Meaningful Adjacencies: The Brave Flight Crews of 9/11

Meaningful Adjacencies: The Brave Flight Crews of 9/11

The Flight 11 crew names are inscribed on the North Pool, pictured here with mini aviation wing pins. Photo by Amy Dreher.

The story of the sacrifice of pilots and crewmembers aboard the four flights hijacked on 9/11 – American Airlines Flight 11, American Airlines Flight 77, United Airlines Flight 93, and United Airlines Flight 175 – is integral to the history of the day. In honor of Aviation Week, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum pays tribute to the 36 courageous flight crewmembers who lost their lives on September 11.

Betty Ann Ong was a flight attendant on Flight 11 – the plane that struck the North Tower at 8:46 a.m. Her call to airline reservation agents in North Carolina was the first siren of alarm notifying authorities that the country was under attack. Eleven minutes later, flight attendant Madeline Amy Sweeney reported the hijacking to a manager at Boston Logan International Airport. Throughout her 12-minute call, Sweeney relayed key information regarding the hijacking and the identities of the hijackers.

Meanwhile, a flight attendant believed to be Robert John Fangman reported the hijacking of Flight 175 to an airline operator in San Francisco. Shortly thereafter, the plane was flown into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. On Flight 77, flight attendant Renee A. May made a similar call to American Airlines just before the plane was crashed into the Pentagon, killing all 59 individuals on board and leading to the subsequent grounding of all civilian planes in U.S. airspace.

San Francisco–bound Flight 93 experienced its own act of heroism. After disabling the plane’s automatic pilot and making several calls to officials and family members on the ground, the flight crew and passengers fought to regain control of the plane. The only plane to have been successfully diverted from its intended target (presumably the U.S. Capitol), Flight 93 crashed into a field southeast of Pittsburgh, killing everyone on board.

A memorial dedicated to the heroes of Flight 93 now stands at the entrance to the National Memorial Park in Pennsylvania, with another commemorating those lost on Flight 77 erected outside the Pentagon. The names of crewmembers who perished on September 11 are also inscribed into the bronze parapets around the 9/11 Memorial pools. The design arranges the names by affiliation, to respectfully honor friends, family and colleagues as they lived and died, together. Names are further grouped in accordance to victims’ next-of-kin specific “adjacency requests.” Consequently, visitors will find, for example, Flight 11 crewmember Betty Ann Ong next to colleagues Kathleen Ann Nicosia and Barbara Jean Arestegui. Similar adjacency requests are observed for the placement of all flight crewmembers.

The 9/11 Memorial & Museum commemorates Aviation Week every year through a series of flight crew–themed programming and free admission to both active and retired flight crewmembers. This year, Aviation Week will take place from August 18–24.

By Yulia Shalomov, External Affairs Assistant, 9/11 Memorial & Museum