by Mark Pratt, Associated Press
BOSTON (AP) - In a time of chaos, confusion and terror, Madeline Amy Sweeney calmly and professionally contacted ground personnel and gave them a detailed account of what was happening on American Airlines Flight 11 the morning of Sept. 11.
Her physical descriptions of the hijackers, their seat numbers and her reporting of what was happening as the airliner approached New York City has been invaluable to investigators in the five months since four hijacked planes took the lives of almost 3,000 people.
Sweeney, fellow flight attendant Betty Ong and Capt. John Ogonowski were honored Monday at an emotional Faneuil Hall ceremony with a new state civilian bravery award that bears Sweeney's name.
"What my wife did was truly amazing," said Michael Sweeney of Acton, who works for the state Environmental Police. "But she would probably wonder what the big deal was."
Acting Gov. Jane Swift gave the medal to Sweeney's children Jack, 4, and Anna, 6.
"In her nation's darkest hour, she responded with a selfless bravery that illustrates the very best of human nature," Swift said. "She was empowered by her ability to shed light where none existed."
Sweeney contacted American Airlines flight services manager Michael Woodward and told him what was happening.
"She calmly and in a detailed fashion told us that Flight 11 had been hijacked, which was nothing short of a miracle," he said.
The award will be given every Sept. 11 to a civilian who displays exceptional courage to save others.
The ceremony was attended by Massachusetts Sens. Edward M. Kennedy and John Kerry, U.S. Reps. Marty Meehan, D-Mass., and Rob Simmons, R-Conn., U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan and Attorney General Tom Reilly.
Sweeney's father, Bill Todd, lives in Norwich, Conn., which is in Simmons' district. The district is home to seven other families who lost loved ones on Sept. 11.
"I was here for him and the family, but also to share the message that Amy Sweeney's courage led to a warning that a major terrorist attack was underway and that information got to the people on Flight 93 and motivated them to make a heroic sacrifice that probably saved our nation's Capital building," he said.
Flight 93 crashed in rural Pennsylvania killing all on board. Authorities think passengers overpowered the hijackers when they learned of the attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Cathie Ong flew from San Francisco for the ceremony honoring her sister, Betty, who lived in Andover.
"I find it hard to stand here and accept this award because my family and I wish this tragedy had never occurred," a tearful Ong said.
Capt. Ogonowski's wife, Peggy, echoed the comments of all the families when she said her husband, a Vietnam veteran, was just doing his job. "He took his command of an aircraft very seriously," she said.
Ogonowski, 52, of Dracut intermittently hit the talk button so air traffic controllers could hear cockpit conversations during the hijacking.
The medals are about three inches across. One side says Madeline Amy Sweeney Award for Civilian Bravery around the state seal. The other side features a soaring eagle.
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"Osama bin Laden said the hijackers were brave men," Simmons said. "But Amy showed us what bravery is all about."