On the 20th anniversary of 9/11, many remembered the heroic efforts of the passengers to prevent the hijacking of United Airlines Flight 93, which was taken over by al-Qaida and ended up crashing in an empty field in Pennsylvania. An article began circulating that purported to be the full transcript of a call between a Todd Beamer, a passenger on that flight, and a phone operator.
The passenger, Beamer, who was part of a group trying to take the plane back from the hijackers, called GTE, the company that provided the phone service on United Airlines flights. He spoke to Lisa Jefferson, an operator.
Many shared the alleged transcript of that call from an article on Eternity News, which appears to be a Christian-focused website, claiming it was the full conversation between the two of them. We learned that while elements of this “transcript” were pulled from Jefferson’s account of the conversation, testimonials from the time, and other sources, there was no recorded version of the full conversation. The transcript includes fake dialogue that never actually occurred.
A key element of the “transcript” is particularly questionable. It claims that Jefferson told Beamer about the other flights that had crashed into the Twin Towers, as per this excerpt:
Todd: Everyone is… really scared. A few passengers with cell phones have made calls to relatives. A guy, Jeremy, was talking to his wife just before the hijacking started. She told him that hijackers had crashed two planes into the World Trade Center……Lisa is that true??
Lisa: Todd…..I have to tell you the truth…..it’s very bad. The World Trade Center is gone. Both of the towers have been destroyed.
Todd: Oh God — help us!
Lisa: A third plane was taken over by terrorists. It crashed into the Pentagon in Washington DC. Our country is under attack….and I’m afraid that your plane may be part of their plan.
Jefferson never told Beamer about the other hijackings. She told CBS News that she made a conscious decision not to tell Beamer about the World Trade Center: “I wanted him to have hope, I wanted him to think he still had a chance. I didn’t want him to feel like it was totally hopeless.”
Her interview with CBS can be seen here:
As shown in documents uploaded by the 9/11 Document Archive on Scribd — run by Kevin Fenton, the author of “Disconnecting the Dots: How 9/11 Was Allowed to Happen,” — the transcripts referenced include Jefferson’s own recollections, and recordings of conversations between Jefferson and Lisa Beamer, Todd’s widow. These transcripts were released from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), according to Fenton. Lisa Beamer asked Jefferson if she happened to have a tape of the last call from Todd, to which Jefferson replied: “No, actually, no I don’t. As for that I would have had to leave where I was on the floor […] To go in my office to record it, and at that point, I told him, I said I’m not gonna leave you Todd, I’m gonna stay right here with you […] I didn’t want him to hang up. I just wanted him to keep talking.”
In a memorandum uploaded by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, on the National Archives website, Jefferson told members of the Commission in a 2004 briefing that she “took notes but only a few basic notes on a small post-it pad.” The FBI took the notes but gave her no further information, she said.
A National Memorial to Flight 93 in Pennsylvania also detailed information from the call, pulled from the 9/11 Commission files: “‘Beamer asked if he could be connected with his wife, or if that was not possible, if a message could be passed to his wife telling her that he loved her.’ The second GTE/Airfone operator said she could hear “screams, prayers, exclamations, and talk of subduing the highjackers …At approximately 9 am CST (10 am EST), Beamer said that the passengers were about to attack the highjackers.”
The memorial website notes that only three of the calls from Flight 93 had recorded transcripts. It said, “Direct transcripts are noted. Quoted content is cited. Most of the quoted material comes from FBI reports and notes, but is not a direct transcript of a recording unless specifically noted as such.” Beamer’s call was pulled from FBI notes from interviews conducted with Jefferson, and notes from the published report of the 9/11 Commission.
This fake transcript is accurate in some instances, particularly when using Jefferson’s and numerous media accounts of Beamer’s very last words, which were “Let’s roll.” At that point he and other passengers were about to try to take back the flight from the hijackers.
While elements of the “transcript” circulating online are pulled from the actual conversation and include correct information, other portions of the transcript are incorrect. Given that there is no actual recording of the call between Beamer and Jefferson, and the transcript contradicts Jefferson’s own account of events, we rate it as “False.”
“Memorandum for the Record (MFR) of the Interview of Lisa Jefferson of the GTE Airphone Conducted by Team 7.”
https://catalog.archives.gov/id/2610189. Accessed 13 Sept. 2021.
Phone Calls from Flight 93 – Flight 93 National Memorial (U.S. National Park Service). https://www.nps.gov/flni/learn/historyculture/phone-calls-from-flight-93.htm. Accessed 13 Sept. 2021.
Sun, Stephen Kiehl, the (Baltimore). “Voices of 9-11.” OrlandoSentinel.Com, https://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/os-xpm-2006-09-11-911transcript11-story.html. Accessed 13 Sept. 2021.
“T7 B12 Flight 93 Calls – Todd Beamer FDR – 9-15-01 FBI 302 Transcript – UAL SAC Nick Leonard Re Jefferson-Beamer Call 419 | PDF.” Scribd, https://www.scribd.com/document/18886478/T7-B12-Flight-93-Calls-Todd-Beamer-Fdr-9-15-01-FBI-302-Transcript-UAL-SAC-Nick-Leonard-Re-Jefferson-Beamer-Call-419. Accessed 13 Sept. 2021.
“The Real Story of Flight 93.” The Guardian, 2 Dec. 2001, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2001/dec/02/september11.terrorism1. Accessed 13 Sept. 2021.
“The Transcript from Flight 93” – Eternity News. https://www.eternitynews.com.au/australia/ther-transcript-from-flight-93/amp/. Accessed 13 Sept. 2021.
Ukueberuwa, Mene. “Opinion | Remember Todd Beamer of United 93.” Wall Street Journal, 9 Sept. 2021. www.wsj.com, https://www.wsj.com/articles/flight-93-united-todd-beamer-9-11-september-eleventh-jihadist-terrorist-attack-11631223355. Accessed 13 Sept. 2021.