A Salisbury woman has shared her experience of working at the London Terminal Control Centre on the day of the 9/11 attacks.

After the horrific incidents of September 11, 2001, where plane hijackers carried out a series of deadly attacks in America, air travel changed drastically.

Not only did security checks become much stricter, but people became understandably more nervous about flying which caused the aviation industry across the world financial hardship.

On that terrible day twenty years ago, Nikki Emerton was a 29-year-old working in accommodation services at the old London air traffic control centre in Hillingdon (LTCC).

Within the next six months, Miss Emerton, who was a single mother-of-two, would be made redundant in cuts to the industry, making a series of decisions triggered by the events of 9/11 that brought her to Alderbury, Salisbury, where she now lives.

She now has four children, as well as two grandchildren with a third on the way, and lives with her partner who she met at the London Terminal Control Centre all those years ago.

September 11, 2001

On the events of that day, she said: “It was very surreal, there was no time to go ‘oh my gosh’ and really take in what had happened in America and the enormity of it.

“It was fighting fire, I guess. You had to start dealing with the reality of all these additional flights in the air, and where they were going to go.

“I was asked to start making up the rooms because the air traffic controllers were staying on duty because of what was happening in the skies. Airplanes that were due to go anywhere near America were all turned back.

“All the air traffic controllers were prioritising where those planes were going to go, which ones needed to land first, which ones needed to dump fuel, and it was very apparent that we needed more staff.

“I was asked to then provide for those extra staff in as much as getting caterers in, providing food around the clock, because you didn’t know how long the situation was going to last.

“They’d sleep for four hours and come back on duty and keep this going for as long as needed to manage the skies.”

“It is not going to go away.”

On the measures in place in the UK at that time, Miss Emerton suggests it was probably one of the most prepared countries for disaster recovery or a terrorist attack.

She grew up in West London, at a time when the threat of IRA attacks was always in the back of Londoners minds: “In my lifetime there has never been an absence of threat.

“I even remember going to work aged sixteen and then you had the bombings in the late 80s.

“You don’t have a choice not to go to work because there might be a bomb on the tube, you just had to go.

“[terrorism] is not going to go away. No matter how hard some governments have tried to crush it... people will do anything for what they believe in. And that’s really powerful.

“You’re not going to stop those people so you just have to prepare yourself as best you can and minimise the risk.

“We’ve seen that more recently in Afghanistan and Kabul.

“Twenty years of effort has just been undone in a matter of days and that’s because people have their own belief system.

“You can’t impose your belief system on somebody else if they don’t wish it.”

“...Everyone did whatever they could in whatever capacity”

After she became unemployed, in a second wave of redundancies that hit the industry shortly after 9/11, she ‘stuck a pin in the map’ and decided to leave the capital.

“I spent six months, probably, wallowing in self-pity and then made a decision to do something about it, to raise my two daughters somewhere which was a much nicer environment.”

She found a job at the Salisbury District Hospital where she worked for around 15 years, quitting in 2017 to pursue her passion and started her current role as a clinical hypnotherapist, life coach, and neurolinguistic programmer.

Reflecting on 20 years since 9/11, Miss Emerton said: “On that day, when 9/11 occurred absolutely every member of staff was driven to pull together, to work together, to overcome that challenge... and that was phenomenal to watch, that everyone did whatever they could in whatever capacity.

“So, there was a real sense of community. And I think that’s what helped a lot of people to deal with the situation, we knew that we all were in it together and we had to come together."


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