The Story

A Day Forever Remembered

The events of September 11, 2001, are forever etched into the hearts and souls of our nation and the world. The coordinated hijacking of four commercial airliners, the planned attack on symbolic targets, the murder of innocent people, were all tragic and shocking events. The extraordinary responses of individuals to the challenges they faced are inspiring and worthy of remembrance.

On that day, two commercial airliners were hijacked shortly after departure from Boston. Both planes were deliberately flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, resulting in the loss of all 157 on board and 2,635 occupants of the World Trade Center, rescue workers, and innocent bystanders. A third plane was hijacked after departure from Washington, D.C., and flown into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, taking the lives of 64 passengers and crew and 125 in the building.

The fourth plane, United Airlines Flight 93, was delayed in its scheduled departure from Newark, New Jersey to San Francisco, California. About 45 minutes into the flight, as the Boeing 757 was nearing Cleveland, Ohio, it abruptly changed course, heading southeast in the direction of Washington, D.C. Shortly before 10 a.m., it was observed flying low and erratically over southwestern Pennsylvania. Just after 10 a.m., the plane crashed at a cruising speed estimated at more than 500 miles per hour into a reclaimed strip mine at the edge of a wooded area in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. Emergency responders, arriving at the scene minutes after the crash, found no survivors. All 33 passengers and seven crew members were killed.

In the hours and days that followed, an astounding story about what happened on board Flight 93 was revealed. When the terrorists took over the plane, passengers and crew were able to telephone family members, friends, and emergency dispatchers to report the hijacking. Through these conversations, those on board Flight 93 learned about the horrific events unfolding at the World Trade Center and at the Pentagon.

As their phone conversations revealed, the passengers and crew of Flight 93 realized that their plane was also part of the planned attack. This led to a collective decision by the passengers and crew to stop the terrorists from achieving their goal. The story of the heroic actions of the passengers and crew of Flight 93 was later confirmed when the many telephone conversations and the cockpit voice recorder were reviewed. Although the details of what took place on board the flight will never be fully known, all 40 of the passengers and crew are recognized as heroes.

While the nation mourned the loss of life on that day, the selfless acts of the passengers and crew of Flight 93 evoked respect and appreciation from people around the world. Actions of the terrorists, intended to divide and demoralize the nation, had the opposite effect and the crash of Flight 93 became a symbol of courage in the face of adversity. The site of the crash became a place of impromptu gathering where the public memorialized and commemorated these events while they struggled to comprehend their meaning.


A Grateful Nation

President Bush said, “Let us also remember that the first victory in this war came on a hijacked plane bound for the nation’s capital. Somehow the brave men and women on Flight 93, knowing they would die, found the courage to use their final moments to save the lives of others . . . Few are called to show the kind of valor seen on Flight 93, or on the field of battle. Yet all of us do share a calling: Be strong in adversity and unafraid in danger.”

The passengers and crew of Flight 93 are the citizen heroes we can only aspire to be. Those who gave their lives aboard Flight 93 are an inspiration that we can be strong in adversity and unafraid in danger. The actions of the passengers and crew of Flight 93 serve as a reminder of both the responsibility and privilege of citizenship.