Bill Ellmore said he was due to fly on one of the hijacked planes on September 11, 2001.
But at midnight the night before, he was convinced by a coworker to swap to a later flight.
He later fired her for poor performance, he said — “one of the most difficult firings I had to do.”
A former IBM exec’s story about a brush with death during the 9/11 terrorist attack went viral on Monday, partly because of his anecdote about how he ended up firing the person who unwittingly saved his life.
Bill Ellmore has shared his story every year since September 11, 2001, but it went particularly viral on X, formerly known as Twitter, on the anniversary in 2023.
“I was booked on United Flight 93 on 9/11, 2001, flying nonstop from Newark NJ to San Francisco CA,” he wrote in a post viewed some 11 million times.
“Around midnight the night before, a coworker called me urging me to change my flight to fly into San Jose instead.”
This meant giving up a first-class seat, he explained, and adding a stopover in Denver. He said he did it because the ground trip from San Jose would still get him to his meeting earlier.
However — even though he credits her intervention with saving his life, Ellmore said he was already due to fire her, and did so a few months after the attack.
“When I got to the airport, I watched people boarding flight 93 and I was upset that I was not leaving earlier, in my 1st class seat on a direct flight,” Ellmore’s post said. “I didn’t notice or care about the people as they were boarding, only myself.”
Ellmore would never take off, he said: while waiting to fly the news arrived that one of the Twin Towers had been hit by a plane.
Ellmore said he then saw the second plane strike the other tower.
United 93 didn’t hit either tower, but crashed into the ground in rural Pennsylvania after the passengers rose up and forced its hijackers to crash land before it could reach its target of Washington D.C.
Ellmore wrote that he “changed that day,” and has had a different outlook on life since.
Insider spoke to Ellmore after his story went viral, not least because of the detail about firing the colleague who prompted the change.
Ellmore told Insider he got off the aborted flight and was watching coverage of the attacks in the airport when he saw the third plane in the attacks — American Airlines flight 77 — hit the Pentagon.
“I realized our country was under attack and I decided to just go home to be with my family,” he said.
He was driving home when he heard about a fourth plane crashing in Pennsylvania. “Just as I pulled into my driveway behind my wife who was returning from a yoga class, they reported it was United Flight 93,” he said.
“I physically couldn’t get out of my car. I felt faint and my legs wouldn’t move.”
Ellmore’s story was already getting attention because people were amazed at the way in which he had been given a second chance at life. But it was the follow-up about his colleague that caught more people’s interest.
“Sad to say, I ultimately had to fire her for poor performance,” Ellmore said of the woman, after somebody asked about her. “It was difficult.”
Ellmore explained in another post that the reason he was originally booked on the original flight was “due to her performance issues,” which “didn’t improve afterwards.” He did not name the coworker, and Insider was not able to identify her.
Ellmore told Insider he didn’t tell the coworker when he changed his flight. Instead, per his account, she assumed he was on the plane and called his colleagues at IBM “to inform them I was dead.”
“We had been having a lot of issues with her which was one of the reasons I was flying to California in the first place,” Ellmore said. “I certainly was grateful for her phone call but she definitely tried to leverage it to get out of trouble.”
Ellmore said he had plans to terminate her position before 9/11 “due to poor performance,” and wrote in one of the posts that he “delayed letting her go until my boss insisted it happen.”
“It was one of the most difficult firings I had to do,” he said. “We did remain in touch for a little while after that and she was able to continue her career at another division within IBM.”
He added that the colleague had since described being fired as a “wake-up call,” and he did not regret the decision to let her go at all.
Ellmore has had an eventful few years since, he said. When speaking with Insider he said he was in Massachusetts helping care for his severely ill brother.
He is also currently wrapped up in a lawsuit against IBM about how he too was fired from the company in 2019.
He and several other colleagues are jointly alleging age discrimination, per a legal filing reviewed by Insider. The case is unresolved, and IBM didn’t respond to Insider’s requests for comment, either about the events of 9/11 or the lawsuit.
“In the past 22 years, I’ve been through a divorce and we had the 1,000 year flood in Nashville that destroyed a great deal of our belongings,” he said.
Ellmore’s story was the subject of some skepticism, as many people assume his story was too wild to be true.
Ellmore said he had documentation from the flights at home but was too far away to access it.
He did show Insider social-media posts of him telling the story on different 9/11 anniversaries as long ago as 2013. He also showed images of posts by his sister-in-law and daughter, and a text from his daughter, talking about his story from 9/11.
“Everyone who worked with me, my friends and my family, all know it’s true,” he said. “9/11 has become my new birthday of sorts.”
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