Co-pilot’s wife flies from 9/11’s despair on wings of faith
Cheryl McGuinness, founder of the ministry Beauty Beyond the Ashes, speaks to a group of Loma Linda students, faculty, employees, and community residents on the Campus Mall. Ms. McGuinness’ husband, Tom McGuinness, was the co-pilot of American Airlines Flight 11 that flew into the North Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
Cheryl McGuinness of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, calls it “the pit”—a time when she felt totally lost, alone, afraid, and devastated.
Ms. McGuinness, whose husband was the co-pilot of American Airlines Flight 11 on September 11, 2001, presented her story on Wednesday, October 18, at a noon lecture on the Campus Mall.
Her husband, Tom, was co-pilot of the American Airlines airplane that hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City at 8:45 a.m.
“On September 11 Tom gave me a kiss goodbye and left for work. He was to co-pilot American Airlines flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles that day.
“I had just come home from driving my kids to school. I poured myself a cup of coffee, grabbed a quilt and my Bible, and sat on the back porch. It was quiet and I just had finished praying when my phone rang. I unwrapped myself from the folds of my warm quilt, ran to answer the phone. It was a friend, asking if Tom was home.
“My second phone line started ringing and it was another friend asking for Tom. I said, ‘He’s not home. What’s going on?’
“My friend asked me if I had the TV on. I said, ‘No, I don’t watch TV in the morning.’ ‘Well, Cheryl, can I come over?’ ‘Why?’ I said. ‘Tom wasn’t home.’
“He hesitantly told me ‘A plane has been hijacked.’ ‘What! Where?’ My mind was racing … Planes don’t get hijacked. This is America. Even if they get hijacked they will safely land the planes. I found the TV remote, but none of the buttons worked, or maybe my fingers didn’t work. I don’t know which.
“As I was trying to determine what had happened, my kids were already hearing something on the news at school and started calling me to find out if Dad was okay. It felt like it took forever to find out any information. I paged Tom, tried his cell phone, called all the crew tracking emergency numbers. I called all the pilots I knew. I was so frustrated, then frantic. When news did come in, it was all downhill from there.”
The McGuinness house quickly filled with people. Women prayed with Cheryl until the chief pilot from American Airlines got to her house and gave her the official word.
Flight 11 had not only been hijacked but had been deliberately flown into the World Trade Center.
“I was hysterical. I screamed ‘No, God please don’t call him home, please,’ just begging God with everything I had. Then I went to tell my kids. They knew by the look on my face I had bad news. Can you imagine telling your children what I had to say?
“All I could bring myself to utter was, ‘Jesus called Daddy home.’ We hugged and cried, and I reassured them that God would take care of us. I can’t imagine doing anything more painful than telling my children that news.
“News of Tom’s death crushed us. Our lives have been changed forever.”
A devout Christian, Ms. McGuinness has found recovery through her faith. In the months following that fateful day, Ms. McGuinness has turned her life around and founded a ministry, Beauty Beyond the Ashes.
“People have heard my heartache for so long,” Ms. McGuinness says. “Now I want them to know of the joy that has come through the love of Jesus Christ.”
In her Loma Linda talk, Ms. McGuinness talked about her 18 years with her husband, Tom, and the future plans that they had made. But that all changed on September 11, 2001. Since that fateful day five years ago, Ms. McGuinness has learned how to hope again.
In response to the needs that she has seen in her audiences, Ms. McGuinness founded her ministry, Beauty Beyond the Ashes, as an avenue to share her message of courage, determination, and love. Though it has been tough, Ms. McGuinness and her children, Jennifer and Thomas, have chosen hope after crisis. Jennifer is in college, and Tom is in high school. He is taking flying lessons and hopes to go to flight school.
By Richard Weismeyer