ANDOVER — Betty Ong, a 14-year veteran flight attendant for American Airlines, is considered a national hero for her bravery on 9/11. She called the airline reservations center and relayed critical information about the five hijackers who took over Flight 11 and terrorized the passengers and crew.
“My name is Betty Ong. I’m No. 3 on Flight 11. The cockpit is not answering their phone. There is somebody stabbed in business class,” said Ong, in a calm voice on a recording of the 23-minute phone call. “Our first-class passengers, our first-class galley flight attendant and our purser’s been stabbed. And we can’t get into the cockpit. The door won’t open.”
Her sister, Cathie Ong-Herrea, said it was comforting for the family to be able to know what her sister was doing in her last moments. The family heard the tape during a private airing in January 2002.
“When we listened to Betty’s voice tape, she was calm, very professional, and she was just relaying information from the flight attendants,” Ong-Herrea said. “I cried because I was very proud of her.”
Originally from San Francisco, Ong, 45, had lived in Andover with her fiance Robert Landrum for about a year before she was killed when the plane slammed into the World Trade Center.
Ong wasn’t scheduled to be on Flight 11. She had picked up an extra shift before going on a trip with her sisters to Hawaii the following week — a trip that never happened.
“That morning I was supposed to meet her in LA to talk about the trip,” Ong-Herrea said.
Today, the family keeps Betty’s legacy alive through the Betty Ann Ong foundation. The foundation’s goal is to serve as a helping hand for overweight and obese children, because Betty believed that having a positive self-image and self-confidence at an early age was crucial to the development of a well adjusted individual, according to the foundation’s website.
“I do feel like I am a lot stronger today than I was five years ago because of our work with the children in honor of Betty,” Ong-Herrea said. “Working with the children is very therapeutic because I see Betty’s spirit in them.”
Also, Ong-Herrea often shares her family’s experience at events and ceremonies in her memory.
But the loss of her sister can still be tough.
“There is not a day that goes on when you turn on the TV or radio and hear about post-9/11 and pre-9/11,” Ong-Herrea said. “Every year on Sept. 11, it all comes back. It becomes ingrained in the fabric of your everyday being.”
Betty was a lover of life and people, sweet, caring, and she loved children, her sister said. She was also an avid collector of Beanie Babies and Barbie dolls, a collection the family still has.
She loved her job and loved the passengers,” Ong-Herrea said.
Ong-Herrea recalls coming to Andover in 2001 to collect Betty’s possessions. Many of the children in the neighborhood told Ong-Herrea that they looked forward to Betty returning from her flights to hear her stories, she said.
“It was important for her to spend time with the kids in the neighborhood,” Ong-Herrea said. “We’ve heard many stories about her after she died, and we are very proud of her.”
Lori Weeden of Andover, who worked with Ong at American Airlines, remembers her as being very professional, well-organized, kind and patient.
She said the legacy of all the airline workers killed on 9/11 needs to be remembered as time passes, and continued through their work.
“Otherwise, it would tarnish their memory,” Weeden said. “It would allow the bad guys to win.”