9/11 Pentagon survivor Ty Peterson finds peace on Minnesota farm
(FOX 9) - The images are forever etched in our collective consciousness, the symbol of America's military might broken and burning after the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history.
But just around the corner from where a hijacked Boeing 757 crashed into the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 sat Ty Peterson who still has a hard time putting into words what he experienced on that fateful day.
"The day itself was just a nice sunny day like today was. It kind of changed everyone's life forever."
On September 11, 2001, Peterson was a captain at the Department of Defense working on budgets for the Air Force's drone program.
He was talking on the phone with his wife Kelly about the two planes that had just flown into the World Trade Center in New York City when he heard a loud noise and knew something was wrong.
"I forget what I was doing but I was logged into my computer and then there was this ‘whoom,’" he remembered. "The desk shook, the monitor wobbled, the alarm went off, I was talking to Kelly on the phone, and I said, ‘Holy beep something hit here. I'll call you when I get out.'"
The point of impact was 583 feet from Peterson's desk and by the time, it stopped moving, it was just 400 feet away. Peterson says everyone in his area calmly went into the hallway where he could smell burning jet fuel and made his way to the parking lot where he met up with the rest of his unit.
"There was a big shadow that cast over the walkway, we looked back up to the right and it was a big black plume of smoke coming from the building that blotted out the sun," said Peterson.
After everyone was safe and accounted for, Peterson says he and a coworker started walking towards their homes 15 miles away. But at one point they heard another loud boom and started running wondering if the White House or Capitol had been hit.
"Later we saw the side of the Pentagon. We could see all the floors had collapsed. That was the boom. We didn't feel safe we didn't know what was next. Where the next plane might be coming from. Then the F-16's showed up. They were flying patrols over the capitol and then we felt safe."
Peterson and his coworker ended up hitchhiking home but he returned to the Pentagon a few more times over the next several months. "Always in the back of my mind was: ‘Are they going to try that again today,’" he recalled.
He eventually retired from the Air Force and moved back to Minnesota where his wife now runs a horse therapy farm for children with disabilities near Motley.
Peterson says he used to take his mind off the anniversary of 9/11 by spending the day with his son Paul. But the high school senior died in a snowmobile accident in February of last year.
"Kelly was 7 months pregnant with Paul on 9/11," he said. "I'm so glad I survived and got to know him before he died last year."
The peace and tranquility on the farm make the chaos and confusion of the terrorist attacks feel like a world away. "Yeah, it's a good day. My building wasn't hit by an airplane today so it isn't a bad day."