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Dispatcher honored for Flight 93 efforts

Friday, December 07, 2001

By Ernie Hoffman, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The Westmoreland County 911 dispatcher who took a cell phone call from a frantic passenger aboard hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 says he was just doing his job when he tried to calm the man and obtain more information about what was happening aboard the jetliner.

Friends and relatives congratulate Westmoreland County 911 dispatcher John Shaw, who was honored yesterday for his work during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Shaw answered a phone call from a frantic passenger aboard hijacked United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed near Shanksville in Somerset County. (Steve Mellon, Post-Gazette)

"I'm not a hero," dispatcher John Shaw told reporters yesterday, after he was honored by the county commissioners for his actions on the morning of Sept. 11.

"This is great, [but] I'm sorry that it's on these terms," Shaw said after he was presented the county's Public Safety Commendation Medal.

Shaw, of Youngwood, talked for a minute or so to the passenger, who had locked himself in one of the plane's restrooms and dialed 911 on his cell phone to report that the jet had been hijacked.

Flight 93 left Newark, N.J., earlier that day, bound for San Francisco, but it was hijacked by four terrorists who diverted it back toward Washington, D.C.

Other passengers, however, apparently attacked the hijackers, and the plane crashed in Stony Creek, Somerset County, after it passed over Westmoreland County.

All 44 people aboard were killed just moments after Shaw said he lost his connection with the passenger in the restroom.

"I would definitely agree that they were heroes," the 29-year-old Shaw said of the Flight 93 passengers.

The morning of Sept. 11, Shaw was taking a break and walking across the room toward a TV when a phone rang and he picked it up. There was a man on the other end.

"He told me he locked himself in the bathroom ... his plane had been hijacked," Shaw said.

"He was crying, frightened, scared, anxious," Shaw said. "There was absolutely no doubt" that he was telling the truth about the hijacking.

"I told him to stay calm," Shaw said. "It was a last-ditch effort."

Shaw got as much information as possible from the man before the jet was out of range and the connection was broken.

"John did one good job," said Glenn Cramer, the 911 supervisor who monitored the call after Shaw alerted him that it was about a hijacking in progress.

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