Widow of 9/11 pilot recalls watching hijacked jet being flown into World Trade Center

Ellen Saracini tells The Independent aviation safety campaign continues 20 years after attacks

Andrew Buncombe
Sunday 11 September 2022 17:45 BST
New 9/11 video published

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The widow of a pilot whose hijacked jet was flown into the World Trade Center on 9/11, has recalled watching the plane strike and thinking “we are a nation at war”.

Ellen Saracini’s husband, Victor Saracini, 51, was the captain of United Airlines Flight 175, one of four planes that were seized by Al-Qaeda hijackers, and used to attack targets in New York and Washington DC.

After the plane took off from Boston bound for Los Angeles, hijackers stormed the cockpit and killed the pilot, and the first mate, Michael Horrocks. They then flew the plane into the South Tower of the World Trade Center, striking at it 9.03am.

The attack on the South Tower was the second plane to strike the WTC. Less than 20 minutes earlier, another hijacked jet, American Airlines Flight 11, had been flown into the North Tower.

For many people, including Ms Saracini, it was the moment they knew these were not accidents.

“As Victor’s plane struck, we realised we were a nation at war,” she told The Independent.

Ellen Saracini and daughters Brielle and Kirsten at memorial mass in 2001
Ellen Saracini and daughters Brielle and Kirsten at memorial mass in 2001 (AFP via Getty Images)

Ms Saracini said she had been on the couple’s children’s school that day in Lower Makefield Township, Pennsylvania, overseeing a meeting for volunteers, when the first initial news reached them of what was happening in New York.

She said somebody told her that an American Airlines plane was involved, so she “cancelled the meeting and went home and saw [it] on TV”.

At around 10.30am that day, it was confirmed that her husband, a former navy aviator who who loved his family and also loved to drive his Corvette and his motorcycle, was presumed dead. A week later, she and her daughters, Brielle and Kirsten, attended a memorial mass for her husband, where he received a US navy honor guard, and she was handed a folded Stars and Stripes.

In the years since the attacks, Ms Saracini has worked determinedly to improve aviation safety, and in particular to ensure the cockpits on passenger planes have a second door.

In 2019, she saw real success when Congress passed the Saracini Aviation Safety Act, requiring all new aircraft to be fitted with a second cockpit door.

Educating The Next Generation On 9/11

Yet, she has said her work is not complete as the 2019 law only applied to new aircraft. She said the Federal Aviation Administration has acknowledged cockpit doors remain vulnerable, so all operating planes should be required to have a second door. She is working with her congressman, Republican Brian Fitzpatrick, to push through a new measure.

“We can agree that September 11 changed the world. And there are things about September 11, that haven’t been answered yet. Haven’t been disclosed, haven’t been protected again,” she said.

“So that’s my part of standing up, to right the wrongs. And I won’t stop. You know, the flight crews, Victor’s brothers and sisters are in the air flying. And they’ve become my brothers and sisters. We can’t leave them vulnerable up there.”

She added: “And it will be Victor’s legacy, that he would not have died in vain.”

When South Tower was hit most people realised attacks were deliberate
When South Tower was hit most people realised attacks were deliberate (Getty Images)

Ms Saracini donated one of her husband’s spare United Airlines’ pilot caps to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.

She also made use of the cap, to symbolise her late husband, when their youngest daughter, Brielle, got married in 2017.

Their daughter’s husband, Sean McGuire, also lost his father in the 9/11 attacks, and the couple met at a camp that had been established for the children whose parents had been killed that day.

Ms Saracini previously told CBS News that her final words to her husband on the day he was killed, and his to her, were: “I love you”.

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