Local United pilot understood potential for airline disaster

One of those who felt the ripple effect of the terrorists’ “Attack on America” was Steve Greenhaw, a pilot for United Airlines.

Greenhaw and his wife, Lou, had planned to fly to Germany Tuesday, Sept. 11.

Last week, the Greenhaws were scheduled to go on a trip to visit two former exchange students from Germany. But their flights were canceled when the airports shut down.

Almost immediately that same day, communiques regarding the terrorists’ attack came from United Airlines through its e-mail system to Greenhaw.

Although some of the information was classified, Greenhaw said, “They just mentioned that there were two accidents; that two flights were down.

“They said to update our emergency files that have phone numbers in case they need to get in touch with us.”

He didn’t anticipate being called to fly during the days following the terrorism because there are reserve pilots always in the wings in case of emergencies like this one.

“I’d be glad to do whatever I could to help but I kind of doubt they would call me,” Greenhaw said.

Greenhaw is trained to fly only 737s and unless there was a need for pilots for grounded 737s in Wichita, he didn’t expect to get a call to fly.

A pilot for United Airlines for the past six years, Greenhaw has a rich history with a career in aviation.

He said he understands the enormity of the situation involving the pilots of the hijacked planes on that fateful Tuesday.

Earlier this month, he finished a United Airlines refresher course addressing security issues.

“We’re kind of trained to observe things like that as far as different procedures depending on what might happen whether you’re in the air or on the ground,” he said.

Greenhaw couldn’t address specific security protocol because of its classified nature, but he did emphasize measures are put in place.

In his role as a pilot, Greenhaw said it is difficult to make judgments about suspicious-looking people boarding his plane.

Looking for unusual behavior or questioning people of certain ethnic backgrounds becomes complicated.

The pilots of the ill-fated 757 and 767 airplanes couldn’t have stopped anyone from boarding the planes because of nationality, Greenhaw said, adding that type of response will draw charges of discrimination in a land that strives for racial equality.

He identified another problem related to the hijacking tragedy.

“We are a country that believes in freedom and we don’t like to be told we have to go through a security screening.

“So there’s a tendency on all our parts just to kind of try and down-play this,” Greenhaw said. “To say, well, this kind of thing can never happen.”

But it did happen and Greenhaw said he believes it will have long range effects on airport security.

He anticipates tighter security at the airports and the cost will be the loss of some treasured freedoms in the United States.

As an immediate result of last week’s events, Greenhaw predicts travelers will see more dogs sniffing for bombs; more trained policeman at every inside security check-point, instead of civilians doing those jobs; and more police officers curbside at airports.

He said he foresees more of a “police state than we’re used to.”

While this tragedy has touched him deeply, it won’t stop him from flying.

“There’s rarely anything that goes on with an airplane that you can’t get down someplace and land safely without hurting people,” he said.

Greenhaw plans to reschedule the canceled Germany vacation for next year. He also expects to go back to work the first week in October, if United keeps to its pre-planned work schedules.

“I enjoy flying,” he said.

“When things like this happen, I think everybody thinks the day after the accident, ‘That could have been me.’ But for the most part, pilots are very confident.

“It’s basically a safe way to travel,” he said.

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