Berkeley official was in flight on Sept. 11

By Judith Scherr Special to the Daily Planet
Tuesday September 10, 2002


Many Berkeley residents got frightening wake-up calls Sept. 11, 2001 from friends and family across the country. 

Councilmember Betty Olds couldn’t remember who called her. Her first instinct after getting the news, though, was to turn on the TV “It was so horrible I couldn’t really take it in,” she said. “I still feel [the attacks] occurred somewhere else, not in this country.” 

The city’s Chief Health Officer Dr. Poki Namkung got a call from a colleague who told her to turn on her TV, which she did. “It still held a veil of unreality,” Namkung said, adding that the magnitude of the event didn’t sink in until she visited the site of the former World Trade Center in February. 

Arrietta Chakos’ story was very different. Chief of staff to the city manager, Chakos was returning from a three-week vacation in Europe with her 18-year old daughter. 

On the airplane some two hours outside of San Francisco, she noticed that the plane’s digital maps had stopped operating. It was about 11 a.m. when flight attendants said the plane was being rerouted to Calgary, Canada: Air space in the United States was full, they told the passengers. 

That seemed bizarre to Chakos, a seasoned traveler. But she didn’t worry. The flight crew appeared cheery.  

On their arrival at Calgary, however, Chakos saw Mounties with shotguns on the tarmac. “We were there for one hour before we deplaned,” Chakos said. “They would not tell us what happened.” 

Other passengers were calm and cheerful. They helped seniors off the plane, Chakos said.  

“No one complained,” she added. 

The passengers were led into a part of the airport where there were no television sets and were kept there for about 40 minutes. Finally a security officer told Chakos that the American borders had been closed: “There was some kind of attack on the U.S.” 

The passengers were held for another 45 minutes, searched thoroughly and finally told what had happened. 

Chakos, whose work includes helping with the city’s emergency planning, said she thought the situation was handled well. “It’s best to maintain security,” she said. “The Canadians were so kind.”