Inside Flight 93
Outside the Cockpit Door, a Fight to Save the Plane
By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 24, 2004; Page A10
The scene aboard the hijacked airliner played out like a radio drama as passengers tried to storm the cockpit. Amid sounds of shouting, screaming and breaking dishes, one hijacker called to a partner at the jet's controls, "Pull it down! Pull it down!"
The pilot turned the control wheel hard to the right, and the jet rolled onto its back. United Airlines Flight 93 headed down.
Forty-eight seconds later, at 10:03:11 a.m., as a hijacker shouted, "Allah is the greatest" over and over in Arabic, the plane crashed nose first into a Pennsylvania field, killing the hijackers and the passengers who defied them.
In a chilling account based on tape recordings, mechanical data, FBI documents and interviews, the Sept. 11 commission assembled the most complete account yet of events inside Flight 93 and the other three jetliners that were hijacked on Sept. 11, 2001.
According to the commission's final report, issued Thursday, the Flight 93 struggle apparently took place at the closed door to the cockpit. Unarmed passengers tried in vain to fight their way inside as an increasingly frantic hijacker jerked the controls violently to throw them off balance.
On one of the flights that crashed into the World Trade Center, passengers also discussed storming the cockpit but apparently took no action in their few remaining minutes. It was aboard Flight 93 that passengers, alerted in telephone conversations that other planes had been crashed, fought back.
Flight 93, carrying 37 passengers and a crew of seven, took off late from Newark for Los Angeles at 8:42 a.m. -- four minutes before American Airlines Flight 11 ripped into the World Trade Center's North Tower and 21 minutes before United Flight 175 tore into the South Tower.
The four hijackers aboard Flight 93 sat in first class. Meal service probably started on schedule.
In the cockpit, the pilots first learned of the earlier hijackings at 9:24, when a United dispatcher named Ed Ballinger sent a text warning: "Beware any cockpit intrusion -- two a/c hit World Trade Center."
Pilot Jason Dahl responded within two minutes "with a note of puzzlement," the commission reported: "Ed, confirm latest mssg plz -- Jason."
Two minutes later, at 9:28, the hijackers attacked as the plane flew above eastern Ohio. Air traffic controllers noticed the plane suddenly drop 700 feet, and over the radio they heard one of the cockpit crew call out "Mayday!" amid sounds of struggle.
The radio shut off. Thirty-five seconds later, in another radio transmission, one crew member was heard shouting: "Hey! Get out of here. Get out of here. Get out of here."
Passengers later reported to friends and relatives by telephone that two people lay on the floor, injured or dead.
At 9:32, one of the hijackers announced: "Ladies and gentlemen. Here the captain. Please sit down. Keep remaining sitting. We have a bomb on board. So, sit."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company