Amid the devastating events and tragic losses of Sept. 11, 2001, a realization emerged after United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. The 40 passengers and crew members aboard that plane fought back against four hijackers.
And while they lost their lives that day, they saved untold others.
Now, just one day before the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Friends of Flight 93, a nonprofit organization devoted to recognizing and remembering those valiant individuals, is honoring another hero in memory of them.
Friday morning, it was revealed that veteran firefighter Sgt. Sivad Johnson would posthumously receive the first Flight 93 Heroes Award.
Friends of Flight 93 board member Emily Schenkel, who’s godmother Lorraine Bay was an attendant on that fateful flight, joined TODAY’s Craig Melvin to make the announcement live on TODAY.
“The 20th anniversary gave us kind of a unique opportunity to bring this back to light and to talk about it,” Schenkel explained about the creation of the award. “We wanted to have people remember what the heroes of Flight 93 did that day in their selfless acts and their courage and to recognize that those kind of acts of courage and bravery happen all the time.”
Johnson had no direct ties to Flight 93, but that wasn’t a factor when selecting him for the award. The purpose of the accolade is to simply celebrate others who also step up and display great courage to benefit others.
And Johnson, who lost his life last year after diving into a river to save three girls from drowning, is a shining example of that.
Several of Johnson’s family members were on hand Friday, including his sister Eboni Thomas, who nominated him for the Flight 93 Heroes Award.
She explained that she did so, “in the spirit of how those heroes on that flight just looked at this moment that they could do something to save many lives — Sivad did the same thing with his actions.”
The 49-year-old Detroit native was off duty when he attempted to rescue the teens who were struggling in the Detroit River. While the girls survived, it’s believed a rip current dragged Johnson underwater.
“I know my brother and I know that if he had to do it all over again, he would do the same,” Eboni said of Johnson.
But while Johnson’s story of heroism is known, the individual stories of those on Flight 93 can never be fully known. Their families can only imagine what took place aboard the plane and how their own loved ones took action 20 years ago.
“In some ways, it seems like it's been a long time,” Schenkel noted. “In other ways, it seems like it was just yesterday.”
As for her godmother’s acts of bravery, she said that her heart tells her Bay “was very busy comforting people, doing whatever she could do to support the passengers on that plane and the crew.”