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Linda Gronlund packed a lot into her 47 years. She was a gearhead. At age twelve she turned her Volkswagen Beetle into a kit sports car. She liked working on cars, and loved road racing. She liked to run after cars. She was a corner worker, and a good one. A woman used to making quick decisions when bad things happened. She was the chief of Flagging and Communications for the Northern New Jersey region of the SCCA. I worked with her at The Runoffs in 2000, but I can’t say I knew her.

She was also a lawyer who headed BMW’s division of environmental compliance. She was an EMT, who had also earned brown belt in karate. She was certified in scuba. She volunteered to help with autistic children. She was on vacation with her husband Joe DeLuca,whom she’d met in the Sports Car Club of America.

She and Joe were also passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 on September 11, 2001.

They were excited about their vacation, and celebrating Linda’s birthday in two days. But the flight had been delayed, and by the time it took off two planes had already slammed into the World Trade Center.

Traditionally in a hijacking the passengers should remain calm and wait. Most hijackers want to escape to somewhere, or make a political point. They aren’t suicidal. They don’t want to commit mass murder. In the old days a hostage could expect to fly from airport to airport. There are negotiations and passengers are released a few at a time. The hijackers surrender, or the plane is stormed by highly trained commandoes. While there have been disasters the rule of thumb is sit tight and be patient. When this is done you’ll have a great line to use in bars.

September 11 was different. The rules had changed. But that eighteen minute delay getting off the ground had made all the difference in an age of internet rated cell phones and PDAs. The hijackers were operating under new rules, but they expected the passengers remained under the old ones. Mohammed Atta told the passengers “Be calm, we’ll be landing soon. We’re heading back to New York.”

Flight 93 was airborne when Linda’s sister phoned to tell her about the hijackings. By then flight 93 had also been hijacked, and unlike the other flights, on 93 the passengers knew the rules had changed. They understood. Linda told her sister that she loved her, where her personal papers could be found, and exchanged final greetings.

Then Linda Gronlund and the other passengers changed the rules again.

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