Point PC-1: The Alleged Calls of Todd Beamer, Flight UA 93

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The Official Account

Todd Beamer was one of the passengers on UA 93 who heroically prevented the hijackers from hitting their target in Washington D.C. He became the most celebrated of these heroes for saying, as a group of passengers were preparing to make their move, “Are you guys ready? Okay, let’s roll.”[1]

This fact was made known by GTE supervisor Lisa Jefferson, with whom Beamer had a 13-minute conversation before the plane crashed, and was later included in The 9/11 Commission Report.[2]

Beamer ended up talking to Jefferson because, having tried to make a credit card call to his wife, Lisa Beamer, his call was routed to a GTE (Verizon) customer-service operator named Phyllis Johnson, who then forwarded the call to Jefferson. Beamer continued talking to Jefferson, rather than having her transfer him to Lisa Beamer, because his wife was pregnant and he did not want to upset her.[3]

The telephone records show that Beamer initiated four telephone calls, only the fourth one of which was connected. This call lasted for 3,925 seconds (slightly over 65 minutes),[4]although Beamer was on the phone talking to the two GTE representatives (Johnson and Jefferson) for only about 20 of those minutes.[5] “Mr. Beamer told the operator,” said the FBI’s summary of its interview with Jefferson, “that the plane had been hijacked and that he saw two hijackers with knives and someone else enter the cockpit.”[6]

In November 2001, President Bush used “Let’s Roll” in a speech to call America to war to hunt down the terrorists.[7]In 2002, the Washington Post wrote: “Embraced and promoted by President Bush as a patriotic battle cry,” the phrase “Let’s Roll” was also “emblazoned on Air Force fighter planes, city firetrucks, school athletic jerseys, and countless T-shirts, baseball caps and souvenir buttons.”[8]


The Best Evidence

There are eight reasons to doubt the authenticity of the reported call to Lisa Jefferson from the man who identified himself as Todd Beamer.

  1. It is very unlikely that a passenger on UA 93 could have been able to talk to Jefferson continuously for 13 minutes.[9] According to Lisa Beamer’s 2002 book, Jefferson herself was amazed, saying that “it was a miracle that Todd’s call hadn’t been disconnected.” As to why Jefferson considered it a miracle: “Because of the enormous number of calls that day, the GTE systems overloaded and lines were being disconnected all around her . . . She kept thinking, This call is going to get dropped![10]

  2. The man self-identified as Todd Beamer talked to GTE operators Johnson and Jefferson for approximately 15 minutes rather than talking to his wife, Lisa Beamer. Jefferson asked him, “Would you like me to try to reach your wife and patch her call through?” He replied: “No, no. I don’t want to upset her unnecessarily. She’s expecting our third child in January, and if I don’t have to upset her with any bad news, then I’d rather not.”[11] This explanation is inconsistent with the FBI report that he had first tried to reach his residence at 9:43:48 AM.[12]

    It is implausible that Beamer would have later decided not to call his wife, for three reasons:

    • According to Jefferson’s account, Beamer was convinced he was going to die, yet was passing up a last chance to talk to his wife.

    • He did not ask to talk with her because he did not want to upset her, although learning of his death would presumably upset her.

    • The self-identified Todd Beamer said to Lisa Jefferson: “I just want to talk to somebody and just let someone know that this is happening.”[13] However, he did not ask to be connected to any of his relatives or friends.

  3. In spite of the situation he was in, the alleged Todd Beamer remained remarkably calm during most of the call. Jefferson recalled: “Todd, when he came to me, he was calm. . . . [H]e stayed calm through the entire conversation.”[14] Jefferson also wrote: “[H]is voice was devoid of any stress. In fact, he sounded so tranquil it made me begin to doubt the authenticity and urgency of his call.”[15] She later told Beamer’s wife: “If I hadn’t known it was a real hijacking, I’d have thought it was a crank call, because Todd was so rational and methodical about what he was doing.”[16]

  4. There was no way to confirm that the man who talked to Phyllis Johnson and Lisa Jefferson was really Todd Beamer.

    • Neither of these women knew him, so they would not have recognized his voice.

    • Because the caller did not want to be connected to Lisa Beamer, she also could not say whether the voice was really that of her husband.

    • According to Jefferson, she did not have the call recorded,[17] nor did the adjacent Airfone Operations Surveillance Center (AOSC), to whom Jefferson immediately reported the call.[18]

    • There was no reported FBI interview with Phyllis Johnson, the GTE operator who allegedly first took the call.[19]

  5. According to the FBI’s telephone report on UA 93, which was provided for the Moussaoui trial in 2006, four calls were attributed to Todd Beamer. The first lasted “0 seconds” (meaning it was not connected). The second, which also lasted “0 seconds,” reportedly occurred at exactly the same time as the first one (9:42:44). The third call also lasted “0 seconds” and was dialed to the Beamer’s home. The fourth call – which allegedly reached a GTE operator and lasted 3,925 seconds (about 65 minutes) – was placed at exactly the same time (9:48:48) as the third one.[20] Thus two sets of numbers were evidently connected in the identical second, and no official explanation was given as to how this could have occurred.

  6. According to Jefferson, the phone of the man to whom she was speaking remained connected long after UA 93 crashed. Reporting that he had left the phone after saying “Let’s roll,” she wrote that the line “just went silent.” Although she held on for “probably 15 minutes” (the early evidence had indicated it was 13 minutes), she “never heard a crash.” She added: “I can’t explain it. We didn’t lose a connection because there’s a different sound that you use. It’s a squealing sound when you lose a connection. I never lost connection, but it just went silent.”[21]

  7. On September 29, 2001, the FBI received detailed records from Verizon’s wireless subscriber office in Bedminster, NJ, that Todd Beamer’s cell phone made 19 outgoing calls after the alleged 10:03 AM crash time of Flight UA 93.[22] This fact, along with the sixth one, indicates either that the man self-identified as Todd Beamer was not on UA 93, or Tod Beamer’s cell phone was not on the flight, or this flight did not crash.

  8. Todd Beamer was celebrated for having said: “Are you guys ready? Let’s roll!” But this expression was not contained in the FBI’s summary of its interview with Lisa Jeffersonon the day of the phone call. Instead, according to the FBI summary: “At approximately 9:00 AM Central time, Beamer said the passengers were about to attack the hijackers. . . . [H]e asked Jefferson to call [redacted] to tell them that he loved them. . . . Next, Jefferson heard another passenger give the go-ahead to make their move. After that point, she heard nothing.”[23]

The first time Todd Beamer’s alleged “battle cry” was quoted in print was evidently in an article by Jim McKinnon of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette five days later, on September 16. McKinnon had apparently learned this phrase from Todd Beamer’s wife, Lisa Beamer, whom McKinnon had interviewed. Having stated that Todd Beamer had (reportedly) dropped his phone after asking Lisa Jefferson to call his wife, McKinnon wrote: “That’s when Jefferson heard what Lisa Beamer believes were her husband’s last words: Let’s roll.”[24]

In any case, the FBI summary of its interview with Lisa Jefferson did not merely fail to contain the phrase “Let’s roll!” (which could have simply been an omission on the part of an FBI agent). It also explicitly attributed the go-ahead signal to another passenger, not to Todd Beamer.


Conclusion

First, the true nature of the reported conversation between GTE employee Lisa Jefferson and the man identifying himself as Todd Beamer is in serious question.

Second, there are eight problems with the official account of this call. The first three problems show that the call was implausible. The fourth one shows that there is no way to confirm the authenticity of the call. The next three raise very serious questions about the connection of the call. Finally, attributing “Let’s roll” to Todd Beamer contradicts what Lisa Jefferson told the FBI on 9/11, the day she received the call.

Given the pivotal importance of this call in starting the “war on terror,” these problems, like the problems in the Barbara Olson story, show the evidentiary basis for this “war” to have been as weak as the evidence for the “weapons of mass destruction” in starting the Iraq “war.”[25]

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References for Point PC-1

[1] Lisa D. Jefferson and Felicia Middlebrooks, Called (Northfield Publishing, 2006), 53; Jim McKinnon, “13-Minute Call Bonds Her Forever with Hero,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 22 September 2001.

[2] The 9/11 Commission Report (2004), 13, 456n80, 457n81.

[3] Jefferson and Middlebrooks, Called, 47-48.

[4] The 9/11 Commission, “Memorandum for the Record,” 13 May 2004. The graphics produced by the US prosecution for the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui in 2006 are easily accessed here: “Detailed Account of Telephone Calls From September 11th Flights: Todd Beamer.”

[5] Beamer talked to Phyllis Johnson, a GTE operator, for a few minutes, after which he was transferred to Lisa Jefferson, with whom he talked, she said, for “approximately fifteen more minutes” (Jefferson and Middlebrooks, Called 53); McKinnon, “13-Minute Call Bonds her Forever With Hero,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 22, 2001.

[6] FBI Interview with Lisa Jefferson, September 11,2001.

[7] “Bush: “My Fellow Americans, Let’s Roll,’” Jessica Reaves, Time magazine, November 9, 2001.

[8] Peter Perl, “Hallowed Ground,” Washington Post, May 12, 2002 (http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?pagename=article&node=&contentId=A56110-2002May8). This URL is defunct; evidence of it is here.

[9] The 13 minutes is referenced in Jefferson’s interview with staff writer Jim McKinnon, “13-Minute Call Bonds her Forever With Hero,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 22, 2001, and in Wes Smith, “Operator Can’t Forget Haunting Cries From Flight 93,” Orlando Sentinel, September 5, 2002.

[10] Lisa Beamer and Ken Abraham, Let’s Roll!: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Courage (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2002), 217.

[11] Jefferson and Middlebrooks, Called, 47-48.

[12] The graphics produced by the US prosecution for the trial of Zacarias Massaoui in 2006 are readily accessed here: “Detailed Account of Telephone Calls From September 11th Flights: Todd Beamer.”

[13] Jere Longman, Among the Heroes, Harper Perennial, 2003, 204.

[14] Wendy Schuman, “’I Promised I Wouldn’t Hang Up,’” Beliefnet, 2006.

[15] Jefferson and Middlebrooks, Called, 33.

[16] Beamer and Abraham, Let’s Roll! 211.

[17] Jefferson and Middlebrooks, Called, 36.

[18] Jefferson and Middlebrooks, Called, Ch. 1.

[19] See the FBI Intelfiles page that lists Beamer-call interviews.

[20]Detailed Account of Telephone Calls From September 11th Flights: Todd Beamer.”
Primary sources: 1. Letter and faxed telephone report from U.S. Department of Justice to the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks, April 26, 2004.

[21] Wendy Schuman, “’I Promised I Wouldn’t Hang Up,’” Beliefnet, 2006.

[22] FBI Lead Control Number NK 5381, 09/29/2001. (Mr. Beamer’s cell phone area was in Northern New Jersey [prefix 908] , so the records reflect the Eastern Time zone; see reference here.

[23] FBI Interview with Lisa Jefferson, 11 September 2001, Intelwire.com.

[24] Jim McKinnon, “The Phone Line from Flight 93 Was Still Open when a GTE Operator Heard Todd Beamer Say: ‘Are You Guys Ready? Let’s Roll,” ,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 16 September 2001.

[25] Great thanks are due to “Shoestring’s” essay, “Todd Beamer’s Odd Phone Call and the Silent Crash of Flight 93,” for several points.

 

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