On September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda hijackers took control of four passenger planes to destroy buildings central to the United States, to harm its citizens, and to spread violence. The first two planes, American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175, flew into the twin towers in New York City. The third plane, American Airlines Flight 77, slammed into the western side of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. The fourth and often least discussed plane, United Airlines Flight 93, flew towards the Capitol, where the House and Senate were currently in session.
When the passengers aboard Flight 93 became aware of their hijackers, they contacted friends and family, and learned that their plane was part of a larger attack on the United States. Although the passengers were able to disrupt the hijackers and save the Capitol, the plane crashed in a field in rural Pennsylvania, killing all 44 passengers on the plane.
Before this past September 11, I had only known about the first three planes. The images of the twin towers collapsing and the sunken west side of the Pentagon remained prominent in my mind, while the image of the barren field where Flight 93 crashed was absent.
Before this past September 11, I had only known about the first three planes. The images of the twin towers collapsing and the sunken west side of the Pentagon remained prominent in my mind, while the image of the barren field where Flight 93 crashed was absent. In school, I had dedicated each annual moment of silence on 9/11 to the victims of the twin towers and the Pentagon, mourning for their friends and family while completely unaware of the victims of Flight 93. On this most recent 9/11, I was talking to my dad on the way to class when he mentioned the fourth plane. I was shocked– How could I not have known about Flight 93? I felt guilty, depressed, and tremendously curious. I wanted to get to know the passengers from that fourth plane—who they were, how they felt, and what they said to their friends and family in those terrifying moments. Here is what I learned.
I wanted to get to know the passengers from that fourth plane—who they were, how they felt, and what they said to their friends and family in those terrifying moments.
Alan Beaven was an environmental lawyer. He had one last case before he would travel to India to do volunteer work with his family. His motto, taped on the wall of his New York office, was “Fear—who cares?”
Jeremy Glick told his wife Lyz, who was safe at home, “I need you to be happy, and I will respect any decisions that you make.” Then he explained that the passengers were taking a vote to decide whether they should take back control of the plane.
CeeCee Lyles retired from her job as a police officer and detective for six years to pursue her dream of becoming a flight attendant, much to the dismay of her family who felt that flying was more dangerous. In her last call to her husband she said, “My plane’s been hijacked… I love you. Tell the boys I love them.”
Pilot Jason Dahl moved his flight schedule earlier in the month so that he could spend more time overseas with his wife Sandy on their fifth wedding anniversary.
Christine Snyder and Mary Steiner traveled to New York after attending the American Forestry Conference in Washington, DC. Mary flew Northwest while Christine flew United to build up her frequent flier miles. “See you tomorrow!” Mary called out, as the two parted at the airport.
Melodie Homer does not remember if her husband, Leroy, the First Officer of Flight 93, kissed her goodbye. It was 4:45am when he left the house, and she had been sick the night before. He was supposed to end his night in San Francisco.
Deena Burnett called her husband Tom from home and said, “They’re taking airplanes and hitting landmarks all up and down the East Coast.” Tom replied, “OK, we’re going to do something,” indicating that the passengers would try to take back control of the plane.
When Deena Burnett called her husband Tom from home, and said, “They’re taking airplanes and hitting landmarks all up and down the East Coast,” he replied, “OK, we’re going to do something.”
As passengers recognized the sacrifice they were making in order to divert the plane from the Capitol, Honor Elizabeth Wainio told her mother Esther, “It hurts me that it’s going to be so much harder for you all than it is for me.”
In 2015, a memorial was built in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where Flight 93 crashed down. Gordon W. Felt, whose brother, Edward Porter Felt, died in the crash recalled the moment when he first visited the site. “I found violence,” he said. “I found the horror of the day was everywhere. Now, when I come back to the memorial, I’m much more at peace. Not to say that the emotions aren’t raw. Not to say that I still don’t harbor anger.”
In the wake of instances of extreme violence such as this one, I do not know what I can do but to feel— to feel angry, violated, and confused that this happened, to feel amazed and awestruck at the initiative of the passengers to fight back, to feel that I do not want to feel anymore. But that it is the one way I know how to remember.