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Published September 11, 2011, 10:08 PM

North Dakota Fighter Jets were First to Respond on 9/11

(WDAY TV) - When national leaders realized a terrorist attack was underway, the first 3 fighter jets in the air were from North Dakota.

By: Charley Johnson, WDAY

When national leaders realized a terrorist attack was underway, the first 3 fighter jets in the air were from North Dakota. Happy Hooligans. Charley Johnson interviewed three of the North Guard Pilots, who flew that day.

In the chaotic first moments after the attacks on the World Trade Center, intelligence leaders realized more airliners may have been hijacked. If the order had been given to shoot one down, it would have been Fargo-based pilots who would have had to do it.

Lt. Col. Dean Eckmann – NDANG 9/11 Pilot: "One of my thoughts was, as I'm looking back, a little bit later on, looking down through the missiles here, at the Pentagon burning, thinking-- I could be firing these missiles later today. Again, you don't know what the threat is, we didn't know that it was terrorists that flew an airplane in. You just know that something tragic has happened, and things are going to change."

Col. Brad Derrig – NDANG 9/11 Pilot: "We never trained for a scenario like this. We always trained for the outward threat, mainly the Soviet Union. Never an inward threat. A lot of the procedures are the same. Other than the fact that the potential targets know are civilian airliners, and not Russian bombers."

Col. Rick Gibney started his day in Fargo, flew to Montana to pick up the New York State emergency officer, ferried him back to Albany, then flew to Langley to join the rotation. But his mind was on an old Army friend of his, who was by then a New York City Police officer.

Col. Rick Gibney – NDANG 9/11 Pilot: "Pulled out his card, called the precinct, and I'd been there several times before visiting with him, and they quickly passed me off to the Lieutenant, who told me that he had been missing and presumed lost in the Trade Center, I believe last seen in World Trade Center Seven, trying to unhinge a revolving door to try to get people out a bit quicker. I try to remember him everyday, by keeping his name on."

Colonel Gibney's Army buddy was CLAUDE "DAN" RICHARDS. They served together from 1976 until 1980. Richards was 46 when he died on September 11, 2001.

2-thousand, 749 people died in the Twin Towers.

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