Flight 93 tape: Horror, heroics
Pilot's wife has held in what final minutes seem to bear out
Denver Post | April 12, 2006
By Manny Gonzales
Sandy Dahl has kept silent about the 30 harrowing minutes she has heard of United Flight 93's cockpit recording and her husband's final breaths before the jetliner crashed in a Pennsylvania field on Sept. 11, 2001.
Contrary to what history has documented, she believes Jason Dahl, the pilot of the doomed flight, was alive but dying in the final minutes as a hijacker in the co-pilot's seat shouted at him to stop moving.
"All the reports in the press and the government had him dead in the first-class cabin on the floor before the plane was brought down," Dahl said. "I always knew he was alive and in the cockpit with the hijackers, and I haven't been able to say anything about it."
A veteran United Airlines flight attendant, Dahl, 45, who lives in Lone Tree and Scottsdale, Ariz., believes her husband's final actions might have involved disabling the Boeing 757's autopilot system, preventing the hijackers from setting coordinates for Washington, D.C.
Jurors in the Zacarias Moussaoui trial listened Wednesday to the recording of terrified shouting in the cockpit as passengers twice charged hijackers. Dahl and relatives of the passengers and crew had listened to the tapes in previous years but signed confidentiality agreements to not disclose what was in the recordings until the jury heard them.
Sandy Dahl has anguished over keeping what she has heard secret because she feels that accounts in the media and the 9/11 Commission's report have omitted the bravery of the flight's seven crew members.
"I don't think any one person was more important than the other, but history has glorified four or five passengers, and that's just not what happened," Dahl said.
In the flight's final minutes, voices can be heard, including some believed to be passengers or crew: "Go. Go." "Move. Move." "In the cockpit," a passenger says. "If we don't, we'll die."
Two minutes before the jetliner crashes - killing all 33 passengers, seven crew members and four hijackers aboard - one of the hijackers asks another, "Is that it? I mean, shall we pull it down?"
"Yes, put it in it, and pull it down," another voice replies in Arabic.
The last words come from a hijacker: "Allah is the greatest. Allah is the greatest. Allah is the greatest. Allah is the greatest."
Despite the detail of the voice recording and because the cockpit ceiling microphone can pick up sounds from the passenger cabin, particularly if the cockpit door is open, there are multiple interpretations of the final seconds of the flight.
But Sandy Dahl, who says her experience as an attendant has helped her understand a lot of the background sounds, is sure she heard her husband's moaning in the cockpit throughout much of the ordeal. She points to evidence that shows her husband's DNA and teeth were found in the area of the nose of the plane.
"It's been widely speculated that Jason died in the first-class cabin and so did (co-pilot) Leroy (Homer), and neither of them did," she said. "I listened to that tape from a flight attendant's perspective, and I was able to recognize the horns that go off in the cockpit, the alarms. I know what it sounds like to sit inside the cockpit and hear noises coming from other side of the cockpit door."
The first voice heard on the recording is a hijacker making an announcement, apparently believing he was speaking over the plane's public-address system, but instead it went out to tower operators in Cleveland.
"Ladies and gentlemen: Here the captain, please sit down, keep remaining seating. We have a bomb on board. So sit."
Moments later, a hijacker is heard saying in English: "Don't move. Shut up. ... Sit, sit, sit down."
It's at this moment that Sandy Dahl believes the hijackers are speaking to Jason Dahl.
"He was fussing at my husband," she said. "I could tell because he was speaking in English, and he spoke Arabic anytime he was talking with the other hijackers. It's possible they cut Jason's throat, but maybe not deep enough, because he made moaning sounds after that. It sounded like he was trying to mess with stuff or get up, because the hijacker pilot kept telling him to stop and to sit down."
It's around this time she believes Jason Dahl, a trainer who was knowledgeable about crippling an aircraft, did something to disable the autopilot system.
There were horn sounds that she says indicate the hijackers were unable to get autopilot to engage and were fiddling with a green knob.
"It sounds to me like this pilot did not know exactly what he was doing," Sandy Dahl said.
A hijacker then comments to another to go fetch the pilot, possibly co-pilot Leroy Homer, which would indicate he was still alive.
"I'm wondering if during all that fussing with Jason if he wasn't doing something to mess with it; I can't tell for sure, but I don't think Jason was going to let these people do what they wanted to do," Sandy Dahl said. "The autopilot was working when Jason was flying the plane and it wasn't working when the hijacker pilot was at the controls. My husband wouldn't have flown that plane if the autopilot had been malfunctioning."
Six minutes into the recording, a hijacker makes another announcement in English: "Here's the captain; I would like to tell you all to remain seated. We have a bomb aboard, and we are going back to the airport, and we have our demands. So, please remain quiet."
The San Francisco-bound plane, now over western Pennsylvania, turns back toward the East.
There are also the sounds of what may have been the killing of a flight attendant as the hijackers took control: A woman in the cockpit moans, "Please, please, don't hurt me." Her voice soon appears again for the last time as she is heard to say, "I don't want to die, I don't want to die," followed by one of the hijackers saying in Arabic: "Everything is fine. I finished."
Apparently unbeknown to the hijackers, passengers with cellphones learn jets have crashed into the World Trade Center.
Five minutes later, it's apparent there's a fight. The hijackers discuss shutting off oxygen to the cabin, and eventually the cockpit door is breached and passengers or crew members are in the cockpit fighting for control of the plane.
The recording ends with a three-minute crescendo of noise as a passenger apparently just outside the door shouts, "In the cockpit! If we don't, we'll die."
"To know that Jason spent those last terrorizing moments alone in the cockpit with that hijacker, it's been difficult to not talk about, but I understand that (federal prosecutors) were trying to protect their evidence," she said. "But there was a riot of passengers and crew members on that plane. I heard what sounded like at least 20 voices, and I heard determination in their voices - it was like a war cry. But the hijackers were screaming back the same way."
Denver Post wire services contributed to this report.
Last minutes of United Flight 93
All times are EDT on Sept. 11, 2001. Speakers are not identified. (Words in parentheses are English translations of Arabic.) For a full transcript, go to denverpost.com.
The transcript begins.
09:31:57 - Ladies and gentlemen: Here the captain, please sit down, keep remaining seating. We have a bomb on board. So sit.
09:32:09 - Er, uh ... Calling Cleveland center ... You're unreadable. Say again slowly.
09:32:10 - Don't move. Shut up.
09:34:29 - Please, please, don't hurt me ...
09:34:30 - Down. No more.
09:34:31 - Oh, God.
09:35:41 - No, no. Down, down.
09:35:42 - I don't want to die. I don't want to die.
09:37:36 -(Everything is fine. I finished.)
09:38:36 - (Yes.)
09:39:11 - Ah. Here's the captain. I would like to tell you all to remain seated. We have a bomb aboard, and we are going back to the airport, and we have our demands. So, please remain quiet.
09:53:20 - (The best thing: The guys will go in, lift up the) ... unintelligible ... (and they put the axe into it. So, everyone will be scared.)
09:53:27 - (Yes.)
09:57:55 - (Is there something?)
09:57:57 - (A fight?)
09:57:59 - (Yeah?)
09:58:33 - Unintelligible. (Let's go, guys. Allah is greatest. Allah is greatest. Oh, guys. Allah is greatest.)
09:58:52 - Stay back.
09:58:55 - In the cockpit.
09:58:57 - In the cockpit.
09:58:57 - (They want to get in here. Hold, hold from the inside. Hold from the inside. Hold).
09:59:04 - Hold the door.
09:59:09 - Stop him.
At 09:59:30, a loud crashing noise is heard, possibly an attempt to ram the cockpit door.
10:00:07 - (Is that it? Shall we finish it off?)
10:00:08 - (No. Not yet.)
10:00:09 - (When they all come, we finish it off.)
10:00:22 - (Oh, Allah. Oh, Allah. Oh, gracious.)
10:00:25 - In the cockpit. If we don't, we'll die.
Another loud crash is heard.
10:00:29 - (Up, down. Up, down, in the) cockpit.
10:00:33 - (The) cockpit.
10:00:37 - (Up, down. Saeed, up, down.)
10:00:42 - Roll it.
10:01:08 - (Is that it? I mean, shall we pull it down?)
10:01:09 - (Yes, put it in it, and pull it down.)
10:01:18 - (Cut off the oxygen. Cut off the oxygen. Cut off the oxygen.)
10:01:59 - Shut them off.
10:02:03 - Shut them off.
10:02:14 - Go.
10:02:14 - Go.
10:02:15 - Move.
10:02:16 - Move.
10:02:17 - Turn it up.
10:02:18 - (Down, down.)
10:02:23 - (Pull it down. Pull it down.)
10:02:25 - Down. Push, push, push, push, push.
10:02:33 - (Hey. Hey. Give it to me. Give it to me.)
Repeated several times.
10:02:40 - Unintelligible.
10:03:02 - (Allah is the greatest.)
Repeated several times. Then static is heard as the plane crashes.