Briefing on 9/11 Victims Held in N.J.
Relatives of Hijacked Passengers Listen to Tapes of Phone Calls
Saturday, June 5, 2004; Page A07
SOUTH BRUNSWICK, N.J., June 4 -- Family members of passengers aboard the four airplanes hijacked on Sept. 11, 2001, said a meeting on Friday with federal officials reinforced their belief that everyone aboard the doomed flights was a hero.
"I was overwhelmed by the unbelievable courage of the passengers and crews of all four of the flights," said Debra Burlingame, whose brother, Capt. Charles Burlingame, was the pilot of American Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon.
"I sat there wistfully wishing that this country could be as united and as determined and as brave in fighting the terrorists that they were in the first few minutes of September 11," said Burlingame, of Pelham Manor, N.Y.
Family members who lost relatives gathered at a hotel here for the 3 1/2-hour closed-door briefing. Participants estimated that about 130 people attended.
Justice Department letters sent to family members said they would hear tapes of cell-phone calls between the passengers and family members or co-workers on the ground. The tapes were said to include calls made by American Airlines Flight 11 flight attendants Betty Ong and Amy Sweeney before their plane hit the World Trade Center.
The families, who were asked to sign nondisclosure forms, revealed little of what they heard on Friday, citing a belief that their comments could jeopardize the prosecution of Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged in the United States as part of the Sept. 11 conspiracy.
Relatives did indicate that they received new information about the last moments of family members.
Passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 "died on their feet and doing the very best they could," said Alice Hoglan of Redwood Estates, Calif., whose son was aboard. That flight crashed into a field in western Pennsylvania, after, many believe, passengers fought with hijackers.
Family members said the mood in the meeting room was somber.
"There were many tears. It was gut-wrenching at times in terms of the loss of life and the tender comments of family members," said D. Hamilton Peterson of Bethesda, whose father and stepmother were killed on Flight 93.
Family members had asked for access to recordings of phone calls and other evidence after some of the material was revealed during the hearings of the independent commission investigating the attacks.
The tape of Ong's phone calls was played in public in January at the hearing of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.
"The cockpit is not answering their phone," Ong told the American Airlines operations center. "There's somebody stabbed in business class, and we can't breathe in business. Um, I think there is some Mace or something. We can't breathe."
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