20 YEARS LATER: Nine Unforgettable and Chilling Stories About the Final Minutes of Brave 9/11 Victims
Little Rock, AR – It’s been 20 years since the most deadly terrorist attack on U.S. soil forever changed the lives of all Americans.
On that fateful day, militants associated with the Islamic extremist group, Al-Qaeda, carried out four organized terror attacks that targeted New York City and Washington, D.C.
Today, on the 20th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks, Transportation Nation Network (TNN) shares nine emotional stories that outlines the lives and circumstances behind some of the voices that still ring loud in our hearts and minds as we vow to Never Forget.
When we at TNN first watched the video released by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in 2018 on the 17th anniversary of the terror attacks — including actual audio of victims, citizens, pilots, airline employees, first responders, air traffic controllers, dispatch personnel and terrorists — we wanted to know more about the voices belonging to these victims.
So, we set out to discover who they were.
TNN will continue to honor the lives behind the voices, as we give you a glimpse into the minds and hearts of some of those whose lives were tragically cut short that horrific Tuesday morning.
Watch the video below and read on to hear the stories behind the voices: Betty Ong, Amy Sweeney, Daniel Lewin, Brian Sweeney, Bobby Fangman, CeeCee Lyles, Melissa Hughes, Kevin Cosgrove and Missy Doi.
Betty Ong was born February 5, 1956 in San Francisco. As of September 11, 2001, she was living in Andover, MA.
She was a flight attendant for American Airlines, where she worked for 14 years.
Betty assigned herself to Flight 11, as she was planning to travel from Boston to Los Angeles so she could vacation in Hawaii with her sister.
Flight 11 departed Logan International Airport at 7:59 a.m. local time, and about 15 minutes into the flight, Betty used a telephone card to call into the American Airlines operations/reservations center in Raleigh, NC to notify them of the attack.
A complete transcript of Betty’s call with the American Airlines center begins with Betty saying,
“The cockpit’s not answering. Somebody’s stabbed in business class and — I think there’s mace — that we can’t breathe. I don’t know, I think we’re getting hijacked.”
Nydia Gonzalez was on the phone with Betty and can be heard communicating with her in the video.
Betty’s call lasted approximately 25 minutes.
Betty was one of 92 passengers on Flight 11 — including 81 passengers and 11 crew members — who perished when the plane hit the north side of the North Tower (Tower 1) of the World Trade Center just after 8:46 a.m. local time.
It was estimated the plane hit between the 93rd and 99th floors of Tower 1.
It was traveling at approximately 465 miles per hour and carried around 10,000 gallons of jet fuel.
On September 21, 2001, just ten days after the attacks, then-Mayor of San Francisco, Willie Brown, proclaimed September 21 as “Betty Ong Day.”
The Betty Ann Ong Foundation was created by Betty’s family as a non-profit to serve children, due to Betty’s life-long advocacy and passion for working with them.
Madeline “Amy” Sweeney
Madeline “Amy” Sweeney was a 35-year-old flight attendant from Acton, MA.
Born on December 14, 1965 in Valley Stream, NY, Amy left behind her husband, Michael, and her two young children when she died as Flight 11 hit the North Tower.
Amy is widely believed to have been the female flight attendant Betty communicated with in her call with Gonzalez.
In fact, Amy made her own call to American Airlines Flight Service at Logan airport. She made the call from a passenger seat in the next to last passenger row in the coach cabin using an Airfone.
After her first call was disconnected after a short time, she made another attempt to call in.
At that time, she was connected to American Airlines flight service manager and her personal friend of over a decade, Michael Woodward.
“Our number one has been stabbed and our five has been stabbed,”
Amy told Woodward.
“The aircraft’s erratic again. Flying very erratically.”
She also reported the passenger sitting in 9B had his throat slit by the hijacker sitting behind him.
The passenger was later identified by the flight manifesto as Daniel Lewin, a 31-year-old American-Israeli businessman. He is believed to have been the first death of the September 11th attacks.
Due to Amy and Betty’s respective calls and the information they were able to provide, the hijackers were identified by their seat numbers — two in first class and three in business class.
It was later estimated that, as a direct result of Amy and Betty’s bravery and calls, American Airlines knew the attack was connected to the terror group Al-Qaeda approximately 20 to 30 minutes before the second plane hit the South Tower.
Amy’s last words to Woodward were,
“I see water. I see buildings. We’re flying low, we’re flying way too low.”
Amy then took a deep breath and gasped,
“Oh, my God.”
Woodward lost contact with Amy at 8:46 a.m.
Amy’s husband said he last spoke with his wife when she called him from the plane that morning at 7:11 a.m.
It was unusual to receive a call from her once she had boarded, he said, but noted his wife was distressed because she was missing putting their 5-year-old daughter, Anna, on the bus to kindergarten, due to work.
The State of Massachusetts created the annual “Madeline Amy Sweeney Award for Civilian Bravery” on February 11, 2002 and is awarded every September 11 to one or more Massachusetts residents who displayed extraordinary courage in defending or saving lives.
The first recipients of the award were none other than Amy and Betty.
Brian Sweeney made the call to his wife, Julie, in the minutes before 9 a.m.
“Jules, this is Brian. Listen, I’m on an airplane that’s been hijacked.
If things don’t go well, and it’s not looking good, I want you to know I absolutely love you.
I want you to do good. Go have good times. Same to my parents and everybody. And I just totally love you.
I’ll see you when you get there. Bye babe.”
He left the message on their home answering machine.
Brian also made another call to his mother, Louise, not heard in the video, at 9:00 a.m.
As he spoke with her he told her, “They might come back here. I might have to go. We are going to try to do something about this.”
Brian was one of 56 passengers on United Airlines Flight 175, which was en route from Boston to Los Angeles, when the plane hit the South Tower (Tower 2) at 9:03 a.m. — 17 minutes after Flight 11 hit the North Tower.
It was estimated the plane hit between the 77th and 85th floors of Tower 2.
It was traveling at approximately 590 miles per hour and carried around 10,000 gallons of jet fuel.
At 38-years-old, Brian was a former U.S. Navy pilot.
He served in the first Gulf War, in which he flew an F-14, and also served as a flight instructor for the Navy in California.
He had been working for a Defense Department contractor, Brandes Associates, when he died on September 11.
Julie holds Brian’s last words to her close to her heart, saying, “All I needed was that message. And I think he very selflessly left it. I don’t think he left it until he knew he wasn’t coming home.”
She said she is proud to share her husband’s “very powerful” last words via his message and is “so thankful” she has it to hold onto.
“The calmness in his voice soothed me, so I do have that,” she said through tears.
Julie remembers her late husband fondly, saying, “He enjoyed life more than anyone I’ve ever known. He was one of the most incredible people I knew. Or ever will know.”
Robert “Bobby” Fangman
Robert “Bobby” Fangman was a 33-year-old flight attendant based in Boston.
He had been flying the friendly skies for less than a year when tragedy struck that Tuesday morning on United Flight 175.
Bobby made contact with a United Airlines office in San Francisco at 8:52 a.m. (Eastern).
“United 175 New York. We have some problems over here right now.
We might have a hijack over here, two of ’em.”
Marc Policastro, whom Bobby spoke with in the San Francisco office, said that Bobby reported both pilots were dead and a flight attendant had been stabbed.
Bobby’s call was disconnected after one minute and 15 seconds.
Policastro made subsequent attempts to contact the plane’s cockpit, but was unsuccessful in his attempts.
Bobby, the youngest of seven children, had quit his job as a mobile salesman after finding his “calling” as a flight attendant in November 2000, his mother Ruth recalled of her son shortly after the attacks.
He loved his job so much, Ruth said he took a 50% pay cut to do it.
Bobby hadn’t been scheduled to work Flight 175 on September 11, and was filling in for a colleague, Elise O’Kane, due to her accidentally entering an incorrect computer code while signing up for flights.
Ruth said her son loved to travel and had ambitions of being assigned to international flights.
It was that reason, Ruth said, Bobby chose to be stationed in Boston. He believed he could advance in his career more quickly from that location.
“Bobby always said he wanted to be cremated, with his ashes strewn over a large city,” his mother said in 2015. “Later, I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is just what he wanted.’”
Ruth donated her DNA in hopes portions of her son’s remains would be found and returned to them for a memorial service.
The family’s wish came true, as recovery workers eventually identified a fragment of Robert’s finger, along with a portion of his torso. They were returned to Ruth and the family.
Nine months prior to the September 11 terror attacks, 33-year-old CeeCee Lyles was a police officer in her hometown of Fort Pierce, FL.
She fulfilled a childhood dream of becoming a flight attendant when she began her new career with United Airlines.
CeeCee was working Flight 93.
At 9:47 a.m., she left a message on the answering machine for her husband, Lorne.
“Hi baby. I’m… baby… you have to listen to me carefully. I’m on a plane that’s been hijacked. I’m on the plane, I’m calling from the plane.
I want to tell you I love you. Please tell my children that I love them very much, and I’m so sorry baby.
I hope to be able to be able to see you face again baby. I love you. Goodbye.”
Lorne said his wife was eventually able to reach him on the phone about five minutes before the plane crashed into a field in Somerset County, PA.
The doomed flight is known for the bravery of its passengers who decided to overtake the hijackers, sacrificing themselves to ensure Flight 93 did not meet the fates of Flights 11 and 175, which had hit the World Trade Center Towers approximately an hour before Flight 93 went down at 10:03 a.m.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reported the flight struck the ground at 563 miles per hour at a 40-degree nose down, inverted attitude.
CeeCee married her husband, Lorne, in May 2000, blending their families with her two sons, Jerome (16 at the time of his mother’s death) and Jevon (6), with Lorne’s two boys, Justin (11) and Jordan (9).
CeeCee is remembered by family and friends as a God-fearing woman who loved the Lord, playing softball, and helping with police programs for children.
She enjoyed helping single mothers get on their feet without “leeching off the system,” according to her aunt, Mareya Schneider.
CeeCee frequently counseled these women at Restoration House, a Christian women’s shelter founded by two of her aunts.
Lorne recalled the last conversation he had with his wife, praying together and her calm demeanor.
The last words Lorne heard CeeCee tell him was, “Tell the boys I love them. We’re getting ready to do it now. It’s happening!”
A life-size statue of CeeCee was unveiled in 2003 on North Indian River Drive in Fort Pierce.
The statue wears her United Airlines uniform and looks out over the Intracoastal Waterway.
Melissa Harrington Hughes
Melissa was 31-years-old and a newly married to her husband, Sean, when she lost her life on September 11, 2001.
She was born on May 29, 1970 in West Springfield, MA to Bob and Beverly Harrington.
At the time of her death, Melissa was working as the director of business development for the Slam Dunk Networks in Redwood City, CA.
Melissa was in New York attending a breakfast at the World Trade Center Tuesday morning.
“Sean, it’s me. I just wanted to let you know I love you and I’m stuck in this building in New York.
There’s a lot of smoke and I just wanted to let you know that I love you always.”
Her father remembers fondly her love for the NFL — specially the Green Bay Packers and Brett Favre.
“She would want any article written about her to mention the Junior League (of San Francisco),” said her father. He said they were grooming her to be president of the chapter.
Melissa was an enthusiastic traveler, having traveled and lived throughout Europe during college.
An exceptional student, she graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Masters Degree from George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
She married her sweetheart, Sean Hughes, on October 23, 2000.
Due to the time difference between New York and the home they shared in San Francisco, Sean was asleep and missed her call at 9:07 a.m. (Eastern).
Melissa did, however, get the opportunity to speak with her father in Massachusetts nine minutes after the first plane crashed into the North Tower.
“She was a little hysterical and I couldn’t understand what she was saying so I said, ‘Slow down a minute and tell me what the problem is so I can help you out,'” Bob recalled.
“When she called me, she was panic-stricken but she thought she could get out of the building. But when she talked to Sean, I could see in her voice that see knew she was going to die,” her father lamented.
Bob said he’s grateful to have had one last conversation with his daughter, though.
“In one instance, it’s really good that I talked to her,” he said through tears. “I can always remember us exchanging ‘I love you’ — ‘I love you, Dad,’ It’s just painful sometimes because you just don’t forget a girl like that.”
Kevin Cosgrove made international headlines for his last words on September 11.
“Lady, there’s two of us in this office. We’re not ready to die, but it’s getting bad!”
The 46-year-old called 9-1-1 at 9:54 a.m. and stated he was with two co-workers on the 105th floor, mentioning Doug Cherry by name.
According to a 2017 interview with Kevin’s son, Brian (now 30), his dad worked on the 99th floor of the South Tower and traveled up the stairs in an attempt to find a staircase that wasn’t blown out by the impact.
Ironically, Kevin served as the fire marshal on his floor. Brian believes his father tried to help people get to safety that day.
Desperate for help to arrive, Kevin told emergency dispatchers in the full audio recording,
“My wife thinks I’m alright. I called and said I was leaving the building and that I was fine and then — bang!” [the plane hit the South Tower]
The call with the 9-1-1 dispatcher continued until the final words were heard of Kevin loudly screaming,
“Oh God! Ahhh!”
The call abruptly cut off as the South Tower collapsed at 9:59 a.m.
The audio recording of Kevin was used during the only criminal trial to result from the September 11 attacks.
The 46-year-old was vice president of claims at Aon Corporation and lived in West Islip, NY.
His remains were recovered and he was buried at St. Patrick Catholic Cemetery in Huntington, NY on September 22, 2001.
Kevin left behind his wife Wendy, a school teacher, and their three children.
His 4-year-old at the time, Elizabeth, remembered her dad as “a good snuggler.”
Shortly after his death, Kevin’s other children, Brian (12 at the time of his father’s death) and Claire (10) remembered him as a dad who let them eat dessert before dinner.
Other friends and family members remember him as a hard-worker who cared about his neighbors, and could often be seen shoveling the walkways of the elderly in the winter and carrying their packages throughout the year.
Melissa “Missy” Doi
Melissa “Missy” Doi was 32-years-old when she died on September 11 in the South Tower.
In a chilling call with a 9-1-1 dispatcher, Missy asked over and over
“I’m going to die, aren’t I?”
The dispatcher reassures her, “No, no, no…” as Missy persists,
“I’m going to die, I know I am.”
In the complete 9-1-1 call, the dispatcher assures Missy that help is trying to get to her.
“Say your prayers,” the dispatcher tells Missy. “You gotta think positive, because you gotta help each other get off the floor.”
“I’m going to die, I know I am.
The floor is completely engulfed. We’re on the floor and we can’t breathe. And it’s very, very, very hot.”
Missy continued, in audio not included in the video above. She said she was with five people on the 83rd floor.
At one point, Missy commented she couldn’t see air anymore — just smoke.
Towards the end of the 9-1-1 call, Missy asks the operator to stay on the phone with her,
“Can you… can you… stay on the line with me please?
I feel like I’m dying.”
In words of comfort, the operator responds softly, “Yes ma’am. I’m going to stay with you.”
Only four minutes of the 24 minutes call between Missy and the operator was released “for privacy reasons.”
Like Kevin Cosgrove’s final call, Missy’s was used by the prosecution in the only criminal trial to result from the September 11 attacks.
Missy worked on the 83rd floor of the World Trade Center as a financial analyst for IQ Financial Systems.
Her remains were located in the rubble three years after the attack.
She was the only child of Evelyn Alderete and lived with her mom in a condo in the Bronx, which Missy had proudly purchased.
The mother-daughter duo was going to embark on an Italian vacation on September 14.
In an unreleased portion of the 9-1-1 call, Missy gave the 9-1-1 operator her mother’s name and phone number and asked her to pass on a final message.
Keeping with her promise, the 9-1-1 operator called Evelyn on the evening of September 11, 2001 with one last message from her loving daughter:
“Tell my mother that I love her and that she’s the best mom in the whole world.”