Husband of Flight 93 crew member: “It is her story. It is history.”
Painful as it is, Lorne Lyles understands the importance of keeping his wife’s story alive.
Lyles on Saturday recounted the phone message he received 17 years ago from his wife, CeeCee Ross Lyles, a flight attendant on United Airlines Flight 93 that slammed into an old strip mine near Shanksville on Sept. 11, 2001. Terrorists had hijacked the plane.
She told him she loved him and, “I hope to be able see your face again, baby.”
Lyles spoke to about 120 people crammed into the learning center at the Visitor Center Complex at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Somerset County.
Speaking publicly for the first time since the terrorist attacks, Lyles said it had been difficult to return to the Somerset County site where 40 people on the flight were killed trying to retake control of the plane from terrorists intent on flying it to attack Washington, D.C.
“I stayed away. It was reliving the events all over again,” said Lyles, who had not been to the site since the 10th anniversary of the attacks. “It took a lot of time to recover.”
On a sunny day not unlike that Sept. 11, Lyles recalled talking to his wife just as she was boarding the plane in Newark, N.J., bound for her favorite destination, San Francisco.
His wife called him later from the plane to say it was hijacked. He had been sleeping after working a night shift as a police officer and did not pick up the phone.
The second time she called, he picked up. They had a brief conversation and prayed together.
“Tell the boys I love them. We’re getting ready to do it now,” she told him. “It’s happening!”
Her final words most likely referred to passengers aboard the hijacked plane rushing the cockpit door in an attempt to overpower the hijackers.
“I remember it like it was yesterday. I want to remember,” Lyles said. “It is her story. It is history.”
The taped message that Lyles received was one of only three received by survivors of Flight 93 passengers, said Robert Franz, a park ranger at the Flight 93 Memorial site.
Hers was one of 37 phone calls made after 9:28 a.m. that day. The plane crashed upside down at 10:03 a.m., the park service said.
Lyles said he dropped the phone when he heard the message for the first time several days after the crash.
Part of his recovery process has been a career change from a police officer to a flight attendant for United Airlines, just like his wife.
CeeCee Lyles had been a police officer several years in her hometown of Fort Pierce, Fla., when she went after a new career as a flight attendant, fulfilling a childhood dream, Lorne Lyles said.
“Part of my grieving process is finishing what she started,” he said.
He will talk again at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Visitors Center Complex as part of the speaker series. The speakers series, in its second year, is important for family members and for visitors who are paying their respects at the Flight 93 Memorial, Franz said
“This is one way for family members to share their experience,” Franz said.
Among those who have spoken in its first two years are Somerset County Coroner Wally Miller, who was at the scene the morning the plane crashed and worked with families of the victims.
Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252 or firstname.lastname@example.org.