A ‘heroic effort’ by passengers may have spared lives in Pa. crash
SHANKSVILLE, Pa. (AP) – Just before United Flight 93 crashed, some of the passengers learned of the attacks on the World Trade Center and may have tried to overpower their hijackers and keep the jetliner from hitting another landmark.
Authorities have not disclosed whether there was a struggle aboard the plane, and have not said what caused the airliner carrying 45 people to plunge into a Pennsylvania field.
But some of the victims telephoned relatives from the plane and said that they had resolved to wrest control of the flight back from their captors.
Passenger Jeremy Glick, 31, telephoned his wife, Liz, after terrorists took over, Glick’s uncle Tom Crowley said Wednesday. She conferenced the call to a 911 dispatcher, who told Glick about the New York attacks.
”Jeremy and the people around them found out about the flights into the World Trade Center and decided that if their fate was to die, they should fight,” Crowley said.
”At some point, Jeremy put the phone down and simply went and did what he could do” with the help of an unspecified number of other passengers.
Among them was Thomas Burnett, a 38-year-old business executive from California. In a series of four cellular phone calls, Burnett had his wife, Deena, conference in the FBI and calmly gathered information about the other hijacked flights.
Burnett said ”a group of us are going to do something,” his wife said, and he gave every indication that sacrificing the passengers wasn’t part of their plan.
”He was coming home. He wasn’t leaving. He was going to solve this problem and come back to us,” she said at her home in San Ramon, Calif.
The three other hijacked planes in Tuesday’s attacks destroyed New York’s twin towers and severely damaged the Pentagon.
U.S. officials have said the Secret Service feared the target of the United flight was Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland about 85 miles from the crash site. Others speculated that the White House or Pentagon could have been targets.
”It sure wasn’t going to go down in rural Pennsylvania. This wasn’t the target; the target was Washington, D.C.,” said Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa. ”Somebody made a heroic effort to keep the plane from hitting a populated area.”
He added: ”I would conclude there was a struggle and a heroic individual decided ‘I’m going to die anyway, I might as well bring the plane down here.”’
During the flight, other passengers screamed and shouted through cell phones to share final words with their loved ones. Not Burnett, who seemed unshakable from his first call.
”He said, ‘I’m on the airplane, the airplane that’s been hijacked, and they’ve already knifed a guy. They’re saying they have a bomb. Please call the authorities,”’ his wife said.
She called 911, who patched her through to the FBI. She was on the phone with agents when his second call came.
”I told him in the second call about the World Trade Center and he was very curious about that and started asking questions. He wanted any information that I had to help him,” she said.
By the third phone call, ”I could tell that he was formulating a plan and trying to figure out what to do next,” she said. ”You could tell that he was gathering information and trying to put the puzzle together.”
In his last call, Burnett said he and some other passengers had decided to make a move. ”I told him to please sit down and not draw attention to himself and he said no. He said no,” Deena Burnett said, shaking her head with a half-smile.
In Washington, Attorney General John Ashcroft said each of the planes was seized by three to six hijackers armed with knives and box cutters.
Crowley said Glick described the terrorists as ”looking and speaking Arabic,” and reported that they were armed with knives and had a ”large red box” they said contained a bomb.
The plane had left Newark, N.J., at about 8 a.m. for San Francisco. But it banked sharply as it approached Cleveland and headed back over Pennsylvania, losing altitude and flying erratically.
It slammed nose-first into a field about 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh at 10 a.m. – an hour after the Trade Center crashes and about 20 minutes after the Pentagon attack. Hundred of investigators were at the scene Wednesday, hoping to recover the plane’s cockpit voice recorder and other clues.
Deena Burnett is sure her husband had something to do with the fact that with this plane, at least, no one on the ground was hurt.
”We may never know exactly how many helped him or exactly what they did, but I have no doubt that airplane was bound for some landmark and that whatever Tom did and whatever the guys who helped him did they saved many more lives,” she said.
”And I’m so proud of him and so grateful,” she said, breaking off to choke back a sob.
EDITOR’S NOTE – Associated Press Writer Michelle Locke in Berkeley, Calif., and D. Ian Hopper in Washington contributed to this report.
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