By Daryl Murphy
Almost forgotten in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001 were the flight crews of the four hijacked airliners that were the centerpiece on the infamous day that ushered in a new and unimaginable terror. While the mass media tended to focus on the loss of life and speculated on the intended targets, stories of the heroic actions of the flight crews became minimized.
Dean Thompson, a retired Hurst, Texas businessman, heads a nonprofit organization that intends to build a permanent memorial to honor their extraordinary heroism. Thompson’s wife, Valerie, a flight attendant, formed the 9/11 Flight Crew Memorial Foundation shortly after the tragedy, and numerous members of the aviation community have joined them.
“Now is the time to honor our professionals who crewed American Flights 11 and 77 and United Flights 93 and 175, and their passengers,” Dean Thompson said.
The crews on the American and United flights were unaware of the terrorists’ intention, and initially reacted based on their training by cooperating with the hijackers. The heroic actions that followed, however, demonstrated to the world that terrorists would not intimidate Americans.
Three crew members on American Flight 11 were able to send out an alert. Flight attendants Madeline (Amy) Sweeny and Betty Ong secretly telephoned company supervisors and passed along information from other crewmembers about the terrorists’ identities and activities. Captain John Ogonowski opened his microphone so that ATC could hear and relay information to the National Security Command. On United Flight 175, a flight attendant contacted the company on a maintenance line to warn of the attack and conditions on the aircraft.
While two of the aircraft were flown into the World Trade Center and one crashed into the Pentagon, passengers and crew members of United Flight 93 were able to divert the attention of the terrorists by fighting for control of the aircraft. It crashed just outside Shanksville, Penn., short of its probable target in Washington, D.C.
In the weeks following 9/11, flight crews worked under pressure getting the world back into the skies. Thousands of them were left scarred, but rather than feeling fear, they were instilled with the anger and the pain of losing friends and colleagues.
The world had changed. Its anger and pain was demonstrated barely three months later on December 22, when American Airlines Flight 63 crewmembers and passengers attacked and subdued a terrorist armed with a shoe bomb. There have been no hijacking attempts in America since.
The first National Flight Crew Memorial will be placed in Grapevine, Texas, just north of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and American Airlines corporate headquarters. The City of Grapevine has gifted the site at Northwest Highway and Texan Trail, and the foundation will dedicate the memorial as a gift to the city, which will remain its caretaker.
The memorial figures will be larger than life-size; overall height will be 14 feet. One-seventh-scale bronze replicas are available for $10,000.
After the first National Flight Crew Memorial is completed, the foundation will review options such as establishing a scholarship fund for children of flight crew families and exploring construction of memorials in other 9/11 locales. American Airlines has endorsed the foundation and its goals and is lending its full corporate support to the effort.
The foundation is actively seeking funds with a goal of dedicating the memorial in the summer of 2007. Thompson related that the foundation is about one-third of the way to its $175,000-$200,000 goal.
“We have a great need of fundraising support from the aviation community, the public and corporate organizations to meet this goal,” Thompson said.
For information on how to support the memorial, visit [http://www.911flightcrewmemorial.org].