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"Pilot's course, life undergo changes"



Tuesday, September 25, 2001 

Pilot's course, life undergo changes 
Cuba City man: Captain is told to land plane during terrorist attacks 
by TERRY MORGAN
Dubuque (IA) Telegraph Herald


CUBA CITY, Wis. - Tim Wildes, 47, was in the air over Colorado on the
morning of Sept. 11 when the attack on the World Trade Center began. He
was piloting a United Airlines Boeing 737 on a Palm Beach
(Fla.)-to-Denver route when his dispatcher advised him that an airplane
had hit the Trade Center. 

"I assumed it was just a small plane off course, because they are able
to fly low over the city to avoid conflicts with bigger planes," said
Wildes, of Cuba City. But the dispatcher went on to say that there was
trouble on the East Coast and that Wildes should not allow anyone into
the cockpit. 

"Now that was unusual," he said. 

The next call was from an air-traffic controller announcing that all
airplanes needed to land immediately at the nearest airport. By that
time, Wildes was right over Denver, the flight's destination, and he and
his co-pilot set the airliner down there. 

Once everyone was down, the next course of action "was to clear the
airport, dumping 30,000 people onto the streets of Denver." With no
hotel rooms available, Wildes and his co-pilot ended up finding shelter
at the home of a United pilot they had never met before. They stayed
there for three nights before the airline finally found them hotel
rooms. 

Wildes, who earned the rank of captain in February, finally returned
home to Cuba City on Sept. 16 before going right back in the air on
Sept. 17. Back home again last weekend, he had some time to reflect on
the recent events and speculate on the future of flying. 

Although Wildes did not recognize any of the names of United personnel
who died in the crashes, he said that his co-pilot had trained with a
pilot on the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania, and knew him well. 

Wildes said he already has noticed a "huge difference" in procedures now
that air traffic has resumed. In addition to more security measures
being implemented for passengers, pilots are being subjected to
stringent ID checks, X-rays, and baggage inspections that were not
required in the past. 

Wildes said security used to be the domain of local airports, but that
is no longer the case. 

"I am happy about the fact that the government is taking over, with FBI
and Justice Department people plugging holes in security," he said. 

In dealing with hijackers, pilots were once encouraged to cooperate with
them, according to Wildes. 

"We were to take the hijackers where they wanted to go, and the plane
and passengers were usually unharmed when it was over," he said. "That
has all changed now." 

The Airline Pilots Association is currently in discussions with the
Federal Aviation Administration about the possibility of arming pilots
and how best to do it, Wildes said. He would prefer to have an armed sky
marshal on board to deal with problems, but would consider being trained
to use a gun if necessary. 

As for going back into the sky, Wildes has no hesitation about flying. 

"It's by far safer now than it's ever been," he said. 

Although he expects airline business will shrink in the coming months,
Wildes said things should improve after that. 

"This country is so huge that flying is often the only way to go," he
said. "It will bounce back eventually."

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