Brian Sweeney calm and collected message in the face of danger remains one of the most powerful artifacts from the fateful day.
Editor's note: This article was originally on September 9, 2021. It has since been updated.
Twenty years after a hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the World Trade Center, Julie Sweeney Roth is still drawing strength from her husband's final words to her. When terrorists hijacked the plane that eventually crashed into the Twin Towers, Brian Sweeney, one of the passengers on it, was aware there was a good chance he would never see another day. In those dying minutes, all he could think of was his wife, Julie Roth. He left a message for her that remains one of the most powerful artifacts from that horrific day and it remains on display at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. Brian Sweeney is a 38-year-old former U.S. Navy pilot from Massachusetts and was a passenger on United Airlines Flight 175 that was hijacked on September 11, 2001, while en route from Boston to Los Angeles with 56 passengers on board. None of the passengers survived the crash into the South Tower.
"We assume he was calling from the back of the plane, because he said, 'They might come back here. I might have to go. We are going to try to do something about this,'" Julie told CNN in 2004. "Whether he was doing something or whether [the hijackers] were coming back, I don't know that...It was more speculative than fact as far as why he hung up the phone quickly — whether it's because they were charging the cockpit, or whether they were coming back to where he was and he didn't want to be seen on a phone," she added.
Your breath is checked, for a second, reading this. pic.twitter.com/jSgt335PoS— Stig Abell (@StigAbell) September 11, 2017
While it would have been natural to panic in the face of potential death, Sweeney was calm and collected. His voice was assured. "Hey Jules, this is Brian," said Sweeney, reported Bustle. "I'm on an airplane that has been hijacked... if things don't go well, and they're not looking good, I want you to know that I absolutely love you. I want you to do good, have good times, same with my parents. I'll see you when you get here. I want you to know that I totally love you. Bye, babe, hope I will call you." The message was sent three and a half minutes before the plane struck the South Tower of the World Trade Center. Sweeney had also called his mother, but she preferred to keep the message private.
For Julie, the message proved to be a lasting gift that still comforts her. “I was lucky Brian called and spoke to me on that message,” she said, reported PEOPLE. “He told me what he believed and I grasped onto that with all I had, and I’ve embraced life — I am living it as I know he would want me to do.” A year after losing her husband, she decided to share the message with the public in the hope it would help comfort those still processing the grief from that fateful day. “The priority to him in those moments was to let his loved ones know that he loved us and that it was okay to move forward and do what we needed to do,” said Julie. “Though he believed he would see us again, he wanted us to know it was all going to be okay no matter how it turned out, there are still times when I cry and I listen to his message,” she said. “It’s still a part of me and there’s probably still a lot of healing I have to do.”
Julie has since remarried and lives in New Jersey. She also volunteered for a decade at the 9/11 Tribute Museum, a family-run center that highlights the stories of victims and survivors of the attacks. It has helped her process the grief and learned that life is precious. “It’s one day at a time. That’s all this life is, one second at a time.” Brian's words are part of an installation at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, where visitors can listen to the message using a telephone.