What really happened to flight 93, the 9/11 plane whose passengers fought back?

Passengers onboard Flight 93 took a vote and decided to fight back when hijackers took over their flight.

What really happened to flight 93, the 9/11 plane whose passengers fought back?
© Richard R. Schünemann / UNSPLASH
What really happened to flight 93, the 9/11 plane whose passengers fought back?

On September 11, 2001, four planes were seized simultaneously by teams of al-Qaeda hijackers. The planes were then purposefully crashed into landmark buildings in New York and Washington, killing everyone onboard, in one of the most terrible terrorist attacks that America has ever suffered. In total, 2,977 people died, not including the hijackers.

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But only three of the four planes successfully hit their targets: two struck the Twin Towers, and the third collided with the Pentagon, the US military headquarters in Washington DC.

The fourth flight never made it to its destination. Passengers fought back, and though the plane crashed, they potentially saved the lives of many more innocent people.

United Airlines Flight 93

The fourth plane was carrying forty passengers from Newark to San Francisco. Fourty-five minutes into the journey, The New Yorker reports that air-traffic controllers received two radio transmissions: ‘Mayday!’ and the sounds of a violent physical struggle, followed by ‘Get out of here!’. The plane had a voice recorder in the cockpit which captured a woman struggling with a hijacker before her voice disappears from the tape.

Passengers and crew chose to fight

The hijackers had crowded everyone on the flight to the back of the plane where they used the onboard phone, and their personal mobile phones, to call loved ones. According to the national memorial website Friends of Flight 93, a total of 13 passengers made 37 calls. They quickly learnt of the other attacks and realised that they were headed for a similar fate.

The group voted: they decided they would fight the hijackers, who were armed with knives, and try to take back control of the plane. They rushed to the first-class cabin and data recovered from the plane suggests they put up a strong fight. The hijacker flying the plane started to rock it left to right, presumably to knock the passengers and crew off their balance.

Recordings feature sounds of breaking glass and plates, and the voice of a hijacker asking:

Shall we finish it off?

He is told to wait, but soon asks again

Shall we put it down?

This time, the answer was yes.

It is assumed that they knew the passengers and crew were close to beating them. The plane crashed at nearly 600mph into a field in Pennsylvania.

Their actions saved the lives of many

The plane crashed 20 minutes from Washington by air. The authors of the 9/11 Commission’s report explained that the White House may have been the plane’s target:

Their actions saved the lives of countless others, and may have saved either the Capitol or the White House from destruction.

One passenger’s widow says that her husband told her on the phone, 'We’re waiting until we’re over a rural area’.

Conspiracy theory over how the plane crashed

Some believe that there was too little left of the plane wreckage on the ground for it to have crashed into it. They therefore have speculated that the military shot it down. Tim Lambert’s family owned the field that the plane crashed into, and he recalls going to visit the site just three weeks after the event. He told NPR that it was like ‘confetti of metal’:

Debris was all around us…Flight 93 was all around us.

He remembers picking up a singed piece of paper that turned out to be a wedding invitation.

This theory has never been confirmed, and the anniversary of 9/11 is perhaps better spent remembering the bravery of those onboard flight 93 and the sacrifice they made to save others.

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Sources used:

BBC: September 11 attacks: What happened on 9/11?

The New Yorker: Preserving the Selfless Heroism of the Passengers of United Flight 93


Friends of Flight 93:THE STORY OF 9/11 AND UNITED FLIGHT 93

NPR: Part of Flight 93 crashed on my land. I went back to the sacred ground 20 years later

9/11 attacks: Two victims identified thanks to new DNA technique, 22 years after the tragedy 9/11 attacks: Two victims identified thanks to new DNA technique, 22 years after the tragedy