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Those Who Seized the Moment

Flight 93's passengers have become more than heroes. They're also symbols of the nation's will to take action.

November 22, 2001|MEGAN GARVEY and RICHARD MAROSI | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The bumper stickers are just beginning to appear. "Flight 93," they read. "Let's roll!" The same phrase capped President Bush's speech to the nation earlier this month--the words of a passenger on a doomed jetliner symbolizing the nation's resolve.

There have been television documentaries about Flight 93. A book is reportedly in the works. Near rural Shanksville, Pa., the citizenry is raising money for a memorial they hope to erect on the site where the hijacked Boeing 757 plowed into a green field.

"It's going to be like the Gettysburg battlefield," said Rick Lohr, Somerset County's emergency management director. "It's not just another area where a plane crashed. It's historic. These people possibly changed the fate of the country."

A television producer has called several families of the dead, trolling for material for a TV movie, although he acknowledges that emotions are still too raw to go ahead now.

FBI investigators have yet to announce their final conclusions about what happened the morning of Sept. 11 aboard United Airlines Flight 93--the fourth airliner that fateful day.

But most Americans know the essentials. They've heard about the cell phone calls from 30,000 feet. They've read of the evidence that some of the 40 passengers and crew fought back against four hijackers--possibly preventing their plane from being flown into the Capitol, the White House or some other target in Washington, D.C.

The businesspeople, mothers, students and grandparents of Flight 93 have become instant icons--reassuring everyday Americans that the country is capable of rising to the challenges of a new and troubling kind of war.

Ten weeks after the crash, fascination with the flight and its passengers only seems to grow. More honors are planned, and the profiles of those who died have come into sharper focus.

At memorial events in Pennsylvania and at the White House, relatives talked about the similarities of many of those on board Flight 93. Sadly, they laughed that the hijackers had taken on the wrong crowd.

More than a few of the passengers flying that day from Newark, N.J., to San Francisco were ambitious self-starters, known for seizing the moment. Many were also big, athletic men who prided themselves on staying fit.

Louis Nacke--or "Joe" as everyone called the 42-year-old toy salesman from Pennsylvania--had a Superman tattoo on his shoulder. Only 5 foot 8 inches, his body was slabbed with muscle from hours in the weight room.

Mark Bingham, a San Francisco publicist, had not only played on a national championship rugby team at UC Berkeley, but he also had a history of not backing down--once wrestling a weapon from a would-be mugger.

Jeremy Glick, a New Jersey sales manager for an Internet company, was a judo champion in his college days.

Bill Cashman, a 60-year-old construction welder, grew up in New York's Hell's Kitchen. He served a tour of duty in Vietnam in the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne.

Alan Beaven, a Bay Area resident and native of New Zealand, was 6 feet 3 and a fiercely competitive environmental lawyer and athlete.

CeeCee Lyles, one of the flight attendants, had been trained in conflict. Just a year earlier, she had been a uniformed cop in Florida.

Joining the businesspeople, mothers, students and grandparents on Flight 93 were four other men, the only ones aboard who knew the flight would not be routine.

From a checklist that investigators believe the four left behind, it was apparent they were following a script: Bring ID, a few clothes and knives, the note said. And a last will and testament.

"When you board the plane, remember that this is a battle in the sake of God," continued the note, "which is worth the whole world and all that is in it."

America was holding its collective breath the morning of Sept. 11 after two jets had slammed into the World Trade Center and a third into the Pentagon. Hundreds of other planes were still in the air, diverted to the nearest airports, but others were unaccounted for.

At about 9:30 a.m., ground controllers in Cleveland overheard a disturbing change of events coming from the cockpit of Flight 93. First came sounds of a struggle and then, according to a source briefed on the radio transmissions, a voice in English saying: "Hey, get out of here!"

Next, a new voice come over the intercom: "This is your captain. There is a bomb on board. Please remain seated. We are returning to the airport."

The words were delivered in heavily accented English.

The plane reversed its course, its flight plan refiled electronically with a new destination: Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C.

By this time, alarmed passengers throughout the plane had reached for cell phones and the GTE Airphones mounted in the middle of the seats in front of them. From 9:31 to 9:53 a.m. GTE handled 23 calls from the airplane. Many other calls were made from private cell phones.

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