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9/11 20 Years Later: Daniel Belardinelli Looks Back On Missing Flight 93 And Overcoming Survivor's Guilt

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The 9/11 terror attacks grounded flights across the country.

CBS2's Jennifer McLogan reported live from John F. Kennedy International Airport that day.

Twenty years later, she hears from one man who was supposed to board one of the hijacked flights, but a simple change of plans saved his life.

"I was invited by my uncle in July of 2001 -- July 9, 2001 -- to go on this trip. He was going to Yosemite to hike with some friends and offered me to go with him," Daniel Belardinelli told McLogan.

Belardinelli was looking forward to a California adventure with his uncle, William Cashman, known as Billy. But a few days before their Sept. 11 departure, Belardinelli's plans changed and he had to cancel.

"I felt like I was letting him down. I did, I did feel that way. But he wasn't the type of person that would hold grudges, and he was very cool about it," he said.

Complete Coverage9/11 Twenty Years Later

Cashman boarded United Flight 93 leaving Newark for San Francisco alone.

"I was still on the telephone with my mother, and she said, 'I hope Billy is OK traveling today,'" said Belardinelli.

Cashman, along with 32 other passengers and seven crew members, were on the last of the four planes to crash after being hijacked by terrorists. Some accounts mention his name as part of the group that stormed the cockpit and reportedly brought the plane down in Shanksville, before it reached its intended target in Washington.

"He wasn't the type of person that would allow another person to be attacked. He would have stood up and tried to help them. I have no doubt about that," Belardinelli said.

Belardinelli had more to do than just mourn the tragic death of his uncle. He had to confront the guilt of surviving, owing that to his absence on the flight.

"It's pretty heavy. It was kind of just, wow, holy shit, you know? Grateful that I wasn't on the plan, but it's a feeling -- it's kind of like when you're on a roller coaster and you get that sort of drop in your stomach," he said.

Daniel Belardinelli
(credit: CBS2)

He works as an attorney but is also an artist. For decades, he's been keeping journals, and the tragedy of 9/11 became a flashpoint for his creativity. He says using text is a major form of self expression, artistically and emotionally.

But probably the most impactful, Belardinelli was one of the family members invited to hear the actual cockpit recording from Flight 93.

Over the last two decades, some journal entries have become larger pieces. He says while painful, much of his work also has a healing power for him. Finding peace in living and the ability to create.

"So that's part of the story. Part one. There's still a couple more acts to this life," he told McLogan.

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