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GTE operator connects with, uplifts widow of hero in hijacking

Wednesday, September 19, 2001

By Jim McKinnon, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Three days passed before Lisa D. Jefferson was allowed to keep a promise she made to a doomed man who is now regarded as a national hero.

On Friday evening, three days after terrorist hijackings that crashed four passenger jets and killed thousands, Jefferson, with the FBI's approval, made a phone call that lifted her spirits and those of the Todd Beamer family.

Beamer, of Cranbury, N.J., died Tuesday aboard United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Somerset County.

Before the crash, Beamer dialed zero on the onboard phone system, reaching an operator at GTE in Chicago. He told her the plane had been hijacked.

Jefferson, a supervisor at GTE, got on the line and talked with Beamer for 13 minutes, telling him about other hijackings that had ended in crashes at the World Trade Center in New York.

Beamer told Jefferson he and other passengers planned to take on the hijackers. He made Jefferson promise to call his wife, Lisa, and sons David, 3, and Andrew, 1.

The last words Jefferson heard from Beamer were to his fellow passengers: "Are you guys ready? Let's roll."

Minutes later, the plane crashed, short of its presumed target of Washington, D.C., the last of four crashes in a span of about an hour.

No one aboard survived the crash, but authorities believe the passengers' actions prevented much greater carnage.

William Pallone, president of GTE Airfone, a division of Verizon, said yesterday that the company complied with an FBI request and did not divulge Beamer's call, even to Beamer's wife, until late Friday.

That is when Jefferson was allowed to keep her pledge to call Lisa Beamer, who later told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "It was the best thing I could've gotten. It totally changed the mood around here."

She said learning of her husband's heroism "made my life worth living again."

Jefferson, too, was uplifted by the call, Pallone said yesterday. She is currently taking some time off from the job.

Beamer's call to the operator was one of nearly two dozen in-flight calls from Flight 93 between 9 and 10 a.m. EDT that day, along with dozens of similar calls from the three other planes that crashed.

GTE has released no details of the other calls, which were placed to private parties rather than the operator. Some crash victims' relatives have given accounts of the calls in news media interviews.

Nor has GTE released a transcript of the Beamer call, which, because it was to an operator, was tape-recorded.

Pallone said GTE, as a gesture to help air travelers feel more secure, will discount rates for Airfone calls from planes in coming weeks.

"We'll make it easier for passengers to contact people when they're in the air, to reassure loved ones that they're OK," he said.

"I'm very proud of the people at Airfone who worked this incident, during and after the incident. They did their jobs like we hoped they would. And we're proud that Airfone was able to provide a service to make a connection to their loved ones at an extremely important time."

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