Remembering 9/11 hero Betty Ong, a San Francisco Chinatown native
SAN FRANCISCO - This year marks the 20th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks.
San Francisco native Betty Ong was a flight attendant on the first plane that crashed into the World Trade Center.
She is being remembered for her heroism.
Her older brother Harry Ong says the family is still mourning the loss of their beloved "Bee," an affectionate nickname for his baby sister.
Her final resting place is Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Colma where she is buried in the Ong family plot.
Ong says he finds solace and solitude when he comes to honor Betty.
She was working on American Airlines flight 11, Betty was credited with being the first person to alert authorities to the deadly hijackings that took place September 11, 2001.
"I just have that feeling that I just wasn't there for her. It's really hard to feel otherwise," Ong says being the oldest sibling, he had a responsibility to protect his sister.
Betty's last words during a recorded phone call to report the hijacking, he says, reflects her courage and poise.
In one excerpt, Betty says, "The cockpit is not answering. Somebody's stabbed in business class, and um, I think there's mace that we can't breathe. I don't know. I think we're getting hijacked."
Betty remained on the phone for 23 minutes, providing critical information until the plane crashed into the World Trade Center.
The 911 Commission declared her a national hero.
In another excerpt in the audio recording of her call, Betty says, "Our number 1 has been stabbed, and our 5 has been stabbed. Can anybody get up to the cockpit? Can anybody get up to the cockpit? We can't even get into the cockpit. We don't know who's up there."
Her last words were "Pray for us."
"Twenty years have gone by. But I also have to say that it's been 20 years of anguish," says Ong.
Anguish that hasn't diminished.
Ong says for years after the attacks, their father refused to give up hope that Betty was alive until he died in 2007.
"Every single night, he'd be glued to the television, the return of Betty has come about and that she's safe. And he'd be sitting there crying," Ong says Betty had volunteered to work that flight to earn some extra money for a trip with her sisters.
"Here we are, the four of us: Betty, myself, my parents," Ong says as he showed KTVU a collage of photos. His sister was the youngest of four in a tight-knit family.
Betty was born and raised in San Francisco Chinatown. She used to play at the Chinese Recreation Center.
In 2012, the city renamed the center in her honor: the Betty Ann Ong Chinese Recreation Center.
"The spirit of Betty Ann Ong is one of joy and perseverance," says community leader Reverend Norman Fong, a family friend who led the effort to rename the center to honor the hometown hero: strength in the face of adversity.
"I love the Betty Ann Ong story. Hope that the kids and everybody appreciate that. Those kids today, who knows? One of them can be a hero or heroine for the future," says Fong.
Ong says their family had modest means.
Betty wanted to help people and see the world.
Being a flight attendant was her dream.
"It's just very peaceful," says Ong as he points to the niche designated for Betty at Cypress the family has filled with items she loved.
"I remember her every day and think about her, what happened to her. My thought would be I never had a chance to say goodbye," says Ong.
The family forever changed on September 11, 2001.
"It's very difficult to move forward. It's just not easy," says Ong.
Betty Ong, beloved sister and daughter: a hero to her family and the nation.