ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Passengers and flight attendants aboard the hijacked plane that crashed Sept. 11, 2001, in a Pennsylvania field made more than three dozen frantic phone calls depicting chaos and fear aboard United Flight 93 and a realization by many passengers that they were about to die, according to court testimony Tuesday.
The phone calls described brave schemes for battling the hijackers -- a flight attendant was boiling water to throw on them, a passenger was hoping to fight back with a breakfast knife -- consistent with the well-known accounts of heroic passengers swarming the four terrorists. But they also revealed a fatalism among many passengers who were gradually realizing they would become part of the day's death toll.
The calls also showed that most of the passengers were confused about how many hijackers had commandeered the plane, where they came from or whether their weapons were knives or a bomb or both.
And their chance at survival seemed all the more futile when they learned through the phone calls that two other planes had been flown into the World Trade Center in New York; they expected that their hijackers "were going to take this one down as well."
The calls were summarized by a police officer testifying in the Zacarias Moussaoui sentencing trial. Prosecutors said 37 phone calls were made by 13 passengers and flight attendants, most of them using air phones.
Two of the calls were from cellphones, including one made from one of the plane's rear lavatories to a county sheriff's office in Pennsylvania. Edward Felt, a passenger, barely was able to report that there was a "hijacking in progress" when he was disconnected.
Prosecutors plan to wrap up their case today by playing the cockpit recording tape that was recovered from the strip mining field near Shanksville, Pa., where the plane crashed.
That recording has been played only for relatives of the passengers and crew. Its airing for the Moussaoui jury will mark the first time the public will hear how some passengers dealt with the hijackers in the cockpit.
The prosecutors Tuesday played two other tapes from the cockpit that were picked up by ground control. In those tapes, the pilots shouted as hijackers broke into the cockpit.
"Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!" a pilot screamed in the first tape.
In the second tape, 30 seconds later, a pilot shouted: "Mayday! Get out of here! Get out of here!"
At that point, the plane, bound from Newark, N.J., to San Francisco, had just crossed over Ohio. The hijacker pilot, identified as Ziad Jarrah, turned it back and headed east.
The trial has shown that top Al Qaeda leaders had planned for that plane to crash into the U.S. Capitol building in Washington. Instead the flight ended in a nose dive into the Pennsylvania field after passengers tried to overcome the terrorists.
Aboard were two pilots, five flight attendants and 33 passengers. Also along were four hijackers -- one fewer than the teams of five assigned to each of the three other planes that struck the trade center and the Pentagon.
To document for the jury the Flight 93 calls, prosecutors brought Det. Sgt. Ray Guidetti of the New Jersey State Police to the witness stand. He was assigned to an FBI anti-terrorism task force in Newark, and he methodically led the jury through what law enforcement had pieced together from passengers' family members and friends of the last minutes of the flight.
Honor Wainio called her parents. "She realized she was going to die," Guidetti said. "But she had to go because everyone was running toward the cockpit."
Linda Gronlund called her sister and left a voicemail message. "Men with a bomb," she said. She knew the trade center had been attacked and she was "afraid the hijackers were going to take this one down as well," Guidetti said.
Thomas Burnett Jr. expected the hijackers to just ditch the plane. He feared they planned simply to "fly it into the ground," Guidetti said.
Marion Britton called a friend. Guidetti said the friend told her: "Don't worry. They'll probably take you to another country." But like the others, Britton was bracing for the worst. She said two people's throats had already been cut.
"It felt like the plane was turning and was going to crash," Guidetti said Britton told her friend. The friend then heard screams and the phone went dead.
Mark Bingham made four calls. He reported the plane had been "hijacked by three men with a bomb." Then he said he was sending his love, Guidetti said.
Flight attendants also were calling. Sandra Bradshaw three times speed-dialed a United Airlines office. She reported there were only two hijackers, one in the cockpit, the other in first class. She said the men "appeared to be Islamic" and that "the little guy was wearing a red band on his head."