On the eve of the 20th year since the September 11, 2001 Islamist terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, DC – to this day the most horrifying terrorist attack in the world – a US Air National Guard pilot recalled how she and her colleague were on a real “suicide mission” to ram the fourth hijacked plane, United Airlines Flight 93, to prevent the terrorists from crashing it into the US Capitol or another key building.
The pilots, Heather Penney and Lieutenant General Marc Sasseville, scrambled in a rush, without ammunition on their F-16 fighter jet, Penny told CBS in an interview.
They knew that at least one more passenger plane had been hijacked by al-Qaeda terrorists, besides those that were crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in NYC and the Pentagon.
Penney said that she and Sasseville knew as soon as they saw the first images of the attack that they had to “protect and defend.”
Their last takeoff
They immediately took off in their F-16 from Andrews Air Force in the state of Maryland, and they were aware their own chance was a kamikaze mission, i.e. to ram the passenger jet in order to prevent it from being used as a giant bomb the other three had just been used.
The fourth plane hijacked by the al-Qaeda Islamist fanatics is believed to have been destined for the US Capitol building.
United Flight 93 took off from Newark Airport in New Jersey at about 9:30 on 9/11/2001, and was headed to San Francisco.
The terrorists took control of it about 46 minutes into the flight and turned it around in the direction of Washington.
The two F-16 pilots, Sasseville and Penney, had only one choice to stop it, and that was “to ram the airliner,” the latter recalled 20 years later.
She said Sasseville was going to take the cockpit in order “to aim at the terrorists”, while she was going to take the tail.
Penney emphasized that the two of them “fully expected to intercept” United Flight 93 – “and take it down.”
The pilot made it clear she “genuinely believed” it was her last takeoff since “this would be it” – if they “did it right.”
She emphasized how neither of them had any doubts about ramming the hijacked passenger plane even though it was certain they wouldn’t survive.
As they took off in a rush, they didn’t receive an order down the chain of command, didn’t carry out the regular 20-minute pre-flight check, and didn’t arm their F-16 with missiles.
Sasseville, who was a colonel at the time and is now the No. 2 officer of the National Guard, recalled that they had no other option and that there was no way they would be “caught on the ground” as America might get “hit again.”
He added that they don’t train to down airliners and that they “didn’t have any missiles” or “combat loads of bullets.”
The only thing they could do was “hit the airplane” and “disable it somehow.”
The real heroes of 9/11
Before the two pilots could complete their suicide mission, however, the passengers of Flight 93, courageous everyday Americans, managed to fight back against the terrorists and crashed the plane in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, in a field, thus saving potentially thousands of lives – or at least the lives of Penney and Sasseville, if the pilots would have managed to complete their kamikaze mission.
Penney said the two owe their lives to the Flight 93 passengers – who have been immortalized in the movie of the same name.
Sasseville said they “are the real heroes” of 9/11 who “paid the ultimate price.”
As all 44 passengers on United Flight 93 plummeted to their heroic deaths, the passenger jet was about 20 minutes away from reaching Washington.
It was the only of the four planes hijacked by the al-Qaeda terrorists which didn’t hit its target.