September 11: A twist of fate that changed one Basin Electric pilot’s future

Ryan Anderson, Basin Electric aviation manager, was an intern with Basin Electric on Sept. 11, 2001 – the day there were four coordinated terrorist attacks against the United States. He’d only been with the co-op for four months and was supposed to fly to Wyoming that day, but called in sick the day before.

“I remember my wife waking me up and saying ‘Something strange is going on. An airplane just hit a building.’ I was even more confused being in my Nyquil stupor, and then I saw the second plane fly into the south tower and was in total awe.”

Trips and delays

Anderson had called Fred Adams, former Basin Electric flight department manager, to make the Wyoming trip for him on Sept. 11 because as Anderson says, “You need to be feeling your best to safely fly.”

Adams, along with former pilot Larry Buller, dropped off passengers in Gillette and then called the tower for clearance so they could head to their next stop, Wheatland, but clearance wasn’t granted.

Gillette is a non-radar airport, so only one plane can depart or arrive at a time since air traffic control can’t actually see the aircraft activity near the airport to separate the ones on instrument flight plans. Adams and Buller assumed an inbound plane was the reason they didn’t get clearance and that they would depart on a visual flight plan.

“The controller responded by saying, ‘No, you don’t understand what’s going on. You’re not going anywhere. The airspace is closed. The entire U.S. airspace is shut down,’” Anderson says.

Adams and Buller spent the weekend in Gillette waiting to return home to Bismarck. “I was lucky to avoid that,” Anderson says. “Needless to say, Fred never offered to fly for me again!"

Anderson recalls that another former pilot, Loren Carsen, was grounded in Minnesota and ended up getting a ride back to Bismarck with Basin Electric linemen. “A week later we went back and finally brought that airplane home,” Anderson says.

Ryan Anderson standing in front of Basin Electric’s Cessna 210 in Gillette, Wyoming on Aug. 5, 2002. 

Setting a course for a career with Basin Electric

When Anderson joined Basin Electric, he was set to stay with the cooperative for 13 months.

“I had every intention of going into the airlines after my internship. I was building flight time and getting tremendous experience with Basin, but I wanted a career with an airline,” he says.

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, there were few aviation jobs available because flying was limited, partially from the negative economic state that the airlines were in and partially because of public fear. Anderson was anticipating being on the job hunt soon, but his manager, Adams, kept extending his internship because of increased flying with the cooperative aircraft. Not only was Basin Electric growing, but the safety, reliability, and flexibility of the cooperative were proven all the more valuable after the events of Sept. 11. A few years later he was hired as a permanent employee.

“Sept. 11 changed my career, and I will always be grateful for my time here at Basin Electric,” Anderson says.