Vaughn Allex will never forget the faces of the two hijackers involved in the 9/11 attacks, as he checked in for them.
Allex used to be a ticket checker for American Airlines, working at Dulles International Airport in Virginia. On September 11, 2001, Allex saw two men running into the station, they seemed to have lost their way and approached the check-in counter he was in charge of.
They are Nawaf Al-Hazmi and Salem Al-Hazmi, these two brothers were late to the airport. But when the two passengers presented first-class tickets, Allex assured them they would get on flight 77, instead of booking them another flight. That decision has weighed heavily on Allex for the past 20 years.
“The procedure was weird. Those two were brothers, one was grumpy, and the other was a few steps behind,” Allex said. “I noticed the person standing behind him as he seemed to be jumping, moving from foot to foot, grinning and looking around. Then I thought maybe this person has never been on a plane and he was. feel excited.”
“I watched him for a few minutes during the check-in. He didn’t say anything but the questions he had to answer during the check-in. He just laughed and danced, seemingly unaware of what was going on. out,” Allex recounted. “That’s what I saw, one standing still and the other dancing.”
When the two Al-Hazmi brothers were unable to answer basic security check questions, Allex marked their tickets for a security note.
In addition to the two Al-Hazmi brothers, Allex had another heavy heart. 24 hours before checking in for them, Allex’s best friend asked him about flying to Chicago or Dallas to Las Vegas. Allex advised his friend to take flight 77 and connect in Los Angeles.
“I said it was a better flight. It was a transcontinental flight, you get to eat a meal and watch a movie, it’s relaxing,” Allex recalls.
“She said it sounded cool, but didn’t know how to register tickets this way and that’s when we switched to e-tickets. I wrote her a ticket to fly from Dulles to Los Angeles and connect to Las Vegas. The next day, she boarded the flight on which I wrote the ticket.”
Allex left Dulles Airport in a melancholy mood after the 9/11 attacks, but didn’t know things were worse than that. “September 11 and 12, 2001, I faced the same sentiments as those who lost friends, passengers and crew in the attack. I know all crew members and flight attendants, I work for it. with them for many years,” Allex said.
“I didn’t know the last two passengers I checked in were the two hijackers involved in the 9/11 attacks until the FBI agent told me on the morning of September 12. That’s when I found out I was involved in the attack.”
Allex was called to his superior’s room on September 12. A woman sitting there introduced herself as an attorney for American Airlines and did not represent him. Allex felt a chill all over his body when two FBI agents walked in and handed him the passenger list.
“I ran my finger over the list and immediately saw the names of the two people I checked in. I looked at the FBI agent and said ‘did I do that?’ The agent said ‘what did you do?’ . I replied that these are the two people I checked in,” Allex said.
“I thought they knew exactly who they were looking for, but they wanted me to confirm. The interrogation that followed was completely focused on these two. Before that, I had no idea I had checked in for two. among the hijackers”.
Guilt tormented Allex for many years to come, he didn’t even want to talk about many things even though two decades had passed.
“I blame myself. If I did something else, if I didn’t let them on the plane, then I just told the FBI agents they were late and let them get on the next flight at noon. No big deal,” Allex said.
Friends and professionals for many years told Allex that he just did his job. “That’s what they tell me. But what I do and the thoughts in my mind sometimes get crazy,” Allex said.
Allex lived in torment for many years, until he bought a book in 2004. “The turning point for me came after the 9/11 Commission questioned me. When their report was published, I bought it. the book was hundreds of pages long and found my name on the third page. I was mentioned in a short paragraph with footnote number 12 at the bottom of the page.”
Allex says the caption with his name next to so many others is what frees him from the guilt and burden of responsibility that plagued him for years after the 9/11 attacks.
“That’s when I realized there were so many innocent people involved in this. I only took up five short minutes of the whole event. But before that, I felt terrible,” Allex said.
In 2008, Allex quit his job at American Airlines. He later worked for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) of the US Department of Homeland Security.
“Since joining TSA, I feel that my work here is very important in keeping people safe. I am only a very small part of TSA, but I am the happiest person there. I will tell anyone. anyone about this,” Allex said.
Nguyen Tien (Follow ABC News)