Vaughn Allex: Ticket agent who helped 9/11 hijackers board plane still feels guilt
A former American Airlines ticket agent has opened up following the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on how he had checked in two hijackers on that fateful day in 2001 — a memory that haunts him to this very day. Identified as Vaughn Allex, the former Dulles International Airport employee was working in the Virginia facility when two al-Qaeda insurgents Salem and Nawaf Al Hazmi ran into the terminal pretending to be lost. In an interview with ABC News, Allex opened up about what transpired from that moment on and how he still blames himself for the ultimate fate of Flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon.
Flight 77 was one of the planes that the insurgent group had hijacked to attack on that tragic day. The attacks collapsed the World Trade Center as an American Airlines flight crashed into the North Tower and a United Airlines one hit the South Tower. The flight that Allex checked terrorists into was the third crash that day, crashing on the west side of the Pentagon, causing a partial collapse of the building. All 64 passengers including a total of five hijackers on board the airliner were killed in the crash, including another 125 people inside the Pentagon. Another hijacked United Airlines flight that was headed towards either the White House or the US Capitol, crashed in Pennsylvania after massive retaliation from passengers on board.
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Allex retired from American Airlines in 2008 and currently works for the Transportation Security Administration. He told ABC, the two terrorists he had checked in, had purchased first-class tickets and were running late to board the flight. "I blame myself, I thought, you know, if I had done something different, if I'd not let them on, if I just said to the agents, these two guys are late, let them get the next flight. We have one at noon. It's no big deal," Allex told ABC.
Allex inquired if the two terrorists — reportedly brothers — had packed their own luggage. He however booked them on the flight and flagged them for additional security after basic check-in questions weren't answered properly. "The check-in was odd. The two that I checked in, two brothers, one was kind of gruff and the other one was standing a couple of paces behind him. And this sounds odd, but this is what caught my attention. He was almost dancing, he was moving from foot to foot and grinning and looking around, and my thought was, here's somebody that's never been on an airplane and boy is this guy excited," Allex said.
He continued: "And I kind of watched him for a couple of minutes as we went through the whole check. And he was totally unresponsive as far as whatever we asked him to read, to look verbally. He just smiled and danced and was oblivious to what was going on. That's the image I have, is the two of them standing there and the one just dancing, it was the oddest thing."
Vaughn Allex will never forget the faces of two of the 9/11 hijackers. He looked them in the eye that morning and asked who packed their luggage.— World News Tonight (@ABCWorldNews) September 10, 2021
Allex shares his story with @GioBenitez. https://t.co/Umas64RdtJ pic.twitter.com/FTaeuhnN1W
Allex found out about the real identity of the hijackers the next day. Summoned by a lawyer for the airline, Allex was greeted by two FBI agents who handed him a passenger manifest for Flight 77. "I started to run my hand down the list and I saw the names of the two people I checked in, and in that moment and that instant, that's when I looked at him and I said, 'I did it, didn't I?' And they said, 'what did you do?' And I go, 'these were the two that I put in'," Allex said. "I think they, they knew exactly who they were looking for, but they wanted me to come to that conclusion. Once we did, the interview strictly focused on these two individuals. And the rest is history, that the whole transaction came back, I didn't know all of September 11th until that moment on September 12th — I did not realize that I had checked-in two of the hijackers."
Allex's guilt was compounded by the fact that he had asked a coworker to take Flight 77 for a trip to Las Vegas. The woman was initially considering flying to Chicago and connecting to Las Vegas. "I said, first of all, it's a better flight. It's a transcontinental flight. You get a meal and a movie and it's relaxing." he recalled. "She said that sounded good, but that she'd never written a ticket that way and we were just transitioning to electronic tickets. Could I help her? So I wrote her ticket from Dulles to Los Angeles with a connecting flight back to Las Vegas. And then the following day, I saw that she had gotten on the flight on the ticket I'd written."
The guilt eased after he purchased the 9/11 commission report that detailed missteps on the government's behalf in uncovering the al-Qaeda plot. "The turning point for me, I had been interviewed by the 9/11 Commission. And it wasn't until the 9/11 Commission report came out and I bought the book and here is this book with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pages, and I'm on page three. I have a little paragraph and a footnote, footnote number 12," said Allex, adding: "That's when it started to get better. That's when I went — oh my gosh. There were so many other people involved, there were so many innocent people that just touched on this. And I had just such a small, tiny five-minute part of it. But before that, it was — it was terrible."