Passengers fought to thwart terrorists

Last-minute calls indicate passengers tried to keep hijackers from hitting target

Posted: Thursday, September 13, 2001

In the final moments of United Airlines Flight 93, Jeremy Glick told his wife to take care of their newborn daughter and have a good life because he and a few passengers were going to storm the cockpit to try to prevent a terrorist attack on the nation's capital.

Another passenger, Thomas Burnett Jr., called his wife Deena at their San Ramon, Calif., home four times from the hijacked flight to tell her that he and other passengers were "going to do something."

Minutes after their final calls, Flight 93 crashed in a field in southwestern Pennsylvania. Officials have speculated the hijackers may have been headed for the White House or Camp David, the presidential retreat.

There is speculation as well that the plane crashed hundreds of miles away because of the heroic efforts of Glick, Burnett and other passengers.

For 30 minutes before the airliner, bound for San Francisco from Newark, crashed, Glick was on his cell phone talking to his wife, Lyzbeth, at their West Milford, N.J., home.

As law enforcement authorities, contacted by her father, listened in, Jeremy Glick told his wife that three knife-wielding hijackers on a suicide mission had commandeered the plane and told passengers they were going to crash it as part of a coordinated strike against America.

"He was asking her what was happening with the World Trade towers, 'cause they were saying to everybody this is happening around the country," Glick's sister, Jennifer Glick, said during an interview at her parents' home.

It was around 10 a.m. Tuesday, and two planes hijacked after leaving Boston already had slammed into the World Trade Center in New York.

"I'm not positive where this was targeted but based on what I'm hearing now on the news ... the plane was headed to either the White House or another target," said Jennifer Glick, 36, an attorney in New York City.

Jeremy Glick, 31, described the hijackers as dark-skinned Middle Eastern men who brandished knives, wore red headbands, and claimed that a red box they carried was a bomb, his sister said. They forced the passengers and crew to the rear of the plane and told them they were going to die.

Jeremy Glick told his wife that he and a few passengers devised a plan to try to stop the terrorists.

"They were going to jump the hijackers. They kept the phone on and apparently they went into the cockpit and they crashed the plane or the plane crashed," Jennifer Glick said.

Deena Burnett turned on the television that morning to images of the two passenger jets slamming into the World Trade Center towers. She began to wonder about her husband. The phone rang and it was Tom.

"He said, 'Deena.' And I said, 'Are you OK?' And he said, 'No.' And I knew then that he was right in the middle of it," she said. "He said, 'I'm on the airplane, the airplane that's been hijacked and they've already knifed a guy. They're saying they have a bomb. Please call the authorities."'

He hung up.

Deena dialed 911, and dispatchers put her through to the FBI. She was on the phone with agents when the second call came.

"I told him in the second call about the World Trade Center, and he was very curious about that and started asking questions. He wanted any information that I had to help him," she said.

In their last conversation, Burnett, 38, told his wife that he and some other passengers were taking action.

"I told him to please sit down and not draw attention to himself, and he said no," she said.

In the Burnett household, the morning routine progressed throughout the calls. Deena made breakfast for their daughters, 5-year-old twins and a 3-year-old. Holding the phone in one hand, she "shooed them upstairs to get dressed and make their beds."

A friend took the children to school, and Deena Burnett, joined by local police, waited in front of the television. First came reports that another jetliner had hit the Pentagon. Then, the news that Flight 93 had crashed in a field about 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

There were no survivors.

Her knees buckled; she wept.

Tom Burnett had been traveling on business as chief operating officer of Thoratec Corp., a medical research and development company. He and Deena had been married for nine years.

"We may never know exactly how many helped him or exactly what they did, but I have no doubt that airplane was bound for some landmark and that whatever Tom did and whatever the guys who helped him did they saved many more lives," said Deena Burnett. "And I'm so proud of him and so grateful."

Jeremy Glick, who worked in sales and marketing for a technology company, was on a business trip to San Francisco. Glick had married his junior high school sweetheart and, after trying for a long time to have a child, their daughter, Emerson, was born June 18, Glick's sister said.

Jennifer Glick choked back tears as she described her brother's goodbye.

"He told Lyz that she should be happy in her life and take care of Emerson. And to say that he loved us, all his siblings, and his parents and his nephews."

Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., said at the Pennsylvania crash site that he believes a struggle took place in the cockpit and that the plane was headed for a significant target in Washington, D.C.

"There had to have been a struggle and someone heroically kept the plane from heading to Washington," he said.

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