Saturday, September 6, 2008

United Flight 93

When I first heard that United Flight 93 had crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, and that it was long enough after the World Trade Center catastrophe that people both on the ground and in the plane were aware that a similar fate was in store for this flight, and that its path had it aimed squarely at Washington DC, I assumed, as did anyone else with a functioning brain, that it had been shot down. And while I could argue both ways, there was certainly a case to be made for having done so.

I remember seeing on CNN how tightly the crash area had been sealed off, with absolutely no journalists permitted within the perimeters. I remember how the story disseminated that heroic passengers had engineered this result, not military missles. I was skeptical, to say the least.

But when, many months later, I learned that Linda Gronlund had been on board the flight, there was reason to reconsider. The Gronlunds were family friends when I was growing up, and Linda, a race car driver, karate expert, sailor, mechanic, EMT, environmentalist, and lots more, was pretty much the most can-do, resolute, fiercely determined person I've ever met. She called her sister Elsa via cellphone from the flight, and told her that the passengers understood the situation and that there was a plan to storm the cockpit. Demonstrating Linda's cool steely clarity of mind, she remembered to give Elsa precise instructions about where to find her will and other paperwork. Amazing.

I haven't seen the films or TV movies made about Flight 93, but I understand that none of them much featured Linda. I'm absolutely sure, though, that she was on the vanguard of whatever happened on that flight. Linda was born to storm cockpits.

Of course, what's unexplained is why the plane actually went down. One might guess that the hijackers, aware of a mob breaking down the cockpit door, executed a hard dive. But that would only have been a last ditch maneuver, as their goal wasn't to murder airplaine passengers, but to bomb the White House. I can't imagine geared-up fanatics executing an abortive dive without a fight. And, heroic as the passengers may well have been, they undoubtedly were aiming to gain control of the aircraft, rather than ditch it. So whence the downward plunge?

My guess is that both stories are right. I think the cockpit
was stormed (Linda Gronlund would not have sat quietly and failed to take action), and the plane was indeed shot down as it passed over the last rural landscape before entering more populated areas. 

My heartfelt hope is that the passengers hadn't just prevailed over the hijackers when the missiles arrived. I must avoid imagining that scenario. But I bet Linda would have understood even if it had played out that way.

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