The Center for an InformedAmerica

What Really Happened to Flight 93?

David McGowan
November 7, 2001

Of all the questions that remain unanswered concerning the events of September 11, many of them concern the fate of United Airlines flight 93 the only hijacked aircraft that appears to have not completed its 'mission.' As everyone knows, the official story holds that heroic passengers aboard that flight wrested control of the plane away from the 'terrorists,' resulting in a crash into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
        Early statements from officials acknowledged that they couldn't rule out the possibility that the plane had been shot down, though that scenario was of course ultimately ruled out. Many, however, still believe that the plane was in fact shot down. So which is it? Did the passengers save the day by commandeering a plane which they didn't know how to fly, or was the flight targeted and shot down?
        In truth, there appears to be evidence to support either theory, though neither of them really account for all the evidence nor provide satisfactory answers to all the questions that have been raised.
        With the heroic passengers all but canonized and the widow of one of them played for all the propaganda value the administration can muster, it has become all but impossible to challenge the official story. It has already become an indelible part of American folklore. Nevertheless, there are some problems with it.
        First of all, there is the rather inconvenient fact that wreckage of the plane was found up to eight miles away from what was purported to be the primary crash site, which consisted of a hole in the ground and some burnt trees. What seemed to be missing was anything even vaguely resembling an aircraft part. As CNN reported, "Much of the debris is tiny." (1) So tiny, in fact, that it wasn't visible at all in photos of the crash scene.
        This would tend to indicate that the aircraft first exploded in the air, not on the ground. As a general rule of thumb, a plane that crashes into the ground doesn't leave parts strewn several miles away. And since no evidence has been presented indicating that a bomb was on-board, odds are that the plane was struck by an anti-aircraft missile.
        Another problem with the official story is that it does not necessarily follow that - if the passengers were able to subdue the terrorists - the plane would then crash. Evidence from at least one of the hijacked flights indicated that the pilot and/or the co-pilot were still alive after the hijackings and were covertly sending communications from the cockpit to flight controllers.
        That being the case, why couldn't the plane have been safely landed after order had been restored? There is simply no clear reason why the plane would have immediately nose-dived into a field in Pennsylvania. The flight was cruising at an altitude of 35,000 feet. Even if the hijackers had put the plane into a dive as a final "fuck you" to the passengers, there would have been plenty of time for the pilot to recover from the descent and certainly adequate time to establish radio contact.
        These sorts of questions could be cleared up if much of the evidence hadn't disappeared into an all-consuming black hole, particularly the plane's 'black box' flight recorder. When the box was found, just two days after the crash, the FBI's Bill Crowley was quoted as saying: "We are hoping that it will have some information that is pertinent to what occurred in the plane prior to its crashing." (1)
        Well no shit, Sherlock. That is pretty much the basic idea behind the whole 'black box' concept. It would have been nice if officials had deemed it appropriate to share the information gleaned from the data recorder with the media and the general public. Needless to say, that has never happened and the contents of the box remain a mystery.
        So there are definitely some problems with the official story. There are though the seemingly credible statements by family members of at least a few of the crash victims who have steadfastly maintained that they received calls from passengers aboard the flight informing them that an effort was about to be made to overpower the hijackers.
        One of these passengers, Thomas E. Burnett, Jr., reportedly told his wife that "A group of us are going to do something." Another, Jeremy Glick, was quoted as telling his mother-in-law that "The men voted to attack the terrorists." (2) The plane went down very soon after these conversations took place.
        The statements of surviving family members describing these calls seem to be though the only real evidence that supports the official version of events. Nevertheless, they are important elements of the tragedy that must be addressed in attempting to solve the lingering mystery of what happened to flight 93.
        As for the competing theory that the plane was shot down, prevalent among the 'conspiracy' crowd, the preponderance of the evidence - including the wreckage pattern, the suppressed contents of the plane's flight recorder, and the fact that the flight crew didn't establish radio contact during or after the purported passenger mutiny - tends to support that notion.
        As previously noted, initial reports left open the possibility that the flight had indeed been shot down. Official statements held that an investigation was pending that would look into that possibility. These statements, of course, were patently absurd. If the plane had been shot down, then that action would surely have been ordered through a chain of command.
        It's not as if some rogue F-16 pilot just happened to be cruising around the area and decided that September 11 would be a good day to shoot down a domestic commercial airliner. That decision would have been made at the highest levels of command, and would certainly have been known about by the Pentagon and the White House.
        Why then would an investigation have been necessary to determine that fact? And if the United flight had not been shot down, then that also would have been known and that possibility could have been ruled out immediately. Why then the delay? The most likely explanation is that the plane had been shot down, but officials had not yet decided what the official story was going to be and so all options were left open.
        Stratfor reported on the day of the attacks that: "Local Pittsburgh radio and television are citing eyewitnesses as saying that the United Airlines 747, which originated from Newark and crashed 80 miles outside of Pittsburgh, was shot down by U.S. fighters before it could reach Washington, D.C." (3) Like the infamous 'black box,' these eyewitnesses have fallen into the evidentiary black hole.
        The UK's Guardian reported that: "At 9:58am, an emergency dispatcher had answered a telephone call from a man who said he was a passenger locked in a bathroom on United Airlines flight 93 ... The plane was 'going down,' he said. He had heard some sort of explosion and said there was white smoke coming from the aircraft." (4) This would have occurred, obviously, before the plane plowed into the field.
        So there is clearly a case to be made that the plane was fired upon, and yet this theory leaves some evidence unexplained as well including the phone calls from the soon-to-be counter-hijackers. There is also the question of why this particular flight would have been targeted to the exclusion of the other three hijacked flights. It wasn't, after all, near any potential targets and was not posing an immediate threat to anyone but its passengers.
        Since that threat certainly wasn't alleviated by scattering the body parts of those same passengers over a Pennsylvania field, it makes little sense that flight 93 would be shot down while the others were allowed to fly unimpeded into the very symbols of U.S. economic and military power.
        Some have argued that the U.S. government would have quickly taken credit if it had in fact ordered the downing of flight 93. Taking credit for shooting down what was essentially a guided missile, albeit a manned one, would offer Washington officials a chance to at least partially redeem themselves for failing to respond to the other three hijacked flights.
        It appears then that there are arguments that could be made against either theory. But what if the two theories are not mutually exclusive? What if we were to take a look at what happened to flight 93 from a slightly different perspective?
        What if we were to take the point of view that the events of September 11 were essentially an inside job - with U.S. military and intelligence services either directly complicit or, at the very least, turning a blind but knowing eye? Then the shooting down of flight 93 raises another rather obvious question: why would the U.S. national security apparatus shoot down any of the four flights?
        Assuming that some General somewhere didn't get the hare-brained notion that it was actually his duty to defend the country against these attacks, why would a plane be shot down that was for all intents and purposes on a covert mission for the very people who would have ordered the downing of the aircraft?
        If this were the case, then there would be only one reason for shooting the flight down: to destroy any and all evidence in the event that the mission became compromised for any reason. And how, you may wonder, might the mission be compromised? One possible scenario could be if, say, the passengers were able to disarm the hijackers and take control of the plane.
        That would conceivably leave dozens of eyewitnesses to what really happened on those planes that fateful day. The contents of 'black boxes' can be suppressed quite easily; a parade of eyewitnesses, particularly eyewitnesses rightly viewed as American heroes, is another matter entirely.
        As disturbing as it may be to contemplate, the answer to the question of what really happened to flight 93 could be that it was shot down precisely because the passengers were able to overpower the hijackers, or at least were making an attempt to do so. It could be that the very heroism for which they have been cynically praised by the Bush regime may have earned them a summary execution.

1. "'Black Box' From Pennsylvania Crash Found,", September 13, 2001
2. "Passengers Voted to Attack Hijackers,", September 13, 2001
3. "Situation Reports," Stratfor, September 11, 2001
4. Julian Borger, Duncan Campbell, Charlie Porter and Stuart Millar "Three Hours of Terror and Chaos that Brought a Nation to a Halt," Guardian Unlimited, September 12, 2001