SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

September 6, 2011

Computer glitch kept flight attendant off 9/11 plane

Stewardess: 'God has plans for me'


CNHI News Service

SALEM, N.H. — A computer glitch saved Cheryl Currao's life and also changed it forever.

Currao, of Salem, N.H., was an American Airlines flight attendant in 2001. In the days leading up to 9/11, she was desperately trying to swap assignments so she could be on American Airlines Flight 11 to Los Angeles that morning. She wanted to get her work out of the way and return to Boston in time to be with her mother, who was scheduled to undergo cancer surgery later in the week.

“The purser’s position — the lead flight attendant — was open on the computer when I checked," she recalls. "But I got an ‘error message,’ which was highly unusual. The computer wouldn’t let me put the trade through.”

Had Currao gotten on the flight to LA when it left Logan Airport the morning of Sept. 11, she never would have seen her mother again, or marry the man she loved, or have children, or live in a nice home out in the country, or have all the good things in life she has enjoyed for 10 years.

She would have been one of the nine flight attendants who perished with 81 passengers and two pilots when the five al-Qaida terrorists commandeered Flight 11 and flew it into the World Trade Center's north tower at 8:46 a.m.

“9/11 made me realize God has plans for me,” said Currao, now 41.

After 9/11, Currao took a break from flying to deal with the emotional pain and grief she felt after her brush with one of America’s greatest tragedies. She also formed a small, informal support group of a half-dozen other American Airlines flight attendants to cope with the new fear and anguish of flying. They dubbed it “The Fly Gals” club.

“I knew all the flight attendants and pilots on that flight,” said Currao, recalling conversation she had with two of her doomed colleagues — Barbara Arestegui and Sara Low – on Sept. 10 when they flew into Boston from San Francisco with her.

“Both of them kept saying ‘I just don’t feel like flying tomorrow.’ Both were trying to get off of it,” Currao said. “I was trying to trade to be on that flight. But they were trying to drop theirs."

Currao said “The Fly Gals” club was started after she attended the funeral of flight attendant Karen Martin, 40, of Danvers, Mass., killed on Flight 11. She said the purpose was to maintain a sense of normalcy in the lives of other flight attendants —“to grasp onto something stable when you’re feeling emotionally unstable … sharing our raw anguish and raw emotions — things that we understood, but that the outside world would have a problem understanding. We met out of a sense of unity and a desire to hold onto something sacred together. We get together once a month.”

Family and friends have always been important to Currao, though she wondered whether she would ever settle down. “I was always a free spirit and ultra-independent. I really didn’t need anybody. I was very nomadic and loved it,” she said.

But 9/11 made her more reflective, she said, “reorganized my way of thinking. I realized I did have it in me to get married and have children, and perhaps part of me always wanted that.”

She got engaged in April 2002, and the former Cheryl Thurrott married Giovanni Currao, now 56, an Italian immigrant, a year later. She retired from American Airlines in 2007 for health reasons. Today, she and her husband are co-owners of a hair salon and spa. They have two daughters, Alexa, 7, and Kara, 2.

Some other things changed, too. Her mother, Beverly Thurrott, now 66, is in remission from her cancer, and Cheryl volunteers for groups that help the poor and unfortunate.

Currao said she will pray for the victims of 9/11 and their families on the 10th anniversary of the attack.

“It makes you realize, what you have today in the here and now, you have to be thankful for and appreciate,” said Currao. “You can never assume tomorrow that you are going to awaken. If you have dreams, you need to pursue them. If you love somebody, you need to tell them."

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Details for this story were provided by The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass.