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United Airlines Flight 93

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Sept. 11, 2001 attacks
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September 11, 2001
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United Airlines Flight 93
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9/11 Commission

United Airlines Flight 93 was a flight that regularly flew from Newark International Airport (now known as Newark Liberty International Airport) in Newark, New Jersey to San Francisco International Airport. On September 11, 2001, the aircraft on the flight was one of the four planes hijacked as part of the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack. It was the only one of the four planes that did not reach its target. This was apparently because passengers, alerted through phone calls, attempted to subdue the hijackers. The hijackers are thought to have crashed the plane to keep the passengers from gaining control.

Contents

Background

The other three planes hijacked that day were on the following flights: American Airlines flight 11, United Airlines flight 175 and American Airlines flight 77. The hijackers on Flight 93 were Saeed al-Ghamdi, Ahmed al-Haznawi, Ahmed al-Nami, and the suicide pilot Ziad Jarrah. They used knives and the threat of a bomb to take over the cockpit.

The plane was N591UA, a Boeing 757-222 on a morning route from Newark Liberty International Airport (then Newark International Airport) in Newark, New Jersey near New York, New York to San Francisco International Airport near San Francisco, California (EWR-SFO). It had 182 seats but was only carrying 37 passengers (including the hijackers) and 7 crew members. Some early accounts say 38 passengers - this was apparently due to the fact that one passenger had booked two seats. The four hijackers were seated in first class.

Unlike the other three flights, four, not five, hijackers were on board.

The flight

Most of the details of this account come from the 9/11 Commission Report.

The aircraft was scheduled to depart at 8:00, but did not lift off until 8:47 due to routine traffic. Had the flight departed on time, it would likely have been hijacked around the same time as the other flights, and there is little chance the passengers would have had time to organize a revolt.

At 9:24 AM, Flight 93 received the warning "Beware any cockpit intrusion -- two a/c [aircraft] hit World Trade Center." from flight dispatch. At 9:26 AM the pilot asked for confirmation of the message. Two minutes later, the hijackers took over the plane.

At about 9:28 AM., when both towers of the World Trade Center had already been hit, flight controllers in Cleveland overheard some commotion, and possibly screaming, from Flight 93's cockpit. 40 seconds later, more screams were heard. During this time the aircraft dropped 700 feet. The flight controllers tried to contact the pilot and received no reply. At 9:32, a man with an Arabic accent, probably Ziad Jarrah, transmitted to flight control the following: "Ladies and gentlemen, here the captain, please sit down, keep remaining sitting. We have a bomb on board. So sit." (It is likely that Jarrah was attempting to broadcast this over the plane's intercom, but did not understand that the message was transmitted to flight control instead.) The flight then reversed direction and began flying eastwards at a low altitude. At 9:39, air traffic controllers overheard Jarrah saying "Uh, this is the captain. Would like you all to remain seated. There is a bomb on board, and are going back to the airport, and to have our demands [unintelligible]. Please remain quiet." There were no further transmissions.

The plane crashed into a reclaimed coal-mining area near Stonycreek Township, Somerset County, Pennsylvania and Shanksville, Somerset County, Pennsylvania at 10:03 AM, according to the 9/11 Commission Report. Other accounts give 10:06 or 10:10 AM as the time of impact. According to eyewitness statements, the plane was upside down and swaying when it crashed nose-first into the field. It landed at an estimated speed of 580 miles (933 kilometers) per hour and left a crater about 115 feet (35 meters) deep. There were no survivors.

Authorities have since ruled that the deaths of the hijackers were suicides and that the deaths of the 40 others were homicides.

It is accepted that the destination was Washington, DC. The United States Capitol and the White House have been cited as targets, with the Capitol being the more likely of the two. Had the plane struck either building, it may not have killed anyone other than those on board the plane. Both buildings had been evacuated by 9:45 AM.

Passenger and crew phone calls

Much of what happened on the plane has been derived from the many phone calls made by passengers and crew, mainly through mobile phones. Ten passengers and two crew members made calls after the hijacking began. This was in marked contrast to the other three planes, where few phone calls were made. It has thus been possible to assemble a detailed yet incomplete picture of what happened on board through these calls.

All said that there were three rather than four hijackers. This has been interpreted as meaning that one of them (probably Jarrah, who was seated in the front row (seat 1B) and who is accepted as being the pilot) entered the cockpit right away and did not reemerge. He was thus not seen by the others on the plane.

In the passenger area, three hijackers wearing red bandannas herded most of the passengers and crew to the back of the plane. Two were armed with knives and the third held a box that supposedly contained a bomb. The remaining passengers were kept in the first class area. One male passenger was stabbed, probably before the herding started. This person was never named or described in the phone calls, but is believed by authorities to be Mark Rothenberg, the only first-class passenger who did not make a phone call. The pilot and first officer were also stabbed, probably during the takeover of the cockpit, and were critically wounded or killed at that point. A flight attendant was held in the cockpit and may have been stabbed and killed - she was most likely the chief flight attendant, Debra Welsh. It has being speculated by some that she attempted to perform CPR on either Mark Rothenberg or one of the pilots and refused to stop when the hijackers ordered her to.

The passengers and crew became aware through the phone calls of what had happened to Flights 11, 175 and 77.

One first-class passenger, Tom Burnett, called his wife four times about the hijacking; she alerted the FBI. He described the death of the male passenger, asked about the other planes and stated at the end of the fourth call: "Don't worry. We're going to do something."

Another first class passenger, Mark Bingham, called his mother and reported that three hijackers had taken over the plane. He gave little detail of them. He was apparently cut off at the end of his brief call, and did not return any of the phone calls from friends and family.

A coach-class passenger, Jeremy Glick, called his wife in New York and reported that three "Iranian looking" men had hijacked the plane, one of whom had a red box strapped to his waist which they claimed to be a bomb. Jeremy asked his wife if it was true that planes had crashed into the World Trade Center, as he had heard from other passengers. He then stated that he was going to participate in the charge.

Todd Beamer, another coach-class passenger, tried to place a credit card call through a phone located on the back of a plane seat but was routed to a customer-service representative instead, who passed him on to supervisor Lisa Jefferson. Beamer reported that one passenger was dead, and, later, that the pilot and first officer were wounded. He was also on the phone when the plane made its turn in a south-easterly direction, a move that had him briefly panicking. Later, he told the operator that some of the plane's passengers were planning "to jump" the hijackers.

Other persons who made phone calls to relatives include passenger Honor Wainio and flight attendants CeeCee Lyles and Sandra Bradshaw. They all mentioned charges to the cockpit by way of final words. Reference was also made by the flight attendants to using boiling water on the hijackers.

Several persons such as Glick, Beamer and Lyles put their phones down but did not hang up as they went away. This enabled those on the other end to listen to what happened next, but little could be heard or understood other than screams.

"Black Box" recorders

The flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder were recovered on the afternoon of September 13, and have yielded additional information about the final half hour of the flight. In April 2002, in an unprecedented action, the cockpit voice recorder was played by the FBI to relatives of the victims of the hijackers. Further details were released by the 9/11 Commission in July 2004.

Its full contents have not been made public. However, media reports of the tape indicate that the charge by the passengers and crew did take place. A woman can be heard pleading for her life at the start of the tape. This is thought to have been a flight attendant.

The tape was reported to have contained voices saying "Allahu Akbar" (Arabic for "God is great"), English shouts that included "Let's get them!" and "In the cockpit. If we don't, we'll die" then screaming and other sounds followed by silence. Sounds of crockery smashing have led to the belief that a food-trolley was used as a battering-ram to force the cockpit door open.

The hijackers themselves appear to have all retreated into the cockpit prior to the charge, and they can be heard praying, reassuring themselves, and discussing on separate occasions, in Arabic, whether to use a fireaxe in the cockpit on those outside or to cut off the oxygen to quell the charge. Jarrah said "Is that it? Shall we finish it off?" Another hijacker replied "No. Not yet. When they all come, we finish it off." Jarrah later said "Is that it? I mean, shall we put it down?" to which another hijacker replied "Yes, put it in it, and pull it down." then later "Pull it down! Pull it down!"

The 9/11 Commission found from the recordings that, contrary to what many have believed, the passengers did not succeed in reaching the cockpit before the plane crashed.


Unresolved matters

The recording, statements and phone calls have left some questions unanswered.

One unresolved matter is about the timing of the terrorists. The plane left Newark about 40 minutes late, because of congested runways. Whether the hijackers took this delay into account or not remains unclear. If they were operating 40 minutes behind schedule, then it was intended by those responsible that the plane arrive in Washington from the north as early as 9:40 AM, on or about the same time as Flight 77, which was crashed into the Pentagon.

A second uncertain area is the precise time of impact. US authorities insist that it was 10:03 AM, and the black box recording supports this. At least one phone call, that of Jeremy Glick, also ended at 10:03 AM. The 9/11 Commission also found that the crash occurred at 10:03. It gave the precise time that the plane dived as 10:02:23.

However, seismological stations reportedly recorded a tremor consistent with a plane crash at 10:06 AM (more precisely, 10:06:05). Nothing was recorded at 10:03 AM. The scientist who prepared the report latter told the 9/11 Commission that "seismic data is not definitive for the impact of UA 93." The 9/11 Commission has stated in its final report, that the seismic data is ..."far too weak in signal-to-noise ratio and far too speculative..." to be substantial.

There has been speculation that US authorities shot down Flight 93 to stop it reaching Washington. But the 9/11 Commission Report describes that the hijackers had decided to "finish it off" just before the plane crashed, and that the authority to shoot down passenger planes was not transmitted until after the flight had already crashed. This topic is covered under misinformation and rumors.

Aftermath

All those on board Flight 93 were nominated for a Congressional Gold Medal for valor on September 19, 2001. This has not been granted, but they have been the subject of numerous other honors, including a Government memorial passed on September 10, 2002. On September 24, 2001, President George W. Bush held a special meeting for the families of Flight 93's victims at the White House. (Ironically, it was at the time a violation of FAA regulations for airline personnel or passengers to resist a hijacking by force.)

The flight route designation for future flights on the same route was renumbered from Flight 93 to Flight 81 in October 2001 out of respect for those who died. Among the first passengers to fly this route was Lisa Beamer, wife of Todd Beamer.

Todd Beamer's "let's roll" has become a national catchphrase, with President Bush himself using it in several speeches.

Both Shanksville and Somerset County became much more well-known as the result of the crash. Somerset County now has a special council, run by the Somerset County Flight 93 Coordinator, which handles Flight 93 matters such as visitors' gifts and memorial services.

The crash was commemorated in ceremonies, public and private, on September 11, 2002 and 2003 at the field where the plane crashed.

Missing image
UAL_Flight_93_ceremony.jpg
Wreath-laying ceremony near the site of the crash of Flight 93 on the one-year anniversary of its hijacking.

See Also

External links

There are many websites on the Internet that deal with Flight 93 and its passengers and crew. A small sample of these is below.

Websites

News articles

  • MSNBC article 25-September-2001 (http://www.msnbc.com/news/632626.asp?pne=msn&cp1=1)
  • This Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story (http://www.post-gazette.com/headlines/20011028flt93mainstoryp7.asp) is one of the better known accounts of Flight 93.
  • A transcript of a noteworthy Newsweek article by Karen Breslau (http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/TotW/flight_93.html). This article has been criticised for being too subjective, but it gave several accurate glimpses into what the black box recordings said about five months before they were played to the families of Flight 93's victims.
  • Reuters Article (http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=topNews&storyID=5750011) on UA Flight 93 following the 9/11 Commission report, including a partial transcript of the cockpit voice recordings at the time of the crash.

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