Local News

Cary airline operator took call from hijacked plane on 9/11

Posted September 9, 2011 10:28 p.m. EDT
Updated September 11, 2011 7:55 a.m. EDT

— An American Airlines operator working at a call center in Cary received a startling call from a flight attendant aboard Flight 11, bound for Los Angeles, Calif., on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

"The first thing out of her mouth is, 'I think we're being hijacked,'" Vanessa Minter recalled Friday. "There was something in her voice that said, 'Okay, this isn't funny. This isn't a joke. This is real.'"

Flight attendant Betty Ong told Minter that five men, who were later identified as al-Qaida terrorists, took over the cockpit within minutes of takeoff. Minter passed the call to her supervisor and it was 4 p.m. before she realized what had happened to Ong.

Guilt set in when she saw images of Flight 11 crashing into the north tower of the World Trade Center in Manhattan. 

"Why was I the last one she spoke to? Why not her sister, her mother or her father? Somebody that could get her through this? I just couldn't make that right," Minter said.

"I found out that they did indeed find Betty Ong. They found her a ways from the crash site, but they were able to give her family closure and peace of mind. That was a healing point for me," she said.

A decade later, the brief, terrifying phone call that changed Minter's life still echoes in her memories.

"It's something that I deal with. It's not that I dwell on it everyday," she said. "It's something that will always be there."

Minter avoids looking at images of the crumbling World Trade Center towers and still has anxiety about answering the phone, but said she has found closure in knowing that the events of Sept. 11 shocked the nation into realizing "we're not alone," she said.

"What did 9/11 do for us? I kind of think it woke us up," Minter said. "We're not immune to things. Things are going to happen. It's how we're going to deal with them after they happen that's the important part."