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The Boston Globe OnlineBoston.com
Boston Globe Online / Editorials | Opinion
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Last words


THE FINAL moments of doomed lives haunt us in snippets of phone calls made from four hijacked jetliners roaring toward suicide missions in New York and Washington this week.

''We're being hijacked!'' cried an unidentified man who dialed 911 from his cell phone in a locked lavatory on United Airlines Flight 93. In the cabin fellow passengers were vowing to go down fighting. ''We're all gonna die, but three of us are going to do something,'' Tom Burnett of Pleasanton, Calif., reportedly told his wife.

That ''something'' appears to have led to a cockpit struggle that steered the plane out of Washington, D.C., skies and into an empty Pennsylvania field, sparing more casualties on the ground.

On Flight 175 out of Boston, Peter Hanson, sitting with his wife, Sue, and 2-year-old daughter Christine, dialed his father. ''Something's wrong with the plane,'' he is reported to have said. ''Oh, my god! They just stabbed the airline hostess!'' Then minutes before the plane hit the World Trade Center tower: ''Don't worry about us. It's going to be quick.''

A stewardess on American Flight 11 called her supervisor to give a description of a terrorist. On American Flight 77, Barbara Olson called her husband, US Solicitor General Theodore Olson, and said hijackers were using knife-like weapons.

Each phone call offers only a hint of dramatic stories that will never be fully told. Each call was an act of bravery as well as desperation. Each call was a reach for a lifeline and sanity from the center of murderous madness. And each call makes us wonder what we would say or do if trapped in a death machine.

Would we faint, become hysterical, go numb, or be able to think clearly enough to take action against thugs? If we had loved ones on the phone could we bear to disconnect? Would we hope right until the last second that something would save us?

These final phone calls are excruciating. But to turn away from the reports is to refuse to witness a last will and testament, to honor a living history and memorial to the human spirit in the face of crushing inhumanity.

This story ran on page D6 of the Boston Globe on 9/16/2001.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.

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