A 9/11 survivor


MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Tuesday, September 11th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.

Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Remembering 9/11. Most of us remember exactly what we were doing the moment we saw footage of a plane colliding into the World Trade Center. And then another.

REICHARD: The first plane was American Airlines Flight 11. It left Boston just before 8 that morning, headed to Los Angeles. But within minutes of takeoff, hijackers stormed the cockpit and took control of the plane. By 8:46 a.m., everyone on board—92 passengers and crew—were dead.

EICHER: Today, WORLD Radio’s Kim Henderson takes us to meet someone with a haunting 9/11 story: A man who was scheduled to be on Flight 11, but wasn’t.

KIM HENDERSON: Even though school’s out, a crowd has gathered in Taylor Auditorium at Mississippi State University. No campus co-eds though. The audience is made up of moms and dads. Teenagers and preschoolers. Strollers line the aisle.  

They’re here for the first general session of the state homeschool conference.

I’ve attended many of these events during my 25 years as a homeschool mom. A variety of speakers have manned the podiums. I remember a U.S. senator one year. Then there was a successful tech entrepreneur. Creation scientist Ken Ham also came once. This year the keynote address was different.

AUDIO: I’m Steve Scheibner, and I’m a pilot for American Airlines. I’ve been with American for about 27 years, and I was very close to the events of September 11, 2001. I was originally scheduled to be the co-pilot on the first airplane that was hijacked.

That’s how Scheibner begins his first workshop. He titles it “Living on Borrowed Time.”

AUDIO: Through a really extraordinary set of circumstances, I was bumped from the flight the night before. So about 3 o’clock on September 10 crew scheduling assigned my name to the trip. Actually, a computer signed my name to the trip.

Like she always did, Scheibner’s wife, Megan, went to work ironing his uniform. She shooed their eight children outside to enjoy the fall weather.    

AUDIO: Typically a scheduler will call you up and confirm that assignment, so you’ll know you’re going to work. And somewhere between when I saw my name had been assigned on the computer and when the phone call was supposed to be made, the phone never rang.

That’s because senior pilot Tom McGuinness decided to take the flight. During a 30-minute window of opportunity, he bumped Scheibner off the trip.

AUDIO: So at that moment they erased my name from the trip and put Tom’s on it. I’d already packed my bags and put them in the car, set my alarm clock and was ready to go.

Hours later, both pilots went to bed. The next morning McGuinness showed up for work at Boston’s Logan International Airport. Scheibner went to his other job with the Navy.

Scheibner’s phone started ringing soon after the tragedy. It took time, however, for the emotional gravity of what had happened to sink in. He tells of logging onto his computer later that evening and seeing the flight he’d signed up to co-pilot. It was marked “sequence failed continuity.” That’s code for a flight that never made it to its destination.

AUDIO: The way I describe it to audiences is I’m living on borrowed time. I can mark on the calendar the day I should have died, and I saw my smoking hole, and it was on national TV, right? 

He says that knowledge carries with it an obligation…

AUDIO: You can’t just put that on arm’s length and say, “Ok, God, well I’m going to go back to ordinary life. You have to search out the answer for why did God spare your life.

More than 2,900 people died during the attacks on 9/11. Scheibner knew both of the pilots on board Flight 11 and many of the flight attendants. Some days he felt guilty for being alive.

AUDIO: I thought to myself, I’ve got to stop living like a “someday saint.” You know – someday I’m going to do it and one excuse after another for keeping God’s will for my life at arm’s length. 9/11 was a catalytic moment for myself and our family.   

Scheibner and his wife went on to found a ministry called CharacterHealth. This year, he’ll speak at 40 events across the country and the globe.

AUDIO: I do a lot of training for the Navy, and that’s almost all people who don’t know the Lord or don’t have a Christian worldview for sure. And they’re aching for answers. They’re aching for leadership. It’s amazing. They pepper me with parenting questions and marriage questions.

On the tenth anniversary of 9/11, Scheibner’s oldest son released a 15-minute film about his parents’ experience called “In My Seat.” The piece has had more than 2-and-a-half million hits on YouTube.

AUDIO: All of us have major life events in our lives. It’s either a death in the family or the loss of a job or some other thing that’s a catalytic moment. And you have to allow God to do what He’s going to do with those moments. [Applause]

For WORLD Radio, I’m Kim Henderson reporting from Starkville, Mississippi.


(Photo/Sean Adair, Reuters) UA Flight 175 flies toward the south tower of the World Trade Center while the north tower burns.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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