SAN RAMON, Calif. -- Thomas Burnett Jr. called his wife four times from hijacked United Flight 93 to tell her that he and other passengers were "going to do something."
He didn't say goodbye.
"He was coming home. He wasn't leaving. He was going to solve this problem and come back to us," his widow, Deena Burnett, said Wednesday from her home near San Francisco.
Minutes after his final call, Flight 93 crashed in a field in southwestern Pennsylvania. Officials have speculated the hijackers may have been headed for the White House or Camp David, the presidential retreat. Deena Burnett is sure her husband was involved in preventing that.
She believes that after she told her husband about the World Trade Center attacks, he and the other passengers decided to turn the tables on their hijackers.
"We may never know exactly how many helped him or exactly what they did, but I have no doubt that airplane was bound for some landmark and that whatever Tom did and whatever the guys who helped him did they saved many more lives," she said. "And I'm so proud of him and so grateful."
Another passenger, Jeremy Glick, 31, of West Milford, N.J., also reached his wife by cell phone. His uncle, Tom Crowley, said Glick and others among the 45 on board must have decided they would go down fighting.
Of the four deadly crashes Tuesday, only Flight 93 had no victims on the ground. Officials have declined to speculate on the death toll in New York and at the Pentagon.
"Somebody made a heroic effort to keep the plane from hitting a populated area," said Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa. "I would conclude there was a struggle and a heroic individual decided 'I'm going to die anyway, I might as well bring the plane down here."'
Investigators on Wednesday searched through what little remained of the plane's wreckage for the voice data recorder, which could tell why the plane crashed. The flight had left Newark, N.J., for San Francisco about 8 a.m., but as it approached Cleveland, it abruptly turned back east, losing altitude and flying erratically toward Washington.
Deena Burnett turned on the television that morning to images of the two passenger jets slamming into the World Trade Center towers. She began to wonder about her husband. Her mother-in-law called to ask if she heard from him.
Then another call came. It was Tom.
"He said, 'Deena.' And I said, 'Are you OK?' And he said, 'No.' And I knew then that he was right in the middle of it," she said. "He said, 'I'm on the airplane, the airplane that's been hijacked and they've already knifed a guy. They're saying they have a bomb. Please call the authorities."'
He hung up.
Deena dialed 911, and dispatchers put her through to the FBI. She was on the phone with agents when the second call came.
"I told him in the second call about the World Trade Center, and he was very curious about that and started asking questions. He wanted any information that I had to help him," she said.
In their last conversation, Burnett, 38, told his wife that he and some other passengers were taking action.
"I told him to please sit down and not draw attention to himself, and he said no," she said.
According to Attorney General John Ashcroft, each of the four planes hijacked Tuesday was seized by three to six men armed with knives and box cutters.
Crowley said Glick had told his wife, Liz, that the hijackers were "looking and speaking Arabic" and that they had a "large red box" they said contained a bomb.
"Jeremy and the people around them found out about the flights into the World Trade Center and decided that if their fate was to die, they should fight," Crowley said. "At some point, Jeremy put the phone down and simply went and did what he could do."
In the Burnett household, the morning routine progressed throughout the calls. Deena Burnett made breakfast for their daughters, 5-year-old twins and a 3-year-old. Holding the phone in one hand, she "shooed them upstairs to get dressed and make their beds."
A friend took the children to school, and Deena Burnett, joined by local police, waited in front of the television. First came reports that another jetliner had hit the Pentagon. Then, the news that Flight 93 had crashed in a field about 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.
There were no survivors.
Her knees buckled; she wept.
Tom Burnett had been traveling on business as chief operating officer of Thoratec Corp., a medical research and development company. He and Deena had been married for nine years.
A day after the crash, it was hard for her to believe he was gone.
"When I got the ironing out to do I was ironing his clothes ... and realized he wasn't going to be wearing them," she said.
She said her husband would "absolutely laugh to hear himself called a hero."
"He was trying to get home to his family," she said. "I know that."
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.