Transcript of Flight Attendant Betty Ong

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Transcript of Flight Attendant Betty Ong

Terrorist attacks on the U.S., September 11, 2001

Telephone call transcript

By: Betty Ong

Date: Recorded September 11, 2001; entered as testimony before the National Commission on the Terrorist Attacks upon the United States (9–11 Commission) on January 27, 2004.

Source: Available online at American Radioworks, "Witness to Terror: The 9/11 Hearings, " <> (with audio).

About the Author: Betty Ong (1956–2001) was a flight attendant aboard American Airlines Flight 11, the first plane to strike the World Trade Center in New York City in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Nydia Gonzalez was an American Airlines Operations employee who took Ong's cell phone call that morning. Gonzalez testified before the 9–11 Commission investigating the attacks.


At 7:59 a.m. on September 11, 2001, American Airlines Flight 11, a Boeing 767 took off fourteen minutes late from Boston's Logan Airport. The plane, under the command of Captain John Ogonowski, was bound for Los Angeles with 81 passengers and 11 crew members aboard. Among the passengers were five Islamist terrorists, including Mohammad Atta, the terrorists' leader. As the plane was sitting on the runway waiting for clearance to depart, Atta placed a cell-phone call to Marwan Alshehhi, a terrorist aboard United Airlines Flight 175, to confirm that the coordinated hijacking plot planned for that day was under way.

At 8:13 a.m., the last routine communication took place between the aircraft and ground control. Over the next several minutes, as ground control operators could get no response from the pilot and the plane's IFF ("identify friend or foe") beacon was turned off, they began to consider that the plane had been hijacked. By 8:20, the plane was dramatically off course, and at 8:24 any doubts ground control had were dissipated when the plane made a 100-degree turn to the south. Also at 8:24, ground controllers heard the voice of one of the hijackers, who said simply "We have some planes." At 8:33, ground controllers again heard the voice of a hijacker telling the passengers, "Nobody move, please, we are going back to the airport. Don't try to make any stupid moves."

At 8:37 a.m., the plane entered New York airspace. At about 8:38, Mohammad Atta likely replaced the captain at the controls of the plane, although the time when this occurred is uncertain. Meanwhile, ground controllers had contacted the U.S. military, which scrambled fighter jets to pursue the plane.

At 8:46:26 a.m., Flight 11, traveling at a speed of about 470 miles per hour, slammed into the north tower of New York City's World Trade Center between the 94th and 98th floors. At 10:28, the tower collapsed, structurally weakened by 10,000 gallons of burning jet fuel. It was later speculated that the terrorists deliberately targeted a transcontinental flight because its large complement of fuel would maximize the damage it would cause.

At 8:20 a.m., flight attendant Betty Ong placed an Airfone call to an American Airlines reservation desk, where she spoke to Vanessa Minter (the "female voice" below). About two minutes later, Minter patched her supervisor, Nydia Gonzalez, into the call. In turn, Gonzalez later patched in American Airlines manager Craig Marquis (the "male voice" in the second portion of the transcript below).

Ong remained on the phone until it crashed into the World Trade Center. Her call, which was recorded, provided the National Commission on the Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, popularly called the 9–11 Commission, with important information about the events that transpired aboard the plane. Gonzalez testified before the 9–11 Commission on January 27, 2004, when the tape of Ong's call was played.


Betty Ong: [I'm] Number 3 in the back. The cockpit's 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.

Male Voice: Which flight are you on?

Betty Ong: Flight 12. [Note: This is incorrect. The correct number is Flight 11.]

Operator: And what seat are you in? Ma'am, are you there?

Betty Ong: Yes.

Male Voice: What seat are you in?

Female Voice: Ma'am, what seat are you in?

Betty Ong: We're—just left Boston, we're up in the air.

Female Voice: I know, what—

Betty Ong: We're supposed to go to LA and the cockpit's not answering their phone.

Female Voice: Okay, but what seat are you sitting in? What's the number of your seat?

Betty Ong: Okay, I'm in my jump seat right now.

Female Voice: Okay.

Betty Ong: At 3R.

Female Voice: Okay.

Male Voice: Okay, you're the flight attendant? I'm sorry, did you say you're the flight attendant?

Betty Ong: Hello?

Female Voice: Yes, hello.

Male Voice: What is your name?

Betty Ong: Hi, you're going to have to speak up, I can't hear you.

Male Voice: Sure. What is your name?

Betty Ong: Okay, my name is Betty Ong. I'm number 3 on Flight 11.

Male Voice: Okay.

Betty Ong: And the cockpit is not answering their phone, and there's somebody stabbed in business class, and there's—we can't breathe in business class. Some-body's got mace or something.

Male Voice: Can you describe the person that you said—someone is what in business class?

Betty Ong: I'm sitting in the back. Somebody's coming back from business. If you can hold on for one second, they're coming back.

Betty Ong: Okay. Our number 1 got stabbed. Our purser is stabbed. Nobody knows who stabbed who, and we can't even get up to business class right now 'cause nobody can breathe. Our number 1 is stabbed right now. And who else is?

Male Voice: Okay, and do we—

Betty Ong: And our number 5—our first class passengers are—galley flight attendant and our purser has been stabbed. And we can't get into the cockpit, the door won't open. Hello?

Male Voice: Yeah, I'm taking it down. All the information. We're also, you know, of course, recording this. At this point—

Nydia Gonzalez: This is Operations. What flight number are we talking about?

Male Voice: Flight 12.

Female Voice: Flight 12? Okay. I'm getting—

Betty Ong: No. We're on Flight 11 right now. This is Flight 11.

Male Voice: It's Flight 11, I'm sorry Nydia.

Betty Ong: Boston to Los Angeles.

Male Voice: Yes.

Betty Ong: Our number 1 has been stabbed and our 5 has been stabbed. Can anybody get up to the cockpit? Can anybody get up to the cockpit? Okay. We can't even get into the cockpit. We don't know who's up there.

Male Voice: Well, if they were shrewd they would keep the door closed and—

Betty Ong: I'm sorry?

Male Voice: Would they not maintain a sterile cockpit?

Betty Ong: I think the guys are up there. They might have gone there—jammed the way up there, or something. Nobody can call the cockpit. We can't even get inside. Is anybody still there?

Male Voice: Yes, we're still here.

Female Voice: Okay.

Betty Ong: I'm staying on the line as well.

Male Voice: Okay.

Nydia Gonzalez: Hi, who is calling reservations? Is this one of the flight attendants, or who? Who are you, hon?

Male Voice: She gave her name as Betty Ong.

Betty Ong: Yeah, I'm number 3. I'm number 3 on this flight, and we're the first—

Nydia Gonzalez: You're number 3 on this flight?

Betty Ong: Yes and I have—

Nydia Gonzalez: And this is Flight 11? From where to where?

Betty Ong: Flight 11.

Nydia Gonzalez: Have you guys called anyone else?

Betty Ong: No. Somebody's calling medical and we can't get a doc—

With that, the portion of the tape played at the commission hearing ended. Then, the commission heard a recording of a second phone call, the call Nydia Gonzales placed to American Airlines' emergency line. Gonzales was still on the phone with Betty Ong as well. She relayed what Ong was telling her to the emergency operator.

Male Voice: American Airlines emergency line, please state your emergency.

Nydia Gonzalez: Hey, this is Nydia at American Airlines calling. I am monitoring a call in which Flight 11—the flight attendant is advising our reps that the pilot, everyone's been stabbed.

Male Voice: Flight 11?

Nydia Gonzalez: Yep. They can't get into the cockpit is what I'm hearing.

Male Voice: Okay. Who is this I'm talking to?

Nydia Gonzalez: Excuse me. This is Nydia, American Airlines at the Raleigh Reservation Center. I'm the operations specialist on duty.

Male Voice: And I'm sorry, what was your name again?

Nydia Gonzalez: Nydia.

Male Voice: Nydia. And what's your last name?

Nydia Gonzalez: Gonzalez— G-o-n-z-a-l-e-z.

Male Voice: (Inaudible)—Raleigh Reservations. Okay, now when you—

Nydia Gonzalez: I've got the flight attendant on the line with one of our agents.

Male Voice: Okay. And she's calling how?

Nydia Gonzalez: Through reservations. I can go in on the line and ask the flight attendant questions.

Male Voice: Okay. I'm assuming they've declared an emergency. Let me get ATC on here. Stand by.

Nydia Gonzalez: Have you guys gotten any contact with anybody? Okay, I' m still on with security, okay, Betty? You're doing a great job, just stay calm. Okay? We are, absolutely.

Male Voice: Okay, we're contacting the flight crew now and we're, we're also contacting ATC.

Nydia Gonzalez: Okay. It seems like the passengers in coach might not be aware of what's going on right now.

Male Voice: These two passengers were from first class?

Nydia Gonzalez: Okay, hold on. Hey Betty, do you know any information as far as the gents—the men that are in the cockpit with the pilots, were they from first class? They were sitting in 2A and B.

Male Voice: Okay.

Nydia Gonzalez: They are in the cockpit with the pilots.

Male Voice: Who's helping them, is there a doctor on board?

Nydia Gonzalez: Is there a doctor on board, Betty, that's assisting you guys? You don't have any doctors on board. Okay. So you've gotten all the first class passengers out of first class?

Male Voice: Have they taken anyone out of first class?

Nydia Gonzalez: Yeah, she's just saying that they have. They're in coach. What's going on, honey? Okay, the aircraft is erratic again. Flying very erratically. She did say that all the first class passengers have been moved back to coach, so the first class cabin is empty. What's going on your end?

Male Voice: We contacted Air Traffic Control, they are going to handle this as a confirmed hijacking, so they're moving all the traffic out of this aircraft's way.

Nydia Gonzalez: Okay.

Male Voice: He turned his transponder off, so we don't have a definitive altitude for him. We're just going by—they seem to think that they have him on a primary radar. They seem to think that he is descending.

Nydia Gonzalez: Okay.

Male Voice: Okay, Nydia?

Nydia Gonzalez: Yes dear, I'm here.

Male Voice: Okay, I have a dispatcher currently taking the current fuel on board.

Nydia Gonzalez: Uh, huh.

Male Voice: And we're going to run some profiles.

Nydia Gonzalez: Okay.

Male Voice: To see exactly what his endurance is.

Nydia Gonzalez: Okay.

Male Voice: Did she—

Nydia Gonzalez: She doesn't have any idea who the other passenger might be in first. Apparently they might have spread something so it's—they're having a hard time breathing or getting in that area.

What's going on, Betty? Betty, talk to me. Betty, are you there? Betty? (Inaudible.)

Okay, so we'll like—we'll stay open. We—I think we might have lost her.


Betty Ong provided the authorities with crucial information about the hijacking. By providing the numbers of the seats occupied by the hijackers, she enabled the authorities to determine their identities. By maintaining her resolve, the information she relayed to ground control over a 25-minute period confirmed that a hijacking was under way. Authorities assumed that other planes might have been hijacked that day, but that their plans were thwarted as the scope of the attacks rapidly became clear and flights were grounded.

Betty Ong was not the only flight attendant who placed a call to the ground that morning. Also on an Airfone was Madeline "Amy" Sweeney, who at 8:20 a.m., placed a call to Logan's flight services manager Michael Woodward. "Listen, and listen to me very carefully," she told Woodward. "I'm on Flight 11. The airplane has been hijacked."

Over the next 25 minutes Sweeney, too, remained on the phone and provided details about the hijacking (her call was not recorded, but reconstructed from Woodward's notes). At one point she said that the hijackers had stabbed the two first-class flight attendants. She also noted, "A hijacker cut the throat of a business-class passenger, and he appears to be dead." At another point she said that the hijackers had shown her a bomb. Still on the phone at 8:45, with the plane flying very low and ground controllers attempting to determine its location, she told them chillingly, "I see the water. I see the buildings. I see buildings." After a pause, she said quietly, "Oh, my God." At about the same time, Betty Ong was repeatedly saying, "Pray for us. Pray for us."

On September 21, 2001, a memorial service for Betty Ong was held in San Francisco's Chinatown, where she was born and her family still lived. In declaring the day Betty Ong Day, San Francisco mayor Willie Brown said "It is with pride and sadness that I join in paying tribute to Betty's courage and her heroism. I hope it is a comfort to her family that so many people remember and honor her heroic acts."



National Commission on Terrorist Attacks. The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. New York: W.W. Norton, 2004.

Web sites

National Commission on the Terrorist Attacks upon the United States (9–11 Commission) website. <> (accessed June 28, 2005).

Thompson, Paul. "Complete 9-11 Timeline: American Airlines Flight 11." Center for Cooperative Research. (accessed June 28, 2005).

Audio and Visual Materials

American Radioworks. Witness to Terror: The 9/11 Hearings: A Voice from the Sky."<> (with audio link).

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Transcript of Flight Attendant Betty Ong

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