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Reports from two flight attendants in the coach cabin, Betty Ong and
Madeline "Amy" Sweeney, tell us most of what we know about how the
hijacking happened. As it began, some of the hijackers--most likely Wail al
Shehri and Waleed al Shehri, who were seated in row 2 in first class--stabbed
the two unarmed flight attendants who would have been preparing for cabin
We do not know exactly how the hijackers gained access to the cockpit;
FAA rules required that the doors remain closed and locked during flight. Ong
speculated that they had "jammed their way" in. Perhaps the terrorists stabbed
the flight attendants to get a cockpit key, to force one of them to open the cock-
pit door, or to lure the captain or first officer out of the cockpit. Or the flight
attendants may just have been in their way.
At the same time or shortly thereafter, Atta--the only terrorist on board
trained to fly a jet--would have moved to the cockpit from his business-class
seat, possibly accompanied by Omari.As this was happening, passenger Daniel
Lewin, who was seated in the row just behind Atta and Omari, was stabbed by
one of the hijackers--probably Satam al Suqami, who was seated directly
behind Lewin. Lewin had served four years as an officer in the Israeli military.
He may have made an attempt to stop the hijackers in front of him, not real-
izing that another was sitting behind him.
The hijackers quickly gained control and sprayed Mace, pepper spray, or
some other irritant in the first-class cabin, in order to force the passengers and
flight attendants toward the rear of the plane.They claimed they had a bomb.
About five minutes after the hijacking began, Betty Ong contacted the
American Airlines Southeastern Reservations Office in Cary, North Carolina,
via an AT&T airphone to report an emergency aboard the flight.This was the
first of several occasions on 9/11 when flight attendants took action outside
the scope of their training, which emphasized that in a hijacking, they were to
communicate with the cockpit crew.The emergency call lasted approximately
25 minutes, as Ong calmly and professionally relayed information about events
taking place aboard the airplane to authorities on the ground.
At 8:19, Ong reported:"The cockpit is not answering, somebody's stabbed
in business class--and I think there's Mace--that we can't breathe--I don't
know, I think we're getting hijacked." She then told of the stabbings of the two
flight attendants.
At 8:21, one of the American employees receiving Ong's call in North Car-
olina, Nydia Gonzalez, alerted the American Airlines operations center in Fort
Worth,Texas, reaching Craig Marquis, the manager on duty. Marquis soon real-
ized this was an emergency and instructed the airline's dispatcher responsible
for the flight to contact the cockpit. At 8:23, the dispatcher tried unsuccessfully
to contact the aircraft. Six minutes later, the air traffic control specialist in Amer-
ican's operations center contacted the FAA's Boston Air Traffic Control Center
about the flight. The center was already aware of the problem.
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