Two Decades Later, Families of Flight Attendants Continue Their Contributions to the Greater Good of Others... Part Three
Written by: Carolyn V. Coarsey, Ph.D.
November 17, 2021
In the October issue of awareness@work, we discussed the enormous contributions to safety of travelers and improvements in social conditions for the world at large, made by families of victims of 9/11. This month’s article, features American Airlines Flight Attendant Betty Ong and how she was honored by the 9/11 Commission as the true hero that she was.
In a calm voice Betty identified herself and alerted the supervisor that the aircraft had been hijacked.
On September 11, 2001, Betty assigned herself to Flight 11, so she could return to Los Angeles and take a vacation to Hawaii with her sister. Shortly after the highjacking began, Betty used Flight Attendant Sara Low’s telephone card to call American Airlines' operations/Raleigh reservations center, from the plane's rear galley. In a calm voice Betty identified herself and alerted the supervisor that the aircraft had been hijacked-- announcing to the world the attacks on the World Trade Center and subsequently, the beginning of the horrific tragedy of 9/11.
Betty stayed on the phone for 25 minutes, relaying vital information that led to the closing of airspace by the FAA, a first in United States history.
Along with fellow flight attendant Madeline Amy Sweeney, Betty relayed the seat numbers of three hijackers. During the call, she reported that the cockpit door could not be opened, nor could the pilots be contacted. She also reported that two of the flight attendants and one passenger had been stabbed with box-cutters. Betty stayed on the phone for 25 minutes, relaying vital information that led to the closing of airspace by the FAA, a first in United States history.
At the time of her death, Betty was 45 years old, and was one of four children, i.e., two sisters and one brother. In an interview at our 2006 Member-Partner Meeting, her sister Cathie Ong-Herrera, described how relieved their parents were when they heard the recording of Betty’s voice. It was important for them to learn that when Betty called in, she had not been injured and was able to retain her composure. Later, transcripts of the conversation between Betty and ground control, clearly showed how heroic Betty and the other flight attendants were that fateful day.
The Betty Ong Foundation
The Betty Ann Ong Foundation was founded to honor Betty’s interest in the welfare of children….
The Betty Ann Ong Foundation was founded to honor Betty’s interest in the welfare of children, by providing training and guidance on nutrition, health, physical activities, leadership skills, critical thinking skills, planning, group and team activities, and community awareness and cohesiveness. Among its activities are contributions to groups including the Bakersfield Police Activities League and Betty Ann Ong Chinese Recreation Center in San Francisco's Chinatown. Cathie Ong-Herrera serves as President and CEO of the Foundation.
Betty’s name is located on Panel N-74 of the National September 11 Memorial's North Pool, along with those of others who died on Flight 11. The Memorial also features a phone where visitors can hear Betty’s voice making that initial call to the ground. While the 9/11 Commission made the recordings available for the world to hear in many other ways, when I first heard the recording in the context of the Memorial Museum, it had a significant impact.
If you have not visited the Memorial Museum, I encourage you to do so. It is an awesome tribute to Betty, and her crew, along with all of those who died that day. At the Foundation we continue to express our gratitude to Cathie, their brother Harry and their entire family for allowing us to write about Betty and help keep her memory alive. We invite you to learn more by watching Cathie’s interview on our video, Integrating the Losses.
Integrating the Losses
Cathie Ong-Herrera can be heard speaking about Betty’s life and legacy in the Foundation’s video, Integrating the Losses. Cathie also describes the Betty Ong Foundation and more about Betty’s love of children and desire to help them.
For more about the Foundation and how you can download a copy of the video Integrating the Losses, and learn about other programs, please contact Cheri Johnson, email@example.com or visit us at fafonline.org.