Faced with the unimaginable, the heroes of Flight 93 did the unbelievable.
You know the story of the passengers and crew of that aircraft, who fought back against terrorist hijackers on Sept. 11, 2001, fully aware that captive planes had already been crashed into the Pentagon and the twin towers of the World Trade Center.
Armed with a food cart and boiling water, they rushed the cockpit – an action that brought that plane down in a former strip mine near Shanksville and not into a government building in Washington, D.C.
Every time I read about that act, hear about it – write about it – I marvel at the composure, the courage, the determination such a response would have required.
And I am deeply moved by what many of those individuals did before challenging their hijackers.
They called people on the ground – including at United Airlines – to report the hijacking.
They phoned their loved ones to let them know something had happened on their plane.
And, in some cases, to say good-bye.
Flight attendant CeeCee Ross Lyles called her husband, Lorne, and left a message on their answering machine about the hijacking and the plans to rush the cockpit.
She said: “I hope to be able to see your face again, baby. I love you. Good-bye.”
Several calls from that plane to the ground were recorded, preserved and are included among exhibits at the Flight 93 National Memorial Visitor Center.
When that Visitor Center opened in 2015, I heard the voice of passenger Linda Gronlund, of Greenwood Lake, New York, who called her sister, Elsa, at 9:46 a.m. from aboard Flight 93 – leaving a message that remarkably included the combination to her safe containing her personal papers.
Gronlund said: “I only have a minute. I’m on United 93. It’s been hijacked by terrorists.”
“Those recordings show the bravery and unbelievable courage those passengers and crew showed,” Stephen M. Clark, superintendent of Western Pennsylvania Parks for the National Park Service, told me in 2015. “And yet, they were calm in the face of their own deaths. You sense the sincerity that comes over you in those moments.”
Flight attendant Sandy Waugh Bradshaw called United Airlines and reported the hijacking – even describing the four terrorists in detail. She then called her husband and told him that the passengers and crew were going to confront the hijackers.
Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas, an advertising sales consul- tant with Good Housekeep- ing Magazine, left a message for her husband telling him there was a problem on the flight, and asking him to tell their family members that she loved them.
You can read about these amazing acts in the park service’s biographies of the 40 heroes on the Flight 93 National Memorial website – or visit the Shanksville center and hear the voices reaching out over the 20 years since 9/11.
You’ll learn that Lyles called her husband again – just before 10 a.m. – and they spoke briefly before praying together.
And she said: “Tell the boys I love them. We’re getting ready to do it now. It’s happening!”
Flight 93 came down at 10:03 a.m.
Marion R. Britton, a regional director with the U.S. Census Bureau, phoned a “longtime friend and tearfully told him it felt like her plane was turning and was going to crash,” the park service said.
Joseph DeLuca, who worked for Pfizer Consumer Healthcare, called his father to say farewell.
Engineer Edward Porter Felt called 911 to report: “Hijacking in progress!”
Also among those contacting friends or colleagues on the ground were public-relations professional Mark Bingham, sales professionals Honor Elizabeth Wainio and Jeremy Logan Glick, and businessman Thomas E. Burnett Jr.
And account manager Todd Beamer, whose comment to his wife from the plane came to define the actions of the passengers and crew:
Burnett made four separate calls to his wife, and described in detail the group’s plans to challenge the hijackers.
She said he told her: “We have to do something. We can’t wait for the authorities. ... It’s up to us. I think we can do it.”
And they did – saving countless lives by risking and sacrificing their own.
Wainio told her stepmother: “They’re getting ready to break into the cockpit. I have to go. I love you.
Chip Minemyer is the editor of The Tribune-Democrat and TribDem.com, and CNHI regional editor for Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, West Virginia and North Carolina. He can be reached at 814-532-5091. Follow him on Twitter @MinemyerChip.