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'Like O'Hare at rush hour' | Amid shock and confusion of 9/11, Indianapolis airport became one of the busiest in the nation

In the moments after planes hit the World Trade Center, Indianapolis International Airport workers hurried to land dozens of airplanes diverted by the attack.

INDIANAPOLIS — Like many others, Sept. 11, 2001 is a day Dennis Rosebrough won’t forget.  

“I mean, my heart just broke. How could it not?” he said.  

At the time, Rosebrough was working at Indianapolis International Airport as the public affairs director. He first heard the news while in his car on his way to work.

“I got into the elevator up to the fifth floor where our administrative offices were and was met at the elevator and taken right to our conference room where the TV was on,” Rosebrough said.  

On that TV, he watched as the second plane hit the south tower of the World Trade Center.

“I was standing next to the public safety director and he grabbed my arm and goes, ‘Dennis, we are under attack.’ I’ll never forget that statement and from then on, things really happened very quickly,” he said.   

The airport immediately stopped unticketed passengers from going through checkpoints and moved any parked cars away from the building.  

RELATED: Butler professor reflects on living in New York City on 9/11

Not long after, the order came in to land every plane, no matter what.  

Because of Indianapolis’ location and space for aircrafts, it became one of the busiest spots in the nation, with more than 60 airplanes landing in a short period of time  

“It looked like O’Hare at rush hour. The planes were landing one after another after another," Rosebrough said. "747s, little planes. I remember seeing a big Air France 747 land. We ended up with 61 airplanes. Not only do you have the airplanes, but all of a sudden, we have more than 6,000 people at the airport."

Credit: WTHR
Dennis Rosebrough was the public affairs director at Indianapolis International Airport on Sept. 11, 2001.

To accommodate everyone, airport staff booked blocks of hotel rooms, brought in charter buses and kept airport restaurants and stores open.  

At the same, Rosebrough was receiving dozens of requests from local news outlets. 

“My phone exploded with media calls, because I was the media contact. So that was chaotic to try and get a handle on that and not only manage it from a physical standpoint, but what to stay,” he said.  

Rosebrough relied on information he was getting from his team. 

“They were the doers. They made the tough decisions and made the good decisions and I got to talk about the great results,” he said. 

RELATED: 20 years later, survivor of the terrorist attack at the Pentagon on 9/11 recounts escaping death that day

For almost three days, flights remained grounded at the airport. It was an eerie and unforgettable sight for all that worked there.  

“It really changed aviation forever,” Rosebrough said. “I hope that in these 20 years that we haven’t forgotten what that day was like and the impact that it had on us."

On Saturday, Indianapolis International Airport will commemorate the 20th anniversary of the terror attacks. A piece of the World Trade Center steel recovered from Ground Zero will be on display.  

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