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Todd Beamer

CHAMPION, Pa. -- During the last moments aboard the hijacked Boeing 757 careering over Pennsylvania, Wheaton College graduate Todd Beamer calmly reported the situation to a telephone operator.

The pilot and co-pilot were apparently injured or dead. Hijackers were flying the plane. And one hijacker guarded the passengers while wearing what he said was a bomb tied around his waist with a red belt.

"I know we're not going to make it out of here," Beamer told Lisa Jefferson, a GTE-Airfone supervisor, before he and 44 others died when the plane crashed in rural Pennsylvania Tuesday, the only one of four hijacked aircraft that did not strike a terrorist target.

Before reciting the Lord's Prayer, Beamer, 32, asked the operator to contact his wife to tell her that he loved her. Then he put the phone down and apparently joined a passenger revolt to retake control of the plane.

"Are you guys ready?" the operator heard before the connection was lost. "Let's roll!"

U.S. officials believe that United Flight 93 from Newark, N.J., originally bound for San Francisco, was streaking toward the U.S. Capitol or some other target in Washington when it came down.

"What they did was to foil, I think, the attack on Washington," Vice President Dick Cheney said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"Without question, the attack would've been much worse if it hadn't been for the courageous acts of those individuals on United 93."

Oak Brook-based GTE-Airfone faxed a summary of the 15-minute conversation to Beamer's wife, Lisa, of Cranbury, N.J., Friday, an account she supplemented in a call from the operator.

Beamer said she recognized "Let's roll" as the words of her husband, who was raised in Wheaton. "He uses that with our little boys all the time," she said Sunday. "When I heard that part of the conversation, I knew that was Todd."

Calm encouragement

She described the operator as soft-spoken and professional, seemingly keeping her emotions in check as she recounted hearing her husband's even-tempered voice over the sound of screams in the background.

"I told her she must have been such a pillar of strength for him," Beamer said. "I thanked her for that."

According to previous accounts, passenger Jeremy Glick told his wife he believed they could overpower the hijackers. "We can take them," he said. Thomas Burnett told his wife: "I know we're all going to die. There's three of us who are going to do something about it."

In her account, Jefferson wrote that Beamer told her the hijackers divided passengers into two groups: 10 in front and 27 in back, which would account for all but one passenger. (Her memo had put the larger number of passengers in front; Lisa Beamer said Jefferson corrected that in their conversation.)

"Todd told me that there were three people ... on the flight hijacking the plane, two with knives and one with a bomb strapped around his waist with a red belt," Jefferson wrote. "I asked him if there were any children on the plane. Todd responded, not that he could see."

He said two people were hurt -- the pilot and co-pilot, according to Lisa Beamer. He was "not sure if they were dead or alive," Jefferson wrote.

"Some of the passengers on the flight had decided to `jump on' the hijacker with the bomb and try to get him down," the memo says. "The last thing Todd said to me was to call his wife for him and to pray for him. At this point Todd started reciting the Lord's Prayer."

Enduring legacy

Someday, Lisa Beamer said, she will tell the story to sons David, 3, and Andrew, 1. She is expecting a third child in January.

"This doesn't change the future of my family, but it sure gives credence to the person I know Todd was," Lisa Beamer said. "It gives us something we can hand down to our little boys.

"Certainly when the chips were down, his character, his faith, his love for his family and his love for his fellow man showed through. There're not too many bright stories coming out of this. Hopefully the story that comes out of Flight 93 will give people hope."

On Monday, the Beamer family will join relatives at a memorial service near the crash site. Lisa Beamer plans to leave a Chicago Bulls hat, a pack of M&Ms, an Oracle Inc. pen for the job he loved and two other items to represent his spiritual and family life.

David Beamer, 59, called his son a "freedom fighter." "Obviously there was a struggle, but I can tell you who lost," he said. "That plane was headed for a target, and it wasn't a field with nobody there in Pennsylvania."
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