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AFIMSC Remembers 9/11: The last call

  • Published
  • By David Ford
  • AFIMSC Public Affairs

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. – Go home. Those were the last words Don Arias spoke to his younger brother, Adam, on Sept. 11, 2001.

Home. It’s the place we leave each morning with the intention of returning later that day. It’s our refuge, our haven, the place we fall asleep. It’s the place we celebrate birthdays, new beginnings and summer barbeques. On our tough days, the ones that seem to never end, home is the place we go to rest and recharge. 

Life is a series of little moments, memories spliced together like an old filmstrip.

In an instant, the filmstrip the brothers shared went dark. 

Today, Don Arias is a civilian public affairs officer for the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center supporting rebuild efforts at Tyndall AFB. But on Sept. 11, 2001, he was an active-duty Air Force officer at Tyndall. That fateful day he was in the middle of an air defense exercise when he first received word of the real-world attack. 

Having heard reports of what was believed to be a small aircraft hitting the north tower of the World Trade Center, he could now see the smoke billowing out of the building from his office television. 

“That seemed like a lot of fire for a small airplane,” he thought. 

Arias quickly got on the phone to check on his brother who worked for an investment company in the south WTC tower. He was relieved to hear Adam’s voice on the other end. 

“Dude you’re not gonna believe what I’m seeing here. There are guys in the other building jumping,” his brother told him.

Don could hear the gasps of Adam’s coworkers in the background as they watched the scene unfold from the 84th floor of the south tower – inside what would soon become the impact zone of Flight 175.

Go home. 

“That was the last I spoke with him,” Don Arias said.

A former New York City firefighter himself, Don Arias traveled to Ground Zero to help search for his baby brother. Ten days later, Adam was brought home. His brother was 37, the average age of the World Trade Center victims on 9/11.

He was found where he spent the final moments of his life – as a hero. Word got back to his big brother that he had escaped the south tower, but remained on site to help the wounded, including several injured firemen and members of the police. 

“He was that kind of guy. He put others first before himself,” he said. “There wasn’t a karaoke contest that he hadn’t won; he had a great singing voice and he was super funny. He was a really talented guy and we miss him a lot.” 

Life has changed a lot since then, not just for America, but for everyone, Arias said.