What Happened on Flight 93?

A story of heroism that inspired Americans in their darkest hours

MSNBC
September 3, 2002
http://www.msnbc.com/news/802759.asp?0cl=cR

 

Long before modern communications, people commemorated their histories through storytelling. "Remember the Alamo" for instance, was a command to tell and retell the story of a battle in which the heroes were all killed. In the last year we've been able to tell the stories of only a small fraction of the people touched by Sept. 11 because we can never know what really happened. But we are able to piece together the story of United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. It's been a source of strength and comfort. We know much more now than we did a year ago. But nothing changes the conclusion that those men and women died fighting a battle that almost certainly prevented a much larger tragedy. Jane Pauley reports.

It was a breathtakingly beautiful morning. Clear blue skies greeted travelers arriving at Newark Airport's Terminal A. Passengers at Gate 17 might have been especially pleased to find that United Flight 93, with 182 seats, was mostly empty. With only 37 passengers, there'd be plenty of room to stretch out on a long trip.

And there were some big guys - like Mark Bingham, a rugby player.

"He is powerful," says Alice Hoglan. "He's 6' 5" - A big, physically fit guy."

Jeremy Glick was another six-footer, a very big, big brother.

"He was like a giant teddy bear," says Jeremy's sister, Jennifer. "You just fell into his arms and you wanted to stay there forever."

Lou Nacke was a weightlifter. At 5'9," he was 190 pounds of muscle and had a Superman tattoo on his shoulder.

"When he was a little boy, he loved Superman," says Amy Nacke. "And he'd actually had a cape on and went through a glass window, pretending to be Superman."

Boarding the plane, they all looked like ordinary people. But soon they'd all need to be supermen and superwomen.

Most likely, the oldest passenger was the first to arrive that morning - 79-year-old Hilda Marcin was moving cross-country to live with her daughter in California. She was packed and ready to leave at 4:30 a.m.

There were two couples: Donald and Jean Peterson, and Linda Gronlund and Joseph DeLuca.

Pat Cushing and Jane Folger were sisters-in-law, going to see the wine country.

As the COO of a medical technology firm, Tom Burnett traveled constantly - so much, his wife Deena told Dateline's Maria Shriver, of course he'd marry a flight attendant.

"I had just finished flight-attendant training," says Deena. "Several of us had, and we were going out to celebrate and my roommate was talking to this man who was sitting there. And she introduced him to me. And, of course, it was Tom."

The pilot, Captain Jason Dahl, had something in common with many of his passengers: He hadn't been scheduled for this flight, but was trying to get in extra hours so he could take time off for his anniversary.

Twenty-year-old Nicole Miller was going home after a spur-of-the-moment weekend to see her close friend Ryan Brown's family back east.

"We had a great, great, great time," says Ryan Brown. "She was so happy and so excited to see these things and to be in New York, have a chance to visit the family that she hasn't really met."

Booking a flight at the last minute, she couldn't get a seat on his flight, but Flight 93 was wide open.

A toy company manager, Lou Nacke only booked his seat the night before. He had a customer on the coast with an inventory problem and offered to fly out first thing Tuesday morning to fix it.

"He was debating whether to send a subordinate," says Dr. Weisberg. "In the end, he said, 'You know, it's my responsibility. I'd better go.'"

Environmental lawyer Alan Beaven, 48-years-old, with a five-year-old daughter and two grown sons - was racing to California to repair the damage when a settlement deal collapsed.

Lauren Grandcolas was traveling from her grandmother's funeral, but she had reason to be happy - after years of trying, she was pregnant with her first child and was about to write a book.

"She actually had a publisher interested," says her husband Jack. "It was a book to give women guidance on how they could learn new things in life that would bring them greater self-esteem, courage, and self-confidence."

Her husband Jack was still asleep when she called to leave a message just before 5 a.m. California time - good news. She got a standby seat on an earlier flight.

Todd Beamer wasn't normally one to wait until the last minute to fly out for a same-day company meeting, his wife Lisa told Dateline's Stone Phillips. But he did this time.

"He and I had just gotten back from Italy Monday afternoon, and he decided he wanted to spend some time with the kids that night and have a little more time before he flew out," says his wife, Lisa. "So he decided to try to crunch his travel in in the morning."

That's the kind of father he was.

"Yes," says Lisa. "That's a true picture right there."

Jeremy Glick was a brand new father. His wife, Lyz, had taken their three-month-old baby, Emmy, to her parents' home while he was away on business.

He was supposed to leave Monday night, but there were problems at the airport. He decided to wait until Tuesday morning.

"His flight had been rerouted to Kennedy, he said, and he didn't feel like getting in to California at three in the morning," says Lyz Glick. "So he figured he would go home and get a good night's sleep and just catch the first one out."

Does she believe in fate? "I do," says Lyz.

Does she believe her husband was fated to be on that plane?

"I do," says Lyz. "I believe that. I believe Jeremy was meant for a higher purpose."

At 7:55 a.m., one last passenger came rushing down the gangway. That was Mark Bingham. He'd overslept. Bingham made a quick call before the plane backed away from the gate to tell the man he'd just started dating, luckily, he'd just made the flight.

Four other passengers in the first-class cabin had not picked this flight at the last minute. They'd been casing flights for months. And their destination was not California.

A CRUCIAL DELAY

The plane pulled back from the gate at 8:01 a.m., only one minute behind schedule. At Boston's Logan Airport, American Flight 11 had already taken off at 7:58, with United Flight 175 close behind.

It was part of a carefully-timed plan: four planes, including American Flight 77, departing Dulles at 8:15. But in all their planning, the terrorists hadn't factored in a departure delay. Flight 93 had left the gate on time, but due to heavy runway traffic at Newark Airport that morning, it took off 42 minutes late. That runway delay gave passengers on Flight 93 the time to see that this was a suicide mission and the chance to thwart it.

Minutes after takeoff, Claudette Greene got a call.

"My sister-in-law Bonnie, Don's sister, called me, I guess it was just before 9 o'clock, and said, 'Is your television on?

You can't believe what's going on,'" says Claudette.

Claudette Greene's husband Don was flying to California that morning to meet his brothers for a camping trip. She feared the worst.

"But I remember feeling enormous relief when I heard American Airlines, because I knew he was on United airlines," says Claudette. "And I sort of put it out of my head."

At that moment aboard United Flight 93, only the four terrorists knew what was about to happen. But they didn't know how it would end.

CHAOS ON THE GROUND

New York City was under attack. Lower Manhattan was in chaos. But Flight 93 was cruising comfortably at 35,000 feet. Passengers might have pulled down window shades against the glare of the morning sun.

At least one of the four young Middle Eastern men in first class was carrying a knife hidden in a cigarette lighter and also a copy of a letter.

United States Attorney Genernal John Ashcroft said in a news conference: "It is a disturbing and shocking view into the mindset of these terrorists. The letter provides instructions to the terrorists to be carried out both prior and during their terrorist attacks."

If they followed instructions, the night of Sept. 10, they each shaved their bodies, read the Koran, gathered their weapons. And before they stepped on the plane, they were to pray.

A videotape released last spring included a message one of them, Ahmed Alhaznawi, had recorded at least six months before this flight, saying his death would send the message that it was "time to kill the Americans in their homeland."

The 27-year-old Lebanese Ziad Jarrah seems to have been the leader. A licensed pilot, he'd taken lessons at a Florida flying school and self-defense classes at a gym.

"He told me that he traveled a lot," said the instructor, "and that he was always interested in martial arts, and if anything happened he needed to defend himself or know as much about it. What could I teach him?"

His written instructions said to scream "Allahu Akbar" - Arabic for "God is great" - because this was sure to terrify everyone.

It was just before 6:30 in the morning in San Francisco when Deena Burnett's phone rang. Her husband, Tom, was calling from a cell phone from his seat in first class.

"I asked him immediately if he was OK, and he said no," says Deena. "He said 'I'm on the airplane, United flight 93, and it's been hijacked.' And he said, 'please call the authorities,' and he hung up."

Deena immediately called 911.

Two hijackers were soon at the cockpit door.

"It's reasonable to assume that most likely, they forced their way in," says Greg Feith, an investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board for 22 years.

Feith is now an aviation consultant, though he's never worked on the Flight 93 investigation.

"Anybody coming into the cockpit from behind is basically in a control position, because they have freedom of movement that the flight crew doesn't have," says Feith.

The Air Traffic Control Center in Cleveland was already on the edge of chaos after the attack in New York. Towers all over the country were frantically trying to account for every plane in their airspace. Nobody knew how many more planes had been hijacked.

Suddenly Flight 93's transponder, which sends controllers a radar signal with identifying information, switched off. That got Cleveland Center's attention.

It was just after 9:30. As the president was appearing before cameras in Florida, Cleveland air traffic controllers were hearing an American voice aboard Flight 93 yell, "Get out of here!"

"Someone had keyed the mic," says Feith. "They had an open microphone when all this commotion was going on."

Perhaps it was Captain Dahl or his co-pilot, LeRoy Homer. Then Cleveland heard screaming. Investigators can only speculate whether it was Dahl and Homer fighting to defend the aircraft, or being murdered.

But at 9:32 a.m., a chilling radio transmission - intended for the passengers. It said:

Hijacker: "Ladies and gentlemen, here it's the captain, please sit down. Keep remaining sitting. We have a bomb aboard."

One of the hijackers had a red box tied around his waist, which he said was a bomb. Controllers tried repeatedly to raise Flight 93 - with no reply.

The remaining passengers and crew were divided in two groups: ten in the first class section - 27 were moved to the back of coach.

PHONE CALLS TO FAMILY

They started making dozens of phone calls - so many, there's been speculation the terrorists encouraged it, to ramp up the terror.

Jeremy Glick called his wife, Lyz.

"He was free to talk to me," says Lyz. "I was a little bit, I think, surprised by the aura of what was going on on the plane. I was surprised by how calm it seemed in the background. I didn't hear any screaming. I didn't hear any noises. I didn't hear any commotion."

At 9:36 a.m., air traffic controllers watching radar screens saw Flight 93 make a hard left turn, veering sharply off course. Passengers felt the plane banking steeply. It was now heading southeast.

Two minutes later, Cleveland control picked up another bizarre transmission from one of two hijackers now locked in the cockpit. It said:

Hijacker: "Hi, this is the captain. We'd like you all to remain seated. There is a bomb aboard, and we are going to turn back to the airport. And they have our demands so please remain quiet."

What else but sheer terror could the passengers have been feeling? Marion Britton, a 53-year-old manager for the Census Bureau, called an old friend, Fred Fiumano, in a panic.

"She said, 'We're going to - they're going to kill us, you know, we're going to die,'" says Fiumano. "And I told her, 'Don't worry, they hijacked the plane, they're going to take you for a ride, you go to their country, and you come back. You stay there for vacation.' You don't know what to say. What are you going to say? I kept on saying the same things, 'Be calm.' And she was crying and, you know, more or less crying and screaming and yelling."

But ominous news had been circulating among the passengers, when Tom Burnett made a second call to his wife.

"He asked me about the World Trade Center," says Deena Burnett. "He asked if it was a passenger airline, and I told him I didn't know. And he said, 'OK,' and he hung up again. Said that he had to go."

At 9:43 a.m., the Pentagon was hit. The FAA, which had already halted new takeoffs, now ordered all airborne planes to the ground. But Flight 93 maintained an erratic course - for Washington, D.C.

Two minutes later, Todd Beamer picked up an onboard airphone and dialed "0." He was connected with GTE supervisor Lisa Jefferson, who told Stone Phillips about the call.

"I asked his name," says Lisa Jefferson. "He told me Todd Beamer. He's from Cranbury, New Jersey. At that point his voice went up a little bit because he said, 'We're going down. We're going down. No wait, we're coming back up. We're turning around and going north. We're going north. At this point I don't know where we're going. I don't know. I really don't know. Oh, Jesus, please help us.'"

Those were all his words?

"Yes," says Jefferson. "And then he told me, he said. 'In case I don't make it through this, would you please do me a favor and call my wife and my family and let them know how much I love them.' So I told him I would."

Tom Burnett called Deena a third time.

"I said, 'Tom, they just hit the Pentagon,' recalls Deena. "He said, 'OK. OK.' I told him I had called the authorities. He said, 'We can't wait for the authorities. We have to do something.'"

Think about that. In less than a half hour, more than three dozen individuals - complete strangers - were becoming "We."

At 9:45 AM, Flight 93 had been in the air for just over an hour, its destination no longer California. Radar was tracking a path straight to Washington D.C. The White House, Pentagon, and the U.S. Capitol were all being evacuated.

If the hijackers had encouraged more than three dozen calls by cell phone or onboard airphones in the seats, they didn't anticipate the consequences. Now, the passengers knew they had nothing to lose. Strangers just an hour before were now running through their options.

Americans to the end, Jeremy Glick said they were going to take a vote. He wanted his wife's advice.

"You know we're talking about attacking these men," says Lyz. "'What should I do?' And you know, I was scared about giving him the wrong information. I didn't want to do something wrong and have something terrible happen."

They didn't know that NORAD had scrambled fighter jets that, on order of the president, could shoot the plane down.

They did know they were running out of time. They were making a plan, and any number of people were willing and able to carry it out.

Lou Nacke, a guy with a Superman tattoo on his shoulder ,could probably back it up.

Mark Bingham once tackled a mugger on a San Francisco street. That summer, he had run with the bulls in Pamplona.

Japanese student Toshiya Kuge played American football; he was a linebacker.

Richard Guadagno, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manager, was trained in hand-to-hand combat.

And Jeremy Glick wasn't just another guy in a business suit.

"When he was in college, he was the National Collegiate Junior Judo Championship," says Joan Glick. "So he was really strong."

There were strong women, too. Flight attendant CeeCee Lyles was a former cop.

"CeeCee was a tough one," says Lorne Lyles. "CeeCee was a very tough cookie. Even when we play and wrestle around, I know she's pretty tough. So I would say that, you know, CeeCee probably had her hands in her own fate. Because she always wanted to determine her own fate anyway."

New York Times reporter Jere Longman spent months investigating the Flight 93 story. In his book, "Among the Heroes," Longman reports that Debby Welsh, the six-foot-tall senior flight attendant, had overpowered a drunken passenger once, and shoved him into his seat. Passenger Deora Bodley had been captain of her high-school basketball team. And both Lauren Grandcolas and Linda Gronlund were trained emergency medical technicians.

"Linda Gronlund had once dislocated her leg, and had set her own kneecap in the driveway while waiting for the ambulance to arrive," says Longman.

Aamong the women, who else would have been known as tough?

"Well, there was Hilda Marcin," says Longman. "Once a man tried to snatch her purse, and she beat him over the head with her umbrella. So she wasn't afraid to stand up for herself.

Neither was 4'6" Colleen Fraser.

"She had red spiked hair," says Longman. "She once commandeered a para-transit bus and drove it down to Washington to browbeat the senators into passing the Americans with disabilities act."

Tom Burnett's strength was problem solving: it was practically a job description for the COO of a medical technology firm. Working the problem is what he did best.

"He was very busy," says Deena Burnett. "He was taking down information. He was planning what they were going to do. And he was not interested in reviewing his life or whispering sweet nothings into the telephone, I assure you. He was problem solving, and he was going to take care of it and come on home."

Claudette Greene never heard from her husband Don at all. And she thinks she knows why.

"I've never actually missed the fact that he didn't call," says Claudette. "I think he was busy. I'm convinced he was very busy, he didn't have time to make the call."

Don Greene might have been the answer to the ultimate question. If the pilot and copilot had been killed, what would the passengers have done after they had overpowered the hijackers?

An executive in the aviation business, Greene had thousands of hours in a cockpit as private pilot. He could fly a plane before he could drive a car.

"He had the knowledge to fly and land that airplane," says Claudette. "If there was any way he could get into the cockpit and take over the airplane, I think he would have tried to do that."

Another passenger on the manifest, Andrew Garcia, had airplane experience - as an air traffic controller with the Air National Guard.

The atmosphere in the cabin was tense but quiet, as people readied themselves for whatever lay ahead. Flight attendant Sandy Bradshaw called her husband and said she was getting scalding water ready to throw at the hijackers. Joseph DeLuca called his Dad; his girlfriend, Linda Gronlund, called her sister, Elsa Strong.

Elsa Strong says, "She said, 'Hi, Else, this is Lin. I just wanted to tell you how much I love you.' And she said, 'Please tell Mom and Dad how much I love them.' And then she got real calm and said, 'Now my will is in my safe and my safe is in my closet. and this is the combination.' And she just told me the combination of her safe. and then she just said, 'I don't know if I'm ever going to get a chance to tell you again in person how much I love you, but I'm really going to miss you.' And she said goodbye."

Lauren Grandcolas left a second message for her husband, Jack, in a voice so composed, he says she might have been calling from a supermarket:

"I heard her say, 'There's a little problem on the plane, I'm totally fine, just a little problem, I want you to know how much I love you, know that," says Jack Grandcolas. "Stopping herself from saying I'll call you back, as if she didn't want to leave a haunting promise. And then mentioning that she was fine and comfortable for now, and that she loved me more than anything, just know that and that it was just a little problem as if it was something they were going to take care of and to tell my family how much I love them and goodbye."

Then Grandcolas handed her phone to Elizabeth Wainio, the younger woman sitting next to her, and said, call your family. She called her stepmother, Esther Heymann.

"Elizabeth seemed to be speaking calmly, but her breathing was very shallow, as if she were hyperventilating," says reporter Jere Longman. "And Esther said, 'Elizabeth, I've got my arms around you, and I'm holding you. And I love you.' trying to calm her. Elizabeth said, 'I can feel your arms around me. And I love you, too.' And they talked for, I think approximately ten minutes. There were long silences. Esther began to get the feeling that Elizabeth was resigned to what was going to happen to her. And that she actually seemed to be leaving her body, going to a better place. She had had two grandmothers who were deceased, and at one point she told her mother, 'They're waiting for me.'"

At home in Florida, Lorne Lyles was still asleep. A police officer, he'd worked the night shift. Shortly before 10:00, the telephone woke him up.

"And she was like, 'Babe, you know, my plane has been hijacked,'" says Lorne. "She said they forced their way into the cockpit and then she went on to say that, 'Babe, I need for you to tell the kids that I love them and I love you all dearly.' Like that. And I went, I thought, me just waking up, I thought she was joking, you know? I said, 'Babe, stop joking.' She said, 'No, babe, I'm not jokin'. I wouldn't call you and play like that.'"

Tom Burnett called home a fourth and final time.

"He said, 'OK, there's a group of us and we're going to do something.'" says Deena Burnett. :I said, 'No.' I said, 'Please sit down and be still, be quiet, don't draw attention to yourself.' And he said, 'No.' He said, 'If they're going to drive this plane into the ground,' he said, 'We've got to do something.'"

Lyz Glick had begun to see that, too.

"And then, you know, I finally just decided, gut instinct, that, 'Honey, you need to do it,' says Lyz. "And then, you know, he joked. He's like, 'OK, I have my butter knife from breakfast.' You know, this was totally like Jeremy."

As they both cried, Jeremy took the time to prepare his wife for a life without him.

"We said I love you a thousand times over and over again," says Lyz, "and it just brought so much peace to us, and it wasn't even the words, I felt the feeling from it. He told me, 'I love Emmy,' who is our daughter, and to take care of her. Then he said, 'Whatever decisions you make in your life, I need you to be happy, and I will respect any decisions that you make.' That's what he said, and that gives me the most comfort. He sounded strong. He didn't sound panicked. Very clear-headed. I told him to put a picture of me and Emmy in his head to be strong."

So Lyz was strong for him, as he was strong for her?

"Yes," she says. "I mean, neither of us panicked. He knew that he was not going to make it out of there."

And so did Lyz?

"I had hope," she says.

Several passengers recited the Lord's Prayer together. Todd Beamer was one of them. GTE Operator Lisa Jefferson said it along with them.

"After that he had a sigh in his voice," says Lisa Jefferson. "He took a deep breath. He was still holding the phone. But he was not talking to me, he was talking to someone else. And he said, 'You ready? Ok. Let's roll.'"

Flight attendant Sandy Bradshaw told her husband they were all running to first class together. "I've got to go, bye," she said, and dropped the phone.

Elizabeth Wainio ended her call abruptly, too.

Jere Longman says, "Shortly after 10:00, Elizabeth said, 'Mom, they're rushing the cockpit. I've got to go. Bye.'"

The counterattack had begun.

Television worldwide was broadcasting the news of a terror attack on New York City. Now the Pentagon was burning, too. But terrorists had chosen another target. Those plans were about to be thwarted.

At 10:00, aboard Flight 93, a counterattack had begun.

Jeremy Glick interrupted his 26-minute call to his wife, Lyz. "Hold the line," he said, "I'll be back." But she couldn't bear to listen and handed the phone to her father, Richard Makely.

"There was no noise for several minutes," says Makely. "And then there were screams, screams in the background, and so I said, well, they're doing it."

Lorne Lyles was still holding the phone too.

"And then I hear commotion in the background," says he says. "I didn't know what to think. Honestly, I didn't know what to think had happened. All I know is I got disconnected. And I got disconnected with her screaming."

After Todd Beamer's signal, people in the back of the plane started running forward. The way a Boeing 757 is configured - with one narrow aisle running up the center - they would had to have charged single-file.

Based on interviews with investigators and family members who heard the cockpit voice recorder tapes last spring, New York Times reporter Jere Longman can reconstruct the scene.

"The government's theory is that the passengers did actually reach the cockpit using a food cart as a battering ram and a shield," says Longman.

Why do they think that?

"Well, from enhancement - digital enhancement of the voice recorder, there's the sound of plates and glassware crashing near the end of the flight," says Longman.

But one person would had to have to have been behind that cart.

"It took brave people to, I mean, can you imagine if you were that first person in line rushing forward, and the curtain was closed in first class, and you had no idea what you would be encountering when you pulled that curtain back?" says Longman. "It took a brave person to do that."

Witnesses in rural Pennsylvania saw the plane flying at very low altitude, but at very high speed, making erratic wing maneuvers, rocking back and forth.

"Some investigators believe that the hijackers were trying to, you know, waggle the wings to keep the passengers from getting forward, to kind of knock them around like bowling pins," says Longman.

Waggling the wings, then, wouldn't have been necessary unless there had been a threat to the cockpit.

"Oh, sure. at one point you can hear, you know, 'In the cockpit, in the cockpit,'" says Longman. "And then someone says something that's unintelligible and kind of garbled, but it's the sense that if we don't do that, then, quote, 'We'll die.'"

On the cockpit tape, the hijackers are reportedly heard telling each other to hold the door while someone on the outside shouts, "Let's get them."

"During this part the hijackers are also praying," says Longman.

What is the nature of their praying?

"Saying 'Allah akbar' - God is great," says Longman.

Is there a sense at this point that the hijackers know that the flight is going to end prematurely?

"They're obviously threatened, and feel threatened," says Longman. "And at one point, one of the hijackers suggests shutting off the oxygen supply to the cabin. As I understand it, it's a very difficult or impossible thing to do, and it wouldn't have any effect on the breathing of the passengers, because they were below 10,000 feet. And then the hijackers begin talking about, 'Should we finish?' And on the transcript it says, 'Finish it/her off.' "

It's unclear whether the hijackers are referring to the flight itself, or to an unidentified woman, heard pleading for her life earlier on the tape.

"In the final moments of this struggle, according to the families who heard the tape, voices that seemed muffled and distant all of a sudden became clearer," says Longman. "They took that as some corroboration that the passengers actually are in - perhaps crew - actually did reach the cockpit."

Does he mean, reach it, breach it?

"Get inside," says Longman.

They got in?

"Yes, that's the government theory, that they actually got inside," says Longman. "Near the end you hear in english words, 'Roll it up,' and 'lift it up,' or 'turn it up,' or 'pull it up.' The families have taken that as a sign that the passengers and perhaps crew were trying to regain control of the plane."

Lee Purbaugh, a Pennsylvania steel worker, watched the plane go into the ground.

"I heard this loud noise, and I happened to look up," says Lee Purbaugh. "And this jet come right straight over my head. And it went real low. And it probably crashed down, it went nose to tail."

The end came at 10:06 AM in the loose, porous soil of a deserted strip mine in coal country near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. They would come to be proclaimed heroes, but at that moment they were parents or siblings, wives or husbands.

All morning, Lisa Beamer sat anxiously watching television, like the wife of a missing seafarer might have scanned the horizon from a widow's walk.

"When I heard them say that was the United flight from Newark to San Francisco that just went down," says Lisa Beamer. "And I said, 'That's his flight.' And my friend said, 'No, he might be on a different one. He might not have made it on the plane.' I said, 'No, I know that was his flight.'"

Deena Burnett says, "There was a policeman at my house that they had sent over to stay with me, and he saw it first. And he turned around and he said, 'I think I have bad news for you.' And when he said that, I ran to the television and I said, 'Is this Tom's flight?' He said yes. And I was still holding on to the telephone. I held on to the telephone for three hours, until the battery went down."

Tom Burnett left three daughters; the oldest, twins, were only five at the time.

"I sat them on the bed and I told them that Dad was not coming home," says Deena. "And Madison asked if she could call him on his cell phone. And I told her no, that he didn't have a cell phone in heaven. And Hallie said, 'Well, can the postman take a letter to him?' So they understand, I think, that he's not coming home. But they don't understand exactly where he is, or why. And it makes it very difficult."

At least 20 children lost a parent that day. Claudette Greene, now a widow with two children, took her inspiration from Jackie Kennedy.

"I remember thinking, 'How does she do that?'" says Claudette. "Because I had been to the funerals of people weeping and sobbing and falling apart. And I was so impressed with her and the dignity she had. And it hit me that night - it's because she had children. She was there for them. And I have thought about her every day since."

One day, there will be a permanent national memorial to the crew and passengers of Flight 93 - 40 men and women whose lives intersected for a little over two hours. They barely knew each other, might not have known each other's names, but they gave one another courage and a chance to live or die with dignity: 40 individuals who helped us see the best in ourselves on a very dark day.

They'll be remembered in many different ways. Jack Grandcolas dedicated a new birthing room at a California hospital in memory of his wife and their unborn child.

"It will be an honor to Lauren's family and friends to know that her name will always be a part of happy new beginnings," says Jack. "As Lauren would say, 'Don't mourn my passing. No instead, celebrate my life.'"

Lou Nacke's sister and brothers got a Superman tattoo like he had. Derrill Bodley took a trip to Afghanistan - to try to understand something about why his daughter Deora was killed.

The men and women of Flight 93 won't merely be remembered, but remembered as heroes. They are 40 strangers forever united in a nation's gratitude for what they did - and what was that? Given the choice, they chose to act.

"If there's any beauty in this whole thing that's gone on, it's that there are people out there who are people of character," says Lisa Beamer. "I mean, I wonder deep in my heart, if I was Todd, what would I have done. Would I have done the same thing as he did? And I think, you know, Todd was an ordinary guy. He was extraordinary to me and to his family, but to the world, he was ordinary. And like any ordinary guy getting on a plane that day in a business suit, he was able to do extraordinary things."

On the morning of September 11, a memorial service for the Flight 93 victims will be held at the site of the crash near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Later in the day, President Bush will lay a wreath at the site.

 

2002 MSNBC

FAIR USE NOTICE: This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of criminal justice, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.