On the morning of September 11, 2001, 33-year-old CeeCee Lyles, like many others across the country, placed a phone call to a loved one shortly after three hijacked planes were deliberately crashed into the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Unable to reach her husband, Lorne, she would leave a message on his answering machine: “You have to listen to me carefully. I’m on a plane that’s been hijacked.”
Lyles was one of seven members of the flight crew aboard United Airlines Flight 93, the fourth and final plane hijacked that morning. It had taken off from Newark International Airport, bound for San Francisco. When she placed the call, the plane was heading towards Washington, D.C. instead.
That January, Lyles fulfilled a lifelong dream by completing her training as a flight attendant with United Airlines.
“She always wanted to be a flight attendant so she could travel,” her husband recounted to the Post-Gazette. Prior to becoming a flight attendant, she worked as a police officer in her hometown of Fort Pierce, FL, starting as a patrol officer and eventually working her way up to detective. Well-respected by fellow police officers for her willingness to step up to any challenge, she would tap into that determination on 9/11 during the crucial moments after her plane was hijacked.
In her message for Lorne at 9:47 a.m., Lyles relayed her love for her children and said, “They’ve hijacked the plane, I’m trying to be calm. We’re turned around, and I’ve heard that there’s planes that’s been, been flown into the World Trade Center. I hope to be able to see your face again baby. I love you.”
Shortly before 10:03 a.m., she placed a second phone call to Lorne and was able to connect with him. During their conversation, she mentioned that she and the other passengers were devising a plan to take back control of the plane, which included throwing boiling hot water at the hijackers. After saying a prayer together, Lyles ended the conversation with Lorne saying, “We’re getting ready to do it now. It’s happening!”
While all 40 passengers and crew members onboard Flight 93 would be killed when it crashed in an empty field outside of Shanksville, PA, the actions Lyles and others took to fight back that morning likely saved the lives of hundreds of others on the ground. Her ability to remain calm amidst the chaos demonstrated not only incredible professionalism, but also courage and strength. This month, in celebration of Women’s History Month, we honor what Lyles did that morning, displaying the best of humanity under unimaginable circumstances.
By Meredith Ketchmark, Assistant Manager of Youth & Family Programs