- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 13, 2001

From combined dispatches

SHANKSVILLE, Pa. — Just before United Airlines Flight 93 crashed, a passenger telephoned his wife to tell her the plane had been hijacked and he and some of the others were going to "do something about it."

One lawmaker suggested yesterday that a "heroic" resistance by passengers may have prevented the hijackers from completing a terrorist attack like the ones that struck the Pentagon and New York's World Trade Center.

Tom Burnett, 38, an executive with a California medical devices company, told his wife, Deena, via cell phone that three men had taken control of the plane, they had threatened to detonate a bomb, and they had stabbed and killed one person.

"If this plane is going down, we're going to do something about it," Mrs. Burnett said her husband told her during a series of four phone calls in which she told him about the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. "He said that he was getting together with a couple of passengers to fight back."

Herded to the back of the Boeing 757 by the knife-wielding hijackers, a group of passengers took a vote on whether to try to overpower the terrorists, CNN reported.

Authorities have not said whether an attempt by passengers and crew members to thwart the hijacking Tuesday may have caused the airliner to go down in the Pennsylvania countryside instead of hitting a high-profile target elsewhere. All 45 persons aboard were killed.

U.S. officials told the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity that the Secret Service had alerted the White House that the hijackers may have been headed for Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland.

Fearing the White House might be a target, the Secret Service diverted President Bush, who had been in Florida, to Louisiana and then to Nebraska.

Rep. John P. Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat, said crew members likely resisted efforts by the hijackers to fly a suicide mission into the nation's capital.

"I've concluded that there was a struggle on board and a heroic individual concluded, 'We're going to die, we might as well take it down here,'" Mr. Murtha said.

Flight 93 left Newark, N.J., at 8:01 a.m., headed for San Francisco. As the plane approached Cleveland, radar showed that it banked left and headed back toward southwestern Pennsylvania. Cleveland Mayor Michael R. White said air traffic controllers reported that they could hear screaming on the plane.

A United pilot who was a friend of the plane's pilot, Jason Dahl, speculated that Mr. Dahl may have fought off the hijackers, and that in doing so the plane may have crashed before the terrorists had a chance to carry out their ultimate goal.

"It looks like it went straight to the ground. The plane was vaporized. I think Jason and his crew probably put up a bit of a fight," said the friend, who asked that his name not be used because United's rules prohibit employees from talking about casualties.

Mr. Dahl, 43, was a "standards" captain for United, where he not only flew but also trained and tested other pilots.

Other passengers on Flight 93 were also able to make calls from the plane before the jet slammed into a grassy field about 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

"We're being hijacked," one caller repeatedly told 911 dispatchers. He said he was inside a locked bathroom on the plane and insisted the call was not a hoax, dispatcher Glenn Cramer said.

"He heard some sort of explosion and saw white smoke coming from the plane and we lost contact with him," Mr. Cramer said.

The man never identified himself.

In California, Alice Hoglan picked up her phone to the hear the voice of her son, Mark Bingham, 31.

"He said, 'I want you to know I love you very much. I'm calling you from the plane. We've been taken over. There are three men that say they have a bomb,'" Mrs. Hoglan said. The phone went dead a short time later.

On board, flight attendant CeeCee Lyles grabbed her cell phone and called her husband and four sons in Fort Myers, Fla.

"She called him and let him know how much she loved him and the boys," said her aunt, Mareya Schneider. Mrs. Lyles' husband heard people screaming in the background, she said.

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