Friday, September 9, 2011

A Hero in a Different Kind of Uniform

Born on February 5, 1956 in San Francisco, Betty Ong was the youngest of four children to Harry Ong Senior and Yee-gum Ong.  She grew up in Chinatown where her parents owned and operated a small mom and pop store on Jackson Street near Mason in the City. 
Betty graduated from Washington High School and in 1987 she became a flight attendant with American Airlines.  Her choice of careers is not surprising since her friends and family described her as having "a knack for making people feel comfortable and putting them at ease."   Described as a tireless worker, whenever she worked a late night flight "she would never sit down and relax" relayed one of her co-workers. "She often would walk down the aisles, even when most of the passengers were asleep, and talk softly to those awake".  Another co-worker said it was nothing out of the ordinary for her to care of a passenger's baby while they rested.  For you parents out there that have ever traveled on a red eye with kids, flight attendants like these were always life savers.  Not surprising to learn, Betty always had a great love for children and the elderly.  Living in the suburbs of Boston, friends and neighbors told stories of her taking the half-hour drive into the city just to walk and have lunch with senior citizens of the community. 

On September 11th, 2001, Betty, now a 'Head Flight Attendant', assigned herself to American Airlines Flight 11 en route from Boston Logan International Airport to Los Angeles to meet up with her sister.  The both of them were off to a well deserved vacation in Hawaii, but of course we now know it wasn't to be because Betty never made it to Los Angeles or Hawaii.  Soon after take-off, Betty made an emergency phone call to airline reservations agents in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina reporting " The cockpit is not answering their phone and there's somebody stabbed in business class and we can't breath...somebody's got mace or something."  In a calm, cool, and collected manner Betty along with fellow flight attendant Madeline Sweeney relayed the seat numbers of the hijackers which ultimately lead to the identification of all the terrorists involved.  Additionally, it was her phone call that really saved countless lives in Washington by warning that America was under attack which eventually led to the passenger take-over of flight 93 that crashed into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. 

During her 23-minute phone call, Betty remained calm and professional by not only taking care of the passengers and crew under the most of stressful conditions one could imagine, but also managed to relay critical information that most likely saved many lives.  The 9/11 commission declared Betty and the rest of her crew as heroes.  In true fashion, just before the end of her life Betty asked the ground crew to "Pray for Us and not just for herself".

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