Sometimes, nothing beats sheer good fortune for keeping friends and family safe in times of crisis. At other times, it helps to have a guiding hand.
"I told Sina if it had been her time, she would have been on that plane," said local Disaster and Emergency Coordinator Matt Snorton. "It just wasn't meant to be."
Snorton's niece, Sina Lewis, a United Airlines flight attendant, was scheduled to take off from Newark, N.J., Tuesday morning on Flight 93, the plane that later crashed in Pennsylvania, killing all on board, including four terrorists.
Those men apparently intended to fly the plane into another American landmark as part of the plot that destroyed the World Trade Center in New York City and damaged the Pentagon in Washington.
"I knew Newark to San Francisco was her regular run," Snorton said. "But even after I heard about it Tuesday, it just hadn't dawned on me that was her flight until my oldest daughter called from Cincinnati."
Snorton said his daughter was trying to determine if Lewis, 25, was on the plane when it went down. She hoped Snorton's contacts with emergency aid workers might help.
"I started trying to track her down, but I couldn't get anything," Snorton said. "We were really worried."
Then, Sina and her mother, Mary Lewis, called the family from San Francisco, where they were stranded by the grounding of all commercial flights.
"Sina said she took a couple of days off," Snorton said. "She had been out there spending some motherdaughter time with my sister."
Snorton said he was grateful to hear his niece was safe, but was saddened to hear of her grief — and her feelings of guilt — over the death of her roommate, another United flight attendant.
"She persuaded her roommate to switch flights with her so she could go shopping with her mother," Snorton said. "She was feeling really bad about that."
Snorton said he was so relieved to hear his niece was safe that he forgot the name of her roommate, one of five flight attendants listed on Flight 93.
Good fortune also smiled on the family of local attorney Bill Deatherage. Both his son and daughter escaped involvement in the World Trade Center collapse.
Deatherage said his son, Michael Flannigan, a 32yearold New York City firefighter, was assigned to a fire station near the World Trade Center until just three weeks ago.
"He was transferred to the Bronx, closer to where he lives," Deatherage said. "He was lucky."
Flannigan was also on vacation celebrating the birth of his son Tuesday when two hijacked jetliners crashed into the twin towers of the trade center. He has since returned to work and spent one day working in the rubble in lower Manhattan.
"When I talked to him, he was exhausted," Deatherage said. "He said the stench was horrible, with body parts all around. But he did help pull out some woman, and I guess she was alive. He sounded happy about it."
Flannigan was scheduled to return to the rescue effort today, Deatherage said.
Deatherage said his daughter, Karson Deatherage, may have escaped an even closer brush with tragedy. Karson Deatherage, 22, lives in Manhattan and recently graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
She was scheduled to attend a meeting in the World Trade Center at 8:30 Tuesday morning. The first plane hit at 8:48.
Fortunately, however, she was told on Monday that the meeting had been postponed until Wednesday.
Deatherage said the gray ash and paper debris so common in television images from the crash site covered the ground near his daughter's Manhattan apartment. She also had to evacuate once this week, when a bomb threat emptied the nearby Empire State Building.
"She wanted to get out of New York, so she just drove to Cincinnati," Deatherage said. "She should be home today."