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Was United Flight 93
shot down on Sept. 11?

Echoing reports made immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, several eyewitnesses claim in a report by London’s Daily Mirror that they saw a “military-type” plane flying around United Airlines Flight 93 when the hijacked passenger jet crashed in rural Pennsylvania — prompting the unthinkable question of whether the U.S. military shot down the plane.

Although the evident onboard struggle between hijackers and passengers – immortalized by the courageous “Let’s roll” call to action by Todd Beamer – became one of the enduring memories of that disastrous day, the actual cause of Flight 93’s crash, of the four hijacked jumbo jets, remains the most unclear.

The Mirror report quotes multiple residents in and around Shanksville, Pa., describing the crash as they saw it, several claiming to have seen a second plane – an unmarked military-style jet. According to the report:

The report cites other disturbing evidence at odds with the official scenario that passengers overpowered the four highjackers and forced the plane down, preventing it from crashing into a presumed high-profile intended target like the White House or the Capitol. For instance, the Mirror reports some witnesses’ claims that they could see smoke and flames coming out of Flight 93 as it fell, indicating a possible onboard explosion. Far more disturbing is the question of whether a U.S. fighter pilot shot down the jumbo jet to stop its being used as a giant missile, as the other three hijacked planes had been that morning.

Of course, well founded uncertainly as to just what happened to Flight 93 is nothing new. Just three days after the worst terrorist attack in American history, on Sept. 14, 2001, The (Bergen County, N.J.) Record newspaper reported that five eyewitnesses reported seeing a second plane at the Flight 93 crash site.

“In separate interviews,” reported the Record, “five residents who live and work less than four miles from the crash site said they saw a second plane flying erratically within minutes of the crash of the Boeing 757 that took off from Newark two hours earlier Tuesday morning.”

One of the witnesses early on was Susan Mcelwain. Two others were Dennis Decker and Rick Chaney, who were at work making wooden pallets when they heard an explosion and came running outside to watch a large mushroom cloud spreading over the ridge.

“As soon as we looked up, we saw a mid-sized jet flying low and fast,” Decker told the Record. “It appeared to make a loop or part of a circle, and then it turned fast and headed out. ” Describing the plane as a Lear-jet type, with engines mounted near the tail and painted white with no identifying markings, Decker said, “If you were here to see it, you’d have no doubt. It was a jet plane, and it had to be flying real close when that 757 went down.”

“If I was the FBI,” he added, “I’d find out who was driving that plane.”

That same day, reported the Record, FBI Special Agent William Crowley said investigators could not rule out that a second plane was nearby during the crash. He later said he had misspoken, dismissing rumors that a U.S. military jet had intercepted the plane before it could strike a target in Washington, D.C.

Although government officials insist there was never any pursuit of Flight 93, they were informed the flight was suspected of having been hijacked at 9:16 am, fully 50 minutes before the plane came down.

The Daily Mirror cites other factors bolstering the case for a possible shootdown of UA Flight 93:

‘A horrendous decision’

On the Sept. 16, 2001, edition of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Vice President Dick Cheney, while not addressing Flight 93 specifically, spoke clearly to the administration’s clear policy regarding shooting down hijacked jets.

Vice President Cheney: “Well, the — I suppose the toughest decision was this question of whether or not we would intercept incoming commercial aircraft.”

NBC’s Tim Russert: “And you decided?”

Cheney: “We decided to do it. We’d, in effect, put a flying combat air patrol up over the city; F-16s with an AWACS, which is an airborne radar system, and tanker support so they could stay up a long time…

“It doesn’t do any good to put up a combat air patrol if you don’t give them instructions to act, if, in fact, they feel it’s appropriate.”

Russert: “So if the United States government became aware that a hijacked commercial airline[r] was destined for the White House or the Capitol, we would take the plane down?”

Cheney: “Yes. The president made the decision … that if the plane would not divert … as a last resort, our pilots were authorized to take them out. Now, people say, you know, that’s a horrendous decision to make. Well, it is. You’ve got an airplane full of American citizens, civilians, captured by … terrorists, headed and are you going to, in fact, shoot it down, obviously, and kill all those Americans on board?

“… It’s a presidential-level decision, and the president made, I think, exactly the right call in this case, to say, I wished we’d had combat air patrol up over New York.'”

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