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United 93: Heroes In The Sky

On September 11, 2001, thirty-seven passengers boarded United Airlines Flight 93 in Newark International Airport bound for San Francisco. However, four of those passengers were hijackers: Ziad Samir Jarrah, Saeed al Ghamdi, Ahmed Ibrahim A. al Haznawi, and Ahmed Abdullah al Nami. On that morning of September 11, they had planned to wrestle control of the Boeing 757, threaten the remaining passengers with intimidation, and strike the heart of Washington D.C. After subduing the pilots, Captain Jason Dahl and First Officer Leroy Homer, these four men directed the plane eastward and forced all others towards the rear of the plane. Using GTE airphones and cellular phones, several passengers contacted their loved ones to alert them to the growing situation. Amidst the contact with those on the ground, the passengers learned that two airliners had struck the twin towers in New York City. They decided to fight back. In honor of the 16th Remembrance of 9/11, this is the story of those heroes on board United Flight 93.

According to the final 9/11 Commission Report that was released on July 22, 2004, United Airlines Flight 93 departed from Newark Airport at 08:42. Following their flight plan, United 93 continued to ascend with the crew and the pilots completely unaware that American Flight 175 was hijacked between 08:42 and 08:46 and American Flight 77 was hijacked between 08:51 and 08:54. At 09:23, Ed Ballinger, a United flight dispatcher, took the initiative and warned United 93 with the following message: “Beware any cockpit intrusion—Two a/c [aircraft] hit World Trade Center.” Two minutes later, Captain Jason Dahl, pilot of United 93, responded, “Ed, confirm latest mssg plz—Jason.”

At 09:28 over the skies above Ohio, three of the four hijackers attacked the cockpit. The FAA’s air traffic control center in Cleveland heard two transmissions from the plane, both stating “Mayday.” After gaining control of the United 93, Jarrah, the fourth hijacker who was the pilot-trained out of the four, entered the cockpit and assumed control of United 93. After forcing the other passengers to the back of the plane, the voice recorder picked up the follow message from the hijackers, “Ladies and Gentlemen: Here the captain, please sit down keep remaining sitting. We have a bomb on board. So, sit.” For the next twenty minutes, several passengers and two crew members contacted family, friends, colleagues, or others on the ground. From the recipients of these calls and from official recordings from the FBI and the FAA, several elements were made clear in the 9/11 Commission Report. Firstly, passengers on board reported seeing two people lying either dead or injured on the floor of the cabin. Secondly, passengers were notified by those on the ground that two planes had already struck the world trade center some thirty minutes ago. This lead to the belief by the passengers that the hijackers were on a suicide mission. Third, there was serious discussion among them on whether the bomb carried by the hijackers was actually fake. Fourth, many passengers have decided to revolt against the four hijackers. Tom Burnett, one of those making phone calls on board, spoke to his wife, “If they are going to drive this plane into the ground, we’ve got to do something.”

At 09:57, the battle for United 93 began. Those making phone calls terminated the line, and joined the assault as the passengers rushed from the rear past first class and towards the cockpit. Sandra Bradshaw, a flight attendant, made the last transmission from United 93, “Everyone’s running up to first class. I’ve got to go. Bye.” As the two hijackers guarding the cockpit door attempted to hold off the revolt, the pilot in control, Jarrah, began to roll the plane left and right, most likely attempting to knock the passengers off balance. At 10:00, the black box recorded the conversion between the hijackers, “Is that it? Shall we finish it off?” asked Jarrah. Several seconds later, a voice in the background cried out, “In the cockpit. If we don’t we’ll die!” After defeating the two of the four hijackers, the door to the cockpit remained their final obstacle. Using a food cart as a battering ram to knock down the cockpit door, the fighting intensified. At 10:02 after yelling “Allah is the greatest,” the airplane quickly descended into a nosedive. While the official report indicates that the passengers were merely seconds from overcoming the hijackers, several families point out the voices and screams of their loved ones at the same volume and distance as the hijackers’ voices on the black box recording. This has led to speculation that that in the final seconds, the passengers were already fighting for control over the yoke. At 10:03:11, United 93 crashed into an empty field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania at 580 miles per hour, killing all those on board.

Today, on September 11, 2017, we and the entire nation remember all those who lost their lives. The story of United 93 is a story of bravery, heroism, and gallantry. The violent hijackers wished to crash the plane into the symbols of America, and they were valiantly defeated by Americans who were unarmed and non-combatants. Sadly, all those on board United 93 lost their lives. Let this be a lesson on the American spirit. Even when faced with the inevitable, those among us will stand up. May we never forget these heroes, nor their family, nor their loved ones, nor their bravery, nor their sacrifice. And may we never especially forget their story.


Main Source:

[1] The 9/11 Commission Report

Additional Sources:






Jonathan Alegria View All

Sophomore at Fordham University studying political science and international affairs with a focus on American foreign policy, military science, and regional relations.

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