The Story of Betty Ong, Flight Attendant Who Heroically Identified Flight 11 Hijackers on 9/11

by Samantha Whidden

Just hours before the 20th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks, we reflect on the heroes not just in the World Trade Center and Pentagon, but also on the planes. Among those heroes was American Airlines Flight 11’s flight attendant Betty Ong.

Minutes prior to American Airlines Flight 11 was flown into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, flight attendant Betty Ong made an Airfone call to an American Airlines reservation desk to report that the plane had been hijacked and who exactly the hijackers were. She became the first hero on that infamous day.

According to the Baltimore Sun, American Airlines Flight 11, took off fourteen minutes late from Boston’s Logan International Airport at 7:59 a.m. The flight was bound for Los Angeles. It had a total of 81 passengers and 11 crew members, including Betty Ong, on board. Mohammad Atta, one of the passengers, was leading a group of terrorists on the flight. After the last routine communication between the pilots and ground control, the terrorists took over the plane and took off course. 

The hijackers told ground controllers that they had some planes. The controllers also heard the hijackers tell passengers, “Nobody move, please, we are going back to the airport. Don’t try to make any stupid moves.”

This was the last thing that ground control heard before the terrorist attack began.

Betty Ong Alerts American Airlines Reservations About the Hijacking of Flight 11

After the airliner was taken over, Betty Ong called the American Airlines reservation desk to alert them about the situation.

“The cockpit’s not answering. Somebody’s stabbed in business class and – I think there’s mace – that we can’t breathe. I don’t know. I think we’re getting hijacked.”

Betty Ing originally told reservations that she was on Flight 12. But she made sure to state that they were heading to Los Angeles and figured out her error quickly. Ong then stated that multiple people were stabbed onboard and other flight attendants couldn’t get into the cockpit. 

American Airlines Reservations attendant Nydia Gonzalez, who Betty Ong shared all the information to, transferred to the American Airlines Emergency Line to report the situation. Meanwhile, Ong remained on the phone with Gonzalez until Flight 11 hit the World Trade Center. It was approximately 8:46 a.m. Ong’s information was key to ground control figuring out what happened to the airliner. And why it hit the North Tower.

Ong’s Sister Reflects on Her Actions on September 11th 

While speaking to Wbur News in September 2011, Betty Ong’s sister, Cathie Ong Herrera, spoke about the phone call Ong made.

“I feel that we are very fortunate. There were many heroes that morning. Just knowing how calm she was and just her professional demeanor, I was just so very proud of her to hear that.”

Cathie goes on to add that Betty Ong remaining calm and staying on the phone call was amazing to her. “To me, it’s just amazing and that is one of the main things that I will always remember about her conversation is just how calm she was.”