A HEROIC US Air Force fighter pilot has spoken of the moment she braced herself for a suicide mission to knock Flight 93 out the sky during the horror 9/11 attacks.
Lieutenant Heather ‘Lucky’ Penney was one of those tasked with stopping the hijacked plane “by any means possible” following the earlier attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.
However, as Lt. Penney and Lt. Col. Marc Sasseville had no missiles on board their F-16s they knew the only way to stop the United Airlines jet would be to “weaponise” their own planes.
“We would be ramming the aircraft. We didn’t have (missiles) on board to shoot the airplane down,” Lt. Penney said.
“As we were putting on our flight gear in the life support shop, Sass looked at me and said, ‘I’ll ram the cockpit.’ I made the decision I would take the tail off the aircraft.”
It had already been agreed by their bosses that this kind of attack would be a last resort if they could not otherwise divert the aircraft.
At the time, Sasseville said, he “was going into this moral or ethical justification of the needs of the many versus the needs of the few.”
It was a clearly a Kamikaze mission, but both pilots were ready to die if that’s what it took.
“I genuinely believed that was going to be the last time I took off,” Penney said. “If we did it right, this would be it.”
The suicide mission never happened as passengers took matters into their own hands and famously took on their hijackers with the call ‘let’s roll.’
Penney said: “The real heroes are the passengers on Flight 93 who were willing to sacrifice themselves.”
The passengers had earlier reported that the hijackers had assaulted the cockpit and forced people to the back of the plane claiming a bomb was aboard.
They then learned from conversations with their loved ones that the World Trade Center in New York and The Pentagon in Virginia had already been attacked.
It was at this time that passengers Mark Bingham, Todd Beamer, Tom Burnett and Jeremy Glick formulated a plan to overpower the hijackers.
When was 9/11?
On September 11, 2001, a group of al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four airliners.
Two planes – American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 75 – crashed into the North and South towers of the World Trade Center complex in New York City.
Another was flown into the Pentagon in Washington DC and the fourth crashed into a field in Pennsylvania after a struggle between the hijackers and passengers.
Of the 2,996 who died on 9/11, including the 19 hijackers, 2,606 were killed at the World Trade Center and the surrounding area.
Both towers collapsed following the impact, with debris causing more deaths and injury on the streets below.
Many people including the emergency response teams lost their lives trying to save others.
It was the worst loss of life due to a terrorist incident on US soil.
“Are you ready?” a fellow passenger was heard asking Beamer towards the end one phone call. “Let’s roll,” Beamer replied.
The passengers then make another run for the cockpit. “In the cockpit! If we don’t, we’ll die,” an unnamed male passenger says.
Seconds later, another passenger yells, “Roll it,” which was “a possible reference to a drink cart passengers might have used to ram the cockpit door.”
Juts after 10am, the plane crashed into a field near a reclaimed coal strip mine in Pennsylvania, just 20 minutes in flight time from Washington DC.
A new book called ‘The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11’ by Garrett M. Graff now details the harrowing moments before it all ended.
Graff’s book includes accounts from phone operators and loved ones who spoke to passengers aboard the flight before they brought it crashing down.
The news comes as a traffic map video has emerged which shows the mass grounding of planes in the wake of the terror attack which left thousands dead.
The animation was created by NASA using FAA air traffic control data from September 11, 2001.
It shows the rapid grounding of air traffic across the US, and redirection of incoming international traffic, in response to the terrorist attacks.