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Editorial: Tomb of the unknowns / A heroic resistance may have brought down Flight 93

Sunday, September 16, 2001

It was a morning flight, at first like any other. United Airlines Flight 93 left Newark Airport bound for San Francisco. On board were 45 passengers and crew -- some bound for business, some on personal travel.

Two hours later, the trip ended in a spectacular crash in the woods near Shanksville, Somerset County. Flight 93 was the only one of the four hijacked jets Tuesday that, mercifully, did not reach its target.

The reason may be death-plunge heroics from some of its passengers. As the details have come out, pieced together from cell-phone conversations during the plane's final minutes, Flight 93's passengers learned that the World Trade Center in New York had suffered a terrorist attack while telling their loved ones that their own plane was being hijacked.

It's not clear that the passengers knew their suicidal captors' intended target -- authorities believe it was somewhere in Washington -- but, in a painfully brief time, they were faced with making the ultimate choice.

One passenger, Jeremy Glick, told his wife that he and others had decided to rush the cockpit and subdue the terrorists.

While it is impossible to be certain about subsequent events, it appears that the passengers were as good as their word. The plane plowed into the Pennsylvania countryside, never reaching the terrorists' intended destination.

It's hard to say whether another group of passengers would have done the same. But the lost travelers of Flight 93 looked death in the face and chose to take it only on their own terms. Who knows how many lives or how much additional suffering they saved the nation?

The civilians' rush of courage and the loss now thrust on their families are the highest form of self-sacrifice. They are American heroes of the first degree.

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