911 dispatcher recalls frantic cell phone call from Flight 93
GREENSBURG: Sept. 11 means 78 seconds to Westmoreland County 911 dispatcher John Shaw.
On Sept. 11, dispatchers took turns during breaks to watch TV images of the smoke from the World Trade Center. Like most Americans, they didn’t know what was involved.
Minutes later, the phone rang and Shaw learned the startling truth from United Airlines Flight 93 passenger Edward P. Felt, 41, of Matawan, N.J.
Felt was using his cell phone to call 911. Westmoreland 911 was the closest.
It was 9:56 a.m.
For Shaw and Felt, the next 78 seconds seemed like eternity.
“He told me two or three times that he was on the hijacked plane. I asked for his name. He said he was on United Flight 93 and he had used his cell phone to call 911,” Shaw said.
“We talked until we lost his carrier, but I held on just in case his phone found another carrier. Sometimes that happens. This time it never did,” Shaw said.
“The sound was overwhelming, but I had never talked with anyone on a plane before. Five months later, I learned his name was Ed Felt and he was from New Jersey.”
After his shift, Shaw went home to watch TV and talk with his girlfriend. “Luckily, she is a dispatcher, too,” Shaw said.
“When people call we can send police or fire or an ambulance. Who do you send to a planeâ¢ I totally felt helpless.”
The next day, Shaw learned his uncle was installing insulation in the Pentagon when Flight 77 crashed into the building, but he escaped unharmed. Flight 93 also crashed 1.8 miles from his aunt’s house.
Shaw would like to meet Felt’s family and learn about the man if that is possible.
Shaw has been invited to attend today’s memorial services at the crash site. Felt’s widow, Sandra, and daughters Adrienne, 15, and Kathryn, 12, plan to attend.
Sandra Felt has heard Flight 93 tapes made when her husband and 39 other passengers and crew battled with four hijackers. Some believe the Americans decided to crash the jet rather than let it be used as a missile to hit another Washington landmark.
“I heard my husband’s voice. He was very calm in the face of death,” she said. The government has refused to give her a copy or transcript of the tape at this time.
She disputes a 911 supervisor’s Sept. 11 account of the conversation between Felt and Shaw in which the supervisor said Felt said he saw smoke after an explosion.
But she isn’t concerned by that. She also isn’t upset that her husband didn’t use his last moments to call her on that day of mind-numbing death and destruction.
“He was busy. I know that he loved me. We had a very good marriage, and every day he told me and showed me that he loved me,” Sandra said.
“Ed was a hero to me every day by what he said and did. And last summer he jumped into the ocean to take a life vest to a man who had fallen off a sailing boat,” she said.
Sandra Felt said all 40 passengers and crew, not just the one or two who’ve been written about extensively, jumped into action Sept. 11.
“It was a group effort. When you read about who was on the plane, you see that they all had Type A personalities. These were people who do things, they didn’t wait for others and react,” she said.
“They picked the wrong bunch of people to hijack,” said Ed Felt’s younger brother, Gordon Felt, of Remsen, N.Y.
He said his brother was “the go-to guy” at the computer software company where he was a senior designer, was active in church and was helping his daughter’s track team.
In the year since Sept. 11, Flight 93 families have been remembering their loved ones and finishing their projects.
There is a void at the Matawan United Methodist Church where Felt was a leader of the pastor-parish relations committee and otherwise active in the church.
In fact, Felt had worked until 10 p.m. Sept. 10 trying to invigorate a youth group at his church, his wife said. “He was very concerned about the kids and explaining God to kids,” she said.
“There’s no question. He was one of the heroes,” said the Rev. Susan Flicker, pastor of the Matawan United Methodist Church where Sandra Felt and her daughters still attend.
In the days before his death, Ed Felt had been getting information to establish a foundation to help kids.
When Sandra Felt called a bank to ask about setting up a foundation to honor her husband, she was surprised to talk with the same woman Ed had talked with a few weeks before.
Later Sandra found the foundation papers when she was cleaned out Ed’s office.
The horror of Sept. 11 wasn’t Shaw’s last experience with an airplane emergency.
This summer when Steelers owner Art Rooney’s single-engine plane lost power, Rooney reached for a cell phone. He reached Shaw.
The plane landed without incident.