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Flight attendant helped fight hijackers


By KERRY HALL, Staff Writer
© News & Record

The hijackers wielded knives and tied red bandannas around their heads.

News & Record Photo
Phil Bradshaw talks about his wife Sandra while surrounded by the plants she took care of on their back porch. (Joseph Rodriguez/©News & Record)

Phil Bradshaw audio:

  • Sandra Bradshaw is a hero

  • How their kids will remember Sandra Bradshaw

  • Everyone took action

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  • They had already stabbed at least one man. One man said they had a bomb. They were flying toward certain disaster.

    Sandra Bradshaw, a spirited 38-year-old Greensboro flight attendant, knew they were a flying weapon, aimed toward a populous target somewhere. She and the others decided to fight back.

    "We're all back here getting hot water together and getting ready to take over the plane," Bradshaw told her husband, Phil, in a cellular phone conversation that proved to be their last.

    Bradshaw was among 44 people killed a few moments later, when United Flight 93 crashed into a Pennsylvania field the morning of Sept. 11.

    Investigators think that an uprising by passengers and crew members thwarted the hijackers' plan to crash the plane into an unspecified target in the Washington area.

    Now, U.S. Rep. Howard Coble, from Greensboro, and others are calling for Bradshaw and those on the flight to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor awarded to U.S. civilians. During his address to Congress on Thursday night, President Bush honored those on her flight.

    "She died a hero," Coble said Thursday. "The terrorists' plan was nearly perfect, but thanks to Sandy and her colleagues it wasn't quite perfect."

    Locally, a memorial service was held for Sandra, or Sandy, Bradshaw on Tuesday, a week after the crash. More than 500 people attended. Her body has not been recovered.

    Phil Bradshaw, her husband of almost 11 years, said he would like to visit the crash site in Shanksville, Pa. in coming weeks.

    The kids don't know yet what happened to their mother. But the Bradshaws' two-year-old daughter, Alexandria, hasn't been herself. She knows something is wrong.

    A child psychologist said to tell the children that their mother was in an accident and is not coming home. Bradshaw, is collecting two sets of newspaper articles so that each child can have a record of what happened.

    "She lived every moment for them," he said. "I want them to know how much good their mother always did and how much of a hero I really think she is."

    A veteran pilot with US Airways, Phil Bradshaw told the News & Record that he had been begging his wife to quit her job in the air and stay home full time. She promised during their last call that if she survived, she would.

    "She was independent. She just didn't want to give it up," Bradshaw said. As a part-time flight attendant, his wife flew four days a month, from Newark to San Francisco and back.

    "She loved to travel, and she loved to talk to people," he said.

    News & Record Photo
    Family photos of Bradshaw her husband, Phil. (Joseph Rodriguez/©News & Record)

    Bradshaw said he is not afraid of flying again and would like to return to his job flying MD-80s, commercial jets. But he is not yet sure what he will do in the future.

    "I take it hour by hour," he said, his eyes red and puffy from days of crying. "I have to go back to work, but I don't know when."

    For now, much of Bradshaw's time is spent at home. He and his wife had a long to-do list of home improvements. She wanted him to build a fence in the back yard. A fence kit is due in the mail any day. He also is minding his wife's well-tended garden.

    "I hated doing it when she was gone," he said, smiling as he looked at a basket of geraniums. "Now I'll have to learn how."

    Their youngest child, Nathan, celebrates his first birthday today. His mother had already bought all his gifts.

    "I've been searching all around the house for them," Bradshaw said. "She already had all the Christmas presents bought, too. And I have no idea where they are."

    He struggles to deal with the loss of his wife, who he fell in love with at first sight. He is trying to understand what happened last Tuesday.

    "I loved her deeply," he said, sobbing, "and I still do."

    Bradshaw said he took his wife's call about 9:30 a.m. at their home in northwest Greensboro. He was talking to another friend on the phone about the World Trade Center attacks.

    The television was on when he got the call and put his friend on hold. Then he heard the worst possible news from his wife.

    "Have you seen what's happening? Have you heard?" Sandy asked her husband in a calm voice. "We've been hijacked."

    He didn't believe it. He asked her to repeat what she had said.

    "We've been hijacked," she repeated, in her smooth Southern drawl.

    She said the plane had been taken over by three men with knives. She had gotten a close look at one of the hijackers, who had been sitting in the back row in first class, where she loved to work.

    "He had an Islamic look," she told her husband.

    She said the hijackers put most of the people in the rear of the plane and a few in first class.

    While Sandy talked, she and other flight attendants were boiling water to toss on the hijackers. Nearby, many passengers were making cell phone calls, a few were plotting an uprising.

    She said they didn't know who was flying the plane, whether it was the pilots or the hijackers.

    She asked her husband if he had any ideas.

    He said he didn't at the time. He was too stunned.

    "My mind at the time went blank. I was in shock and disbelief," Bradshaw said. "I was concentrating on her, trying to think of ways to help her. Now, I can think of plenty."

    Bradshaw thinks they talked for five or 10 minutes. They spoke of their love and their kids, Shenan, 16, Alexandria and Nathan.

    She said the flight had veered off its westbound course. She saw a river. Now he knows it was near Pittsburgh.

    Around Sandy, three men were whispering the 23rd Psalm. "The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want..."

    Then one of the men apparently made the call to charge the hijackers.

    Phil Bradshaw heard the phone drop.

    "We're all running to first class," were her last words.

    "I've got to go. Bye."

    Contact Kerry Hall at 373-7061 or

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