A day that changed history

A bit behind schedule, but this week I finally got to watch the new Mayday on the fourth plane crash on 9/11 (thanks to husband, who watches them all).

Usually, I’m not very kin on this show. It is curious to watch, and some information might be somewhat useful if life takes a flip in the air, but in general, in my case, it just builds up fear. And I love flying.

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But the 9/11 episode caught my attention. This year they produced a new one, which walks the viewers through the United Airlines 93 flight from the moment of departure to crash, literally reproducing what was happening onboard minute by minute.

This plane was flying to San Francisco, but when hijacked it was initially flown toward Washington, D.C., presumably towards the United States Capitol. It never reached the new destination and crashed into a field in Stonycreek Township, Penn., after passengers thwarted the hijackers.

I guess since this plane never hit the target, I paid less attention to what was happening onboard. In the show, they tried to reproduce what was going on there by crumbs of a Mayday call and phone calls, black box records and testimonies of people related to those who died in that plane. (The last 30 minutes of the cockpit tape remains classified by the FBI, so the producers were working with a transcript and memories of relatives who were invited to listen to the last minutes of their spouses, siblings and children).

The further I was watching the show, the more the two things were getting to me. First, how brave those people onboard United 93 were. At the time there was an estimate of 5,000 people running the U.S. from the Capitol.

And second, what a huge role coincidence plays in our life. If not for the over 40 minutes of delay, this plane would be in the air and then crashed with the other three aircraft. And not realizing what was going on the passengers and crew probably wouldn’t even try to do anything. But once they knew about the twin towers, those brave people came up with a plan of taking over the plane. They waited until the plane was over the rural area, knowing that chances that they won’t make it out of it alive were too high, and executed their plan to the best of their abilities.

All 44 people on board were killed, including the four hijackers, but that was the only plane that was crashed that day with no casualties on the ground.

The further investigation showed that the military jets were authorized to act too late, and if not for passengers and the crew, who despite the circumstances, refused to give up, United 93 would have made it to its target. But they acted and probably prevented even a greater shift in tectonic platforms of the contemporary world.

After the show, I looked back at the last 19 years. I remember myself sitting at the kitchen table, eating dinner with the family back then. The TV was on and the first breaking news started coming up. I was pretty little, and for me, it looked completely unbelievable. Probably most of the world then had that vision of a safe and strong country, that was crashing along with the World Trade Centre. It was hard to take it as something real. But the changes that came after were even more unreal.

The U.S. outer security approach changed completely. The airport security control never looked as it was prior to 9/11 anymore. (Remember, there was the time we didn’t need to take shoes off and could actually bring our drinks onboard?) The American immigration rules also became way stricter; the country now deports many more people than they used to.

American inner security policies changed significantly as well, and many countries in the world followed that lead, allowing much greater interference of intelligence services into private lives of citizens. National security and defence are now the main priority.

The war against terrorism and related economic changes also affected people all around the world. The villains were known, named and wanted. And that could justify almost anything.

There were new heroes as well. Valiant firefighters, police officers and other first responders who were out of the spotlight before took the place of astronauts, sportspeople and business leaders.

Many young adults now, 19 years later, don’t know the world as it used to be before 9/11, and it definitely changed.

But after thinking about all that, I came back to the United 93. Those people accomplished a feat. The deadliest terrorist attack resulted in the deaths of almost 3,000 people and endless injuries. Most people were civilians, the terrorists’ favourite target. But cutting off the legislative head of the state would be a very different story.

Imagine what the world would look like if the Capitol would also have been destroyed that day...

© Copyright Estevan Mercury

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