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9/11 Passenger Uprising Theory Discounted

August 08, 2003|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — U.S. investigators now believe that a hijacker in the cockpit aboard United Airlines Flight 93 instructed terrorist-pilot Ziad Samir Jarrah to crash the jetliner into a Pennsylvania field because of a passenger uprising in the cabin.

This theory, based on the government's analysis of cockpit recordings, discounts the popular perception of passengers grappling with terrorists to seize the plane's controls.

The government's findings -- laid out deep within the report on the Sept. 11 attacks that was sent to Congress last month -- aim to resolve one of the enduring mysteries of the deadliest terror attacks in U.S. history: What happened in the final minutes aboard Flight 93?

The FBI maintains its analysis does not diminish the heroism of passengers who apparently had rushed down the airliner's narrow aisle to try to overtake the hijackers.

President Bush and Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft have regularly praised the courage of those aboard Flight 93, some of whom told family members by telephone that they were planning to storm the cockpit.

"While no one will ever know exactly what transpired in the final minutes of Flight 93, every shred of evidence indicates this plane crashed because of the heroic actions of the passengers," FBI spokeswoman Susan Whitson said Thursday.

Thirty-three passengers, seven crew members and the four hijackers died.

Citing transcripts of the still-secret cockpit recordings, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III told congressional investigators in a closed briefing last year that, minutes before Flight 93 crashed, one of the hijackers "advised Jarrah to crash the plane and end the passengers' attempt to retake the airplane."

Jarrah is thought to have been the terrorist-pilot because he was the only one of the four hijackers aboard known to have a pilot's license.

Mueller's description was disclosed in the 858-page report to Congress. Previous statements by government officials about what occurred in the cockpit have been ambiguous.

The same cockpit recording was played in April 2002 for family members of Flight 93 victims, with the FBI providing a transcript. Afterward, some family members indicated they were led to believe passengers used a food cart as a shield and successfully broke into the cockpit.

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