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The flight seen by entire world

©New York Times

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 13, 2001

Of the four, the crash of Flight 175 seemed, in some ways, the most chillingly deliberate.

While the attention of the world was riveted on the already damaged north tower of the World Trade Center, it was United's Flight 175 that plowed into the south tower with a homicidal theatricality its planners must have known would be broadcast everywhere.

As details began to emerge on Wednesday, the story of Flight 175's 50 minute final flight terrified the friends and family members left behind as much for what they did not know as for what they did.

"There is heartwrenching empathy for what we assume they went through," said Andrew Freedman, a friend, speaking for the family of Ruth Clifford McCourt, a New London, Conn., woman who died on Flight 175 along with her 4-year-old daughter, Juliana.

At Logan International Airport in Boston, Flight 175 took off on time with just 56 passengers in the big Boeing 767. It left the gate at 7:58. Its wheels were in the air by 8:15. Victor J. Saracini, an experienced 51-year-old pilot who had been a Navy flier, was at the controls.

Between takeoff and 9:05, the moment of impact, a few things are known. The flight was on course heading southwest toward Los Angeles until 8:47, when, west of the George Washington Bridge over New Jersey, it made a sharp left turn. Twelve minutes later, it made another sharp left, to settle on a course leading directly to the south tower.

At some point, men armed with knives stabbed flight attendants, a cell phone caller from the plane said in several short calls to his father in Connecticut. Relatives of the caller, Peter Hanson, a 32-year-old software executive from Groton, told reporters that the hijackers seemed to be trying to force the crew to open the cockpit doors.

"The plane is going down," he said. He was traveling with his wife and their 3-year-old daughter.

Flight 175, like each of the planes that were used as weapons on Tuesday, included people traveling for many reasons. McCourt and her daughter were heading to a spiritual center in California, and, perhaps, to Disneyland.

There were businessmen and tourists. One of the passengers, Al Marchand, was an off-duty flight attendant who was a retired New Mexico police lieutenant.

Two scouts from the Los Angeles Kings hockey team were passengers -- Mark Bavis, 31, who had played on Boston University's team with his twin brother Michael, and Garnet Bailey, who was known as Ace, a former professional player who had befriended Wayne Gretzky on the Edmonton Oilers. The hockey scouts were headed toward the Kings' training camp in El Segundo.

Some of the passengers had ended up on the flight by chance. Others had planned carefully. But until Tuesday, details of airlines and flight numbers were treated as incidental, not significant enough even for loved ones to dwell upon in advance.

On Wednesday, Alasdair Drysdale, the chairman of the geography department at the University of New Hampshire, described how, late on the day of the crashes, he had talked with the wife of a colleague, Robert LeBlanc, who recently retired from the university and had been on his way to an academic conference in Los Angeles.

Mrs. LeBlanc, Drysdale said, was unsure of her husband's precise travel arrangements and still hoped that he had been on some other plane. But there it was in LeBlanc's daily diary at the office. "It said: "8 o'clock, leave Boston,' " Drysdale said.

Among those on the flight was Alona Abraham, a 30-year-old woman from Israel, who had come to America for the first time. She had planned every detail, including the flight she would take after a stay with a friend in Boston as she headed to the home of a cousin who owned an auto repair shop in Van Nuys.

"In Israel, it is bombing and shooting," said the cousin, Danny Raymond, "and her dream was just to come to the U.S., just for a visit. For a week or two and then go back."

On Monday she had called home to Ashdod, near Tel Aviv, her mother, Miriam, said in a telephone interview from Israel. Like so many of the other passengers, her final words to loved ones were ordinary. " "Everything's fine, Mother. I'm packing,' and that's all," Mrs. Abraham said.

Of course, somewhere in those rows, as the plane lifted off were passengers who knew this would be anything but an ordinary flight. So far it is not certain who they were. The Boston Herald reported Wednesday that two brothers with passports from the United Arab Emirates had been on the plane. One, the newspaper said, was a trained pilot. Massachusetts investigators, the Herald said, had concluded that the two men had boarded Flight 175 perhaps after a drive from Portland, Maine, and before that Canada.

Danny Raymond, the Van Nuys repair shop owner, said he had left for work in the morning promising his three children, ages 15, 12 and 9, that he would bring their cousin from Israel when he returned home.

When he came back without her, he said, the children did not seem to understand. "They were saying, "Where is Alona?' " Raymond said. "I couldn't even wait; I just started to cry. We were all hugging each other."

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