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What really happened on Flight 93?

By Stuart Buck
web posted October 15, 2001

I'm not a paranoid, conspiracy theory buff. But I can't help wondering what really happened to Flight 93, the hijacked plane that crashed in Pennsylvania.

Todd Beamer
Mark Bingham
Thomas Burnett Jr.
Jeremy Glick

We've all read the many stories about the guys on board Flight 93 who heroically decided to fight back -- Todd Beamer, Mark Bingham, Thomas Burnett, Jeremy Glick. I do not question their heroism. Their names should be remembered and taught to schoolchildren, like Nathan Hale or Paul Revere.

But there is one fact that makes me wonder whether the real reason Flight 93 crashed was because of the heroic struggle of the passengers onboard.

The fact is this: the 911 call that one passenger made from a bathroom. On September 11, and for a couple of days afterwards, there were several newspaper stories that mentioned a statement made by Glenn Cramer, a local emergency dispatcher. He said that a passenger on Flight 93 had called 911, with the frantic message that the plane had been hijacked. In Cramer's words, "He heard some sort of explosion and saw white smoke coming from the plane, and we lost contact with him."

This, of course, was before the plane crashed.

Not long afterwards, the FBI began to stifle the story of the 911 call. As the Washington Post reported:

FBI agents quickly took possession of the tape of that 911 call, which constitutes the only public evidence so far of what went on during the doomed plane's last moments. The FBI declined to provide any information about the tape's contents or the identity of the caller.
Nor did the FBI allow the dispatcher who took the call to talk any further to the media. A story on September 11 said this: "[Westmoreland County spokesman] Stephens said the passenger gave the dispatcher information about the situation on the plane, but said the FBI has ordered details not to be released." (Mike Wagner & Ken McCall, Pennsylvania Crash Might Yield Important Evidence, Cox News Service).

The FBI's attempt to quash the explosion/911 story seems to have worked ? the story has completely vanished from the American media. Completely. In a LEXIS search of all newspapers and magazines, I could find only one story after September 15 that mentioned the 911 call and the explosion (and that story was on September 17). No one -- literally no one has mentioned that 911 call and the explosion in an American newspaper since. (Neither does any news story mention Glenn Cramer -- the emergency dispatcher who took the 911 call -- after September 17.)

Isn't that odd? I know that the stories of the other phone calls from Flight 93 were much more heroic and inspiring. But isn't it strange that we have heard simply nothing whatsoever about what could have caused the explosion that the 911 caller heard? Nothing?

And it's not like the 911 call was the only evidence. Witnesses on the ground confirmed hearing a pre-crash explosion. ABCNews reports: "One eyewitness to the Pennsylvania crash, Linda Shepley, told television station KDKA in Pittsburgh that she heard a loud bang and saw the plane bank to the side before crashing." A September 12 story says that some witnesses "said they heard up to three loud booms before the jetliner went down." (Outside Tiny Shanksville, A Fourth Deadly Stroke, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, p. A-13). Another reporter noted, "Witnesses reported eerie sounds from the aircraft as it fell. Some people heard an explosion, and others heard sputtering." (Danny Butler, Passengers might have tackled hijackers, Herald Sun, p. 8.) And the Daily American, a local Pennsylvania newspaper, printed this recollection:

Laura Temyer of Hooversville RD1 was hanging her clothes outside to dry before she went to work Tuesday morning when she heard what she thought was an airplane. "Normally I wouldn't look up, but I just heard on the news that all the planes were grounded and thought this was probably the last one I would see for a while, so I looked up," she said. "I didn't see the plane but I heard the plane's engine. Then I heard a loud thump that echoed off the hills and then I heard the plane's engine. I heard two more loud thumps and didn't hear the plane's engine anymore after that."

Some suggest that the hijackers set off a bomb. After all, some of the other passengers who made phone calls said that the hijackers claimed to have a bomb with them.

But the FBI has announced that NO bomb went off aboard Flight 93. On September 24, FBI spokesman Bill Crowley said, "The conclusion of the investigation is that no explosives were used on board the plane." (Tom Gibb, FBI Ends Site Work, Says No Bomb Used, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Sept. 25, 2001, p. A1.)

Even if there had been a bomb, wouldn't the noise show up on the cockpit voice recorder? One would think so, but even though the FBI recovered the voice recorder within two days of the crash (see Bill Heltzel & Tom Gibb, 2 Planes Had No Part in Crash; Business Jet Military Cargo Plane Were in Area of Hijacked United Flight 93, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Sept. 16, 2001, p. A-10), they have not yet released the slightest hint that there was any explosion recorded thereon. Again, an oddity, considering the extraordinary amount of detail that they have released about other aspects of the overall investigation. (All that the FBI has said about the voice recorder is that it recorded screaming and sounds of a struggle, see Kevin Johnson & Alan Levin, Recorder captures passengers' fight with hijackers, USA Today, Oct. 4, 2001, p. A3, as well as some conversation that is being translated, see Amy Worden & Diane Mastrull, Flight 93 voice recorder caught little, Philadelphia Inquirer, Sept. 21, 2001.)

I want to reiterate that I'm not a conspiracy theorist. I should also make it clear that I wouldn't mind at all if, as some people have speculated, Flight 93 crashed because the military shot the plane down. I see no ethical principle that would forbid such an action. I'm just interested in finding out what really happened, and a healthy dose of skepticism about the official story seems warranted here. With all that has come out about the hijackings, no one has even attempted to explain the explosion that apparently took place aboard Flight 93.

Stuart Buck is a recent graduate of Harvard Law School.

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