By Angie Cannon; Janet Rae-Dupree; Suzie Larsen; Cynthia Salter
Family members share the painful calls from the passengers who fought back
That Tuesday morning, Todd Beamer's alarm rang at 5:45 a.m. His wife, Lisa, pulled a pillow over her head. The Oracle account manager had to fly to San Francisco for a meeting at the software company. Normally, he would have left the night before, but on Monday, the couple had returned to their New Jersey home from a weeklong company trip to Italy, and Beamer wanted some time with 3-year-old David and 1-year-old Andrew. So he decided to take United Flight 93 the next day--September 11.
In all, 37 passengers boarded the plane at Newark International Airport's Gate 17 that bright, beautiful morning. Thirty-three were headed to the West Coast for business meetings or vacations--or simply returning home. Four had a different agenda. Carrying knives, a quartet of hijackers took control of the plane in midair and began steering it toward another destination--authorities have said the White House or the Capitol were likely targets. Exactly what happened on Flight 93 may never be known. Tapes from the cockpit voice recorder are still being examined. As of now, the best account of the heroes onboard comes from phone calls passengers made to family members, who shared their memories with U.S. News.
Timing is everything, they say, and timing was part of what foiled the hijackers. The Boeing 757 was to depart Newark International at 8 a.m. It pulled away from the gate at 8:01, then sat on the tarmac for more than 40 minutes because of heavy traffic. It finally took off at 8:43 a.m. Because of the delay, passengers learned of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks in the midst of their own crisis--and then made their own fateful decisions.
Play to win. In the world of airplane travel, passengers who start a flight as strangers usually end up that way, too. But the extraordinary circumstances of Flight 93 changed that. Passengers and crew members joined together and fought back. In-flight phone calls point to at least five men as key players. They were big men, strong men, men who loved sports. Beamer, 32, 6 feet tall and 200 pounds, was a basketball and softball enthusiast. "He was humble," his wife says. "But he was very competitive. Winning was important to him."
In seat 4D was Mark Bingham, 31, 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, a public-relations executive who played on his college rugby team, ran with the bulls in Pamplona this summer (and got gored), and once wrested a gun from a mugger. He was fiercely competitive, even in a game of Scrabble. "He had no fear," says Paul Holm, his former domestic partner of six years and a friend. "And he had to win."
Next to him was Tom Burnett, 38, chief operating officer of medical-device maker Thoratec. The father of three small girls, Burnett was a hockey player and onetime high school quarterback. A friend describes him as "exceptionally bright, driven, and competitive."
Jeremy Glick, 31, a salesman for a San Francisco Internet firm, sat in coach. Six-foot-1 and 220 pounds, he skied and golfed, wrestled and practiced judo. "He was very competitive, but he channeled his aggressiveness into sports and business," says his father-in-law, Richard Makely. "Once he was home, he was a very gentle person."
Behind him was Lou Nacke, 42, manager of a toy-store distribution center. The shortest of the five at 5-foot-9, the 200-pound weightlifter had a Superman logo tattooed on his left arm. "He wasn't one to talk about how super he was, he just showed you," says Jeff Trichon, his brother-in-law. "He was a man of strength and steel."
For 45 minutes or so, the plane flew west across Pennsylvania toward Cleveland. At 9:35 a.m., the 757 abruptly made a U-turn and began heading toward Washington. Passengers grabbed for cellphones and in-seat phones. Between 9:31 a.m. to 9:53 a.m, 24 calls were made from the GTE Airfones.
Shortly before 9:45, Jeremy Glick called his wife of five years, Lyzbeth. In high school, she was prom queen to his king. He told her he loved her. Then he told her about "these bad terrorists." Another passenger, he said, had heard about other terrorist attacks during a call. Was it true? Lyzbeth told him about the World Trade Center. The hijackers had said they would get to their target or blow up the plane. Glick wanted advice: Should they rush the hijackers or not?
At 9:45, Todd Beamer told GTE supervisor Lisa Jefferson that 27 passengers had been herded to seats in the rear, while some remained in first class. Two hijackers were in the cockpit; a third was guarding passengers. The five flight attendants were scattered. One attendant told Beamer two people were on the floor in first class, possibly the pilot and copilot. She wasn't sure if they were dead.
In shock. Women fought back, too. At 9:45, flight attendant Sandy Bradshaw, 38, called her home in Greensboro, N.C. "She said her flight had been hijacked by guys with knives," says her husband, Phil, a pilot. "She said, 'We are here in the back trying to get hot water to throw on them. Do you have any other ideas?' I said, 'Go with that.' I was in shock. She sounded calm, but like her adrenaline was really going." She promised if she survived she would quit and stay home with 1-year-old Nathan, Alexandria, almost 3, and Shenan, 16.
At 9:45, Mark Bingham called his mother, Alice Hoglan. It struck her as odd that he said: "This is Mark Bingham." He told her: "In case I don't see you again, I love you all. It doesn't look good."
Tom Burnett called his wife, Deena, saying they were getting ready to do something. "I said, 'Who?' and he said, 'A group of us.' I pleaded with him to please sit down and not draw any attention to himself," she has told reporters. His last words to her: "No, if they were going to run this into the ground, we are going to do something."
Halfway through his 15-minute call to GTE supervisor Jefferson, Todd Beamer said the plane was flying erratically. He made Lisa Jefferson promise to call his family to tell them how much he loved them. He asked her to say the Lord's Prayer with him. He said several men were going to take on the hijackers. "Are you sure that's what you want to do?" Jefferson asked. "Yes," he replied.
At 9:56 a.m., Flight 93 asked the Federal Aviation Administration to change its destination to Reagan National Airport in Washington. A minute later, the FAA approved, according to Flight Explorer, a firm that tracks such communications.
During his 15-minute call, Jeremy Glick told his wife that they had taken a vote and they were going after the terrorists. He told her he loved her. "Hold the phone, and I'll be back," he said. She couldn't bear it and handed the phone to her father. "I heard two sets of screams," Richard Makely recalls. "I presumed the first set was taking place when they attacked the people. They were rushing the cockpit. It was a chorus of screams and yells. And then, there was a second set a minute or so later. It was a little after 10."
Lisa Jefferson heard Todd Beamer say, "Are you guys ready? Let's roll." He put the phone down. She heard commotion. No one returned to the phone. She stayed on until the line went dead.
Minutes before the crash, Eric Peterson of Lambertsville, Pa., saw the 757 flying extremely low, maybe 300 feet from the ground. It suddenly careened downward. "We could see more of the top side of the plane than the underside," he said. It's unclear who was at the controls. At 10:10 a.m., the plane went down in the green grass of an inactive strip mine in Shanksville, Pa., leaving a vast black crater.
Thirteen days after the crash, President Bush invited the Flight 93 families to the White House. The event wasn't heavily publicized. In the East Room, Bush said the plane could have been gunning for the White House. He and his wife spent time with each family. "He hugged me and shook hands," says Robert Weisberg, Lou Nacke's father-in-law. "He was very emotional." About 100 staffers lined a hallway. They thanked the families for their lives.
Lisa Beamer has received many calls and letters from people who feel indebted to the Flight 93 heroes. A woman whose eighth-grade son was on a field trip to the White House told her "she owed Todd and the other passengers because her son was still alive." That's a comfort. "Even if my life is still really bad right now," Beamer says, "someone else's life isn't because of what Todd and the other passengers did. They acted courageously and showed they were people of character even under the most difficult circumstances. It is something for us all to look to and strive for, not just in times of trial, but all the time."
Nor will Beamer herself give in to fear. Pregnant with a third child, she flew United's Newark-to-San Francisco flight last week--now called Flight 81--for a meeting to set up a foundation in Todd's name.
Heroes in the sky
Because United Flight 93's takeoff was delayed, the passengers had time to learn of the terrorist attacks in New York. That extra time enabled them to plan and launch their own attack to thwart the hijackers.
(1) Todd Beamer and son Andrew. Beamer said the Lord's Prayer before rushing the hijackers. (2) Lou Nacke, with his arms around his wife, Amy, had a Superman tattoo. (3) Flight attendant Sandy Bradshaw with her husband, Phil, and her daughter Alexandria.
(4) Mark Bingham on a trip to France. "He had no fear," says a close friend. (5) Jeremy Glick and his wife, Lyzbeth, were high school sweethearts. (6) "I'm on the plane that's been hijacked," Tom Burnett told his wife.
[Drawing of plane interior]
[labels on plane]
Approximately 110 feet from row 34 to the cockpit; First class; Economy class
Mark Bingham and Tom Burnett sat side by side in the fourth row at takeoff.
Twenty-seven passengers were herded into rear seats by the hijackers. There they hatched the plan to fight back.
Hijackers in cockpit
Injured or dead pilot and copilot
Capt. Jason Dahl
Ahmad Al Haznawi
Ziad Samir Jarrah
What happened and when
Scheduled departure 8:00 a.m.
Actual departure 8:43
North tower hit 8:46
South tower hit 9:03
Flight 93 U-turn 9:35
Flurry of phone calls 9:31-9:53