Air traffic controller, cousin of United 93 flight attendant share Sept. 11 experiences

Brian Lukacsy March 26, 2014 0

One day after the 9/11 Memorial Museum opened on the site where the World Trade Center stood, Mal Fuller, Ed Root and Kent Taylor spoke at Elizabethtown College to share their experiences of that famous September day. “Uncertainty was the best way to describe that day,” Taylor, a geographer for the 9/11 Memorial Trail Project, said. “I had a sense of uneasiness and not being able to do anything to help in the days after the attacks.”

The panel of Fuller, Root, Taylor and moderator Dr. David Kenley, director of the Center for Global Understanding and Peacemaking, spoke on March 25, touching on the importance of memorializing 9/11 and shaping the public memory.

At 7:30 p.m. a crowd gathered in Gibble Auditorium to listen to Root share the story of Lorainne Bay, his cousin, who was a flight attendant on flight United 93 that crashed in Shanksville, Pa. Fuller also shared his story as an air traffic controller in Pittsburgh on 9/11 and his description of the day when the skies grew quiet.

Four planes were hijacked on Sept. 11, 2001; three hit their intended targets. The fourth, flight United 93, was en route to San Francisco, Calif. when passengers interrupted the on-board terrorists’ plan to strike the U.S. Capitol.

There were 40 people aboard flight United 93 who were complete strangers to each other. “They had two things people on the other three flights didn’t have. They had knowledge, and they had time, but only a little bit,” Root said.

In the last 35 minutes of their lives, those 40 people made 37 phone calls to their loved ones. The recordings from that day are chilling. “Are you guys ready? Okay. Let’s roll,” Todd Beamer said. Those were the last words heard by the operator at 9:55 a.m. “40 ordinary people sat down as strangers and stood up as one, staring evil in the eye,” Fuller said. At 10:03 a.m., flight United 93 crashed upside-down at 563 mph in Shanksville, less than 20 minutes from Washington, D.C. by plane.

On Sept. 11, 2001, 2,996 people were killed in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the four planes. If flight United 93 had hit its target, an estimated 5,000 more causalities would have occurred. If flight United 93 had stayed in the air for four seconds longer, many in Shanksville fear the plane would have crashed into the kindergarten through 12th grade school in town, killing 500 students, faculty and administrators. “They died fighting. They are the heroes of United 93,” Fuller said.

Days after Sept. 11, a temporary memorial arose on the crash site known as “sacred ground.” The memorial has grown into a permanent memorial since 2001 and a visitors’ center is expected to be completed by September of next year. Also at Shanksville, the Tower of Voices, a 93 foot tall memorial, is in the design stages. The Tower will have 40 wind chimes, one for each victim of flight United 93. “The wind never stops blowing in Shanksville,” Fuller said.

Visitors of the 9/11 Memorial in Shanksville can see the Wall of Names, listing all who perished on flight United 93. “You can’t help but think while standing at the wall, ‘What would I do?’” Root said. “The 9/11 memorial is in two realms: it’s history, and it’s still ongoing.”

Fuller remembers driving to work on the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 11. “It’s odd. I recall saying to myself what a great day it was to be alive. I’ve never seen a more beautiful day,” he said.

As Fuller watched a plane strike the South Tower, he knew this was not an accident. “I knew we were at war or going to war. The question was with whom.” Fuller saw that flight United 93 was headed straight for his control tower; he called for an immediate evacuation of the facility. “Anything that was impossible to happen was happening.”

Fuller ran to the radar screen and noticed flight United 93 was no longer visible. “When I got to the radar, United 93 had just crashed or was just about to crash,” Fuller said. “I feel there’s a piece of me in that field out there that I mourn.”

Fuller travels to spread his experience and message regarding Sept. 11. “It’s very important to me that the generation following you learns about and understands what happened on 9/11 and that the American people, when they have to, will pull together and do the right thing. But if we forget that lesson, I think as a country, we’re doomed.”

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