A Legacy of Valor:
USS Somerset Honors Heroes of 9-11's Flight 93
Shock. Horror. Grief. The nation watched in disbelief, Sept. 11, 2001, as planes slammed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Gordon Felt was one of them. Then, the national tragedy turned very personal. His sister-in-law called, telling him his brother Edward had been travelling from Newark, New Jersey, to San Francisco, and his plane was missing.
That plane was United Airlines Flight 93, and Felt didn't know it yet, but four terrorists had boarded it that morning, two of whom sat in the row directly behind Edward, according to a Justice Department flight diagram. Less than an hour after takeoff, they broke into the cockpit, brandishing knives. One appeared to have a bomb strapped to his chest. Capt. Jason Dahl frantically sent a "Mayday!" transmission to Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center at 9:28 a.m. "Get out of here! Get out of here!" the message continued.
Thus began "a horror that I don't know that any of us civilians, at least, could really understand," said Felt.
There was a struggle. The plane plunged almost 700 feet. One of the passengers called his wife and told her a passenger had been knifed, possibly after trying to intervene. Dahl and Co-pilot Leroy Homer were injured. The cockpit voice recorder captured the terror, with a man saying, "please don't hurt me," and a woman, likely a flight attendant, pleading, "I don't want to die. I don't want to die." She screamed, then silence. A terrorist said, "I finished" in Arabic. Presumably, he killed her.
Still, the flight crew managed to resist, according to the Denver Post. Although he was recorded moaning in pain, Dahl disengaged the autopilot, making the 757 much, much harder to fly. He also switched the output of the pilots' microphones from the cabin's speakers to the radio transmitter.
Ziad Jarrah, the terrorist pilot, took over the controls. His target, many officials believe, was the U.S. Capitol.
Hijackers moved the passengers to the back of the plane. At 09:31:57, Jarrah, believing he was addressing the cabin but really transmitting to air traffic controllers thanks to Dahl's quick actions, announced: "Ladies and gentlemen: Here the captain. Please sit down. Keep remaining seating. We have a bomb on board. So sit." Then, about six minutes later, he added that they were "heading back to the airport, and we have our demands. So, please remain quiet."