By Sutton Eaves
Unlike most, the sight of fresh flowers scattered throughout her front yard doesn’t bring a smile to Erica Basnicki’s face. Instead, it is an ironic reminder of her father’s disappearance and presumed death, and her family’s heartache. “The chances of us ever hearing from my dad again are…none. And the worst part is, we don’t know for sure. There’s still that really faint hope that he’s in a hospital somewhere waiting to be recognized.” Basnicki’s father, Ken, was on the top floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center when it was hit by a hijacked plane. Shortly after the crash, Basnicki’s grandmother, Jean, received a call from him inside the building. “He said that something had happened, and the building was full of smoke ,” said Basnicki. “He wasn’t sure if he would be able to make it out. We haven’t heard from him since.”
In the past week, neighbors have placed flowers in front of the family’s Etobicoke home in a show of sympathy for the family. Basnicki’s mother, Maureen, a flight attendant for Air Canada, was stranded in Germany after most of the major airports across the globe were closed and all flights cancelled in light of the recent attack.
Luckily, Basnicki and her brother Brennan had family nearby. Around 9:15 that morning her uncle Bob Basnicki called to explain that something had happened to her father, and he was coming to pick her up. “At that point, it was just a plane hitting a building – it hadn’t fallen yet,” she said. “When it did, I panicked. Once I found out my dad was on the top floor I remember trying to do the math in my head – when did he call my grandma? What time is it now? Would someone have time to go down 106 flights of stairs and not breath in too much smoke?”
Basnicki, along with her brother Brennan, and her two uncles Chris and Bob, went to her grandparents house in Etobicoke and waited an agonizing ten hours for Ken to call them back. “The whole day we were waiting for the phone to ring. Eventually, I called my dad again and left him a message. I said ‘Dad, you better phone home cause we are all really worried about you.’ But of course, he hasn’t.”
Basnicki remained hopeful that her dad was still alive. At age 47, he was an avid biker and skier, and exercised religiously every morning before work. He was the kind of man, Basnicki said, who would survive. “My dad is so fit and level-headed, the kind of guy you want around in that type of emergency. We all assumed he’d get out, cause if anybody could get out of the top of that building it would have been my dad.” Although Basnicki’s mother was still stuck in Germany, she had the full support and sympathies of those around her. A church service was held at the hotel where the flight attendants were staying, and a special prayer was given for Maureen’s husband. The priest gave her a cross that Maureen Basnicki wears to this day called the “Tree of Life.” With it, he blessed the entire family. Another woman, a stranger, approached Basnicki’s mother and, with tears in her eyes pressed a small cross into her palm. Clasping their hands together, the woman whispered a prayer for Ken before retreating into the crowd of mourners, leaving the cross behind. Basnicki’s mother returned to Toronto safely on Friday, but already the family was losing hope. “The first few days were hopeful panic. But now…now I don’t even know how to talk about him – ‘my dad is,’or ‘my dad was.’ My uncle gave me this picture of him yesterday, and I kind of looked at and realized that it’s too much for me to accept that this is the only way I’ll be able to see my dad’s face again.”
Although Basnicki’s father, a senior account executive for BEA Systems, had just accepted a new position that would mean more work travel, he ultimately hoped it meant he would be able to work less and spend more time with his family. “He just spent two years building this cottage in Collingwood for us all, that him and my mom were going to retire in. He worked so hard, but not just for himself – for the whole family.” His trip to New York was his first business trip under his new position. The family plans on eventually holding a special remembrance service for Ken, a celebration of his life, at the cottage in Collingwood. “We’ll invite everyone who knew and loved him,” said Basnicki. “His Harley will be parked out front, and we’ll have stinky cigars and Corona beers, just like he would have wanted.”