Airport manager's 9/11 actions praised
Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Star-Ledger Staff

For the aviation industry, 9/11 is never very far beneath the surface.

Nevertheless, a new book by an aviation industry consultant was cause for Newark Liberty International Airport employees and airline workers to remember lost colleagues and to recall the leadership and altruism exhibited during those unnerving days five years ago.

On the busy concourse of Newark Liberty's Terminal B on Wednesday, Tom Murphy introduced some of the "quiet heros" who are featured in his book, "Reclaiming the Sky: 9/11 and the Untold Story of the Men and Women Who Kept America Flying."

Susan Baer, the airport's general manager, was among them. With no female role models to learn from in airport management, Murphy said Baer has learned to operate as a manager from instinct. It was no different Sept. 11.

Baer, a long-time employee of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, was gazing out a fourth-floor window of the airport administration building with a clear view of the World Trade Center when a plane commandeered by terrorists crashed into the North Tower.

Baer instantly shut down Newark Liberty, preventing any more planes from departing. Managers at John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia quickly followed suit, and 14 minutes later the Federal Aviation Administration imposed the same order on airports across the country.

Initial news of the attack had described a small plane flying into the South Tower.

"I was trying to get my head around how a small plane could crash into the World Trade Center," Baer said. "We were calling Teterboro and asking, is this one of ours?"

The sight of the second airplane erased any thought of an accident.

"There was no SOP (standard operating procedure) for that day. There was no plan in place for a 9/11. It was instinctive," Baer said.

"We hit bottom on 9/11. That was as hard as it got," she said. "Every day, you figured something else out. You were figuring a lot of it out alone."

Susan Todd can be reached at or (973) 392-4125.

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