When they got up that morning fifteen years ago the very last thing that the 33 passengers and the seven crew of United Flight 93 expected was to be engaged in a life and death struggle to retake an airliner that was headed to Washington DC as a terrorist missile. All they expected the day to bring was a hum drum flight from Newark to San Francisco. Just ordinary people living their lives. Their occupations included pilot, first officer, flight attendant, an environmental lawyer, the owner of a public relations firm, university students, a senior vice president of a medical development company, a sales representative for Good Housekeeping magazine, a manager of a US Wildlife animal refuge, an arborist, an account manager for a corporation, an ironworker, retirees, a computer programmer, a computer engineer, a lobbyist for the disabled, a real estate agent, an executive vice president of a corporation and a free lance medical writer. They were wives, husbands, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters, all with unique histories and lives, with little in common except that they happened to be on board Flight 93 when the world changed.
The plane took off at 8:42 AM Eastern Time. Four terrorists had boarded amidst the other 33 passengers. The terrorists began to hijack the plane at 9:28 AM, soon after both the hijacked airliners had struck the Twin Towers in New York City, and just brief minutes before a fourth airliner was hijacked in Washington and slammed into the Pentagon. At 9:28:17 AM a member of the cockpit crew shouted “Mayday! Mayday!” over the radio, with sounds of violence in the background. 35 seconds later someone in the cockpit shouted over the radio, “Mayday! Get out of here! Get out of here!”
By 9:31 AM the terrorists were in control of the cockpit. They informed the passengers that they were in control of the plane and falsely told them they had a bomb. Now began the final 30 minutes of Flight 93.
Passengers and crew during these final 30 minutes made 35 airphone calls and two cell phone calls. They quickly learned of the other hijacked planes that had been flown into the Twin Towers.
Passenger Jeremy Glick managed to reach his wife. He told her that the passengers voted whether to try to take back the plane and decided that they were going to attempt it. He retained his sense of humor telling his wife that he still had his butter knife from the meal that had been served on board the plane. Before he and the other passengers attacked the hijackers he wished her and their daughter a happy life, a clear indication that he did not expect to survive the effort to retake the plane.
Flight Attendant Sandra Bradshaw called her husband and told him that she was boiling water to throw on the hijackers.
Passenger Thomas Burnett, Jr. called his wife and she told him about the other planes that had hit the Twin Towers. He called her back after their first conversation and told her: “We’re going to take back the plane. We can’t wait for the authorities. I don’t know what they could do anyway. It’s up to us. I think we can do it.”
“What do you want me to do?” Deena, his wife, asked him.
“Pray, Deena,” he said “Just pray.”
He ended the phone call by telling his wife: “I know we’re all going to die – there’s three of us who are going to do something about it. I love you honey.”
Burnett was a devout Catholic. He began attending daily mass in 1998. When his wife asked him why he was doing this he told her: ‘I feel like God is calling me to do something, and I don’t know what it is. But I know it’s going to have a great impact on a lot of people.’ He said, ‘The reason I’ve been going to daily Mass is because I feel like if I can be closer to God, then I’ll know what his plan is for me.'”