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United Airlines flight 93

United Airlines flight 93 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 crash into a building.

The other three planes hijacked that day were American Airlines flight 11, United Airlines flight 175 and American Airlines flight 77.

The hijackers were Ziad Jarrah, Saeed Alghamdi, Ahmed Al Haznawi and Ahmed Alnami. (See also the complete list of hijackers.)

The plane was a Boeing 757 on a morning Newark-to-San Francisco (EWR-SFO) route. 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.

At about 9:28 AM., when both towers of the World Trade Center had already been hit, flight controllers in Cleveland overheard some commotion from flight 93's cockpit: first screams and two cries of "Get out of here!", then a 40 second gap, then more screams and a further cry of "get out of here!" and then a voice saying something like "bomb on board". The flight controllers tried to contact the pilot and received no reply. At 9:35 AM the flight reversed direction and began flying eastwards at a low altitude. Air traffic controllers overheard an accented man saying "This is your captain. There is a bomb on board. We are returning to the airport." It is probable that the hijackers mistook the cockpit microphone for the public-address system. Shortly before 10 AM the plane again changed direction, this time south-east towards Washington.

It crashed into a reclaimed coal-mining area near Shanksville, Somerset County, Pennsylvania at 10:03 AM. Other accounts give 10:06 and 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 575 miles per hour and left a crater about 35 metres 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.

Table of contents

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. 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 dead. The passengers and crew became aware through the phone calls of what had happened to Flights 11, 175 and 77. Eventually, it led to a decision to make an attempt to take over the flight from the hijackers on or about 9:58 AM.

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 that "Don't worry. We're going to do something."

Another first class passenger, Mark Bingham, rang his mother and reported that three hijackers had taken over the plane. He gave little detail of them. He was appaently cut off and the end of his call, and did not return any of te phone calls sent to him by 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 seatbut was routed to a customer-service representative instead, who passed him on to supervisor Lisa Jefferson. She called the FBI. 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. The last words Jefferson heard from the plane were "Are you ready guys? Let's roll."

Other persons who made phone calls to relatives include passenger Honor Wainio and stewardesses CeeCee Lyles and Sandra Bradshaw. They all mentioned charges to the cockpit by way of final words. Reference was also made by the stewardesses 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 recording

The black box recorder was recovered on the afternoon of September 13, and has yielded additional information about the final half hour of the flight. In April 2002, in an unprecedented action, the cockpit sound recording was played by the FBI to relatives of the victims of the hijackers.

Its contents have not been made public for legal reasons. However, media reports of the tape indicate that the charge by the passengers and crew did take place. The tape was reported to have contained voices saying "Allah Akbar" (Arabic for "God is great"), English shouts that included "Let's get them!" and "Cockpit!" 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.

A woman can be heard pleading for her life at the start of the tape. 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 whether to use a fireaxe in the cockpit on those outside or to cut off the oxygen to quell the charge.

Unresolved matters

Both the recording and the phone calls have left several questions unanswered. For instance, the intended destination of the hijackers has never been determined. It is accepted that it was meant to be in or around Washington, DC. Many accounts state that it was the White House or the Capitol, but this has never been confirmed. According to captured terrorist Abu Zubaydah, the intended target was the White House. However, other al-Qaeda sources have named the Capitol. Had the plane struck either building, it would have killed no one else other than those on board the plane. Both buildings had been evacuated by 9:45 AM.

Another unresolved matter, related somewhat to the first, 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 third 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 of Jeremy Glick, also ended at 10:03 AM. Yet 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.


All those on board Flight 93 were nominated for a Congressional Gold Medal for valour on September 19, 2001. This has not been granted, but they have been the subject of numerous other honours, including a Government memorial passed on September 10 2002. On September 24, 2001, a special meeting for the families of Flight 93's victims was held by President Bush at the White House.

This flight was renumbered from Flight 93 to Flight 81 in October 2001 out of respect for those who died. Amongst the first passengers to fly this route was Lisa Beamer, wife of Todd Beamer.

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

Shanksville became famous as the result of the crash. It now has a special council , run by the Somerset County Flight 93 Coordinator, that handles Flight 93 matters such as visitors gifts and memorial services.

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

Internal links

There have been claims that US authorities shot down Flight 93 to stop it reaching Washington. These have not been proven. The topic is covered under September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack/Misinformation and rumors

See September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack/Plane_casualties for the flight manifest.

See also sep11:United Airlines flight 93 for the Wikipedia tribute pages for this flight (and flight manifest)

External links There are a large number of websites on the internet that deal with Flight 93 and its passengers and crew. A small sample of these is below.

News articles



  • This report (http://perso.club-internet.fr/mouv4x8/11Sept01/A2012_Seismic_WTC_911pentagon.pdf) discusses the question of when Flight 93 struck the field and the seisomological readings that argue 10:06 rather than 10:03.

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