seeing something coming

United Airlines Flight 93

United Airlines Flight 93 was a scheduled United States domestic passenger flight from Newark International Airport, in Newark, New Jersey, to San Francisco International Airport. It was hijacked by four Islamic terrorists as part of the September 11 attacks in 2001. Over forty minutes into the flight the hijackers breached the cockpit, overpowered the pilots, and took over control of the aircraft, diverting it toward Washington, D.C. Several passengers and crew members made telephone calls aboard the flight and learned about the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. As a result, the passengers decided to mount an assault against the hijackers and wrest control of the aircraft.

The plane crashed in a field in Stonycreek Township, near Shanksville, in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, about southeast of Pittsburgh and northwest of Washington, D.C., killing all 44 people aboard, including the hijackers. Many witnessed the impact from the ground and news agencies began reporting on the event within an hour. The plane fragmented upon impact, leaving a crater, and some debris was blown miles from the crash site. The remains of everyone on board the aircraft were later identified. Subsequent analysis of the flight recorders revealed how the actions taken by the passengers prevented the aircraft from reaching the hijackers' intended target, thought to be either the White House or United States Capitol. A permanent memorial is planned for construction on the crash site. The chosen design has been the subject of criticism, but the memorial is scheduled to be dedicated in 2011.


The hijacking of Flight 93 was led by Ziad Jarrah. Jarrah was born in Lebanon to a wealthy family and experienced 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 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 disappeared from Hamburg and went to 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. Soon after the attacks, Jarrah's family asserted that he was an "innocent passenger" onboard the flight.

Three "muscle" hijackers trained to storm the cockpit and overpower the crew accompanied Jarrah on Flight 93. One of them, 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. Another 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. Passports of Ziad Jarrah and Saeed al Ghamdi were recovered from the crash site of United Airlines Flight 93.


The United Airlines Flight 93 aircraft was a Boeing 757-200, registration number N591UA. The airplane had a capacity of 182 passengers, but the September 11 flight carried only 37 passengers and seven crew members. This represented a load factor of 20 percent, considerably below the 52 percent average Tuesday load factor for Flight 93. The seven crew members were pilot Jason Dahl, First Officer LeRoy Homer Jr., and flight attendants Lorraine Bay, Sandra Bradshaw, Wanda Green, CeeCee Lyles, and Deborah Welsh.


Between 07:03 and 07:39 Eastern Time, the team of four hijackers checked in for the flight. At 07:03, al-Ghamdi checked in without any luggage while al-Nami checked in two bags. At 07:24, Al-Haznawi checked in one bag and at 07:39, Jarrah checked in without any luggage. Al-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. Jarrah called his girlfriend in Germany from an airport payphone before he boarded and said "I love you" three times before abruptly hanging up.

Al-Haznawi and al-Ghamdi boarded the aircraft at 07:39 and sat in first class seats 6B and 3D respectively. Al-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 its gate A17 at 08:01. It remained delayed on the ground and did not take off until 08:42 because of airport congestion. The three other hijacked flights all departed within fifteen minutes of their scheduled time. By the time Flight 93 became airborne, Flight 11 had already been commandeered and Flight 175 was being hijacked. By 09:02, the aircraft reached its cruising altitude of . 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, after he became aware of the second World Trade Center impact by Flight 175. 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 controllers. This was the last communication made by the flight crew before the 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 minutes of striking the Pentagon. The hijackers on these three 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 decided to wait approximately 46 minutes to begin the assault. The flight suddenly dropped in half a minute. At 09:28:17, a crew member in the cockpit began shouting, "Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!" 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. Someone in the cockpit shouted, "Mayday! Get out of here! Get out of here!" There is no conclusive evidence that points to an exact moment when Flight 93 was under the hijackers' control. Officials believe 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 from interfering with the attack. While the other hijacked flights were taken by five-man teams, Flight 93 only had four hijackers, leading to speculation of a possible 20th hijacker. The 9/11 Commission believes that Mohamed al-Kahtani was the likely candidate for this role, but was unable to participate as he was 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 then took over the flight controls out of sight from any of the passengers.

The cockpit voice recorder began recording the final thirty 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 flight attendant being held captive is heard pleading, "Please, please, don't hurt me". Jarrah instructs the autopilot to turn the plane and head east at 09:35:09. The aircraft ascends to and air traffic controllers immediately move several aircraft out of Flight 93's flightpath. The flight attendant in the cockpit is heard to say, "I don't want to die, I don't want to die" followed by one of the hijackers saying in Arabic: "Everything is fine. I finished."

At 9:39 air traffic controllers overheard Jarrah say, "Ah. 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 remarked that a passenger had been knifed 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 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.

"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 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 that looked "Iranian", wearing Flight93 bandana.jpgs 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 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 revealed one of the hijackers had a red belt with a bomb strapped to his waist. 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 take off 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 9:55:11 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.


"Are you guys ready? Okay. Let's roll!"
Todd Beamer's words heard by operator Lisa Jefferson at 09:55.
The revolt on Flight 93 began at 09:57. The hijackers in the cockpit became aware of the revolt at 09:57:55, exclaiming, "Is there something? A fight?" Edward Felt dialed 9-1-1 from his cell phone from the lavatory of the aircraft seeking information. His call was answered by dispatcher John Shaw, and Felt was able to tell him about the hijacking before the call was disconnected. There were reports of Felt hearing an explosion and seeing smoke coming into the lavatory from under the door. These reports were later reported to be false. 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 9:58:57, "They want to get in here. Hold, hold from the inside. Hold from the inside. Hold." Jarrah changed tactics at 9:59:52 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. 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!" Jarrah ceased the violent maneuvers at 10:01:00 and recited the takbir 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 10:02:23, a hijacker said, "Pull it down! Pull it down!" The airplane descended with the yoke turned hard to the right. The airplane rolled onto its back, and one of the hijackers began shouting the takbir. Amidst the sounds of the passenger counterattack, the aircraft plowed into an empty field in Shanksville, 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 asserts that "the hijackers remained at the controls but must have judged that the passengers were only seconds from overcoming them". Others claim that there is no doubt the passengers breached the cockpit.


The plane crashed into a reclaimed coal strip mine in Stonycreek Township at 10:03:11. The National Transportation Safety Board reported that the flight impacted at at a 40 degree nose-down, inverted attitude. The impact left a crater eight to ten feet deep, and thirty to fifty feet wide. None of the 44 people on board survived. Many media reports and eyewitness accounts cited the time of the crash at 10:06, as did an analysis of seismographic data in the area but which the 9/11 Commission report states was not definitive. Other media venues 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.

Kelly Leverknight 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. Conspiracy theorists have accused her of manufacturing the photograph.

The first responders arrived at the crash site by 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 10:45 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 there was a second hijacked plane heading for the Pentagon.


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 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. As he walked through the wreckage, the only recognizable body part he saw was a piece of spinal cord with five vertebrae attached. Miller later found and identified 1,500 pieces of human remains totaling about , 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, investigators could not determine if any victims were dead before the plane crashed. Death certificates for the 40 victims listed the cause of death as homicides and listed the cause of death for the four hijackers as suicides. 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.

Investigators also found a knife disguised as 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 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.

The intended target of 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 Binalshibh to advise Mohamed Atta that he preferred the White House over the Capitol as a target. Atta cautioned Binalshibh that this would be difficult, but agreed to include the White House as a possible target and suggested they keep the Capitol as an alternate in case the White House proved too difficult. Eventually, Atta told Binalshibh 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 Binalshibh two days before the attacks, the White House would be the primary target for the fourth plane and the Capitol the alternate.

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 Binalshibh by Al Jazeera reporter Yosri Fouda revealed that Flight 93 was headed for the Capitol. The 9/11 Commission Report cited the actions of the crew and passengers that prevented the destruction of either the White House or the Capitol. According to another 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 headed for the Capitol.

The 9/11 Commission found that North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and the FAA gave inaccurate testimony. NORAD insisted that fighters would have intercepted Flight 93 before it reached its target in Washington, D.C., but the commission disagreed concluding that "had Flight 93 not crashed in Pennsylvania, it would have arrived in the Washington area 10 to 20 minutes later". The 9/11 Commission Report stated that NEADS fighters pursued Delta Air Lines Flight 1989, a flight thought to be hijacked. 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, however as of 2008 these awards have not been granted.

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. Flight 93 has been the subject of various films and documentaries including The Flight That Fought Back, Flight 93, and United 93.

In keeping with standard airline practice after disasters, the flight number "93" was discontinued by United Airlines after the hijacking. United's early-morning nonstop from Newark to San Francisco is now Flight 91.


A temporary memorial formed from spontaneous tributes left by visitors in the days after the terrorist attacks at the crash site. Foundations across the country began to raise money to fund a memorial to the victims within a month of the crash.

Two years after the attacks, federal officials formed the Flight 93 National Memorial Advisory Commission responsible for making design recommendations for a permanent memorial. A national design competition was held to create a public memorial in the Pennsylvania field where Flight 93 crashed. The winning design, "Crescent of Embrace," was selected out of a pool of 1,011 submissions on September 7, 2005. The site plan features a large crescent pathway with red maples and sugar maples planted along the outer arc. This design ran into opposition over funding, size, and appearance. Congressman Charles H. Taylor blocked $10 million in federal funds toward the project as he saw it as "unrealistic. Republican Congressional leaders later persuaded him to acquiesce to political pressure and began approving some federal funds. The proposed design has also attracted critics who see Islamic symbolism in the crescent design. Construction for the permanent memorial is scheduled to commence in early 2009 once all have been acquired and be dedicated in 2011.

On August 25, 2008, hundreds of New York City firefighters donated and installed a cross made of steel from the World Trade Center. The beam, mounted atop a platform shaped like the Pentagon, was erected outside the firehouse of the Shanksville Volunteer Fire Department.

See also


Further reading

  • Tonya Buell. The Crash of United Flight 93 on September 11, 2001. Rosen Publishing Group, 2003. [for children]
  • Lisa D. Jefferson and Felicia Middlebrooks. Called: Hello, This Is Mrs. Jefferson. I Understand Your Plane Is Being Hijacked. 9:45 A.M., Flight 93, September 11, 2001. Northfield Publishers, 2006.
  • Glenn J. Kashurba. Courage After the Crash: Flight 93 Aftermath: An Oral and Pictorial Chronicle. Saj Publishing, 2002.
  • Jere Longman. Among the Heroes: The Story of Flight 93 and the Passengers Who Fought Back. Simon and Schuster, 2002.

External links

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