It’s a story Steve Scheibner, an American Airlines pilot on Sept. 11, 2001, has shared many times since that fateful day.
The former Navy pilot was scheduled to be in the cockpit of one of the planes that flew into the World Trade Center towers, but he believes God, in his providence, spared his life.
“I know what it’s like to have somebody die in my place, not once but twice,” Scheibner says in a new afterword to the video “In My Seat: A Pilot’s Story from Sept. 10th-11th” airing on the online platform LIFTABLEtv.
“In My Seat” was first released 10 years ago.
“By our best estimate, this film has been viewed tens of millions of times, and those views have come from every country around the world. Incredible. It’s transformed my life on a personal basis,” Scheibner said.
In the movie, he recounts how he had signed up to pilot American Airlines Flight 11 bound from Boston to Los Angeles on Sept. 11, 2001.
Scheibner was, in fact, briefly listed as the pilot online, but because of his status as a reserve pilot, “line pilots” could bump him if they acted within 30 minutes of him picking a flight.
American’s procedure was to call the pilot to confirm.
“I waited for the phone call, and the phone never rang, which is not completely unusual,” Scheibner said. “It’s not the norm, but it’s not completely out of the question either. In fact, I didn’t even think about it for a while.”
Having never been confirmed to pilot the flight, he went to work for his other job with the Navy Reserve on Sept. 11.
Later that morning, Scheibner started receiving phone calls from friends checking on him after Flight 11 struck the World Trade Center’s North Tower.
“I still didn’t realize that that was the flight I was supposed to be on. You know, I’m watching it on TV like everybody else, and it didn’t click with me. I knew the flight number and everything. It still didn’t click with me,” he said.
Finally, later that night it occurred to Scheibner, he was supposed to be on that plane.
When he looked on American’s online system to see who the crew was, he saw three words: “Sequence Failed Continuity.”
“That’s code at the airlines for the trip never made it to its destination. Wow, what an understatement,” Scheibner said.
The emotion of it all then hit him.
“Words can’t describe that moment of realizing that you should have been someplace. … Yeah, you do have a twinge of guilt,” Scheibner said.
The man who did pilot Flight 11 was Tom McGuinness, a Top Gun Navy fighter pilot veteran who had just celebrated his 42nd birthday with his wife and family the day before.
FO Tom McGuinness, whose father was the first officer on American Airlines Flight 11, provides his perspective on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks:https://t.co/kkzkaheVoJ pic.twitter.com/cKj8okL5FD
— Allied Pilots (@AlliedPilots) September 10, 2021
“Why does God take one and leave another? It’s not because I’m a better person or God wanted to do more with me than he wanted to with Tom. I think in God’s providence, that’s obviously his choice,” Scheibner said.
The Michigan native recounted that being spared on 9/11 immediately amped up his life’s central mission: to glorify God.
When it’s all said and done, Scheibner says what he really wants to hear from God is, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
“I need to act like I’m living on borrowed time because I am. I can look and see my smoking hole. And it was on national TV,” he said.
“There’s an obligation that comes with that. I’ve got to live my days with a sense of urgency. I have to make sure I get the most out of them. And not the most for me. We live in a world where everybody’s out to kind of get the most for them,” Scheibner added.
“What I know is that somebody died in my place not once, but twice. That’s where God comes into the whole thing for me,” he said.
One, of course, was McGuinness.
“But Tom didn’t die for my sins. You see, God sent his own son to die for my sins. Jesus Christ was the other one who died in my place, and he hung, and he bled, and he suffered on a cross to pay a price for me that I wasn’t qualified to pay,” Scheibner said.
“I couldn’t have hung on the cross. I didn’t have the same qualifications.”
“The silver lining on this little story is this: Tom had a solid testimony of faith in Jesus Christ,” Scheibner said in his afterward for LIFTABLEtv. “And on Sept. 11, 2001, he went straight from that bloody cockpit straight into the arms of the Lord.”
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