April 12, 2006
Collapse Last Monday, on April 3 the trial of Zacary Moussaoui, held in Alexandria, Virginia, heard from the jury their verdict that the Muslim terrorist was eligible for the death penalty. Moussaoui had already pleaded guilty on April 22 last year, on charges of conspiracy, connected with his involvement with the 9/11 attacks.
The current trial is being viewed by live link to six courthouses by relatives of those who died in the attacks on September 11, 2001. The aim of the trial was to ascertain if Moussaoui, a French national of Moroccan descent should be sentenced to life imprisonment, or given the death penalty. The jury and the relatives have had the most harrowing ordeal since the trial reconvened. After a short recess, the verdict of "eligible for death" has meant that now, the worst evidence, the recorded phone calls of those who died in the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York, and the recordings from Flight 93 have been played. Jurors have been reduced to tears.
It is hard to describe the horror of what went on for the victims. Yesterday, the court heard recordings of the final phone conversations of those trapped in the World Trade Center. Some of these are found on the BBC and the Times. I find it hard to describe these accounts, as, like many others across the globe I watched the event unfolding live on TV, from before the second plane hit the second tower. The horror which happened then is impossible to extinguish.
But the words of those doomed to die, voices unheard till now, both from the New York scene and from the passengers on Flight 93 are heart-breaking.
Kevin Cosgrove, trapped on the 105th floor of the first tower to go, was talking to an emergency dispatcher when the building collapsed. He said "Tell God to blow the wind toward the west....We're very young. We're not ready to die." There was a pause, then he said "Please hurry. I've got young kids. Oh my God...Aaaarrgggghhhh". His voice faded out amid crashing sounds caught on the phone before the line went dead. Jurors were shown a synchronised video of the external view of the tower starting to collapse as they heard his voice.
The other audiotape was of Melissa Doi, trapped on the 83rd floor. She said to the operator that she was with five others, trapped in a smoke-filled room and lying on the floor. She said: "It's so hot. It's very, very hot. Please, God, it's so hot, I am burning up."
Melissa said: "I am going to die, aren't I? I am going to die."
"No, no, no, no", the operator said.
Mary Ellen Salamone told the court that her husband John was on the 104th floor. Their marriage had been on ups and downs, and on the morning of 9/11, it was on a down patch. She said she had attempted to call him "a million times" but had not got through to him. "I was so desperate to talk to him and tell him I loved him...In death, I did not get John. I got a body bag seven months later that I had to say goodbye to in the basement of a refrigerated morgue, and I had to try and find peace with that."
C. Lee Hanson, the father of one of the victims who were on the second plane which was to be flown into the World Trade Center, United Flight 175, described to the court how he received a call from his son Peter, who told him his plane had been hi-jacked, and how a flight attendant had been stabbed to death.
Peter Hanson had told his father that his wife Kim and his two and a half year old daughter Christine were terrified, and that passengers were vomiting. Peter Hanson told his father that he thought the plane was going to be flown into a building. Seconds later, the plane hit the tower.
73 year old C. Lee Hanson said: "As we were talking he said, very softly: 'Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God'. And there was a scream in the background." Mr Hanson said, in tears by now: "I looked at the television and saw the plane fly into the building."
Mr Hanson described how he had searched in hairbrushes and toothbrushes to retrieve DNA samples which could be used to identify victims. Mr Hanson said that months after the attacks, he received one single bone from his son's body. It was just a few inches long. He told the jury: "I held the small bone in the palm of my hand. It was all I had left of my beautiful son."
Ronald Hans Clifford told the court that when the second plane hit, he was in the lobby of the North Tower, assisting a woman with burns. The woman died 41 days subsequently. Ronald learned later that his sister Ruth and his niece Juliana were on board that second plane.
US Judge Leonie Brinkema at one stage reacted to the extreme nature of the material, saying to prosecutors not to overdo it. The impact of emotive accounts could be regarded as prejudicial, and could cause a death sentence to be overturned on appeal.
The Times has presented two versions of a video trailer of the events of Flight 93 as presented in the movie by Universal. That plane, following its hijacking, was probably bound for the White House. The version for broadband can be found HERE. The version for 56k modem can be found by clicking HERE.
Below, we will reproduce an extract of the public report of The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, August 21, 2004. Pages 10-14.
The passengers of Flight 93 were aware that those who had hijacked their plane were intending to crash it into a building. The black box recordings were today played to the jury, detailing the last minutes of that flight, where passengers heroically tried to wrest control from the hihackers, which led to the plane crashing into a Pennsylvania field. Though they lost their lives, they probably saved many more.
A transcript in pdf format of those last minutes, lasting nine pages, can be found HERE.
The official report on Flight 93:
At 8:42, United Airlines Flight 93 took off from Newark (New Jersey) Liberty International Airport bound for San Francisco. The aircraft was piloted by Captain Jason Dahi and First Officer Leroy Homer, and there were five flight attendants. Thirty-seven passengers, including the hijackers, boarded the plane. Scheduled to depart the gate at 8:00, the Boeing 757's takeoff was delayed because of the airport's typically heavy morning traffic.
The hijackers had planned to take flights scheduled to depart at 7:45 (American 11), 8:00 (United 175 and United 93), and 8:10 (American 77). Three of the flights had actually taken off within 10 to 15 minutes of their planned departure times. United 93 would ordinarily have taken off about 15 minutes after pulling away from the gate.When it left the ground at 8:42, the flight was running more than 25 minutes late.
As United 93 left Newark, the flight's crew members were unaware of the hijacking of American 11 Around 9:00, the FAA, American, and United were facing the staggering realization of apparent multiple hijackings. At 9:03, they would see another aircraft strike the World Trade Center. Crisis managers at the FAA and the airlines did not yet act to warn other aircraft! At the same time, Boston Center realized that a message transmitted just before 8:25 by the hijacker pilot of American 11 included the phrase, "We have some planes."
No one at the FAA or the airlines that day had ever dealt with multiple hijackings. Such a plot had not been carried out anywhere in the world in more than 30 years, and never in the United States. As news of the hijackings filtered through the FAA and the airlines, it does not seem to have occurred to their leadership that they needed to alert other aircraft in the air that they too might be at risk.
United 175 was hijacked between 8:42 and 8:46, and awareness of that hijacking began to spread after 8:51. American 77 was hijacked between 8:51 and 8:54. By 9:00, FAA and airline officials began to comprehend that attackers were going after multiple aircraft. American Airlines' nationwide ground stop between 9:05 and 9:10 was followed by a United Airlines ground stop. FAA controllers at Boston Center, which had tracked the first two hijackings, requested at 9:07 that Herndon Command Center "get messages to airborne aircraft to increase security for the cockpit."
There is no evidence that Herndon took such action. Boston Center immediately began speculating about other aircraft that might be in danger, leading them to worry about a transcontinental flight- Delta 1989 - that in fact was not hijacked. At 9:19, the FAA's New England regional office called Herndon and asked that Cleveland Center advise Delta 1989 to use extra cockpit security.
Several FAA air traffic control officials told us it was the air carriers' responsibility to notify their planes of security problems. One senior FAA air traffic control manager said that it was simply not the FAA's place to order the airlines what to tell their pilots. We believe such statements do not reflect an adequate appreciation of the FAA's responsibility for the safety and security of civil aviation.
The airlines bore responsibility too. They were facing an escalating number of conflicting and, for the most part, erroneous reports about other flights, as well as a continuing lack of vital information from the FAA about the hijacked flights. We found no evidence, however, that American Airlines sent any cockpit warnings to its aircraft on 9/11.
United's first decisive action to notify its airborne aircraft to take defensive action did not come until 9:19, when a United flight dispatcher, Ed Ballinger, took the initiative to begin transmitting warnings to his 16 transcontinental flights: "Beware any cockpit intrusion- Two a/c [aircraft] hit World Trade Center." One of the flights that received the warning was United 93. Because Ballinger was still responsible for his other flights as well as Flight 175, his warning message was not transmitted to Flight 93 until 9:23.
By all accounts, the first 46 minutes of Flight 93's cross-country trip proceeded routinely. Radio communications from the plane were normal. Heading, speed, and altitude ran according to plan. At 9:24, Ballinger's warning to United 93 was received in the cockpit. Within two minutes, at 9:26, the pilot, Jason Dahl, responded with a note of puzzlement: "Ed, confirm latest mssg plz - Jason."
The hijackers attacked at 9:28. While traveling 35,000 feet above eastern Ohio, United 93 suddenly dropped 700 feet. Eleven seconds into the descent, the FAA's air traffic control center in Cleveland received the first of two radio transmissions from the aircraft. During the first broadcast, the captain or first officer could be heard declaring "Mayday" amid the sounds of a physical struggle in the cockpit.
The second radio transmission, 35 seconds later, indicated that the fight was continuing. The captain or first officer could be heard shouting: "Hey get out of here - get out of here - get out of here."
On the morning of 9/11, there were only 37 passengers on United 93 - 33 in addition to the 4 hijackers. This was below the norm for Tuesday mornings during the summer of 2001. But there is no evidence that the hijackers manipulated passenger levels or purchased additional seats to facilitate their operation.
The terrorists who hijacked three other commercial flights on 9/11 operated in five-man teams. They initiated their cockpit takeover within 30 minutes of takeoff. On Flight 93, however, the takeover took place 46 minutes after takeoff and there were only four hijackers. The operative likely intended to round out the team for this flight, Mohamed al Kahtani, had been refused entry by a suspicious immigration inspector at Florida's Orlando International Airport in August.
Because several passengers on United 93 described three hijackers on the plane, not four, some have wondered whether one of the hijackers had been able to use the cockpit jump-seat from the outset of the flight. FAA rules allow use of this seat by documented and approved individuals, usually air carrier or FAA personnel.
We have found no evidence indicating that one of the hijackers, or anyone else, sat there on this flight. All the hijackers had assigned seats in first class, and they seem to have used them. We believe it is more likely that Jarrah, the crucial pilot-trained member of their team, remained seated and inconspicuous until after the cockpit was seized; and once inside, he would not have been visible to the passengers.
At 9:32, a hijacker, probably Jarrah, made or attempted to make the follow ing announcement to the passengers of Flight 93: "Ladies and Gentlemen: Here the captain, please sit down keep remaining sitting. We have a bomb on board. So, sit." The flight data recorder (also recovered) indicates that Jarrah then instructed the plane's autopilot to turn the aircraft around and head east.
The cockpit voice recorder data indicate that a woman, most likely a flight attendant, was being held captive in the cockpit. She struggled with one of the hijackers who killed or otherwise silenced her.
Shortly thereafter, the passengers and flight crew began a series of calls from GTE airphones and cellular phones. These calls between family, friends, and colleagues took place until the end of the flight and provided those on the ground with first-hand accounts. They enabled the passengers to gain critical information, including the news that two aircraft had slammed into the World Trade Center.
At 9:39, the FAA'S Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center overheard a second announcement indicating that there was a bomb on board, that the plane was returning to the airport, and that they should remain seated. While it apparently was not heard by the passengers, this announcement, like those on Flight 11 and Flight 77, was intended to deceive them. Jarrah, like Atta earlier, may have inadvertently broadcast the message because he did not know how to operate the radio and the intercom. To our knowledge none of them had ever flown an actual airliner before.
At least two callers from the flight reported that the hijackers knew that passengers were making calls but did not seem to care. It is quite possible Jarrah knew of the success of the assault on the World Trade Center.
He could have learned of this from messages being sent by United Airlines to the cockpits of its transcontinental flights, including Flight 93, warning of cockpit intrusion and telling of the New York attacks. But even without them, he would certainly have understood that the attacks on the World Trade Center would already have unfolded, given Flight 93's tardy departure from Newark. If Jarrah did know that the passengers were making calls, it might not have occurred to him that they were certain to learn what had happened in NewYork, thereby defeating his attempts at deception.
At least ten passengers and two crew members shared vital information with family friends, colleagues, or others on the ground. All understood the plane had been hijacked. They said the hijackers wielded knives and claimed to have a bomb. The hijackers were wearing red bandanas, and they forced the passengers to the back of the aircraft.
Callers reported that a passenger had been stabbed and that two people were lying on the floor of the cabin, injured or dead - possibly the captain and first officer. One caller reported that a flight attendant had been killed.
One of the callers from United 93 also reported that he thought the hijackers might possess a gun. But none of the other callers reported the presence of a firearm. One recipient of a call from the aircraft recounted specifically asking her caller whether the hijackers had guns. The passenger replied that he did not see one. No evidence of firearms or of their identifiable remains was found at the aircraft's crash site, and the cockpit voice recorder gives no indication of a gun being fired or mentioned at any time.
We believe that if the hijackers had possessed a gun, they would have used it in the flight's last minutes as the passengers fought back.
Passengers on three flights reported the hijackers' claim of having a bomb. The FBI told us they found no trace of explosives at the crash sites. One of the passengers who mentioned a bomb expressed his belief that it was not real. Lacking any evidence that the hijackers attempted to smuggle such illegal items past the security screening checkpoints, we believe the bombs were probably fake.
During at least five of the passengers' phone calls, information was shared about the attacks that had occurred earlier that morning at the World Trade Center. Five calls described the intent of passengers and surviving crew members to revolt against the hijackers. According to one call, they voted on whether to rush the terrorists in an attempt to retake the plane. They decided, and acted.
At 9:57, the passenger assault began. Several passengers had terminated phone calls with loved ones in order to join the revolt. One of the callers ended her message as follows: "Everyone's running up to first class. I've got to go. Bye."
The cockpit voice recorder captured the sounds of the passenger assault muffled by the intervening cockpit door. Some family members who listened to the recording report that they can hear the voice of a loved one among the din. We cannot identify whose voices can be heard. But the assault was sustained.
In response, Jarrah immediately began to roll the airplane to the left and right, attempting to knock the passengers off balance. At 9:58:57, Jarrah told another hijacker in the cockpit to block the door. Jarrah continued to roll the airplane sharply left and right, but the assault continued. At 9:39:52, Jarrah changed tactics and pitched the nose of the airplane up and down to disrupt the assault. The recorder captured the sounds of loud thumps, crashes, shouts, and breaking glasses and plates. At 10:00:03, Jarrah stabilized the airplane.
Five seconds later, Jarrah asked, "Is that it? Shall we finish it off?" A hijacker responded, "No. Not yet. When they all come, we finish it off?" The sounds of fighting continued outside the cockpit. Again, Jarrah pitched the nose of the aircraft up and down.
At 10:00:26, a passenger in the background said, "In the cockpit. If we don’t we’ll die!" Sixteen seconds later, a passenger yelled, "Roll it!" Jarrah stopped the violent maneuvers at about 10:01:00 and said, "Allah is the greatest! Allah is the greatest!" He then asked another hijacker in the cockpit, "Is that it? I mean, shall we put it down?" to which the other replied, "Yes, put it in it, and pull it down."
The passengers continued their assault and at 10:02:23, a hijacker said, "Pull it down! Pull it down!" The hijackers remained at the controls but must have judged that the passengers were only seconds from overcoming them. The air plane headed down; the control wheel was turned hard to the right The air plane rolled onto its back, and one of the hijackers began shouting "Allah is the greatest. Allah is the greatest?"
With the sounds of the passenger counter-attack continuing, the aircraft plowed into an empty field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, at 580 miles per hour, about 20 minutes' flying time from Washington, D.C.
Jarrah's objective was to crash his airliner into symbols of the American Republic, the Capitol or the White House. He was defeated by the alerted, unarmed passengers of United 93.
The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, August 21, 2004. Pages 10-14.
Posted by Giraldus Cambrensis at April 12, 2006 8:58 PM