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13-minute call bonds her forever with hero

Saturday, September 22, 2001

By Jim McKinnon, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Telephone operator Lisa D. Jefferson "knew" Todd Beamer for only 13 minutes, but said she feels like she lost a close friend.

Jefferson, an 18-year veteran of GTE Airfone, yesterday described in detail the phone call placed by Beamer in the moments before United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in Somerset County on Sept. 11, killing Beamer and the 43 other people aboard.

"I felt like the time that Todd and I had together, we had bonded. It's like I lost a good friend," Jefferson said in a telephone interview.

She said Beamer was amazingly calm and composed as he told her of the hijacking of Flight 93 and passengers' plans to rush their captors.

He told Jefferson about his wife and children and asked her to pray with him. Then he dropped the phone to join other passengers in a struggle that authorities believe foiled the hijackers' plan to crash the jet in a populated area, possibly in Washington, D.C.

Jefferson said the day had begun normally in GTE Airfone's Chicago call center, but turned chaotic with word from radio broadcasts that two jetliners had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York.

The center had made dozens of connections for passengers on the other downed jets. About two dozen more calls came from Flight 93.

Operators weren't privy to most of the calls, placed to private parties -- mostly loved ones -- by passengers. Beamer, 32, of Cranbury, N.J., was the only passenger who dialed zero for the Airfone operator.

He reached Phyllis Johnson.

Johnson quickly turned the call over to Jefferson, her supervisor, who immediately contacted the FBI, airline security and Verizon operations personnel. Then she spoke with Beamer.

His voice and conversational tone belied the chaos that had developed in the skies over Pennsylvania, Jefferson said. Through the din of screams and commotion, Beamer and Jefferson conversed like old friends.

"I introduced myself as Mrs. Jefferson. I said, 'I understand that you're on United Flight 93 and it's being hijacked.' And I asked him to explain."

He knew there were at least three hijackers, two with knives who had commandeered the plane's controls and one with a suspected bomb strapped around his waist who kept watch on the passengers.

The pilot and copilot lay motionless on the floor in front of a curtain that had been drawn by the bomb-carrying hijacker. Beamer told Jefferson he could not tell whether the pilot, Capt. Jason Dahl, 43, of Denver, or first officer, LeRoy Homer, 36, of Marlton, N.J., were alive.

She told Beamer about the two planes crashing in New York.

Beamer began to tell Jefferson about himself, where he was from, that he had two sons, David, 3, and Andrew, 1, and that his wife was expecting their third child in January.

The plane lurched and Beamer grew excited.

"By then he raised his voice slightly. He didn't shout. The plane was flying erratically and he said, 'We're going down! We're going down!' Then he said, 'We're coming back up. We're turning around and going back north.' At this point he didn't know where it was going," Jefferson said.

Beamer regained his composure."Lisa," he said.

"I said, 'Yes?' And he said, 'That's my wife's name,'" Jefferson said.

"That's my name, too, Todd."

"Oh, my God," Beamer said.

He asked Jefferson to call his wife. If he didn't survive, he wanted Jefferson to give his wife a message, that he loved her and the family. He asked Jefferson to recite the Lord's Prayer.

"And he did that, start to finish," Jefferson said.

The plane ride got more bumpy, and Beamer raised his voice again.

"Lisa! Lisa!"

"I'm still here, Todd," she said. "I'll be here as long as you're here."

Beamer and a few fellow passengers had agreed on a plan to retake the plane, Jefferson said.

"I thought it was pretty dangerous," she said. "I asked him if he was sure he wanted to do that. He said at that point he thought that's what he had to do."

Beamer apparently set the phone down. The line remained open as Jefferson again heard pandemonium in the background.

She heard Beamer saying, "God help me. Jesus help me." He addressed his cohorts, still calm, saying, "Are you ready? OK," Jefferson said. She did not complete the phrase that Lisa Beamer relayed in an earlier interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in which she quoted her husband using a family catch phrase: "Are you guys ready? Let's roll!"

"That's the last I heard from Todd Beamer," Jefferson said. "The line was still open, but it was silent."

For the next 15 minutes, Jefferson stayed on the line. As Verizon's operations staff told her that the plane had gone down.

"At that point, I was very upset and emotional," Jefferson said. "I was crying."

She took no more calls that day.

For the next three days she continued to mourn, waiting for FBI clearance to tell Beamer's wife about the call.

"I wasn't ready to talk to Lisa," Jefferson said. "I wanted to call and give her that information just like Todd had given it to me. But I don't think I would've been able to be that calm."

Last Friday, someone from United Airlines told Lisa Beamer about her husband's call. On Saturday morning, Mrs. Beamer called Jefferson at her Chicago home and heard the news that lifted her spirits.

The other calls from Flight 93

These reports were compiled from The Record of Bergen County, N.J.; The Dallas Morning News; Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Sun-Sentinel; News & Record of Greensboro, N.C.; San Francisco Chronicle, and from staff reports by Jim McKinnon and Bill Heltzel of the Post-Gazette.Mark Bingham, 31, San Francisco, owner of a public relations firm

About 9:45 a.m. he called his mother, Alice Hoglan, in San Francisco. "He said, "I want you to know I love you very much. I'm calling you from the plane. We've been taken over. There are three men that say they have a bomb," Hoglan said. Then the phone went dead.

Sandra W. Bradshaw, 38, Greensboro, N.C., flight attendant

Shortly before the crash, she called her husband, Philip, a US Airways pilot. She said the plane had been hijacked and she asked for prayers.

Marion Britton, 53, Brooklyn, assistant regional director of the U.S. Census Bureau

She called longtime friend Fred Fiumano, from whom she had borrowed a cell phone. She said the plane had been hijacked, they had slit the throats of two people and the plane had made a U-turn.

Fiumano told her that the World Trade Center towers were in flames. She said, "I know, and we're going to go down." Fiumano said they were only going to take them for a ride, but she responded, "No. They're going to kill us."

Fiumano heard a lot of yelling and screaming, and the line went dead. He tried calling back but the call didn't get through.

Thomas E. Burnett Jr., 38, San Ramon, Calif., chief operating officer of Thoratec Corp.

When he called home, his wife, Deena, was feeding their three daughters breakfast and watching the television accounts of the World Trade Center attacks. "I'm on the airplane. They've already knifed a guy. Call the authorities." Then the phone went dead.

She called 911 and was connected to the FBI. Her husband called again and said, "They are talking about flying the airplane into the ground." She told him about the jets that had crashed into the World Trade Center. He asked questions, then suddenly had to go.

He called a third time and said that the man who had been stabbed, possibly the pilot, was dead. Deena remembered her training as a former flight attendant. "Please sit down and don't call attention to yourself," she said.

On his fourth and final call he said passengers had decided to act. "I know we're going to die. There's three of us who are going to do something about it."

Andrew "Sonny" Garcia, 62, Portola Valley, Calif., businessman

His wife, Dorothy, believes he called her during the final minutes of the flight. Through heavy static, she heard a voice say, "Dorothy." Then the phone went dead.

Jeremy Glick, 31, West Milford, N.J., Vividence Internet company

He talked with his wife, Lyzbeth, for about 20 minutes. He said the crew had been forced to the back of the plane, a passenger had been stabbed to death, and the hijackers claimed that a box wrapped in red paper and red ribbon contained a bomb.

He was nervous about rushing the hijackers but joked that he still had the butter knife from his in-flight breakfast. As they talked, Mrs. Glick's mother called police on another line and allowed them to listen in on the call.

He told her to take care of Emmy, their daughter, and to "have a good life." He told her of a plan to "jump the hijackers."

Lauren Grandcolas, 38, San Rafael, Calif., Good Housekeeping magazine sales worker

"We have been hijacked," she told her husband, Jack. "They are being kind. I love you."

CeeCee Lyles, 31, Fort Myers, Fla., flight attendant

She called her husband, according to her aunt, Mareya Schneider, to let him know how much she loved him and their four boys. During the call, her husband heard people screaming in the background.

Louis J. Nacke, 42, New Hope, Pa., Kay-Bee Toys executive

Amy Nacke, his wife, accidentally erased an answering machine message while trying to identify where the call came from. She didn't know her husband was in danger. The message was left between 9:00 and 9:30 a.m.

She said officials at Kay-Bee Toys were trying to determine if he made a call on his company cell phone.



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