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Sarasota Thursday, Sep. 9, 2021 8 months ago

9.11 Remembered: 24 hours in Sarasota

President and his team stayed on Longboat Key.
by: Eric Garwood Managing Editor

As the events of Sept. 11 unfolded, attention initially was focused on a school in Sarasota, a beach resort in Longboat Key and Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport. 

Early August

Sarasota County school officials learn that Emma Booker Elementary is under consideration as a site for an education-based presidential visit.

Early September

Katie Moulton, general manager of Colony Beach & Tennis Resort, hears from the White House, telling her a high-ranking official is planning an overnight visit to the area.

President George W. Bush with Sarasota's Tramm Hudson at the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort.
Sept. 5

Sarasota County Republican Party Chair Tramm Hudson hears from a friend while playing golf on Longboat Key that the U.S. Secret Service has purchased 40,000 gallons of jet fuel at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport and that President George W. Bush would arrive for an overnight visit in five days.

Sept. 6

Police and fire officials from Longboat Key meet with other first-responder agencies and the U.S. Secret Service regarding logistics of Bush’s visit.

Sept. 10

3:45 p.m.: President Bush and his brother, Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida visit Justina Road Elementary School in Jacksonville in support of the president’s "Reading First" initiative, which would increase federal contributions to reading programs for younger students. From there, the presidential party flies on to Sarasota.

5 p.m.: Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport closes to air traffic in preparation for the arrival of Air Force One

6:15 p.m.: President George W. Bush arrives at the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort in Longboat Key with his brother, Gov. Jeb. Bush of Florida and other Republican dignitaries.

7 p.m.: The Bushes and 11 guests dine on a Tex-Mex dinner prepared by Tommy Klauber, including Longboat Key fish tacos, chili con queso and tenderloin rancheros.

10 p.m.: The president retires for the night in one of the resort's penthouses.

Sept. 11

6 a.m.: Longboat Fire Marshal Carroll Mooney reports overhearing a conversation between a Colony staffer and a security guard about a van occupied by men who arrived at the front gate saying they had scheduled a poolside interview with the president. The men in the van asked for a Secret Service agent by name. The request was relayed to Secret Service agents in the resort who responded no such media event was on the president's schedule. The men in the van were referred to the White House press office and turned away. The FBI has never verified the incident.

6:30 a.m.:    President Bush begins a four-mile run on along the Gulf of Mexico. The smell of dead fish and red tide is in the air.

8:23 a.m.: Bush thanks Colony staff and heads to his limousine for the ride to Emma Booker Elementary School in Sarasota. Along with U.S. Education Secretary Dr. Rod Paige, the agenda for the day was to emphasize reading and the president’s education reform package to help improve reading scores, particularly in disadvantaged schools.

The presidential limo leaves Longboat Key for Emma Booker Elementary.

8:46 a.m.: While the president is enroute to Emma Booker, American Flight 11 strikes the north tower of the World Trade Center.

8:55 a.m.: Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice in Washington corrects an earlier report given to the president by senior adviser Karl Rove that a small plane collided with the north tower. Rice tells Bush by phone before he enters the school it was actually a twin-engined airliner. “That’s all we know right now, Mr. President,” she said.

8:56 a.m.:  President Bush and his party arrive in the second grade classroom of Sandra Kay Daniels. Along with Education Secretary Rod Page, the president was expected to sit and read to students from the book, The Pet Goat, by Siegfried Engelmann.

9:03 a.m.:  Press Secretary Ari Fleischer alerts the presidential party of United Flight 175 crashing into the World Trade Center’s South Tower. Bush is already in front of the class, beginning his presentation.

 9:05 a.m.:  White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card walks up to Bush and whispers: “A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack.” Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, according to the Wall Street Journal, flashes a cue-card like message to Bush from the back of the classroom that reads DON’T SAY ANYTHING YET.

President George W. Bush confers on a secure phone from Emma Booker Elementary. (White House photo)

9:15 a.m.: After spending five to seven minutes in the classroom continuing to read to the school children, during which witnesses said the president’s expression changed markedly, President Bush steps into another room to watch TV news coverage and was briefed by staff before speaking by phone to Gov. George Pataki of New York, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. Secret Service is anxious to move the president to a safer location.

9:35 a.m.: Following a hastily arranged and brief statement carried live on TV from the school library, the presidential motorcade leaves for Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport. Local police are alerted the presidential party would be on the move earlier than expected.

9:37 a.m.: American Airlines Flight 77 hits the Pentagon. President Bush learns this during the ride to the airport.

9:42 a.m.: Motorcade arrives at the airport. The drive that normally would take 10 minutes takes seven.

Aboard Air Force 1, President George W. Bush speaks with advisers (White House photo)

9:45 a.m.: In a call to Cheney from Air Force 1, Bush says: “Sounds like we have a minor war going on here, I heard about the Pentagon. We’re at war . . . somebody’s going to pay.”

9:54 a.m.: With no immediate destination, Air Force 1 lifts off about 50 minutes earlier than scheduled and makes an immediate turn toward the Gulf of Mexico. The objective is to gain altitude as fast as possible. The plane's captain takes off in the opposite direction than planned to avoid a man who security agents believed might have a weapon. The man had a video camera.

Sources: The Longboat Observer, the 9/11 Commission Final Report, The Wall Street Journal

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