department of Homeland Security. But anytime the sky is especially blue — “9/11 blue” — the guilt feelings come back.

On Sunday, Vaughn Allex planned to climb on his motorcycle at Dulles with scores of others, and Rattle the Runway with a commemorative ride to the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial. There he was to walk among the benches dedicated to some of those he checked in, and others he knew.

USA Today


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