This time last year, my beloved and I were on a plane to the US on our way to what turned out to be a fantastic weekend jam-packed with meeting friends - English and American, sightseeing in New York and Washington and watching the men's semi finals at the US Open Tennis at Flushing Meadow. I have been similarly gripped by the tennis this year - at least I have, when it hasn't been raining.
But I've also be gripped by the documentaries about 9/11 and particularly moved by the immense courage of the passengers of United Airlines Flight 93 who gave their lives to prevent a further air crash in Washington on that fateful day. What brought it home to me at the time were the last words of Todd Morgan Beamer who, like many of the passengers on the plane which had been hijacked by terrorists, was using his phone to contact family and loved ones before certain death. His last call had reached the operator Lisa Jefferson and he reported to her that the hijackers had killed one passenger and had taken over the cockpit, wounding a member of the crew. He, like many of his fellow passengers, knew that the plane had turned south easterly towards Washington and he and the others also knew by then that the World Trade Centre had been hit by two hijacked planes.
Todd Beamer was just 32 with a wife and two young sons, Drew and David and his wife was pregnant with their third child who was born four months later - a daughter, Morgan Kay. He and his wife were Sunday school teachers in their spare time.
There were 37 passengers on the plane that day and 7 crew. Four of these passengers were terrorists. Flight 93 was due to take off at 8.00am which would have been at a similar time to the other 3 aircraft hijacked on that day. However, the airport at Newark was experiencing some congestion and the flight actually took off at 8.42am with all four hijackers seated at the front of the plane in first class. As news came through of the other hijacked planes, air traffic control informed the crew to be especially vigilant against passengers trying to get into the cockpit. The message was acknowledged by the crew and that was the last transmission made by them at 9.27am before the hijack took place at 9.28am. By this time both planes had crashed into the World Trade Center and Flight 77 was about to crash into the Pentagon.
The passengers and crew were moved to the back of the plane whilst the terrorists instructed them that there was a bomb on board and to remain seated. The remaining passengers made calls on their mobiles and on the air phones to family and loved ones and to airline officials on the ground. Then they took a vote on what action to take and, probably led by Jeremy Glick, a 31-year old sales and marketing executive, they decided to "rush the hijackers". Todd Beamer's last words were: "Are you ready guys? OK. Let's roll." and those were amongst the last words heard from any of the passengers before the plane crashed into a reclaimed mine at 10.13am at 563 miles per hour. All 44 passengers, crew and hijackers were killed.
The extraordinary courage of this group of passengers who did not sit back in their seats, hoping that by some chance a miracle would happen and they would be rescued, is so powerful. Would we be as courageous and chose certain death over the smallest possibility of survival? I only hope that if we were ever called upon to do so, we too could find this sort of courage.
Todd Morgan Beamer, 1968 - September 11 2001- RIP