Frank Robertazzi is a frequent traveler on United Airlines Flight 93 from Newark, N.J., to San Francisco, but his decision last Tuesday to have breakfast with his five-year-old daughter and take a 9:30 a.m. plane instead of the ill-fated 8 a.m. flight turned out to be a life-saving choice.
His plane never took off. The meeting Robertazzi was to attend was canceled. It took colleagues who thought he was on the earlier flight hours to track down the vice president of worldwide distribution sales at Agilent Technologies Inc., who is based in the company's Paramus, N.J., office.
In the days following the disaster, companies throughout the country sought to account for all their staff and return to some semblance of business as usual. Some closed shop for a day or two, depending on their location. Most suspended travel temporarily and sought hotel accommodations for employees stranded by travel bans. Some drove rental cars hundreds or thousands of miles rather than wait for air-ports to reopen.
The emotional toll on high-tech executives and their families and friends has been steep and may not be clear for some time to come--if ever.
"I keep playing back in my mind why I headed for the 9:30 plane," Robertazzi said. "It will take many of us time to process all of this. ... I can understand if people don't want to travel for a month or two."
Joseph Jareck also took a different route than expected to return to his office at Torrance, Calif.-based Classic Components. It was a route that saved his life.
"I had an American Eagle connecting flight from Islip, N.Y., to Boston on Monday, Sept. 10," said Jareck, vice president and general manager at the independent distributor. "I was scheduled to take the Tuesday morning flight from Boston, Flight 11, to Los Angeles."
But because there was wheel trouble with the flight out of Islip, the airline put Jareck in a taxi to New York's JFK International Airport, where he flew to Los Angeles on Monday instead. "It's life's choices and strange events that make the difference. I'm looking at life through different eyes."
Many others spoke of what-ifs, changed plans, and relief tinged with sadness. There were the World Trade Center employees who were running late on Tuesday morning. And one worker who took the day off to play golf.
Others were touched because of their proximity to the crisis. Kevin Melia, chairman of EMS provider Manufacturers' Services Ltd. in Concord, Mass., was en route to Boston's Logan Airport Tuesday morning when his secretary called and told him of the disaster. "Our hearts go out to all those who are affected," he said.
Industry executives hailed the outpouring of sympathy and support from colleagues around the world.
Lucent Technologies Inc. stepped up its counseling service for families in need. The company is also working with customers like AT&T and Verizon to restore communications infrastructures, according to a spokesman at Lucent, Murray Hill, N.J.
"The mood is very somber; we have a few people who lost loved ones," said Arthur Nadata, president and chief executive of distributor Nu Horizons Electronics Corp., Melville, N.Y. "Colleagues are offering each other comfort."
Organizations like the Electronic Industries Alliance allowed employees to leave early on Friday to observe the national day of prayer and remembrance. "We're operating, as many in the Washington area are, in a mode that allows people to deal with emotions and personal feelings," said Bob Willis president of the Electronic Components, Assemblies, and Materials Association, which is part of the Arlington, Va.-based EIA.
For some, the impact is personal.
Ben Schwartz, vice president of strategic marketing at Jaco Electronics Inc., Hauppauge, N.Y., waited three hours before he heard that his 28-year-old son, who works at the World Financial Center, was alive and well. He was coming out of the subway when the second plane hit the south tower of the World Trade Center. "My son doesn't know whether [the images of what he saw] will ever leave his mind," Schwartz said.
Bill Barron, chief marketing officer at PartMiner Inc., New York, saw both planes careen into the trade center. "All you could see was a plume of smoke that looked like it was moving up 5th Avenue," he said.
"I saw people walking up Park Avenue, business people carrying brief-cases, completely covered with soot. The streets were filled with people trying to get out of the city and get home."
Additional reporting by EBN staff