with them on that clear, warm morning in Newark, N.J., was another group of men
well known to one another. They were four men who had trained long and hard for
this day. Saeed Alghamdi, Ahmed Alhaznawi, Ahmed Alnami and Ziad Jarrahi were
bound together in a suicide plot, the FBI says, bent on turning the United Airlines
jetliner into a guided missile and crashing it into a national landmark.
now seems likely that those two groups of men the gung-ho American businessmen
and the militant extremist hijackers became locked in a desperate struggle
aboard Flight 93. The Americans apparently tried to save the jet or make sure
it didn't reach its target; the hijackers were intent on completing their holy
America is hailing the 37 passengers and 7
crewmembers on Flight 93 as heroes. Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter has gone as
far as promoting them for Presidential Medals of Freedom.
Six days after the jet plowed into the soft earth
of a former strip mine in rural southwestern Pennsylvania, killing all aboard,
details are emerging about the terrifying last minutes of Flight 93.
Boeing 757's two black boxes, recovered deep in the jet's impact crater, may yield
clues. In particular, investigators hope to piece together the tale of Flight
93 from the cockpit voice recorder, designed to preserve the last 30 minutes of
in-flight talk. FBI and National Transportation Safety Board experts were analyzing
it over the weekend.
For now, the case for hero status
rests on the emotional accounts of relatives who talked to passengers calling
from cellphones and seat-back phones after the hijackers took over the jet.
interviews since the crash, relatives have asserted that loved ones knew other
jets already had slammed into the World Trade Center towers. They hatched a plan
to thwart their captors. They knew they probably would die in the effort. The
last words relatives heard included those of one man who said, "We're going to
do something," and another who said, "Let's roll."
caused Flight 93's abrupt final dive just after 10 a.m. isn't known. The Americans
could have overpowered the hijackers and deliberately ditched the jet to save
lives on the ground. A cockpit struggle could have caused whoever was flying the
jet to lose control. It has even been suggested, though vigorously denied by the
Pentagon, that the jet was shot down.
easy to fly
From radar logs, this much is known:
After a 40-minute delay, the jet took off from Newark at 8:44 a.m. from Gate 17,
Concourse A and flew west, climbing to 35,000 feet. The cabin, with about 180
seats, was less than one-quarter full. Passengers probably had spread out for
more comfort on the 5-hour cruise to San Francisco.
flight attendants served breakfast. The flight was routine for just over an hour,
when the jet suddenly turned south as it reached Cleveland and headed back the
way it came.
By then, the hijackers, wielding knives and threatening
to detonate a bomb, must have been in control. Beamer, one of the four businessmen
thought to have led a counterattack, picked up a seat-back phone, operated by
GTE. In the call that reached a GTE supervisor, Beamer said hijackers had herded
26 passengers into first class.
Beamer, nine other passengers
and the five flight attendants were ordered to sit in back. This group likely
included the four businessmen. Beamer said he didn't know what happened to the
two pilots and the remaining passenger.
believe hijackers on all four doomed jets last Tuesday had enough training, some
of it acquired at flight schools in the USA, to switch courses and take aim at
Manufacturers have gone to great lengths
to make modern jets like the Boeing 757 and 767 easy to fly. Cockpit controls
behave similarly to controls on small private planes. Hijacker pilots might not
have been capable of a flawless landing, but flying the jets would not have been
a problem. It's also likely that they knew how to reset flight computers to change
At the least, on that bright, clear day with
hundreds of miles of visibility, the hijackers could have turned the jet around,
checked the compass and dead-reckoned their way to the nation's capital.
Distress calls go out
Not long after the jet's
U-turn, calls started going out to loved ones on the ground. Lauren Grandcolas,
38, of San Rafael, Calif., returning from her grandmother's funeral in New Jersey,
twice left messages for her husband, Jack. In her second call, she said there
was trouble but did not elaborate.
At some point, an
unidentified passenger made a 911 call from a cellphone in a bathroom. "This is
not a hoax," the caller insisted.
Calls from Glick,
Burnett, Beamer and Bingham offer the most compelling evidence of an onboard rebellion.
FBI investigators say they've found nothing to contradict such a scenario. And
others could have been involved.
There was Andrew Garcia, 62, of Portola Valley,
Calif., returning from a meeting. His family got a call, they think from him,
but only one word, "Dorothy," his wife's name, was heard before the line went
dead. The Garcias think he would have joined any insurrection.
was also Richard Guadagno, 38, a refuge manager for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service from Eureka, Calif., who had federal law-enforcement training. His colleagues
believe he would have been involved.
Glick called a little more than an hour into the
flight. The Internet company executive, 31, had been scheduled to leave home in
West Milford, N.J., the day before. At 7:30, before boarding, he called his wife,
Lyz, who was staying with her parents in New York's Catskill Mountains. His father-in-law
said she was still asleep.
His second call was far more
urgent: "There's bad men on the plane, let me talk to Lyz," Glick told his father-in-law,
For 20 minutes, as the jet streaked
across western Pennsylvania, Lyz and Jeremy, former high school sweethearts with
a 12-week-old daughter, talked for the last time.
stayed calm. He wanted to know if what he'd heard from another passenger who was
calling home, that the Trade Center towers had been hit, was true. She reluctantly
told him it was.
"He knew something very bad was going
to happen," Lyz told NBC's Dateline. "What he needed to know was what was
going to happen. Were they going to blow the plane up, or was it going to crash
into something, because that made all the difference."
Glick, a 6-foot-1, 220-pound judo champion, said
he and others were formulating a plan, hashing over whether passengers should
rush the hijackers. He asked Lyz what he should do. "I finally just decided: 'Honey,
you need to go for it.' "
The hijackers had already
stabbed one person to death. Jeremy told Lyz to stay on the line. The jet was
no more than 30 minutes from Washington.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported
that Beamer, 32, an Oracle executive from Hightstown, N.J., learned from the GTE
supervisor, Lisa Jefferson, about the other hijackings. He told her that two hijackers
had locked themselves into the cockpit.
Jefferson he and others were going to "jump on" the hijacker with the bomb, who
was guarding the passengers in the rear. He mentioned Glick by name.
heard shouts and commotion, and then Beamer asked her to pray with him. They recited
the 23rd Psalm. He made Jefferson promise to call his wife, Lisa, due with their
third child in January, then dropped the phone. Jefferson heard Beamer say, "Let's
roll." Silence followed.
Burnett was on the phone to his wife, Deena, four
times. The first time he assured her he was OK but asked her to call authorities.
She dialed 911, and a dispatcher put her through to the FBI.
executive at a Pleasanton, Calif., medical products company, Burnett, 38, was
by all accounts a man capable of taking matters into his own hands. "He is absolutely
the kind of person you not only would think might be involved but you would expect
to be involved," says his boss, Keith Grossman. "And be shocked if he wasn't."
Burnett called back, his wife told him about the World Trade Center attacks. On
his third call, they discussed whether a bomb was aboard. Burnett thought the
hijackers were bluffing.
In his last call, the 6-foot-2
former high school quarterback, said, "We're getting ready to do something."
"A group of us," he said. "We're going
to do something."
Bingham's role is less clear. He sat
in first class with Burnett, but in a call to his mother, Alice Hoglan in Saratoga,
Calif., made no mention of plans to take on the hijackers.
Hoglan is sure her son was in the middle of it. Bingham, 31, owner of a San Francisco
public relations company, was a 6-foot-5 rugby player who had run with the bulls
in Pamplona, Spain, just this summer, and he had once wrestled a gun away from
"He doesn't seek out trouble, but he won't
run away from it either," Hoglan says. "If he sees something wrong, he sets it
The scenario of passengers fighting with the
hijackers and disrupting the flight is consistent with what eyewitnesses on the
ground saw as the jet neared the ground. They saw it wobble hard left, then wobble
When Glick asked his wife to stay on the
line, she handed the receiver to her father. Makely says there was silence, then
screams in the background, followed by more silence, then more screams. Then nothing.
It was 10:10 a.m.
F-16s waited over Washington
For days after the crash, rumors swirled among air traffic controllers that Flight
93 had been shot down, though sources never offered any specific information indicating
the jet had been attacked. Reports from witnesses said an F-16 fighter had been
in the area. And when investigators recovered crash debris 8 miles away, it seemed
to lend credence to the theory that the jet had been hit.
the lightweight debris papers and insulation could have been carried
that far by winds, experts say. The Pentagon unequivocally denies that military
aircraft downed the United jet.
However, F-16s flying
over Washington were ready to intercept it, according to Vice President Cheney.
"It doesn't do any good to put up a combat air patrol if you don't give them instructions
to act," Cheney said on NBC's Meet the Press. "The president made the decision
on my recommendation as well. ... If the plane would not divert, if they wouldn't
pay any attention to instructions to move away from the city, as a last resort
our pilots were authorized to take them out."
Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz credits the men on the jet. "I think it was the
heroism of the passengers on board that brought it down," he said.
families of Flight 93's victims, as well as the nation as a whole, have no doubt
they are heroes. Strangers thrown into a no-win situation, they rose to the task,
made the supreme sacrifice and saved who knows how many other lives in the process.
think it shows that one person can make a difference, that one person in this
country has the opportunity to change this world," says Lyz Glick.