Thursday, December 31, 2009
#033: The Citizens of United Flight 93
Todd Beamer, one of the heroes of United Flight 93
Citizen Militia: The Crew and Passengers of United Flight 93, September 11, 2001
The following is a direct quote, page for page and line for line, from the 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, pp 10-14. Nothing I can possibly write on the subject can improve on it: non sum dignis, domine.
The Battle for United 93
At 8:42, United Airlines Flight 93 took off from Newark (New Jersey) Liberty International Airport bound for San Francisco. The aircraft was piloted by Captain Jason Dahl and First Officer Leroy Homer, and there were five flight attendants. Thirty-seven passengers, including the hijackers, boarded the plane. Scheduled to depart the gate at 8:00, the Boeing 757's takeoff was delayed because of the airport's typically heavy morning traffic.
The hijackers had planned to take flights scheduled to depart at 7:45 (American 11), 8:00 (United 175 and United 93), and 8:10 (American 77). Three of the flights had actually taken off within 10 to 15 minutes of their planned departure times. United 93 would ordinarily have taken off about 15 minutes after pulling away from the gate. When it left the ground at 8:42, the flight was running more than 25 minutes late.
As United 93 left Newark, the flight's crew members were unaware of the hijacking of American 11.Around 9:00, the FAA, American, and United were facing the staggering realization of apparent multiple hijackings. At 9:03, they would see another aircraft strike the World Trade Center. Crisis managers at the FAA and the airlines did not yet act to warn other aircraft. At the same time, Boston Center realized that a message transmitted just before 8:25 by the hijacker pilot of American 11 included the phrase, "We have some planes."
No one at the FAA or the airlines that day had ever dealt with multiple hijackings. Such a plot had not been carried out anywhere in the world in more than 30 years, and never in the United States. As news of the hijackings filtered through the FAA and the airlines, it does not seem to have occurred to their leadership that they needed to alert other aircraft in the air that they too might be at risk.
United 175 was hijacked between 8:42 and 8:46, and awareness of that hijacking began to spread after 8:51. American 77 was hijacked between 8:51 and 8:54. By 9:00, FAA and airline officials began to comprehend that attackers were going after multiple aircraft. American Airlines' nationwide ground stop between 9:05 and 9:10 was followed by a United Airlines ground stop. FAA controllers at Boston Center, which had tracked the first two hijackings, requested at 9:07 that Herndon Command Center "get messages to airborne aircraft to increase security for the cockpit." There is no evidence that Herndon took such action. Boston Center immediately began speculating about other aircraft that might be in danger, leading them to worry about a transcontinental flight-Delta 1989-that in fact was not hijacked. At 9:19, the FAA's New England regional office called Herndon and asked that Cleveland Center advise Delta 1989 to use extra cockpit security.
... United's first decisive action to notify its airborne aircraft to take defensive action did not come until 9:19, when a United flight dispatcher, Ed Ballinger, took the initiative to begin transmitting warnings to his 16 transcontinental flights: "Beware any cockpit intrusion- Two a/c [aircraft] hit World Trade Center." One of the flights that received the warning was United 93. Because Ballinger was still responsible for his other flights as well as Flight 175, his warning message was not transmitted to Flight 93 until 9:23.
By all accounts, the first 46 minutes of Flight 93's cross-country trip proceeded routinely. Radio communications from the plane were normal. Heading, speed, and altitude ran according to plan. At 9:24, Ballinger's warning to United 93 was received in the cockpit. Within two minutes, at 9:26, the pilot, Jason Dahl, responded with a note of puzzlement: "Ed, confirm latest mssg plz-Jason."
The hijackers attacked at 9:28. While traveling 35,000 feet above eastern Ohio, United 93 suddenly dropped 700 feet. Eleven seconds into the descent, the FAA's air traffic control center in Cleveland received the first of two radio transmissions from the aircraft. During the first broadcast, the captain or first officer could be heard declaring "Mayday" amid the sounds of a physical struggle in the cockpit. The second radio transmission, 35 seconds later, indicated that the fight was continuing. The captain or first officer could be heard shouting:" Hey get out of here-get out of here-get out of here."
On the morning of 9/11, there were only 37 passengers on United 93-33 in addition to the 4 hijackers. This was below the norm for Tuesday mornings during the summer of 2001. But there is no evidence that the hijackers manipulated passenger levels or purchased additional seats to facilitate their operation.
The terrorists who hijacked three other commercial flights on 9/11 operated in five-man teams. They initiated their cockpit takeover within 30 minutes of takeoff. On Flight 93, however, the takeover took place 46 minutes after takeoff and there were only four hijackers. The operative likely intended to round out the team for this flight, Mohamed al Kahtani, had been refused entry by a suspicious immigration inspector at Florida's Orlando International Airport in August.
Because several passengers on United 93 described three hijackers on the plane, not four, some have wondered whether one of the hijackers had been able to use the cockpit jump seat from the outset of the flight. FAA rules allow use of this seat by documented and approved individuals, usually air carrier or FAA personnel. We have found no evidence indicating that one of the hijackers, or anyone else, sat there on this flight. All the hijackers had assigned seats in first class, and they seem to have used them. We believe it is more likely that Jarrah, the crucial pilot-trained member of their team, remained seated and inconspicuous until after the cockpit was seized; and once inside, he would not have been visible to the passengers.
At 9:32, a hijacker, probably Jarrah, made or attempted to make the following announcement to the passengers of Flight 93:"Ladies and Gentlemen: Here the captain, please sit down keep remaining sitting. We have a bomb on board. So, sit." The flight data recorder (also recovered) indicates that Jarrah then instructed the plane's autopilot to turn the aircraft around and head east.
The cockpit voice recorder data indicate that a woman, most likely a flight attendant, was being held captive in the cockpit. She struggled with one of the hijackers who killed or otherwise silenced her.
Shortly thereafter, the passengers and flight crew began a series of calls from GTE airphones and cellular phones. These calls between family, friends, and colleagues took place until the end of the flight and provided those on the ground with firsthand accounts. They enabled the passengers to gain critical information, including the news that two aircraft had slammed into the World Trade Center.
At 9:39, the FAA's Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center overheard a second announcement indicating that there was a bomb on board, that the plane was returning to the airport, and that they should remain seated. While it apparently was not heard by the passengers, this announcement, like those on Flight 11 and Flight 77, was intended to deceive them. Jarrah, like Atta earlier, may have inadvertently broadcast the message because he did not know how to operate the radio and the intercom. To our knowledge none of them had ever flown an actual airliner before.
At least two callers from the flight reported that the hijackers knew that passengers were making calls but did not seem to care. It is quite possible Jarrah knew of the success of the assault on the World Trade Center. He could have learned of this from messages being sent by United Airlines to the cockpits of its transcontinental flights, including Flight 93, warning of cockpit intrusion and telling of the New York attacks. But even without them, he would certainly have understood that the attacks on the World Trade Center would already have unfolded, given Flight 93's tardy departure from Newark. If Jarrah did know that the passengers were making calls, it might not have occurred to him that they were certain to learn what had happened in New York, thereby defeating his attempts at deception.
Todd Beamer, Jeremy Glick, CeeCee Lyles, Mark Bingham, Tom Burnett (Source: Newsweek)
At least ten passengers and two crew members shared vital information with family, friends, colleagues, or others on the ground. All understood the plane had been hijacked. They said the hijackers wielded knives and claimed to have a bomb. The hijackers were wearing red bandanas, and they forced the passengers to the back of the aircraft.
Callers reported that a passenger had been stabbed and that two people were lying on the floor of the cabin, injured or dead-possibly the captain and first officer. One caller reported that a flight attendant had been killed.
One of the callers from United 93 also reported that he thought the hijackers might possess a gun. But none of the other callers reported the presence of a firearm. One recipient of a call from the aircraft recounted specifically asking her caller whether the hijackers had guns. The passenger replied that he did not see one. No evidence of firearms or of their identifiable remains was found at the aircraft's crash site, and the cockpit voice recorder gives no indication of a gun being fired or mentioned at any time. We believe that if the hijackers had possessed a gun, they would have used it in the flight's last minutes as the passengers fought back.
Passengers on three flights reported the hijackers' claim of having a bomb. The FBI told us they found no trace of explosives at the crash sites. One of the passengers who mentioned a bomb expressed his belief that it was not real. Lacking any evidence that the hijackers attempted to smuggle such illegal items past the security screening checkpoints, we believe the bombs were probably fake.
During at least five of the passengers' phone calls, information was shared about the attacks that had occurred earlier that morning at the World Trade Center. Five calls described the intent of passengers and surviving crew members to revolt against the hijackers. According to one call, they voted on whether to rush the terrorists in an attempt to retake the plane. They decided, and acted.
The Wikipedia Account of the Revolt
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 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 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. .... Joseph DeLuca called his father at 09:43:03 from row 26 to inform him the flight had been hijacked. ....
After United Airlines Flight 93 was hijacked, Todd Beamer and other passengers communicated with people on the ground via in-plane and cell phones, and learned that the World Trade Center had been attacked using hijacked airplanes. Beamer tried to place a credit card call through a phone located on the back of a plane seat but was routed to a customer-service representative instead, who passed him on to GTE supervisor Lisa Jefferson. Beamer reported that one passenger was killed and, later, that a flight attendant had told him the pilot and co-pilot had been forced from the cockpit and may have been wounded. He was also on the phone when the plane made its turn in a southeasterly direction, a move that had him briefly panicking. Later, he told the operator that some of the plane's passengers were planning to "jump on" the hijackers and fly the plane into the ground before the hijackers' plan could be followed through. *
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."
According to Jefferson, Beamer's last audible words were "Are you guys ready? Let's roll."*
*From the Wikipedia article on Todd Beamer
From the 9/11 Report:
At 9:57, the passenger assault began. Several passengers had terminated phone calls with loved ones in order to join the revolt. One of the callers ended her message as follows: "Everyone's running up to first class. I've got to go. Bye."
The cockpit voice recorder captured the sounds of the passenger assault muffled by the intervening cockpit door. Some family members who listened to the recording report that they can hear the voice of a loved one among the din. We cannot identify whose voices can be heard. But the assault was sustained.
In response, Jarrah immediately began to roll the airplane to the left and right, attempting to knock the passengers off balance. At 9:58:57, Jarrah told another hijacker in the cockpit to block the door. Jarrah continued to roll the airplane sharply left and right, but the assault continued. At 9:59:52, Jarrah changed tactics and pitched the nose of the airplane up and down to disrupt the assault. The recorder captured the sounds of loud thumps, crashes, shouts, and breaking glasses and plates. At 10:00:03, Jarrah stabilized the airplane.
Five seconds later, Jarrah asked, "Is that it? Shall we finish it off?" A hijacker responded, "No. Not yet. When they all come, we finish it off." The sounds of fighting continued outside the cockpit. Again, Jarrah pitched the nose of the aircraft up and down. At 10:00:26, a passenger in the background said, "In the cockpit. If we don't we'll die!" Sixteen seconds later, a passenger yelled, "Roll it!" Jarrah stopped the violent maneuvers at about 10:01:00 and said, "Allah is the greatest! Allah is the greatest!" He then asked another hijacker in the cock-pit, "Is that it? I mean, shall we put it down?" to which the other replied, "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 hijackers remained at the controls but must have judged that the passengers were only seconds from overcoming them. The airplane headed down; the control wheel was turned hard to the right. The airplane rolled onto its back, and one of the hijackers began shouting "Allah is the greatest. Allah is the greatest." With the sounds of the passenger counterattack continuing, the aircraft plowed into an empty field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, at 580 miles per hour, about 20 minutes' flying time from Washington, D.C.
Jarrah's objective was to crash his airliner into symbols of the American Republic, the Capitol or the White House.
He was defeated by the alerted, unarmed passengers of United 93.
IN REMEMBRANCE OF THE HEROES
Todd Beamer left a widow, Lisa, sons David and Drew, and an daughter as yet unborn when this photo was taken.
Some called what happened on that flight "The American Unorganized Militia," and they hail the passengers as volunteer paramilitary heroes who lacking only uniforms.
They were that. But they were far more than that.
They saw that they were likely doomed themselves: but they acted in a thoughtful, wise and organized manner. They knew that other aircraft had been turned into horror weapons, but having a few minutes to compose themselves, they chose to resist evil. They acted in a manner most quintessentially in keeping with the spirit of the Tattered Remnant.
They thought. They voted. They chose. They acted.
In military terms, they went from reaction to intelligence gathering to planning to execution to success--on their own, in less than 20 minutes, with no training or even preparation for their mission. Not a single passenger is known to have had even the slightest military experience. But they acted with an alacrity and a decisiveness that would have done our special forces proud.
And they succeeded on that blackest of days and showed, in a decision taking but a few minutes, what can be accomplished by those who are willing to give their lives for the preservation of others.
And they inspired a nation, a world.
And finally, it is possible that they have given an example that at last puts the threat of air piracy to an end. Passengers now know that in order to live it may be their responsibility, personally, to immediately physically overcome any incipient attempt to hijack or destroy an aircraft--as both Richard Reid, the Shoe Bomber, and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Underpants Bomber, both found out to, ironically, their relief. An alert populace of air passengers now know: if you want to live, attack without hesitation.
And we have the citizens of United 93 to thank for this.
May their names be ever remembered and may light perpetual shine upon them:
CAPTAIN JASON DAHL
FIRST OFFICER LEROY HOMER
FLIGHT ATTENDANT WANDA A. GREEN
FLIGHT ATTENDANT LORRAINE G. BAY
FLIGHT ATTENDANT CEECEE LYLES
FLIGHT ATTENDANT SANDRA W. BRADSHAW
FLIGHT ATTENDANT DEBORAH A. WELSH
JANE C. FOLGER
LOUIS J. NACKE
HONOR E. WAINIO
We should note also those who acted on the spirit of the citizens of United 93:
In 2001, when Shoe Bomber Reid attempted to blow up his flight, two flight attendants, Hermis Moutardier and Cristina Jones, fought with Reid as he attempted to light the fuse on his shoe-bomb; both were small women but were able to prevent the 6'4'' Reid from acting; thereupon, other passengers, identities, unknown, then tackled him, secured him with duct tape, and a tranquilizer administered by a physician.
Again, in 2009, when Abdulmullab tried essentially the same thing, passenger Jasper Schuringa, a Dutch film director, jumped on Abdulmutallab and subdued him as flight attendants used fire extinguishers to douse the flames.
These brave men and women deserve salutes as well. And let it be a warning to Qaida and others like them that the days of aircraft hijackings have perhaps at last come to an end.