Sunday, August 10, 2003

Still heroes

Flight 93: New report

It doesn't matter whether United Air Lines Flight 93 crashed into the Pennsylvania countryside on orders from its hijackers or because passengers forced the plane down to thwart the terrorists' more-deadly plans.

We may never know exactly what transpired in the airliner's cockpit. We do know from last-second cell phone calls that some of the passengers rushed the hijackers, and their heroism will never be forgotten. All 33 passengers, seven crew members and four hijackers were killed.

Federal investigators now say that analysis of cockpit recordings leads them to believe Ziad Jarrah, a terrorist who was piloting the plane when it crashed, was ordered by a fellow hijacker to send the craft plunging into a field outside Shanksville, Pa., because the passengers were attempting to retake the airplane. That theory was buried deep in a report on the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks sent to Congress last month.

The finding may have been downplayed because no one wants to diminish the popular perception that passengers fought their way into the cockpit and grappled with the hijackers to keep them from flying the plane into its intended target - the White House.

Several passengers spoke to family members by cell phone in the moments before the crash. They had learned of the attacks that already had occurred at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and indicated they would prevent Flight 93 from being used as a weapon. With the words "Let's roll," the conversations ended as passengers rushed the cockpit.

Whatever the details of the plane's final minutes, there is no doubt that the actions of the passengers on Flight 93 spared this nation a far greater loss.

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