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Published September 11, 2011, 09:38 PM

9/11 Air Traffic Controller Turned Pastor

Michigan, ND (WDAY TV) - Imagine the Sunday sermon today in the small town of Michigan, North Dakota. There, an Air Traffic Controller, "turned pastor,” sharing his tragic story of 9/11; a perspective, as a young man who was working in a FAA Control Center in New York that tragic morning.

By: Kevin Wallevand, WDAY

Imagine the Sunday sermon today in the small town of Michigan, North Dakota. There, an Air Traffic Controller, "turned pastor,” sharing his tragic story of 9/11; a perspective, as a young man who was working in a FAA Control Center in New York that tragic morning.

What followed days later, was an emotional downward spiral, a life-changing event that brought Robert Totman to North Dakota.

Robert Totman – Air Traffic Controller Now Pastor: “As a teenager I remember aspiring to go into Air Traffic Control.”

And so Robert Totman found his dream of Air Traffic Control, trained while in the Army, and soon working towers and radar.

Robert Totman – Air Traffic Controller Now Pastor: “Exhilarating, thrilling, in that environment the aircraft are going 480 miles and hour and you are in charge.”

But it would be the morning of 9/11, as Totman worked in New York's Air Route Traffic Control Center in Long Island that would forever change him.

Robert Totman – Air Traffic Controller Now Pastor: “The whole thing was so traumatic for me.”

As the hijacked planes crashed, Robert and other controllers worked to get hundreds of planes grounded.

Robert Totman – Air Traffic Controller Now Pastor: “Obviously in the FAA, we had never done that before.”

This map revealing the challenge they faced.

Robert Totman – Air Traffic Controller Now Pastor: “You never think you have to do anything like that but that is pretty much what took place. I think it was miraculous there were no mid air collisions.”

He also worked with the military to scramble fighter jets that morning including pilots from Fargo.

Robert Totman – Air Traffic Controller Now Pastor: “It is ironic and we did not know where they were from but we were sure glad to see him.”

But the stress of sheer magnitude of that day took a toll on Robert.

Robert Totman – Air Traffic Controller Now Pastor: “Just like the Twin Towers came crashing down that day, my life came crashing down. I processed it like other emergencies in my career, whiskey.”

Not just whiskey…

Robert Totman – Air Traffic Controller Now Pastor: “But I woke up on the 12th in a vivid nightmare and I was plagued with nightmares.”

Considerations of ending his life.

Robert Totman – Air Traffic Controller Now Pastor: “2003 I was suicidal, my wife and I had our divorce papers, signed sealed and paid for. And really I said a prayer to God, I said I am done here if there is anything you can do with me, please do.”

Since 9/11, Robert has stopped drinking, he not only became a Christian, he is now in the pulpit preaching the Word; sharing his own story.

Robert Totman – Air Traffic Controller Now Pastor: “I cannot emphasize enough, how my love was over.”

…of rising from the ashes of 9/11.

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