Todd Beamer was a 32-year-old Oracle software account manager from Cranbury, New Jersey. He boarded United Airlines Flight 93 which left Newark International Airport bound for San Francisco at 8:43AM on the 11th of September, 2001. The flight had been delayed for 43 minutes due to heavy air traffic. He had planned to be home from a cross-country business trip in time to have breakfast with his family on the 12th of September, 2001
Instead, however, Todd found himself in the midst of a terrorist attack.
When the airplane was hijacked, Todd attempted to place a call through an on-air telephone but was routed to customer services instead. Lisa Jefferson was on the other end of the lime. Todd told her that there were four hijackers with knives that had taken over the plane. “He told me that he had dialed zero to report his plane was being hijacked and he wanted someone to talk to,” she recollected.
With the help of a flight attendant, Todd told Lisa how many passengers and crew were on board. He told Lisa that one of hijackers appeared to have a bomb strapped to his waist and he was standing guard in first class. He described how one flight attended had been stabbed to death (possibly Debbie Welsh) while both the pilot and co-pilot had been forced into the cockpit. He told Lisa that he was safe to talk because the terrorists were in the cockpit and first class. The passengers and crew had been forced towards the back of the airplane.
By this point, two airplanes had already crashed into the World Trade Centre and another had crashed into the Pentagon. Todd was seemingly unaware and asked Lisa if she thought the terrorists wanted money or ransom. Lisa didn’t inform him of the other hijacked airplanes, knowing it would terrify him even further.
After speaking with Lisa for several minutes, Todd’s calm voice went up in pitch. He said that the airplane had went up slightly before sharply turning. Todd asked Lisa if she would recite the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23 with him and she did. – “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.” In the background, Lisa heard other passengers joining in, as though for a last rite.
Moments later, the airplane took a dive, causing Todd to exclaim: “Oh God, Lisa!” When Todd told Lisa about his wife and two sons, she asked if he wanted her to try and connect him to them. Todd turned her down, saying he didn’t want to scare his wife, who was expecting their third child. Instead, Todd asked Lisa to let his family know that he loved them “if I don’t make it out of this.” Lisa promised she would.
Lisa continued to talk with Todd about his family before he told her that the passengers had decided to “jump” the hijacker with the bomb and try to take control of the plane. By this time, other passengers who were calling home had learned of the terrorist attack in New York. They knew that things were looking bleak and this was a life or death situation. Moments later, Lisa heard a commotion followed by a number of men and woman screaming. The last words she heard Todd say were: “You ready? Okay, lets roll!” She then heard more commotion before the line went dead.
United Flight 93 had crashed into a field around 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, killing all 44 people on board. The hijacker’s destination was the U.S. Capitol Building. Later, the cockpit voice recorder indicated just how close the brave passengers and crew came to taking back control of the airplane. The cockpit recorder picked up the sound of fighting as the airplane lost control at 30,000 feet. The sound of trolleys crashing and dishes being hurled and smashed can be heard while the terrorists scream at one another to hold the door. One passenger is heard shouting “let’s get them!” followed by more screaming.1
The final phone call has tormented Lisa. “When I hear ‘Let’s roll,’ I feel good because I know it was something I helped bring to the nation as a rallying cry, but other words I heard that day are what stay with me.” Throughout the heart-breaking phone call, Lisa heard other passengers crying, screaming for their lives, and praying. Lisa was later awarded with the “living hero” award from the American Bible Society in New York City. “I think all of the people on the plane were heroes — every last one of them,” she insisted. “I don’t consider myself a hero. I just did my job.”
The real impact struck home to Lisa the following week when the Chicago Sun Times ran photographs of the passengers and crew on the doomed flight. It was the first time that Lisa was able to put a face to the person with whom she had developed such an intense and profound relationship in such a short time. When she saw Todd’s photograph, Lisa felt ill, so much so that she had to take two days off from work.2
In the wake of the terrorist attack, Lisa called Todd’s wife, also named Lisa. “She called me crying. It was emotional as I explained to her the conversation I’d had with Todd. At first she was upset but later she thanked me for comforting him,” she said. “She called me a rock and a pillar of strength and thanked me for being there to comfort him.”3
The heroic acts made that day remain an iconic image of unity with Todd’s final words becoming a global catchphrase of heroic defiance against terrorism.
- The Observer, 2 December, 2001 – “The Real Story of Flight 93”
- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 11 September, 2002 – “Verizon Operator who Talked to Todd Beamer”
- The Orlando Sentinel, 6 September, 2002 – “Operator Connects to 13 Minutes of Terror”