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Context of '(Between 9:30-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Cockpit Voice Recording Begins'

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According to an early timeline laid out to CNN by unnamed but “informed defense officials,” the FAA informs NORAD at this time that Flight 93 may have been hijacked. [CNN, 9/17/2001] In public testimony before the 9/11 Commission in 2003, NORAD officials will similarly claim that the FAA first reports the possible hijacking of Flight 93 at this time. [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003] Yet this is 12 minutes before the hijacking is meant to have occurred (see (9:28 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 38] One explanation is put forward that could possibly help explain the discrepancy: There are media reports that “investigators had determined from the cockpit voice recorder from United Airlines Flight 93… that one of the four hijackers had been invited into the cockpit area before the flight took off from Newark, New Jersey.” Cockpit voice recordings indicate that the pilots believed their guest was a colleague “and was thereby extended the typical airline courtesy of allowing any pilot from any airline to join a flight by sitting in the jumpseat, the folded over extra seat located inside the cockpit.” [Fox News, 9/24/2001; Herald Sun (Melbourne), 9/25/2001] This would be consistent with passenger phone calls from the plane, describing only three hijackers on Flight 93 (see (9:27 a.m.-10:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Longman, 2002, pp. 120] However, the reports will not be confirmed. The 9/11 Commission Report will dismiss the claim that NORAD was alerted at 9:16, stating, “In public testimony before this Commission in May 2003, NORAD officials stated that at 9:16, NEADS received hijack notification of United 93 from the FAA. This statement was incorrect. There was no hijack to report at 9:16. United 93 was proceeding normally at that time.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 34] No further explanations will be offered for the incorrect timelines. NORAD’s own initial timeline, released on September 18, 2001, will not give a time for when the FAA alerted it to Flight 93. It will only say that the FAA and its Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) “established a line of open communication discussing AA Flt 77 and UA Flt 93.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001]

Entity Tags: Northeast Air Defense Sector, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Federal Aviation Administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Key events of Flight 93 (times are based on a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette map and otherwise interopolated).Key events of Flight 93 (times are based on a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette map and otherwise interopolated). [Source: Yvonne Vermillion/ MagicGraphix.com] (click image to enlarge)Apparently, the only cockpit voice recording recovered undamaged from any of the 9/11 crashes is from Flight 93. It recorded on a 30-minute reel, which means that the tape is continually overwritten and only the final 30 minutes of any flight is recorded, though in practice sometimes the tape is slightly longer. Flight 93’s recording lasts 31 minutes and begins at this time. [Longman, 2002, pp. 206-207; CNN, 4/19/2002; Hartford Courant, 4/19/2004] According to one account, it begins seconds before the plane is hijacked. [Washington Post, 11/17/2001] However, the version of the tape later played for the victims’ relatives begins “too late to pick up the sounds of the hijackers’ initial takeover.” [MSNBC, 4/18/2002]

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Deborah Welsh.
Deborah Welsh. [Source: Family photo]A woman in the cockpit of Flight 93, presumably one of the plane’s flight attendants, is apparently repeatedly given orders and then killed or otherwise silenced by the plane’s hijackers. The cockpit voice recording from Flight 93 will later reveal that, at 9:32 a.m., one of the hijackers in the cockpit starts issuing a series of strange orders. “Don’t move! Shut up! Come on, come! Shut up! Don’t move! Stop!” he says in English. About 15 seconds later, he continues, “Sit, sit, sit down!” At 9:34 a.m., he orders someone—apparently a flight attendant—to lie down. “Down! Go ahead, lie down!” he says and then continues: “Lie down! Down, down, down! Down, down, down!” He then says: “Sit down! Come on, sit down, sit! Sit down! Sit down!”
Flight Attendant Pleads with the Hijackers - About 15 seconds later, a person identified in an FBI transcript of the cockpit voice recording as a “[f]emale native English-speaking person” starts pleading with the hijackers. “Please, please, please, please, please, don’t hurt me,” she says. She then exclaims, “Oh, God!” Investigators will determine that this woman is likely one of the first-class flight attendants, either Deborah Welsh or Wanda Green.
Hijacker Orders the Flight Attendant to Sit Down - At 9:35 a.m., the hijacker will continue issuing orders. Still speaking English, he says: “No more. Down, down, down! No, no, no, no, no, no.” Apparently talking to the flight attendant, he says: “Sit down, sit down, sit down! Down! Sit down! Sit down! You know, sit down!” The flight attendant asks, “Are you talking to me?” but receives no answer. She then continues pleading with the hijackers, saying: “I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die.… No, no, please.”
Flight Attendant Struggles and Is Apparently Killed - At 9:36 a.m., the flight attendant apparently struggles with the hijackers for about 30 seconds. The FBI transcript of the cockpit voice recording will describe the “sound of a female crying and a struggle that lasted for a few seconds,” followed by the “sound of a struggle with a female.” The flight attendant is apparently killed or otherwise silenced at this time. About a minute later, one of the hijackers says in Arabic: “Everything is fine. I finished.” The flight attendant’s voice will never be picked up again by the plane’s cockpit voice recorder. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 12/4/2003; McMillan, 2014, pp. 84-85]

Entity Tags: Deborah Welsh, Wanda Green

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A hijacker in the cockpit of Flight 93 asks another hijacker if they should “let the guys in” and that hijacker then suggests that they “bring the pilot back.” The cockpit voice recording from Flight 93 will later reveal that, speaking in Arabic, one of the hijackers says: “How about we let them in? We let the guys in now.” He then repeats his question, asking, “Should we let the guys in?” He is apparently suggesting that they allow the other hijackers on Flight 93 into the cockpit. The other hijacker in the cockpit replies, “Inform them and tell him to talk to the pilot.” He then says, “Bring the pilot back.” Journalist and author Tom McMillan will comment that this reference to the pilot “underscored the notion that [Ziad Jarrah, the hijacker believed to be at the controls of Flight 93] was overmatched by the Boeing 757” and is also “apparent confirmation that at least one of the United pilots—either Captain [Jason] Dahl or First Officer [LeRoy] Homer—was still alive, and likely in the first-class cabin.” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 12/4/2003; McMillan, 2014, pp. 96] However, at around this time, passenger Todd Beamer reports in a call from Flight 93 that the plane’s captain and first officer are lying on the floor of the first-class cabin, and are injured or possibly dead (see 9:45 a.m.-9:58 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Longman, 2002, pp. 199; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 43] Indeed, McMillan will note that “[n]o one ever was brought to the cockpit to assist with the aircraft’s operation and the hijackers never mentioned ‘the pilot’ again” on the cockpit voice recording. One of the hijackers in the cockpit, still speaking in Arabic, then whispers: “In the name of Allah. In the name of Allah. I bear witness that there is no other God but Allah.” Less than 30 seconds later, at 9:46 a.m., the cockpit voice recorder will pick up the sound of two knocks on the cockpit door followed by the sound of the door opening. A couple of minutes after that, the recorder will pick up the sound of “distinctive knocks” on the cockpit door, again followed by the sound of the door opening. What exactly is happening on these occasions is unknown. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 12/4/2003; McMillan, 2014, pp. 96]

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A hijacker in the cockpit of Flight 93 apparently suggests holding up the plane’s fire axe to the peephole in the cockpit door in the mistaken belief that the passengers will be able to see it and be scared by it. [Longman, 2002, pp. 209-210] The cockpit voice recording from Flight 93 will later reveal that, speaking in Arabic, one of the hijackers in the cockpit says to another: “The best thing: The guys will go in, [you] lift up the [unintelligible], and they put the axe into it. So, everyone will be scared.” The other hijacker replies, “Yes” and then the first hijacker repeats, “The axe.” Seconds later, he says: “Let him look through the window. Let him look through the window.” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 12/4/2003; McMillan, 2014, pp. 100] Federal officials will explain to the relatives of passengers and crew members on Flight 93 what they believe was happening at this time. The hijackers, journalist and author Jere Longman will describe, “in a bumbling manner, suggested holding the axe up to the peephole in the cockpit door, believing incorrectly that the riled passengers could see through the other end.” [Longman, 2002, pp. 209-210] Over the next couple of minutes, the cockpit voice recorder will pick up the sound of three knocks on the cockpit door, followed by the sound of the door opening and closing on two occasions. What exactly is happening at these times is unknown. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 12/4/2003]

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

One of the hijackers in the cockpit asks if anything is going on, apparently meaning outside the cockpit. “Fighting,” the other says. [Longman, 2002, pp. 210] An analysis of the cockpit flight recording suggests that the passenger struggle actually starts in the front of the plane (where Mark Bingham and Tom Burnett are sitting) about a minute before a struggle in the back of the plane (where Todd Beamer is sitting). [Observer, 12/2/2001] Officials later theorize that the Flight 93 passengers reach the cockpit using a food cart as a battering ram and a shield. They claim digital enhancement of the cockpit voice recorder reveals the sound of plates and glassware crashing around 9:57 a.m. [Newsweek, 12/3/2001]

Entity Tags: Todd Beamer, Mark Bingham, Tom Burnett

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Hijackers in the cockpit of Flight 93 react to the passengers who are apparently trying to retake control of the aircraft and one of them appears to ask if they should fly the plane into the ground. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 45-46] Passengers on the flight have apparently been trying to force their way into the cockpit, using a food cart as a shield (see 9:57 a.m.-9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Observer, 12/2/2001; Longman, 2002, pp. 270-271]
Hijacker Asks if He Should 'Finish It Off' - The cockpit voice recording from the plane will later reveal that, in response to this, a hijacker in the cockpit apparently suggests crashing the plane into the ground. Speaking in Arabic, he asks: “Is that it? Shall we finish it off?” Another hijacker in the cockpit replies: “No. Not yet. When they all come, we finish it off!”
Passengers Try to Get into the Cockpit - Seconds later, a male passenger shouts: “Ah! I’m injured.” A hijacker then exclaims: “Oh Allah! Oh Allah! Oh gracious!” A male passenger apparently instructs those with him to continue trying to force their way into the cockpit. “In the cockpit,” he shouts, adding, “If we don’t, we’ll die!” A hijacker then makes some unusual statements. He says: “Up, down. Up, down, in the cockpit. The cockpit. Up, down.” He adds, “Saeed, up, down!” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 12/4/2003; McMillan, 2014, pp. 103-104] “Saeed” is presumably Saeed Alghamdi, one of the alleged hijackers of Flight 93. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 35]
Hijacker Again Suggests Crashing the Plane - The cockpit voice recorder then picks up the sound of a male passenger, in the distance, giving the instruction, “Roll it!” He is possibly talking about rolling the food cart forward, journalist and author Tom McMillan will suggest. This is followed by the sound of glasses and plates breaking. A hijacker then apparently starts praying, saying: “Allah is the greatest! Allah is the greatest!” He then appears to suggest crashing the plane into the ground again. “Is that it? I mean, shall we pull it down?” he asks. “Yes, put it in it and pull it down,” another hijacker replies.
Hijacker Says to Shut Off the Oxygen Supply - One of the hijackers then suggests that they turn off the oxygen supply to the cabin, saying: “Cut off the oxygen! Cut off the oxygen! Cut off the oxygen! Cut off the oxygen!” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 12/4/2003; McMillan, 2014, pp. 104] (However, cutting off the oxygen below an altitude of 10,000 feet would have little or no effect on the passengers, aviation officials will comment. [Longman, 2002, pp. 271] ) About 20 seconds later, he makes more unusual statements, saying: “Up, down. Up, down. Up, down.”
Passengers Continue Their Assault - Within the next 20 seconds, the cockpit voice recorder picks up the sounds of loud crashes, snaps, loud grunts, and a male passenger shouting, “Ah!” A passenger then issues some commands. “Go! Go!” they say. “Move! Move!” they shout. A male passenger—perhaps the same person—then yells loudly, “Turn it up!” What they mean by this is unclear. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 12/4/2003; McMillan, 2014, pp. 104] The passengers will apparently continue to struggle against the hijackers until the plane crashes, at 10:03 a.m. (see 10:02 a.m.-10:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 46]

Entity Tags: Saeed Alghamdi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The cockpit voice recording of Flight 93 was recorded on a 30-minute reel, which means that the tape is continually overwritten and only the final 30 minutes of any flight would be recorded. The government later permits relatives to hear this tape. Apparently, the version of the tape played to the family members begins at 9:31 a.m. and runs for 31 minutes, ending one minute before, according to the government, the plane crashes. [Longman, 2002, pp. 206-207; CNN, 4/19/2002] The New York Observer comments, “Some of the relatives are keen to find out why, at the peak of this struggle, the tape suddenly stops recording voices and all that is heard in the last 60 seconds or so is engine noise. Had the tape been tampered with?” [New York Observer, 6/20/2004]

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The FBI reveals that it knows what is on the Flight 93 black boxes, but refuses to release the transcript or audio recording. Families of the victims have requested to hear the cockpit voice recording, but the FBI says, “[W]e do not believe that the horror captured on the cockpit voice recording will console them in any way.” [CNN, 12/21/2001] Accuracy in Media immediately submits a Freedom of Information Act request to have the transcript released, but the FBI turns it down because a release “could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings.” The Philadelphia Daily News asks, “What enforcement proceedings?” and suggests the FBI may be covering up a shootdown of the plane. [Philadelphia Daily News, 12/28/2001] The recordings are later played, but only in private to victims’ relatives and the 9/11 Commission.

Entity Tags: 9/11 Commission, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The cockpit voice recorder tape from United 93, which crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania (see (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001), is played at the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui (see March 6-May 4, 2006) just before the prosecution rests its case. Translations are displayed on a screen along with information taken from the plane’s flight data recorder, such as speed, altitude, and steering yoke position. [Associated Press, 4/12/2006; London Times, 4/12/2006] The recording is sealed by the judge and a transcript is made available to the public. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006] This is a big media event and it receives lots of coverage. CNN, for example, calls it “an absolutely spellbinding, unforgettable day in court.” Many of the passages are unintelligible, but the recording seems to indicate that the hijackers murdered a flight attendant. [CNN, 4/12/2006; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file] Some of the victims’ relatives previously heard the recording at a private meeting (see April 18, 2002).

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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