Stanford Report Online

Stanford Report, September 19, 2001
Stanford physician misses hijacked flight


On Sept. 11, Heather Ross, MD, a staff physician in Stanford Hospital's Emergency Department, had prepared to head back to Palo Alto from New York on United Airlines Flight 93. But luckily, Ross never boarded the ill-fated flight, which crashed in rural Pennsylvania after a terrorist hijacking.

As it happened, Ross did not get up in time to make the 8 a.m. flight, originally destined for San Francisco. She had gone back east to attend a friend's wedding two days before and had taken the opportunity to spend time with her parents, who live in Rockland County, about 20 miles north of New York.

"We were so excited seeing each other that we talked until 2 in the morning. I overslept a bit and my dad tried to wake me up, and I said, ‘The heck with it, I'm not going to take that flight,' " she said in a phone interview from New York last Thursday. "It's a strange twist, you know."

Ross, who is a flight surgeon for United, watched the World Trade Center attack on television, not realizing at the time that the flight she'd missed was in jeopardy.

"I saw the plane fly into the World Trade Center and I was horrified. I was very scared for all the people who were in the air at that point because there were flights mis-sing," she said. Her husband, John Ogle, MD, also a staff physician in the Emergency Department, said he became increasingly agitated as he watched TV news reports from the couple's Palo Alto home and "realized the unthinkable might have occurred." When reports indicated that one of the hijacked flights was United Flight 93, he said his emotions reached panic levels.

While he was frantically trying to look up the phone number for his wife's parents in New York, Ross called and reassured Ogle that she was OK.

"It was very weird. He's a pretty tough guy. He's in the California Air National Guard. This guy jumps from airplanes. He told me, ‘I've been to the Gulf War and I wasn't nervous then, but I was nervous because I thought you were on that flight.' "

After the two spoke, both turned their attention to the tragedy and how they might help. Ogle prepared for call-up orders from the National Guard. Ross volunteered her services as a board-certified emergency physician, but found there were enough medical professionals to care for the casualties. She remained stranded in New York by the air travel shutdown but hopes to return to Palo Alto this week.