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Remembering 9/11: A fishing trip turns into a tangled mess

  • Todd Godfrey, of Meriden, N.H., and five friends who grew up together in Lebanon were stranded while flying to Montana for a long-planned fishing trip on Sept. 11, 2001. Godfrey, who is working on a carpentry job in Norwich, Vt., on Sept. 8, 2021, and another friend decided to drive back to the Upper Valley from Chicago while the others continued in a rental car to Montana. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Columnist
Published: 9/11/2021 10:16:55 PM
Modified: 9/11/2021 10:28:24 PM

Todd Godfrey was happy to have a window seat on the early-morning flight out of Manchester. Under a bright blue sky and no clouds blocking his view, he soaked in the rolling landscape 30,000 feet below.

“You couldn’t ask for a better day to fly,” Godfrey said.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Godfrey and five buddies who grew up together in Lebanon left on a fly fishing trip to Montana that they’d been planning for nearly a year.

The five Upper Valley residents in the group, including Godfrey’s older brother, Tim, departed from Manchester. To take advantage of frequent flyer miles, they booked different airlines. The sixth member of the group, John Marchewka, of Cape Elizabeth, Maine, started his morning at the Portland airport.

The men planned to join up midday in Minneapolis to board the same flight to Billings, Mont. By that afternoon, they’d be fishing some of the country’s finest trout streams.

Or so they thought.

Chip Metcalf, of Etna, and Nate Seymour, of Lebanon, were somewhere over the Midwest when the pilot announced that due to a “national crisis” the Federal Aviation Administration was ordering all commercial airliners to land immediately at the nearest airport.

“We fell out of the sky like a rock,” Metcalf said.

At the airport in Grand Rapids, Mich., Metcalf and Seymour stood with other travelers, staring up at the terminal’s TV screens, watching footage of the two planes crashing into the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in New York.

“Everyone was in shock,” Metcalf said. “They couldn’t believe it.”

Back in the Upper Valley, news of the terrorist highjackings quickly made it to the administrative offices at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, where Metcalf’s wife, Linda, and Tim Godfrey’s wife, Marge, both worked.

They knew their husbands “were still in the air that morning, but didn’t know where,” Linda Metcalf said.

Not everyone on the trip owned cellphones, which wasn’t all that unusual 20 years ago, but made for tense moments before Metcalf and Godfrey learned their spouses and the four others headed for Montana were safely on the ground — scattered in different cities.

Tom Dupree’s plane made its emergency landing in Milwaukee. When travelers learned all flights were canceled, it set off a mad dash to the airport’s car rental counters.

By the time Dupree, who lives in Lebanon, reached the counter, the supply of rental cars had been exhausted. He was trying to get to Chicago, a two-hour drive, to meet up with Todd Godfrey, who was at O’Hare International Airport when air travel came to a halt.

A woman ahead of Dupree in line who had reserved one of the last cars overheard his conversation with the rental agent.

She’d be driving through Chicago on her way to Kansas City. “I’ll give you a ride,” she told Dupree, before apparently rethinking her offer to a total stranger.

“You’re not an ax murderer?” she asked.

Dupree assured her that he wasn’t. He worked in sales.

While waiting at O’Hare, Godfrey watched the collapse of the Twin Towers play out on TV. “When I saw what happened to all those people in those buildings, my heart just sank,” he said.

A week in Montana, catching rainbows and browns on a fly rod — as thrilling as it sounded — no longer seemed as important as getting home to his wife and two young children.

The next day the six men rendezvoused outside Chicago. (Tim Godfrey got there after taking a $150 cab ride from Detroit to Grand Rapids.)

Todd Godrey and Metcalf, who had two school-aged kids, pointed their rental car eastward for a two-day drive back to the Upper Valley.

The others packed themselves into a second rental car — bound for Montana, 800 miles to the west.

When it was time to come home, flights had resumed. As their plane descended for a stop in Philadelphia, the pilot pointed out New York City.

Off in the distance, smoke billowed from the World Trade Center’s ruins.

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