[Friday is September 11, 2020 -- during the the morning of September 11, 2001, I got a phone call from my friend Mike in Minneapolis -- Mike quickly said, "Turn on the TV." then hung up -- I turned on the TV just as the 2nd plane slammed into the 2nd Twin Tower -- another turning point of infamy]
On September 11, 2001, the USA was under attack by Muslim Extremists whereby four passenger airplanes were hijacked -- two planes slammed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and another one slammed into the Pentagon Building.
The fourth hijacked airplane (United Flight 93) was over Pennsylvania, heading toward the White House, but never made it.
One of my fellow University of Minnesota Alumni Association members, Tom Burnett, class of ’86, was aboard Flight 93. In the immediate aftermath of the incident, he became a national hero.
According to his friends and family, Tom was always a take-charge sort of guy. At 6’2” and 205 lbs., he had been the quarterback and leader of his high school football team in Bloomington, Minn. In 2001, at age 38, he was the senior vice president of a medical research company in California.
On September 11, 2001, he was seated in first class on United Flight 93 from Newark to San Francisco, returning home from a business trip in New York. His wife, Deena, was at home in San Ramon, California, preparing breakfast for their three daughters when she received the first of four phone calls from Tom aboard the plane.
In a low voice, Tom told his wife that his plane had been hijacked, someone had been stabbed and that there was a bomb on board. He told Deena to contact the authorities and quickly ended the call.
As Deena was on the phone with the FBI, Tom called a second time to notify her that the hijackers had managed to gain entrance into the cockpit. Deena then told Tom about how some commercial airplanes had crashed into the World Trade Center. Tom peppered her with questions, then hung up.
Other passengers on Flight 93 had also been in contact with loved ones on the ground.
Soon the passengers began to realize they were in a serious predicament. One of the flight attendants was talking to her husband on the phone in the kitchen galley as she was filling coffeepots with boiling water to throw at the hijackers.
Tom Burnett made another call to his wife. Deena had just learned that a plane had slammed into the Pentagon and was certain it was her husband’s flight.
As she related the latest incident, Tom’s worst fears had come true. He figured the entire East Coast of America was under attack and wondered aloud if the hijackers really had a bomb.
“We’ve got to do something – I’ve got to go,” he announced, then hung up.
All the passengers had been sequestered in the tail end of the plane. Among them:
* Jeremy Glick, 6-1, 220 lb., former NCAA judo champion
* Mark Bingham, 6-5, 200 lb., former rugby player on the national championship team
* Lou Nacke, 5-3, 200 lb., weightlifter with a Superman tattoo
* Rich Guadagno, California Wildlife Enforcement Officer
* Alan Beaven, 6-3, rock climber and Scotland Yard prosecutor
* William Cashman, ex-paratrooper with the 101st Airborne
Tom Burnett made his fourth and final call to Deena. The first thing he wanted to know was if any more structures had been hit. He said he had been talking to other passengers and “we’re going to do something.”
They both reaffirmed their love for each other. Then Deena asked what else she could do.
“Just pray,” Tom told her, then marched off to do what had to be done.
At precisely 9:57 AM, the cockpit voice recorder began to pick up the sounds of chaos. One of the passengers can be heard shouting, “Let’s get them!” The hijackers yelled at each other to hold the door. Dishes and trays can be heard crashing about. Lots of confusion. One of the passengers shouted something incoherent. A hijacker responded by crying out, “God is great!”
Then the voice recorder went silent.
Officially, United Flight 93 "crashed" into the countryside of southeastern Pennsylvania.
However, regardless of "official" accounts of the incident, exactly how and why Flight went down remains a mystery.
On December 24, 2004, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was in Iraq giving the troops a pep talk when he went into a diatribe about what the world would be like if the USA hadn't invaded Iraq. The speech was carried live on CNN.
I was watching it while eating breakfast.
Rumsfeld recounted the series of tragedies caused by the terrorists on 9/11 of 2001 – four airplanes hijacked by terrorists, the attack on the Twin Towers in New York, the attack on the Pentagon, and so forth. In his remarks, he included a phrase about the tragedy of the airliner (Flight 93) which included these exact words about how sad it was that we had "shot down the plane over Pennsylvania."
That’s correct – the Secretary of Defense had informed the world that Flight 93 had been shot down over Pennsylvania. I nearly fell out of my chair, but was too busy jotting down the exact quote. It had been portrayed on the mainstream news that the passengers stormed the cockpit of Flight 93, causing it to crash.
The following day, a Pentagon spokesman held a press briefing to explain that the Secretary of Defense must have had a slip of the tongue during the speech.
So I did a bit of research.
From newspaper archives following the 9/11 incidents, multiple sources quoted several residents in and around the crash site near Shanksville, Pa., claiming to have seen a second plane – an unmarked military style jet.
Susan McElwain, 51, lives two miles from the crash site. She witnessed a plane overhead. "It came right over me. It was traveling real fast and low, but barely made a sound, then it disappeared behind some trees. A few seconds later I heard this explosion and saw this fireball rise up over the trees. The plane I saw was heading right to the point where Flight 93 crashed." She described the plane as a white (with no markings) military jet with two rear engines and two upright fins at the side.
Lee Purbaugh, 32, was working on a ridge a half mile away, the only person who saw Flight 93 as it came down. He too spotted a second jet. "It was white and circled the area twice, then flew off."
Tom Spinelli, 28, was working at a marina a mile and a half away. He also saw a white plane. "It was flying around like it was looking for something. I saw it before and after the crash."
Three days after the crash, the local newspaper (Bergen County Record) reported that five witnesses had seen a second plane. Dennis Decker and Rick Cheney, at work when they heard an explosion, ran outside and spotted a "mid-sized white jet, with engines mounted near the tail, flying low. It made a circle then headed out."
Government officials have continually insisted there was never any pursuit of Flight 93.
Earlier that morning on Sept. 11, 2001, two commercial airliners had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City.
At 9:24 AM EST, NORAD received notice that American Airlines Flight 77 had been hijacked and was now heading toward Washington DC.
At 9:30 AM, two F-16s were airborne from Hampton, Va., with orders to head for Washington, DC.
At 9:37 AM, American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the Pentagon.
At 9:28 AM, the FAA learned that Flight 93 had been hijacked near Cleveland.
At 9:35 AM, Flight 93 began making a turn toward the south. At the same time, three F-16s were scrambled with orders to "protect the White House at all cost."
By 9:39 AM, Flight 93 had completed a wide turn and was now aimed at Washington DC.
At 10:03 AM, according to cockpit recordings, several passengers had managed to force their way into the cockpit in an attempt to take back control of Flight 93.
At 10:06 AM, Flight 93 "crashed" in Pennsylvania.
Debris from the wreckage was found scattered over an 8-mile area, including a 1000-pound section of an engine fan found more than a mile from the so-called crash site. This is consistent with an external explosion that separated a half ton section of one of the engines and tore open a portion of the passenger cabin and cargo hold.
Question: How does an airplane that crashes into the ground spread debris over an 8-mile area?
A picture can often be worth a thousand words -- so can a slip of the tongue.
The official government explanation for the series of events of 9/11 simply don’t pass the smell test -- was the madness of 9/11 really the result of 19 crazed dudes with box-cutters or was there a bigger picture?
So many questions, not enough answers.
One thing is for certain, no matter what caused the plane to crash, many of the passengers on Flight 93 were genuine heroes. They rose to the occasion, took the necessary action, fought like hell and went down in a Blaze of Glory.
We honor their courage -- Rest in Peace.
Quote for the Day – “Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing.” George Orwell
Bret Burquest is the author of 12 books. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a few dogs and often has more questions than answers.