- The Washington Times - Friday, August 8, 2003


A September 11 hijacker in the cockpit of United Airlines Flight 93 instructed terrorist-pilot Ziad Jarrah to crash the jetliner moments before it slammed into a rural Pennsylvania field because of a fierce passenger uprising in the cabin, a federal report states.

The theory described by FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, based on the government’s analysis of cockpit recordings, discounts the popular perception of insurgent passengers grappling with terrorists inside the cockpit, trying to seize the plane’s controls, immediately before the crash.

Thirty-three passengers, seven crew members and the four hijackers died when Flight 93 crashed.

The government’s findings, laid out deep within the July 24 congressional report on the terrorist attacks, are intended to resolve one of the enduring mysteries of the deadliest terror attacks in U.S. history: What happened in the final minutes aboard Flight 93? The newly published excerpts from Mr. Mueller’s testimony appear at odds with what families of some passengers have come to believe happened.

The FBI strenuously maintains that its analysis does not diminish the heroism of passengers who, with the words “let’s roll,” apparently rushed down the airliner’s narrow aisle to try to overwhelm the hijackers. In phone calls from the plane, four passengers said they and others decided to fight the hijackers after learning of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York that morning.

“In the cockpit, in the cockpit,” the passengers are heard yelling, according to Alice Hoglan of Los Gatos, Calif., who was among family members permitted to listen to the cockpit recording. Her son, Mark Bingham, died in the crash.

She said the recording and a transcript the FBI provided to her and other families “doesn’t leave very much doubt at all that passengers were able to get that cockpit door open.”

Citing transcripts of the still-secret cockpit recordings, Mr. Mueller told congressional investigators in a closed briefing last year that, minutes before Flight 93 hit the ground, one of the hijackers told Jarrah, who is believed to be the pilot, “to crash the plane and end the passengers’ attempt to retake the airplane.”

Mrs. Hoglan said the FBI’s transcript quotes one hijacker after fighting breaks out in the cabin asking another hijacker in the cockpit in Arabic, “Finish her/it now?” and she said she believes they were discussing whether to crash the plane. The response from the second hijacker, she said, was either “wait” or “not now.”

The congressional report also describes the hijackers as wearing bandanas and carrying knives, and passengers reported seeing the captain and co-pilot lying on the floor of the first-class section, presumably dead.

Mr. Mueller’s depiction of the events was disclosed in a brief passage far into the 858-page report to Congress. Previous statements by FBI and other government officials have been ambiguous about what occurred in the cockpit.

The same cockpit recording was played privately in April 2002 for family members of victims aboard Flight 93, and the FBI also provided them with its best effort at producing an understandable transcript. Some family members say they believe passengers used a food cart as a shield and broke into the cockpit.

The FBI has been loath to publicly put forward a contradictory theory out of sensitivity to the families and because of uncertainty about what happened.

“It is totally obvious listening to that flight recorder that they made it into the cockpit,” said Deena Burnett, who lost her husband, Thomas E. Burnett Jr., on the flight. “You cannot listen to the tape and understand it any other way.”

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide