Tom Burnett called his wife, Deena, four times after hijackers took over the plane he was traveling home on from a business trip on September 11, 2001.
Deena was a former flight attendant at home in Northern California with the couples’ three children, ages 5 to 3 when her husband called her at 6:27 a.m. Pacific Time, telling her the plane he was on had been hijacked.
According to the transcripts of the four calls, Burnett told his wife, “Yes, yes, just listen. Our airplane has been hijacked. It’s United Flight 93 from Newark to San Francisco. We are in the air. The hijackers have already knifed a guy, one of them has a gun, they are telling us there is a bomb on board, please call the authorities.”
Then he hung up and Deena called 911.
At 6:34 a.m., Burnett called again. This time he told her that the man who was “knifed” had died.
Deena told her husband, “Tom, they are hijacking planes all up and down the east coast. They are taking them and hitting designated targets. They’ve already hit both towers of the World Trade Center.”
Tom replied, “They’re talking about crashing this plane. (a pause) Oh my God. It’s a suicide mission…(he then tells people sitting around him).”
Deena asked who he was talking to, and he said his seatmate.
Burnett Said he was ‘Putting a Plan Together’ With a Group of People on the Plane
By the third call, a plane had crashed into the Pentagon. At 6:45 a.m. when Burnett called Deena again she thought he was on that plane, according to the transcript. Deena said, “Tom, you’re okay,” to which he responded, “No, I’m not.”
Still, he was not going down without a fight. Deena told him about a third plane hitting the Pentagon and Burnett told her he was skeptical that the hijackers actually had the bomb they claimed to have, telling Deena he thought it was just a ploy to control the passengers.
Deena told Burnett, “A plane can survive a bomb if it’s in the right place.”
Burnett told his wife, “They’re talking about crashing this plane into the ground. We have to do something. I’m putting a plan together.”
By “we” Burnett told Deena, there were “several people. There’s a group of us. Don’t worry,” he said. “I’ll call you back.”
There Were 33 Passengers & 7 Crewmembers on Flight 93 Who Worked Together to Fight the Hijackers
According to the National Park Service who oversees the National Memorial Park in Pennsylvania where the plane ultimately crashed in Somerset County, the cockpit voice recorder told a story of a struggle. There were screams, sounds of glass breaking, yelling, and “calls to action.”
According to flight data, the NPS reports that the plane was rerouted to D.C, likely to crash into the capitol building where legislators were in session, but rather than let the passengers and crew take back the plane, the terrorists crashed it into the ground in an empty field in Western Pennsylvania about 35 minutes after Deena last spoke to her husband, around 7:30 a.m. in California but 10:30 Eastern Standard Time in Pennsylvania where the plane crashed.
The plane hit the ground at 563 m.p.h. while carrying 7,000 gallons of jet fuel, causing the plane to explode, killing everyone on board.
Burnett’s Last Words to Deena Were ‘Don’t Worry, We’re Going to do Something’
Burnett and the passengers and crew of Flight 93 are considered heroes for showing “unity, courage, and defiance in the face of adversity,” according to the NPS. They are credited for keeping the plane from hitting the capitol building which was only 20 minutes away by plane.
In Burnett’s last call to Deena at 6:54 a.m Pacific Time, he told her the plan was to wait until they’re over a rural area and then he said, “We’re going to take back the airplane.”
Deena told him what she had learned in flight attendant school as to how to handle a hijacking situation. She didn’t want him to attempt a coup. She said, “No! Sit down, be still, be quiet, and don’t draw attention to yourself!”
Tom pushed back saying, “Deena! If they’re going to crash this plane into the ground, we’re going to have to do something!”
Deena wanted them to wait for “the authorities” but Burnette said there was no time to wait and said, “I don’t know what they could do anyway. It’s up to us. I think we can do it.”
He asked his wife to pray, and she told him she loved him.
Then he said, “Don’t worry, we’re going to do something.”
Burnett’s remains are buried at Fort Snelling National Cemetery, in Minneapolis, according to Find a Grave. His name is also included in the National September 11 Memorial in Manhattan and on the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Somerset County, Pennsylvania. He was 38 years old.