Sunday, 28 October 2007

Todd Beamer's Odd Phone Call and the Silent Crash of Flight 93

Airfone allegedly recovered from the Flight 93 debrisA key element of the official 9/11 story is the phone call Todd Beamer made from United Airlines Flight 93 shortly before it supposedly crashed in rural Pennsylvania. It was at the end of this call that Beamer was heard declaring: "Let's roll," before joining a passenger revolt against the terrorists. Without this now-famous call to battle, 9/11 would arguably have been less effective in motivating the public to get behind the war on terror. By May 2002, the Washington Post reported, Beamer's phrase "Let's roll" had been "Embraced and promoted by President Bush as a patriotic battle cry," and was "now emblazoned on Air Force fighter planes, city firetrucks, school athletic jerseys, and countless T-shirts, baseball caps and souvenir buttons. It's also commemorated in popular songs." [1] The London Evening Standard called Beamer's final words "a symbol of America's determination to fight back." [2] Rowland Morgan, author of the book Flight 93 Revealed, concluded: "Truly, the Let's Roll slogan had become a call to arms--just at a time the White House needed it most." [3] Yet, an examination of Todd Beamer's phone call reveals numerous oddities, coincidences, and seeming impossibilities.

For 13 minutes, Beamer had spoken with Lisa Jefferson, a customer service supervisor at GTE Airfone's Chicago call center. He explained to her that his plane had been hijacked, and, assisted by a flight attendant sitting next to him, provided details about the flight. He also talked about his pregnant wife and two young sons. Being a devout Christian, he asked Jefferson to recite the Lord's Prayer with him, and then recited the 23rd Psalm. Before declaring his famous last words, Beamer said some of the passengers were going to try and seize control of the plane. At around 9:58 a.m., he put the phone down and was heard saying to someone else: "You ready? OK. Let's roll." [4]

The first thing that was odd about this call is the simple fact that Beamer was able to talk to Jefferson continuously for 13 minutes. In her 2002 book, his wife Lisa Beamer revealed that Jefferson had informed her "it was a miracle that Todd's call hadn't been disconnected." The reason: "Because of the enormous number of calls that day, the GTE systems overloaded and lines were being disconnected all around her as she sat at the operator's station outside of Chicago, talking to Todd. [Jefferson] kept thinking, This call is going to get dropped! Yet Todd stayed connected ... all the way to the end." [5] Very fortunate indeed this was, because if the call had become disconnected there would have been no "Let's roll" slogan for the war on terror.

A further oddity was Todd Beamer's remarkable calmness, despite the catastrophic situation he was in. Jefferson recalled: "Todd, when he came to me, he was calm. ... [H]e stayed calm through the entire conversation." [6] In her 2006 book, Called, Jefferson wrote: "[H]is voice was devoid of any stress. In fact, he sounded so tranquil it made me begin to doubt the authenticity and urgency of his call." [7] She told Beamer's wife: "If I hadn't known it was a real hijacking, I'd have thought it was a crank call, because Todd was so rational and methodical about what he was doing." [8]

At some point during the call, Beamer said he did not think he was going to survive, telling Jefferson: "I know we're not going to make it out of here." [9] He gave her his home phone number and said: "If I don't make it out of this, would you please call my family and let them know how much I love them?" [10] Yet he refused offers to be put through to his wife. Jefferson has recalled: "I asked if he wanted to be connected to his wife." But, "he said no, that he did not want to upset her as they were expecting their third child in January." [11]

However, before reaching the call center, Todd Beamer had supposedly been trying to call his wife, but was simply unable to get through. [12] According to a summary of passenger phone calls presented at the 2006 trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, Beamer tried making this call just before 9:44 a.m., but it had been "terminated upon connection." [13] His wife has recalled that she heard her phone ring twice before stopping, and then, moments later, ringing once more. She said: "When I picked it up, it was dead air. I feel fairly confident that it was Todd. It would be on his mind to call me, to protect me." [14] According to some accounts, he reached the call center because his call was automatically routed there when his attempt at reaching his wife failed. [15] (However, other accounts claim he'd reached it by dialing "0" on the Airfone. [16])

The question remains: If Todd Beamer really did not want to talk to his wife because she was pregnant and he was afraid he might upset her, why had be been trying to phone her in the first place? Even if we somehow accept that he'd changed his mind over the space of a few minutes, another question arises: Why had Beamer not instead asked Jefferson to try and put him through to his parents, or one of his sisters, or another relative, or a friend? Instead, he'd apparently been content to talk with a stranger, explaining to Jefferson: "I just want to talk to somebody and just let someone know that this is happening." [17]

Perhaps the oddest aspect of the call is what happened after 9:58, when Todd Beamer put the phone down to join the passenger revolt against the hijackers. Jefferson has recalled: "After he said, 'Let's roll,' he left the phone, and I would assume that's at the point that they went to charge the cockpit. And I was still on the line and the plane took a dive, and by then, it just went silent. I held on until after the plane crashed--probably about 15 minutes longer and I never heard a crash--it just went silent because--I can't explain it. We didn't lose a connection because there's a different sound that you use. It's a squealing sound when you lose a connection. I never lost connection, but it just went silent." [18]

Now how is this possible? Firstly, how could the call have remained connected after the plane crashed? According to the summary of passenger phone calls presented at the Moussaoui trial, Beamer's call lasted "3,925 seconds." [19] This would mean it did not end until 10:49 a.m., about three-quarters of an hour after Flight 93 supposedly crashed. And, secondly, how could there have been silence when the crash occurred?

Considering that Todd Beamer's call is central to the official 9/11 narrative, it would be helpful if a recording of it were available to be properly analyzed. However, all that supposedly exists is a summary written by Jefferson. According to journalist and author Jere Longman: "GTE-Verizon did not routinely tape its telephone calls. As a supervisor, [Jefferson] would have been the one to monitor the taping, but she did not want to risk losing the call." [20] In her own book, Jefferson claimed she had "not had a chance to press the switch in my office that initiates the taping of a conversation." [21] Rowland Morgan has pointed out that this means the evidence of Beamer's call is "single-sourced, unsubstantiated hearsay of which there was no record. ... [Jefferson] had no idea what Beamer's voice sounded like, and she would never hear it again to judge whether he had actually been speaking to her." [22] However, a week after 9/11 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had claimed otherwise, stating that, "because it was to an operator," the call "was tape-recorded." [23] If a recording of the call indeed exists, it has been kept well hidden.

Todd Beamer's call in fact only came to light five days after the attacks, in a report in the Post-Gazette. [24] Beamer's wife first learned of it three days after the attacks, in a phone call from United Airlines. Until then, the FBI had been keeping the information private until it had an opportunity to review it. (Yet how long does it take to review a written summary of a 13-minute phone call?) [25] An FBI agent had phoned Lisa Jefferson on the afternoon of 9/11. She recalled: "I was told to maintain secrecy. In fact, he stressed the importance of keeping the matter under wraps." [26] But why? What was there to hide?

Clearly, many things seem odd about Todd Beamer's phone call. For now, it is really up to each of us to decide what we think was going on. But it should concern us all that the war on terror is founded upon such dubious evidence. This war, after all, has caused the deaths of thousands of Americans, tens of thousands of Afghans, and over a million Iraqis. It's time to go back and properly investigate the event that started it all.

[1] Peter Perl, "Hallowed Ground." Washington Post, May 12, 2002.
[2] James Langton, "Pain and Joy of 11." Evening Standard, August 19, 2002.
[3] Rowland Morgan, "Flight 93 'Was Shot Down' Claims Book." Daily Mail, August 18, 2006.
[4] Jere Longman, Among the Heroes: United Flight 93 and the Passengers and Crew Who Fought Back. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002, pp. 198-200 and 203-204; Wes Smith, "Operator Can't Forget Haunting Cries From Flight 93." Orlando Sentinel, September 5, 2002.
[5] Lisa Beamer and Ken Abraham, Let's Roll!: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Courage. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2002, p. 217.
[6] Wendy Schuman, "'I Promised I Wouldn't Hang Up.'" Beliefnet, 2006.
[7] Lisa Jefferson and Felicia Middlebrooks, Called. Chicago: Northfield Publishing, 2006, p. 33.
[8] Lisa Beamer and Ken Abraham, Let's Roll! p. 211.
[9] Douglas Holt, "Call Records Detail How Passengers Foiled 2nd Washington Attack." Chicago Tribune, September 16, 2001.
[10] Jere Longman, Among the Heroes, p. 200.
[11] Wes Smith, "Operator Can't Forget Haunting Cries From Flight 93."
[12] U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, "Stipulation [Regarding Flights Hijacked on September 11, 2001; September 11, 2001 Deaths; al Qaeda; Chronology of Hijackers' Activities; Zacarias Moussaoui; and the Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-Screening System (CAPPS)]." March 1, 2006, p. 11.
[13] U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, "Summary From Flight 93 Depicting: The Identity of Pilots and Flight Attendants, Seat Assignments of Passengers, and Telephone Calls From the Flight." July 31, 2006.
[14] Jaxon Van Derbeken, "Bound by Fate, Determination: The Final Hours of the Passengers Aboard SF-Bound Flight 93." San Francisco Chronicle, September 17, 2001.
[15] Karen Breslau, "The Final Moments of United Flight 93." Newsweek, September 22, 2001; Dennis B. Roddy, "Flight 93: Forty Lives, One Destiny." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 28, 2001; Glen Johnson, "Probe Reconstructs Horror, Calculated Attacks on Planes." Boston Globe, November 23, 2001; U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, March 1, 2006, p. 11.
[16] Jim McKinnon, "GTE Operator Connects With, Uplifts Widow of Hero in Hijacking." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 19, 2001; Jere Longman, Among the Heroes, pp. 198-199; Wes Smith, "Operator Can't Forget Haunting Cries From Flight 93."
[17] Jere Longman, Among the Heroes, p. 204.
[18] Wendy Schuman, "'I Promised I Wouldn't Hang Up.'"
[19] U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, July 31, 2006.
[20] Jere Longman, Among the Heroes, p. 199.
[21] Lisa Jefferson and Felicia Middlebrooks, Called, p. 36.
[22] Rowland Morgan, "Flight 93 'Was Shot Down' Claims Book."
[23] Jim McKinnon, "GTE Operator Connects With, Uplifts Widow of Hero in Hijacking."
[24] Jim McKinnon, "The Phone Line From Flight 93 Was Still Open When a GTE Operator Heard Todd Beamer Say: 'Are You Guys Ready? Let's Roll.'" Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 16, 2001.
[25] Lisa Beamer and Ken Abraham, Let's Roll! pp. 185-186.
[26] Lisa Jefferson and Felicia Middlebrooks, Called, p. 69.

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