22 - United Flight 93 was late. After pushing off from the gate at 8:01
a.m., the Boeing 757 made its way slowly through the runway traffic at
Newark International, finally taking off at 8:41 a.m., 40 minutes
behind schedule. In the first-class cabin, Mark Bingham, a San
Francisco publicist, had settled into his seat. Next to him was Tom
Burnett, an executive for a health-care company in the Bay Area. It was
a routine flight for both men. Bingham shuttled regularly between New
York and San Francisco, working with technology companies; Burnett was
on his way home from a business trip.
BACK in the business-class cabin, Jeremy Glick, a 31-year-old sales
manager for an Internet company, was in Row 11. Behind him sat Lou
Nacke, a toy-company manager on his way to Sacramento for a day trip.
In the main cabin was Todd Beamer, 32, a manager for software giant
Oracle, headed from his home in New Jersey to the company’s Silicon
There was, in airline
parlance, a “light load” that morning. Only 37 of the plane’s 182 seats
were occupied. Some of the passengers had never planned to be on the
flight. Nacke had booked his seat only the night before. Out to dinner
with his family, he had a received a phone call from one of his
customers who needed help with an inventory problem. Nacke rarely
traveled, but, reluctant to let his client down, he planned to make a
one-day trip to California, returning on the red-eye late Tuesday
Jeremy Glick was supposed to have
been on Flight 93 a day earlier, but missed the Monday flight after
getting stuck in traffic on his way to Newark Airport. It was his first
business trip in months. Since the birth of his daughter, Emmy, three
months ago, he had been reluctant to leave home. But there was a
conference in San Francisco, and his wife had urged him to get back to
work and stop worrying about the baby. Another passenger, Lauren
Grandcolas was on her way home to Marin County, north of San Francisco,
after attending her grandmother’s funeral in New Jersey. Originally
scheduled on a later flight, she had been pleasantly surprised to
easily get a standby seat on Flight 93 at the airport. “I can’t wait to
see you,” she told her husband Jack in a message she left on the
couple’s answering machine before dawn in California, telling him she
would be home a few hours early.
a.m., four minutes after takeoff, Flight 93 was still climbing to
cruising altitude, moving west across Pennsylvania, when, in New York,
American Airlines Flight 11 plowed into the North Tower of the World
Trade Center. At that same instant, hijackers were already in control
of other aircraft. United Flight 175, which had taken off from Boston a
minute earlier than Flight 11, was making a sharp turn over northern
New Jersey, bearing down on the South Tower. American Airlines Flight
77, which had taken off for Los Angeles from Dulles at 8:10 a.m., had
made its own U-turn in the skies over Kentucky, and was headed back
All three of these
aircraft were under the control of the Boston air-traffic control
center, which handles airline traffic in New England and New York
airspace. While the Boston controllers were trying to deal with the
three planes’ abrupt changes in course, bomb threats were being called
in to the center. Cleveland, which takes control of flights as they
pass into the Midwest, was receiving similar threats. Officials suspect
that the bomb threats were intended to add to the chaos, distracting
controllers from tracking the hijacked planes.
By 9:35 a.m., both towers of the World Trade Center are in flames and
Flight 77 is bearing down on the Pentagon. At this time, NEWSWEEK has
learned, air-traffic controllers at the Cleveland center are listening
“over the frequency,” the radio contact between cockpit and control
center. They hear screams aboard the flight. Then a gap of 40 seconds
with no sound. Then more screams. Then a voice, nearly unintelligible,
saying something like “bomb on board.”
controllers try to contact the plane, asking the pilot, Capt. Jason
Dahl, to verify his altitude. There is no response from the cockpit.
Minutes later, at 9:38 am, the plane makes a hairpin turn just south of
Cleveland and heads for Washington. Air-traffic controllers hear a man,
in thickly accented English saying “This is your captain. There is a
bomb on board. We are returning to the airport.”
It’s possible the passengers never hear the false warning. The hijacker
was accidentally speaking into a cockpit microphone that air-traffic
controllers could hear, not the public-address system.
In the passenger cabin, it is bedlam. Three men wearing red bandannas
are in control. The passengers had been herded to the back of the
plane, near the galley. Burnett calls his wife, Deena, in California,
where she is preparing breakfast for the couple’s three young
daughters. “We’re being hijacked” he tells her, before giving the
flight number and telling her to call authorities. When Tom calls back
a few minutes later, Deena has the FBI on the phone. She patches Tom
through so he can describe the men directly.
There are other phone calls. Jeremy Glick calls his wife, Lyz, in New
York to say that three “Iranian looking” men, one with a red box
strapped to his waist, have taken control of the plane and to call the
authorities. He asks if it’s true, as he’s heard from another
passenger, that two other planes have crashed into the World Trade
From the back of the plane, Todd Beamer tries to use his credit card on
an Airfone installed in one of the seatbacks, but cannot get
authorization. His call is automatically routed to the Verizon
customer-service center in Oakbrook, Ill. Although operators are used
to crank calls from seatback phones, it is clear to the operator that
Beamer’s report of a hijacking is genuine. His call is immediately sent
to Verizon supervisor Lisa Jefferson who alerts the FBI. When Jefferson
gets on the line at 9:45 a.m., she immediately begins interviewing
Beamer. “What is your flight number? What is the situation? Where are
the crew members?”
Jefferson that one passenger is dead. He doesn’t know about the pilots.
One hijacker is in the rear of the plane, claiming to have a bomb
strapped to his body. The conversation is urgent, but calm. Then Beamer
says, “Oh my God, I think we’re going down.” Then adds, “No, we’re just
turning.” At this point, investigators theorize, one of the hijackers
was flying erratically. The plane plunges from its assigned altitude
and the transponder is turned off.
The crash site in Shanksville, Penn.
Mark Bingham uses an Airfone to call his mother, Alice Hoglan, who is
still asleep at her brother’s home in Saratoga, Calif., having been up
late the night before caring for triplets. “Mom, this is Mark Bingham,”
he tells her, so rattled he uses his last name. Bingham describes the
situation for his mother, a United Airlines flight attendant. The call
lasts about three minutes. Twice during the call, says Alice, “Mark was
distracted. There was a five-second pause. I heard people speaking.
There was murmuring, nothing loud.” She theorizes that Mark was talking
to the other men, and planning to fight back.
“We’re going to do something. I know I’m not going to get out of this.”
— TODD BEAMER
At around the same time, Todd Beamer is telling the operator that the
men plan “to jump” the hijacker in the back, claiming to have a bomb.
“We’re going to do something,” Beamer tells operator Lisa Jefferson. “I
know I’m not going to get out of this.” He asks Jefferson to recite the
Lord’s Prayer with him. The last words Jefferson hears are “Are you
ready guys? Let’s roll.”
when, in all of the telephony, Glick, Beamer, Bingham, Burnett and
Nacke hatched their plot. It is also unclear if they attacked just
once, or twice, first taking out the hijacker claiming to have the
bomb, then storming the cockpit. Crucial evidence, NEWSWEEK has
learned, may come from yet another phone call made by a passenger.
Elizabeth Wainio, 27, was speaking to her stepmother in Maryland.
Another passenger, she explains, had loaned her a cell phone and told
her to call her family. “I have to go,” Wainio says, cutting the call
short. “They’re about to storm the cockpit” referring to her fellow
Nacke is the only member of
the group who is not known to have made a phone call, although his
wife, Amy, did have a message on her answering machine that contained
only noise and a click. United Airlines later told his family that he
was apparently one of the fighters. “If you knew Lou,” says Nacke’s
father-in-law, Dr. Robert Weisberg, “he never would have been far from
This much we know, they were
big guys: Bingham was a 6-foot-4 rugby player; Glick, also a rugby
player and judo champion; Beamer was 6 foot 1 and 200 pounds, and Nacke
was a 5-foot-9, 200-pound weightlifter with a “Superman” tattoo on his
shoulder. Investigators are operating on the theory that the men
somehow made their way up 100 feet from the rear of the plane into the
cockpit. The last transmission recorded is someone, probably a
hijacker, screaming “Get out of here. Get out of here.” Then grunting,
screaming and scuffling. Then silence.
With Mark Hosenball
© 2003 Newsweek, Inc.
© 2004 Newsweek, Inc.