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Sept. 11, 2001: American Airlines Flight 77 streaked toward Washington, D.C., after being hijacked. NEADS – the North East Air Defense Sector of NORAD, received notice of the hijacking at 9:24 a.m. EST. Six minutes later, two F-16s were airborne from Hampton, Va.

The pilots, however, had not received permission to engage and destroy – just head for Washington, D.C. Seven minutes after wheels up, the American Airlines passenger jet crashed into the Pentagon. This was the third hijacked flight used as a missile to kill and maim that morning. So far, the air defense was playing catch-up.

Two minutes before the F-16s were airborne, the Federal Aviation Administration learned United Airlines Flight 93 had also been hijacked. Approximately 9:35 a.m., the hijacked plane began a left turn to the south near Cleveland, Ohio. By 9:39 a.m., it completed the turn and was aimed at Washington, D.C.

There would be no excuse for not stopping what had become a terrorist missile aimed at the seat of federal government. Plenty of supersonic, armed F-15s and F-16s were now in the air and within minutes of Flight 93, which would remain in the air for another 29 minutes.

Unprecedented political decisions were in the process of being made as Flight 93 and multiple United States F-16 fighters headed for a showdown near Shanksville, a small town in Pennsylvania. In Washington, D.C., an electronic conference was in progress.

The conference focused on Flight 93. A White House staffer would keep coming in with updates on Flight 93′s progress towards D.C., according to a Sept. 11, 2002, ABC News program. ABC’s Charles Gibson asked what “the target of that airplane might be?” Vice President Dick Cheney responded, “I thought probably White House or Capitol.”

Brig. Gen. W. Montague Winfield (U.S. Army) revealed that a “decision was made to try to intercept Flight 93. Gen. Winfield told ABC News that, “… the president had given us permission to shoot down innocent civilian aircraft that threatened Washington, D.C. …” The order was passed on to the pilots intercepting Flight 93.

“We started receiving reports from the fighters that were heading to, to intercept. The FAA kept us informed with their time estimates as the aircraft got closer and closer,” according to Gen. Winfield. Then, the picture presented to the ABC audience begins to blur. It seems that no one knows what happened next.

Gen. Winfield bravely attempted to give an explanation that said nothing: “And at some point, the closure time came and went, and nothing happened. So you can imagine everything was very tense in the NMCC. We had basically lost institutional awareness of where this airplane was.”

This terrorist missile in the form of a commercial airplane just seems to fade from institutional memory. One more telling quote comes from the ABC program, by Gen. Winfield: “It was about, you know, 10:03 that the fighters reported that Flight 93 had crashed.” The FBI seized Flight 93′s CVR (Cockpit Voice Recorder) and claims the tape stopped at 10:03 a.m.

But NORAD’s own timeline says the F-16s were still 11 minutes away from intercept when Flight 93 crashed. And, “Several leading seismologists agree that Flight 93 crashed last Sept. 11 at 10:06:05 a.m., give or take a couple of seconds,” according to a Sept. 16, 2002, Philadelphia Daily News article. Three minutes are not accounted for. When the feds begin dissembling as they did in the case of Flight 93, it is reasonable to infer that something occurred during those three minutes they wish to hide from the public.

Perhaps the fog descended on the feds because military aircraft were in the immediate area when Flight 93 crashed. Witness Susan Mcelwain told a reporter she observed a small jet: “It came right over me, I reckon just 40 or 50 feet above my minivan … it was so low, I ducked instinctively. It was traveling real fast, but hardly made any sound.” So from a vantage point of perhaps 50 feet from the airplane, she observed that “it had two rear engines, a big fin on the back like a spoiler on the back of a car and with two upright fins at the side …” Her statement makes it clear she observed this twin-engine jet on the deck just prior to Flight 93 crashing.

At least five other witnesses to this low-flying jet came forward and told their story to journalists. One witness, less than a half mile from the crash site, observed Flight 93 as it streaked toward the ground and crashed. He then, almost immediately, observed a small, white jet fly low to the ground over the crash scene, circle and immediately leave the area.

Shortly thereafter, the FBI began to attack the witnesses with perhaps the most inane disinformation ever – alleging the witnesses actually observed a private jet at 34,000 feet. The FBI says the jet was asked to come down to 5,000 feet and try to find the crash site. This would require about 20 minutes to descend and get over the crash, assuming the pilot immediately found it. The local fire and rescue found the site within minutes – so the FBI statement is nothing more than poorly thought out disinformation.

Several passengers – perhaps all – put into action an attempt to take back control of the airplane. By 10:03 a.m., they succeeded in fighting their way into the cockpit. It is at this point where the CVR recorded what may be a piercing of the fuselage – a wind or sucking noise.

On Sept. 13, 2001, barely 48 hours after the Twin Towers came down, the Nashua, N.H., Telegraph Newspaper reported that: “FAA air traffic controllers in Nashua have learned through discussions with other controllers that an F-16 fighter stayed in hot pursuit of another hijacked commercial airliner until it crashed in Pennsylvania …”

John Fleegle, Jim Brant and Carol Delasko were about two-and-a-half miles from what would soon become the Flight 93 crash site. According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, they “heard engines screaming close overhead. The building shook. We ran out, heard the explosion and saw a fireball mushroom …”

Delasko, “… said she thought someone had blown up a boat on the lake. ‘It just looked like confetti raining down all over the air above the lake.’”

This is probably the single most important observation. Within a second or two after Flight 93 passed over the Indian Lake Marina where Delasko, Brant and Fleegle stood, debris from the stricken plane began to fall into the lake. Lots of debris. Some of it on fire. And it was deposited in a compact area rather than as a continuous trail for some period of time.

Seismologists determined that Flight 93 crashed at 10:06 a.m. and 5 seconds. The 757 was perhaps 20 seconds from crashing when observed by Fleegle, Brant and Delasko. Its cargo area and passenger area had been opened by an explosion. News reports describe a large number of cancelled checks, stock broker documents, pieces of seats, small chunks of melted plastic and small human parts.

Also adding to the evidence is the fact that a 1,000-pound section of an engine fan was found 6,000 feet from the crash site. So, an external explosive event occurred that separated 1,000 pounds of engine, opened up a hole in the passenger cabin and cargo hold. The power of the explosion – or, more likely, the disintegration of the engine – sucked things out of the fuselage, through the jet engine – shredding seats, passengers and cargo.

When all the evidence is lined up, it is highly consistent with a heat-seeking missile striking Flight 93, probably around 10:05:30. The evidence strongly infers that the terrorists did not fly that jet into the ground, at least not without help from an external event. The evidence becomes compelling when the federal government’s factually false propaganda is factored in.

The president gave the vice president authority to issue the order to shoot down Flight 93. Col. Robert Marr, United States Air Force, when interviewed by ABC News remembered getting the orders: “The rules have changed. We could do something about it now.” The words he heard included: “We will take lives in the air to save lives on the ground.”

Col. Marr ordered his air controllers to intercept Flight 93. At this stage of the story, the Air Force falsely alleges that “the closest fighters are two F-16 pilots on a training mission from Selfridge Air National Guard Base near Detroit.” Col. Marr tells ABC News: “The real scary part is that those guys are up there on a training mission. They don’t have any weapons on board they can use.”

So, of course, the colonel is asked by someone down the chain of command how F-16s with no means of destroying a civilian aircraft are going to accomplish the mission. Colonel Marr’s answer: “We’re gonna put them as close to that airplane [as] they can get, in view of the cockpit, and convince that guy in that airplane that he needs to land.”

The transcript does not indicate anyone at ABC laughing at this point, so presumably it was a serious answer. An F-16 pilot is going eyeball-to-eyeball with a suicide pilot.

At least three F-16s were circling Washington, D.C., with nothing to do but burn fuel and do an aerial tour of the nation’s capitol. Each F-16 had six air-to-air missiles and plenty of fuel. Even more fortunate was the fact that Flight 93 was closing on these F-16s at 9-miles per minute, significantly reducing the time required to intercept Flight 93.

Common sense clearly indicates that if armed F-16s are available and in an advantageous position to intercept, these F-16s will be the primary dispatch – whether from the skies over Washington, D.C., or another location never revealed by the military.

Why would the president and his staff not admit the shoot-down? It was an extraordinarily difficult time in which to make political decisions. But it may have been much more than that. There is no reason to believe the CVR did not continue running until the plane crashed.

What if, when the Cockpit Voice Recorder was first played back, the missing three minutes were not missing? What if the CVR recorded the heroic passengers succeeding in taking over the cockpit? They were definitely on the offense when the CVR allegedly stopped. They had penetrated into the cockpit.

What if, in the cruelest of fates, just as these Americans win the fight and begin to fly the plane, a heat-seeking missile slams into an engine?

What if that is what the missing three minutes actually revealed? No president, no administration, would willingly destroy itself by releasing that CVR transcript.


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James Sanders, a former police officer turned investigative reporter, is the co-author of “First Strike: TWA Flight 800 and the Attack on America, among other books.

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