'I Promised I Wouldn't Hang Up'
Lisa Jefferson, the phone supervisor who took Todd Beamer's call on Flight 93, believes God called her for a purpose.
BY: Interview by Wendy Schuman
After he said, “Let’s roll,” he left the phone and I would assume that’s at the point that they went to charge the cockpit. And I was still on the line and the plane took a dive and by then, it just went silent. I held on until after the plane crashed—probably about 15 minutes longer and I never heard a crash—it just went silent because—I can’t explain it. We didn’t lose a connection because there’s a different sound that you use. It’s a squealing sound when you lose a connection. I never lost connection, but it just went silent.
It seemed like you had to be taken off the phone.
I just could not believe that that plane had crashed because we never gave up hope. We both just talked about them landing their plane safely, he gave me personal information regarding him and his family. And people in the company started gathering around me in the call center because they knew I was on the phone with one of the planes that was being hijacked. And at the time when the plane crashed, they had announced over the radio that United Airlines Flight 93 had just crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and a guy put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Lisa, you can release the line now. That was his plane.” And I said, “No way.” And I kept calling his name and calling his name, hoping that he--just praying that anyone would come and pick up the phone. But they never did. But I just did not want to give up. I just felt that somebody was going to pick up that phone, and eventually I gave in and I hung the phone up.
How were you affected?
I grieved just like the families did, and I was in therapy for a while after that. Seems like I cried for months every day. It happened on a Tuesday. I went back to work on that Wednesday, Thursday, just like as if nothing had ever happened, and on that Friday, when I went into work, the FBI did not want me to mention anything to his wife until they got back in touch with me. And then Friday, they got in touch with me and told me it was okay to let her know the message that I had for her.
[His wife Lisa] called me that Saturday morning and that’s when we talked about it. I had visualized everything that was taking place as if I was sitting next to him on that flight, and I asked her, I said, “Can you describe him?” And she said, “How do you think he looked?” I said, “I think he had dark hair and he had on something white because I could visualize him with dark hair and white.” And she said, “Well, he does have dark hair and he had on a white business shirt because he had on a business suit.”
She was going to send me a picture of him on Saturday. On Sunday, the Chicago Sun Times had their pictures on the front page of the newspaper and that’s when I was able to put a face with a voice and I actually got sick at that moment when I saw that. And I couldn’t go into work for two days after that. I was actually sick and did not want to hear anything else about 9/ll, see anything. I just could not take any more. That was my breaking point.
You know, when I visualized him in white, I think that was my own personal thing letting me know that he’s okay now. He’s with the angels. That’s the way I look at it.
How did you deal with these feelings?
I had therapy, and I did talk to my minister and I talked to my family. They [the memories] still come back. It’s not as bad as it was. But when I relive it, they still come back.
You mentioned that you felt such an overwhelming sadness it was almost like guilt, like you were trying to keep it up and weren’t able to.
I just feel that, you know, after the fact, you always sit back and look and think about things that you could have done or should have done. And I just wish it could have been more that I could have done for them, for all of them.