Flight 93: American Heroes

by Nathan Hershey

[Evie’s article on this topic: Flight 93: Acknowledging Diversity ]

I am very interested in recording my thoughts about Flight 93.  It was a response by thirty-three airline passengers and seven crew members to one of the terrorist attacks made on September 11, 2001.  The 9/11 hijackings were conducted by terrorists targeting American aircrafts.  I want to focus on the attack made on United Airlines Flight 93.  Unlike the other three 9/11 stories, the behavior of this flight’s forty passengers and crew thwarted these terrorists’ ultimate goals from being accomplished.  These goals were the destruction of a major building in Washington, DC, and the killing of hundreds, if not thousands, of Americans.

The resistance by the flight’s passengers and crew should be viewed as a story of American heroism.  The passengers included two individuals of other nationalities, but all of the passengers and crew banded together in an act of unusual bravery.  It was an unplanned engagement between ordinary people and enemy forces that evolved into a fierce struggle for control of the aircraft.  After learning of the attacks made on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and discussing their options for about half an hour, the passengers and crew reached a unanimous consensus that they should confront the hijackers and attempt to regain control of the flight.  The passengers and crew were victorious, and brought down the plane in a field near the small town of Shanksville in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, about eighty miles southeast of Pittsburgh.  It is not known with absolute certainty where the terrorists intended to fly the plane, but many suspect they would have tried to fly it into either the White House or the United States Capitol Building in Washington, DC.

Our knowledge of their bravery is based on cockpit voice recordings and phone calls made by passengers and crew shortly before the plane crash, while they were debating whether to engage with the hijackers, and during the engagement itself.  One of the passengers, Todd Beamer, has become famous for his statement, “Let’s roll,” before the men and women stormed into the cockpit and overpowered the hijackers.  We have no way of knowing how many more lives would have been lost that day if these brave individuals had not thus intervened in the hijackers’ plans to fly the plane into their targeted building.

The story attests to the human capacity for courage and compassion, in this case the courage and compassion of the passengers and crew who fought and were successful in averting a greater disaster, even though they all lost their lives.  If they had not regained control of the flight, they were doomed, but their actions suggest the possibility of compassion that extended beyond self-interest.  Sandy Dahl, the wife of Flight 93’s Captain Jason Dahl, called their actions a “selfless sacrifice.”  The story plays a substantial role in demonstrating how ordinary people can rise to the level of achieving an important success in a larger battle, even at the cost of their lives.

A national memorial has been constructed near the area where the plane went down.  The family members of the passengers and crew, as well as emergency first responders, community members who lived nearby the crash site, and other concerned Americans have left tens of thousands of personal tributes at this location.  These items include pictures, flowers, hats, patches, stickers, poems, medals, and other memorabilia.  A film tribute was released in 2006, called United 93, which is a fact-based historical drama that relates the events that took place that fateful day on Flight 93.  Books have also been written on the subject, including Jere Longman’s Among the Heroes: United Flight 93 and the Passengers and Crew Who Fought Back.

Looking back on this event, I wonder how many Americans believe they would have behaved with the same vigor and valor as did the heroes of Flight 93.  Surely no one on the plane that day entertained the illusion that they would emerge from the situation alive if they made no attempt to gain control of the flight.  In the interest of possibly saving their own lives as well as others’, they had to take action.

But it requires a good deal of strength to confront terrorists who are willing to die for their cause.  As it turned out, the passengers and crew were willing to risk death for their own cause.  Although that risk became a reality, and everyone aboard the plane died, the hijackers’ targeted Americans in DC were saved.  Who among us would have done the same?  Perhaps anyone who has learned the story of Flight 93 should consider how he or she would have behaved if they had been on Flight 93 that day.

Addendum:

Contributions have been made in the honor of those who lost their lives in the Flight 93 battle.  This has been done through various funds and other memorials, including the Captain Jason Dahl Scholarship Fund and LeRoy Homer Foundation, which provide scholarships to students interested in pursuing careers in aviation.  There also exists a peer support network called the September 11th Families’ Association.  This organization unites the families of 9/11 victims through newsletters, events, tours, and volunteer work.

– Nat Hershey

20th Century Man

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3 Comments to “Flight 93: American Heroes”

  1. Nate, you’re right, she’s wrong.

    • In a free country, comments can be freely made and can differ from those of a “co-author.” Evie is her own boss, and given our difference in age and experience, I don’t know how many times she will disagree with me on specific points. Generally, she was not of a very greatly differing view than mine. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Amazing, great blog structure! The time have you ever been writing a blog to get? you’ve made writing a blog appearance easy. The whole appear of your site is excellent, because logically because the material!

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