The family of the SF flight attendant who told the world that 9/11 had begun to react to the death of her engineer

It’s been nearly 21 years since flight attendant Betty Ong picked up a phone on the plane and basically told the world that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 had begun.

“The cockpit is not answering the phone and someone has been stabbed in business class,” she said quietly to American Airlines’ reservation desk. She stayed on the phone for another 23 minutes until 8:44 a.m. — when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in Manhattan.

A lot has changed in the decades since. For some people, especially younger ones, 9/11 is mostly a history lesson. But on Monday, the past flared up again with the announcement that a US military drone strike had killed al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri – the man who helped plan 9/11 and has been the face of the terrorist group since Osama bin Laden. He was killed 11 years ago, also by US forces.

For families of 9/11 victims like Ong from San Francisco, the news has once again ripped the scabies apart. The only consolation is that after all these years, families are somewhat used to this shredding. It happens with every anniversary of the most dangerous terrorist attack ever on American soil, and every time the names of their loved ones appear.

Families say the death of the second most famous man responsible for the 9/11 mass murder of nearly 3,000 Americans is helping. But it is not an end.

“I don’t know how anyone else feels. But when I heard today that Al-Zawahiri is dead – in a way I am relieved, but I am still very sad that 9/11 ever happened,” said Ong’s sister Kathy Aung Herrera, founder and president of the Betty Anne Aung Foundation in Bakersfield. . “With all those people killed? Why did that really happen?”

“I don’t know if the killing of bin Laden or the killing of this guy really helps cure anything, because we still have a lot of questions,” she said. “I’m sure it brings a lot of people closer to recovery — and yes, I find some relief. But we still need to know more about what happened.”

Dorothy Garcia Butler, whose husband, Andy Garcia of Portola Valley, had died, agreed to take United Airlines Flight 93 from Newark to San Francisco. Flight 93 is generally known as the “Flight of 40 Heroes”, to its passengers who headed for the cockpit when they learned it was headed for the White House. The plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.

said Bachler, who remarried and lives in Southern California. “Many promises were made, but it was President Biden who did what no other president had done in declassifying critical FBI investigative documents through an executive order.

These documents provide further evidence of Saudi Arabia’s responsibility for the September 11 attacks. Our community asks President Biden to continue to stand with the 9/11 community and with all those who seek justice by holding them accountable.”

The Ong family chose to channel their pain to help disadvantaged children in the name of Ong through a community center in San Francisco, 10 this year, and the 18-year-old foundation in Bakersfield.

“Every year we have a summer camp for kids aged 8-16 or so here in Bakersfield, and when I tell the kids my sister’s story, you can hear a pin drop,” Ong said. “One year after my talk, I heard a little crackling running behind me, and I turned and there was a little girl. She took my hand and said, ‘It’s okay, I’ll be your little sister.'”

I stopped. “You really touched my heart,” Ong said softly. “The kids still have that innocence in them, and seeing that while I’m working on my sister’s memory makes everything we do at summer camp and in the community worth it.”

On these days, with the news of Al-Zawahiri’s death, Ed Herrera, Cathy Ong’s husband, said he chose to remember Betty Ong’s “sense of humor and courage.” She was 45 years old when she died.

“When we went to therapy after 9/11, the therapist said you have to remember that Betty only died once, but in your mind she dies every day,” he said. “Everyone treats her in their own way. We did this by doing good in her name and making children realize the importance of love and fellowship. That is what we focus on.”

Chronicle writer Sam Whiting contributed to this report.

Kevin Fagan is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: kfagan@sfchronicle.com Twitter: Tweet embed


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