When we think of the first responders from September 11, 2001 images of police, firefighters and EMS pop up. There were 25 others that paid with their lives: the flight attendants on the four planes that changed history.
Almost ten years ago al-Qaeda terrorists boarded four planes in Boston, New Jersey and Virginia. They had one mission-to hijack the planes and then crash the aircraft they were on into buildings.
When the hijackers boarded that morning no one knew that history was about to change, expect for the men who were behind the attacks. The hijackers had picked transcontinental flights for a reason, they had more fuel and that fuel would make a bigger explosion. The planes were in the air for less than 20 minutes before the terrorists, armed with box cutters, took over the planes.
On board flight attendants like Betty Ong and Madeline Sweeney made calls to warn those on the ground what was unfolding. A minute before Flight 11 crashed into the World Trade Towers Sweeney said to American Airlines ground manager Michael Woodward, "I see the water. I see the buildings. I see buildings," then after a pregnant pause, a quiet "Oh, my God!"
Those flight attendants faced untold terror as they worked to calm passengers and get out what information that they could. On Flight 93, which crashed into the ground in Pennsylvania, the flight attendants were part of the passengers who fought back against the terrorist.
All 25 died.
They were the first of the first responders to the tragedy, yet it is rare that they are remembered in that way.
They had to have been terrified when their planes were overtaken yet they did their jobs. They calmed the passengers, they got information out to the authorities. As the minutes of their lives ticked down they tended to others. They did their job.
Looking over the vast array of memorial services for first responders they are not mentioned by name.
Their deaths are remembered every day as other flight attendants check in passengers. The events from September 11 are with them on every flight. Flight attendants are the ones that deal with passengers who pose a threat to others on a flight first. They are the first line in defense when a flight is in the air and at times the only defense. They are the ones that take care of medical emergencies, scared children and cranky adults.
"Every day since September 11th, Flight Attendants go to work with an even greater sense of responsibility. We know that not only are we first responders to emergencies affecting the health and safety of our passengers and other crew members, we are also the last line of defense in aviation security," AFA International President Veda Shook said in a press release.
"Nearly ten years ago on September 11, 2001, we lost our flying partners and our profession changed forever. We promised to Never Forget our heroes who were first responders in the sky. We promised to Never Forget the events of that day and to ensure they never happen again. Our heroes will forever unite us," said Shook.
On September 11, 2011 these first responders will face memories of the friends that they lost ten years ago. They are still healing. Some will not be able to read the many stories that will appear in media about that day, it's too much to bear.
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