FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — On September 11, 2001, nearly 3,000 people were killed when Al Qaeda terrorists hijacked four planes and carried out suicide missions.
On the first plane was 28-year-old flight attendant Sara Low.
Sara grew up in Batesville, Arkansas and graduated from high school there in 1991.
She then moved to Fayetteville where she attended the University of Arkansas and received a degree in finance and real estate.
A few years later, Sara decided to pursue a passion she had considered for some time, becoming a flight attendant.
It was the Spring of 1999 when she joined American Airlines. Sara started her flight attendant career based in New York before she transferred to Boston in Fall of 2000.
Alyson Low recalled all of these facts about her younger sister Sara, almost as if it hadn’t been 20 long years since the two have seen each other.
“We miss everything about her,” Alyson said.
In 2001, Alyson was an eighth grade teacher at what’s now Washington Junior High in Bentonville.
She said when word spread a plane hit the World Trade Center, she was told immediately by two of her teacher friends, who knew Alyson’s sister was a flight attendant.
At first, Alyson said, she and her family were told Sara wasn’t on American Airlines flight 11 when it crashed through the north tower.
As the day went on, though, the Lows never heard from Sara and Alyson’s sense of dread grew stronger.
It was Alyson’s father, Mike, who called and delivered the devastating news.
“All [my dad] had to say is, is there somebody there with you? and that’s how I knew.”Alyson
Apparently when the family was told Sara wasn’t on the plane, whoever told them that had only looked at the passenger list and not the crew manifest.
With an astonished look on her face Alyson said, “there were 6,000 planes in the air that morning and for her to be on one of four, you never can get your head around that.”
In addition to the tragic loss of her sister, over the last two decades Alyson has struggled with who heard her react to the news of Sara’s death.
“My kids heard me. They were in the classroom next door and when I got the call from my dad they heard me and it’s hard, it’s hard to know that they went through that because I know they must have been terrified,” Alyson said.
She also remembered a touching moment she shared with the school’s football coach. The former marine followed her to the parking lot and embraced her before she left and joined her parents in Batesville.
Sara wasn’t even supposed to work on the day our country endured the acts of terror.
Alyson said Sara had just moved to an apartment in the Beacon Hill area of Boston and picked up an extra flight for rent money and for some extra cash to furnish her new place.
In the months and years following 9/11, the Low family has been able to piece together some of Sara’s final moments.
They found out at the time of the hijacking she was working in business class. Three of the five hijackers aboard were seated in her section.
Alyson said, “[Sara and other flight attendants aboard] were going right down the checklist and were doing everything that they could. They identified the seats that the hijackers had been in which began the process of the government identifying who was responsible.”
She knows this because of the phone call (listen to the audio below) placed by one of Sara’s fellow flight attendants, Betty Ong.
Betty called the American Airlines reservation desk and told agents she believed the plane was being hijacked, because of several failed attempts to contact the pilots.
She also explained that flight attendants and a passenger were stabbed and that she believed mace had been sprayed in business class.
It was Sara who made this final phone call from the aircraft even possible.
Alyson said Sara had the families’ calling card number memorized and that’s the number Amy was able to use to connect with ground personnel.
The calling card was from when the sisters, who’re 21 months apart, were in college.
Alyson said the FBI showed her family a report of the calls made from the plane, which she described as looking similar to a phone bill, and there were a few initial calls made that didn’t go through.
Sure enough, the call that was able to be placed, was done so using that number Alyson and the family immediately recognized.
“Proof to me that, not surprisingly but reassuringly that she was busy and she was doing her job and she was true to her nature calm and composed and professional,” Alyson said.
It provided Alyson some peace of mind to know her sister wasn’t paralyzed by distress in her final moments alive.
“There are thousands of families who have no idea what happened, what their loved one’s last moments or seconds were, they just vanished and it’s better to have something to process than to fill in the blank,” Alyson said.
It’s hard, even two decades later, for Alyson to listen to Betty’s phone call.
Prior to the recording’s release to the public in 2004, families of victims who were aboard AA Flight #11 met in New Jersey to listen to it.
This is where Alyson met Betty’s sister, who she has remained in contact with since.
She said the two call each other “September Sisters.”
In the years following Sara’s death, the Low family has continued to fight for more information about how the acts of terror on September 11, 2001 might’ve been prevented.
They’ve filed lawsuits, and Sara’s father Mike has been an outspoken critic over TSA policies, like one that would’ve allowed pocket knifes back on planes.
Alyson said, “since he was denied the opportunity to fight for his child as it happened, he’s wanted and needed to find ways to do it afterwards.”
In fact, Mike will speak at a ceremony to commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11 at ground zero in New York City on Saturday.
Alyson won’t be there, because quite frankly today’s climate makes it difficult for her to travel/
It’s difficult for her to see national news stories of flight attendants harassed, knowing that’s what her sister died doing.
“It’s hard to see our country where it is right now,” said Alyson.
Two decades later and Alyson said that unity we felt after 9/11 has seemingly been forgotten.
“I wish there was some way to get back to that without it coming at that kind of cost. I don’t know how you would remind people of what that felt like, but I wish they could remember.”Alyson