How Boston blamed the head of Massport for 9/11, and how's she's become her own hero

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If you remember, you remember: it was a perfectly clear day on September 11, 2001.

American Airlines flight attendant Betty Ong made a call from Boston Flight 11, at about 8:19 AM.

"The cockpit's not answering, somebody's stabbed in business class," Ong said. "I think there's Mace, we can't breathe, I don't know, I think we're getting hijacked."

Five minutes later, Boston air traffic control hears hijacker Mohamed Atta say these now infamous words.

"We have some planes," Atta said into the plane's intercom, and to Air Traffic Control. "Just stay quiet and we'll be ok, we're returning to the airport. No body move, everything will be ok."

Of course it wasn't going to be okay. Not by a long shot.

"We have a breaking news story to tell you about, apparently a plane has just crashed into the World trade Center here in New York City," NBC's Katie Couric told America a few minutes before 9 AM.

Seventeen minutes later, at 9:03 am, United Airlines Flight 175 from Boston slammed into South Tower, live on TV.

We all remember where we were that morning.

Virginia Buckingham was on her way to work. She was listening to news radio and was headed to Logan Airport, where she ran Massport, to also catch a flight. She'll never forget the words her director of communication called to tell her: "Two planes are off the radar."

That day and the days that followed changed our country forever. We mourned the lives lost in New York, Boston, Washington and Pennsylvania. America marched to war.

But in those first few days, Virginia Buckingham was changed too. Locally, in some media circles, she became the public face of the tragedy: blamed for the perceived security failures at Logan, run out of her job.

She's spent the last 20 years since 9/11 carrying that pain, that guilt and that public blame. She tells that story in her new memoir "On My Watch."

This segment aired on November 11, 2021.

Headshot of Jamie Bologna

Jamie Bologna Senior Producer/Director, Radio Boston
Jamie Bologna was senior producer and director of Radio Boston.


Headshot of Tiziana Dearing

Tiziana Dearing Host, Radio Boston
Tiziana Dearing is the host of Radio Boston.



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