Those Who Seized the Moment;
Flight 93's passengers have become more than heroes. They're also symbols of the nation's will to take action.
MEGAN GARVEY, RICHARD MAROSI, TIMES STAFF WRITERS
The bumper stickers are just beginning to appear. "Flight 93," they read. "Let's roll!" The same phrase capped President Bush's speech to the nation earlier this month--the words of a passenger on a doomed jetliner symbolizing the nation's resolve.
There have been television documentaries about Flight 93. A book is reportedly in the works. Near rural Shanksville, Pa., the citizenry is raising money for a memorial they hope to erect on the site where the hijacked Boeing 757 plowed into a green field.
"It's going to be like the Gettysburg battlefield," said Rick Lohr, Somerset County's emergency management director. "It's not just another area where a plane crashed. It's historic. These people possibly changed the fate of the country."
A television producer has called several families of the dead, trolling for material for a TV movie, although he acknowledges that emotions are still too raw to go ahead now.
FBI investigators have yet to announce their final conclusions about what happened the morning of Sept. 11 aboard United Airlines Flight 93--the fourth airliner that fateful day.
But most Americans know the essentials. They've heard about the cell phone calls from 30,000 feet. They've read of the evidence that some of the 40 passengers and crew fought back against four hijackers--possibly preventing their plane from being flown into the Capitol, the White House or some other target in Washington, D.C.
The businesspeople, mothers, students and grandparents of Flight 93 have become instant icons--reassuring everyday Americans that the country is capable of rising to the challenges of a new and troubling kind of war.
Ten weeks after the crash, fascination with the flight and its passengers only seems to grow. More honors are planned, and the profiles of those who died have come into sharper focus.
At memorial events in Pennsylvania and at the White House, relatives talked about the similarities of many of those on board Flight 93. Sadly, they laughed that the hijackers had taken on the wrong crowd.
More than a few of the passengers flying that day from Newark, N.J., to San Francisco were ambitious self-starters, known for seizing the moment. Many were also big, athletic men who prided themselves on staying fit.
Louis Nacke--or "Joe" as everyone called the 42-year-old toy salesman from Pennsylvania--had a Superman tattoo on his shoulder. Only 5 foot 8 inches, his body was slabbed with muscle from hours in the weight room.
Mark Bingham, a San Francisco publicist, had not only played on a national championship rugby team at UC Berkeley, but he also had a history of not backing down--once wrestling a weapon from a would-be mugger.
Jeremy Glick, a New Jersey sales manager for an Internet company, was a judo champion in his college days.
Bill Cashman, a 60-year-old construction welder, grew up in New York's Hell's Kitchen. He served a tour of duty in Vietnam in the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne.
Alan Beaven, a Bay Area resident and native of New Zealand, was 6 feet 3 and a fiercely competitive environmental lawyer and athlete.
CeeCee Lyles, one of the flight attendants, had been trained in conflict. Just a year earlier, she had been a uniformed cop in Florida.
Joining the businesspeople, mothers, students and grandparents on Flight 93 were four other men, the only ones aboard who knew the flight would not be routine.
From a checklist that investigators believe the four left behind, it was apparent they were following a script: Bring ID, a few clothes and knives, the note said. And a last will and testament.
"When you board the plane, remember that this is a battle in the sake of God," continued the note, "which is worth the whole world and all that is in it."
America was holding its collective breath the morning of Sept. 11 after two jets had slammed into the World Trade Center and a third into the Pentagon. Hundreds of other planes were still in the air, diverted to the nearest airports, but others were unaccounted for.
At about 9:30 a.m., ground controllers in Cleveland overheard a disturbing change of events coming from the cockpit of Flight 93. First came sounds of a struggle and then, according to a source briefed on the radio transmissions, a voice in English saying: "Hey, get out of here!"
Next, a new voice come over the intercom: "This is your captain. There is a bomb on board. Please remain seated. We are returning to the airport."
The words were delivered in heavily accented English.
The plane reversed its course, its flight plan refiled electronically with a new destination: Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C.
By this time, alarmed passengers throughout the plane had reached for cell phones and the GTE Airphones mounted in the middle of the seats in front of them. From 9:31 to 9:53 a.m. GTE handled 23 calls from the airplane. Many other calls were made from private cell phones.
Bingham reached his mother and aunt in the Bay Area community of Saratoga, telling them he loved them. And that his plane had been hijacked.
Down the road in San Ramon, Deena Burnett received the first of what would be several calls from her husband, Tom. He described the hijackers and the bomb they claimed to carry. One passenger had already been stabbed.
Then Burnett, a businessman and father, began gathering information from his wife: What kinds of planes had been used in the attacks? Did she think the hijackers really had a bomb on the plane? It seemed to his wife that Burnett was putting puzzle pieces together, trying to solve a problem.
By the time Todd Beamer reached a GTE supervisor on an Airphone, other passengers could be heard wailing in the background. Beamer told the operator that some passengers wanted to rush the hijackers.
He asked her to pray with him. They said the Lord's Prayer together and the 23rd Psalm: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."
The plane was bearing down on Washington. The White House was evacuated. Lawmakers, visitors and staff rushed away from the Capitol. Fighter jets were in the air, under orders from the president to shoot down any plane that violated the air space around Washington.
As the clock neared 10 a.m., several of the passengers told those on the ground that they were ready to act.
Flight attendant Sandra Bradshaw called her husband and said she was boiling water to throw on the hijackers. Glick, the one-time judo champion, reported to his wife that some of the passengers had voted to take back the plane, while Burnett delivered a similar message to his wife.
Beamer told the GTE supervisor, at her office in suburban Chicago, that he was about to end their 13-minute conversation and put the phone down.
"Are you ready?" she heard him say to someone else on the plane. "OK. Let's roll."
Listening in from the ground at her parents' home in upstate New York, Lyz Glick could not stand anymore. She handed the phone to her father. He heard some noise, then screams; shrieks that reminded him of a roller coaster, the distinctive cry that comes at the moment of weightlessness.
In just days, reports about the cell phone calls began to appear in the media. By the time families visited the crash site, signs had sprung up on seemingly every corner.
"Heroes not victims" many read. "God bless America."
Todd Beamer's pregnant widow, Lisa, was an honored guest at President Bush's joint address to Congress, drawing a standing ovation.
Actor Tom Hanks quoted Burnett's words--"We're going to try to do something"--at the opening of a star-studded telethon seen by more people worldwide than any event in history.
"They witnessed the brutality on board and somehow summoned the strength to take action," Hanks said. "United they stood. And likely saved our world from an even darker day of perhaps even more unthinkable horror."
But the biggest outpouring of gratitude and grief came at the White House. Many of the president's staff believed they had been personally spared by the actions of those on Flight 93. When families of the victims came to visit Sept. 24, the hall between the East Wing and the White House was lined with White House employees.
They applauded and hugged the wives, children and grandparents of those who died. Many were weeping and repeating, "Thank you. Thank you."
Since then, the honors have continued to flow. Pepperdine University began a scholarship fund in Burnett's memory. The Todd Beamer Foundation has been established to benefit the children of those who perished. San Francisco may name a park after Mark Bingham. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering naming a new visitors' center in Humboldt County for Richard Guadagno, one of its employees who died on the plane.
And some families are backing an effort to build a permanent memorial in Washington. It would be an 8-foot bronze sculpture, possibly of a plane, listing every passenger's name.
"I think the Flight 93 people were the first line of defense we had against terrorism," said Bingham's mother, Alice Hoglan. "They deserve recognition."
By the time President Bush addressed the nation Nov. 8, the story of Flight 93 had thoroughly penetrated the national psyche, so much so that the president ended his half-hour pep talk with these words: "We have our marching orders: My fellow Americans, let's roll."