Saturday 5 July 2008

"Shockingly Calm": The Phone Calls From the Planes on 9/11

Flight 175 approaching the South Tower
A number of people received phone calls the morning of September 11, 2001 that they believed were made by individuals on board the planes that crashed in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. Descriptions of these calls, however, reveal something odd. According to the official story we have been told, the callers were in an unprecedented crisis, stuck on planes under the control of murderous terrorists, and with no knowledge of whether they were going to be allowed to live or die. Yet in many of the phone calls, the caller appears to have been remarkably calm. Perhaps if just a few of them--for example, those with specific personal experiences, like the flight attendant who was a former police officer--had maintained their composure, then this would be less remarkable. Yet the large majority of the callers displayed this same calmness. In their recollections, some of the people who received the calls have indeed commented on this fact, apparently surprised by it. Some of them have also commented on the absence of panic, screaming, or other sounds of chaos in the background.

At the very least, these details appear highly unusual. As with much else about the events of 9/11, these phone calls raise serious questions. Were they really being made from the four planes targeted that morning, by passengers and crew members? Or is it possible the perpetrators of the attacks were faking them, in a cruel deception intended to help establish the official story, and this was why the callers were able to maintain such calmness? The calls need to be subjected to far closer and more critical scrutiny than has so far occurred, as part of a real investigation into the attacks, in order to establish the truth.

The following summary shows how odd the calls appear to be:

A computer presentation shown during the 2006 trial of Zacarias Moussaoui summarized the phone calls allegedly made from the four flights targeted on 9/11. According to this presentation, two people successfully made calls from Flight 11, the first plane to supposedly be taken over by hijackers: flight attendants Betty Ong and Madeline "Amy" Sweeney. [1]

Betty Ong called the American Airlines Southeastern Reservations Office in North Carolina, and spoke for about 25 minutes with employees there. Ong said she thought her plane was being hijacked, that two flight attendants had been stabbed and injured, and that a passenger had perhaps been fatally stabbed. She said Mace spray had been used, and "we can't breathe." [2] Despite these harrowing circumstances, as the New York Times described, Ong "could not have sounded much calmer." [3] Nydia Gonzalez, one of the American Airlines employees who received the call, described Ong as speaking in "a very calm, professional, and poised demeanor," and added, "Betty was calm, professional, and in control throughout the call." [4] Reportedly, when Ong's family heard the recording of her call, they "couldn't believe the calm in Betty's voice." [5] In the plane's final moments, when Ong asked those on the other end of her call to "pray for us," she was still speaking "in a composed voice." [6] As the plane approached the World Trade Center, according to Vanessa Minter, another of the employees receiving Ong's call: "You didn't hear hysteria in the background. You didn't hear people screaming." [7]

Amy Sweeney contacted the American Airlines Flight Services Office at Boston's Logan Airport. After her first calls got broken off, she was finally able to speak for 13 minutes, up to about 8:45. Sweeney reported "that the plane had been hijacked; a man in first class had his throat slashed; two flight attendants had been stabbed ... the flight attendants were unable to contact the cockpit; and there was a bomb in the cockpit." [8] Michael Woodward, the manager with whom Sweeney talked, later told the FBI that despite reporting such horrific events, "during the entire conversation," Sweeney's voice "remained calm and even." [9] Even just before Flight 11 crashed, Sweeney retained her composure. After reporting that her plane was flying very low, Woodward recalled, she "took a very slow, deep breath and then just said, 'Oh, my God!' Very slowly, very calmly, very quietly. It wasn't in panic." [10] Furthermore, Woodward noted, he "did not hear any noise in the background during the conversation." [11]

Three people reportedly made successful phone calls from Flight 175, the plane that hit the South Tower of the WTC: one flight attendant and two passengers. While brief descriptions are available of the call made by the attendant--thought to be Robert Fangman--these reveal no details of his level of composure. [12] Some relevant information is available regarding the other calls from this aircraft.

Passenger Brian Sweeney left a short message on his wife's answering machine, and then called his mother. [13] In his message to his wife, Julie, he stated, "The plane I'm on has been hijacked, and it doesn't look good." According to Julie Sweeney, Brian "sounded calm. ... He was not crying." [14] Details of his composure during the call to his mother are unstated. The other passenger, Peter Hanson, twice called his father, and told him about the hijacking. [15] According to the Los Angeles Times, "In the first call, Peter was calm." According to Hanson's father, "His voice was soft, not too nervous." Whether he was also calm in his second call is unstated. [16]

Two individuals have been reported as making phone calls from the third hijacked plane, Flight 77: attendant Renee May and passenger Barbara Olson. No details have been revealed of whether Renee May remained calm during her call. But, according to Newsweek, Barbara Olson phoned her husband and "was calm and collected as she told him how hijackers had used boxcutters and knifes to take control of the plane and had herded the passengers and crew to the back." [17] Her husband Ted Olson--who at that time was the United States solicitor general--described to CNN: "She sounded very, very calm. ... In retrospect, enormously, remarkably, incredibly calm." [18]

The majority of the phone calls made from the planes allegedly came from Flight 93, the aircraft said to have crashed in Pennsylvania after passengers attempted to retake control from the hijackers. At least 12 individuals reportedly made calls. Most of them displayed a surprising degree of calmness.

1) Flight attendant Sandy Bradshaw phoned the United Airlines maintenance facility in San Francisco and reported her plane had been hijacked, and that the hijackers had pulled a knife and killed a flight attendant. The manager who took the call later described Bradshaw as being "shockingly calm." [19] Bradshaw subsequently phoned her husband, who later recalled, "She sounded calm, but like her adrenaline was really going." [20]

2) Another flight attendant, CeeCee Lyles--who was a former police officer--called her husband. He described, "She was surprisingly calm," considering the screaming he heard in the background. [21]

3) Passenger Mark Bingham called his family, and talked to his aunt and his mother. His aunt found him sounding "calm, matter-of-fact." His mother recalled: "His voice was calm. He seemed very much composed, even though I know he must have been under terrible duress." [22] She also said a background discussion between passengers she could hear, about taking back the plane from the hijackers, sounded like a "calm boardroom meeting." [23]

4) Another passenger, Tom Burnett, called his wife Deena four times. Deena Burnett later recalled his third call: "[I]t was as if he was at Thoratec [the company he worked for], sitting at his desk, and we were having a regular conversation. It was the strangest thing because he was using the same tone of voice I had heard a thousand times. It calmed me to know he was so confident." [24] According to journalist and author Jere Longman, in his fourth call, Tom was "speaking in a normal voice, calm." [25]

5) Passenger Lauren Grandcolas called her husband, Jack, and left a message on the answering machine. Jack Grandcolas later recalled, "She sounded calm." [26] According to Jere Longman, "It sounded to Jack as if she were driving home from the grocery store or ordering a pizza." [27] Furthermore, Jack Grandcolas has described: "There is absolutely no background noise on her message. You can't hear people screaming or yelling or crying. It's very calm, the whole cabin, the background, there's really very little sound." [28]

6) Jeremy Glick called his wife, Lyz, and told her his plane had been hijacked. She recalled, "He was so calm, the plane sounded so calm, that if I hadn't seen what was going on on the TV, I wouldn't have believed it." [29] She has added: "I was surprised by how calm it seemed in the background. I didn't hear any screaming. I didn't hear any noises. I didn't hear any commotion." [30]

7) Todd Beamer talked for 13 minutes with GTE-Verizon supervisor Lisa Jefferson. According to Jefferson, Beamer "was amazingly calm and composed as he told her of the hijacking of Flight 93 and passengers' plans to rush their captors." [31] Jefferson said he "stayed calm through the entire conversation. He made me doubt the severity of the call." [32] She later 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." [33]

8) Honor Elizabeth Wainio spoke with her stepmother, Esther Heymann. Heymann has said that Wainio "really was remarkably calm throughout our whole conversation." [34] According to Jere Longman, when Wainio was not talking, Heymann "could not hear another person. She could not hear any conversation or crying or yelling or whimpering. Nothing." [35]

9) Linda Gronlund left a voice mail message at the home of her sister, saying that terrorists who said they had a bomb had hijacked her plane. [36] Her sister has described that, during the call, Gronlund "got real calm and said, 'Now my will is in my safe and my safe is in my closet. And this is the combination.'" [37]

10) Edward Felt spoke with 911 dispatcher John Shaw just minutes before Flight 93 reportedly crashed, and said his plane had been hijacked. According to Shaw, Felt "was crying ... frightened, scared, and anxious." But Felt's brother Gordon, who heard the recording of the call, has disputed this, saying: "My brother was not scared. He was very composed, under the circumstances." [38] Felt's wife, who heard the recording of the 911 call and also the Flight 93 cockpit voice recording, said Edward "was very calm in the face of death." [39]

Indeed, author Jere Longman said he'd "heard tapes of a couple of the phone calls made from [Flight 93] and was struck by the absence of panic in the voices." [40]

Only two other people are reported to have made successful calls from Flight 93. Passenger Marion Britton appears to be the only clear example of a caller sounding panicked. She called her friend Fred Fiumano. According to Fiumano, Britton "was crying and--you know--more or less crying and screaming and yelling." [41] Fiumano said he heard a lot of screaming in the background near the end of the call. [42] Joseph DeLuca, also a passenger, called his father and reported there were terrorists on his plane. But he has been described simply as having "sounded sad" during the call. [43]

[1] 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.
[2] Public Hearing. 9/11 Commission, January 27, 2004; 9/11 Commission, The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (Authorized Edition). New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2004, p. 5.
[3] Philip Shenon, "A Calm Voice as Disaster Unfolded in the Sky." New York Times, January 28, 2004.
[4] Public Hearing. 9/11 Commission, January 27, 2004.
[5] Jennifer Julian, "One of the Last Calls." ABC11 Eyewitness News, September 11, 2002.
[6] Steven Knipp, "Sept. 11: An Angel Named Betty Ong." Pacific News Service, September 8, 2004.
[7] "Calm Before the Crash." ABC News, July 18, 2002.
[8] 9/11 Commission, The 9/11 Commission Report, pp. 6 and 453; U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, "Summary From Flight 93."
[9] "FBI FD-302, Michael Woodward." Federal Bureau of Investigation, September 14, 2001.
[10] "Calm Before the Crash."
[11] "FBI FD-302, Michael Woodward."
[12] Scott McCartney and Susan Carey, "American, United Watched and Worked in Horror as Sept. 11 Hijackings Unfolded." Wall Street Journal, October 15, 2001; "The Four Flights: Staff Statement No. 4." 9/11 Commission, January 27, 2004; 9/11 Commission, The 9/11 Commission Report, pp. 7-8; 9/11 Commission, Staff Report. August 26, 2004, p. 21.
[13] 9/11 Commission, Staff Report, p. 22; U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, "Summary From Flight 93."
[14] K. C. Myers, "Message From Air is Final Goodbye." Cape Cod Times, September 12, 2001.
[15] 9/11 Commission, Staff Report, pp. 21-23.
[16] Richard A. Serrano, "Moussaoui Jury Hears the Panic From 9/11." Los Angeles Times, April 11, 2006.
[17] Michael Isikoff, "'I Can't Just Sit Back.'" Newsweek, September 19, 2001.
[18] "Recovering From Tragedy." Larry King Live, CNN, September 14, 2001.
[19] 9/11 Commission, Staff Report, p. 40; United States of America v. Zacarias Moussaoui. United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, April 11, 2006.
[20] Angie Cannon, "Final Words From Flight 93." U.S. News & World Report, October 29, 2001.
[21] Brad Townsend, Chip Brown, and Gerry Fraley, "Trapped in the Skies, Captives Fought Back." Dallas Morning News, September 17, 2001.
[22] "World Leaders Express Horror, Outrage." CNN, September 12, 2001; Jere Longman, Among the Heroes: United Flight 93 and the Passengers and Crew Who Fought Back. New York: HarperCollins, 2002, pp. 129-130.
[23] Phil Hirschkorn, "More 9/11 Families Testify for Moussaoui." CNN, April 21, 2006.
[24] Deena Burnett with Anthony Giombetti, Fighting Back: Living Life Beyond Ourselves. Altamonte Springs, FL: Advantage Books, 2006, p. 66.
[25] Jere Longman, Among the Heroes, p. 118.
[26] David Segal, "A Red Carpet Tragedy." Washington Post, April 26, 2006.
[27] Jere Longman, Among the Heroes, p. 128.
[28] United 93: The Families and the Film. Directed by Kate Solomon, Working Title Films, 2006.
[29] Matthew Brown, "Hero's Family Perseveres." Bergen Record, October 5, 2001.
[30] Jane Pauley, "No Greater Love." NBC News, September 11, 2006.
[31] Jim McKinnon, "13-Minute Call Bonds her Forever With Hero." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 22, 2001.
[32] Wendy Schuman, "'I Promised I Wouldn't Hang Up.'" Beliefnet, 2006.
[33] Lisa Beamer and Ken Abraham, Let's Roll!: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Courage. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2002, p. 211.
[34] "Stories of Flight 93." Larry King Live, CNN, February 18, 2006.
[35] Jere Longman, Among the Heroes, pp. 171-172.
[36] 9/11 Commission, Staff Report, p. 44.
[37] Jane Pauley, "No Greater Love."
[38] Richard Gazarik, "Felt Reaches 911 Just Before Crash." Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, September 8, 2002.
[39] Chuck Biedka, "911 Dispatcher Recalls Frantic Cell Phone Call From Flight 93." Valley News Dispatch, September 11, 2002.
[40] Jere Longman, Among the Heroes, p. xi.
[41] Jane Pauley, "No Greater Love."
[42] "FBI FD-302, Unidentified Person re: Marion Britton." Federal Bureau of Investigation, September 20, 2001; United States of America v. Zacarias Moussaoui.
[43] Jere Longman, Among the Heroes, p. 161.