Escondido Pilot Shares 9/11 Experience in New MSNBC Documentary

As an American Airlines junior co-pilot in 2001, AJ Devine of Escondido routinely flew between New York, Boston and Los Angeles. He said he wasn't on either of the planes that were hijacked in the 9/11 attacks because it was his day off

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Twenty years ago, AJ Devine, so tortured by the tragedy of the terrorist attacks on September 11, stepped into a video booth and bared his soul as a young pilot and Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan.

Between 2002 and 2003, artist Ruth Sergel constructed a number of plywood boxes. Inside them was just a camera and microphone controlled by participants.

The recording booths were placed around New York City for people to share their 9/11 experiences. The project was called "Voices of 9/11." Five hundred-plus people took the opportunity, including Devine.

Creators of the film found that recording and were so moved they asked Devine, and 11 others who spoke 20 years ago, to speak his truth again on this year's anniversary. Yard 44 and NBC News Studios created the retrospective documentary called "Memory Box: Echoes of 9/11."

The documentary aired Wednesday on MSNBC, and will air again Saturday and Sunday from 7 to 9 p.m. It's also streaming on Peacock.

Devine’s story is not just one of grief, but discovery. So many things were lost in the 9/11 attack -- lives, innocence, and faith to name a few. Devine, an American Airlines pilot from Escondido, felt that sense of loss.

This is part of Devine's emotional 15-minute recording.

"I'm sure the pilots did not have a chance. They did not know what was happening. They did not know what was coming and I am sure they were executed,” Devine said with a deep sigh.

Devine explains his deep hurt 20 years later.

"I just couldn't comprehend it. I just couldn't understand how the human spirit could develop something like this in our lives -- something to this level of destruction and misery. It was an extraordinary, emotionally painful thing for me. I had some very hard sobbing days after. I thought, 'I have to get over it,'” Devine said.

At the time of the attacks, Devine was an American Airlines junior co-pilot, but flew the same routes between Los Angeles, New York and Boston the hijacked planes were supposed to take. He very well could have been on one of them.

"The reason I wasn’t flying on 9/11 was it was my day off. It was my day off," he said.

Devine did not give in to the frustration, anger or pain, and stayed with the airline and all of the changes. Over time he was promoted to Captain.

Ten years after the “Voices of 9/11” recording, 9/11 again, came back to haunt him.

Devine, who was also a Navy reservist, was called to duty. He spent 11 months side-by-side with the Afghan general in charge of building an air force.

“I went into Afghanistan thinking this was just like a fruitless mission. It was a fruitless assignment that I was given," Devine said.

Still, as time went on, Devine found his purpose and perhaps, in some ways, personal salvation.

"I felt like I am working for my brothers and I could tell they felt the same way about me," Devine said.

"Regardless, whether we should have been in Afghanistan or shouldn't have been in Afghanistan, we had a personal connection with each other. I started realizing our common humanness," Devine added.

Devine was flown to Toronto Thursday morning for a film festival showing this weekend. He'll also share insight on a panel after the viewing.

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