On Tuesday, September 11th, 2001, dawn broke over New York City. A cloudless blue sky ushered in perfect late summer morning. Many New Yorkers were recovering from a late night, having watched the Giants fall to the Denver Broncos, 31-20 on Monday Night Football. In our nation’s capital, government employees were bound for their offices. The President awoke early, readying himself for a visit to an elementary school in Sarasota, Florida. That same morning, 19 terrorists boarded planes along the eastern seaboard, all bound for the west coast.
Garnet “Ace” Bailey was up early too. A two-time Stanley Cup Champion as a player, Bailey’s professional hockey career had ended 22 years earlier. Though he hung up his skates, Bailey never gave up the game he loved. He became a scout for the vaunted Edmonton Oilers squad of the 1980s, earning five more Cup rings. Scouting came naturally to Bailey. He had a tremendous ability to not only measure the skill set of a player, but his desire as well. In 1994, Bailey left his long-held post in Edmonton and accepted a job as the director of scouting for the Los Angeles Kings. Though employed over 3,000 miles away, Bailey and his family called Lynnfield, Massachusetts home.
Early September brings with it the winds of training camp; an exciting time for any scout as they get to see their new players don a professional jersey for the first time. Bailey was preparing himself for another year, filled with new and exciting possibilities. It was an early morning flight out to LA, 8:00 AM. He certainly wouldn’t want to be late on the first day of camp. His ticket read Boston to LAX, non-stop, United Airlines Flight 175.
He simply could not have known. He couldn’t have known that 32 minutes after his plane left the ground; American Airlines Flight 11, hijacked by five al-Qaeda members had crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. He couldn’t have known that five other terrorists sat in the first-class section of his plane, lead by pilot Marwan al-Shehhi. At about the time Flight 11 crashed into the World Trade Center, Shehhi and his four other “muscle” hijackers made their move, storming the cockpit and overtaking the flight. The plane was over eastern Pennsylvania, Shehhi began to turn and descend. Bailey reached for the airphone, trying frantically to call his wife. The records show he dialed four times. They never connected.
At 9:03 Eastern Standard Time, Ace Bailey’s ordeal ended. United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center, killing everyone on board, and hundreds of people within the building itself, both before and after its collapse. Two other hijacked planes would crash that day. One into the Pentagon, one in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. In a span of three hours that sunny morning, the whole world changed.
Ace Bailey lives in midtown Manhattan now. His name is forever etched on the September 11th Memorial at Ground Zero, South Pool, Panel S-3. After his beloved Kings won the Stanley Cup this past June, many fans stopped by to see Ace. Some left Stanley Cup Champs paraphernalia, others left words, thoughts and memories. All were touched by a good man, who lived as we all should, surrounded by the people and the things he loved.
After his death, his family set up the Ace Bailey Children’s Foundation, which aids hospitalized children and their families. More information can be found at the foundation’s website: http://www.acebailey.org/
Photo Credits: Jungle Key