Massport Leader During 9/11 Reflects On 20th Anniversary Of The Terrorist Attacks

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Virginia Buckingham, former CEO of the Massachusetts Port Authority, or Massport, near the Logan Airport 9/11 Memorial. (Steven Senne/AP)
Virginia Buckingham, former CEO of the Massachusetts Port Authority, or Massport, near the Logan Airport 9/11 Memorial. (Steven Senne/AP)

When the two planes used to destroy New York City's World Trade Center took off from Logan International Airport in Boston on Sept. 11, 2001, Virginia Buckingham was in charge of the Massachusetts Port Authority.

As CEO of the organization in charge of the airport during the terrorist attacks, she says it has taken her a long time to mentally recover from what happened and to rebuild her life in the aftermath.

"I struggled with that burden of, 'Could I have done anything different?' for years," Buckingham said. "I came to understand that people blame because they're afraid and they're angry and they need to put those emotions somewhere. And I think that's what happened here at Logan."

Many of the passengers killed on those flights were from Massachusetts.

Buckingham served as leader of Massport for two years until she resigned on Nov. 15, 2001. She says she felt political pressure to resign in the wake of the attacks.

"There was a rush to judgement," she said. "There was very poor political leadership."

She says she felt the federal 9/11 Commission helped absolve her and other Logan Airport officials for what happened leading up to the attack.

"The 9/11 Commission came out with a clear finding that Logan's security was no different than any other airports," Buckingham said.

"We know the airlines ran security at the gates, but even they couldn't stop small knives from getting through. We learned the hard way how vulnerable we are and I think that's a hard lesson for Americans."

Buckingham says she still recalls the horror of learning that the two hijacked planes -- American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 — had left from Boston. But she says her team could not let emotions get the best of them.

"I don't think I cried for many days because I needed to focus and lead the team at Logan, who rose to the challenge in spectacular fashion," she said.

"We had trained many times, every year basically, for an aircraft accident, but there were no lessons that we could have learned that would have prepared this country or this world for what happened on 9/11."

This segment aired on September 10, 2021.


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