Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility


Elizabethtown event revisits 9/11, Flight 93 for a new generation

Students who barely remember attacks learn, reflect on hijackings

Chris Reynolds doesn’t remember much about Sept. 11, 2001, but that’s not what bothers him most.

Reynolds, 18, worries that many in his generation may not fully appreciate the magnitude of the Al-Qaeda terrorist attacks that left nearly 3,000 people dead on U.S. soil that day, or how American life has been transformed as a result.

“We don’t know what it’s like to just walk onto a plane,” the Elizabethtown College freshman said, referring to increased airline security following the attacks, which were the subject of a panel discussion Thursday night at the school’s Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies.

Reynolds, who was a preschooler on 9/11, acknowledges there’s something else most people, regardless of age, can’t know: how they would react to knife-wielding hijackers taking over their plane, as jihadists did aboard four commercial airliners that day.

“I’m not sure what I would do,” Reynolds said.

Passengers and crew on one of the four hijacked airliners — United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Somerset County in western Pennsylvania — have been credited for their efforts to regain control of the Boeing 757 after learning from calls to relatives, friends and emergency dispatchers that the other hijacked jets had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C. 

Amy Spangler

Flight 93 was the focus of Thursday’s discussion, as three men with personal ties to Flight 93 shared their experiences before an audience largely composed of college students like Reynolds, with minimal or no recollection of 9/11.

Ed Root, whose cousin, veteran flight attendant Lorraine Bay, died in the crash, stressed the importance of sharing personal recollections about the day and its aftermath with those too young to recall it themselves.

“It’s even more important now, as those of us who do remember get older and pass away,” the Allentown resident said.

Root was joined on the panel by Mal Fuller, a now-retired air traffic controller who was working in the Pittsburgh International Airport tower on 9/11; Tim Lambert, multimedia news director for Dauphin County public broadcaster WITF, who formerly owned some of the property around the Flight 93 crash site; and Oya Ozkanca, an associate professor of political science at the college who spoke about the ongoing political ramifications of the attacks.

Personal accounts

A show of hands quickly revealed how few in the youthful audience had been old enough to realize or remember what was happening on 9/11.

A respectful silence hung over the room as Root, Fuller and Lambert described their connections to Flight 93 and how the day’s events continue to reverberate for them, and for the country.

Root had the most personal connection, though he was farthest away on the morning of the attacks.

Extremely close with Bay growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, he called his flight attendant cousin as “someone I looked up to.”

She was godmother to Root’s daughter. The families spent many holidays together. Bay and her husband, who lived in New Jersey, would often meet the Roots for shopping trips at the King of Prussia mall outside Philadelphia.

On 9/11, Root also was on a plane. He was over the Atlantic Ocean en route back to Philadelphia from London.

Fuller, who had worked his way up the ranks into a supervisory position after more than three decades of service, recalled the first chilling indication of trouble that sunny September morning: A controller informed him that the World Trade Center “had been hit.”

“When an air traffic controller says ‘hit,’ in that context it means by an airplane,” Fuller said.

He quickly rushed to a television, only to see footage of smoke and flames pouring from one of the Twin Towers.

“I was in a state of denial,” Fuller recalled. “I thought it had to have been a small plane, someone who had gotten lost.”

Amy Spangler

Then the second tower was struck. Then the Pentagon.

“That’s when I knew we either were at war or going to war,” Fuller said. “The question was with whom.”

The next development proved more urgent. Controllers learned Flight 93 had been hijacked, and the flight from Newark, N.J. to San Francisco was headed toward the Pittsburgh tower. 

Fuller made the call to evacuate the structure. Investigators believe the hijackers were headed for Washington D.C., aiming either for the U.S. Capitol or the White House.

The plane crashed into a field in Stonycreek Township, near Shanksville, 65 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, shortly after 10 a.m., killing all 44 people on board.

Lambert, a working journalist then and now, was engaged in frenetic activity as he and his colleagues worked to report the story. He did not learn until later in the day that the jet had crashed on family land he had inherited from his grandparents.

“Those are our trees,” Lambert said his father told him over the phone, adding: “I’ve walked that land since I was a little boy. I’ve known those hemlocks since I was a kid.” 


Amy Spangler

Fuller has visited the crash site many times, and still wrestles with grief.

“I would go there at 2, 3, 4 a.m., trying to figure it all out,” Fuller said.

“And of course, I never did.”

Fuller frequently gives speeches about his experiences, hoping to raise awareness of and funds to support the Flight 93 National Memorial. 

Lambert’s Somerset County property is now part of the memorial site, which commemorates the crash with tributes to the victims and educational displays about the incident. Lambert still visits, and has met many family members, whose grieving has evolved to “embracing the site.”

Root has been active with Families of Flight 93, a nonprofit group that worked with federal agencies and politicians from both political parties on creation of the memorial.

Over the years Root has spoken with many reporters, while his wife, Nancy, aids him in a related task: Helping deflect media attention from Bay’s widower.

“He’s been supportive. He wants Lorraine’s story to be told,” Root said. “But he just can’t do it.”

Flight 93 National Memorial

Flight 93 National Memorial from Central Penn Business Journal on Vimeo.

Lest we forget

Root, Fuller and Lambert each has his own reasons to remember. Each also has his own reasons for encouraging the country not to forget.

Based on phone calls and recovered flight recorders, investigators pieced together a picture of what happened aboard the doomed jet. Realizing they had been hijacked, passengers and crew members frantically began calling loved ones using cellphones and “airphones,” a feature of air travel before personal mobile devices were as widespread as they are today. They learned from people on the ground what had happened in New York and at the Pentagon in northern Virginia.

A group of passengers gathered and voted to take action, attempting to storm the cockpit and regain control of the plane from the four hijackers. According to some accounts, they understood they might have no choice but to crash it if that was what was necessary to prevent the jihadists from reaching Washington.

“The terrorists wanted to die, and their cause was death,” Root said. “The people on Flight 93, I don’t think they wanted to die, but their cause was life.”

Lambert underscored how the passengers — a diverse group of strangers from several countries, young and old — quickly and efficiently formulated a plan under duress, knowing that it might require sacrificing themselves to save others.

“Let’s not forget that 40 people saved the U.S. Capitol, saved all those lives. Saved America’s house,” Lambert said, pointing out that would-be victims in Washington also gave birth to children — asking rhetorically how many would not be alive if it weren’t for the passengers’ actions.

“Take a look at the divisive political system we have now,” he said. “The lesson of Flight 93, it seems, has been lost.”

But that lesson is still wrapped in grief and anger.

Fuller recalled trying to counsel against the anger and vengeance advocated by many around him after 9/11, including relatives and friends, some of whom preached a very simple response: “nuke ’em all.”

The real battle was fought within his own conscience, however, leading to a conflict with his faith.

“War is not the answer,” Fuller said. “But I was a Quaker, and I couldn’t say that.”

It led Fuller to leave the Quaker Meeting, which is what members of the sect, who oppose war, call their the worship services.

Over the past 15 years, he has come to reflect on the reaction of Amish families to the West Nickel Mines shooting, in which a gunman killed five schoolgirls in a Lancaster County schoolhouse before turning the gun on himself.

Fuller, who noted how families of the slain girls embraced the shooter’s family, sees in it a parable for a society that has grown increasingly polarized.

“We need to listen to each other, embrace each other,” he said.

Amy Spangler

At the end of the presentation Amanda Slaughter, a 19-year-old student from Texas who doesn’t remember much from that day, was near tears. She stood, trembling, to ask the panelists how they manage their emotions, admitting she feels frustration and anger about the attacks. 

“I’ve never cried, not once,” Root said. “I’m too angry. Can’t do it.”

Interviewed afterward, Slaughter described what she felt watching news footage from 9/11.

“I see the videos of the World Trade Center, and people falling from the buildings, and I remember that those people were mothers and daughters, fathers and brothers,” she said. “Whenever I see that, I want justice for those people.”

On further reflection, Slaughter acknowledged that a certain measure of justice has been brought to the victims, but that “in trying to carve out a plan” in response to the attacks, post-9/11 policies have inadvertently “created more evils.”

While the forum focused more on personal recollections and remembrance than on policy and politics, Ozkanca suggested that the “War on Terror,” setting a historic precedent with its focus on non-state actors, did create more evils through overreach and missteps.

“The invasion of Iraq … has done a lot of damage to the U.S.’ image, and to the very legitimate war on Al-Qaeda” which initially was focused in Afghanistan.

Root’s advice to Slaughter, and her classmates, was one of conciliation in an angry world.

“You only need one side to go to war. You need two sides for peace,” he said.

“I don’t know if my generation can do it. I hope yours can.”

Send Us Your Photos

We want your photos for Guest List, which features New Jersey events and our readers. Submit your color images here.
Photos will be posted online as soon as possible after receipt.

Save photos at 300 dpi as TIFF or JPG. Do not embed photos in Word documents. Photos sent through the postal service will not be used or returned.

Include caption information, including the name, date and location of the event. Identify people from left to right. We reserve the right not to publish all submitted photos.