Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Chilling Voice From Aboard Flight 11

WASHINGTON -- A chilling telephone call from a flight attendant aboard American Airlines Flight 11 details for the first time the frantic struggle aboard the doomed airliner as hijackers slit the throat of a passenger and stormed the cockpit.

"I see water and buildings. Oh my God! Oh my God!" Madeline Amy Sweeney told a ground manager in Boston after the hijacked plane took a sudden and unexpected detour, according to an investigative document compiled by the FBI and reviewed by the Los Angeles Times.

The water she saw in those agonizing final moments was the Hudson River. The buildings were the famed New York City skyline. And the detour was Flight 11's calamitous descent into the World Trade Center's north tower about 8:45 a.m. on Sept. 11.

In recent days, snippets of cellphone calls that originated from the four hijacked flights have revealed tearful good-byes and valiant pledges of resistance. But Sweeney's phone call, with details that coincide with the hijackers' takeover of the cockpit, could provide investigators with one of their most valuable pieces of evidence in reconstructing the hijackings.

FBI officials in Dallas, where American Airlines is based, were able, on the day of the terrorist attacks, to piece together a partial transcript and an account of the call. American Airlines said such calls are not typically recorded, suggesting the FBI may have reconstructed the conversation from interviews.

Sweeney, a 35-year-old mother of two young children, had worked for American Airlines for 12 years, usually taking weekend duty so she could spend more time during the week with her family. She was one of nine flight attendants working Flight 11, which left Boston's Logan International Airport with a light load of 81 passengers at 7:45 a.m.

The plane lifted off uneventfully, but investigators think it was commandeered within about 15 minutes.

Sweeney called American flight services manager Michael Woodward on the ground at Logan. She displayed remarkable calm as she related numerous details about the unfolding events. "This plane has been hijacked," Sweeney said, according to the FBI report.

Two flight attendants had already been stabbed, she said. "A hijacker also cut the throat of a business-class passenger, and he appears to be dead," she said.

Investigators have identified five suspected hijackers on the flight. They are believed to be part of a well-orchestrated network of 19 hijackers who used box cutters, razors and small knives concealed in cigarette lighters to take control of four planes.

But Sweeney apparently saw only four of the five men. All four were Middle Eastern, Sweeney told Woodward. Three of them, she said, were sitting in business class, and "one spoke English very well."

It is unclear from the phone account where Sweeney was when she was talking to the ground manager or what type of phone she used. But as she was relating details about the hijackers, the men were storming the front of the plane and "had just gained access to the cockpit."

Then, she told Woodward, the plane suddenly changed direction and began to descend rapidly. "At that very point, Sweeney tried to contact the cockpit but did not get a response," according to the investigative report.

Woodward then asked Sweeney whether she knew her location. The chilling reply: "I see water and buildings. Oh my God! Oh my God!"

At that point, according to the report, the conversation ended.