On October 2, 2001 The Seattle
Times Reported the Following Story:
© Seattle Times
The heroes of Flight 93:
Interviews with family and friends
detail the courage of everyday people.
By Kim Barker, Louise
Kiernan, and Steve Mills © Chicago Tribune
They waited, the way people wait on a plane.
You can picture them spreading out inside this mostly empty flight to
San Francisco, the smokestacks and
cranes of the Newark skyline looming outside their windows.
You can hear them working their cell phones, calling their friends,
For 41 minutes they waited on the tarmac to take off. Two pilots, five
flight attendants and 37 passengers.
Among them, four men knew they were all waiting to die.
When United Flight 93 finally took off, it began a journey that would
end not in San Francisco, as planned, or
smashing into some Washington target, but in an aching glory.
Since Sept. 11, the story of the passengers who fought their hijackers
on Flight 93 has become an icon of
good thwarting evil, a story of sacrifice and courage that a nation has
embraced in a time of fear and
No one will ever know
exactly what happened on that plane. But new interviews with the family,
co-workers of passengers who made last-minute calls give a more complete
account of their desperate
At the same time, questions emerge about the role of the fourth hijacker
and raise the possibility that instead
of a single plot to overcome the terrorists, passengers and flight
attendants in different parts of the plane may
have hatched separate plans. While most attention has focused on a group
of tall, athletic men who apparently
planned to rush the hijackers, at least one flight attendant told her
husband she was boiling water to use as a
The clues from the wreckage are small: a knife concealed inside a
cigarette lighter, a manual of prayers and
instructions written in Arabic, a cockpit-voice recorder, still under
analysis, that reportedly holds a garble of
American and Arabic voices.
But the key to whatever took place on Flight 93 may be the 41 minutes it
sat on the ground.
It gave the passengers enough time to hear about the three other
hijacked planes that smashed into the
World Trade Center and Pentagon that morning.
The delay took the plane off the precise schedule the terrorists had
likely relied upon and put it on one that
gave the passengers and crew knowledge, knowledge that incited them to
fight back and to say goodbye to
loved ones before the jet plunged into a reclaimed strip mine in
Pennsylvania, taking with it everyone aboard.
It was 5 a.m. Tuesday and still dark when Deborah Welsh's husband
carried her bag down the stairs of their
second-floor walkup in Hell's Kitchen in New York.
Welsh, who had been a flight attendant for more than 25 years, usually
avoided early-morning flights, but she
had agreed to trade shifts with another worker.
Her husband, Patrick, wasn't even sure where she was going when she set
off for the bus, wearing her
uniform and the navy cap that he jokingly said made her look like the
sailor on the Cracker Jack box.
At a friend's home in New Jersey, public-relations executive Mark
Bingham, scrambling to pack his old college
rugby duffel bag after oversleeping the 6 a.m. alarm, forgot his belt.
Nicole Miller, carrying a purple backpack stuffed with her textbooks,
set off with her boyfriend, Ryan Brown,
hoping to switch their separate flights back to California, so they
could fly together.
And so it began, people making their way to Newark International
Airport, Terminal A, Gate 17.
There was the Japanese college student and the German wine expert. The
refuge manager for the Fish and
Wildlife Service, flying home from his grandmother's
100th-birthday party. The Good Housekeeping magazine
marketer, on her way back from her grandmother's funeral.
There was the advocate for the disabled, who stood less than 4 feet tall
and carried herself like a giant. The
retired restaurant worker, flying to San Francisco to claim the body of
his son, killed in a car crash on his
honeymoon. The toy-company executive who sported a Superman tattoo on
Almost one-third of the people on Flight 93 were there by the slimmest
of chances: cancellations, bad weather
and simple changes of plan. The pilot, Jason Dahl, who had learned to
fly before he could drive, rescheduled to
get home to Colorado early so he and his wife could fly to London for
Among the passengers and crew, authorities say, were four young men who
had trained for months and
perhaps years for this moment, learning how to fight in small spaces and
fly jets, lifting weights and reciting
They all sat on the plane, delayed by the airport's heavy morning
traffic, as American Airlines Flight 11 and
United Airlines Flight 175 left Boston. They sat there as American
Airlines flight 77 left Washington.
At 8:42 a.m., Flight 93 took off, light with passengers, heavy with
11,000 gallons of jet fuel for its
cross-country flight. Nicole Miller's boyfriend watched it leave from
his own plane, as it sat on the tarmac.
Six minutes later, the north tower of the World Trade Center erupted in
For the next 30 minutes, it appears, Flight 93 soared west across
Pennsylvania as havoc erupted behind it.
Flight attendants, passenger accounts suggest, poured coffee and served
One of the attendants, CeeCee Ross Lyles, was at the beginning of her
career. She had dreamed of being a
flight attendant since she took her first plane trip at age 6 but had
just realized her dream a year ago, leaving
after six years of work as a police officer. Another, Sandra Bradshaw,
was thinking about leaving her job so
she could stay home with her children.
At some point, before the plane reached Cleveland, the hijackers took
over the plane, armed with knives and
the threat of a bomb.
Around 9:30 a.m., air traffic controllers in Cleveland heard someone in
the cockpit say, "Hey, get out of here!"
a source said. Then a voice, in what was described as a thick Arabic
accent, was heard that appeared to be
addressing passengers, even though it was radioed to air traffic
"This is your captain," the man said. "There is a bomb on
board. Remain in your seats. We are returning to the
How the hijackers overpowered the pilots remains unclear. One passenger
would report in a telephone call
that two people lay on the floor in the first-class cabin, either
injured or dead. They appeared to be the pilot
and co-pilot, he said, relating information from a flight attendant.
Another told a friend that two people's
throats were slit but didn't identify them. A third saw only one
At least five passengers and flight attendants described the hijackers
in their calls in similar terms: three
men, wearing red bandannas, one with some sort of box strapped around
his waist that he claimed was a
bomb. One passenger reported that two of the hijackers were in the
cockpit and a third guarded passengers
in first class from behind a curtain.
None of the callers mentioned a fourth hijacker, although the FBI has
identified four men in connection with
Those men are Saeed Alghamdi, Ahmed Ibrahim A. Al Haznawi, Ahmed Alnami
and Ziad Jarrah.
It may be that the people who made calls were unable to see the fourth
hijacker. Some news reports have
suggested one may have already gained access to the cockpit, as an
uniformed guest pilot sitting in the spare
jump-seat. Or, some terrorism experts suggest, he may have played a role
as a backup, perhaps remaining
unidentified among the other passengers or hiding in the bathroom until
he was needed.
A Justice Department spokeswoman said Friday that their "best
information" shows that four were involved.
By 9:36 a.m., United Flight 93 had suddenly changed course, according to
flight-path information provided by
Flight Explorer, a firm that supplies real-time radar tracking data. The
plane had made a U-turn and headed
back toward Washington.
In the cabin, passengers frantically began making calls, 23 from the
seat-back phones alone from 9:31 to
9:53 a.m. Others passed cell phones to people who had been strangers
just minutes before.
Why so many people were able to make calls while apparently under guard
by hijackers could be that, as
one passenger reported, there was no hijacker among the passengers in
Some of the telephone calls were short — no more than a few rushed
words of fear or love.
Lauren Grandcolas, flying home to San Rafael, Calif., from her
grandmother's funeral, left a message for her
husband saying her flight had been hijacked but she was
"comfortable, for now."
Linda Gronlund and Joe Deluca, on their way to San Francisco for a
vacation together, took turns. She called
her sister to say she would miss her. He called his father.
"The plane's been hijacked," he said. "I love you."
Andrew Garcia, an Air National Guard air traffic controller and plane
buff, only managed to get out his wife's
name, "Dorothy," before his phone went dead.
Other passengers, though, managed to conduct fairly lengthy, even
repeated conversations during the plane's
final minutes, constructing a jumbled puzzle of what was happening
inside the Boeing 757.
Deena Burnett was feeding her three daughters breakfast and watching the
news in horror when the
telephone rang in her home in San Ramon, Calif.
"Are you OK?" she asked her husband, Tom, 38.
"No," he said. "I'm on the airplane and it's been
He told his wife the hijackers had stabbed someone. He told her to call
the authorities, and he hung up.
When he called back, she was on the line to the FBI. She told him about
the World Trade Center, the first
he knew of the attack. He paused. "Were they commercial
airplanes?" he asked.
Deena Burnett didn't think so. Cargo or private planes, she said.
"Do you know anything else about the planes?" No, she said.
"Do you know who was involved?" Again, she said no.
He told her the man who was stabbed had died.
The hijackers are talking about running the plane into the ground, he
said. Then he said he had to go.
His third call came about 9:41 a.m., shortly after a plane had hit the
Pentagon. "OK," he said. "We're going
to do something."
In his fourth and final call, just before 10 a.m., Burnett said he was
sure the hijackers didn't have a bomb,
that he thought they had only knives.
"There's a group of us who are going to do something," he
Deena Burnett thought about her years of training as a flight attendant.
She was taught to appease hijackers,
to meet their demands, to stay in the background. She told her husband
to sit down. "Don't draw attention to
yourself," she said.
She told him she loved him. She felt he thought he was coming home that
night. This was simply a problem
that he was going to solve, as he had solved many others.
As Burnett talked with his wife, three other men who may have joined him
in whatever plans were being
hatched made calls of their own.
Across the aisle in Seat 4D, Mark Bingham, 31, called his mother. He was
so rattled that when Alice Hoglan
got on the line, her son told her, "This is Mark Bingham."
His message was brief: The plane had been hijacked by three men and he
In the rear of the plane, Jeremy Glick, also 31, a sales manager for a
Web site firm and former judo
champion, called his wife from a seat-back phone. He described three
Middle Eastern men brandishing knives
and a red box.
His wife told him about the attacks at the World Trade Center. He tried
to grasp the hijackers' plans — to blow
up the plane or fly it into a target?
The passengers had taken a vote among themselves, he said. They had
decided to try to take back the plane.
"I told him to go ahead and do it," Lyzbeth Glick said on
"Good Morning America. "I trusted his instincts, and I
said, 'Do what you have to do.' I knew that I thought he could do
Beamer, 32, an account manager for Oracle, called a stranger. He picked
up a seat-back phone and hit "0,"
and at 9:45 a.m., he was connected first to a dispatcher for GTE
Airfone, and then to Lisa Jefferson, the
For 13 minutes, Beamer told Jefferson everything he could, passing along
information he gleaned himself and
from a flight attendant. The passengers remained in their seats, she
said he told her, and the flight attendants
were forced to sit in the back of the plane.
He told her how much he loved his pregnant wife and two sons, and he
asked her to call them. He asked her
to recite the Lord's Prayer and 23rd Psalm with him.
Moments later, Beamer told Jefferson about the plan, that the passengers
were going to run up the long,
narrow aisle to the first-class cabin and attack the hijacker there.
"I'm going to have to go out on faith," Beamer said.
He turned to someone else, and he said, "Are you ready?" Then,
in the last words Jefferson would hear from
him, "OK. Let's roll."
Sandra Bradshaw, the flight attendant, also identified three hijackers
when she called her husband in
Greensboro, N.C. She had been moved to the back of the plane, she said,
but she and other passengers
had a plan. They were going to rush their captors; she was boiling water
to throw on them.
Another passenger, Elizabeth Wainio, also apparently talked of a plan to
rush the hijackers. In a call she made
to her stepmother in Baltimore, using the cell phone lent to her by
Lauren Grandcolas, she said, "I've got to
go now, Mom, they're breaking into the cockpit," according to the
mother of another passenger, who said she
spoke with family members about the call. Wainio's parents declined
The accounts of these calls — if accurate — would indicate that at
least four people were somehow plotting to
attack the hijackers. If Beamer's report is accurate, they were seated
in different sections of the plane, with
Bingham and Burnett up front, while the others were in the back.
It may be there were separate plans to take the plane or that somehow,
amid all the telephone calls, chaos
and fear, the passengers were able to communicate with each other.
If they did, they may have known they had another pilot among them,
Donald Greene, chief executive officer
of Safe Flight Instrument in New York. Greene, according to his family,
knew anything and everything about
At about 9:54 a.m., the plane started flying erratically. In Oak Brook,
Ill., Jefferson heard screams in the
Two minutes later, the plane's flight plan changed. The destination
airport was changed from San Francisco
International to Ronald Reagan National Airport. Estimated time of
arrival: 10:28 a.m.
At nearly the same moment, from the plane's bathroom, someone called
911, repeating that Flight 93 had
been hijacked, that this was not a hoax.
Then, Marion Britton called a longtime friend, Fred Fiumano, at his New
York City auto shop.
Britton, crying, told him the plane was turning around. It was going to
"Don't worry about it," Fiumano said, trying desperately to
reassure her. "They're only taking you for a ride."
He heard yelling and screaming in the background, and then the phone
went dead. He tried to call the
cellular-phone number back, but no one answered.
A few of the passengers expected they would win the battle. Before
Lyzbeth Glick turned over the phone to
her father because she couldn't bear to listen anymore, her husband told
her, "Hang on the line. I'll be back."
At 10:03 a.m., a black crater bloomed in the soft earth of a field 80
miles southeast of Pittsburgh.
The wife in California, the father-in-law in New York, the operator in
suburban Chicago still held onto their
They held on, waiting and hoping in the silence.