Who actually put United Flight 93 into a death dive, causing it to slam into the Pennsylvania countryside on September 11, 2001, is revealed in the 9/11 commission report released Thursday.
The passenger revolt began at 9:57 a.m., nearly 30 minutes after the four terrorists aboard launched their takeover of the Boeing 757 loaded with more than 11,000 gallons of jet fuel.
As passengers charged the cockpit door, terrorist hijacker Ziad Jarrah began rolling the plane to the left and right, “attempting to knock the passengers off balance,” the 9/11 commission report said. Jarrah told another hijacker in the cockpit to block the door.
By 9:59 a.m., Jarrah changed tactics and “pitched the nose of the airplane up and down to disrupt the assault.”
“The [flight] recorder captured the sounds of loud thumps, crashes, shouts and breaking glass and plates. At 10:00:03 a.m., Jarrah stabilized the airplane,” the report says.
“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.’ “
Jarrah resumed pitching the plane up and down.
“In the cockpit. If we don’t, we’ll die,” a passenger is heard saying.
“Sixteen seconds later, a passenger yelled, ‘Roll it!’ ” the report says.
By 10:01 a.m., Jarrah stopped his violent maneuvers and said, “Allah is the greatest! Allah is the greatest!”
According to the report, he then asked another hijacker in the cockpit, “Is that it? I mean, shall we put it down?”
“Yes, put it in it, and pull it down,” the other responded.
The passengers continued with their assault, trying to break through the cockpit door. At 10:02 a.m. and 23 seconds, 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 report concludes.
“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 counter-attack 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.”
Struggle in the cockpit
The report says Jarrah intended to fly the plane into the White House or the U.S. Capitol. “He was defeated by the alerted, unarmed passengers of United 93,” the report says.
The battle aboard the plane was burned into history by the story of one passenger, Todd Beamer, who used an onboard phone to call the FBI. At the end of his call, the operator overhead him say to other passengers, “Let’s roll.”
He and other passengers had learned of the attacks in New York and Washington after placing calls to loved ones.
In the weeks and months after the attacks, there were reports that officials believed passengers had overtaken the plane, forcing it to crash in the field in Pennsylvania. However, last year, officials began backing away from that theory.
Thursday’s report gives no indication that passengers ever broke through the cockpit door, but it makes clear that passengers’ actions thwarted the plans of the terrorists.
The report also gives harrowing details of the moments just before and after the plane was hijacked.
The plane, which had left Newark, New Jersey, for Los Angeles, California, at 8:42 a.m. carrying 37 passengers and seven crew members, received a warning from United flight dispatcher Ed Ballinger at 9:24 a.m.: “Beware any cockpit intrusion — two a/c [aircraft] hit World Trade Center.”
The message was sent by Ballinger to several aircraft to alert them of potential terrorists.
Two minutes later, at 9:26 a.m., pilot Jason Dahl appeared to be puzzled by the message and responded, “Ed, confirm latest mssg plz — Jason.”
“The hijackers attacked at 9:28,” the report says. “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 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.’ “
At 9:32 a.m., the report says, a hijacker “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 report also says 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,” it says.
The report says at least 10 passengers and two crew members contacted family, friends or others on the ground. They reported the hijackers were wearing red bandanas, forced passengers to the back of the plane and claimed a bomb was aboard, according to the report.
Flight 93 was the only hijacked plane that day with four hijackers aboard. All other flights had five hijackers.
The report says a man who was denied entry and detained in Florida a month before the attacks possibly was supposed to have been the fifth hijacker aboard Flight 93.
“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,” the report says.
Al Kahtani is currently being held at the detainee center at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.