Author calls spouse from doomed plane
By Joe Cantlupe
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
September 12, 2001
WASHINGTON — "What should I tell the pilot to do? We’ve been hijacked," Barbara Olson, a former Southern California prosecutor, said matter-of-factly into her cell phone as she sat huddled with other passengers forced by knife-wielding assailants to the back of the jetliner.
On the other end of the line was her husband, Ted Olson, sitting in his Washington office, where he serves as solicitor general of the United States. Ted Olson, a former Los Angeles lawyer who argues President Bush’s cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, had no immediate answers for his wife, said a close friend of the couple.
But Ted Olson told her something grim that she didn’t know: Two airliners already had crashed into New York City’s World Trade Center that morning.
It was then they realized she probably was doomed.
Moments later, Barbara Olson died with 63 others when American Airlines Flight 77 screamed in a flat, low arc across the clear sky into the Pentagon.
Ted Olson declined to discuss the tragedy with a reporter. But he’d given details to Bob McConnell, a close friend of the couple, and McConnell shared some of those details in a telephone interview.
Since the Bush administration came into power, Ted and Barbara Olson have been the consummate Washington power couple.
Barbara Olson most recently was a commentator and author. Her books, "Final Days" and "Hell To Pay," were critical accounts of the Clinton years.
She once served as chief investigative counsel to the U.S. House’s Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, where she led several investigations of the Clinton administration, including its travel office firings.
According to McConnell’s account, Olson called her husband twice from the plane, with both conversations cut short by bad connections.
After she described being hijacked, she mentioned that the people who took over the plane carried "knives and cardboard cutters."
In the conversations with her husband, Barbara Olson did not describe the hijackers, but simply referred to them as "they," McConnell said.
Earlier that morning, while Ted Olson went to work in Washington, Barbara Olson drove to Dulles Airport, where she boarded the American Airlines flight destined for Los Angeles. She had business meetings scheduled there.
Shortly after takeoff, the hijackers ordered passengers to the back of the plane, according to the account Barbara Olson gave her husband.
When she called, Ted Olson was "watching the news about New York in his office. She did not know about that. The World Trade Center crashes. He knew," McConnell said.
Their first conversation was cut short and she called again.
"She showed no fear at all," McConnell said, referring to Ted Olson’s account. "She was trying to figure out what to do and how to do it."
"Do they know you’re on the phone?" Ted Olson asked his wife.
"Of course not," she said.
"He told her what happened in New York," McConnell said. "He doesn’t remember everything — the last part of their conversation was very personal."
That last phone conversation also was "cut off," McConnell said, but Ted Olson’s TV was still on.
Moments later, the solicitor general watched the screen and heard a newscaster speculate that a bomb had exploded at the Pentagon.
"He knew immediately that a bomb didn’t go off," McConnell said. "He knew it was the plane."