Outback’s Sullivan Races Deadline for Flight 93 Donations

Outback Steakhouse Inc. co-founder Chris Sullivan said he knows what his friends William Minardi and Timothy Coughlin would do had they survived the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks: raise money to remember the victims.

Now Sullivan is doing just that, heading an effort to pay for a $62 million memorial and park dedicated to the 40 people who died when Flight 93 crashed into a Shanksville, Pennsylvania, field. Three months before the 10th anniversary of the attacks, Sullivan said the Flight 93 National Memorial campaign is still $13 million to $14 million shy of its goal.

“It’s been harder than I thought it would be,” he said in an interview today. “I really thought the checks would fly in. It’s been tough to get some of the big, big corporations in America to get involved in the project.”

The fund-raising drive has attracted 70,000 donors. The problem has been in finding individuals and companies willing to contribute “seven-digit” figures, said Sullivan, who has given $2 million himself and been chairman of the campaign since 2006.

Shanksville, a hamlet 82 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, isn’t near many large firms that can be tapped for donations.

Some companies have scaled back their giving as they focus on sustaining themselves in a faltering economy, said Sullivan, who served as Outback’s chief executive officer until 2005.

Requests for Money

Also, potential donors have been “inundated” with requests for money following Hurricane Katrina and other disasters, he said.

Sullivan said he is aware it took 60 years to erect a World War II memorial. A plan to construct a memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. still hasn’t been completed more than 40 years after the civil rights leader’s assassination.

Sullivan’s campaign has pledged to raise a net of $30 million, with the rest of the amount coming from the government.

The campaign has enough money to complete half the memorial and park by Sept. 10 and 11, the days of the dedication and commemoration ceremonies, he said.

Donors can contribute at https://myaccount.nationalparks.org/Page.aspx?pid=438

Among the features of the memorial will a “Tower of Voices,” a structure that contains 40 wind chimes; 40 maple-tree groves planted along the site’s perimeter; and a 150-acre bowl-shaped “Field of Honor” covered with wildflowers and grass.

‘In the Cockpit’

United Airlines Flight 93 took off at 8:42 a.m. from Newark Liberty International Airport bound for San Francisco, carrying a crew of seven and 37 passengers including four al-Qaeda hijackers, according to the 9/11 commission’s report.

At 9:28, the hijackers attacked, taking over the cockpit and announcing they had a bomb on board.

In phone calls to loved ones, passengers heard about the planes crashing into the World Trade Center earlier that morning and rushed the cockpit door in an attempt to wrest control from the hijackers.

“In the cockpit. If we don’t, we’ll die,” shouted one passenger caught on the cockpit recorder.

As the passenger assault continued, Ziad Jarrah, the hijacker pilot, plunged the plane at 580 miles per hour into the ground.

Jarrah’s target had been the U.S. Capitol or White House, the report said.

“He was defeated by the alerted, unarmed passengers of United 93,” the report said.

Management Class

On that day, Sullivan, who served as Outback’s chief executive officer until 2005, was teaching a company management class in Tampa, Florida.

He looked at the television image of the World Trade Center’s smoking columns and immediately thought about his friends “Billy” and “Timmy,” who worked at Cantor Fitzgerald LP.

“I went, ‘Oh my God, please,’” Sullivan said.

Working on the Flight 93 project gave Sullivan a chance to do more than just donate money to the memory of the people who died on Sept. 11, he said.

The Flight 93 passengers and crew “were the first soldiers on the war on terror,” Sullivan said. “They had the courage to step up and make a difference.”

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