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Andover's Betty Ong remembered as 9/11 hero

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ANDOVER — She hadn’t ventured out of the Chinatown neighborhood of San Francisco much as a child, but she always wanted to travel.

When Betty Ong got a chance to be an American Airlines flight attendant she moved across the country and settled in Andover to work out of Boston Logan International Airport.

“It provided her the means to travel the world, which was her dream,” said her brother, Harry Ong.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Ong was sitting in the jump seat of American Airlines Flight 11, calling officials on the ground, warning them about the hijacking of the plane that would be the first to hit the World Trade Center in the terrorist attacks that would leave about 3,000 people dead, including two fellow Andover residents and a man who grew up in town.

Twenty years after her death the anniversary still stings with “lots of grief and anger,” Harry said.

“My heart goes to all of those who served and who were harmed and unharmed, especially those last soldiers who died,” Harry said, explaining he was glad to see the end of the war that followed the attacks.

On 9/11, Betty had signed up to be a flight attendant on an extra flight to Los Angeles, where she expected to have lunch with one of her sisters ahead of a vacation to Hawaii.

During her flight, hijackers took control of the plane after injuring at least three people and forcing themselves into the cockpit, where they overpowered the plane’s pilot and first officer.

From the back of the plane, Ong called American Airlines Operations through a reservations telephone.

“We’re sitting in the back,” Betty said, as heard in an audio recording of the phone conversation. “The cockpit is not answering. Somebody is stabbed in business class and, um, I think there’s mace, we can’t breathe (in business class). I don’t know, I think we’re getting hijacked.”

Harry and his other sister, Cathie, continue sharing their sister’s warmth and love through their work with the Betty Ann Ong Rec Center in Chinatown near where they grew up. The center was renamed in honor of Betty in 2011, when the 10th anniversary of the attack coincided with the building being renovated.

The siblings started a foundation in their sister’s name to buy equipment for the center because the city hadn’t put aside extra money for that, Harry explained. Betty always loved sports, and was particularly good at basketball because of her height, he said.

Her bravery and teamwork will be something Harry continues to remember. Especially the fact that in her final moments “she asked for prayers not only for herself, but for everyone on the plane.”

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