MEANWHILE, MY HUSBAND WARREN was upstairs in the Verizon Airfone complex in another department. The television set in his office only had a six-inch screen, just big enough for personal viewing. But on this day, colleagues were drawn to it like a magnet. Today was an exception. Instead of just a few people trickling in and out of his office, there was a standing-room-only crowd. All eyes were glued to the television as they watched the nightmare in New York City unfold. Warren was completely unaware that downstairs, his wife was playing a small part in the day’s dramatic events.
“Mrs. Jefferson, are you there?” the caller asked, his voice slightly elevated.
“Yes sir, I’m here . . . and I’m going to stay with you.”
“Do you know what the hijackers want, Mrs. Jefferson? Is it money, ransom, or what?”
I have since wondered how much Todd knew about what was going on in New York and Washington DC. In the context of that time period, a “hijacking” usually meant that the hijackers wanted something —and once they got it the passengers would be released. Nobody, really, could dream of a suicide mission.
We now know, of course, that other Flight 93 passengers had been making calls; later information shows that some may have been warned. I will never know for certain how much Todd was aware of. At that particular moment, though, it was clear that the man on the flight was aware of the danger he faced, but he obviously believed there was a remedy—and there was no reason to think he and the other passengers would not be rescued.
“I’m sorry, sir. I don’t know what the hijackers are asking for. Can you tell me how many people are on the flight?”
I could hear him whisper to the flight attendant sitting beside him.
“The flight attendant says there are ten people in the front, twenty-seven in the back, and five flight attendants.”
“Do you know if there are any children aboard the flight?”
“None that I can see, Mrs. Jefferson.”
“Well, I want you to know that all the appropriate authorities have been notified, and at this point if you believe your life is in jeopardy while talking to me—just put the phone down, but try not to hang it up.”
I wanted the caller to know that I could hear what was going on in the background. I could hear him breathing.
“Oh, Mrs. Jefferson, I can still talk to you.” It was at this point that I finally asked him his name.
“I’m Todd Beamer from Cranbury, New Jersey,” he responded. As we continued a little small talk, the plane began flying erratically. Todd raised his voice a bit. Then I heard raw panic.
“Oh my God, we’re going down! We’re going down! Jesus help us!”
My body chilled as I heard Todd’s cries. I was shaking on the inside, though I appeared calm to my colleagues. Physically, I felt ill and helpless. But spiritually, I remained calm. It was a supernatural calm I’d never experienced before. An overwhelming sense of peace enveloped me. I knew God was with me, and with Todd. I wanted to do more to help Todd and the other passengers and crew, but I couldn’t. At that moment, I felt as though I was on the plane myself. I was visualizing everything that was going on as Todd and I talked . . . and as I heard screams and audible gasps in the background. It was an experience that’s almost indescribable.
In my spirit, I cried out and prayed for God’s help. What do I say? I secretly wished someone else would rescue me and take over this call. Why me, Lord? Why did I have to be the person chosen to be the conduit between these helpless passengers and a team of rescuers who never got to complete their mission?
While these questions were going through my head, I began to hear profoundly disturbing sounds coming from the cabin of the plane. What was that? Then I realized what I was hearing: screams, bloodcurdling screams. These innocents aboard Flight 93 were crying out for their very lives, and I couldn’t help them. The phone was my only point of contact, and no one could bear witness to what I heard except Todd and his fellow passengers.
Though my colleagues were as statues around me, listening to what I was saying to Todd Beamer, they could not know the horror of the sounds of desperation that I heard. I will carry those sounds to my grave. They are not easily forgotten. The shrill screams of fear, the human cries of terror and disbelief. These were people forced to suffer at the hands of tyrants who commandeered their flight. Their lives had been rudely interrupted, and I was to play a role in saving those lives. At least that was my hope.
The commotion and screaming had not ceased, and I just wanted to yank my headset off and throw in the towel. This was too much for me. But I knew I was Todd’s lifeline. I couldn’t leave him, and I knew God wouldn’t leave me. I never told Todd that I was just as nervous and afraid as he was. I just kept talking to him, trying to keep him calm. Just then, I heard a man in the background shouting.
“Oh my God, Jesus! Oh my God!”
Then I heard a woman screaming. It was a piercing scream. We all recognize a yell or a cry of pain. But this was different. It was clear these were desperate, anguished cries for help, from people clinging to a sheer thread of life. A man with a baritone voice near Todd then said, “Oh no! No! God, no!” What was happening on that plane?
Then Todd’s voice could be heard, and he sounded calmer.
“No, wait. We’re coming back up. I think we’re okay now.” Then Todd asked, “Would you say the Lord’s Prayer with me?”
“Yes, of course, Todd.” Then we prayed.
“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever, Amen.”
“Jesus help me,” said Todd. “I just wanted to talk to someone, and if I don’t make it through this, will you do me a favor? Would you tell my wife and family how much I love them?”
“Of course I’ll do that for you, Todd. Would you like me to try to reach your wife and patch her call through?”
“No, no. I don’t want to upset her unnecessarily. She’s expecting our third child in January, and if I don’t have to upset her with any bad news, then I’d rather not.”
I CAN’T EXPLAIN THE MYRIAD OF EMOTIONS I was feeling at this time. Here I was, talking with a man I had never met, a man who was obviously passionate about his life and his wife and family. His fate, I knew, was still hanging in the balance; and I happened to be the one chosen to talk with him, while he unknowingly stood poised between his full, young life—and eternity.
All I could do was hope that I was responding in a way that was right and proper—and in a way that honored God.