United Airlines Flight 93

UA 93's flight path on September 11, 2001, from Newark, New Jersey, to Stonycreek Township, Pennsylvania.
UA 93’s flight path on September 11, 2001, from Newark, New Jersey, to Stonycreek Township, Pennsylvania.

United Airlines Flight 93 was a domestic scheduled passenger flight that was hijacked by four Al-Qaeda terrorists on board, as part of the September 11 attacks. It crashed into a field near the Diamond T. Mine in Stonycreek Township, Somerset County, Pennsylvania, near Indian Lake and Shanksville, during an attempt by the passengers and crew to regain control, killing all 44 people aboard including the four hijackers. No one on the ground was injured. The aircraft involved, a Boeing 757–222, was flying United Airlines’ daily scheduled morning domestic flight from Newark International Airport in New Jersey to San Francisco International Airport in California.

The hijackers breached the aircraft’s cockpit and overpowered the flight crew approximately 46 minutes after takeoff. Ziad Jarrah, a trained pilot, took control of the aircraft and diverted it back toward the east coast of the United States in the direction of Washington, D.C. Although the specific target is not known, it is believed that the hijackers were intending to crash the plane into either the White House or the Capitol Building.

After the hijackers took control of the plane, several passengers and flight attendants were able to make phone calls and learn that attacks had already been made by other hijacked airliners on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia. Many of the passengers then attacked the hijackers in an attempt to gain control of the aircraft. During the struggle, the plane crashed into a field near a reclaimed strip mine in Stonycreek Township, near Indian Lake and Shanksville in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, about 65 miles (105 km) southeast of Pittsburgh and 130 miles (210 km) northwest of Washington, D.C. A few witnessed the impact from the ground and news agencies began reporting the event within an hour. Vice President Dick Cheney, in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center deep under the White House, upon learning that United Airlines Flight 93 had crashed in Pennsylvania, is reported to have said, “I think an act of heroism just took place on that plane.”

Subsequent analysis of the flight recorders recovered from the crash site revealed how the actions taken by the passengers prevented the aircraft from reaching the hijackers’ intended target. Of the four aircraft hijacked on September 11 – the others were American Airlines Flight 11, United Airlines Flight 175 and American Airlines Flight 77 – United Airlines Flight 93 was the only one that did not reach its hijackers’ intended target.

A temporary memorial has stood on the site since the attacks; the first phase of construction of the permanent Flight 93 National Memorial at the crash site was dedicated on September 10, 2011.

Hijackers

An American flag now flies over Gate 17 of Terminal A at Newark Liberty International Airport, departure gate of United 93.
An American flag now flies over Gate 17 of Terminal A at Newark Liberty International Airport, departure gate of United 93.

The hijacking of Flight 93 was led by Ziad Jarrah, a member of al-Qaeda. Jarrah was born in Lebanon to a wealthy family and had a secular upbringing. He intended to become a pilot and moved to Germany in 1996, enrolling at the University of Greifswald to study German. A year later, he moved to Hamburg and began studying aeronautical engineering at the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences. While living in Hamburg, Jarrah became a devout Muslim and associated with the radical Hamburg cell.

In November 1999, Jarrah left Hamburg for Afghanistan, where he spent three months. While there, he met with al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in January 2000. Jarrah returned to Hamburg at the end of January and obtained a clean passport in February by reporting his passport as stolen.

In May, Jarrah received a visa from the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, and he arrived in Florida in June 2000. There, he began taking flying lessons as well as training in hand-to-hand combat. Jarrah maintained contact with his girlfriend in Germany and his family in the months preceding the attacks. This close contact upset Mohamed Atta, the tactical leader of the plot, and al-Qaeda planners may have considered another operative, Zacarias Moussaoui, to replace him if he backed out.

Four “muscle” hijackers were trained to storm the cockpit and overpower the crew, and three accompanied Jarrah on Flight 93. The first, Ahmed al-Nami, arrived in Miami, Florida, on May 28, 2001, on a six-month tourist visa with United Airlines Flight 175 hijackers Hamza al-Ghamdi and Mohand al-Shehri. The second Flight 93 hijacker, Ahmed al-Haznawi, arrived in Miami on June 8 with Flight 11 hijacker Wail al-Shehri. The third Flight 93 muscle hijacker, Saeed al-Ghamdi, arrived in Orlando, Florida, on June 27 with Flight 175 hijacker Fayez Banihammad.

On August 3, 2001, an intended fifth hijacker, Mohammed al-Qahtani, flew into Orlando from Dubai. He was questioned by officials, who were dubious that he could support himself with only $2,800 cash to his name, and suspicious that he intended to become an illegal immigrant as he was using a one-way ticket. He was sent back to Dubai, and subsequently returned to Saudi Arabia.

Ziad Jarrah and Saeed al-Ghamdi’s passports were recovered from the Flight 93 crash site. Jarrah’s family asserted that he had been an “innocent passenger” on board the flight.

Flight

The aircraft involved in the hijacking was a Boeing 757–222, registration N591UA, delivered to the airline in 1996. The airplane had a capacity of 182 passengers; the September 11 flight carried 37 passengers and seven crew, a load factor of 20 percent, considerably below the 52 percent average Tuesday load factor for Flight 93. The seven crew members were Captain Jason Dahl, First Officer LeRoy Homer Jr., and flight attendants Lorraine Bay, Sandra Bradshaw, Wanda Green, CeeCee Lyles and Deborah Welsh.

Boarding:

The four hijackers checked in for the flight between 07:03 and 07:39 Eastern Time. At 07:03, Ghamdi checked in without any luggage while Nami checked in two bags. At 07:24, Haznawi checked in one bag and at 07:39, Jarrah checked in without any luggage. Haznawi was the only hijacker selected for extra scrutiny by the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS). His checked bag underwent extra screening for explosives, with no extra scrutiny required by CAPPS at the passenger-security checkpoint. None of the security checkpoint personnel reported anything unusual about the hijackers.

Haznawi and Ghamdi boarded the aircraft at 07:39 and sat in first class seats 6B and 3D respectively. Nami boarded one minute later and sat in first class seat 3C. Jarrah boarded at 07:48 and sat in seat 1B. The aircraft was scheduled to depart at 08:00 and pushed back from gate A17 at 08:01. It remained delayed on the ground and did not take off until 08:42 because of heavy airport congestion. The three other hijacked flights all departed within fifteen minutes of their scheduled times. By the time Flight 93 became airborne, Flight 11 was four minutes away from hitting the North Tower and Flight 175 was being hijacked; Flight 77 was climbing normally and was nine minutes away from being hijacked. By 09:02, one minute before Flight 175 hit the South Tower, Flight 93 reached its cruising altitude of 35,000 feet (11,000 m). With the attacks unfolding, air traffic officials began issuing warnings through the Aircraft Communication Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS). Ed Ballinger, the United flight dispatcher, began sending text cockpit warnings to United Airlines flights at 09:19, 17 minutes after he became aware of Flight 175’s impact. As Ballinger was responsible for multiple flights, he did not send the message to Flight 93 until 09:23. Ballinger received a routine ACARS message from Flight 93 at 09:21. At 09:22, after learning of the events at the World Trade Center, LeRoy Homer’s wife, Melody Homer, had an ACARS message sent to her husband in the cockpit asking if he was okay. At 09:24, Flight 93 received Ballinger’s ACARS warning, “Beware any cockpit intrusion—two a/c [aircraft] hit World Trade Center”. At 09:26, the pilot sent an ACARS message back, “Ed, confirm latest mssg plz —Jason”. At 09:27:25, the flight crew responded to routine radio traffic from air traffic control. This was the last communication made by the flight crew before the hijacking.

Hijacking:

The hijacking on Flight 93 began at 09:28. By this time, Flights 11 and 175 had already crashed into the World Trade Center and Flight 77 was within 9 minutes of striking the Pentagon. The hijackers on those flights had waited no more than 30 minutes to commandeer the aircraft, most likely striking after the seat-belt sign had been turned off and cabin service had begun. It is unknown why the hijackers on Flight 93 waited approximately 46 minutes to begin their assault. At 09:28:17, First Officer Homer managed to transmit to the ground, shouting, “Mayday! Mayday! Get out!” over the radio amidst sounds of violence. A Cleveland Air Traffic Controller replied, “Somebody call Cleveland?” but received no reply.

Thirty-five seconds after the first Mayday call, the crew made another transmission. Homer shouted, “Mayday! Mayday! Get out of here! We’re all gonna die here!” The flight suddenly dropped 685 feet (209 m) in half a minute before the hijackers managed to stabilize the aircraft. The exact time at which Flight 93 came under the hijackers’ control cannot be determined. Officials believe that at 09:28, the hijackers assaulted the cockpit and moved the passengers to the rear of the plane at the same time to minimize any chance of either the crew or the passengers interfering with the attack. While the other hijacked flights were taken by five-man teams, Flight 93 had only four hijackers, leading to speculation of a possible 20th hijacker. The 9/11 Commission believes that Mohammed al-Qahtani was the likely candidate for this role, but was unable to participate as he had been denied entry into the United States one month earlier. With many passengers saying in phone calls that they saw only three hijackers, the 9/11 Commission believes Jarrah remained seated until the crew were overpowered and passengers were moved to the back of the aircraft and then took over the flight controls out of sight of the passengers.

The flight recordings suggest that Dahl and Homer survived the initial attack and were still alive on the floor of the cockpit after the hijackers took over the plane, as sounds of moaning can be heard and the hijackers were rebuking someone in the cockpit. Dahl’s and Homer’s wives believe that Dahl and Homer took actions to interfere with the hijackers, including putting the plane on autopilot just before the hijackers took over, and switching the output of the pilots’ microphones from the cabin address speakers to the radio transmitter so that Jarrah’s attempts to communicate with the passengers would instead be heard by air traffic controllers.

The cockpit voice recorder began recording the final 30 minutes of Flight 93 at 09:31:57. At this moment, it recorded Jarrah announcing, “Ladies and gentlemen: here the captain. Please sit down, keep remaining seating. We have a bomb on board. So sit.” The controller understood the transmission, but chose to respond, “Calling Cleveland center, you’re unreadable. Say again, slowly.” A woman, presumably first-class flight attendant Debbie Welsh, is heard struggling with the hijackers before being killed or otherwise silenced, followed by one of the hijackers saying in Arabic, “Everything is fine. I finished.”

Jarrah instructed the autopilot to turn the plane and head east at 09:35:09. The aircraft ascended to 40,700 feet (12,400 m) and air traffic controllers immediately moved several aircraft out of Flight 93’s flightpath.

At 09:39, two minutes after Flight 77 impacted the Pentagon, air traffic controllers overheard Jarrah say, “Here’s the captain: I would like to tell you all to remain seated. We have a bomb aboard, and we are going back to the airport, and we have our demands. So please remain quiet.” Air traffic controllers did not hear from the flight again. Passengers and crew began making phone calls to officials and family members starting at 09:30 using GTE airphones and mobile phones. Altogether, the passengers and crew made 35 airphone calls and two cell phone calls from the flight. Ten passengers and two crew members were able to successfully connect, providing information to family, friends, and others on the ground. Tom Burnett made several phone calls to his wife beginning at 09:30:32 from rows 24 and 25, though he was assigned a seat in row four. Burnett explained that the plane had been hijacked by men claiming to have a bomb. He also said that a passenger had been stabbed with a knife and that he believed the bomb threat was a ruse to control the passengers. During one of Tom Burnett’s calls, his wife informed him of the attacks on the World Trade Center and he replied that the hijackers were “talking about crashing this plane. … Oh my God. It’s a suicide mission.” He began pumping her for information about the attacks, interrupting her from time to time to tell the others nearby what she was saying. Then he hung up. He ended his last call by saying, “Don’t worry, we’re going to do something.” An unknown flight attendant attempted to contact the United Airlines maintenance facility at 09:32:29. The call lasted 95 seconds, but was not received as it may have been in queue. Flight attendant Sandra Bradshaw called the maintenance facility at 09:35:40 from row 33. She reported the flight had been hijacked by men with knives who were in the cabin and flight deck and had stabbed another flight attendant, possibly Debbie Welsh.

“Jack, pick up sweetie, can you hear me? Okay. I just want to tell you, there’s a little problem with the plane. I’m fine. I’m totally fine. I just want to tell you how much I love you.”
Message left by pregnant passenger Lauren Grandcolas at 09:39:21.

Mark Bingham called his mother at 09:37:03 from row 25. He reported that the plane had been hijacked by three men who claimed to have a bomb. Jeremy Glick called his wife at 09:37:41 from row 27 and told her the flight was hijacked by three dark-skinned men who looked “Iranian”, wearing red bandanas and wielding knives. Glick remained connected until the end of the flight. He reported that the passengers voted whether to “rush” the hijackers. The United air traffic control coordinator for West Coast flights, Alessandro “Sandy” Rogers, alerted the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Herndon Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, that Flight 93 was not responding and was off course. A minute later, the transponder was turned off, but the Cleveland controller continued to monitor the flight on primary radar. The Herndon Center relayed information on Flight 93 to FAA headquarters. Joseph DeLuca called his father at 09:43:03 from row 26 to inform him the flight had been hijacked. Todd Beamer attempted to call his wife from row 32 at 09:43:48, but was routed to GTE phone operator Lisa D. Jefferson. Beamer told the operator that the flight was hijacked and the pilots were on the floor dead or dying. He said one of the hijackers had a red belt with what looked to be a bomb strapped to his waist. When the hijackers veered the plane sharply south, Beamer briefly panicked, exclaiming, “We’re going down! We’re going down!” Meanwhile, the hijackers were not able to disengage the autopilot. Dahl continued to struggle in the cockpit, refusing to allow a hijacker to deactivate the autopilot so he could fly the plane manually. The hijackers were heard to say “Inform them, and tell him to talk to the pilot; bring back the pilot”, possibly referring to Homer (CVR transcripts). A United employee in San Francisco, California, sent an ACARS message to the flight at 09:46, “Heard report of incident. Plz confirm all is normal.” Linda Gronlund called her sister, Elsa Strong, at 09:46:05 and left her a message saying there were “men with a bomb.”

Flight attendant CeeCee Lyles called her husband at 09:47:57 and left him a message saying the plane had been hijacked. Marion Britton called her friend, Fred Fiumano, at 09:49:12. Fiumano recalled, “she said, ‘We’re gonna. They’re gonna kill us, you know, We’re gonna die.’ And I told her, ‘Don’t worry, they hijacked the plane, they’re gonna take you for a ride, you go to their country, and you come back. You stay there for vacation.’ You don’t know what to say—what are you gonna say? I kept on saying the same things, ‘Be calm.’ And she was crying and—you know—more or less crying and screaming and yelling.” Flight attendant Sandra Bradshaw called her husband at 09:50:04 and told him she was preparing scalding water to throw at the hijackers. Passenger Lauren Grandcolas called her husband twice, once before takeoff and once during the hijacking. He missed both of her calls. She then passed her phone to Honor Elizabeth Wainio. Wainio called her stepmother at 09:53:43 and concluded, four and a half minutes later, by saying, “I have to go. They’re breaking into the cockpit. I love you.” Jarrah dialed in the VHF omnidirectional range (VOR) frequency for the VOR navigational aid at Reagan National Airport at 09:55:11 to direct the plane toward Washington, D.C. Bradshaw, on the phone with her husband, said “Everyone is running up to first class. I’ve got to go. Bye.” Beamer told Jefferson that the group was planning to “jump on” the hijackers and fly the plane into the ground before the hijackers’ plan could be followed through. Beamer recited the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm with Jefferson, prompting others to join in. Beamer requested of Jefferson, “If I don’t make it, please call my family and let them know how much I love them.” After this, Jefferson heard muffled voices and Beamer clearly answering, “Are you ready? Okay. Let’s roll.” These were Beamer’s last words to Jefferson.

During the hijacking, Flight 93 passed within 1,000 feet (300 m) (instead of the normal 2,000 feet (610 m)) of a NASA KC-135 returning from a microgravity flight over Lake Ontario. NASA pilot Dominic Del Rosso recalled how odd the silence on the radio was that morning.

Passenger revolt:

The passenger revolt on Flight 93 began at 09:57, after the passengers took a vote amongst themselves about whether to act. By this time, Flight 77 had struck the Pentagon and Flights 11 and 175 had struck the World Trade Center towers. As the revolt began and the hijackers started maneuvering the plane around violently, the plane left its Washington, D.C. course. The hijackers in the cockpit became aware of the revolt at 09:57:55, Jarrah exclaiming, “Is there something? A fight?”

Edward Felt dialed 9-1-1 from his cell phone from the rear lavatory of the aircraft seeking information at 09:58. His call was answered by dispatcher John Shaw, and Felt was able to tell him about the hijacking before the call was disconnected. Multiple news reports (originally based on a 9-1-1 supervisor’s account after having overheard the call) asserted that Edward Felt reported hearing an explosion and seeing smoke from an undetermined location on the plane. These reports were not corroborated by Shaw or Felt’s wife, Sandra, who listened to the recording afterwards.

CeeCee Lyles called her husband once more from a cell phone and told him the passengers were forcing their way into the cockpit. Jarrah began to roll the airplane left and right to knock the passengers off balance. He told another hijacker in the cockpit at 09:58:57, just two seconds before the South Tower collapsed, “They want to get in here. Hold, hold from the inside. Hold from the inside. Hold.” Jarrah changed tactics at 09:59:52 and pitched the nose of the airplane up and down to disrupt the assault.

The cockpit voice recorder captured the sounds of crashing, screaming, and the shattering of glass and plates. Three times in a period of five seconds there were shouts of pain or distress from a hijacker outside the cockpit, suggesting a hijacker that was standing guard outside the cockpit was being attacked by the passengers. Jarrah stabilized the plane at 10:00:03. Five seconds later, he asked, “Is that it? Shall we finish it off?” Another hijacker responded, “No. Not yet. When they all come, we finish it off.” Jarrah once again pitched the airplane up and down. A passenger in the background cried, “In the cockpit. If we don’t, we’ll die” at 10:00:25. Sixteen seconds later, another passenger yelled, “Roll it!”, possibly referring to using the food cart. The voice recorder did record the sound of the passengers using the food cart as a battering ram against the cockpit door. Jarrah ceased the violent maneuvers at 10:01:00 and said, “Allāhu Akbar” (“God is Great”) several times. He then asked another hijacker, “Is that it? I mean, shall we put it down?” The other hijacker responded, “Yes, put it in it, and pull it down.” The passengers continued their assault and at 10:02:17, a male passenger said, “Turn it up!” A second later, a hijacker said, “Pull it down! Pull it down!” At 10:02:33, Jarrah was heard to plead, “Hey! Hey! Give it to me! Give it to me! Give it to me! Give it to me! Give it to me! Give it to me! Give it to me! Give it to me!”, possibly referring to the plane’s yoke. The airplane plummeted into a nosedive with the yoke turned hard to the right. The airplane rolled upside down, and one of the hijackers began shouting, “Allāhu Akbar”. Amidst the continued sounds of the passenger counterattack, the aircraft picked up speed, whooshing and shrieking picked up on the recorder, and then finally plowed into an empty field in Stonycreek, Pennsylvania, about 20 minutes’ flying time from Washington, D.C. The last entry on the voice recorder was made at 10:03:09. The last piece of flight data was recorded at 10:03:10. There is some controversy between some of the family members of the passengers and the investigative officials as to whether the passengers managed to breach the cockpit. The 9/11 Commission Report concluded that “the hijackers remained at the controls but must have judged that the passengers were only seconds from overcoming them.” However, many of the passengers’ family members, having heard the audio recordings, believe that the passengers breached the cockpit and killed at least one of the hijackers guarding the cockpit door; some interpreted the audio as suggesting that both the passengers and hijackers struggled for control of the yoke.

“Are you guys ready? Okay. Let’s roll!”
Todd Beamer’s last words heard by operator Lisa Jefferson.

Crash:

Flight 93 crash site.
Flight 93 crash site.

At 10:03:11, near Indian Lake and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the plane crashed into a field near a reclaimed coal strip mine known as the Diamond T. Mine owned by PBS Coals in Stonycreek Township in Somerset County. The National Transportation Safety Board reported that the flight impacted at 563 mph (906 km/h, 252 m/s, or 489 knots) at a 40-degree nose-down, inverted attitude. The impact left a crater eight to ten feet deep (c. 3 m), and 30 to 50 feet wide (c. 12 m). All 44 people on board died. Many media reports and eyewitness accounts said the time of the crash was 10:06 or 10:10; an initial analysis of seismographic data in the area concluded that the crash occurred at 10:06, but the 9/11 Commission report states that this analysis was not definitive and was retracted. Other media outlets and the 9/11 Commission reported the time of impact as 10:03, based on when the flight recorders stopped, analysis of radar data, infrared satellite data, and air traffic control transmissions.

Piece of fuselage found at crash site.
Piece of fuselage found at crash site.

Kelly Leverknight, a local resident, was watching news of the attacks when she heard the plane. “I heard the plane going over and I went out the front door and I saw the plane going down. It was headed toward the school, which panicked me, because all three of my kids were there. Then you heard the explosion and felt the blast and saw the fire and smoke.” Another witness, Eric Peterson, looked up when he heard the plane, “It was low enough, I thought you could probably count the rivets. You could see more of the roof of the plane than you could the belly. It was on its side. There was a great explosion and you could see the flames. It was a massive, massive explosion. Flames and then smoke and then a massive, massive mushroom cloud.” Val McClatchey had been watching footage of the attacks when she heard the plane. She saw it briefly, then heard the impact. The crash knocked out the electricity and phones. McClatchey grabbed her camera and took the only known picture of the smoke cloud from the explosion. Ten years after 9/11, a video of the rising smoke cloud filmed by Dave Berkebile (deceased by 2011) from his yard located eight miles away from the crash site was published on YouTube.

Debris of Flight 93 found at crash site. The United Airlines "Battleship Gray" livery used on the aircraft is visible.
Debris of Flight 93 found at crash site. The United Airlines “Battleship Gray” livery used on the aircraft is visible.

The first responders arrived at the crash site after 10:06. Cleveland Center controllers, unaware the flight had crashed, notified the Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) at 10:07 that Flight 93 had a bomb on board and passed the last known position. This call was the first time the military was notified about the flight. Ballinger sent one final ACARS message to Flight 93 at 10:10, “Don’t divert to DC. Not an option.” He repeated the message one minute later. The Herndon Command Center alerted FAA headquarters that Flight 93 had crashed at 10:13. NEADS called the Washington Air Route Traffic Control Center for an update on Flight 93 and received notification that the flight had crashed.

At 10:37, CNN correspondent Aaron Brown, covering the collapse of the World Trade Center, announced, “We are getting reports and we are getting lots of reports and we want to be careful to tell you when we have confirmed them and not, but we have a report that a 747 is down in Pennsylvania, and that remains unconfirmed at this point.” He followed that up at 10:49 by reporting that, “We have a report now that a large plane crashed this morning, north of the Somerset County Airport, which is in western Pennsylvania, not too terribly far from Pittsburgh, about 80 miles or so, a Boeing 767 jet. Don’t know whose airline it was, whose airplane it was, and we don’t have any details beyond that which I have just given you.” In the confusion, he also erroneously reported a second hijacked plane heading for the Pentagon after the crash of the first.

Aftermath

DNA recovery at the crash site.
DNA recovery at the crash site.

Flight 93 fragmented violently upon impact. Most of the aircraft wreckage was found near the impact crater. Investigators found some very light debris including paper and nylon scattered up to eight miles (13 km) from the impact point in New Baltimore, Pennsylvania. Other tiny aircraft fragments were found 1.5 miles (2.4 km) away at Indian Lake, Pennsylvania. All human remains were found within a 70-acre (28 ha) area surrounding the impact point. Somerset County Coroner Wally Miller was involved in the investigation and identification of the remains. In examining the wreckage, the only human body part he could see was part of a backbone. Miller later found and identified 1,500 pieces of human remains totaling about 600 pounds (272 kg), or eight percent of the total. The rest of the remains were consumed by the impact. Investigators identified four victims by September 22 and eleven by September 24. They identified another by September 29. Thirty-four passengers were identified by October 27. All the people on board the flight were identified by December 21. Human remains were so fragmented that investigators could not determine whether any victims were dead before the plane crashed. Death certificates for the 40 victims listed the cause of death as homicide and listed the cause of death for the four hijackers as suicide. The remains and personal effects of the victims were returned to the families. The remains of the hijackers, identified by the process of elimination, were turned over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as evidence.

One of the engines unearthed.
One of the engines unearthed.

Investigators also found a knife concealed in a cigarette lighter. They located the flight data recorder on September 13 and the cockpit voice recorder the following day. The voice recorder was found buried 25 feet (8 m) below the crater. The FBI initially refused to release the voice recording, rejecting requests by Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher and family members of those on board. The FBI subsequently allowed the relatives of the Flight 93 victims to listen to the recording in a closed session on April 18, 2002. Jurors for the Zacarias Moussaoui trial heard the tape as part of the proceedings and the transcript was publicly released on April 12, 2006.

Since it never reached a target, the exact place intended to be hit by Flight 93 has never been decisively confirmed. Before the attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Osama bin Laden, and Mohammed Atef developed a list of potential targets. Bin Laden wanted to destroy the White House and the Pentagon. Sheikh Mohammed wanted to strike the World Trade Center and all three wanted to hit the Capitol. No one else was involved in the initial selection of targets. Bin Laden told 9/11 planner Ramzi bin al-Shibh to advise Mohamed Atta that he preferred the White House over the Capitol as a target. Atta cautioned bin al-Shibh that this would be difficult, but agreed to include the White House as a possible target and suggested they keep the Capitol as an alternative in case the White House proved too difficult. Eventually, Atta told bin al-Shibh that Jarrah planned to hit the Capitol. Atta briefly mentioned the possibility of striking a nuclear facility, but balked after the other attack pilots voiced their opposition. Based on an exchange between Atta and bin al-Shibh two days before the attacks, the White House would be the primary target for the fourth plane and the Capitol the secondary target.

Immediately after the attacks, there was speculation that Camp David was the intended target. According to testimony by captured al-Qaeda member Abu Zubaydah, U.S. officials believed the White House was the intended target. A post-9/11 interview with Sheikh Mohammed and bin al-Shibh by Al Jazeera reporter Yosri Fouda revealed that Flight 93 was heading for the Capitol. The 9/11 Commission Report cited the actions of the crew and passengers in preventing the destruction of either the White House or the Capitol. According to further testimony by Sheikh Mohammed, bin Laden preferred the Capitol over the White House as a target and Sheikh Mohammed revealed that the interview to Fouda was a lie to make the 9/11 attacks seem larger than they were. Salim Hamdan, bin Laden’s driver, told interrogators that he knew the flight was heading for the Capitol.

First Lady Michelle Obama and Former First Lady Laura Bush survey the site of the Flight 93 airplane crash in Stonycreek Township, Pennsylvania, September 11, 2010.
First Lady Michelle Obama and Former First Lady Laura Bush survey the site of the Flight 93 airplane crash in Stonycreek Township, Pennsylvania, September 11, 2010.

All passengers and crew on board Flight 93 were nominated for the Congressional Gold Medal on September 19, 2001. Congressman Bill Shuster introduced a bill to this effect in 2006, and they were granted on September 11, 2014.

Beamer’s final words, “let’s roll”, became a national catchphrase. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey changed the name of Newark’s airport from Newark International Airport to Newark Liberty International Airport and a flag now flies over Terminal A’s Gate A17. Flight 93 has been the subject of various films and documentaries including The Flight That Fought Back, Flight 93, and the feature film United 93.

In keeping with standard airline practice after disasters, the flight number “93” was discontinued by United Airlines after the hijacking. United has many nonstops from Newark to San Francisco. As of May 2016 there is still an 8:00 A.M. flight from Newark to San Francisco, and is still using a Boeing 757, but is now Flight 497. It was reported in May 2011 that United was reactivating flight numbers 93 and 175 as a codeshare operated by Continental, sparking an outcry from some in the media and the labor union representing United pilots. United said the reactivation was a mistake and said the numbers were “inadvertently reinstated”, and would not be reactivated.

Fighter jet response:

A fighter pilot based at Andrews Air Force Base, Billy Hutchison, claims that while in the air he spotted Flight 93 on his scope and planned to first fire his training rounds into the engine and cockpit, and then ram the airplane with his own jet. His account was published in Lynn Spencer’s book Touching History. John Farmer, Senior Counsel to the 9/11 commission, pointed out that this account would have been impossible, as Hutchison’s Air Andrews Squadron was not in the air until 10:38, almost 30 minutes after Flight 93 had crashed. When the 9/11 commission asked Hutchison why he gave this false claim he stormed out of the room and refused to give an answer.

Two F-16 fighter pilots from the 121st Fighter Squadron of the D.C. Air National Guard, Marc Sasseville and Heather “Lucky” Penney, were scrambled and ordered to intercept Flight 93. The pilots intended to ram it since they did not have time to arm the jets; this was in the days before armed jets stood ready to scramble at a moment’s notice to protect the capital’s airspace. They never reached Flight 93 and did not learn of its crash until hours afterwards.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) insisted to the 9/11 Commission that fighters would have intercepted Flight 93 before it reached its target in Washington, D.C., but the commission disagreed, stating that “NORAD did not even know the plane was hijacked until after it had crashed” and concluding that had it not crashed it probably would have arrived in Washington by 10:23. The 9/11 Commission Report stated that NEADS fighters pursued Delta Air Lines Flight 1989, a flight thought to be hijacked. The commission found that NORAD and the FAA gave inaccurate testimony.

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