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Legacy of Sept. 11 pilot comforts widow

By Susan Besze Wallace
Denver Post Staff Writer

Sunday, December 16, 2001 - Jason Dahl's cellphone bill still comes.


The goal of the Capt. Jason Dahl Scholarship Fund is to pay the college expenses of the children of the crew of Flight 93 and to establish flight school scholarships for young people enamored with the idea of becoming pilots. Dahl himself won his first flight lessons by entering an essay contest.

Contributions have included $948.95 from the young men of Boy Scout Troop 47, and $10,000 from US Bank employees who donated their Christmas Club money.

"People want to help. This is what would help," Sandy Dahl said. "I want to do everything I can to perpetuate what a wonderful person he was."

Contributions can be made to Foothills Bank, 12644 W. Indore Place, Littleton, CO 80127. `

His friends still call to leave messages they know will never be returned.

His widow still pays monthly, and still dials, just to hear his voice on the outgoing message.

Gradually over the past three months, their devastation over his death has become pride in his life, and his legacy is coming into focus.

Capt. Dahl piloted United Flight 93 on Sept. 11 because he asked to. At his request, Sandy Dahl traded for the flight on their home computer. He'd wanted to get back to Ken-Caryl Valley sooner to start celebrating their fifth wedding anniversary.

Days after the request, Dahl's terrorist-invaded plane took a nose dive in a Pennsylvania field as the world began reeling from flights slamming into the Pentagon and World Trade Center towers. Dahl had just begun to get radio communication of the terrorism.

"My perspective is that people are where they are supposed to be," Sandy Dahl, 41, said last week in her first newspaper interview since that day. "We both were."

Sandy, a 16-year flight attendant, had days earlier been granted a three-month leave by United for the holidays. She and Jason had hoped to pop over to London, a perk of the profession that took Jason's life and gives Sandy reason to keep living hers.

She said she will fly again, soon, after some self-defense classes and counseling.

"The airline family has been amazing. I look forward to the camaraderie," Sandy said. "I've been hearing about Osama bin Laden for years, in security class. I'm not going to let these people make me afraid."

The skating-rink-size pond on the side of the Dahl house - Jason called it Lake Sandy - was one of a dozen household projects he was into. They picked out the Volvo in the driveway together, the day before he died.

He was her best friend. He got all her jokes. Each loved the other's child from their previous marriages - her Jennifer, 23, and his Matt, 15.

Jason had already planned a Halloween hayride with his riding mower to take Sandy's granddaughter, Makayla, trick-or-treating. She was barely a year old.

Christmas will find Sandy elsewhere. The images are just too much, she said, when your husband lived to play Santa. And yet she's increasingly immersed herself in preserving the memory of a man eulogized for being a consummate giver - of praise, surprises, time, handiwork.

This past week United Airlines unveiled a new award named for Dahl that will honor aviators for decades to come. Sandy and Matt embraced upon seeing the plaque adorned with Dahl's smiling face.

"It's really hard not seeing Matt as much as I used to," Sandy said. "I miss him. It's been sort of a double whammy." Matt is now living full time with his biological mom.

Denver Mayor Wellington Webb has asked residents to send suggestions for a Flight 93 memorial. At a park near Ken-Caryl's Shaffer Elementary, a spruce tree and bench were dedicated in Dahl's honor. Sandy Dahl has been to the White House for ceremonies.

She and Jason's friends are most heartened by a scholarship fund coming to life. Started Sept. 13, the fund will ensure the college education of all crew members' children, and allow aspiring pilots to take flight lessons to test their dreams. That's how it started for Jason.

She sees 10 different scenarios about what happened to her husband on a flight now known for the heroics and cellular calls of passengers and crew. She is sure of only two things.

A coroner has told her Jason died "at the same time everyone else did." Blood testing, she said, determined that his death was from impact.

Secondly, recordings of the minutes before that impact sting interminably.

"How many lucky girls get to hear their husband murdered over and over on television? It's just wrong," she said.

"I believe the airplane was full of heroes. Some want to make it about three or four. But there may have been a woman without a cell or a man who couldn't use the (seat) phone. I just don't think anyone sat back and cried. And surely Jason didn't have the luxury of making a call."

Sandy and some of Jason's friends toasted Jason on what would have been his 44th birthday, in the field where he and 43 others died. Sandy brought 43 roses that dark November night.

"We went back the next day to the place where we'd prayed. There was dew on the roses. It felt like I was with him," she said. "I couldn't have gone any sooner. I didn't want to see airline parts."

"I will always be Jason's widow, no matter what the rest of life brings me," Sandy said.


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