Determined Father Pursues Sept. 11 Lawsuit

Mike Low, whose daughter Sara was a flight attendant and killed on Sept. 11, 2001.
This story is by CBS News' Jeff Glor and Phil Hirschkorn

Mike Low wishes his trial was already over. Alone among nearly 3,000 families that lost loved ones in the September 11th terrorist attacks, Low, from Batesville, Arkansas, has a trial date set for his wrongful death lawsuit against airlines and airport security companies.

"I want people to know 9/11 could have been prevented. These Saudi thugs could have been stopped," Low told CBS News. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers that day were from Saudi Arabia.

Low's 28-year-old daughter, Sara, was a flight attendant on American Airlines Flight 11, the first plane to strike the World Trade Center.

"This is an excruciating thing as a parent to continue this, but I don't have a choice," Low said. "I could just not quit until I know I've gone as far as I can go, because I would have her image hanging over me the rest of my life saying, 'You quit, you quit.'"

Low will be in Lower Manhattan next week for ceremonies to mark the eighth anniversary of the day when a pair of American Airlines planes and two belonging to United Airlines were commandeered by al Qaeda hijackers and crashed into the twin towers in New York, the Pentagon, outside Washington, and a field in Pennsylvania.

At first, American Airlines told Low and his wife, Bobbie, and their other daughter, Alyson, that Sara wasn't on Flight 11, but the employee had been reading the passenger list. Later, they found out the awful truth.

"The intensity of our loss has not changed. The pain, the emotion, and the loss is still there," Low said.

By the end of 2003, 98 percent of the Sept. 11 families renounced any legal claims against the airlines and airport security companies in return for payments from a government fund that totaled $7 billion. Though 96 families pursued lawsuits, all but three have settled, collecting a total of $500 million.

"If it was about money, I would have been gone a long time ago. It's about ferreting out all the untold stories of the days leading up to 9/11 and 9/11. It's accountability, it's exposure, it's shining a light on some of those areas that have been successfully hidden from the public," Low said.

Specifically, Low and other plaintiffs have pointed to breakdowns in passenger screening areas where the hijackers armed with box cutters, knives, and pepper spray passed by. The defendants include not only the airlines, but also Massport, which runs Boston's Logan Airport, where Flight 11 and the second trade center flight, United 175, originated; Globe Aviation Services, then the primary security contractor for American; and Boeing, the manufacturer of the hijacked 767 jets that lacked impenetrable cockpit doors.

The lawsuit has generated 1 million pages of documents that Low would like to eventually see deposited in a public archive after his trial, scheduled for next April in Manhattan federal court.

"It's not hard for me to continue when I know there is so much information that needs to be made public," Low said.

His attorneys from the firm of Motley Rice have taken more than 200 depositions, including from every airport security worker on duty September 11th in Boston, at Dulles Airport in northern Virginia, where American Airlines Flight 77, which struck the Pentagon, originated, and in Newark, where United Flight 93 had taken off only to crash in Shanksville, Pa. after a passenger uprising spurred by word of the other hijackings.

"There was an incredible amount of negligence, incapacity, and neglect, and that story has not been told," Low said. "To read the depositions is a difficult process. I get angry every time I read them because of so many missed opportunities."

While much of the evidence in the case remains under seal, Low calls the information he has learned about Sara's heroic actions aboard the doomed flight a gift.

"In the last 30 minutes of Sara's life, she was moving passengers to the back, helping keep them stay calm," Low says. "She helped identify the seat numbers of the hijackers, which we think was promptly sent to the right officials and hopefully had some effect on the other flights and people on board's decision - Flight 93 later in the day."

After earning a business degree and working three years in her father's limestone mining business, Sara Low became a flight attendant in 1999.

"She tried the banking for a while, but it wasn't exciting enough for her," her father said. "She said, 'Dad, I have to have my adventure."

Sara had always felt at home inside an aircraft. Her father, a private pilot, had taken her for flights since she'd been in diapers, falling asleep to the hum of the engines.

"Sara was a wonderful young lady, a delight, and a challenge at the same time," Low said. "Loved to travel, love good food and wine, and loved to go out and dance, a great athlete" who loved to ski and run and was a member a state champion high school track team.

Today, the family hosted its third annual Sara Low Memorial five kilometer race to raise money for a scholarship fund in her name - 264 people ran, raising $5,000.

Months after Sept. 11, some of Sara's remains were discovered at Ground Zero, along with a ring embedded with lapis stone that her father had given her. Mike Low regularly wears the ring on a chain around his neck along with a laminated photo of Sara.

"I am not seeking an apology....I want the all the facts known," Low said.

Desmond Barry, an attorney representing the defendants, had no comment on the lawsuit.

"When the trial is complete, I will have done all that I can do," Low said. "And when I see that old man in the mirror in the morning, I'll be comfortable."