A link to the audio tape of the conversation is accessible at the bottom of this page

A Calm Voice as Disaster Unfolded in the Sky

By the New York Times, January 28, 2004

By Phillip Shenon


WASHINGTON, Jan. 27 — Betty Ann Ong, a veteran flight attendant for American Airlines, could not have sounded much calmer on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, as she tried to describe the mayhem aboard Flight 11.

"The cockpit is not answering the phone," she said from a jump seat at the back of the Boeing 767, calling to the ground from one of the crew phones that she would normally use to communicate with other crew members on the plane. "There is somebody stabbed in business class. They can't breathe in business class. They've got Mace or something."

A tape of a four-minute portion of the 20-minute phone call received at the airline's reservation center in Cary, N.C., at 8:20 a.m., was played on Tuesday at a hearing of the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks, the first time the recording was heard in public.

The panel's chairman, Thomas H. Kean, said the commission decided to allow the public to hear the tape as a demonstration of the "heroism" of Ms. Ong and the "duty, courage, selflessness and love" that was evident in the midst of the chaos of Sept. 11.

While the tape was difficult to understand at times, it clearly conveyed the situation of Ms. Ong and most of the passengers and other crew members forced to the back of the plane, with at least two flight attendants and a passenger stabbed and dying, and with some sort of chemical released into the air in the front of the plane.

"My name is Betty Ong," she said after reaching the reservations office in North Carolina, speaking quickly but in a tone that was remarkably calm and lucid. "I'm on Flight 11." She explained that she had been forced to the back of the jet, which was hijacked shortly after leaving Boston on a flight to Los Angeles. The plane later crashed into the World Trade Center.

She described the stabbing of her co-workers and said the cockpit door was locked, with at least some of the hijackers inside. "Our first-class galley attendant and our purser are stabbed," she said. "We can't get into the cockpit. The door won't open."

"Can anybody get to the cockpit?" she can be heard asking someone nearby on the plane. "We can't even get to the cockpit. Nobody can call the cockpit. We can't even get inside."

There were a few moments of silence. "Is anybody there?" Ms. Ong asked.

"Yes, we're here," said a reservations agent, who was not identified at Tuesday's hearing.

"I'm staying on the line as well," said Ms. Ong, a 14-year veteran of American Airlines and known to her friends as Bee.

A second tape was played of a conversation between an American Airlines supervisor, Nydia Gonzalez, who was speaking separately with Ms. Ong, and the airline's central operations center in Texas.

"You're doing a great job, just stay calm," Ms. Gonzalez told Ms. Ong, whose voice could not be heard in the second recording. "Is there a doctor on board?"

There was silence on the tape as Ms. Gonzalez listened to Ms. Ong's reply. "They don't have any doctors on board," Ms. Gonzalez told the operations center. "The aircraft is erratic again. She did say that the first-class passengers have been moved back to coach."

"Betty, talk to me, are you there, Betty?" Ms. Gonzalez can be heard asking.

Moments later, the phone line went dead. "I think we might have lost her," Ms. Gonzalez told the operations center

   

Flight Attendant Calm on September 11 Tape

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON -January, 28, 2004 -- The flight attendant aboard American Airlines Flight 11 seemed calm and professional beyond reason as she reported a ghastly scenario during a 23-minute telephone call just before the plane slammed into one of the World Trade Center towers. A hijacking was under way, she knew three people had been stabbed and she couldn't tell what was happening in the cockpit.

The panel investigating the Sept. 11 attacks heard portions of flight attendant Betty Ong's 23-minute conversation with the operations center on the second of a two-day hearing Tuesday.

"The cockpit is not answering their phone,'' Ong told the American Airlines operations center. ``There's somebody stabbed in business class, and we can't breathe in business. Um, I think there is some Mace or something. We can't breathe.

"I don't know, but I think we're getting hijacked,'' according to the tape played Tuesday for members of the Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.

Ong, 45, known as ``Bee,'' of Andover, Mass., was working coach class on the American Airlines Boeing 767 flying from Boston to Los Angeles on Sept. 11, 2001, before suspected 9-11 ringleader Mohammed Atta and four others took over the plane and crashed it into the North Tower of the Trade Center.

Nydia Gonzalez, on duty at the operations center that morning, told the panel how she received Ong's call at about 8:20 a.m.

"Several media accounts of what occurred on Flight 11 claimed that Betty was `hysterical with fear,' `shrieking' and `gasping for air,''' Gonzalez said. ``Those accounts were wrong.''

"In a very calm, professional and poised demeanor, Betty Ong relayed to us detailed information of the events unfolding on Flight 11,'' Gonzalez added.

In it, Ong tells the operations center her flight and seat number and describes the scene on board.

"I'm sitting in the back. Somebody's coming back from business. If you can hold on for one second here, they're coming back.

"Our No. 1 (flight attendant) got stabbed. Our purser is stabbed. Nobody knows who stabbed who. We can't even get up to business class right now, because nobody can breathe. Uh, our No. 1 is stabbed right now.

"Our No. 5, our first class passenger, er, our first class galley flight attendant and our purser have been stabbed. And we can't get into the cockpit. The door won't open.''

"We can't even get into the cockpit. We don't know who's there,'' Ong says, before the call ends in a dial tone.

The Boeing 767 rammed into the World Trade Center's north tower at 8:46 a.m.

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This is the transcript of flight attendant Betty Ong's call to an American Airlines operations desk on an emergency line on September 11, 2001

Operations: What's the number of your seat?

Ong: OK. I'm in the jump seat right now. That's 3R.

Q: What is your name?

A: My name is Betty Ong. I'm No. 3 on Flight 11.

Q: OK.

A: And the cockpit is not answering their phone. There's somebody stabbed in business class, and we can't breathe in business. Um, I think there is some Mace or something. We can't breathe. I don't know, but I think we're getting hijacked.

Q: Can you describe the person, that you said someone is shot in business?

A: I'm sitting in the back. Somebody's coming back from business. If you can hold on for one second here, they're coming back.

Our No. 1 got stabbed. Our purser is stabbed. Nobody knows who stabbed who. We can't even get up to business class right now because nobody can breathe. Uhhh, our No. 1 is stabbed right now.

(garbled) Our No. 5, our first-class passenger, er, our first-class galley flight attendant and our purser have been stabbed. And we can't get into the cockpit. The door won't open.

Q: This is operations. What flight number are we talking about?

Q: At this point we are talking about Flight 12.

Q: Flight 12. OK.

A: No, we're on Flight 11 right now. This is Flight 11.

Q: This is Flight 11. I'm sorry, Nadine.

A: Boston to Los Angeles.

Q: Yes.

A: Our No. 1 has been stabbed, and our 5 has been stabbed.

Q: Can anybody get up to the cockpit? Can anyone get up to the cockpit?

A: We can't even get into the cockpit. We don't know who's up there.

Dial tone

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GO HERE to hear Ms. Betty Ong's telephone conversation with American Airlines. CAUTION: This is a very disturbing recording.


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© 2004 by Neil Mishalov