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Calls tell of heroics on board Flight 93

Thursday, September 13, 2001

By Charles Lane and John Mintz, The Washington Post

As United Airlines Flight 93 entered its last desperate moments in the sky, passenger Jeremy Glick used a cell phone to tell his wife, Lyzbeth, of his impending death -- and pledged to go down fighting.

Glick, 31, told his wife that the Boeing 757's cockpit had been taken over by three Middle Eastern-looking men wielding knives and a red box they claimed was a bomb. The terrorists, wearing red headbands, had ordered the pilots, flight attendants and passengers to the rear of the plane.

Mardell and Joseph Pack of Trent, Pa., weep during a prayer service at New Life Assembly of God Church in Friedena, Pa., near where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in Somerset County. Officials have speculated passengers may have confronted hijackers on the airliner and prevented its use against a fourth target. (Steve Mellon, Post-Gazette)

Lyzbeth Glick, in turn, informed her husband that another hijacked jet had already crashed into the World Trade Center, according to Glick's brother-in-law, Douglas Hurwitt, who had spoken in detail with Glick's wife about the 30-minute call. Authorities believe the hijackers of Flight 93 were aiming for a target in Washington.

Glick said he and others aboard the plane had decided to rush the cockpit and try to subdue the terrorists -- a display of resistance that may have staved off a much worse catastrophe.

"They were going to stop whoever it was from doing whatever it was they'd planned," Hurwitt said. "He knew that stopping them was going to end all of their lives. But that was my brother-in-law. He was a take-charge guy."

Glick's cell phone call from Flight 93 and others like it provide the most dramatic accounts so far of events aboard the four hijacked aircraft during the terrifying hours of Tuesday morning, and they offer clues about how the hijackings occurred.

Still, much is unknown about how bands of three to six terrorists on each airliner -- apparently armed with knives, razors and box cutters -- eluded security measures, took control of the four aircraft and committed the worst act of terrorism on U.S. soil.

The Aftermath:

What was the danger to city? Doomed United Flight 93 passed just south of Pittsburgh

A small Somerset County town struggles with getting on with life

Investigators continue to comb the crash site for black boxes


On Flight 93, at least, passengers said they were going to fight back.

Ten minutes into the 30-minute call with her husband, Lyzbeth Glick asked her father to call the FBI on a separate line, Hurwitt said. FBI agents monitored the last 20 minutes of the call and are studying a tape and transcript.

Glick, a sales manager for a technology firm who celebrated his 31st birthday on Sept. 3, told his wife he hoped she would have a good life and would take care of their 3-month-old baby girl -- before the phone call faded out amid what Hurwitt described as "random noises and screams."

It's unclear what Glick and the other passengers did next, but Flight 93 was the only one of four planes hijacked Tuesday that did not smash into a major target on the ground. Some are already calling the passengers who may have attempted to thwart the hijackers' plans heroes.

Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, said Wednesday at the crash site near Shanksville, Pa., he believes a struggle took place in the cockpit and the plane was headed for a significant target in Washington.

"There had to have been a struggle, and someone heroically kept the plane from heading to Washington," Murtha said.

Whoever was ultimately in control of the plane, Flight 93 made a number of odd maneuvers in midair before it finally plunged to Earth. "Halfway through its trip, around Weston, W.Va., it took some sharp turns, all within about two or three minutes," said Jeff Krawczyk, chief executive of Flight Explorer, a software firm that uses Federal Aviation Administration data to track flights.

"It was going west, then took a turn to the north, and then went west again," Krawczyk said. Then the plane headed toward Kentucky and took a sharp turn south toward Washington, and around that time the FAA center in Cleveland lost contact with the flight, apparently because someone aboard had turned off its transponder, he said.

Brad Clemenson, a spokesman for Murtha, said the doomed aircraft apparently made at least two other sharp turns during its last minutes -- swerves that are detectable in Flight Explorer's computerized reconstruction of the jet's path.

Dennis Fritz, director of the municipal airport in Johnstown, Pa., said the FAA called him several times as the plane approached his city, and even warned him to evacuate the tower for fear the jet would plow into it.

"They said the plane was very suspicious, and they didn't know what it was doing," Fritz said. Flight 93 crashed into a field 14 miles south of Johnstown.

The wife of another passenger has also spoken of farewell phone calls from her husband in which he, too, mentioned a plan among the hostages to thwart the terrorists.

Deena Burnett said she received four calls from her husband, California businessman Thomas E. Burnett Jr., 38. During the first call, he described the hijackers and told her they had stabbed and seriously injured one passenger, advising her to contact authorities. She informed him that the World Trade Center had been hit by another hijacked jet.

Thomas Burnett called back shortly thereafter to report that the wounded passenger had died, and said he and some others "were going to do something," to stop the terrorists, Deena Burnett told KCBS Radio San Francisco.

Kathy Hoglan of Los Gatos, California says her nephew, Mark Bingham, 31, did not specifically mention a plan to tackle the hijackers in his cell phone call to her at 9:44 a.m. Eastern time.

Bingham managed only to tell his aunt and mother, Alice Hoglan, that the plane had been hijacked and that he loved them before the phone "went dead," Kathy Hoglan said. But the six-foot-five-inch former University of California rugby player undoubtedly would have joined any such effort, she said.

"He was calm but scared, as if he knew something was going to happen," Hoglan said. "There's no doubt he wouldn't have let them get away with it."

Aboard other doomed flights, passengers and flight personnel were also frantically using cell phones to describe the terror unfolding in the sky.

Betty Ong, an American Airlines flight attendant aboard Flight 11 that slammed into the World Trade Center, called her airline supervisor to report that she had seen at least three hijackers with weapons and that more than one person aboard the plane had been stabbed, law enforcement sources said.

The hijackers also told people on the plane that they planned to crash the aircraft in New York City, the sources said.

It is unclear how that telephone call ended.

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