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CNN Live Sunday

America's New War: United Flight 93

Aired September 30, 2001 - 15:34   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We want to bring you up to date now on the latest on United Flight 93 -- that is the flight that was going from Newark to San Francisco when it crashed in Pennsylvania. Dozens of volunteers have found more debris and remains this weekend from the crash of that flight in Pennsylvania, which, of course, took place on September 11th. No additional victims though have been identified.

Forty-four people were on board that flight and died in the crash but not before a violent struggle with the hijackers. And we have an update now on the investigation for you from our Eileen O'Connor.


EILEEN O'CONNOR, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Investigators are struggling to piece together the final moments of United Airlines Flight 93 listening over and over and over again to the cockpit voice recorder -- difficult to understand due to damage from the crash and also, sources say, the abundance of angry American voices shouting over yelling in a foreign tongue believed to be the hijackers.

To help clarify the confusion agents have been reviewing with family and friends final phone calls made from the plane.

Investigative sources tell CNN they now believe that passengers were successful in overcoming some of the hijackers but are puzzling over who had control over the plane when it went down.

The questions left unanswered -- if the United pilot was successful in regaining control, why crash the plane? Were there still other hijackers in the back who he believed might try to take back the cockpit and fly the plane to its intended target? And did he intentionally down it in a deserted field to limit the loss of life on the ground? Or was he already dead and the struggle was strictly one between hijackers and passengers causing the crash?

What they do know, sources say, is that at 8:41 a.m. United Flight 93 took off from Newark en route to San Francisco. Seated in first class sets 3C and 3D men identified as investigators as two of the four suspected hijackers on board -- Saeed Alghamdi and Ahmed Alnami. Right behind those two were Mark Bingham, a San Francisco publicist. Next to him, Tom Burnett, an executive for a west coast health care company.

In Economy Plus Jeremy Glick sat in row 11. Right behind him was DeLuca on his way to California to visit a client. And back in the main cabin Todd Beamer.

Unbeknownst to them another aircraft, American Airlines Flight 11 was heading straight toward the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Two other planes had also been hijacked and sources say there were bomb threats called in to air traffic control centers adding to the chaos including Cleveland's center, which routinely takes control of the United Airlines Flight 93 as it heads west.

Twenty-four minutes after United Flight 93 was airborne a second plane hit the South Tower of the World Trade Center.

Another 35 minutes later the plane out of Dulles Airport slammed into the Pentagon. About that time on the radio frequency Flight 93 used air traffic controllers in Cleveland hear screams and shouting, "Get out of here! Get out of here!" Then nothing.

The tower tries to contact the pilot, Captain Jason Dahl, but there is no response. A special code used to signal a hijacking is not answered. His family said Dahl always said he would never relinquish control of the cockpit without a fight.

BILL HEIDERICH, RELATIVE OF PILOT: Jason often talked and just recently about the heroes of the line. Pilots with crews who perform their duty meet sacrifice -- often the ultimate sacrifice -- for the safety of their passengers.

O'CONNOR: Within minutes Flight Attendant Cece Lyles, using her cell phone calls her husband Lorne.

LORNE LYLES, HUSBAND OF FLIGHT ATTENDANT: She said, "Babe?" She said, "My plane has been hijacked." And she said, "They forced their way into the cockpit."

O'CONNOR: In the back after trying to use his credit card unsuccessfully on the air phone Todd Beamer was routed to a customer service center. The supervisor there called the FBI.

LISA BEAMER, WIFE OF PASSENGER: He called the GTE air phone operator at 9:05 in the morning and started reporting to her what was going on in the plane including that there were hijackers and they had taken over the cockpit and possibly killed the crew.

O'CONNOR: Meanwhile first class passenger Tom Burnett was telling his wife Deanna what was happening.

DEENA BURNETT, WIFE OF PASSENGER: He said, "They've already knifed a guy. They're saying they have a bomb. Please call the authorities."

O'CONNOR: She patched his phone call through to the FBI but the FAA was already alerting them to Flight 93's predicament. At about 9:38 -- nearly one hour into the flight air traffic controllers saw a dangerously tight turn executed near Cleveland. United Airlines Flight 93 was now heading east towards Washington, DC and climbing to 41,000 feet at a rate of 1,500 feet a minute. Sources say controllers had to quickly reroute a jumbo jet now heading straight at Flight 93. Then air traffic controllers heard a heavily accented voice saying, "There is a bomb on board. This is the captain speaking. Remain in your seats. There is a bomb on board. Stay quiet. We are meeting with their demands. We are returning to the airport."

Tom Beamer's wife said he wasn't fooled.

BEAMER: The plane began to fly erratically and he was aware that this was a situation that was not a normal hijacking situation and he informed the operator that he knew he was not going to make it out of this.

O'CONNOR: Jeromy Glick, a new father, was on the phone to his wife asking if it's true two other planes had crashed into the World Trade Center. Now realizing the hijackers' intentions, investigators believe it's about that time that at least five of the men -- Burnett, Bingham, Glick, Beamer and Knacky and perhaps some of the flight attendants and others decided to take action.

BEAMER: He told the operator that he and some other people on the flight were deciding to jump on the hijacker with the bomb strapped around his waist.

O'CONNOR: Mark Bingham is on the phone with his mother, Alice Hoglan, but he seems distracted.

ALICE HOGLAN, MOTHER OF VICTIM: I said, "Mark, I love you, too." And I said, "Who are these guys?" And then he seemed to be pulled away from the phone for a minute.

O'CONNOR: Todd Beamer asked the operator to deliver a personal message for his wife and then to join him in the Lord's Prayer.

BEAMER: And the last thing the operator heard Todd say at 10:00 a.m. -- 15 minutes into the call was, "Are you ready? Let's roll."

O'CONNOR: Cece Lyles' husband couldn't tell what was going on.

LYLES: I didn't know what to think because my last words with my wife was of her screaming.

O'CONNOR: Todd Beamer never came back on the phone to the operator.

BEAMER: She heard some screams and some commotion. And she stayed on the line for 10 more minutes until the flight went down but she did not hear back from anyone in particular and did not know what happened after that.

O'CONNOR: What is unclear to investigators is whether United pilot Jason Dahl was already dead. Or had he somehow regained control with the help of his passengers and crew and then made the decision to put the plane down in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania to minimize the loss of life?

Supporting this theory is an intriguing piece of evidence -- a recording of the air traffic control data showing the plane's track and transponder information. It shows in the last few minutes the transponder code for the destination changing to DCA. The FAA designation for Washington's Reagan National Airport -- a stone's throw from the White House.

What is clear, say investigators, is there was an heroic struggle for control of the plane -- a struggle by people who were willing to die in an effort to save others.

BURNETT: He went down fighting -- I know he did. He -- his adrenaline was going. He was not whispering -- we was talking quickly and he was ready to do something.

O'CONNOR: Eileen O'Connor, CNN, Washington.


KAGAN: And incredible story of people who surely were heroes.