‘A common field one day. A field of honor forever.’ The story of United Flight 93. What would you have done?

By Dr. Jeffrey Lant

This is a story of pathos, sadness, tragedy, of lives cut short too soon. But most of all it is the story of everyday people, your neighbors, friends and colleagues, who, without warning or preparation , became heroes. It is a story that makes me proud to be an American… and should make you proud, too. And it all took place over the gentle farmland of Pennsylvania, which has known heroes before. But none like these…

An ordinary day.

Ten years ago, September 11, 2001 was an ordinary day for the passengers and crew of United Airlines’ scheduled morning transcontinental flight across the United States from Newark International Airport in Newark, New Jersey, to San Francisco International Airport in California. Or at least they thought it would be ordinary. And so they got up, got ready and went about their business thinking only of the usual things that distinguish everyday life… little knowing that, for each, they would never have the gift of an ordinary day ever again. Nor would the Great Republic they planned to traverse from sea to shining sea.

Everything, absolutely everything, was about to be different.

The imam of unimaginable hate, Osama bin Laden.

The evil genius behind the events of September 11, including the fate of Flight 93, was a man of profound, unfathomable hate. In his fetid brain arose the idea of inflicting massive pain on innocent people who had never done him any wrong. Acting as the vicegerent of his malevolent God, he degreed death, pain, mayhem, and a universal longing to know the answer to one insistent question, “Why?” It is a question that will reverberate down the corridors of human history, but we shall never really  know…

Everything was normal, ordinary, expected… for the last time.

Seven crew members were there to do their jobs, Captain Jason Dahl, First Officer LeRoy Homer, Jr., and flight attendants Lorraine Bay, Sandra Bradshaw, Wanda Green, CeeCee Lyles, and Deborah Walsh.

Thirty three passengers did what passengers on early morning flights do, preparing for a long day of effortless travel that leaves you, upon arrival, exhausted.

But there were others on this flight, 4 agents of doom, 4 agents of bin Laden… misguided, zealous, reflecting the hate and purpose of their malicious, misdirected leader. And these 4 were so misguided and warped by the noisome message of that leader that they selected death with him… rather than life without. This selection made them dangerous… as the world was about to discover.

Late for eternity.

Just a few minutes before scheduled take-off time of 8 a.m. the doors closed on what was no longer an aircraft but a coffin soon to be air born. Airport congestion delayed take-off and delayed it again, until at 8:42 a.m. they at last ascended, to a destiny not even the hijackers could imagine. And so the last moments of normality ticked away for the people on Flight 93. But they were already gone for the people of America and the world. Flight 111 had already been commandeered… .Flight 175 was being hijacked…. Flight 77 was still climbing normally and would be hijacked in 9 minutes.

As the attacks began, air traffic officials began issuing warnings through the Aircraft Communication Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS). Ed Ballinger, the United flight dispatcher, began sending text cockpit warnings to United Airlines flights at 9:19  a.m., after he became aware of the second World Trade Center impact by Flight 175. At 9:22, after learning of the events at the World Trade Center, LeRoy Homer’s wife, Melody, had an ACARS message sent to her husband in the cockpit asking if he was okay.

But neither LeRoy Homer nor anyone else was okay… as the day now rushed forward from crisis to tragedy…  At  9:24 a..m. Flight 93 received Ballinger’s ACARS warning, “Beware any cockpit intrusion — two a/c (aircraft) hit World Trade Center.” Flight 93 sent two more normal messages, the second at 9:27 a.m.

… But at 9:28 a.m. “normal” ended… and the high destiny of Flight 93 and all within her commenced. Flights 11 and 175 had already crashed into the World Trade Center; Flight 77 was within minutes of striking the Pentagon. And the passengers and crew of Flight 93 were on the threshold of eternity, soon to show the nation and the world what good people could do when circumstances required… as they did when the hijackers, at a time which cannot be determined, took control of the aircraft, turning it into a weapon of mass destruction.

Where were they taking Flight 93?

Osama bin Laden was a man who understood the power of symbols and so he directed his minions to attack targets of immense significance, the World Trade Center, the Pentagon… and either the Capitol or White House (just where is not precisely known). Either would have swelled not only the casualties but the psychic pain the nation would be forced to feel and deal with.  And all that stood between bin Laden and the achievement of his objective was 40 ordinary people who had just lost control of the aircraft…

Imagine what these people were thinking as the pace of events forced them to make like-changing decisions at the fastest possible rate. They first probably thought that going along with what the hijackers wanted would be the most sensible and prudent course.

But as they learned from cell phone and other messages coming in from loved ones, they realized the hijackers weren’t interested in negotiation… They had a hideous mission to perform.

And this meant the passengers and crew were faced with a moral dilemma of the first order: to counter attack and seize the cockpit and the plane… or do nothing. Either way they had just moments to decide… and no prospect of opting out whatsoever.

They voted for action.

At this, the touchstone of their lives, these ordinary people cast in the most extraordinary event, did a simple thing that showed how far superior they were to the hijackers who had forced themselves upon them. Instead, they voted on what should be done and democratically decided upon action, by rushing their captors.

“Let’s roll.”

And so people who had perhaps never done an extraordinary deed in their lives or even wanted to made a decision out of their free will, to fight for their lives and to thwart bin Laden and his sinister schemes… even unto the cost of these lives.

Passenger Todd  Beamer shouted the words which initiated the action, thrilling America with a quintessentially American phrase that made us proud, “Let’s roll!” And so they did, fighting for control of the aircraft, for their lives, and to stop the hijackers. At 10.03 a.m. when at 563 miles per hour at a 40 degree nose-dive, they crashed into the ground, not merely killing but obliterating plane and people alike, they achieved their objective and entered into the blessed pantheon of those who gave their lives for the good of others.

The Newest National Park, Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

September 10, 2011 former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton along with 4,000 people gathered to recognize the valiant actions of the most ordinary people who, because it was needed, did the most extraordinary of deeds and achieved the most sublime fate, leaving us with a question that troubles and unsettles us, “What would you have done?”

Let us hope this, America’s newest national park, not only shows us what others did at such a moment but inspires and fortifies us for our own rendezvous with destiny, for in such a turbulent world as ours it could happen anytime at any place.


About the Author

Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc., providing a wide range of online services for small and-home based businesses. Dr. Jeffrey Lant is also the author of 18 best-selling business books.

Republished with author’s permission by Graham Lee – The Income Zone

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