Timeline of hijacking
Shortly before Flight 93 reverses direction and heads east, someone in its cockpit radios in and asks the FAA for a new flight plan, with a final destination of Washington, DC. [ABC News, 9/11/2001; ABC News, 9/14/2001] Jeff Krawczyk, the chief operating officer of a company that tracks aircraft movements, later comments, “We hardly ever get a flight plan change. Very unusual.” [Washington Business Journal, 9/11/2001] Who it is that makes this request is unclear. The hijacker takeover of Flight 93 occurred around 9:28 a.m. (see (9:28 a.m.) September 11, 2001) [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 11] , so it is presumably made by one of the hijackers. Twenty-five minutes later the pilot hijacker will also program a new destination into the plane’s navigational system (see 9:55 a.m. September 11, 2001).
Key events of Flight 93 (times are based on a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette map and otherwise interopolated). [Source: Yvonne Vermillion/ MagicGraphix.com]
Apparently, the only cockpit voice recording recovered undamaged from any of the 9/11 crashes is from Flight 93. It recorded on a 30-minute reel, which means that the tape is continually overwritten and only the final 30 minutes of any flight is recorded, though in practice sometimes the tape is slightly longer. [Longman, 2002, pp. 206-207; CNN, 4/19/2002; Hartford Courant, 4/19/2004] Flight 93’s recording lasts 31 minutes and begins at this time. According to one account, it begins seconds before the plane is hijacked. [Washington Post, 11/17/2001] However, the version of the tape later played for the victims’ relatives begins “too late to pick up the sounds of the hijackers’ initial takeover.” [MSNBC, 4/18/2002]
Flight attendant Debbie Welsh is apparently stabbed. [Source: Family photo]
A few minutes after 9:31 a.m., a hijacker on board Flight 93 can be heard on the cockpit voice recorder ordering a woman to sit down. A woman, presumably a flight attendant, implores, “don’t, don’t.” She pleads, “Please, I don’t want to die.” Patrick Welsh, the husband of flight attendant Debbie Welsh, is later told that a flight attendant was stabbed early in the takeover, and it is strongly implied it was his wife. She was a first-class attendant, and he says, “knowing Debbie,” she would have resisted. [Longman, 2002, pp. 207]
The FAA notifies United Airlines’ headquarters that Flight 93 is not responding to radio calls. This lack of response, combined with the plane’s turning to the east, causes United to believe, by 9:36 a.m., that the plane has been hijacked. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 456]
A hijacker says over the radio to Flight 93’s passengers: “Ladies and gentlemen, here is the captain, please sit down. Keep remaining sitting. We have a bomb aboard.” Apparently, Cleveland flight controllers can understand about a minute of screams, before a voice again says something about a “bomb on board.” A hijacker says in broken English that they are returning to the airport. [Newsweek, 9/22/2001; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/28/2001; MSNBC, 9/3/2002] According to the 9/11 Commission’s account, the hijacker’s voice says, “Keep remaining sitting. We have a bomb on board.” The controller understands, but chooses to respond, “Calling Cleveland [flight control], you’re unreadable. Say again, slowly.” Apparently there’s no answer. The controller notifies his supervisor, who soon passes the notice to FAA headquarters. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]
Tom Burnett calls his wife Deena a second time. He says, “They’re in the cockpit.” He has checked the pulse of the man who was knifed (later identified as Mark Rothenberg, sitting next to him in seat 5B) and determined he is dead. She tells him about the hits on the WTC. He responds, “Oh my God, it’s a suicide mission.” As they continue to talk, he tells her the plane has turned back. By this time, Deena is in constant communication with the FBI and others, and a police officer is at her house. [Longman, 2002, pp. 110]
9:35 a.m.: Flight 93 Attendant Warns United Airlines About Hijacking; Account Spreads but Not to NORAD
The San Francisco United Airlines maintenance center receives a call from an unnamed flight attendant on Flight 93 saying that the flight has been hijacked. The information is quickly passed on. [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004] Within ten minutes, “everyone” in the United Airlines crisis center “now [knows] that a flight attendant on board had called the mechanics desk to report that one hijacker had a bomb strapped on and another was holding a knife on the crew.” [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001]
When Flight 93 is over Youngstown, Ohio, Stacey Taylor and other Cleveland flight controllers see it rapidly climb 6,000 feet above its assigned altitude of 35,000 feet and then rapidly descend. The plane drops so quickly toward Cleveland that the flight controllers worry they might be the target. Other accounts say the climb occurs around 9:35 a.m. Controllers continue to try to contact the plane but still get no response. [Guardian, 10/17/2001; USA Today, 8/13/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]
Having followed a seemingly normal course until now, after reaching the Cleveland area, Flight 93 suddenly makes a sharp turn to the south. It then makes another turn back eastward, cutting through West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle before re-entering Pennsylvania. [Washington Post, 9/12/2001; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/13/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 41 ] Having thus turned 180 degrees, it now heads toward Washington, DC.
According to a book about the FAA’s response to the 9/11 attacks, Cleveland Center air traffic controllers follow Flight 93 as it turns south and reverses course. But, “bomb threats called in concerning four other planes focused their attention onto what they believed to be more critical maneuvers.” [Freni, 2003, pp. 40] One of these four planes is presumably Delta Flight 1989, which is mistakenly thought to be hijacked and to have a bomb aboard. [WKYC, 9/11/2006] The identities of the other three planes are unknown. By this time, Cleveland Center has already overheard a radio transmission from Flight 93 stating, “We have a bomb on board”, and has acknowledged this, reporting, “United 93 may have a bomb on board,” so it seems unlikely that other threatened aircraft would be regarded as “more critical maneuvers.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]
Jeremy Glick. [Source: Family photo]
Jeremy Glick calls his wife, Lyz, from Flight 93. He describes the hijackers as Middle Eastern- and Iranian-looking. According to Glick, three of them put on red headbands, stood up, yelled, and ran into the cockpit. He had been sitting in the front of the coach section, but he was then sent to the back with most of the passengers. Glick says the hijackers claimed to have a bomb, which looked like a box with something red around it. Family members immediately call emergency 9-1-1 on another line. New York State Police are patched in midway through the call. Glick finds out about the WTC towers. Two others onboard also learn about the WTC at about this time. Glick’s phone remains connected until the very end of the flight. [Toronto Sun, 9/16/2001; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/28/2001; Longman, 2002, pp. 143; MSNBC, 7/30/2002]
(9:39 a.m.): Flight 93 Hijacker Again Warns of Bomb on Board, Flight Controllers Again Overhear; NORAD Still Not Notified
The Flight 93 hijackers (probably inadvertently) transmit over the radio: “Hi, this is the captain. We’d like you all to remain seated. There is a bomb on board. And we are going to turn back to the airport. And they had our demands, so please remain quiet.” [Boston Globe, 11/23/2001; Longman, 2002, pp. 209; MSNBC, 9/3/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] The controller responds, “United 93, understand you have a bomb on board. Go ahead,” but there is no response. There was a very similar “bomb on board” warning from the same flight at 9:32 a.m. The 9/11 Commission indicates that these are separate incidents. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Cleveland flight control apparently continues to wait for FAA superiors to notify NORAD. Earlier in the morning, Boston flight control directly contacted NORAD and local air force bases when they determined Flight 11 was hijacked.
The transponder signal from Flight 93 ceases. [CNN, 9/17/2001; MSNBC, 9/3/2002; MSNBC, 9/11/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] However, the plane can be-and is-tracked using primary radar by Cleveland flight controllers and at United headquarters. Altitude can no longer be determined, except by visual sightings from other aircraft. The plane’s speed begins to vary wildly, fluctuating between 600 and 400 mph before eventually settling around 400 mph. [Longman, 2002, pp. 77, 214; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]
Newark, New Jersey, flight controller Bob Varcadapane is talking on the phone with the FAA Command Center. He is told that the Command Center is still suspicious of at least ten planes for one reason or another, all possible hijackings. [MSNBC, 9/11/2002]
As part of a NORAD training exercise, a simulated hijacking was scheduled to occur around this time. It was to have been based around politically motivated perpetrators taking command of an aircraft, landing it on a Cuba-like island, and seeking asylum there. The hijacking was one of several simulated scenarios prepared for the day. Details of the other scenarios are unknown. Major Kevin Nasypany, the NEADS mission crew commander who’d helped designed the exercise, initially thought the reports of Flight 11 being hijacked were because “Somebody started the exercise early.” [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] The exercise was canceled after the second plane hit the World Trade Center.
Flight 93 passenger Marion Birtton calls a friend. She tells him two people have been killed and the plane has been turned around. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/28/2001]
Greg Callahan. [Source: NBC News]
Newark, New Jersey, flight controller Greg Callahan is talking on the phone to an FBI agent. The agent says about Flight 93: “We suspect that this aircraft has now been taken over by hostile forces.” The agent describes the sharp turn it has made over eastern Ohio and that it is now heading back over southwestern Pennsylvania. Callahan says he could tell the plane is on a course for Washington. [MSNBC, 9/11/2002] The FBI has been in contact with Deena Burnett and informed of what her husband, Flight 93 passenger Tom Burnett, has been saying since at least 9:34 a.m. [Longman, 2002, pp. 110] It is unclear where in the chain of command details of these Flight 93 calls reach, and the 9/11 Commission has not clarified the issue of what the FBI knew and when.
Cleveland Center flight controller Bill Keaton is responsible for guiding high-altitude flights in the airspace where Flight 93 turned off its transponder. After its transponder goes off, he follows Flight 93 on his radar scope as it travels across his sector, headed toward Washington, DC, and is instructed not to let any other aircraft come within 20 miles of it. Because its transponder is off, he cannot tell the plane’s altitude. He sees it disappear from his scope at the time it crashes. [USA Today, 8/11/2002; Cleveland Free Times, 9/6/2006]
Mark Bingham. [Source: Family photo]
From Flight 93, Mark Bingham calls his mother and says, “I’m on a flight from Newark to San Francisco and there are three guys who have taken over the plane and they say they have a bomb.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/28/2001] In an alternate version, he says, “I’m in the air, I’m calling you on the Airfone. I’m calling you from the plane. We’ve been taken over. There are three men that say they have a bomb.” [Toronto Sun, 9/16/2001; Boston Globe, 11/23/2001]
Tom Burnett calls his wife, Deena, for the third time. She tells him about the crash at the Pentagon. Tom speaks about the bomb he’d mentioned earlier, saying, “I don’t think they have one. I think they’re just telling us that.” He says the hijackers are talking about crashing the plane into the ground. “We have to do something.” He says that “a group of us” are making a plan. [Longman, 2002, pp. 111] This indicates there would have been at least 19 minutes advance notice that a passenger takeover was likely, if the contents of these phone calls are being passed on to the right authorities. Note that by Burnett’s second call at 9:34 a.m., the FBI was already listening in. [Toronto Sun, 9/16/2001]
Todd Beamer. [Source: Family photo]
After having some trouble getting authorization to use an Airfone to call his family, passenger Todd Beamer is able to speak to Verizon phone representative Lisa Jefferson, with the FBI listening in. He talks for about 15 minutes. Beamer says he has been herded to the back of the plane along with nine other passengers and five flight attendants. A hijacker, who says he has a bomb strapped to his body, is guarding them. Twenty-seven passengers are being guarded by a hijacker in first class, which is separated from the rest of the aircraft by a curtain. One hijacker has gone into the cockpit. One passenger is dead (that leaves one passenger unaccounted for—presumably the man who made a call from the bathroom, thought to be Edward Felt). The two pilots are apparently dead. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/16/2001; Newsweek, 9/22/2001; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/28/2001; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/28/2001; Boston Globe, 11/23/2001] A conflicting version states that 27 passengers were in the back, and that Beamer saw four hijackers instead of just three. [Boston Globe, 11/23/2001] It is not clear if Tom Burnett’s first class section group is in contact with Todd Beamer’s coach section group or if there are two independent plans to take over the plane.
According to the later-recovered Flight 93 cockpit voice recording, around this time one hijacker in the cockpit says to another, “Let the guys in now.” A vague instruction is given to bring the pilot back in. It’s not clear if this is a reference to an original pilot or a hijacker pilot. Investigators aren’t sure if the original pilots were quickly killed or allowed to live. [Longman, 2002, pp. 208]
On Flight 93, Jeremy Glick is still on the phone with his wife, Lyz. He tells her that the passengers are taking a vote if they should try to take over the plane or not. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/28/2001; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/28/2001] He later says that all the men on the plane have voted to attack the hijackers. [Toronto Sun, 9/16/2001] When asked about weapons, he says they don’t have guns, just knives. This appears to contradict an earlier mention of guns. His wife gets the impression from him that the hijacker standing nearby, claiming to hold the bomb, would be easy to overwhelm. [Longman, 2002, pp. 153-154]
Sandra Bradshaw. [Source: Family photo]
Sandy Bradshaw calls her husband from Flight 93. She says, “Have you heard what’s going on? My flight has been hijacked. My flight has been hijacked with three guys with knives.” [Boston Globe, 11/23/2001] She tells him that some passengers are in the rear galley filling pitchers with hot water to use against the hijackers. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/28/2001; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/28/2001]
According to Flight 93’s cockpit voice recording, the hijackers grow concerned that the passengers might retaliate. One urges that the plane’s fire axe be held up to the cockpit door’s peephole to scare the passengers. [Longman, 2002, pp. 209-210 ]
Tom Burnett calls his wife, Deena, for the fourth and last time. In early reports of this call, he says, “I know we’re all going to die. There’s three of us who are going to do something about it.” [Toronto Sun, 9/16/2001; Boston Globe, 11/23/2001] However, in a later, more complete, account, he sounds much more upbeat. “It’s up to us. I think we can do it.” He adds, “Don’t worry, we’re going to do something.” He specifically mentions they plan to regain control of the airplane over a rural area. [Longman, 2002, pp. 118]
The pilot hijacker of Flight 93 (presumably Ziad Jarrah) reprograms the plane’s navigational system for a new destination. He dials in the navigational code for Washington’s Reagan National Airport, which is just four miles from the White House, and an arrival time of 10:28 a.m. The 9/11 Commission says this further indicates that the plane’s intended target is the nation’s capital. [Longman, 2002, pp. 78 and 182; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 457; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 45 ] According to the St. Petersburg Times, a minute later, at 9:56, “the destination code for [Flight 93] in FAA computers was changed from ‘SFO,’ the code for San Francisco, to ‘DCA,’ the code for Reagan National Airport in Washington. That indicates an air traffic controller probably changed the destination. Typically, that is done only when it is requested by the pilots.” [St. Petersburg Times, 9/12/2001] Twenty-five minutes earlier, someone in Flight 93’s cockpit had radioed in and requested a new flight plan from the FAA, with a final destination of Washington.
One of the hijackers in the cockpit asks if anything is going on, apparently meaning outside the cockpit. “Fighting,” the other says. [Longman, 2002, pp. 210] An analysis of the cockpit flight recording suggests that the passenger struggle actually starts in the front of the plane (where Mark Bingham and Tom Burnett are sitting) about a minute before a struggle in the back of the plane (where Todd Beamer is sitting). [Observer, 12/2/2001] Officials later theorize that the Flight 93 passengers reach the cockpit using a food cart as a battering ram and a shield. They claim digital enhancement of the cockpit voice recorder reveals the sound of plates and glassware crashing around 9:57 a.m. [Newsweek, 11/25/2001]
“In the cockpit! In the cockpit!” is heard. The hijackers are reportedly heard telling each other to hold the door. In English, someone outside shouts, “Let’s get them.” The hijackers are also praying “Allah o akbar” (God is great). One of the hijackers suggests shutting off the oxygen supply to the cabin (which apparently would not have had any effect since the plane was already below 10,000 feet). A hijacker says, “Should we finish?” Another one says, “Not yet.” The sounds of the passengers get clearer, and in unaccented English “Give it to me!” is heard. “I’m injured,” someone says in English. Then something like “roll it up” and “lift it up” is heard. Passengers’ relatives believe this sequence proves that the passengers did take control of the plane. [Newsweek, 11/25/2001; Observer, 12/2/2001; Longman, 2002, pp. 270-27; MSNBC, 7/30/2002; Daily Telegraph, 7/31/2002]
Sandy Bradshaw tells her husband, “Everyone’s running to first class. I’ve got to go. Bye.” She had been speaking with him since 9:50 a.m. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/28/2001; Boston Globe, 11/23/2001]
CeeCee Lyles says to her husband, “Aah, it feels like the plane’s going down.” Her husband Lorne says, “What’s that?” She replies, “I think they’re going to do it. they’re forcing their way into the cockpit” (an alternate version says, “they’re getting ready to force their way into the cockpit”). A little later she screams, then says, “they’re doing it! they’re doing it! they’re doing it!” Her husband hears more screaming in the background, then he hears a “whooshing sound, a sound like wind,” then more screaming, and then the call breaks off. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/28/2001; Longman, 2002, pp. 180]
Todd Beamer ends his long phone call with a Verizon phone company representative saying that they plan “to jump” the hijacker in the back of the plane who has the bomb. In the background, the phone operator already could hear an “awful commotion” of people shouting, and women screaming, “Oh my God,” and “God help us.” He lets go of the phone but leaves it connected. His famous last words are said to nearby passengers: “Are you ready guys? Let’s roll” (alternate version: “You ready? Okay. Let’s roll”). [Newsweek, 9/22/2001; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/28/2001; Longman, 2002, pp. 204] Sounds of fighting in the back of the plane where Beamer is can be heard about a minute after such sounds in the front. [Observer, 12/2/2001]
A man dials emergency 9-1-1 from a bathroom on the plane, crying, “We’re being hijacked, We’re being hijacked!” [Toronto Sun, 9/16/2001] The operator reports, “He heard some sort of explosion and saw white smoke coming from the plane and we lost contact with him.” [ABC News, 9/11/2001; ABC News, 9/11/2001; Associated Press, 9/12/2001][Pittsburgh Channel, 12/6/2001] Investigators believe this was Edward Felt, the only passenger not accounted for on phone calls. He was sitting in first class, so he probably was in the bathroom near the front of the plane. At one point, he appears to have peeked out the bathroom door during the call. [Longman, 2002, pp. 193-194, 196] The mentions of smoke and explosions on the recording of his call are now denied. [Longman, 2002, pp. 264] The person who took Felt’s call is not allowed to speak to the media. [Mirror, 9/12/2002] One minute after the call begins, the line goes dead.
According to Lyz Glick, as recounted in the book “Among the Heroes,” she is speaking to her husband Jeremy Glick on Flight 93 when he tells her that passengers have been hearing from other phone calls that planes are crashing into the World Trade Center. He asks her, “Are [the hijackers] going to blow this plane up?” Lyz replies that she doesn’t know, but tells him that it is true two planes have crashed into the World Trade Center. He asks her if they’re going to crash the plane into the World Trade Center. She replies, “No. They’re not going there.” He asks why, and she replies that one of the towers has just fallen. “They knocked it down.” The first World Trade Center tower collapses at 9:59 and is seen by millions on television. The book makes clear that this exchange takes place at “almost ten o’clock” —within a minute of the tower collapse. [ Longman, 2002, pp. 147] This account contradicts the 9/11 Commission’s conclusion that the passenger assault on the cockpit begins at 9:58, because the tower collapse was definitely at 9:59. Only later in the same phone call does Jeremy Glick mention that passengers are still taking a vote on whether or not to attack the hijackers. He confers with others and tells Lyz that they’ve decided to do so, and then gets off the phone line. [Longman, 2002, pp. 153-54]
According to the 9/11 Commission, the hijacker pilot, presumably Ziad Jarrah, has been rolling the plane sharply to the left and right in an attempt to prevent passengers from reaching the cockpit. At this time, he stabilizes the plane and asks another hijacker, “Is that it? Shall we finish it off?” Another voice answers, “No. Not yet. When they all come, we finish it off.” The pilot starts pitching the nose of the airplane up and down. A few seconds later a passenger’s voice can be heard saying, “In the cockpit. If we don’t we’ll die!” Another voice says, “Roll it!” which some speculate could be a reference to pushing a foot cart into the cockpit door. By 10:01, the pilot stops the pitching and says, “Allah o akbar! Allah o akbar!” (“God is great”), then asks, “Is that it? I mean, shall we put it down?” Another hijacker responds, “Yes, put it in it, and pull it down.” [New York Times, 7/22/2004; San Francisco Chronicle, 7/23/2004]
The transponder for Flight 93 briefly turns back on. The plane is at 7,000 feet. The transponder stays on until about 10:03 a.m. It is unclear why the transponder signal briefly returns. [MSNBC, 9/11/2002]
Flight 93 passenger Elizabeth Wainio says to her stepmother, “Mom, they’re rushing the cockpit. I’ve got to go. Bye,” then hangs up. This may have been a delayed reaction to events, since her stepmother says that in their 10-minute call, Elizabeth was in a trancelike state, appeared to have resigned herself to death, was breathing in a strange manner, and even said she felt she was leaving her body. The timing for this call is also approximate, and variously reported as taking place just before or just after 10:00 a.m. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/28/2001; MSNBC, 7/30/2002]
During this time, there apparently are no calls from Flight 93. Several cell phones that are left on record only silence. For instance, although Todd Beamer does not hang up, nothing more is heard after he puts down the phone, suggesting things are quiet in the back of the plane. [Longman, 2002, pp. 218] The only exception is Richard Makely, who listens to Jeremy Glick’s open phone line after Glick goes to attack the hijackers. A reporter summarizes Makely explaining that, “The silence last[s] two minutes, then there [is] screaming. More silence, followed by more screams. Finally, there [is] a mechanical sound, followed by nothing.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/17/2001] The second silence lasts between 60 and 90 seconds. [Longman, 2002, pp. 219] Near the end of the cockpit voice recording, loud wind sounds can be heard. [Longman, 2002, pp. 270-271; CNN, 4/19/2002] “Sources claim the last thing heard on the cockpit voice recorder is the sound of wind—suggesting the plane had been holed.” [Mirror, 9/12/2002] There was at least one passenger, Don Greene, who was a professional pilot. Another passenger, Andrew Garcia, was a former flight controller. [Newsweek, 9/22/2001; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/28/2001; Daily Telegraph, 7/31/2002]
Bill Wright is piloting a small plane when a flight controller asks him to look around outside his window, according to his later claims. He sees Flight 93 three miles away—close enough that Wright can see the United Airlines colors. Flight control asks him the plane’s altitude, and then commands him to get away from the plane and land immediately. Wright sees the plane rock back and forth three or four times before he flies from the area. [Pittsburgh Channel, 9/19/2001] According to the 9/11 Commission, the FAA Command Center tells FAA headquarters that a nearby plane had seen Flight 93 “waving his wings.” The commission says, “The aircraft had witnessed the radical gyrations in what we believe was the hijackers’ effort to defeat the passenger assault.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] This presumably is a reference to Wright.
The cockpit voice recording of Flight 93 was recorded on a 30-minute reel, which means that the tape is continually overwritten and only the final 30 minutes of any flight would be recorded. The government later permits relatives to hear this tape. Apparently, the version of the tape played to the family members begins at 9:31 a.m. and runs for 31 minutes, ending one minute before, according to the government, the plane crashes. [Longman, 2002, pp. 206-207; CNN, 4/19/2002] The New York Observer comments, “Some of the relatives are keen to find out why, at the peak of this struggle, the tape suddenly stops recording voices and all that is heard in the last 60 seconds or so is engine noise. Had the tape been tampered with?” [New York Observer, 6/17/2004]
According to the 9/11 Commission, a Flight 93 hijacker says, “Pull it down! Pull it down!” The airplane rolls onto its back as one of the hijackers shouts, “Allah o akbar! Allah o akbar!” The commission comments, “The hijackers remained at the controls but must have judged that the passengers were only seconds from overcoming them.” Presumably the plane crashes seconds later. [San Francisco Chronicle, 7/23/2004] However, there are questions as to whether the voice recording actually ends at this time. Furthermore, there is a near complete disconnect between these quotes and the quotes given in previous accounts of what the cockpit recording revealed (see (9:57 a.m. and After) September 11, 2001). For instance, in other accounts, passenger voices saying, “Give it to me!,” “I’m injured,” and “Roll it up” or “Lift it up” are heard just before the recording ends. [Newsweek, 11/25/2001; Observer, 12/2/2001; Longman, 2002, pp. 270-271; MSNBC, 7/30/2002; Daily Telegraph, 7/31/2002]
In the tiny town of Boswell, about ten miles north and slightly to the west of Flight 93’s crash site, Rodney Peterson and Brandon Leventry notice a passenger jet lumbering through the sky at about 2,000 feet. They realize such a big plane flying so low in that area is odd. They see the plane dip its wings sharply to the left, then to the right. The wings level off and the plane keeps flying south, continuing to descend slowly. Five minutes later, they hear news that the plane has crashed. Other witnesses also later describe the plane flying east-southeast, low, and wobbly. [New York Times, 9/14/2001; Longman, 2002, pp. 205-206] “Officials initially say that it looks like the plane was headed south when it hit the ground.” [News Channel 5 (Cleveland), 9/11/2001]
Exactly when Flight 93 crashes remains unclear. According to NORAD, Flight 93 crashes at 10:03 a.m. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001] The 9/11 Commission gives an exact time of 11 seconds after 10:03 a.m. They claim this “time is supported by evidence from the staff’s radar analysis, the flight data recorder, NTSB [National Transportation Safety Board] analysis, and infrared satellite data.” They do note that “[t]he precise crash time has been the subject of some dispute.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] However, a seismic study authorized by the US Army to determine when the plane crashed concluded that the crash happened at 10:06:05 a.m. [Kim and Baum, 2002 pdf file; San Francisco Chronicle, 12/9/2002] The discrepancy is so puzzling that the Philadelphia Daily News publishes an article on the issue, titled “Three-Minute Discrepancy in Tape.” It notes that leading seismologists agree on the 10:06 a.m. time, give or take a couple of seconds. [Philadelphia Daily News, 9/16/2002] The New York Observer notes that, in addition to the seismology study, “The FAA gives a crash time of 10:07 a.m. In addition, the New York Times, drawing on flight controllers in more than one FAA facility, put the time at 10:10 a.m. Up to a seven-minute discrepancy? In terms of an air disaster, seven minutes is close to an eternity. The way our nation has historically treated any airline tragedy is to pair up recordings from the cockpit and air-traffic control and parse the timeline down to the hundredths of a second. However, as [former Inspector General of the Transportation Department] Mary Schiavo points out, ‘We don’t have an NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) investigation here, and they ordinarily dissect the timeline to the thousandth of a second.'” [New York Observer, 2/11/2004] (Note that this work uses 10:06 a.m. as the most likely time of the crash, detailed below).
Shortly after 9/11, NORAD claims that there is a fighter 100 miles away from Flight 93 when it crashes. However, no details, such as who the pilot is, or which base or direction the fighter is coming from, are ever given by NORAD. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001] Other accounts vary as to whether or not there are any fighters near Flight 93 when it goes down:
Two days after the attacks, it is reported that an unnamed New England flight controller ignored a ban on controllers speaking to the media, reportedly claiming “that an F-16 fighter closely pursued Flight 93… the F-16 made 360-degree turns to remain close to the commercial jet.” He adds that the fighter pilot “must’ve seen the whole thing.” He reportedly learned this from speaking to controllers who were closer to the crash. [Associated Press, 9/13/2001; Telegraph (Nashua), 9/13/2001]
Five days after the attacks, on September 16, CBS television reports that two F-16 fighters were tailing the flight and within 60 miles of the plane when it went down. [CBS News, 9/16/2001; >Independent, 8/13/2002]
Also on this date, Major General Paul Weaver, director of the Air National Guard, says that no military planes were sent after Flight 93. [Seattle Times, 9/16/2001]
About seven months later, Anthony Kuczynski tells the University of St. Thomas’s weekly newspaper that he had flown toward Pittsburgh alongside two F-16s. He said he was piloting an E-3 Sentry AWACS plane, with advanced radar and surveillance equipment that could be used to direct fighters to their targets. He was just about to intercept Flight 93 when it crashed. He says, “I was given direct orders to shoot down an airliner.” (E-3s are unarmed, so, if this account is accurate, the order presumably applied to the fighters Kuczynski was accompanying.) [St. Thomas Aquin, 4/12/2002; US Air Force, 5/2006]
Almost a year after the attacks, ABC News reports that “the closest fighters are two F-16 pilots on a training mission from Selfridge Air National Guard Base” near Detroit, Michigan. These were reportedly ordered after Flight 93, even though they weren’t armed with any weapons. The two pilots, Lt. Col. Tom Froling and Major Douglas Champagne, had just fired the last of their 20mm cannon ammunition during their training mission. They were oblivious to what happened in New York and Washington, but said they heard unusual conversation over their radio frequencies. They claim they were supposed to crash into Flight 93 if they could not persuade it to land. [ABC News, 8/30/2002; ABC News, 9/11/2002; Filson, 2004, pp. 68] However, these fighters were apparently not diverted from Michigan until after Flight 93 crashed at 10:06 a.m.
Another Cleveland flight controller named Stacey Taylor claims around this time not to have seen any fighters on radar around the crash. [MSNBC, 9/11/2002]
Five years after the attacks, Bill Keaton, a Cleveland flight controller who tracked Flight 93 as it flew eastward, is asked whether there were fighters in the vicinity when it crashed. He replies, “[T]hat goes beyond the scope of what I can comment on.” (Flight controllers reportedly can lose their security clearances if they discuss the movements of military aircraft.) [Cleveland Free Times, 9/6/2006]
Several local people believe they hear a missile overhead just before Flight 93 goes down. Barry Lichty, a US Navy veteran and mayor of Indian Lake Borough (just to the east of where Flight 93 crashes), is watching television with his wife. He says he hears “a loud roar above the house that sounded like a missile.… Shortly thereafter, we heard an explosion and a tremor. My first reaction, as a former utility employee, was that maybe someone shot a missile into the substation.” He says Flight 93 “did not come over my house. I don’t know what we heard.” [Kashurba, 2002, pp. 158-159] Joe Wilt, who lives a quarter-mile from the crash site, hears a “whistling like a missile, then a loud boom.” He says, “The first thing I thought it was, was a missile.” [Boston Globe, 9/12/2001; Washington Post, 9/12/2001][Philadelphia Daily News, 11/18/2001] Officials will emphatically deny that Flight 93 was shot down, as some people later suggest . [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 9/14/2001; Longman, 2002, pp. 264] However, a number of witnesses report seeing a small, white jet plane near the crash site, around the time Flight 93 reportedly goes down. And Ernie Stuhl, the mayor of Shanksville, later says, “I know of two people – I will not mention names – that heard a missile. They both live very close, within a couple of hundred yards.… This one fellow’s served in Vietnam and he says he’s heard them, and he heard one that day.”
Numerous eyewitnesses see and hear Flight 93 just before its crash:
Terry Butler, at Stoystown: He sees the plane come out of the clouds, low to the ground. “It was moving like you wouldn’t believe. Next thing I knew it makes a heck of a sharp, right-hand turn.” It banks to the right and appears to be trying to climb to clear one of the ridges, but it continues to turn to the right and then veers behind a ridge. About a second later it crashes. [St. Petersburg Times, 9/12/2001]
Accounts of the plane making strange noises –
Laura Temyer of Hooversville: “I didn’t see the plane but I heard the plane’s engine. Then I heard a loud thump that echoed off the hills and then I heard the plane’s engine. I heard two more loud thumps and didn’t hear the plane’s engine anymore after that.” (She insists that people she knows in state law enforcement have privately told her the plane was shot down, and that decompression sucked objects from the aircraft, explaining why there was a wide debris field.) [Philadelphia Daily News, 11/15/2001]
Charles Sturtz, a half-mile from the crash site: The plane is heading southeast and has its engines running. No smoke can be seen. “It was really roaring, you know. Like it was trying to go someplace, I guess.” [WPXI 11 (Pittsburgh), 9/13/2001]
Michael Merringer, two miles from the crash site: “I heard the engine gun two different times and then I heard a loud bang…” [Associated Press, 9/12/2001]
Tim Lensbouer, 300 yards away: “I heard it for ten or 15 seconds and it sounded like it was going full bore.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/12/2001]
Accounts of the plane flying upside down –
Rob Kimmel, several miles from the crash site: He sees it fly overhead, banking hard to the right. It is 200 feet or less off the ground as it crests a hill to the southeast. “I saw the top of the plane, not the bottom.” [Longman, 2002, pp. 210-211] Eric Peterson of Lambertsville: He sees a plane flying overhead unusually low. The plane seemed to be turning end-over-end as it dropped out of sight behind a tree line. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/12/2001]
Bob Blair of Stoystown: He sees the plane spiraling and flying upside down, not much higher than the treetops, before crashing. [Daily American, 9/12/2001]
Accounts of a sudden plunge and more strange sounds –
An unnamed witness says he hears two loud bangs before watching the plane take a downward turn of nearly 90 degrees. [News Channel 5 (Cleveland), 9/11/2001]
Tom Fritz, about a quarter-mile from the crash site: He hears a sound that “wasn’t quite right” and looks up in the sky. “It dropped all of a sudden, like a stone,” going “so fast that you couldn’t even make out what color it was.” [St. Petersburg Times, 9/12/2001]
Terry Butler, a few miles north of Lambertsville: “It dropped out of the clouds.” The plane rose slightly, trying to gain altitude, then “it just went flip to the right and then straight down.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/12/2001]
Lee Purbaugh, 300 yards away: “There was an incredibly loud rumbling sound and there it was, right there, right above my head—maybe 50 feet up.… I saw it rock from side to side then, suddenly, it dipped and dived, nose first, with a huge explosion, into the ground. I knew immediately that no one could possibly have survived.” [Independent, 8/13/2002]
Upside down and a sudden plunge –
Linda Shepley: She hears a loud bang and sees the plane bank to the side. [ABC News, 9/11/2001] She sees the plane wobbling right and left, at a low altitude of roughly 2,500 feet, when suddenly the right wing dips straight down, and the plane plunges into the earth. She says she has an unobstructed view of Flight 93’s final two minutes. [Philadelphia Daily News, 11/15/2001]
Kelly Leverknight in Stony Creek Township of Shanksville: “There was no smoke, it just went straight down. I saw the belly of the plane.” It sounds like it is flying low, and it’s heading east. [St. Petersburg Times, 9/12/2001]
Tim Thornsberg, working in a nearby strip mine: “It came in low over the trees and started wobbling. Then it just rolled over and was flying upside down for a few seconds… and then it kind of stalled and did a nose dive over the trees.” [WPXI 11 (Pittsburgh), 9/13/2001] Some claim that these witness accounts support the idea that Flight 93 is hit by a missile. [Philadelphia Daily News, 11/15/2001] While this theory certainly can be disputed, it is worth noting that some passenger planes hit by missiles continued to fly erratically for several minutes before crashing. For instance, a Korean Airline 747 was hit by two Russian missiles in 1983, yet continued to fly for two more minutes. [Korean Air, 8/31/1983] Kelly Leverknight, whose home is a couple of miles from the Flight 93 crash site, adds that planes going overhead are nothing unusual here because the area is a “military flight corridor.” [Daily American, 9/12/2001]
Flight 93 apparently starts to break up before it crashes, because debris is found very far away from the crash site. [Philadelphia Daily News, 11/15/2001] The plane is generally obliterated upon landing, except for one half-ton piece of engine found some distance away. Some reports indicate that the engine piece was found over a mile away. [Independent, 8/13/2002] The FBI reportedly acknowledges that this piece was found “a considerable distance” from the crash site. [Philadelphia Daily News, 11/15/2001] Later, the FBI will cordon off a three-mile wide area around the crash, as well as another area six to eight miles from the initial crash site. [CNN, 9/13/2001] One story calls what happened to this engine “intriguing, because the heat-seeking, air-to-air Sidewinder missiles aboard an F-16 would likely target one of the Boeing 757’s two large engines.” [Philadelphia Daily News, 11/15/2001] Smaller debris fields are also found two, three, and eight miles away from the main crash site. [Independent, 8/13/2002; Mirror, 9/12/2002] Eight miles away, local media quote residents speaking of a second plane in the area and burning debris falling from the sky. [Reuters, 9/13/2001] Residents outside Shanksville reported “discovering clothing, books, papers, and what appeared to be human remains. Some residents said they collected bags-full of items to be turned over to investigators. Others reported what appeared to be crash debris floating in Indian Lake, nearly six miles from the immediate crash scene. Workers at Indian Lake Marina said that they saw a cloud of confetti-like debris descend on the lake and nearby farms minutes after hearing the explosion…” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/13/2001] Moments after the crash, Carol Delasko initially thinks someone had blown up a boat on Indian Lake: “It just looked like confetti raining down all over the air above the lake.” [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 9/14/2001] Investigators say that far-off wreckage “probably was spread by the cloud created when the plane crashed and dispersed by a ten mph southeasterly wind.” [News Journal (Wilmington, DE), 9/16/2001] However, much of the wreckage is found sooner than that wind could have carried it, and not always southeast.
Flight 93 crashed in the Pennsylvania countryside. Resue vehicles arrive in the distance. [Source: Keith Srakocic/ Associated Press]
Flight 93 crashes into an empty field just north of the Somerset County Airport, about 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, 124 miles or 15 minutes from Washington, D.C. [CNN, 9/12/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; Guardian, 10/17/2001; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/28/2001; USA Today, 8/13/2002; Associated Press, 8/19/2002; MSNBC, 9/3/2002] The point of impact is a reclaimed coal mine, known locally as the Diamond T Mine, that was reportedly abandoned in 1996. [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 9/12/2001; St. Petersburg Times, 9/12/2001; Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 9/11/2002] Being “reclaimed” means the earth had been excavated down to the coal seam, the coal removed, and then the earth replaced and planted over. [Kashurba, 2002, pp. 121] A US Army authorized seismic study times the crash at five seconds after 10:06 a.m. [Kim and Baum, 2002 pdf file; San Francisco Chronicle, 12/9/2002] As mentioned previously, the timing of this crash is disputed and it may well occur at 10:03 a.m., 10:07 a.m., or 10:10 a.m.
Looking straight down onto the Flight 93 crash site. North is to the top. Note the impact point north of the road, and the burned trees to the south of it. [Source: FBI]
A second plane, described “as a small, white jet with rear engines and no discernible markings,” is seen by at least nine witnesses flying low and in erratic patterns, not much above treetop level, over the crash site within minutes of the United flight crashing. [Independent, 8/13/2002]
* Lee Purbaugh: “I didn’t get a good look but it was white and it circled the area about twice and then it flew off over the horizon.” [Mirror, 9/12/2002]
* Susan Mcelwain: Less than a minute before the Flight 93 crash rocked the countryside, she sees a small white jet with rear engines and no discernible markings swoop low over her minivan near an intersection and disappear over a hilltop, nearly clipping the tops of trees lining the ridge. [Bergen Record, 9/14/2001] She later adds, “There’s no way I imagined this plane-it was so low it was virtually on top of me. It was white with no markings but it was definitely military, it just had that look. It had two rear engines, a big fin on the back like a spoiler on the back of a car and with two upright fins at the side. I haven’t found one like it on the Internet. It definitely wasn’t one of those executive jets. The FBI came and talked to me and said there was no plane around…. But I saw it and it was there before the crash and it was 40 feet above my head. They did not want my story-nobody here did.” [Mirror, 9/12/2002]
* Dennis Decker and/or Rick Chaney, say: “As soon as we looked up [after hearing the Flight 93 crash], we saw a midsized jet flying low and fast. It appeared to make a loop or part of a circle, and then it turned fast and headed out.” Decker and Chaney described the plane as a Learjet type, with engines mounted near the tail and painted white with no identifying markings. “It was a jet plane, and it had to be flying real close when that 757 went down. If I was the FBI, I’d find out who was driving that plane.” [Bergen Record, 9/14/2001]
* Kathy Blades, who is staying about quarter of a mile from the impact site, runs outside after the crash and sees a jet, “with sleek back wings and an angled cockpit,” race overhead. [Philadelphia Daily News, 11/18/2001]
* Anna Ruth Fisher says, “After the crash, another jet went near over to look.” Her mother, Anna B. Fisher, adds, “We were looking at the smoke cloud when we saw the jets circling up there.” [Kashurba, 2002, pp. 27]
* Jim Brandt sees a small plane with no markings stay about one or two minutes over the crash site before leaving. [Pittsburgh Channel, 9/12/2001]
* Bob Page sees a large plane circling the crash site for about two or three minutes, before climbing almost vertically into the sky. He cannot see what kind of plane it is or if there are any markings on it, but says, “It sure wasn’t no puddle jumper.” [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 9/12/2001]
* Tom Spinelli: “I saw the white plane. It was flying around all over the place like it was looking for something. I saw it before and after the crash.” [Mirror, 9/12/2002] The FBI later says this was a Fairchild Falcon 20 business jet, directed after the crash to fly from 37,000 feet to 5,000 feet and obtain the coordinates for the crash site to help rescuers. [Pittsburgh Channel, 9/15/2001; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/16/2001] The FBI also says there was a C-130 military cargo aircraft flying at 24,000 feet about 17 miles away (see 10:08 a.m. September 11, 2001), but that plane wasn’t armed and had no role in the crash. [Pittsburgh Channel, 9/15/2001; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/16/2001] Note that this is the same C-130 that flies very close to Flight 77 right as that planes crashes into the Pentagon (see 9.36 a.m. September 11, 2001).
The local structure most severely damaged when Flight 93 crashes in rural Pennsylvania is a stone cottage, an estimated 1,000 feet from the crash site. Located within thick trees, the cottage belongs to Barry Hoover who is away at work at the time of the crash. Reportedly, “every window and door” has been “blown off and obliterated, its ceilings and floor tiles had been blasted loose and much of the interior was wrecked.” Hoover describes it as “like what you see after a tornado or hurricane goes through—a total ruin.” The garage adjacent to it has its door blown off by the shockwave from the crash. According to Somerset County Solicitor Dan Rullo, “The way it was described to me was that it must have been blown up, the springs snapped, and it came back upside down.” The surrounding area is scattered with remains and debris. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/14/2001; Kashurba, 2002, pp. 122;Washington Post, 5/12/2002]
A local resident is able to take the only photo showing the Flight 93 crash in the seconds after the plane went down. Val McClatchey lives just over a mile away from the crash site. [Wall Street Journal, 9/12/2006] She is at home watching television when she hears the surge of a plane engine, sees a silver flash outside, and then hears a loud boom that causes her house to shake. Luckily she has her new digital camera ready by her door. She was planning to photograph a friend who had promised to fly over in a helicopter on this day. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 6/29/2003;Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 8/6/2006; Tribune-Democrat (Johnstown), 9/9/2006] She grabs it and from her front porch manages to take a picture of the smoke cloud rising into the sky, “approximately five seconds after impact,” she says. [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 9/11/2002; Windsor Park Stories, 3/23/2003] Her photo will appear in numerous newspapers and magazines. According to the FBI, it is the only known image taken within seconds of the crash. Considering the sparsely populated area in which Flight 93 went down, Pittsburgh FBI agent Jeff Killeen calls it “one-of-a-kind.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 8/6/2006; Tribune-Democrat (Johnstown), 9/9/2006; Wall Street Journal, 9/12/2006]
“Up above, a fighter jet streak[s] by,” just after Flight 93 crashes, according to ABC News. It isn’t clear what evidence this ABC News [ABC News, 9/15/2002] claim is based on. There are other accounts of a fighter or fighters in the area before the crash, mentioned previously.
President Bush is told that Flight 93 crashed a few minutes after it happened, but the exact timing of this notice is unclear. Because of Vice President Cheney’s earlier order, he asks, “Did we shoot it down or did it crash?” Several hours later, he is assured that it crashed. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002]
According to Newsweek, “shortly after the suicide attacks,” US intelligence picks up communications among bin Laden associates relaying the message: “we’ve hit the targets.” [Newsweek, 9/13/2001]
Paper debris found in New Baltimore, six miles from the crash site. [Source: Steve Mellon / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette] (click image to enlarge)
Despite the apparent lack of plane wreckage and human remains at the Flight 93 crash site (see (After 10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001)(see 10:45 a.m. September 11, 2001), a large amount of paper debris is found there, mostly intact. Faye Hahn, an EMT who responds to the initial call for help, finds “pieces of mail” everywhere. [McCall, 2002, pp. 31-32] Roger Bailey of the Somerset Volunteer Fire Department finds mail “scattered everywhere” around the site. He says, “I guess there were 5,000 pounds of mail on board.” [Kashurba, 2002, pp. 38] Some envelopes are burned, but others are undamaged. Flight 93 had reportedly been carrying a cargo of thousands of pounds of US mail. [Longman, 2002, pp. 213-214] Whether this is later examined as crime scene evidence is unclear: According to Bailey, over subsequent days, whenever a lot of this mail has been recovered, the post office will be called and a truck will come to take it away. Several of the first responders at the crash site also see an unscorched bible lying open on the ground, about 15 yards from the crash crater. [Kashurba, 2002, pp. 43, 110 and 129; Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 6/13/2006] Local coroner Wallace Miller will later come across a second bible at the warehouse where the Flight 93 victims’ belongings are kept. [Washington Post, 5/12/2002] Other paper debris rains down on the nearby Indian Lake Marina (see (Before 10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). According to witness Tom Spinelli, this is “mainly mail,” and also includes “bits of in-flight magazine.” [Mirror, 9/12/2002] Other paper items will be recovered from the crash site in the following days. These include a fragment of Ziad Jarrah’s passport and a business card linking al-Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui to the 9/11 hijackers. [CNN, 8/1/2002; Washington Post, 9/25/2002]
The Flight 93 crater later in the morning. Notice the destruction of the airplane is nearly total. [Source: Associated Press]
Numerous individuals who see the Flight 93 crash site describe a lack of plane wreckage:
Jon Meyer, a reporter with WJAC-TV, says, “I was able to get right up to the edge of the crater.… All I saw was a crater filled with small, charred plane parts. Nothing that would even tell you that it was the plane.… There were no suitcases, no recognizable plane parts, no body parts. The crater was about 30 to 35 feet deep.” [Newseum et al., 2002, pp. 148]
According to Mark Stahl, who goes to the crash scene, “There’s a crater gouged in the earth, the plane is pretty much disintegrated. There’s nothing left but scorched trees.” [Associated Press, 9/11/2001]
Frank Monaco of the Pennsylvania State Police says, “If you would go down there, it would look like a trash heap. There’s nothing but tiny pieces of debris. It’s just littered with small pieces.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/12/2001]
Scott Spangler, a photographer with a local newspaper, says, “I didn’t think I was in the right place. I was looking for a wing or a tail. There was nothing, just this pit.… I was looking for anything that said tail, wing, plane, metal. There was nothing.” [Newseum et al., 2002, pp. 149]
According to Ron Delano, a local who rushes to the scene after hearing about the crash, “If they hadn’t told us a plane had wrecked, you wouldn’t have known. It looked like it hit and disintegrated.” [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 9/12/2001]
Gabrielle DeRose, a news anchor with KDKA-TV, views the crash site from a hill overlooking it. She says, “It was very disturbing to think all the remains just disintegrated…. There were no large pieces of airplane, no human remains, no baggage.” [Sylvester and Huffman, 2002, pp. 160-161]
Local assistant volunteer fire chief Rick King, who sees the crater at the crash site, says, “Never in my wildest dreams did I think half the plane was down there.” King sends his men into the woods to search for the plane’s fuselage, but they keep coming back and telling him, “Rick. There’s nothing.” [Longman, 2002, pp. 216]
Bob Craig of the FBI’s evidence-gathering team later explains what is supposed to have occurred: “Turn the picture of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center on its side, and, for all intents and purposes, the face of the building is the strip mine in Shanksville [where Flight 93 crashed].” [Longman, 2002, pp. 260] When the plane’s two black boxes are later discovered (see September 13-14, 2001), they are reportedly found 15 and 25 feet inside the crater. [Longman, 2002, pp. 217; Washington Post, 5/12/2002]
Picture of Shanksville crash site
Cell phone calls – genuine or fake?
Dewdney’s Faked Cell Phone Calls theory debunked
How on Earth could any organization fake the calls I have just described? In the middle of writing this very sentence, I was interrupted by someone calling through the back door of our porch: “Is anybody home?” It was my son who was visiting us from out of town. He had been out with some old friends. I went out to the back porch to greet him.
It wasn’t my son at all, but the neighbor next door wanting to borrow our ladder. I marveled that I could have mistaken his voice for that of my son. It has a different timbre and tone, yet the context of expectation overrode my ability to discriminate sounds. One could say that my neighbor faked my son’s return without even trying to.
This example proves nothing, of course, but it illustrates a fact that has been used by spiritualists and mediums to beguile clients for hundreds of years. Anxious people, hoping to contact a deceased loved one, would typically report satisfaction with a seance. “I swear, it was my son. There was no mistaking that sweet little voice.” The context leads the recipient of such a message actually to hear the loved one. Of course, the tone of voice must be approximately correct. In the case at hand, persons faking phone calls have the further advantage of electronic fuzzing, the tendency for audio lines with very low bandwidth to transmit the human voice somewhat imperfectly. In addition, extreme emotional stress alters the human voice even more markedly, causing the person addressed to make unconscious allowances.
Telephone calls all have low bandwidth which simply means that many of the characteristics of the human voice are simply lost, like an out-of-focus photograph; if you know that the picture taken at the lake last summer was of your sister, you will have no trouble “recognizing her. Yet if someone who somewhat resembles your sister, wearing the same clothes had stood in for your her, you would still “know” that it was your sister.
There are three ways to fake the telephonic voice of any person whatever. First, voices can be mimicked. With a little practice, you or I can sound like a great many people. Second, voices can be synthesized in near real time if one has a recording of the voice being recorded. Software that was already well developed before September 11, 2001, was able to produce a very convincing quote from General Colin Powell of the Joint Chiefs: “I am being treated well by my captors.” (Arkin 1999) Moreover, the mimicry is convincing even when played over a high bandwidth device such as a tape recorder.
The third way involves a device called a voice transformer or a voice changer, such devices having been under development for at least a decade. (Ex. Pro 2004) (Spook 2004) (SeeStorm 2004) One speaks into a microphone, the sound pattern is digitized and, in real time the computer within the device produces a signal that is reconstituted as sound, a voice that can be entirely different from your own. Everything you say will be spoken by the synthesized voice and with the same inflections, pauses and emphases. You can transform your voice into that of an old man or a young girl. You can alter the sound of the voice so produced by changing the settings of controls that govern pitch and voice formants, the overtones that make up what might be called the specific “sound” of a particular person’s voice.
Of the three methods of faking a particular voice over the telephone, method number three is obviously preferable.
However, it was the content of the alleged cellphone calls that caught the attention of the American public as confirming that the calls had been made as alleged. The caller seemed to know at least a few “personal details” about the person being called. As far as we can determine, these details involved the pet name for one’s partner, as well as other commonplace items such as references to “the kids,” and so on.
The question therefor arises how the caller could have known these details. There are at least two ways. First, several passengers aboard Flight 77 were undoubtedly frequent flyers. Agents taking the flight on several occasions prior to September 11 would have an ample opportunity to engage numerous fellow passengers in chitchat, meanwhile recording their voices.
“Take this flight often?”
The recordings would contain information about timbre, pitch and other voice characteristics, as well as a wealth of “personal information.” the second way is to listen in on phone conversations. In this connection it must be mentioned that the vast majority of telephone calls made every day in the United States pass through the AMDOCS Company billing system, a telephone facility headquartered in Israel which has long been suspected as providing a golden opportunity for anyone with real time access to the calls passing through the AMDOCS system to eavesdrop on conversations. (Curtiss 2003) (WRH 2004)
“Sweetie, would you drop by the store on your way home and pick up ice cream for Jenny and Bobby?”
Of course, the organization involved would have obtained copies of the flight manifests well before the flight or it could have simply eavesdropped on the phone reservation systems for American and United Airlines.
On the fateful day the calling operation would take place in an operations center, basically a sound studio that is equipped with communication lines and several telephones. An operations director displays a scripted sequence of events on a screen so that the voice operators know what stage the “hijacking” is supposed to be at. All calls are orchestrated to follow the script. For example, shortly after the takedown of Flight 77, (See Dewdney 2003b) the first bogus calls from Flight 77 are made.
Other pseudo-events in the script include the first appearance of the hijackers, their announcement, scuffles with passengers, the back-of-the-plane strategy session, and the final rush to the cockpit. It would also include real events such as the aircraft’s turn mentioned in Call D.
To supplement the calls with real sound effects, an audio engineer would have several tapes ready to play. The tapes, which portray mumbled conferences among passengers or muffled struggles, replete with shouts and curses, can be played over any of the phone lines, as determined by the script, or simply fed as ambient sound into the control room. Trained operators with headsets make the actual calls, talking into voice changers that have been adjusted to reproduce the timbre of voice for every passenger designated to make cellphone calls.
Each operator has studied tapes for several of the individuals, as recorded on prior occasions of Flight 93, as well as profiles of the individuals, including many items of personal information, obtained by he methods previously explained.
The introductory sentence would carry the hook: “Honey, we’ve been hijacked!” Thereafter, with the belief framework installed, the operator can react to questions, literally playing the situation by ear, but being sure to include pertinent details such as “Arab-looking guys,” “boxcutters,” and all the rest. If the contact has been made successfully in the operator’s opinion, with the essential information conveyed, it is always possible to terminate the call more or less gracefully, depending on what portion of the script is under execution. “Okay. We’re going to do something. I’ll call you back.” Click.
Operators would have received general instructions about what do to in the course of a call. Although each has been supplied with at least some “intimate” details of the target’s life, there would be techniques in place for temporizing or for avoiding long conversations where basic lack of knowledge might threaten to become suddenly obvious, and so on. Three such techniques are praying (from text, if necessary) (Calls D, F1, and J), crying (as in call H), or discussing the other attacks (as in call A2 and B).
My comments: Problems with his theory:
1) Most of the people on Flight 93 had been booked to fly on another plane, but were transferred to Flight 93 because the original plane had they were booked to fly on had a cracked windshield. Half of the calls were from this flight. A few of the passengers who used cell phones on the plane, Flight 93, were passengers who switched over at the last minute, and the majority of them were not regular commuters of the route. There was no way the conspirators could have known that these people would opt to be on Flight 3 with 100% confidence. Given that some of the callers were last minute passengers of Flight 93, the conspirators would not have had time to do the data mining necessary to fake knowledge of the personal details of the passengers.
2) There is a recording of an actual phone call: Betty Ong who was calling from an airphone. The content of what she reports, a hijacking, correlates with the content of the phone calls made using cell phones by the hostages.
3) He says it’s impossible for people to make phone calls from above 10,000 feet, but Flight 93 was flying at an altitude of less than 10,000 feet (at 7,000 feet) for some part of its flight during when the cell phone calls were made. This information is from the transponder recording which was switched on briefly within the last 30 minutes of Flight 93’s flight.
4) Phone calls were also made from the planes with airphones and these would have been harder to fake. All the phone calls – with airphones or cell phones – report a hijacking taking place.
5) There was a phone call made with a cell phone from an airplane on Sept 11, 2001.
Plane was grounded on 9/11 because passenger was using cell phone on plane
My spouse] and I and six other fellow […] employees were on the 8 am flight from Boston to Los Angeles on Tuesday, but we were on the Delta flight , the one out of three 8am flights departing Logan that did not get hijacked. Instead, we were forced to make an emergency landing in Cleveland because there were reports that a bomb or hijacking was taking place on our plane. The pilot had radioed that there was suspicious activity in the cabin since one of the passengers was speaking urgently on his cellphone and ignored repeated flight attendant requests to stop using his cell phone while in flight.
Twenty-three (and counting) of the 44 people on Flight 93 were not supposed to be on the flight that day
By FrankL August 2002, (reviewed 2005 thanks to Brad)
Too Much Bad Luck?
Someone pointed out to me the large number of people who were only on the flights ‘by chance’. There are numerous stories about people who originally planned to take another flight but decided to take the opportunity to get home early and so on. I originally dismissed this as being coincidence since there didn’t appear to be enough of them to be significant.
However, on further examination of the stories of the flight 93 passengers I found something quite startling. The following table details all the passengers and crew that were on this flight by chance – mostly moving from other flights. There are some, like Alan Beaven who were reluctantly called out to last minute meetings.
1. Christine Snyder
Snyder wanted to build up frequent flier miles on her United account. That morning, she called to check on her flight, Flight 91, due to leave after 9 a.m. She moved up to Flight 93 for an earlier start.http://www.post-gazette.com/headlines/20011028flt93mainstoryp7.asp
2. Deora Bodley
She was supposed to take United Flight 91, but decided the night before to take one an hour earlier so she could get home sooner to her family and boyfriend. http://www.the-review.com/Site%20Archive/Site%20Pages/010922/010922apwire.html
3. Donald Peterson
They weren’t supposed to be on United Flight 93, but they got to the Newark Airport early, and their original flight was late and crowded. http://www.hazlitt.org/united/whotheywere2.html
4. Jean Peterson
5. Jeremy Glick [MADE PHONE CALL FROM FL 93]
Jeremy Glick was supposed to have been on Flight 93 a day earlier, but missed the Monday flight after getting stuck in traffic on his way to Newark Airport. http://www.msnbc.com/news/632626.asp
6. Lauren Grandcolas [MADE PHONE CALL FROM FL 93]
Originally scheduled on a later flight, she had been pleasantly surprised to easily get a standby seat on Flight 93 at the airport. http://www.msnbc.com/news/632626.asp
7. Louis Nacke [MADE PHONE CALL FROM FL 93]
Some of the passengers had never planned to be on the flight. Nacke had booked his seat only the night before. Out to dinner with his family, he had a received a phone call from one of his customers who needed help with an inventory problem. http://www.msnbc.com/news/632626.asp
8. Mark Bingham [MADE PHONE CALL FROM FL 93]
Mark Bingham, 31, was also supposed to have flown to San Francisco last Monday.
But he hadn’t recovered sufficiently from the 30th birthday celebration of his roommate in Manhattan, so he decided to wait until Tuesday morning. He overslept a 6 a.m. alarm and just made his flight. http://www.the-review.com/Site%20Archive/Site%20Pages/010922/010922apwire.html
9. Alan Beavan
Alan Beaven of Oakland, Calif., was on Flight 93 reluctantly. He was staying with his wife and young daughter at an ashram in New York, preparing to begin a year volunteering as head lawyer for the Syda Foundation in Bombay.
Yet, the environmental attorney had unfinished business – one last Clean Water Act lawsuit for his firm before his trip overseas. When settlement talks broke down last Monday, Beaven was duty-bound to fly back to San Francisco to handle the case. http://www.the-review.com/Site%20Archive/Site%20Pages/010922/010922apwire.html
10. Nicole Miller
Nicole Miller’s flight last Monday had also been cancelled. The 21-year-old college student and waitress at a Chili’s in San Jose had gone back East at the urging of her boyfriend, who wanted her with him when he visited his family. Because she had agreed to go at the last minute, Miller and her boyfriend had to make return reservations on different flights. http://www.the-review.com/Site%20Archive/Site%20Pages/010922/010922apwire.html
11. Thomas Burnett [MADE PHONE CALL FROM FL 93]
Like Bodley, Thomas Burnett was leaving New Jersey early to be with his family. The 38-year-old San Ramon, Calif., resident was supposed to have flown out that afternoon on Delta, but switched to Flight 93 to get home to his wife,
Deena, and their three daughters. http://www.the-review.com/Site%20Archive/Site%20Pages/010922/010922apwire.html
D. Keith Grossman, president of Thoratec Corp., of Pleasanton, Calif., was in Cleveland to meet Deitrick and ask what his company could do to help. Grossman said he could do no less. One victim on the flight was his employee and close friend, Tom Burnett.
“We were both in New York that day,” Grossman said. “He was supposed to go home on Flight 91 later in the day, but he switched it to get on Flight 93.”
12. Jason Dahl (Pilot)
Dahl was planning to take his wife Sandy to London for their fifth wedding anniversary Sept. 14, and by moving up his flight schedule, they would have more time together overseas. Sandy, a United flight attendant, went onto United’s computer system and shifted him to Flight 93. http://flight93.org/post-gazette-10-28.html
13. Wanda Green
Wanda Green wasn’t originally supposed to be on Flight 93. The 49-year-old divorced mother of two grown children had been scheduled to fly Sept. 13, but Green, who also worked as a real estate agent, realized she had to handle the closing of a home sale Sept. She’d phoned her best friend, fellow flight attendant Donita Judge, who opened United’s computerized schedule and shifted Green to the Sept. 11 flight.
14. Deborah Welsh
Welsh, who had been a flight attendant for more than 25 years, usually avoided early-morning flights, but she had agreed to trade shifts with another worker. http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/134348637_heroes02.html
15. Honor Elizabeth Wainio [MADE PHONE CALL FROM FL 93]
Since she was scheduled on a flight that stopped in Denver, Colorado, she changed her reservations to a direct flight into San Francisco at the last minute. Wainio was able to borrow a phone from a fellow passenger and contact her stepmother during the attack. http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honor_Elizabeth_Wainio
16. Georgine Rose Corrigan
She was returning from a series of business and personal trips. She was not scheduled to take flight 93 but decided to leave early to return for a trade show. http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgine_Rose_Corrigan
17. Toshiya Kuge
Toshiya was a second-year student in the science and engineering school at Waseda University, in Suginami Ward, Tokyo. According to relatives, he left Japan on August 29 and had planned to return Wednesday, September 12, 2001 http://www.unitedheroes.com/Toshiya-Kuge.html
18. Patricia Cushing
Mr. Hasenei said the family printed out maps to help Mrs. Cushing get around San Francisco. She had planned to return to her home in Bayonne next week. Baltimore Sun
19. Jane Folger
She was travelling with Patricia Cushin. http://www.unitedheroes.com/Patricia-Cushing-Jane-Folger.html
20. Lorraine Bay
A 37-year United veteran, she had chosen Flight 93 over another flight because it was nonstop.
21. Sandy Bradshaw [MADE PHONE CALL FROM FL 93]
Married US Airways pilot Phil Bradshaw [she] cut her flights to the bare minimum — two two-day trips a month from
Newark to San Francisco or to Los Angeles. She was in economy because she’d picked up Flight 93 late in the planning. Ordinarily, she liked working first class.
It was a good fit with her gregarious ways.
22. Todd Beamer [MADE PHONE CALL FROM FL 93]
They returned home on Monday, Sept. 10, at 5 p.m. While Beamer could have left that night for a Tuesday business meeting in California, he wanted to spend time with his sons and his wife, who is due in January with their third child.
23. Leroy Homer
“It’s been a year since that day I saw your name scroll on the TV, listed as one of the victims of the terrorist hijackings. I couldn’t believe my eyes, I felt a hole open in my soul, I couldn’t fathom that you were gone from this Earth. I remember I had told Jackie that the chances of you flying that day were slim, and that you’d be OK. I was wrong.”
24. Edward Porter Felt [MADE PHONE CALL FROM FL 93]
He was on a last minute business trip to San Francisco for BEA Systems. Another employee of BEA Systems, Kenneth W. Basnicki was visiting the World Trade Center for a conference and died in the attack.
There are numerous stories like this for passengers on the other flights – including Barbara Olson, wife of US Solicitor General Theodore Olson, but it appears to be Flight 93 which has the most significant number. [..]
What Happened to Flight 91?
Several of the people mentioned above were originally supposed to be on another flight – Flight 91, scheduled for 9 a.m. According to the stories above, they arrived early at the airport and got standby tickets on Flight 93 – although flight 93 was delayed and didn’t take off until around 8:42 anyway.
Looking for more details on Flight 91 I found the following site:
Here is the significant portion:
“You had posted a few e-mails last month about flight 91 and 93. I have a friend who was the pilot of flight 91. The reason they changed flight was, when the flight crew boarded and started to prepare for flight, my friend had noticed a crack in the windshield, so they grounded the plane.
They took the passengers and put them on flight 93, but not the crew members, that flight crew was saved.
This means that a number of people (possibly all the passengers on board) were removed from Flight 91 and put on Flight 93. If this is the case – just how many people were actually booked onto Flight 93 in the first place? Was it an exclusive flight just for the hijackers? Why was it this flight in particular that had so many phone calls?”
Caller gave her sister safe combination
And as an example of the research required (although in this case not just in a few hours), consider the call by Linda Grolund, who reportedly called her sister to pass on the combination of the safe containing her will (which suggests no-one else knew it, because otherwise why bother?):
Linda Gronlund, called her sister, Elsa Strong.
‘Elsa Strong says, “She said, ‘Hi, Else, this is Lin. I just wanted to tell you how much I love you.’ And she said, ‘Please tell Mom and Dad how much I love them.’ And then she got real calm and said, ‘Now my will is in my safe and my safe is in my closet. and this is the combination.’ And she just told me the combination of her safe.’
Cell phone calls impossible at high altitudes?
Because wireless networks are designed for terrestrial use, the fact that so many people were able to call from the sky brings into question how the phones worked from such altitudes.
Alexa Graf, AT&T spokesperson, said systems are not designed for calls from high altitudes, suggesting it was almost a fluke that the calls reached their destinations.
“On land, we have antenna sectors that point in three directions — say north, southwest, and southeast,” she explained. “Those signals are radiating across the land, and those signals do go up, too, due to leakage.”
From high altitudes, the call quality is not very good, and most callers will experience drops. Although calls are not reliable, callers can pick up and hold calls for a little while below a certain altitude, she added.
Brenda Raney, Verizon Wireless spokesperson, said that RF signals actually can broadcast fairly high. On Sept. 11, the planes were flying low when people started using their phones. And, each call lasted 60 seconds or less.
“They also were digital phones, and there’s a little bit more leeway on those digital phones, so it worked,” she said.
It helped that the planes were flying in areas with plenty of cell sites, too. Even United Airlines flight 93, which crashed in rural Pennsylvania, was supported by several nearby cell sites, Raney added.
When it comes to land and air, the capabilities of a cell phone don’t change. But what makes it possible to use a handheld while in a plane 10,000 feet in the air, and why should it work there when it doesn’t work in your own neighborhood?
It all depends on where the phone is, says Marco Thompson, president of the San Diego Telecom Council. “Cell phones are not designed to work on a plane. Although they do.” The rough rule is that when the plane is slow and over a city, the phone will work up to 10,000 feet or so. “Also, it depends on how fast the plane is moving and its proximity to antennas,” Thompson says. “At 30,000 feet, it may work momentarily while near a cell site, but it’s chancy and the connection won’t last.” Also, the hand-off process from cell site to cell site is more difficult. It is created for a maximum speed of 60 mph to 100 mph. “They are not built for 400 mph airplanes.”
3. Cell phones work on airplanes? Why does the FAA discourage their use? What’s the maximum altitude at which a cell phone will work?
From this morning’s New York Times: “According to industry experts, it is possible to use cell phones with varying success during the ascent and descent of commercial airline flights, although the difficulty of maintaining a signal appears to increase as planes gain altitude. Some older phones, which have stronger transmitters and operate on analog networks, can be used at a maximum altitude of 10 miles, while phones on newer digital systems can work at altitudes of 5 to 6 miles. A typical airline cruising altitude would be 35,000 feet, or about 6.6 miles.”
QUESTION: Can we receive a mobile signal while travelling in an aeroplane?
ANSWER : Mobile phones can receive signals while travelling in an aircraft, provided the base station range allows. Territory covered with GSM network is divided into hexagonal cells. The covering diameter of each hexagonal cell may be from 400 m up to 50 km, which consists of base station that provides communication-receive and transmission, and antennae.
All GSM cellular communication telephone cells are performed via these antennae and stations, which are regulated by switching centre. Switching centre provides communication between city telephone network, base stations and other cellular communication operators. Every time you switch on your cell phone, the communication is performed with the nearest base station. Hence it is possible to receive signals on cell phone while travelling in an aeroplane, provided the base station range allows.
Cell phone use during flights is still banned by regulations because it disrupts cell service on the ground and have the potential to interfere with an airplane’s navigation and communication instruments.
From high in the sky, a cell phone acts like a sponge, sucking capacity out of the cellular sites that carry calls. For ground users, cell phones communicate by connecting to one cell site at a time, from the air, because of the height and speed of an aircraft, the phones often make contact with several sites at once.
If allowed this would limit call capacity, which could mean less revenue. The cellular signal from the air is also especially strong, since it is unimpeded by buildings or other ground clutter. That often means it can jump on a frequency already in use on the ground, causing interruptions or hang-ups.
And airborne cellular calls are sometimes free because the signal is moving so fast between the cells that the software on the ground has difficulty, recording the call made, put the plane at risk because cellular phones can disrupt the aeroplane’s automatic pilot, cabin-pressure controls.
Modern aircrafts are installed with in-flight telephones mounted on passenger seats. The carriers receive a cut of the revenue from the telephones installed onboard.
They charge about about $6 for a one minute call, more than 20 times typical cell-phone rates. Thus the airlines and telecommunications companies also have an economic incentive to keep cell phones turned off in the air.
These in-flight telephones also operate on the cellular technology — using a single airplane antenna to which the onboard phones are typically wired.
The outside aircraft antenna that carries the air-phone calls also connects to a ground-based cellular network — but with cells that are spaced much farther apart to avoid multiple phone-ground links.
K. Kamalakannan, Doha, Qatar.
Making Calls From The Air
By Brad Smith
WirelessWeek – September 24, 2001
When several passengers aboard the hijacked airliners made calls to family and spouses from their wireless phones on the now-infamous Sept. 11, it came as a surprise to many that the calls actually were completed.
Although airline passengers are warned against using their mobile phones in flight, it’s fairly well-known that private airplane pilots often use regular cellular and PCS phones, even if it is illegal. Not quite as well-known, however, is that people have used their wireless phones to make surreptitious calls from the bathrooms of airliners.
The technology is there to support such airborne mobile connections. Take the Colorado company Aircell Inc., which uses FCC-approved equipment for wireless phone service.
But how does a terrestrial technology work in the sky?
First, altitude in itself is not a problem. Earthbound wireless phones can talk to base stations up to 10 miles away, depending on the terrain, while a typical passenger jet flies at an altitude of about six and a half miles. Since cell site antennas are configured to pick up signals horizontally and not from overhead, performance is usually compromised in calls from above. Nevertheless, cell sites can pick up signals from the air from great distances.
Toby Seay, vice president of national field operations for AT&T Wireless, says the technological limits to using a cell phone aboard a plane include the signal strength, potential signal inhibitors and “free space loss” as the signal gradually loses strength. The frequency used can make a difference, too. A signal using an 800 MHz cellular frequency can travel farther than a 1900 MHz PCS signal because of the different propagation characteristics of the two wavelengths.
The biggest problem with a phone signal sent from the air is that it can reach several different cell sites simultaneously. The signal can interfere with callers already using that frequency, and because there is no way for one cell site to hand off calls to another that is not adjacent to it, signals can become scrambled in the process. That’s why wireless calls from jetliners don’t last long, says Kathryn Condello, vice president of industry operations for CTIA. The network keeps dropping the calls, even if they are re-established later.
The phones on the back of the seats in most airplanes work similarly to a regular wireless phone. The major differences are that the antennas at the ground base stations are set up to pick up the signals from the sky, and there are far fewer stations handing off signals from one to another as a plane crosses overhead.
Also, Seay says, the airplane phones operated by AT&T Wireless and the GTE subsidiary of Verizon Communications send signals through wires to an antenna mounted on the outside of the plane. That is done to prevent interference with the plane’s own radio communications, as well as to eliminate signal loss caused by the airplane’s metal fuselage.
An FCC study in 2000 found that cell-phone use aboard aircraft increases the number of blocked or dropped calls on the ground. That’s because at high altitude, cellular signals are spread across several base stations, preventing other callers within range of those base stations from using the same frequencies.
Anecdotes of people using cell phones in the air
Downs, a software salesman, learned of the terrorist attacks while on a commercial flight returning home from South America. The captain explained that “terrorist attacks on airplanes” meant they were making an emergency landing. People on board using cell phones soon discovered the true nature of the day’s events.
“We found out from people using their phones that the World Trade Center was hit, and some unspecified area in Washington,” Downs recalls.
…we were forced to make an emergency landing in Cleveland because there were reports that a bomb or hijacking was taking place on our plane. The pilot had radioed that there was suspicious activity in the cabin since one of the passengers was speaking urgently on his cellphone and ignored repeated flight attendant requests to stop using his cell phone while in flight.
In the first case of its kind in the UK, the court had heard that Whitehouse, an oil worker, repeatedly refused to switch off his phone after being spotted with it on the Boeing 737.
Although he made no airborne calls, experts said interference from the phone could have sparked an explosion or affected the plane’s navigational systems as it flew at 31,000 feet.
The pilot indicated that he may be overflying the cloud tops. He did not file a flight plan. The pilot’s wife was driving to the same location and they talked by cell phone while en route. When the pilot failed to arrive at the destination a search was started.
Although many airplanes have public “air phones,” passengers flinch at the fee of $6 per minute. (Airlines get a cut of the profits, which casts suspicion on why airlines want to keep cell phones turned off in the air.) Despite government regulation, or perhaps because of it, chatting above the clouds on a cell phone has proved irresistible for some. I’ve seen passengers hunkered in their seats, whispering into Nokias. I’ve watched frequent fliers scurry for a carry-on as muffled ringing emanates from within. Once, after the lavatory line grew to an unreasonable length, I knocked on the door. A guilt- ridden teenager emerged. She admitted that she’d been in there for half an hour, talking to her boyfriend on a cell phone.
People have been communicating wirelessly from the main cabin since there have been wireless devices (never mind those overpriced satellite phones). A few years ago, I reported that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was looking the other way while air travelers were firing up their personal digital assistants (PDAs) in-flight and checking e-mail. I have personally used a cell phone on a plane, and I have flown next to people who have used their cell phones, particularly when they are over a populated area or flying at a lower altitude. What is new is that the FAA appears ready to sanction equipment designed to send and receive wireless signals onboard.
Yes cell phones will work on planes, my dad who is an airline pilot actually had a guy arrested because he was using his cell phone at altitude and he would not listen to the crew to put it away.
I sat next to a woman who answered her cell phone at 30,000 feet, just above Mt Adams, on my way to Seattle. She answered to tell the person that she couldn’t talk to them as she was on a plane.
People were using them during the whole flight. They would get constantly cut off and have to re-connect as we went over areas that didn’t have service.
Yes cell phones will work on planes, my dad who is an airline pilot actually had a guy arrested because he was using his cell phone at altitude and he would not listen to the crew to put it away.
I was flying in a 757 somewhere in the 35,000 feet or thereabouts altitude when the cell phone in the briefcase of the passenger next to me started to ring. He quickly opened the briefcase and took off the battery then sheepishly looked around to see if a FA had heard it. He told me that he was using it in the terminal and forgot to turn it off.
Over the course of three months in late 2003, we investigated the possibility that portable electronic devices interfere with a plane’s safety instruments by measuring the RF spectrum inside commercial aircraft cabins. What we found was disturbing. Passengers are using cellphones, on the average, at least once per flight, contrary to FCC and FAA regulations, and sometimes during the especially critical flight phases of takeoff and landing.
Secondly, I disagree with Randall’s claim that “cell phones do not work in airplanes”. This one I have personal experience with. My spouse was on a business trip once and called me at home on their cell phone while midway through a cross-country flight! After a few minute when I realized that the cell phone call was from the airplane I said we’d better hang up because who knew what antenna was picking up the service and what kind of roaming charges we’d incurred!
Besides my own personal experience with a cell phone call from an airplane, here is another source from a Wireless Week article:
Dewdney’s Project Achilles
The 9/11 cell phone calls could not have been made as described
Before this new “Pico cell,” it was nigh on impossible to make a call from a passenger aircraft in flight. Connection is impossible at altitudes over 8000 feet or speeds in excess of 230 mph.
Much of this claim comes courtesy of AK Dewdney’s “Project Achilles”, where he tried making cell phone calls while flying over London, Ontario, then reported on the results.
To the extent that the cellphones used in this experiment represent types in general use, it may be concluded that from this particular type of aircraft, cellphones become useless very quickly with increasing altitude. In particular, two of the cellphone types, the Mike and the Nokia, became useless above 2000 feet. Of the remaining two, the Audiovox worked intermittently up to 6000 feet but failed thereafter, while the BM analog cellphone worked once just over 7000 feet but failed consistently thereafter. We therefore conclude that ordinary cellphones, digital or analog, will fail to get through at or above 8000 feet abga.
End of the story? Not necessarily. Note this description of the route Dewdney flew in part #2 of the experiment, for instance:
For this experiment, we flew a circular route, instead of the elongated oval. The circle centred on the downtown core and took us over most of the city suburbs. All locations below are referred to the city centre and are always about three miles distant from it.
The previous experiment, called Part Two, established a distinct trend of decreasing cellphone functionality with altitude. It was conducted in a four-seater Diamond Katana over the city of London (pop. 300,000), Ontario in Canada, an area richly supplied with some 35 cellsites distributed over an area of about 25 square miles.
Dewdney is making calls within a short distance of the city centre, then. It’s unclear how many mobile phone base stations would be within this area, but he describes it as “richly supplied”, and that would make sense. Networks must install more base stations in a populated area because each one can only support so many simultaneous calls; the higher the surrounding mobile-using population, the more base stations you need.
There’s a consequence to this, though, as Ericsson spell out.
Each base station can only serve a limited amount of users at a time. As the number of mobile phone users grows more base stations are needed. When there are shorter distances between base stations and mobile phone users, however, less output power is needed to communicate.
In other words, base stations in urban areas use less power, and therefore have a shorter range, than those out in the country. What is the potential range? We couldn’t find a US figure (email if you can), however a German page may offer a clue:
To serve a specific region, the region is divided into separate sub-areas (cells). These extend like a honeycomb over the entire Federal territory, but have different sizes. The diameter of a cell ranges from less than 100 metres in inner cities to 15 kilometres in rural areas. The more transmitter locations there are, the smaller the individual cells can be. The smaller the cell, in turn, the lower the broadcasting power of the individual antennae can be.
100 metres to 15 kilometres is around 328 feet to 9.3 miles: an enormous difference. If Dewdney were flying over base stations with a range at the lower end of this scale then it’s not at all surprising that he had problems making calls. However, this does not prove that calls could not have been made from a plane flying over rural areas, where the base stations may well have used more power, and had a greater range.
We’ve also seen a suggestion that the phones Dewdney used may have been less likely to work than those available on 9/11. We have no idea if this is true or not, but it’s a point to consider:
So attempting to make a call from a plane today using a newer technology cell phone isn’t really a fair comparison. The analog system is patchier and discontinued in many places altogether; many phones only offer access digital now anyway. On 911, the callers on the hijacked craft were almost certainly off the digital network using a trimode (or lower quality) phone. When digital couldn’t get through, their phones switched to analog which, at least in a 911 call, gave them a better chance of getting through.
This still doesn’t clear up how calls were made at altitudes over 8,000 ft (and possibly up to 30,000 ft).
However, even with these issues, Dewdney does not (as many people paraphrase him) say that calls above 8,000 feet are impossible. In fact he specifically says they can (for at least one type of cellphone — please, read the full link for clarification of this if you’ve not done so already):
Calls from 20,000 feet have barely a one-in-a-hundred chance of succeeding.
The results just arrived at apply only to light aircraft and are definitely optimal in the sense that cellphone calls from large, heavy-skinned, fast-moving jetliners are apt to be considerably worse.
Whether his results are “optimal” is open to question, as we’ve seen, however here he is suggesting there’s a 1 in a hundred chance of success of making a call. So how do we get to “impossible”? Like this:
As was shown above, the chance of a typical cellphone call from cruising altitude making it to ground and engaging a cellsite there is less than one in a hundred. To calculate the probability that two such calls will succeed involves elementary probability theory. The resultant probability is the product of the two probabilities, taken separately. In other words, the probability that two callers will succeed is less than one in ten thousand. In the case of a hundred such calls, even if a large majority fail, the chance of, say 13 calls getting through can only be described as infinitesimal. In operational terms, this means “impossible.”
What Dewdney is saying is that the probabilites must be multiplied together. If the chance of you winning a basic prize on the lottery is one in ten, for instance, then the probability of you winning twice with two tickets is 10 x 10 = 1 in 100.
When we’re dealing with unrelated and independent events, like the lottery tickets, this is correct. But the phone calls were not independent, they relied on precisely the same set of circumstances. If a 9/11 plane were in the right position, in relation to a powerful base station, for the calls to take place, then it was in the right position for everyone on the plane (who had a mobile which could use that base station). At any given moment, either all this group of people could get through, or none of them. Therefore the chance of two people getting through remains close to 1 in 100, even with Dewdneys flawed conditions, not the 1 in 10,000 he claims.
My comment: Make this more concise and focus on two important points:
1) Dewdney conducted his experiment over a surburban/city area where the cells were close together and had shorter range. Flight 93 flew above Somerset County which was a rural area and where the cells were placed much farther apart and therefore had a much greater range.
2) Dewdney doesn’t say that phone calls are impossible at 8000 feet or lower. Above this altitude he says that making two phone calls is impossible – he’s used false theory to calculate probability.
“Mom, this is Mark Bingham …”
Mark Bingham would not have called his mother from Flight 93 and introduced himself with “Mom, this is Mark Bingham”. As Professor Fetzer says:
…Mark Bingham, a passenger on Flight 93, is supposed to have called his mother and said, ‘Hi, Mom, this is Mark Bingham!’ His mother confirmed it was his voice, but does anyone seriously believe that Mark Bingham would have used his last name in identifying himself to his mother?
Flight path of United FL93
Location of airforce bases and Flight 93 impact
Plane routes on 9/11