Jurors contemplating whether to execute Zacarias Moussaoui finally got access to the cockpit tape recording, and the public to the transcript, of the final half hour — from 9:31 to 10:03 a.m. EDT on 9/11, 2001 — of United Flight 93.
The tape begins with the plane just south of Cleveland, the hijackers in control of the cockpit and one of them announcing there is a bomb on board. “So sit,” he commands.
Eight minutes later, in an oily and patent lie — as passengers by then knew from their cell phones — a hijacker again announces, “We have a bomb on board, and we are going back to the airport, so please remain quiet.”
But the plane is already turning on a heading toward Washington, and the hijackers have silenced, probably with their knives, a flight attendant as she begs for her life: “Please, please, don’t hurt me. … I don’t want to die.” She is heard from no more after a hijacker says, “Everything is fine. I finished.”
At 9:57, the hijackers’ meticulously planned operation begins to go fatally wrong. The passengers begin beating in the cockpit door, and a hijacker screams, “They want to get in there. Hold, hold from the inside. Hold from the inside.” In just two minutes, the passengers have apparently battered their way in and one is heard yelling, “Let’s get them.”
At 10:01, the hijackers realize their mission is doomed, but not the suicide part. “Is that it?” one asks. The passengers struggle to gain control of the plane, but it is already in a fatal dive. The hijackers scream the futile praise “Allah is the greatest!” nine times, surely thinking of themselves as martyrs for their religion even as they indelibly defamed it.
The stately, snowy-white U.S. Capitol, the symbol of this nation and this democracy, inspires many reflections. And one of them should be a silent word of thanks for the courageous people who very likely saved it.
(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com.