The captain of United Flight 93—he, his brave crew and passengers fought back a band of terrorist hijackers and thwarted an attack that, if successful, would surely have killed thousands of innocent people.
At age 13, Jason Dahl joined the Civil Air Patrol and took flying lessons which eventually led to a private pilot’s certificate. In 1980 he graduated from San Jose State University with a degree in aeronautical engineering; his first commercial job was that of a corporate pilot. In 1984, he applied for and was hired as a flight-crew member with United Airlines.
Eventually he became a “standards” pilot, evaluating the performance of other pilots. This job allowed him to spend more time at home with his wife, Sandy, and his son, Matthew. Jason was very supportive of his family and would sometimes trade flights to be home for Matthew’s scouting and Little League activities. In order to attend an anniversary celebration, Captain Dahl agreed to fly on September 11, 2001.
The idea of a hijacking was almost unbelievable on American soil during the latter part of the 20th Century. However, on September of 2001, all of that was about to change. With Captain Dahl in charge, United Flight 93 took off from Newark, New Jersey, on a flight to San Francisco, California. At 9:23 a.m., a United Airlines dispatcher sent a message to Flight 93 saying, “Beware of any cockpit intrusion--two aircraft have hit World Trade Center.” At 9:26 a.m., Captain Dahl sent a message back saying, “Ed, confirm latest mssg plz-- Jason.” Two minutes later, the hijackers attacked Captain Dahl and First Officer, LeRoy Homer.
Sandy Dahl, herself a flight attendant for United Air Lines, said that her husband, “stayed in the cockpit with the hijacker-pilot; he was injured, but not dead, for some time.” She has a theory that her husband put the plane on autopilot just before he lost consciousness. She says that her husband was also able to enter an emergency code into the transponder. He also made it possible for air traffic control to hear the hijackers state that there was a bomb on board and they were returning to the airport. This was heard by air traffic control personnel, but not the passengers.
Of the 33 passengers on the plane, at least 10 made calls to the ground. Several made cell phone calls or used in-seat phones, and that is where they learned about the bombing of the World Trade Center. Two of the terrorists ordered the passengers to go to the back of the plane, and one other man had a red box strapped to himself, indicating that it was a bomb. After much discussion and planning, passengers decided to attack the hijackers with an objective of storming the cockpit. One passenger by the name of Todd Beemer, was heard on an open cell phone to say the immortal words, “Are you ready guys? Let’s roll!” This battle cry embodied the spirit of Flight 93 and all of America. The passengers somehow made their way 100 feet forward to gain access to the cockpit. “The hijackers remained at the controls but must have judged that the passengers were only seconds from overcoming them,” according to the findings of the 9/11 Commission Report. “With sounds of the passengers’ counterattack still in progress, the aircraft plowed into an empty field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, at a speed of nearly 580 miles per hour.”
Younger youth. Sometimes people feel they need to resort to use of alcohol or drugs to bolster their courage or to confront their worst fears. That certainly was not the case with Captain Dahl and the brave passengers and crew of Flight 93. Knowing full well the risks they faced, they marshaled their courage and responded without hesitation, even at the risk of death, to confront their terrorist captors. And they succeeded, surprising the terrorists and forcing the plane to crash, even at the expense of their own lives. That is courage- drug-free courage. Way to be!
Older youth. What is courage? We watch war movies on TV, and read stories of people struggling to cope with extraordinary circumstances under difficult, seemingly impossible conditions. Firemen fighting a major fire, and policemen responding to crimes in progress certainly require a certain amount of courage to even be willing to seek that kind of employment. But here average people just flying on a commercial airliner and expecting to arrive at their destination without difficulty suddenly find themselves faced with an urgent, desperate and immediate life-threatening situation. Several of them, knowing full well that they probably would not survive, took matters into their own hands and decided to confront their terrorist hijackers. Their pilot, also realizing the terrible situation facing him, intentionally took measures to thwart the hijackers and prevent them from crashing into the White House- even at the cost of his life and those of his passengers. We sometimes see actors in movies resorting to alcohol to bolster their courage. That may work well to enhance the story line, but in every day terms, it is not real or practical. Imagine if Captain Dahl and his passengers, once confronted by the terrorist hijackers, instead decided to have a drink before acting. Imagine the likely outcome. But they chose wisely and correctly—to deal with the situation in a stone-cold sober manner. And with the immortal words, “Let’s roll!” they succeeded in foiling the terrorist plot, even at the expense of their own lives. That’s courage—drug-free courage. Drug-free, Way to be!
Captain Jason Dahl, his crew and all the passengers on board Flight 93 will forever be remembered for their bravery when they thwarted a band of terrorist cowards from killing even more innocent Americans. Those on board Flight 93 sent word to all the world, that America will fight back. God Bless America.
Photo of United Boeing 757-200 by Mans Bardoah
This curriculum is sponsored by the Drug Demand Reduction
Program of the Civil Air Patrol National Headquarters
Maxwell AFB, Alabama
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