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The Story Behind the People on Flight 93 Who Fought Back on 9/11 AP Photo via Gene J. Puskar
AP Photo via Gene J. Puskar

Every year, the United States makes an effort to honor all of those who lost their lives from the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. We take moments of silence not only to remember the victims who had no idea that that day was going to be their last, but also the first responders and other people who also gave their lives in acting fast to help bring people to safety. And we must never forget the flight crew members and passengers of United Airlines Flight 93.

AP Photo via Gene J. Puskar

As hijackers had already taken over three other planes that had hit the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., one more hijacked plane that could’ve potentially hit an American power center such as the White House or the U.S. Capitol building was thwarted, and it’s crash site ended up landing in a rural area in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. And it’s why the Flight 93 National Memorial stands tall in the state.

Four terrorists boarded first class on the United Airlines Flight 93 on the morning of 9/11: Ziad Jarrah as the pilot and three others who were trained in unarmed combat named Ahmed Alnami, Ahmed Ibrahim A. al Haznawi, and Saeed Alghamdi. They were one short in their crew because Mohammed al-Qahtani was denied entry into the country because it was suspected that he wanted to overstay his visa. And the 9/11 Commission Report believes that this also contributed to their failed mission on attacking our nation’s capital.

As UA 93 left its gate at Newark International Airport in Newark, New Jersey, air traffic on the runway caused the flight to delay take off for another 45 minutes. By the time UA 93 took off, the first plane, Flight 11, would already have been hijacked. And before the hijackers could take over UA 93, the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center would both already be hit.

As word started to spread quickly about the attacks, UA dispatcher Ed Ballinger texted UA 93’s pilot Jason Dahl, warning him, “Beware any cockpit intrusion—two a/c [aircraft] hit World Trade Center.” Dahl, confused, would reply, “Ed, confirm latest mssg plz—Jason.”

Soon enough, the terrorists stormed Dahl’s cockpit, hijacking UA 93. The cockpit voice recorder could hear the pilot and first officer frantically shouting “Mayday!” and “Get out of here!” The four hijackers had killed a passenger beforehand, according to Tom Burnett.

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Tom Burnett was a first-class passenger on the flight as well, and had called his wife Deena on his cell phone at the back of the plane to tell her about the hijacking. He told her that he had seen a passenger die from getting knifed in front of the other passengers. And barely a couple minutes after, Ziad Jarrah’s voice is heard over the plane’s intercom.

“Ladies and Gentlemen: Here the captain, please sit down keep remaining sitting. We have a bomb on board. So, sit.”

In an eerie and saddening turn of events, the cockpit voice recorder had also captured the sound of a flight attendant, begging for her life and suddenly falling silent. And there was no doubt that all the people on UA 93 knew they were about to suffer a similar fate.

As they were making phone calls to their loved ones and family members to tell them about the hijacking, they also received news about what was happening on ground. By this time, the other hijacked planes had already struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. So UA 93 decided to fight back to protect anyone else that they could. Here are what some of them were remembered for:

Jeremy Glick informed his wife Lyz that the passengers were first decided whether they should attempt to take the plane back. In a lighthearted joke, he reportedly said, “I have my butter knife from breakfast.”

Tom Burnett also informed his wife that as they decided that they were going to take back the plane, that they would wait until they were over a rural area. And UA flight attendant Sandra Bradshaw was boiling water to throw onto the hijacking terrorists. Others on the flight who couldn’t reach their loved ones on the phone left heart-breaking voicemails. And another UA flight attendant, CeeCee Lyles, also called him to give her last words, telling him she loved him and asking him to take care of her children.

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A telephone operator heard passenger Todd Beamer, while on call with him, rallying the others asking, “Are you guys ready?” followed by, “Let’s roll.”

With only the cockpit voice recorder capturing what little it could about what happened on UA 93, it captured enough to portray the sounds of the passengers, including Mark Bingham, attempting to break through the cockpit door. Yelling and thuds were heard along with dishes and glasses breaking. Jarrah attempts to fight back, cutting off the oxygen and maneuvering the plane left and right to throw off the balance.

Jarrah instructs one of the other hijackers to block the door and then proceeds to move the plane up and down, once again trying to throw off the passengers’ balance, in an attempt to make it to Washington, D.C. However, he recognized, just 20 minutes away from their target, that the passengers were successfully going to make them lose control of the airliner.

Jarrah is heard asking, “Shall we finish it off?” to which the reply was, “Not yet. When they all come, we finish it off.” Another passenger is heard screaming to another, “In the cockpit. If we don’t, we’ll die!”

Just after 10:00am, Jarrah flipped the plane upside down, and at 580 miles per hour, crashed it in an empty field just two miles away from Shanksville, Pennsylvania. No one survived.

Every year since then, the National Park Service holds an observance at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Stoystown, Pennsylvania. In remembering our fallen heroes, it’s incredible to see how even just mere passengers were ready to sacrifice for their country, to understand their fate, and to make the best they could of the situation and circumstances in order to protect the many others that they did not get to see who they saved.

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AP Photo via Gene J. Puskar

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Lauren Pineda is a writer with a background in music journalism and pop culture. Her best writing comes from her passion for storytelling and connecting her audience. She lives and breathes any live music show or art event and enjoys listening to peoples’ stories.
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