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20 Years After 9/11, She can Finally Talk about Flight 93

It was the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 . They were in Newark Airport , where Horniacek worked as an inflight coordinator. Her job was to check in flight crews at the airport before they boarded their planes.

exhibit.jpg
Images of some of the exhibits that are part of a two month long 9/11 exhibit being held by the Monmouth County Historical Association at the Taylor-Butler House in Middletown.
Peter Ackerman
(TNS) - Twenty years have passed, but Terry Horniacek can still hear the joy in Sandy Bradshaw's voice as Bradshaw showed photos of her baby to her United Airlines colleagues.

"She had just come back from maternity leave," Horniacek said. "She said, 'I think I'm going stop flying. I want to stay home with the baby.'"

It was the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 . They were in Newark Airport , where Horniacek worked as an inflight coordinator. Her job was to check in flight crews at the airport before they boarded their planes.

That morning Horniacek, a lifelong Bayshore resident who now lives in Matawan , spent about nearly an hour with the five attendants of Flight 93, which would be hijacked and then crashed into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania , when the passengers revolted.

Twenty years have passed, but Horniacek can still feel the pre-flight embrace of Deborah Welsh .

"She came flying around the desk and gave me a big hug," Horniacek said. "She said, 'I'm free of melanoma for a year. I just got a clear checkup.' She was cancer free."

Two hours later Welsh, who was Flight 93's first-class attendant, was stabbed to death by the hijackers.

Horniacek likely was the final outsider the five flight attendants spoke with at any length before they boarded the San Francisco -bound plane.

"For 20 years, I've been carrying this with me," Horniacek said. "I finally thought, the story needs to be told."

A drawer full of journals

For nearly two decades, Horniacek suffered in silence. Scarred from the trauma of that morning, she endured a career-ending nervous breakdown, depression and drug addiction. Now 56, she's come far enough to talk it out, to "peel that layer of the onion," as she put it.

"I've done a lot of healing," she said.

Journaling helped. A drawer in her Matawan apartment is filled with notebooks that detail her emotional roller-coaster. Those entries form the basis of a 107-page book, "My 9/11: Through Inflight Eyes," which is newly available through Amazon.com.

Much has been written about Flight 93 and how the revolt prevented what could have been an even bigger catastrophe; analysts believe that jet was headed for the U.S. Capitol . But Horniacek wants to shed a little more light on the humanity of the crew from someone who knew them all.

"I want their stories to be told," she said. "I really want their families to know the whole crew was so happy that morning."

Truth be told, the book also serves as part of her ongoing therapy. It's helped her emerge from a long, dark tunnel.

Twists of fate

Hailing from Highlands, Terry Horniacek attended Henry Hudson High School and joined the airline business shortly thereafter. In the fall of 2001 she was a mother of four children ages 10-16 and living in Keansburg . Sept. 11 was supposed to be a day off, but she got paged to fill in early that morning.

She checked in numerous crews, making sure each flight had enough attendants. When it came to Flight 93, one attendant, CeeCee Lyles , was called in as a reserve when someone else scratched. Another, Wanda Green , nearly didn't board.

"Wanda said she was having heart palpitations," Horniacek said. "We sent everyone else to the gate and we left Wanda behind. We tried to decide whether to send Wanda on sick leave and replace her. We had another flight attendant on standby."

The attendant with the most seniority, 58-year-old Lorraine Bay of East Windsor , spent her pre-flight time sending a get-well card to an ailing coworker, who received it a few days after 9/11.

"Lorraine always cared about everybody else," Horniacek said.

That held true to the very end. On one of the internal calls that Horniacek overheard after the plane was hijacked, "We found out...Wanda and Lorraine were ministering to passengers at the last moments."

'Warriors in the air'

Horniacek learned about the first plane hitting the World Trade Center through word of mouth. She saw the second crash live on television, and noticed it was one of United's.

The phones at her station started ringing off the hook. One of the calls she fielded came from Phil Bradshaw , Sandy's husband, who was a pilot.

"You could hear their baby screaming in the background," Horniacek said. "Phil called and said Sandy called him from Flight 93; there were four men with box cutters and red bandanas hijacking the plane."

At that point, Horniacek believes she went into shock. But she kept working. Sandy Bradshaw called the United desk several more times with details about what was unfolding.

"Sandy and CeeCee were in the back of the plane with the push carts they serve the beverages on," Horniacek said. "They were loading up on soda cans and fire extinguishers and anything heavy. They had several passengers with them and they were going to bombard the cockpit. We knew they were going to fight back."

Two decades later, she gets the chills thinking about it.

"They were warriors in the air," Horniacek said. "True heroes."

A long aftermath

The rest of the day remains a whirlwind of painful memories: the sight, through the airport's huge windows, of smoke billowing from the twin towers...management gathering United employees in a conference room to inform them Flight 93 had crashed...the terminals completely empty, with the exception of "all these service guys and dogs and rifles"... an hours-long interrogation by terrorism experts, friendly but thorough, about what she'd seen and heard that morning.

Horniacek pushed on over the subsequent weeks and months. She helped organize a memorial service for the crew. She decorated the office for Christmas. In January she finally snapped, collapsing in the shower at home. An attempt to return to work a few months later, she said, ended with a panic attack.

"They took me out in an ambulance," she said.

Years of struggle followed. Now, thanks to therapy, medication and an addiction-recovery program, Horniacek has found balance. A grandmother of six, she finally is able to talk to her children about what happened that day. She holds a job at a local Kohl's. She's been back on an airplane.

One step remains: a visit to Shanksville and the Flight 93 National Memorial.

For years Horniacek resisted, afraid of the emotions.

This year, she worked up the nerve and planned to attend Saturday's 20th anniversary ceremony.

"I made hotel reservations and everything," she said. "I found out you need an invitation."

She said she made a couple of calls to United, to no avail. The folks she worked with are long gone.

"Maybe it's just not God's time for me to go," she said. "It's just not the right time."

Jerry Carino  is community columnist for the  Asbury Park Press , focusing on the  Jersey Shore's  interesting people, inspiring stories and pressing issues. Contact him at jcarino@gannettnj.com.

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