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Madison County woman remembers making quick friends with United 93 passenger

Published: Sep. 9, 2021 at 6:26 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - The September 11th terror attacks are still fresh in the minds of many, even two decades later. It’s not hard to find people with connections to the horrific events in unsuspecting places.

One Madison County woman is forever tied to the attacks, thanks to where she was when they occurred: 30,000 feet in the air.

“Everyone knows where they were,” said Marlene Squires-Swanson, sharing a familiar sentiment on what quickly became a defining moment of the 21st Century.

“For me, it’s as clear as yesterday.”

Today, Squires-Swanson serves as the Madison County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director. But back in 2001, she was a marketing executive who made weekly trips from her home in Chicago to New York.

On Monday, September 10, severe weather canceled her normal flight home, forcing her to stay overnight and catch the first flight out Tuesday, September 11.

On the tram to the hotel, she befriended another weary traveler.

“She had come in from Europe, and her flight from San Francisco was canceled,” Squires-Swanson recalled. “She was eventually rebooked the next morning on a flight to San Francisco. Which was eventually Flight 93.”

Squires-Swanson spent the night at the Newark Airport Marriott, where just days before, four soon-to-be hijackers stayed. She remembers the night well for a bad feeling she had, unsure why.

“I was up all night tossing and turning,” she said. “I was very fearful and wanted to get home.”

The next morning, a plane in the distance made her think of her new friend.

“Before we took off we saw the United flight on the runway taxi out ahead of us,” she said.

That flight would end up crashing in a Pennsylvania field as passengers fought back against the hijackers.

The terror there, in Manhattan, and in Arlington all happened while Squires-Swanson flight to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport was in the air. When they landed, passengers could tell something was wrong.

“While we were sitting there all the flight attendants ran up the aisle into the cockpit and closed the door,” she said.

Squires-Swanson turned on her cell phone. She was greeted with a dozen messages from worried family and friends. Reality had struck.

“We were one of the 10 or 13 planes still unaccounted for because we still hadn’t landed,” she said.

She was able to squeeze her daughter and husband tight that night. But two decades later, she still keeps with her the memory of all those who never came home, including her new friend on the tram.

“It does surprise me I still feel it - the apprehension, the fear I felt that morning.”

No matter where you were, a morning that lives on in infamy.

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