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Day of 911

Bush on 9/11
Flight AA 11
Flight UA 93
Flight UA 175
Flight AA 77
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Complete 911 Timeline: United Airlines Flight 93


Project: Complete 911 Timeline

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8:01 a.m.

United Airlines Flight 93, a Boeing 757.
Flight 93 is delayed for 41 minutes on the runway in Newark, finally taking off at 8:42. The Boston Globe credits this delay as a major reason why this was the only one of the four flights not to succeed in its mission. [Boston Globe, 11/23/01] [Newsweek, 9/22/01, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/28/01 (B)] Apparently Flight 93 has to wait in a line of about a dozen planes before it can take off. [USA Today 8/12/02]

(8:42 a.m.)

Flight 93's intended and actual routes.
Flight 93 takes off from Newark International Airport, bound for San Francisco. It leaves 41 minutes late because of heavy runway traffic. [MSNBC, 9/3/02] [Newsweek 9/22/01; AP 8/19/02; CNN 9/17/01; Guardian 10/17/01; 9/11 Commission Report 6/17/04]

8:43 a.m.

       NORAD is notified that Flight 175 has been hijacked. [8:43, NORAD, 9/18/01, 8:43, CNN, 9/17/01, 8:43, Washington Post, 9/12/01, 8:43, AP, 8/19/02, 8:43, Newsday, 9/10/02] Apparently NORAD doesn't need to be notified, because by this time NEADS technicians have their headsets linked to the FAA in Boston to hear about Flight 11, and so NORAD learns instantly about Flight 175. [Newhouse News, 1/25/02] Note that this means the controllers working Flight 77 and Flight 93 would have been aware of both Flight 175 and Flight 11's hijacking from this time.

(10:13-10:23 a.m.)

       The 9/11 Commission later concludes that had Flight 93 not crashed, it would probably reach Washington around this time. The commission notes that there are only three fighters over Washington at this time, all from Langley, Virginia. But the pilots of these fighters were never briefed about why they were scrambled. As the lead pilot explained, “I reverted to the Russian threat … I'm thinking cruise missile threat from the sea. You know you look down and see the Pentagon burning and I thought the bastards snuck one by us …. [Y]ou couldn't see any airplanes, and no one told us anything.” The pilots knew their mission was to identify and divert aircraft flying within a certain radius of Washington, but didn't know that the threat came from hijacked planes. Also, the Commission notes that NEADS didn't know where Flight 93 was when it crashed, and wonders if they would have determined its location and passed it on the pilots before the plane reached Washington. They conclude, “NORAD officials have maintained that they would have intercepted and shot down United 93. We are not so sure.” [Independent Commission Report, 6/17/04] It is not even completely certain if fighters reach Washington before Flight 93 would have (see(9:55-10:10 a.m.)).

(After 9:00 a.m.)

       Ed Ballinger, flight dispatcher for United Airlines, sends the same warning to all United flights: “Beware of cockpit intrusion.” Flight 93 replies, “Hi Ed. Confirmed.” But apparently the pilots aren't told why, what happened at the WTC, or that another plane is missing. [“Just after 9:00,” , New York Observer, 6/17/04] One flight controller at the Cleveland tower in charge of Flight 93 at the time later recalls, “I saw controllers step up to the plate and start warning flight crews. This was totally by the seat of their pants. It's not because they're directed to by anybody. It's just, OK, everybody's on alert right now.” [MSNBC, 9/11/02 (B)] Ballinger later says, “One of the things that upset me was that [the FAA and United Airlines headquarters] knew, 45 minutes before [Flight 93 crashed], that American Airlines had a problem. I put the story together myself [from news accounts]. Perhaps if I had the information sooner, I might have gotten the message to [Flight] 93 to bar the door.” [New York Observer, 6/17/04] Apparently a more formal warning reaches Flight 93 later (see (9:24 a.m.)).

(9:16 a.m.)

       According to a NORAD timeline from a week after 9/11, NORAD claims that Flight 93 may have been hijacked at this time. The timeline inexplicably fails to say when the FAA told them about the hijack, the only flight for which they fail to provide this data. [CNN, 9/17/01, NORAD, 9/18/01] However, there may be one explanation: there are media reports that “investigators had determined from the cockpit voice recorder from United Airlines Flight 93 … that one of the four hijackers had been invited into the cockpit area before the flight took off from Newark, New Jersey.” Cockpit voice recordings indicate that the pilots believed their guest was a colleague “and was thereby extended the typical airline courtesy of allowing any pilot from any airline to join a flight by sitting in the jumpseat, the folded over extra seat located inside the cockpit.” [Fox News, 9/24/01, Herald Sun, 9/25/01] But this account hasn't been confirmed. The 9/11 Commission asserts the hijacking begins around 9:28 (see (9:28 a.m.)).

(9:24 a.m.)

       At 9:21, United dispatchers are told to advise their flights to secure cockpit doors. At 9:24, a United dispatcher sends an electronic message to Flight 93 reading: “Beware of cockpit intrusion. Two aircraft in New York hit Trade Center buildings.” Flight 93 acknowledges the message two minutes later. This is the last vocal contact from the cockpit of Flight 93. [Independent Commission, 1/27/04] Note that apparently this warning is in addition to an informal one that reaches Flight 93 earlier (see (After 9:00 a.m.)).

(9:27 a.m.)

Tom Burnett.
Tom Burnett calls his wife Deena and says, “I'm on United Flight 93 from Newark to San Francisco. The plane has been hijacked. We are in the air. They've already knifed a guy. There is a bomb on board. Call the FBI.” Deena connects to emergency 911. [9:27, “she scribbled down what Tom told her and noted the time,” Among the Heroes, by Jere Longman, 8/02, p. 107, ABC News, 9/12/01, “within minutes” of 9:28, MSNBC, 7/30/02, “She recalls it was around 6:20 a.m.–9:20 Eastern time,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/28/01 (B), “shortly after” Jeremy Glick's call, Toronto Sun, 9/16/01] His wife Deena wonders if the call might have been before the cockpit was taken over, because he spoke quickly and quietly as if he was being watched. He also had a headset like phone operators use, so he could have made the call unnoticed. Note that original versions of this conversation appear to have been censored. The most recent account has the phone call ending with, “We are in the air. The plane has been hijacked. They already knifed a guy. One of them has a gun. They're saying there is a bomb onboard. Please call the authorities.” [Among the Heroes, by Jere Longman, 8/02, p. 107] The major difference from earlier accounts, of course, is the mention of a gun. The call wasn't recorded, but Deena's call immediately afterwards to 911 was, and she states on that, “They just knifed a passenger and there are guns on the plane.” [Among the Heroes, by Jere Longman, 8/02, p. 108] This is the first of over 30 additional phone calls by passengers inside the plane. [MSNBC 7/30/02]

(9:28 a.m.)

       Cleveland flight controller Stacey Taylor has been warned to watch transcontinental flights heading west for anything suspicious. She later recalls, “I hear one of the controllers behind me go, ‘Oh, my God, oh my God,’ and he starts yelling for the supervisor. He goes, ‘What is this plane doing? What is this plane doing?’ I wasn't that busy at the time, and I pulled it up on my screen and he was climbing and descending and climbing and descending, but very gradually. He'd go up 300 feet, he'd go down 300 feet. And it turned out to be United 93.” (Note the time of this incident is not specified, but presumably it is prior to when Cleveland controllers note Flight 93 descends 700 feet (see (9:29 a.m.)). [MSNBC 9/11/02 (B)]

(9:28 a.m.)

       Flight 93 acknowledges a transmission from a Cleveland flight controller. This is the last normal contact with the plane. [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04] According to the 9/11 Commission, less than a minute later, the controller and pilots of aircraft in the vicinity hear “a radio transmission of unintelligible sounds of possible screaming or a struggle from an unknown origin … ” [after 9:25, Newsweek, 11/25/01, 9:28, 9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04, 9:28, Guardian, 10/17/01] Seconds later, the controller responds: “Somebody call Cleveland?” Then there are more sounds of screaming and someone yelling, “Get out of here, get out of here.” [9:28, MSNBC, 7/30/02, 9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04, 9:30, Observer, 12/2/01, 9:32: “90 minutes into the flight,” Toronto Sun, 9/16/01, 9:58, Newsweek, 9/22/01, ] Then the voices of the hijackers can be heard talking in Arabic. The words are later translated to show they are talking to each other, saying “Everything is fine.” [Newsweek 11/25/01]

(9:29 a.m.)

       Shortly after hearing strange noises from the cockpit of Flight 93, Cleveland flight controllers notice the plane has descended about 700 feet. They try to contact the plane several times, but get no answer. At 9:30, a controller asks other nearby flights on his frequency if they've heard screaming; several say that they have. [Independent Commission Report 6/17/04]

(9:30 a.m.)

       Flight controllers mistakenly suspect that Delta Flight 1989, flying west over Pennsylvania, has been hijacked. The controllers briefly suspect the sound of hijackers' voices in Flight 93 is coming from this plane, only a few miles away. USA Today reports the flight “joins a growing list of suspicious jets. Some of their flight numbers will be scrawled on a white dry-erase board throughout the morning” at FAA headquarters. Miscommunications lead to further suspicion of Flight 1989 even after the source of the hijacker's message is confirmed to come from Flight 93. Flight 1989 lands in Cleveland at 10:10. Eventually, about 11 flights will be suspected, with four of them actually hijacked. [USA Today, 8/13/02 (B)] The 9/11 Commission later has another explanation. They claim that at 9:41, Boston flight control identifies Flight 1989 as a possible hijacking strictly because it is a transcontinental 767 that had departed from Logan Airport. Although NEADS never loses track of the flight, it launches fighters from Ohio and Michigan to intercept it (see 10:01 a.m. and (After 10:06 a.m.)). [9/11 Commission Report 6/17/04]

(After 9:31 a.m.)

Flight attendant Debbie Welsh is apparently stabbed.
A few minutes after 9:31, a hijacker on board Flight 93 can be heard on the cockpit voice recording ordering a woman to sit down. A woman, presumably a flight attendant, implores, “Don't, don't.” She pleads, “Please, I don't want to die.”Patrick Welsh, the husband of flight attendant Debbie Welsh, is later told that a flight attendant was stabbed early in the takeover, and it is strongly implied it was his wife. She was a first-class attendant, and he says, “knowing Debby,” she would have resisted.

(9:32 a.m.)

       A hijacker says over the radio to Flight 93's passengers: “Ladies and gentlemen, here it's the captain, please sit down. Keep remaining sitting. We have a bomb aboard.” Apparently Cleveland flight controllers can understand about a minute of screams, then a voice again says something about a “bomb on board.” A hijacker says in broken English that they are returning to the airport. [9:32, MSNBC, 9/3/02, 9:34, , 9:35, Newsweek, 9/22/01] According to the 9/11 Commission's account, the hijacker's voice says, “Keep remaining sitting. We have a bomb on board.” The controller understands, but chooses to respond, “Calling Cleveland center, you're unreadable. Say again, slowly.” Apparently there's no answer. The controller notifies his supervisor, who passes the notice up the chain of command (see 9:34 a.m.). [9/11 Commission Report 6/17/04]

9:34 a.m.

       Tom Burnett calls his wife Deena a second time. He says, “They're in the cockpit.” He has checked the pulse of the man who was knifed (later identified as Mark Rothenberg, sitting next to him in seat 5B) and determined he is dead. She tells him about the hits on the WTC. He responds, “Oh my God, it's a suicide mission.” As they continue to talk, he tells her the plane has turned back. By this time, Deena is in constant communication with the FBI and others, and a policeman is at her house.

9:34 a.m.

       According to the 9/11 Commission, word of Flight 93's hijacking reaches FAA's Washington headquarters. By this time, the headquarters has established an open line of communication with the FAA Command Center at Herndon, Virginia. It had instructed the center to poll all flight control centers about suspect aircraft. So, at this time, the Command Center passes on Cleveland's message: “United 93 may have a bomb on board.” The Command Center continually updates FAA headquarters on Flight 93 until it crashes. [9/11 Commission Report 6/17/04]

9:35 a.m.

       The San Francisco United Airlines maintenance center receives a call from an unnamed flight attendant on Flight 93 saying that the flight has been hijacked. The information is quickly passed on. [Independent Commission, 1/27/04] Within ten minutes, “everyone” in the United Airlines crisis center “now [knows] that a flight attendant on board had called the mechanics desk to report that one hijacker had a bomb strapped on and another was holding a knife on the crew.” [Wall Street Journal 10/15/01]

(9:35 a.m.)

       When Flight 93 is over Youngstown, Ohio, Stacey Taylor and other Cleveland flight controllers see it rapidly climb up 6,000 feet above its assigned altitude at 35,000 feet and then descend rapidly. The plane drops so quickly towards Cleveland that the flight controllers worry that they might be the target. Other accounts have the climb occur around 9:35. Controllers continue to try to contact the plane but still get no response. [Guardian 10/17/01; USA Today 8/13/02; Independent Commission Report 6/17/04]

(9:36 a.m.)

       Flight 93 files a new flight plan with a final destination of Washington, reverses course and heads toward Washington. [9:35, “turned around near Cleveland,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/28/01, “turns off course,”9:36:01, Guardian, 10/17/01, 9:36, MSNBC, 9/3/02, 9:36, “made an ominous turn,” Among the Heroes, by Jere Longman, 8/02, p. 219] Radar shows the plane turning 180 degrees. [CNN, 9/13/01 (B)] The new flight plan schedules the plane to arrive in Washington at 10:28.

(9:36 a.m.)

       According to the 9/11 Commission, at about this time Cleveland flight control asks the FAA Command Center specifically whether someone has requested the military to launch fighters toward Flight 93. Cleveland offers to contact a nearby military base. The Command Center replies that FAA personnel well above them in the chain of command have to make that decision and are working on the issue. [Independent Commission Report 6/17/04]

(9:37 a.m.)

Jeremy Glick.
Jeremy Glick calls his wife Lyz from Flight 93. He describes the hijackers as Middle Eastern, Iranian looking. They put on red headbands and the three of them stood up and yelled and ran into the cockpit. He was sitting in the front of the coach section, but was sent to the back with most of the passengers. They claimed to have a bomb, which looked like a box with something red around it. He says the plane has turned around. Family members immediately call emergency 911 on another line. New York state police get patched in midway through the call. Glick finds out about the WTC towers. Two others onboard also learn about the WTC at about this time. Glick's phone remains connected until the very end of the flight. [MSNBC 7/30/02; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 10/28/01 (B); Toronto Sun 9/16/01]

(After 9:38 a.m.)

       A few minutes after Flight 77 crashes, the Secret Service commands fighters from Andrews Air Force Base, 10 miles from Washington, to “Get in the air now!” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/02] Why weren't these fighters ordered into the air earlier—Vice President has been aware that a plane was headed towards Washington for at least ten minutes before the crash (see (9:27 a.m.)) so presumably the Secret Service would have been aware as well. Andrews planes were told to be prepared to scramble a few minutes after 9:03 (see (After 9:03 a.m.)), so they could have made the 10 mile distance to the Pentagon very quickly. Almost simultaneously, a call from someone else in the White House declares the Washington area “a free-fire zone.” Says one pilot, “That meant we were given authority to use force, if the situation required it, in defense of the nation's capital, its property and people.” Lt. Col. Marc H. (Sass) Sasseville and a pilot only known by the codename Lucky sprint to their waiting F-16s armed only with “hot” guns and 511 rounds of “TP” —nonexplosive training rounds. The pilots later say that, had all else failed, they would have rammed into Flight 93. Meanwhile, the three F-16s flying on a training mission 207 miles away return to their home at Andrews Air Force Base. Major Billy Hutchison's fighter still has enough gas to take off again immediately; the other two need to refuel. He supposedly takes off with no weapons. “Hutchison was probably airborne shortly after the alert F-16s from Langley arrive over Washington, although 121st FS pilots admit their timeline-recall ‘is fuzzy.’ ”This would mean Hutchison doesn't even leave Andrews until after 9:49 (see (9:55-10:10 a.m.)). His is said to be the first fighter to reach Washington. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/02] Could the pilot's recall of times be “fuzzy” because they don't like lying? There are multiple reports of Andrews fighters at the Pentagon before and of the above fighters were reported to have taken off. For instance, “Within minutes of the [Pentagon] attack … F-16s from Andrews Air Force Base were in the air over Washington DC.”[Telegraph, 9/16/01] “A few moments [after the Pentagon attack] … overhead, fighter jets scrambled from Andrews Air Force Base and other installations.” [Denver Post, 9/11/01] A year later, ABC News reports, “High overhead [the Pentagon], jet fighters arrive. Just moments too late.” [ABC News, 9/11/02] Yet other newspaper accounts deny fighters from Andrews were deployed [USA Today, 9/16/01], and some deny Andrews even had fighters at all! [USA Today, 9/16/01 (B)] NORAD commander Major General Larry Arnold has said, “We [didn't] have any aircraft on alert at Andrews.” [MSNBC 9/23/01 (C)]

(After 9:38 a.m.)

       After the Pentagon is hit, fighters at nearby Andrews Air Force Base are still preparing to launch (see (After 9:03 a.m.)). At some unknown point, flight squad commander Lt. Col. Marc Sasseville grabs three F-16 pilots and gives them a curt briefing. He recalls saying, “I have no idea what's going on, but we're flying. Here's our frequency. We'll split up the area as we have to. Just defend as required. We'll talk about the rest in the air.” All four dress up and get ready. One officer at Andrews recalls, “After the Pentagon was hit, we were told there were more [airliners] coming. Not ‘might be’ ; they were coming.” Meanwhile, a “flood” of calls from the Secret Service and local FAA flight control centers pour in to Andrews, as the fighter response is coordinated. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/02] However, the loading of missiles onto the fighters is very time-consuming, and when these fighters finally take off nearly an hour later, they launch without the missiles installed (see (10:42 a.m.)).

(9:39 a.m.)

       The hijackers probably inadvertently transmit over the radio: “Hi, this is the captain. We'd like you all to remain seated. There is a bomb on board. And we are going to turn back to the airport. And they had our demands, so please remain quiet.” [MSNBC, 9/3/02] The 9/11 Commission gives a nearly verbatim account. [Boston Globe, 11/23/01, 9:38, MSNBC, 9/3/02, 9:39, Among the Heroes, by Jere Longman, 8/02, p. 209, 9:39, 9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04] The controller responds, “United 93, understand you have a bomb on board. Go ahead,” but there is no response. [9/11 Commission Report 6/17/04]

(9:40 a.m.)

       The transponder signal from Flight 93 ceases. [9:30, MSNBC, 9/3/02, after turning at 9:35, MSNBC, 9/11/02 (B), 9:40, CNN, 9/17/01, 9:41, 9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04] But the plane can still be tracked, and is tracked by Cleveland flight controllers and at United headquarters. Altitude can no longer be determined, except by visual sightings from other aircraft. The plane's speed begins to vary wildly, moving between 600 and 400 mph before eventually settling around 400 mph. [9/11 Commission Report 6/17/04]

9:41 a.m.

       From Flight 93, Marion Birtton calls a friend. She tells him two people have been killed and the plane has been turned around. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 10/28/01]

(9:41 a.m.)

       Newark, New Jersey flight controller Greg Callahan is talking to an FBI agent on the phone. The agent says about Flight 93: “We suspect that this aircraft has now been taken over by hostile forces.” The agent describes the sharp turn it has made over eastern Ohio and that it is now heading back over southwestern Pennsylvania. Callahan says he could tell the plane is on a course for Washington. [MSNBC 9/11/02 (B)]

9:42 a.m.

Where is the security covering Bush in this picture around 9:43 a.m.? [AP] Around 3:00 p.m., Bush is “guarded by soldiers clad in fatigues and gripping machine guns” when he emerges from Air Force One. [Salon, 9/12/01]
From Flight 93 Mark Bingham calls his mother and says, “I'm on a flight from Newark to San Francisco and there are three guys who have taken over the plane and they say they have a bomb.” [9:42, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/28/01 (B)] In an alternate version, he says, “I'm in the air, I'm calling you on the Airfone. I'm calling you from the plane. We've been taken over. There are three men that say they have a bomb.” [Toronto Sun 9/16/01; Boston Globe 11/23/01]

9:44 a.m.

       NORAD briefs the NMCC teleconference on the possible hijacking of Delta Flight 1989. Four minutes later, a representative from the White House bunker containing Vice President Cheney asks if there are any indications of other hijacked planes. Captain Charles Leidig, temporarily in charge of the NMCC (see 8:30 a.m.), mentions the Delta flight and comments, “that would be the fourth possible hijack.” Flight 1989 is in the same general Ohio region as Flight 93, but NORAD doesn't scramble fighters toward either at this time. [Independent Commission Report 6/17/04]

9:45 a.m.

       Tom Burnett calls his wife Deena for the third time. She tells him about the crash into the Pentagon. Tom speaks about the bomb he'd mentioned earlier, saying, “I don't think they have one. I think they're just telling us that.” He says the hijackers are talking about crashing the plane into the ground. “We have to do something.” He says that he and others are making a plan. “A group of us.” [Among the Heroes, by Jere Longman, 8/02, p. 111] So there would have been at least 19 minutes advance warning that a passenger takeover was likely, if the contents of these phone calls were being passed on to the right authorities. Even by his second call, the FBI was listening in. [Toronto Sun 9/16/01]

9:45 a.m.

Todd Beamer.
After having some trouble with his phone, passenger Todd Beamer is able to speak to Verizon phone representative Lisa Jefferson, with the FBI listening in. He talks for about 15 minutes. Beamer says he has been herded to the back of the plane along with nine other passengers and five flight attendants. A hijacker who says he has a bomb strapped to his body is guarding them. 27 passengers are being guarded by a hijacker in first class, which is separated by a curtain. One hijacker has gone into the cockpit. One passenger is dead (that leaves one passenger unaccounted for—presumably the man who made a call from the bathroom). The two pilots are apparently dead. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/16/01, Newsweek, 9/22/01, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/28/01, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/28/01 (B)] (A conflicting version [Boston Globe, 11/23/01] states that 27 were in the back, and that he saw four hijackers) Is Burnett's first class section group in contact with Todd Beamer's coach section group in the back of the plane or are there two independent plans to take over the plane?

(9:46 a.m.)

       According to the Flight 93 voice recording, around this time one hijacker in the cockpit says to another, “Let the guys in now.” A vague instruction is given to bring the pilot back in. It's not clear if this is a reference to an original pilot or a hijacker pilot. Investigators aren't sure if the original pilots were killed or allowed to live.

(9:47 a.m.)

       On Flight 93, Jeremy Glick is still on the phone with his wife Lyz. He tells her that the passengers are taking a vote if they should try to take over the plane or not. [About the same time as a different phone call, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/28/01, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/28/01 (B)] He later says that all the men on the plane have voted to attack the hijackers. [No time marker, Toronto Sun, 9/16/01] When asked about weapons, he says they don't have guns, just knives. This appears to contradict an earlier mention of guns, but this may be the true account since no other calls mention guns, and the voice recorder doesn't record any gunshots.His wife Lyz got the impression from him that the hijacker standing nearby claiming to hold the bomb would be easy to overwhelm. [Among the Heroes, by Jere Longman, 8/02, p. 153-154] If the authorities hadn't learned they shouldn't shoot down the plane from Tom Burnett's call two minutes earlier, they should have learned it from this one.

9:49 a.m.

       The FAA orders the Pittsburgh control tower evacuated. Shortly before, Cleveland flight controllers called Pittsburgh flight control and said a plane was heading toward Pittsburgh and refusing to communicate. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 9/23/01 (B)]

9:49 a.m.

       In the words of the 9/11 Commission, the commander of NORAD (General Ralph Eberhart) directs “all air sovereignty aircraft to battle stations fully armed.” [Independent Commission Report, 6/17/04] Apparently this means all fighters with air defense missions are to get armed and be ready to scramble. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke claims that after the Pentagon is hit, he ordered to an aide, “Find out where the fighter planes are. I want Combat Air Patrol over every major city in this country. Now” (see (Between 9:38-9:45 a.m.)). It has not been explained why this order wasn't given much earlier. Calls from air force bases across the country asking to help had started “pouring into NORAD” shortly after 9:03, when televised reports made an emergency situation clear (see (After 9:03 a.m.)).

(9:55-10:10 a.m.)

       The three F-16s scrambled after Flight 77 from Langley, Virginia (see (9:30 a.m.)) finally reach Washington and the burning Pentagon. The 129 mile distance could theoretically be covered by the fighters in six minutes, but they've taken a large, mistaken detour over the ocean (see (9:30 -9:37 a.m.)). The exact time they arrive is very unclear. NORAD originally claimed they arrive as soon as 9:49, but the 9/11 Commission implies they don't arrive until shortly after 10:00, though no exact time is specified. [CNN 9/17/01; NORAD 9/18/01; New York Times 9/15/01; CBS 9/14/01; 9/11 Commission Report 6/17/04] Press accounts of when the first fighters reach Washington are highly contradictory. Early news accounts of fighters arriving from Andrews Air Force Base “within minutes,” “a few moments,” or “just moments” after the Pentagon crash appear to have been accounts of these Langley fighters, since they apparently arrive before Andrews fighters do (see (10:38 a.m.)). [Telegraph, 9/16/01, Denver Post, 9/11/01, ABC News, 9/11/02] Yet other newspaper accounts inaccurately deny fighters from Andrews were deployed [USA Today, 9/16/01], and some deny Andrews even had fighters at all. [USA Today, 9/16/01 (B)] Defense officials initially claimed, “There were no military planes in the skies over Washington until 15 to 20 minutes after the Pentagon was hit” —in other words, 9:53 to 9:58. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 9/14/01] ABC News reported that by 10:00, “Dozens of fighters are buzzing in the sky” over Washington. [ABC News, 9/11/02] Whereas the New York Times reported, “In the White House Situation Room and at the Pentagon, the response seemed agonizingly slow. One military official recalls hearing ‘words to the effect of, ‘Where are the planes?’ ’ The Pentagon insists it had air cover over its own building by 10 a.m., 15 minutes after the building was hit. But witnesses, including a reporter for The New York Times who was headed toward the building, did not see any until closer to 11.” [New York Times, 9/16/01 (B)] It is likely, though uncertain, that fighters reach Washington before Flight 93 would have, had it not crashed (see (10:13 -10:23 a.m.)).

9:49 a.m.

       According to the 9/11 Commission, the FAA Command Center has just twice warned FAA headquarters that United 93 is now “29 minutes out of Washington, DC.” Someone at headquarters says to someone at the Command Center, “They're pulling Jeff [last name unknown] away to go talk about United 93.” Command Center replies, “Uh, do we want to think about, uh, scrambling aircraft?” FAA headquarters replies, “Uh, God, I don't know.” Command Center says, “Uh, that's a decision somebody's gonna have to make probably in the next ten minutes.” FAA headquarters answers, “Uh, ya know everybody just left the room.” [Independent Commission Report, 6/17/04] This is 13 minutes since Cleveland flight control had asked the Command Center in vain about a military response to Flight 93 (see (9:36 a.m.)).

9:50 a.m.

Sandra Bradshaw.
Sandra Bradshaw calls her husband from Flight 93. She says, “Have you heard what's going on? My flight has been hijacked. My flight has been hijacked with three guys with knives.” [Boston Globe, 11/23/01] She tells him that they are in the rear galley filling pitchers with hot water to use against the hijackers. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 10/28/01; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 10/28/01 (B)]

9:53 a.m.

       The hijackers in the cockpit of Flight 93 grow concerned that the passengers might retaliate. One urges that the plane's fire ax be held up to the door's peephole to scare the passengers.

9:53 a.m.

       The National Security Agency (NSA) reportedly intercepts a phone call from one of bin Laden's operatives in Afghanistan to a phone number in the Republic of Georgia. The caller says he has “heard good news” and that another target is still to come (presumably, Flight 93). [CBS 9/4/02] Since the 9/11 crisis began, NSA translators have been told to focus on Middle Eastern intercepts and translate them as they are received instead of oldest first, as is the usual practice. This call is translated in the next hour or two, and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld hears about it just after noon (see 12:05 a.m.). [CBS 9/4/02]

9:53 a.m.

       According to the 9/11 Commission, FAA headquarters informs the FAA Command Center that the Deputy Director for Air Traffic Services is talking to Deputy Administrator Monte Belger about scrambling aircraft after Flight 93. Headquarters is informed that the flight is 20 miles northwest of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. [9/11 Commission Report 6/17/04]

9:54 a.m.

       Tom Burnett calls his wife Deena for the fourth and last time. In early reports of this call, he says, “I know we're all going to die. There's three of us who are going to do something about it.” [No time marker, Toronto Sun, 9/16/01, no time marker, Boston Globe, 11/23/01] However, in a later and much more complete account, he sounds much more upbeat. “It's up to us. I think we can do it.” “Don't worry, we're going to do something.” He specifically mentions they plan to regain control of the airplane over a rural area. [9:54, “again Deena noted the time,” Among the Heroes, by Jere Longman, 8/02, p. 118] Could the early reports of fatalism have been deliberate misinformation to make it appear that the passengers had no chance of success?

(After 9:55 a.m.)

       The Langley F-16s over Washington are told that all planes in the US have been ordered to land (see (9:45 a.m.)). According to the New York Times, at some point after this, someone from the Secret Service gets on the radio and tells the pilots, “I want you to protect the White House at all costs.” [New York Times, 10/16/01] F-16 pilot Honey (who is apparently Captain Craig Borgstrom (see (9:24 a.m.)) gives a similar, though less dramatic account. At some point after the F-16s had set up a defensive perimeter over Washington (see (9:55-10:10 a.m.)), the lead pilot (again, Borgstrom) receives a garbled message about Flight 93 that isn't heard by the other two pilots. “The message seemed to convey that the White House was an important asset to protect.” Honey says he is later told the message is, “Something like, ‘Be aware of where it is, and it could be a target.’ ” Another pilot, codenamed Lou, says Honey tells him, “I think the Secret Service told me this.” [Among the Heroes, by Jere Longman, 8/02, p. 76] Both Lou and Honey state they are never given clear and direct orders to shoot down any plane that day.

(After 9:56 a.m.)

       After flying off in Air Force One, Bush talks to Vice President Cheney on the phone. Cheney recommends that Bush authorize the military to shoot down any plane under control of the hijackers. “I said, ‘You bet,’ ” Bush later recalls. “We had a little discussion, but not much.” [“After Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon,” Newsday, 9/23/01, time unknown, USA Today, 9/16/01, “Once airborne, Bush spoke again to Cheney,” Washington Post, 1/27/02, after Bush is airborne, CBS, 9/11/02] The 9/11 Commission claims that Cheney tells Bush three planes are still missing and one has hit the Pentagon. [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04] Bush later says that he doesn't make any major decisions about how to respond to the 9/11 attacks until after Air Force One takes off. [Wall Street Journal 3/22/04] Flight 93 is still in the air, and fighters are given orders to intercept it and possibly shoot it down. [ABC News 9/11/02]

(After 9:56-10:06 a.m.)

       Inside his White House bunker, a military aide asks Vice President Cheney, “There is a plane 80 miles out. There is a fighter in the area. Should we engage?” Cheney immediately answers “Yes.” [Washington Post, 1/27/02] An F-16 fighter near Washington heads in pursuit of Flight 93. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/28/01 (B)] However, a different explanation says, “The closest fighters are two F-16 pilots on a training mission from Selfridge Air National Guard Base near Detroit.” These are ordered after Flight 93, even though but they supposedly aren't armed with any weapons. It is claimed they are supposed to crash into Flight 93 if they cannot persuade it to land. [ABC News, 8/30/02, ABC News, 9/11/02] However, Washington is much closer to Flight 93's position than Detroit by this time, and there are already “dozens” of fighters flying over Washington by this time so why send those? In either case, as the fighter (or fighters) gets nearer to Flight 93, Cheney is asked twice more to confirm if the fighter should engage, and he responds yes both times. [Washington Post, 1/27/02] Montague Winfield, in charge of the Pentagon's command center, later says, “At some point, the closure time [between the fighter and Flight 93] came and went, and nothing happened, so you can imagine everything was very tense at the NMCC.” [] Yet Major Gen. Paul Weaver, director of the Air National Guard, had previously claimed that no military planes were sent after Flight 93. [Seattle Times, 9/16/01] And the pilots flying over Washington that have spoken say that all of them didn't even learn about Flight 93 or any plane crashing in Pennsylvania until they returned to base in the afternoon. [Among the Heroes, by Jere Longman, 8/02, p. 222] There is a lot of evidence that fighters were sent after Flight 93, including the Vice President's claim. Is someone lying, or were the planes coming from somewhere else?

(After 9:56 a.m.)

       At some point after the F-16s are in the air, someone from the Secret Service gets on the radio and tells the pilots, “I want you to protect the White House at all costs.” [New York Times, 10/16/01] This must have occurred after Bush gave his okay to shoot down planes just after 9:55 (see also (After 9:55 a.m.)).

(9:57 a.m. and After)

       “In the cockpit! In the cockpit!” is heard. Hijackers are reportedly heard telling each other to hold the door. In English, someone outside shouts, “Let's get them.” The hijackers are also praying “Allah o akbar” (God is great). One of the hijackers suggests shutting off the oxygen supply to the cabin (which apparently wouldn't have had an effect since the plane was already below 10,000 feet). A hijacker says, “Should we finish?” Another one says, “Not yet.” The sounds of the passengers get clearer, and in unaccented English “Give it to me!” is heard. “I'm injured,” someone says in English. Then something like “roll it up” and “lift it up” is heard. Passengers' relatives believe this sequence proves that the passengers did take control of the plane. [MSNBC 7/30/02; Telegraph 8/6/02; Newsweek 11/25/01; Observer 12/2/01]

9:57 a.m.

       One of the hijackers in the cockpit asks if anything is going on, apparently meaning outside the cockpit. “Fighting,”the other one says. [Among the Heroes, by Jere Longman, 8/02, p. 210] An analysis of the flight recorder suggests that the passenger struggle actually started in the front of the plane (where Bingham and Burnett were sitting) about a minute before a struggle in the back of the plane (where Beamer was sitting). [Observer, 12/2/01] Officials later theorize that the Flight 93 passengers did actually reach the cockpit using a food cart as a battering ram and a shield. They claim that digital enhancement of the cockpit voice recorder reveals the sound of plates and glassware crashing around 9:57. [Newsweek 11/25/01]

9:58 a.m.

CeeCee Lyles.
CeeCee Lyles says to her husband, “Aah, it feels like the plane's going down.” Her husband Lorne says, “What's that?” She replies, “I think they're going to do it. They're forcing their way into the cockpit” (an alternate version says, “They're getting ready to force their way into the cockpit”). A little later she screams, then says, “They're doing it! They're doing it! They're doing it!”Her husband hears more screaming in the background, then he hears a “whooshing sound, a sound like wind,” then more screaming, and then the call breaks off. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 10/28/01; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 10/28/01 (B)]

9:58 a.m.

       Todd Beamer ends his long phone call saying that they plan “to jump” the hijacker in the back who has the bomb. In the background, the phone operator already could hear an “awful commotion” of people shouting, and women screaming, “Oh my God,” and “God help us.” He lets go of the phone but leaves it connected. His famous last words are said to nearby passengers: “Are you ready guys? Let's roll”(alternate version: “You ready? Okay. Let's roll”). [Newsweek 9/22/01; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 10/28/01 (B)]

9:58 a.m.

Edward Felt.
A man calls 911 from a bathroom on the plane, crying, “We're being hijacked, we're being hijacked!” [Toronto Sun, 9/16/01], then reports that “he heard some sort of explosion and saw white smoke coming from the plane and we lost contact with him.”[ABC News, 9/11/01 (B), ABC News, 9/11/01 (C), AP, 9/12/01 (B)] One minute after the call began, the line goes dead. [Pittsburgh Channel, 12/6/01] Investigators believe this was Edward Felt, the only passenger not accounted for on phone calls. He was sitting in first class, so he probably was in the bathroom near the front of the plane. At one point he appears to have peeked out the bathroom door. [Among the Heroes, by Jere Longman, 8/02, p. 193-194, 196] The mentions of smoke and explosions on the recording of his call are now denied. [Among the Heroes, by Jere Longman, 8/02, p. 264] The person who took Felt's call is not allowed to speak to the media. [Mirror, 9/13/02] If that's true, why is this important fact only denied now, when the FBI got a copy of the recording on 9/11, and let the media report the smoke and explosion story for months?

9:58 a.m.

       Sandy Bradshaw tells her husband, “Everyone's running to first class. I've got to go. Bye.” She had been speaking with him since 9:50. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 10/28/01 (B); Boston Globe 11/23/01]

(After 9:59 a.m.)

       Some time after the first WTC tower collapsed, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke orders all landmark buildings and all federal buildings in the US to be evacuated. He also orders all harbors and borders closed. While he is arranging this, and after at least 10:06, an aide tells him, “United 93 is down, crashed outside of Pittsburgh. It's odd. Appears not to have hit anything much on the ground.”

(10:00 a.m.)

Elizabeth Wainio.
Elizabeth Wainio says to her stepmother, “Mom, they're rushing the cockpit. I've got to go. Bye,” then hangs up. This may have been a delayed reaction to events, since her stepmother says that in their ten-minute call Elizabeth was in a trance-like state, appeared to have resigned herself to death, was breathing in a strange manner, and even said she felt she was leaving her body. [MSNBC 7/30/02; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 10/28/01 (B)]

10:00 a.m.

       The transponder for Flight 93 briefly turns back on. The plane is at 7000 feet. The transponder stays on until about 10:03. It is unclear why the transponder signal briefly returned. [MSNBC 9/11/02 (B); Guardian 10/17/01]

(Before 10:00 a.m.)

A fighter and helicopter both fly directly above the Pentagon on 9/11.
Defense officials initially say, “There were no military planes in the skies over Washington until 15 to 20 minutes after the Pentagon was hit” —9:53 to 9:58. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 9/14/01] But several sources later report that fighters were above Washington within “minutes” or “moments” of the Pentagon explosion. [Denver Post, 9/11/01, Telegraph, 9/16/01, ABC News, 9/11/02] ABC News later reports that by 10:00, “Dozens of fighters are buzzing in the sky. F-16s scrambled at Andrews Air Force Base in nearby Maryland” (the exact time is not given, but the account is placed between 9:45 and 10:00 in a later ABC News chronology of 9/11). [ABC News, 9/11/02] Another account says the first two F-16s from Andrews that are armed with missiles arrive ten minutes after the three F-16s from Andrews arrived at 9:49 (see (9:55-10:10 a.m.)). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/02] In contradiction to this, a few days after 9/11, the New York Times reports, “In the White House Situation Room and at the Pentagon, the response seemed agonizingly slow. One military official recalls hearing ‘words to the effect of, ‘Where are the planes?’ ’ The Pentagon insists it had air cover over its own building by 10 a.m., 15 minutes after the building was hit. But witnesses, including a reporter for The New York Times who was headed toward the building, did not see any until closer to 11.” [New York Times 9/16/01 (B)]

10:01 a.m.

Someone falling from the WTC. [Allsport] “Probably well over 50” jumped or fell from the North Tower, none from the South Tower. [New York Times, 9/11/02]
The FAA orders F-16 fighters to scramble from Toledo, Ohio. Although the base has no fighters on standby alert status, it manages to put fighters in the air 16 minutes later, a “phenomenal” response time—but still 10 minutes after the last hijacked plane has crashed. [Toledo Blade, 12/9/01] The 9/11 Commission concludes these fighters, and fighters from Michigan (see (After 10:06 a.m.)), are scrambled after Delta Flight 1989, a flight that was never hijacked or even out of contact (see (9:30 a.m.)). Meanwhile, no fighters are scrambled after Flight 93 at all. [9/11 Commission Report 6/17/04]

10:01 a.m.

       According to the 9/11 Commission, the FAA Command Center tells FAA headquarters that a nearby plane had seen Flight 93 “waving his wings.” The Commission says, “The aircraft had witnessed the radical gyrations in what we believe was the hijackers' effort to defeat the passenger assault.” [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04] Bill Wright is apparently piloting this nearby plane. Wright later says that he's flying a small plane when a flight controller asks him to look around outside his window. He sees Flight 93 three miles away —close enough to see the United Airlines colors. Flight control asks him the plane's altitude, then commands him to get away from the plane and land immediately. Wright sees the plane rock back and forth three or four times before he flies from the area. [Pittsburgh Channel 9/19/01]

(Between 10:00-10:06 a.m.)

Potential pilots Don Greene and Andrew Garcia.
During this time, there apparently are no calls from Flight 93. Several cell phones left on record only silence. For instance, Todd Beamer doesn't hang up, but nothing more is heard after he puts down the phone, suggesting things are quiet in the back of the plane. [Among the Heroes, by Jere Longman, 8/02, p. 218] The only exception is Richard Makely, who is listening to the Jeremy Glick open phone line after Glick went to attack the hijackers. A reporter summarizes Makely explaining that, “The silence last[s] two minutes, then there [is] screaming. More silence, followed by more screams. Finally, there [is] a mechanical sound, followed by nothing.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/17/01] The second silence lasts between 60 and 90 seconds. [Among the Heroes, by Jere Longman, 8/02, p. 219] Near the end of the cockpit voice recording, loud wind sounds can be heard. [CNN, 4/19/02, Among the Heroes, by Jere Longman, 8/02, p. 270-271] “Sources claim the last thing heard on the cockpit voice recorder is the sound of wind—suggesting the plane had been holed.” [Mirror, 9/13/02] Is there a hole that depressurizes the cabin and lets in the wind? If the passengers had taken over the plane, there was at least one passenger, Don Greene, who was a professional pilot, who had learned to fly at age 14, as well as Andrew Garcia, a former flight controller. [Newsweek, 9/22/01, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/28/01 (B), Telegraph, 8/6/02] So what happened here???

10:02 a.m.

       The White House bunker containing Vice President Cheney and other leaders begins receiving reports from the Secret Service of a presumably hijacked aircraft heading toward Washington. The Secret Service is getting this information about Flight 93 through links to the FAA. But they are looking at a projected path, not an actual radar return, so they don't realize when the plane crashes. [Independent Commission Report 6/17/04]

10:02 a.m.

       The cockpit voice recording of Flight 93 was recorded on a 30 minute reel, which means that as new tape was recorded the old tape was being erased. The government later lets relatives listen to this tape, which begins at 9:31 and runs for 31 minutes, ending one minute before the government's preferred crash time (see (10:03-10:10 a.m.)). [CNN, 4/19/02, Among the Heroes, by Jere Longman, 8/02, p. 206-207] The New York Observer reports, “Some of the relatives are keen to find out why, at the peak of this struggle, the tape suddenly stops recording voices and all that is heard in the last 60 seconds or so is engine noise. Had the tape been tampered with?” [New York Observer 6/17/04]

10:03 a.m.

       According to the 9/11 Commission, the NMCC learns about the Flight 93 hijacking. Since the FAA hasn't been connected to the NMCC's conference call yet (see (9:29 a.m.)), the news comes from the White House. The White House learned about it from the Secret Service, and the Secret Service learned about it from the FAA. NORAD apparently is still unaware. Four minutes later, a NORAD representative on the conference call states, “NORAD has no indication of a hijack heading to Washington DC at this time.” [Independent Commission Report 6/17/04]

(10:03-10:10 a.m.)

       According to NORAD, Flight 93 crashes at 10:03. [NORAD, 9/18/01] The 9/11 Commission gives an exact time of 10:03:11. They claim this “time is supported by evidence from the staff's radar analysis, the flight data recorder, NTSB [National Transportation Safety Board] analysis, and infrared satellite data.” But they note, “The precise crash time has been the subject of some dispute.” [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04] However, a seismic study authorized by the US Army to determine when the plane crashed concluded that the crash happened at 10:06:05. [US Army authorized seismic study] The discrepancy is so puzzling, the Philadelphia Daily News has an article on the issue, called “Three-Minute Discrepancy in Tape.” It notes that leading seismologists agree on the 10:06 time, give or take a couple of seconds. [Philadelphia Daily News, 9/16/02] The New York Observer notes that in addition to the seismology study, “The FAA gives a crash time of 10:07 a.m. And The New York Times, drawing on flight controllers in more than one FAA facility, put the time at 10:10 a.m. Up to a seven-minute discrepancy? In terms of an air disaster, seven minutes is close to an eternity. The way our nation has historically treated any airline tragedy is to pair up recordings from the cockpit and air-traffic control and parse the timeline down to the hundredths of a second. But as [former Inspector General of the Transportation Department] Mary Schiavo points out, ‘We don't have an NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) investigation here, and they ordinarily dissect the timeline to the thousandth of a second.’ ” [New York Observer 2/11/04]

(Before 10:06 a.m.)

       CBS television reports at some point before the crash that two F-16 fighters are tailing Flight 93. [Independent, 8/13/02] Shortly after 9/11, a flight controller in New Hampshire ignores a ban on controllers speaking to the media, and it is reported he claims “that an F-16 fighter closely pursued Flight 93… the F-16 made 360-degree turns to remain close to the commercial jet, the employee said. ‘He must've seen the whole thing,’ the employee said of the F-16 pilot's view of Flight 93's crash.” [AP 9/13/01 (C); Nashua Telegraph 9/13/01]

(Before 10:06 a.m.)

       In the tiny town of Boswell, about 10 miles north and slightly to the west of Flight 93's crash site, Rodney Peterson and Brandon Leventry notice a passenger jet lumbering through the sky at about 2,000 feet. They realize such a big plane flying so low in that area is odd. They see the plane dip its wings sharply to the left then to the right. The wings level off and the plane keeps flying south, continuing to slowly descend. Five minutes later they hear news that the plane has crashed. Other witnesses also later describe the plane flying east-southeast, low and wobbly. [Among the Heroes, by Jere Longman, 8/02, p. 205-206, New York Times, 9/14/01] “Officials initially say that it looks like the plane was headed south when it hit the ground.” [Cleveland Newschannel 5, 9/11/01] Note the fact that they heard news the plane had crashed only five minutes later supports that the plane crashed at 10:06, not the official time of 10:03. The rocking wings could have been the hijackers trying to throw off the attack of the passengers, or it could be a passenger pilot trying to gain control of the plane. In either case, its interesting that the plane appeared to stop rocking.

(After 10:06 a.m.)

       Just after Flight 93 crashes, “Up above, a fighter jet streak[s] by.” [ABC News 9/15/02]

(Before 10:06 a.m.)

A map of the countryside near the Flight 93 crash.
Numerous eyewitnesses see and hear Flight 93 just before its crash:
  1. Terry Butler, at Stoystown: He sees the plane come out of the clouds, low to the ground. “It was moving like you wouldn't believe. Next thing I knew it makes a heck of a sharp, right-hand turn.” It banks to the right and appears to be trying to climb to clear one of the ridges, but it continues to turn to the right and then veers behind a ridge. About a second later it crashes. [St. Petersburg Times, 9/12/01]
  2. Ernie Stuhl, the mayor of Shanksville: “I know of two people—I will not mention names—that heard a missile. They both live very close, within a couple of hundred yards… This one fellow's served in Vietnam and he says he's heard them, and he heard one that day.” He adds that based on what he has learned, F-16s were “very, very close.” [Philadelphia Daily News, 11/15/01]
Accounts of the plane making strange noises:
  1. Laura Temyer of Hooversville: “I didn't see the plane but I heard the plane's engine. Then I heard a loud thump that echoed off the hills and then I heard the plane's engine. I heard two more loud thumps and didn't hear the plane's engine anymore after that.” (She insists that people she knows in state law enforcement have privately told her the plane was shot down, and that decompression sucked objects from the aircraft, explaining why there was a wide debris field.) [Philadelphia Daily News, 11/15/01]
  2. Charles Sturtz, a half mile from the crash site: The plane is heading southeast and has its engines running. No smoke can be seen. “It was really roaring, you know. Like it was trying to go someplace, I guess.” [WPXI Channel 11, 9/13/01]
  3. Michael Merringer, two miles from the crash site: “I heard the engine gun two different times and then I heard a loud bang… ” [AP, 9/12/01 (B)]
  4. Tim Lensbouer, 300 yards away: “I heard it for 10 or 15 seconds and it sounded like it was going full bore.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/12/01 (B)]
Accounts of the plane flying upside down:
  1. Rob Kimmel, several miles from the crash site: He sees it fly overhead, banking hard to the right. It is 200 feet or less off the ground as it crests a hill to the southeast. “I saw the top of the plane, not the bottom.”[Among the Heroes, by Jere Longman, 8/02, p. 210-211]
  2. Eric Peterson of Lambertsville: He sees a plane flying overhead unusually low. The plane seemed to be turning end-over-end as it dropped out of sight behind a tree line. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/12/01]
  3. Bob Blair of Stoystown: He sees the plane spiraling and flying upside down before crashing. Its not much higher than the treetops. [Daily American, 9/12/01]
Accounts of a sudden plunge and more strange sounds:
  1. An unnamed witness says he hears two loud bangs before watching the plane take a downward turn of nearly 90 degrees. [Cleveland Newschannel 5, 9/11/01]
  2. Another unnamed witness sees the plane overhead. It makes a high-pitched, screeching sound. The plane then makes a sharp, 90-degree downward turn and crashes. [Cleveland Newschannel 5, 9/11/01]
  3. Tom Fritz, about a quarter-mile from the crash site: He hears a sound that “wasn't quite right”and looks up in the sky. “It dropped all of a sudden, like a stone,” going “so fast that you couldn't even make out what color it was.” [St. Petersburg Times, 9/12/01]
  4. Terry Butler, a few miles north of Lambertsville: “It dropped out of the clouds.” The plane rose slightly, trying to gain altitude, then “it just went flip to the right and then straight down.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/12/01 (B)]
  5. Lee Purbaugh, 300 yards away: “There was an incredibly loud rumbling sound and there it was, right there, right above my head—maybe 50 feet up…. I saw it rock from side to side then, suddenly, it dipped and dived, nose first, with a huge explosion, into the ground. I knew immediately that no one could possibly have survived.” [Independent, 8/13/02]
Upside down and a sudden plunge:
  1. Linda Shepley: She hears a loud bang and sees the plane bank to the side. [ABC News, 9/11/01 (C)] She sees the plane wobbling right and left, at a low altitude of roughly 2,500 feet, when suddenly the right wing dips straight down, and the plane plunges into the earth. She says she has an unobstructed view of Flight 93's final two minutes. [Philadelphia Daily News, 11/15/01]
  2. Kelly Leverknight in Stony Creek Township of Shanksville: “There was no smoke, it just went straight down. I saw the belly of the plane.” It sounds like it is flying low, and it's heading east. [Daily American, 9/12/01, St. Petersburg Times, 9/12/01]
  3. Tim Thornsberg, working in a nearby strip mine: “It came in low over the trees and started wobbling. Then it just rolled over and was flying upside down for a few seconds … and then it kind of stalled and did a nose dive over the trees.” [WPXI Channel 11, 9/13/01]
What sense can be made of all these different accounts? Some say it was flying a couple thousand feet up and suddenly plunged down, some say it was flying extremely low. Turns, climbs, strange noises, flipping, etc…. While many of these accounts conflict, virtually all support a missile strike, because of the common theme of noises and a plane struggling to rise and stay in the air. The plunge doesn't seem to be a deliberate thrust of the plane toward the ground, but instead the result of engine failure.
Flight 93 crash site. North is to the top. Note the impact point north of the road, and the burned trees to the south of it.
Other passenger planes hit by missiles continued to fly for several minutes before crashing. For instance, a Korean Airline 747 was hit by two Russian missiles in 1983, yet continued to fly for two more minutes. [KAL Cockpit Voice Recorder transcript] Is that what happened here?

(After 10:06 a.m.)

       At some point after Flight 93 crashes, NORAD diverts “unarmed Michigan Air National Guard fighter jets that happened to be flying a training mission in northern Michigan since the time of the first attack.” [AP 8/30/02] The 9/11 Commission concludes these fighters, and fighters from Ohio (see 10:01 a.m.), are scrambled after Delta Flight 1989, a flight that was never hijacked or even out of contact (see (9:30 a.m.)). Meanwhile, no fighters are scrambled after Flight 93 at all. [9/11 Commission Report 6/17/04]

(10:06 a.m.)

       Shortly after 9/11, NORAD claimed that there is a fighter 100 miles away from Flight 93 when it crashes. But no details, such as who the pilot is, or which direction the fighter is coming from, are ever given by NORAD. [NORAD, 9/18/01] There is one brief report on CBS television before the Flight 93 crash that two F-16 fighters were tailing the flight. [Independent, 8/13/02] Shortly after 9/11, an unnamed New England flight controller ignores a ban on controllers speaking to the media, and it is reported that he claims “that an F-16 fighter closely pursued Flight 93 … the F-16 made 360-degree turns to remain close to the commercial jet, the employee said. ‘He must've seen the whole thing,’ the employee said of the F-16 pilot's view of Flight 93's crash.” He reportedly learned this from speaking to controllers nearer to the crash. [AP, 9/13/01, Nashua Telegraph, 9/13/01] However, a Cleveland flight controller named Stacey Taylor later claims to have not seen any fighters on radar around the crash. [MSNBC, 9/11/02 (B)] Major Gen. Paul Weaver, director of the Air National Guard, had previously claimed that no military planes were sent after Flight 93. [Seattle Times, 9/16/01] A different explanation by ABC News says, “The closest fighters are two F-16 pilots on a training mission from Selfridge Air National Guard Base” near Detroit, Michigan. These are ordered after Flight 93, even though they supposedly aren't armed with any weapons. It is claimed they are supposed to crash into Flight 93 if they cannot persuade it to land. [ABC News, 8/30/02, ABC News, 9/11/02] But these fighters apparently aren't even diverted from Michigan until after Flight 93 crashes (see (After 10:06 a.m.)).

(Between 10:10-10:15 a.m.)

       The Secret Service is being given projected path information about Flight 93, so they don't realize the flight has already crashed (see 10:02 a.m.). Based on this erroneous information, a military aide tells Vice President Cheney and others in the White House bunker that the plane is 80 miles away from Washington. Cheney is asked for authority to engage the plane. He quickly gives the authorization. The aide returns a few minutes later and says the plane is 60 miles out. Cheney again gives authorization to engage. A few minutes later, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten suggests Cheney contact President Bush and confirm the engage order. Bolten later tells the 9/11 Commission he hadn't heard any prior discussion on the topic with Bush, and wanted to make sure Bush knew. Apparently Cheney calls Bush and obtains confirmation. [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04] However, there is controversy over whether Bush approved a shoot down before this incident or if Cheney gave himself the authority to make the decision on the spot (see (Between 10:00-10:15 a.m.)). Newsweek notes that in one sense it's a moot point, since the decision was made on false data and there is no plane to shoot down. [Newsweek 6/20/04]

10:06 a.m.

Flight 93 crashes in the Pennsylvania countryside.
Flight 93 crashes just north of the Somerset County Airport, about 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, 124 miles or 15 minutes from Washington DC. [10:00, MSNBC, 9/22/01, 10:03, NORAD, 9/18/01, 10:06, Guardian, 10/17/01, 10:06, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/28/01, 10:06, MSNBC, 9/3/02, 10:06, Mirror, 9/13/02, 10:06, USA Today, 8/13/02, 10:07, AP, 8/19/02, 10:10, CNN, 9/12/01, 10:10, Washington Post, 9/12/01, 10:10, New York Times, 9/12/01, 10:10, Boston Globe, 11/23/01, 10:06:05, US Army authorized seismic study] Little information about the crash has been made public.

(After 10:06 a.m.)

       Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is told by an aide, “Secret Service reports a hostile aircraft ten minutes out.” Two minutes later he's given an update: “Hostile aircraft eight minutes out.” In actual fact, when Flight 93 crashes at 10:06, it's still about 15 minutes away from Washington (see (10:13 -10:23 a.m.)). Clarke is also told that there are 3,900 aircraft still in the air over the continental US (which is roughly accurate) and four of those are believed to be piloted by terrorists (which is inaccurate). Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman Richard Myers then reports, “We have three F-16s from Langley over the Pentagon. Andrews is launching fighters from the DC Air National Guard. We have fighters aloft from the Michigan Air National Guard, moving east toward a potential hostile over Pennsylvania. Six fighters from Tyndall and Ellington are en route to rendezvous with Air Force One over Florida. They will escort it to Barksdale.” [Against All Enemies, by Richard Clarke, 3/04, pp. 8-9, NORAD, 9/18/01] However, fighters don't apparently meet up with Air Force One until about an hour later (see (Between 10:55-11:41 a.m.)). Franklin Miller, a senior national security official who worked alongside Clarke on 9/11, and another official there later fail to recall hearing any aide warning that a plane could be only minutes away. [New York Times, 3/30/04 (B)] The time of this incident is not given, but the Michigan fighters are not diverted until after 10:06 (see (After 10:06 a.m.)). If this takes place after 10:06, it would parallel similar warnings being given to Vice President Cheney elsewhere in the White House (see 10:02 a.m., (Between 10:00-10:15 a.m.), and (Between 10:00 -10:15 a.m.)).

(Before 10:06 a.m.)

       Flight 93 apparently starts to break up before it crashes, because debris is found very far away from the crash site. [Philadelphia Daily News, 11/15/01] The plane is generally obliterated upon landing, except for one half-ton piece of engine found over a mile away. [Independent, 8/13/02] One story calls what happened to this engine “intriguing,”because “the heat-seeking, air-to-air Sidewinder missiles aboard an F-16 would likely target one of the Boeing 757's two large engines.” [Philadelphia Daily News, 11/15/01] Smaller debris fields are also found two, three, and eight miles away from the main crash site. [, The Daily Mirror, 8/13/02] Eight miles away, local media quote residents speaking of a second plane in the area and burning debris falling from the sky. [Reuters, 9/13/01 (C)] Residents outside Shanksville reported “discovering clothing, books, papers and what appeared to be human remains. Some residents said they collected bags-full of items to be turned over to investigators. Others reported what appeared to be crash debris floating in Indian Lake, nearly six miles from the immediate crash scene. Workers at Indian Lake Marina said that they saw a cloud of confetti-like debris descend on the lake and nearby farms minutes after hearing the explosion….” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/13/01] Moments after the crash, Carol Delasko initially thinks someone had blown up a boat on Indian Lake: “It just looked like confetti raining down all over the air above the lake.” [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 9/14/01] Investigators say that far-off wreckage “probably was spread by the cloud created when the plane crashed and dispersed by a 10 mph southeasterly wind.” [Delaware News Journal, 9/16/01] But much of the wreckage is found sooner than that wind could have carried it, and not always southeast.

(Before and After 10:06 a.m.)

The Flight 93 crater. Notice the destruction of the airplane is nearly total.
“At least half a dozen named individuals …have reported seeing a second plane flying low and in erratic patterns, not much above treetop level, over the crash site within minutes of the United flight crashing. They describe the plane as a small, white jet with rear engines and no discernible markings.” [Independent, 8/13/02]
  1. Lee Purbaugh: “I didn't get a good look but it was white and it circled the area about twice and then it flew off over the horizon.” [Mirror, 9/13/02]
  2. Susan Mcelwain: Less than a minute before the Flight 93 crash rocked the countryside, she sees a small white jet with rear engines and no discernible markings swoop low over her minivan near an intersection and disappear over a hilltop, nearly clipping the tops of trees lining the ridge. [Bergen Record, 9/14/01] She later adds, “There's no way I imagined this plane—it was so low it was virtually on top of me. It was white with no markings but it was definitely military, it just had that look. It had two rear engines, a big fin on the back like a spoiler on the back of a car and with two upright fins at the side. I haven't found one like it on the internet. It definitely wasn't one of those executive jets. The FBI came and talked to me and said there was no plane around…. But I saw it and it was there before the crash and it was 40 feet above my head. They did not want my story—nobody here did.” [Mirror, 9/13/02]
  3. Dennis Decker and
  4. Rick Chaney, Decker speaking: “As soon as we looked up [after hearing the Flight 93 crash], we saw a midsized jet flying low and fast. It appeared to make a loop or part of a circle, and then it turned fast and headed out.” Decker and Chaney described the plane as a Learjet type, with engines mounted near the tail and painted white with no identifying markings. “It was a jet plane, and it had to be flying real close when that 757 went down. If I was the FBI, I'd find out who was driving that plane.” [Bergen Record, 9/14/01]
  5. Jim Brandt sees a small plane with no markings stay about one or two minutes over the crash site before leaving. [Pittsburgh Channel, 9/12/01]
  6. Tom Spinelli: “I saw the white plane. It was flying around all over the place like it was looking for something. I saw it before and after the crash.” [Mirror, 9/13/02]
The FBI later says this was a Fairchild Falcon 20 business jet, directed after the crash to fly from 37,000 feet to 5,000 feet and obtain the coordinates for the crash site to help rescuers. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/16/01, Pittsburgh Channel, 9/15/01] Was the unmarked jet some kind of reconnaissance plane? The FBI also says there was a C-130 military cargo aircraft flying at 24,000 feet about 17 miles away, but that plane wasn't armed and had no role in the crash. [Pittsburgh Channel, 9/15/01, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/16/01] Note that this is the same C-130 that flies very close to Flight 77 right as that planes crashes into the Pentagon (see 9:38 a.m.).


(Between 10:00-10:15 a.m.)

       According to a 9/11 Commission staff report, Vice President Cheney is told that a combat air patrol has been established over Washington (see (9:55-10:10 a.m.)). Cheney then calls President Bush to discuss the rules of engagement for the pilots. Bush authorizes the shoot down of hijacked aircraft at this time. [Independent Commission Report, 6/17/04] According to a Washington Post article, which places the call after 9:55, “Cheney recommended that Bush authorize the military to shoot down any such civilian airliners—as momentous a decision as the president was asked to make in those first hours. ‘I said, ‘You bet,’ ’ Bush recalled. ‘We had a little discussion, but not much.’ ” Bush then talks to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld to clarify the procedure, and Rumsfeld passes word down the chain of command. [Washington Post, 1/27/02] Cheney and Bush recall this phone call between them, and National Security Advisor Rice recalls overhearing it. However, the Commission notes, “Among the sources that reflect other important events that morning there is no documentary evidence for this call, although the relevant sources are incomplete. Others nearby who were taking notes, such as the Vice President's Chief of Staff, [I. Lewis] Libby, who sat next to him, and [Lynne] Cheney, did not note a call between the President and Vice President immediately after the Vice President entered the conference room.” The commission also denies that Bush and Rumsfeld talk about a such procedures at that time (see (Between 10:00-10:35 a.m.)). [Independent Commission Report, 6/17/04] Commission Chairman Thomas Kean says, “The phone logs don't exist, because they evidently got so fouled up in communications that the phone logs have nothing. So that's the evidence we have.” Commission Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton says of the shoot down order, “Well, I'm not sure it was carried out.” [Independent Commission, 6/17/04 (C), New York Daily News, 6/18/04] Newsweek reports that it “has learned that some on the commission staff were, in fact, highly skeptical of the Vice President's account and made their views clearer in an earlier draft of their staff report. According to one knowledgeable source, some staffers ‘flat out didn't believe the call ever took place.’ ” After vigorous lobbying from the White House, the report “was watered down,” in the words of one 9/11 Commission staffer. [Newsweek, 6/20/04] An account by Canadian Captain Mike Jellinek, overseeing NORAD's Colorado headquarters, where he claims to hear Bush give a shoot down order early in the morning, as well as the order to empty the skies of aircraft (see (9:45 a.m.)), now appears to be totally discredited. [Toronto Star 12/9/01]

10:07 a.m.

       According to the 9/11 Commission, NEADS receives a call from Cleveland flight control about Flight 93. Cleveland passes on the plane's last known latitude and longitude. NEADS is unable to locate it on radar because it has already crashed. [Independent Commission Report 6/17/04]

10:08 a.m.

       Cleveland flight controller Stacey Taylor has asked a nearby C-130 to look at Flight 93's last position and see if they can see anything. The pilot who witnesses this is the same C-130 pilot that had witnessed the Flight 77 crash (see 9.36 a.m. and 9:38 a.m.). He tells Taylor that he saw smoke from the crash shortly after the hijacked plane went down. According to the 9/11 Commission, the FAA Command Center reports to FAA headquarters at this time that Flight 93 has crashed in the Pennsylvania countryside. “It hit the ground. That's what they're speculating, that's speculation only.” The Command Center confirms that Flight 93 crashed at 10:17. [9/11 Commission Report 6/17/04; MSNBC 9/11/02 (B); Guardian 10/17/01]

10:10 a.m.

       According to the 9/11 Commission, The NEADS Mission Crew Commander is sorting out the orders Langley fighters have. Not knowing that Flight 93 had been heading toward Washington nor that it had crashed, he explicitly instructs the Langley fighters that they cannot shoot down aircraft—they have “negative clearance to shoot” aircraft over Washington. Authorization to shoot down hijacked civilian aircraft only reaches NEADS at 10:31, and even then it isn't passed on to the pilots (see 10:31 a.m.). [9/11 Commission Report 6/17/04]

10:14 a.m.

       According to the 9/11 Commission, beginning at this time, the White House repeatedly conveys to the NMCC that Vice President Cheney confirmed fighters were cleared to engage the inbound aircraft if they could verify that the aircraft was hijacked (see (Between 10:10-10:15 a.m.)). [Independent Commission Report 6/17/04]

10:15 a.m.

       According to the 9/11 Commission, NEADS calls Washington flight control. Asked about Flight 93, flight control responds, “He's down.” It is clarified that the plane crashed “somewhere up northeast of Camp David.” [9/11 Commission Report 6/17/04]

10:20 a.m.

       United Airlines headquarters receives confirmation from the airport manager in Johnstown, Pennsylvania that Flight 93 has crashed. [Independent Commission 1/27/04]

10:31 a.m.

       According to the 9/11 Commission, NORAD commander Major General Larry Arnold instructs his staff to broadcast the following message over a NORAD chat log: “10:31 Vice President [Cheney] has cleared to us to intercept tracks of interest and shoot them down if they do not respond, per CONR CC [General Arnold].” NEADS first learns of the shoot down order from this message. However, NEADS doesn't pass the shoot down order to the fighter pilots in New York City and Washington. NEADS leaders later say they don't pass it on because they are unsure how to pilots should proceed with this guidance. [Independent Commission Report, 6/17/04] The pilots flying over New York City claim they are never given a formal shoot down order that day (see (9:50 a.m.)).

(Before 10:36 a.m.)

       A Secret Service agent again contacts the Andrews Air Force Base (see (After 9:03 a.m.) and (After 9:38 a.m.)), and commands, “Get in the air now!” According to Sasseville, almost simultaneously, a call from someone else in the White House declares the Washington area “a free-fire zone. That meant we were given authority to use force, if the situation required it, in defense of the nation's capital, its property and people.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/02] Apparently this second call is made to General David Wherley, flight commander of the Air National Guard at Andrews. He had contacted the Secret Service after hearing reports that it wanted fighters airborne. A Secret Service agent, using two telephones at once, relays instructions to Wherley from a Secret Service agent in the White House who had been given instructions from Vice President Cheney. Wherley's fighters are to protect the White House and shoot down any planes that threaten Washington. Wherley interprets this to give the decision to the lead pilot, Lt. Col. Marc Sasseville. Bush and Cheney later claim they weren't aware that any fighters had scrambled from Andrews at the request of the Secret Service. [Independent Commission Report, 6/17/04] Sasseville and Lucky take off about six minutes after reaching their fighters (see (10:42 a.m.)).

(10:38 a.m.)

       The 9/11 Commission claims that the first fighters from Andrews Air Force Base scramble at this time and are flying patrol over Washington by 10:45. [Independent Commission Report, 6/17/04] The three F-16s flying on a training mission 207 miles away (see (After 9:03 a.m.)) have finally been recalled to their home at Andrews. As soon as lead pilot Major Billy Hutchison checked in via radio after landing, he was told to take off again immediately. His fighter apparently has no weapons whatsoever; the two other fighters only have training rounds for their guns, and very little fuel. “Hutchison was probably airborne shortly after the alert F-16s from Langley arrive over Washington, although [the] pilots admit their timeline-recall ‘is fuzzy.’ ” The officer who sent Hutchison off “told him to ‘do exactly what ATC asks you to do.’ Primarily, he was to go ID [identify] that unknown [aircraft] that everybody was so excited about. He blasted off and flew a standard departure route, which took him over the Pentagon.” The pilots later say that, had all else failed, they would have rammed into Flight 93, had they reached it in time. [Aviation Week and Space Technology 9/9/02]

(10:42 a.m.)

       Two F-16s take off from Andrews Air Force Base lightly armed with nothing more than “hot” guns and non-explosive training rounds. Lead pilot Lt. Col. Marc Sasseville flies one; the other pilot is only known by the codename Lucky. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/02] These fighters had been waiting to be armed with AIM-9 missiles, a process that takes about an hour to do at another base that morning. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/02] Since they took off without the missiles, presumably they could have taken off unarmed much earlier, as the first call for them to scramble came not long after 9:00 (see (After 9:03 a.m.)). Two more F-16s armed with AIM-9 missiles take off twenty seven minutes later, at 11:09. These are apparently piloted by Major Dan Caine and Captain Brandon Rasmussen. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/02, Independent Commission, 6/17/04 (B)] F-16s from Richmond, Virginia and Atlantic City, New Jersey (see (8:34 a.m.)) arrive over Washington a short time later. [Aviation Week and Space Technology 9/9/02]

(2:00 p.m.)

       F-15 fighter pilot Major Daniel Nash returns to base around this time, after chasing Flight 175 and patrolling the skies over New York City. He says that when he got out of the plane, “he was told that a military F-16 had shot down a fourth airliner in Pennsylvania, a report that turned out to be incorrect.” [About 1:30, Cape Cod Times, 8/21/02, about 2:30, Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/02] How do we know it was incorrect? Isn't it interesting that the fighter pilots active that day thought it was correct?

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