Man who checked in Pentagon 9/11 hijackers reveals 15 years of guilt
The airport worker who checked in two of the hijackers who flew a plane into the Pentagon on 9/11 has spoken about the guilt he feels and the long road to recovery.
Vaughn Allex was working at Dulles Airport, Virginia, when two brothers rushed in late for American Airlines Flight 77 to LA. He checked them in anyway – and within hours 184 people were dead.
It’s a decision that haunts him to this day. ‘Hardly a day goes by when there’s not some kind of reminder,’ he told KCBY.
It wasn’t until September 12, when FBI agents showed him the manifest for Flight 77, that Allex realized what had happened.
On that list were the names Salem and Nawaf Alhazmi – the two brothers who had arrived late, and later hijacked the flight along with three others.
‘I looked at the FBI agents and they looked at me and they knew, and I just went, “I did it, didn’t I?”‘ Allex said.
‘They said, “You did what?” I said, “I did it, I put them on the plane.”‘
Both the FBI and FAA said Allex did nothing wrong. But that did little to assuage his own guilt – or the anger of his colleagues.
Every day he would arrive at work to find that he was completely alone: No-one would even talk to him.
Even support groups were little help, he told NPR’s StoryCorps.
‘How do I sit in a room with people that are, that are mourning and crying and they’re like, “What’s your role in this whole thing?”‘ he asked.
‘What could he say to them? “Well, I checked in a couple of the hijackers and made sure they got on the flight.”‘
His guilt was so bad that when one customer mentioned that her husband had been killed in the 9/11 attacks, he misheard her as saying ‘You killed my husband on September 11.’
It was only the support of his family and close friends who got him through the years that followed.
‘It was pretty bad, it was pretty much a bottomless pit for a long time,’ he told KCBY.
But he managed to keep going. In 2008 he quit his job and went to work for the Department of Homeland Security.
He visits the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial multiple times every year, and attends the annual Rattle the Runway Ride at Dulles Airport, in which motorbike enthusiasts commemorate the fallen.
And slowly, he says, he’s coming to terms with what happened.
‘I feel like in some ways I’ve – I really have come out of a shadow over the last 15 years,’ he told NPR, ‘and I’m – I’m back in the light now.’