Flight 93 Passenger Todd Beamer's Reported Last Words Will Give You Chills

At 9:28 a.m. on September 11, 2001, terror was already sweeping the United States. American Airlines Flight 11 had hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. United Airlines Flight 175 had crashed into the south building. American Airlines Flight 77 had been hijacked and turned toward the Pentagon. Hundreds were dead, and thousands were frantically evacuating burning skyscrapers.

It was at 9:28 that four members of Al Qaeda, who had managed to conceal knives and boxcutters, attacked and broke into the cockpit of United Airlines Flight 93, a plane headed from Newark, New Jersey, to San Francisco (via History). The pilots, having only been warned of possible hijacking attempts nationwide minutes before, fought with the intruders while yelling "Mayday!" but were subdued. The terrorists turned the plane around, heading toward Washington, D.C., and took positions at the front of the first class to guard the cockpit.

There were 40 passengers and crew, now hostages, onboard. One passenger was named Todd Beamer.

A vote to retake Flight 93

"We have a bomb onboard, so sit." The voice came over the plane's intercom (via The Independent). Todd Beamer and other frightened passengers quickly turned to their in-flight phones and cell phones. Beamer, a New Jersey native who sold software for Oracle, had two sons, David and Drew, and a wife named Lisa, who was pregnant. He tried to call his wife on the Airfone, but no one answered (per The National Parks Service). Beamer then dialed the operator and spoke with Lisa Jefferson, a call center supervisor at United Airlines. Like other passengers, he reported the plane had been hijacked.

Speaking to loved ones and authorities alike, the passengers and crew learned their nightmare was only a piece of a larger disaster. As the clock approached 10 a.m., the South Tower had fallen and the Pentagon was in flames (via History). And their aircraft was heading for D.C., home of the U.S. Capitol and the White House. Beamer huddled with the others, and a vote was held, according to the New Yorker. They would attempt to retake the plane. They prayed for strength. "If I don't make it, please call my family and let them know how much I love them," Beamer instructed Jefferson (via The Independent). But these were not his last words. He left the line open.

A sustained assault

The 40 gathered makeshift weapons. A flight attendant filled pitchers with boiling water, according to History. Knowing they could be cut down by a terrorist's knife or blown up with the plane, they said their goodbyes to loved ones on their phones. Lisa Jefferson later said in interviews that she heard Todd Beamer's final words over the open line just before the charge (via USA Today): "Are you guys ready?" Beamer asked. "Let's roll." It was a battle cry all the more powerful in its subtlety, something one might say in the huddle before a football game, not stepping into a fight to the death.

And so the passengers and crew attacked. According to the New Yorker, the 9/11 Commission later described it as a "sustained" assault against the terrorist guards, with the plane's recorders capturing shouting, crashing, and glass shattering. So fierce was the fight that the Al Qaeda pilot swerved to throw the hostages off balance. But it wasn't enough. The civilians were nearing the cockpit when the terrorists concluded they would have to crash the plane prematurely (via History).

At nearly 600 miles per hour, Flight 93 hit the ground near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, killing everyone on board. Today, a memorial at the crash site includes a bell tower, a wall of names, and a path around the impact crater. It honors the 40 people who bravely prevented another building from being struck, sacrificing their own lives to save others.