a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

And then the 911 call went silent

A couple pauses Tuesday at the temporary overlook to the new Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, Pa., two weeks before it opens on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. (Scott Beveridge photo)

By Scott Beveridge

SHANKSVILLE, Pa. – As the 10th anniversary nears of the Sept. 11, 2001, al-Queda terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, many Americans seem to be recalling where they were upon hearing the news about the tragedies.

My story about that day begins with the drive to work at a newspaper in little Washington, Pa., while listening and laughing to the venerable Pittsburgh rock & roll station WDVE-FM's morning show.

The disc jockey broke in, saying a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center as I traveled a few blocks away from my job at the Observer-Reporter

My mind flashed then to an old photo I once saw of a B-25 that accidentally crashed in 1945 into the Empire State Building, and I mistakenly assumed something similar had just happened.

WDVE's next report a short time later that a second jetliner had struck another one of the Twin Towers as I pulled into the newspaper's parking lot sent me scurrying into the newsroom for more information.

My startled coworkers had gathered there around a television staring at its screen in stoned silence. I joined them before turning on a computer at my desk moments before the telephone there rang.

It was my mom, June Beveridge, on the line calling from Rostraver Township police department, where she worked as a clerk.

"Another plane just crashed in Westmoreland County," she whispered on the other end. "Are you OK?"

She was under strict orders not to leak police information to me because of my job as a journalist in neighboring Washington County.

The rule was off the table. Like most of us she was frightened. Like most mothers she wanted to be reassured her children were safe, especially because this terrorist attack played out before our eyes, too close to home.

I turned from our conversation to tell my colleagues about the fourth jet crash shortly about the time they watched on TV the third in flames at the Pentagon. They looked at me in stunned disbelief, and went back to watching CNN.

Moments later CNN announced the fourth plane had actually crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pa., in a county on the southeast side of Westmoreland.

Little did we know at the time that our newspaper probably received the first official report in the United States from my mother about that leg of the story.

Armed with the information, though, we couldn't do much with it in an era predating instant news reports on our website, Twitter or Facebook. Truth be told most people in America were helpless to the situation. Everyone seemed to have wanted to help. About all anyone could do was offer a hug or later donate blood for the survivors or sign up for the military to fight the subsequent and long war on terrorism.

Ten years later the story of the passengers and crew of Flight 93 that embarked from New Jersey to fly to San Francisco has become familiar to most Americans. Most of us now know they decided to overtake the hijackers, who selected to crash that plane in Somerset, just 20 minutes away from their attended target, rather than fulfill the mission.

Those Saudis were supposedly en route to destroy the U.S. Capitol while lawmakers were in session when that Boeing 757 rolled upside down in the sky 50 feet above ground before it crashed in a ball of fire, killing the 39 passengers and crew aboard the aircraft. The four hijackers perished as well, before having murdered a flight attendant during the ordeal.

The mistake about where that crash occurred is retold now in Shanksville as the National Park Service prepares to open a new memorial at the crash site this Sept 11 to the passengers and crew of Flight 93. The call came in from the plane to 911 over Westmoreland airspace from passenger Edward Felt.

The 911 transcript is in a notebook now in Shanksville detailing the confused responses from an unnamed dispatcher, who surely could not have been trained to receive such a disturbing call.

Felt used his cell phone at 9:58 a.m. near a rear rest room to place the call, according to the FBI report.

"Hijacking in progress," said Felt, a computer engineer from Matawan, NJ, and father of two daughters.

The dispatcher asked him for his phone number amid sometimes inaudible responses.

"Said plane is going down," the dispatcher stated.

The dispatcher then inaccurately announced the plane crashed somewhere over Mount Pleasant, a town in Westmoreland an hour's drive by car from Shanksville.

And then their conversation went silent.

1 comment:

Alison said...

I thought they were Saudis, not Iraqis.

Otherwise, that's quite the story. Your mom. And that poor 911 operator. That was such an awful day, but I imagine you had more of a first-hand view of it.