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The phone line from Flight 93 was still open when a GTE operator heard Todd Beamer say: 'Are you guys ready? Let's roll'

Sunday, September 16, 2001

By Jim McKinnon, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

"Are you guys ready? Let's roll!"

That's how Todd Beamer lived.

And that's how he died, helping to lead a takeover by passengers on United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed Tuesday in Somerset County. It was the fourth plane to go down in last week's terrorist attacks.

Todd Beamer

Beamer, an Oracle Inc. executive from Hightstown, N.J., and others are being credited with foiling hijackers bent on crashing the Boeing 757 into what authorities say might have been a second target in Washington, D.C., possibly the Capitol or the White House.

Flight 93 had left Newark, N.J., at 8 a.m. Tuesday, bound for San Francisco.

"That's Todd," his wife, Lisa, said yesterday of the "Let's roll!" command, which he made over the plane's in-flight telephone. A GTE supervisor talked with him for about 13 minutes before the plane crashed.

"My boys even say that. When we're getting ready to go somewhere, we say, 'C'mon guys, let's roll.' My little one says, 'C'mon, Mom, let's roll.' That's something they picked up from Todd."

Beamer, 32, told the GTE supervisor, Lisa D. Jefferson, that he and others on the plane had decided they would not be pawns in the hijackers' suicidal plot.

Jefferson told him about the other hijackings and Beamer made her promise to call his wife and their two boys, David, 3, and Andrew, 1.

Beamer's call connected at 9:45 a.m. He told Jefferson there were three hijackers, armed with knives. He did not know their nationalities or their intentions.

One of the men had what appeared to be a bomb tied to his midsection with a red belt.

Beamer said he could account for 37 of the plane's 38 passengers. The hijackers had forced 27 of them into the first-class compartment near the front.

Beamer, nine other passengers and five flight attendants were ordered to sit on the floor in the rear of the plane.

He did not know the whereabouts of the pilot, copilot and the remaining passenger. He said a flight attendant had told him the pilot and copilot had been forced from the cockpit and may have been wounded.

Two of the hijackers were in the cockpit with the door locked behind them. The man with the bomb stayed in the back of the plane, near Beamer's group.

With him were others who placed cell-phone calls from the plane, Jeffery Glick, 31, a sales manager for a technology firm, Thomas Burnett Jr., 38, a California businessman, and Mark Bingham, 31, a former college rugby player from California. Beamer mentioned Glick by his first name in the call to Jefferson, Lisa Beamer said.

Toward the end of his conversation with Jefferson, Beamer said the plane appeared to have changed directions a few times. Later, it would be determined that it had flown west from Newark to near Cleveland, then turned back to the southeast toward Pittsburgh.

Beamer became anxious.

"Oh! We're going down!" he shouted at one point.

He paused, then said in a calmer voice, "No, we're OK. I think we're turning around."

Beamer then told Jefferson that he and the others had decided to "jump on" the hijacker wearing the bomb.

Jefferson could hear shouts and commotion and then Beamer asked her to pray with him. They recited the 23rd Psalm.

He got Jefferson to promise that she would call his family, then dropped the phone, leaving the line open.

That's when Jefferson heard what Lisa Beamer believes were her husband's last words: "Let's roll."

Then there was silence. Jefferson hung up at 10 a.m. EST, realizing that the plane had gone down. Officials said it crashed at 9:58 a.m.

Although it's not yet clear what Beamer, Glick and the others were able to do, they are being hailed as heroes for forcing the plane down in a remote strip mine area in Stoneycreek, Somerset County, about 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

"When the plane started to fly erratically, he said he knew he wouldn't make it out of there," said Lisa Beamer, who is expecting their third child in January.

Lisa Beamer said reports of her husband's heroic role had "made my life worth living again." Jefferson kept her promise and called Lisa Beamer at 8 p.m. Friday.

"It was the best thing that I could've gotten [Friday]. It totally changed the mood around here," Lisa Beamer said.

Jefferson, reached by telephone yesterday, declined comment. She said GTE's parent company, Verizon, may issue a statement tomorrow about Beamer's call.

Lisa Beamer said the call she received from Jefferson had lifted her family's spirits.

"We all knew what kind of person Todd was. We know he's in heaven. He was saved," Lisa Beamer said.

"Just knowing that when the crisis came up he maintained the same character we all knew, it's a testament to what real faith means.

"It's been a real uplift. It's put a spring in my step that I didn't have since Monday."

The couple met at Wheaton College near Chicago, hometown for both of them. After graduation and marriage, they moved to New Jersey and both took jobs at Oracle before starting a family.

"He's a great guy in a crisis. He would have had his family in the forefront of his thoughts. And he would not let other people overpower him," Lisa Beamer said.

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