102 Minutes that Changed America / Witness to 9/11
Battle for United Flight 93
At 8:42 am on September 11, 2001, United Flight 93, carrying 37 passengers and seven crew, took off from New Jersey bound for San Francisco. According to evidence pieced together by the cockpit voice recorder and cell phone calls made by passengers, a small group of passengers and crew, after hearing of the fates of the other flights that morning, decided to rush the cockpit. Soon after, the plane--just 20 minutes flying time out of Washington, D.C.--rolled onto its back and crashed into an empty field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
BATTLE FOR FLIGHT 93
At 8:42AM, United Flight 93 departed from Newark, NJ Liberty International Airport bound for San Francisco containing 37 passengers, five flight attendants, pilot Captain Jason Dahl and co-pilot First Officer Leroy Homer. That Tuesday morning, the flight scheduled to leave at 8:00AM, would depart late due to early morning air traffic, common at Newark International. At 9:00AM, Boston Center had received a transmission from Flight 11 stating, "We have some planes," though reports were still uncorroborated and they did not realize the statement had come from a hijacker. At 9:03AM, a second aircraft, United Flight 175 would hit the South Tower of the World Trade Center and the FAA, United and American Airlines were facing the horrifying possibility that they had multiple hijackings on their planes.
The news began to filter through the FAA, and United and American Airlines of the possible hijackings, but American Airlines did not send any cockpit warnings to their aircraft on September 11th. Ed Ballinger, a flight dispatcher for United Airlines, took the first steps to warn flights of possible cockpit intrusion and hijacking. At 9:19AM, Ballinger communicated a warning, "Beware any cockpit intrusion two a/c [aircraft] hit World Trade Center". Due to the large number of flights Ballinger was charged with, Flight 93 received his transmission at 9:23AM. Captain Jason Dahl responded at 9:26AM with puzzlement, "Ed, confirm latest message please. Jason." At 9:28AM, the hijackers attacked, according to the flight data recorder, the plane would suddenly drop 700 feet while cruising above eastern Ohio at 35,000 feet.
SOUNDS OF A STRUGGLE
Eleven seconds into the first of two radio transmissions, the Air Traffic Control center in Cleveland heard what sounded like, "MAYDAY" amid the sounds of a struggle. A few seconds later during the second transmission they could hear, "Hey, get out of here, get out of here." At 9:32AM, a hijacker could be heard over the flight data recorder. He directed this to passengers, "Ladies and Gentlemen: Here the Captain, please sit down, keep remaining sitting. We have a bomb onboard. So, sit." The flight data recorder also shows that the hijacker flying the plane reset the autopilot, turning the plane around to head east. The cockpit voice recorder also suggests that a flight attendant was being held captive, that she struggled with her captors and was killed or silenced in some other fashion.
During this time, the other hijackers moved the other passengers to the back of the plane. Several passengers and crew were able to connect with family, friends, colleagues or other personnel by cell phone and GTE air phones. These phone calls would continue on and off for the rest of United 93's flight. They provided the first hand accounts of what happened on the doomed flight and enabled passengers to gain critical information about the events of the day on the ground. The calls and information would in turn support the decision of the passengers and remaining crew to revolt against the hijackers. At 9:57AM the passengers and crew began their sustained counter-attack as recorded by the cockpit voice recorder. In response, Jarrah began to roll the plane left and then right and pitch it up and down to throw the attackers off balance. The hijackers must have believed the counter-attack would soon break through the cockpit door and the decision was made to put the plane down before reaching its planned destination. At 10:02AM, a voice was recorded, "Yes, put it in it, pull it down." Several other voices were chanting, "Allah is great. Allah is great," as the plane's control was turned hard to the right. The airplane then rolled onto its back and plowed into an empty field in Shanksville, PA at 580 miles per hour, about 20 minutes flying time outside of Washington, DC.
MEN AND WOMEN OF ACTION
The group of men and women on the early morning flight to San Francisco represented all parts of American society. Their collective courage during the counter-attack can never fully be known but will be revered in American mythology for generations to come. They were housewives and corporate executives; college students and retirees. They came from blue collar and white collar backgrounds; from New York to Honolulu, and many places in between. Ten passengers and crew were able to reach out over cell phones and GTE air phones to contact loved ones and colleagues. Together, they banded to change their fate and the fate of many on the ground.
RECOVERY AND RESOLUTION
There was not much left at the crash site. The impact of the fireball from the jet-fuel loaded 757 scorched hundreds of acres of earth around the site and set the surrounding trees ablaze for hours. The fuselage had burrowed so far into the earth that the "black box" was found at a depth of 25 feet below ground. The site contained little human debris or remains from the 33 passengers, seven crew, and four hijackers to collect for relatives and loved ones.
The people of Shanksville have formed a special bond with the mourning families and have come to accept its place in American history. Just as Gettysburg and Antietam could no longer go back to being sleepy farming communities, neither can Shanksville shed its new significance. Through a planned memorial, the people of Shanksville, the National Park Service and the families of Flight 93 intend to honor these heroes for their actions that day and to show the nation and the world that there was one bright moment on that dark day.
Jessalyn Test 10/22
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