The 2001 LEN People of the Year:
The heroes of Flight 93
At 9:28, a Cleveland air traffic controller heard screams and scuffling over the radio channel between the ground and cockpit. Investigators believe that Jarrah had flipped a switch thinking he was speaking over the plane’s PA system, but had inadvertently called the Cleveland control tower instead. Controllers heard a voice say, in thickly accented English: “Hi, this is the captain. We’d like you all to remain seated. There is a bomb on board. We are going to turn back to the airport. And they have our demands, so please be quiet.” Then, realizing they could be heard by air-traffic control and other planes in the area, the hijackers fumbled with switches until they were no longer on the airwaves, according to a report compiled by Newsweek.
When Tom Burnett, a take-charge former college football player, called his wife, Deena, she told him it was as if all hell had been unleashed. Terrorists were hitting landmarks along the Eastern Seaboard. The Pentagon had just been slammed into by American Flight 77. The hijackers, he told her, said they had a bomb. “I think they’re bluffing,” said Burnett. “We’re going to do something. I’ve got to go.”
Shortly after 9:30, the cockpit’s voice recorder picked up sounds of crying and moaning, someone pleading not to be hurt. There has been speculation that the hijackers used their box cutters to slash the throats of the pilots, Jason Dahl and Leroy Homer Jr., as they sat strapped in their seats. While investigators are unsure how the terrorists got into the cockpit, they believe that either a flight attendant was forced at knifepoint to bring Dahl out, or that the hijackers just barged into the area.
By now, the passengers and crew had been herded to the back of the plane, and calls were quickly being made to loved ones on cell phones and on-board Airphones. Sandy Bradshaw, a flight attendant, called her husband: “Have you heard what’s going on? My flight has been hijacked. My flight has been hijacked by three guys with knives. I don’t know who’s flying the plane or where we are.” Bradshaw and her fellow flight attendants began filling pitchers with boiling water to throw at the terrorists.
Jeremy Glick, the father of a 12-week-old daughter, told his wife, Lyz, that there was talk of “rushing the hijackers.” Along with Glick, who was a 220-pound, 6-foot-1 former college judo champion, there was Lou Nacke, a weight lifter; Mark Bingham, a 6-foot-5 former college rugby player; Rich Guadagno, a fish and wildlife enforcement officer, who was trained in hand-to-hand combat; flight attendant CeeCee Lyles, a former detective; William Cashman, a retired ironworker and former paratrooper with the 101st Airborne, and Linda Gronlund, a brown belt in karate.
At 9:45, Todd Beamer reached Lisa Jefferson, a supervisor at the GTE Customer Center in Oakbrook, Ill., on the Airphone and gave her the details of their situation. The captain and first officer were lying dead or gravely wounded on the floor of the first class cabin, he said. There were three hijackers, two with knives.
Beamer and Jefferson recited the Lord’s Prayer together. Then she heard him utter the words that have become a mantra since Sept. 11: “Are you guys ready? Let’s roll.” The time was 9:58, and 10 minutes later, the hijacking of Flight 93 ended, when the plane crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pa., about 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.
From a larger perspective, said Flynn, hijacking will never be the same. An analogy could be drawn from the way police responded to school violence changed in the aftermath of Columbine, he said. Historically, armed intruder situations were dealt with as potential hostage scenarios. A strategy of containment and negotiation was implemented because time would work to law enforcement’s advantage.
“Now we’ve learned there are people out there who will just continue to kill until they are killed by police, so we must move directly to the threat with whoever responds to the location first,” said Flynn. “Now we have learned that when it comes to hijacking airplanes, it is not a question of being taken to Cuba in exchange for hostages, it’s likely to be a death mission and therefore the safety of the passengers is in the hands of the passengers. So it was one of those moments in which all of our prior thinking about a particular challenge was turned on its head and caused us to think anew.”
Top row (l.-r.): Folger; Fraser; Garcia; Glick; Grandcolas; Greene; Gronlund; Guadagno; Kuge; Marcin. Bottom (l.-r.): Martinez; Miller; Nacke; the Petersons; Rothenberg; Snyder; Talignani; Wainio; White.
Top row (l.-r.): Dahl; Homer; Bay; Bradshaw; Green; Lyles; Welsh; Adams; Beamer; Beaven. Bottom (l.-r.): Bingham; Bodley; Britton; Burnett; Cashman; Corrigan; Cushing; DeLuca; Driscoll; Felt.
“We can’t wait for the authorities. . . .”
Setting a higher standard for citizen action
No longer is there a “predisposition to be victims,” said Flynn. “Now the notion is, we are going to take control, we are not going to wait and see what happens, we are going to be assertive. And the good thing about that is anything that makes people feel less helpless is good.”
Henry DeGeneste, a former superintendent of the Port Authority Police Department, with an office in the World Trade Center, pointed to the incident on Dec. 22 in which passengers on a transatlantic flight subdued a man who tried to set off explosives hidden in his shoes as an example of how citizen response has evolved since Sept. 11.
An analysis by the FBI laboratory in Washington determined that the man, 28-year-old Richard Colvin Reid, had two functional, improvised explosive devices in his sneakers. The material was not identified, but Massachusetts State Police officials said preliminary tests suggested it was C-4, a plastic explosive used by Al Qaeda, among other terrorist groups. X-rays of Reid’s shoes found holes drilled in the heel and a detonator.
The plane, American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to Miami, was diverted to Boston’s Logan International Airport, where it landed safely at 12:50 p.m., escorted by two F-15 fighter jets. According to an FBI statement, the incident began about three hours after takeoff when Hermis Moutardier, a flight attendant, smelled a burning match and saw the 6-foot-4-inch Reid trying to light a fuse in the heel of his shoe. Moutardier grabbed at them and Reid shoved her into a bulkhead, biting the hand of a second flight attendant, said the report.
At that point, everybody began trying to grab at him, said Theirry Dugeon, a 36-year-old Parisian. Eric Debry, 42, was sitting behind Reid and pulled his arms back. Three or four other passengers joined in the fracas, including 6-foot-8-inch Kwame James, a Canadian who plays professional basketball internationally.
The sounds of the struggle with the flight crew and the smell of smoke prompted action, said a passenger, Maija Karhusaari. “The stewardess was pouring water on the fire; people were passing water bottles up,” she told The New York Times. Then two French doctors injected Reid with sedatives, she said, and passengers began tying Reid up with earphone cords and belts.
“There were passengers watching him all the way after that,” she said. “We didn’t know there were explosives, we just knew there was a fire.”
The FBI credited the swift action of the crew and passengers with averting a potential tragedy. “This points to the importance of every citizen staying involved and alert to ensure public safety,” said Charles Prouty, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston field office.
“Here he is, sitting on the plane, thinking he’s going to do what he’s going to do, but the passengers said, ‘Oh no you’re not.’ They jumped him, and beyond that held him until the plane landed,” said DeGeneste, who is now a senior vice president with Prudential Securities Inc., in an interview with LEN “I think you’ll see that happen in subways, trains, see it in public spaces, too. The question is, will the public maintain that sensitivity for a long time? That’s hard to say.”
Right now, Flynn opined, there is a heightened sense of anxiety which needs to be translated into a heightened sense of awareness. And as a society, he noted, there must be a national discussion about the “level of generalized threat we are comfortable taking as a fact of life.” In other words, said Flynn, do we choose as our analogy London during the blitz, or Israel during the past 30 years?
“We have to acknowledge the fact that no one can keep us 100 percent safe, 100 percent of the time,” he said. “The national conversation we have is what tradeoffs are we willing to make for what level of openness and what level of security. That really hasn’t begun to take place.”
Law Enforcement News has never previously bestowed its People of the Year honors on heroes, and never before has the honor been posthumous. Of course, never before, at least in recent memory, has there been a day like Sept. 11, 2001. A 19th century contemporary of Sir Robert Peel’s, the American essayist and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, once observed, “A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer.” On Sept. 11, 40 ordinary men and women aboard United Flight 93 rose to a level of bravery even they might not have been able to imagine. They were braver perhaps 10 minutes longer — from Todd Beamer’s “Let’s roll” to the moment of impact — but those 10 minutes set a standard of ordinary-citizen heroism and involvement in fighting crime that others would do well to remember, and to dare to emulate.