Dick Cheney gave the green light for the interception to commander Anthony Barnes, pictured, who was in direct contact with the vice-president and the Pentagon
A naval commander spoke for the first time about the phone call he made to Vice President Dick Cheney on 9/11 to get the power to shoot down a commercial plane.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, four planes were hijacked by Al-Qaeda militants who used them to overthrow the two towers of the trade center and hit the Pentagon. Flight 93 was the fourth aircraft.
During the morning's chaos, the only plane in the sky seemed to be a United 757 going directly to the country's capital.
Concerned for the safety of the people on the ground, F-16 hunters were scrambling from Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on the vice-president's order to take down the plane at all costs, United 93.
Dick Cheney gave the green light for the interception to commander Anthony Barnes, who had direct contact between the vice-president and the Pentagon.
& # 39; Once the plane was hijacked – even though it had a load of passengers on board that was clearly not part of an attempted hijack – given what had happened in New York and the Pentagon, you really had no choice. It was not a close call, & said Vice President Dick Cheney
Vice President Dick Cheney is depicted as the events of September 11 unfold
# I asked the vice president for permission to shoot an identified hijacked commercial aircraft that question and he answered it in the affirmative. I asked again to be sure. "Sir, I confirm that you have given your consent?" For me, as a military member and pilot – I understood the absolute depth of what that question was and what that answer was – I wanted to make sure there was no mistake whatsoever in what was being asked. Without hesitation, he said affirmatively that any confirmed hijacked aircraft may be occupied and shot.
Commander Barnes surprising phone call is detailed in a new book, The only plane in the sky: an oral history of 9/11.
He continues: & # 39; I knew without a doubt that that was a historical precedent – that we had never given permission to shoot a commercial aircraft before. I called back – it was a kind of general in the Pentagon – and on the secure line I was talking about, I made sure he understood that I had asked the National Authority (the vice-president) the question and the answer was affirmative. We have ensured that we do not stutter or stumble because the emotion was very, very high at the time. Fortunately we did not have to use that authority.
& # 39; Once the plane was hijacked – even though it had a load of passengers on board that was clearly not part of an attempted hijack – given what had happened in New York and the Pentagon, you really had no choice. It was not a close call, & said Vice President Dick Cheney.
Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice meet in the President's Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) during the 9/11 terrorist attacks
Vice President Dick Cheney, right, speaks by phone with President George W. Bush on September 11, 2001 at The Operations Center in the White House after the attacks. At Cheney, staff, including presidential counselor Karen Hughes, left, and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, are center
Those in charge decided not to take any risks after the Pentagon was also attacked on 9/11 when a hijacked American Airlines flight hit the building and caused major damage on the west side of the building
While Commander Barnes was talking, a few F-16 fighter pilots signed up for a & # 39; suicide mission & # 39; to take down the hijacked plane.
Lt. Heather & # 39; Lucky & # 39; Penney, an F-16 pilot with the DC Air National Guard at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, belonged to the group of pilots who were ordered in the air for fear that the hijacked aircraft was on its way to the White House or Capitol.
The pilots were told to take down the plane without using live ammunition or missiles, effectively killing themselves and everyone on board.
Penney was a young blonde in her twenties at the time of the terrorist attacks and was so in love with flying that jet fuel almost flowed through her veins.
She was one of the first starting female fighter pilots to sign up as soon as she heard the news that combat aviation was opened to women.
Lt. Heather & # 39; Lucky & # 39; Penney, an F-16 pilot with the D.C. Air National Guard at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, was ordered to intercept the hijacked aircraft en route to D.C.
Lt. Col. Marc Sasseville, an F-16 pilot with the US Air Force, joined Penney in her mission to take down the hijacked plane
Penney's mission was to intercept the hijacked aircraft on its way to Washington and destroy it as it could.
Recalling that fateful day, the rookie pilot was told that there was only one way to take the plane down.
& # 39; We wouldn't shoot it. We would ram the plane. I would essentially be a kamikaze pilot, & she said Politics in an interview in a new book.
At that time, there were no armed F-16 & # 39; s ready at Andrews Air Force Base, and it would take almost an hour to get them armed. There just wasn't time.
Battle jets had to be in the air to protect Washington, and they had to be in the air immediately.
& # 39; Fortunately, you are coming with me, & # 39; cried Lieutenant Colonel Marc Sasseville.
Mr. Sasseville, an F-16 pilot with the US Air Force: now stationed at the Pentagon, said: & We are not training to take down planes. If you just hit the motorcycle, it can still slide and you can lead it to a goal. My thought was the cockpit or the wing. & # 39;
Heather Penney's mission on the morning of September 11 was to find United Flight 93 – and destroy it as she could
Penney was one of the first starting female fighter pilots to register with the Air Force
Penney applied as a fighter pilot as soon as she heard that women were offered the opportunity
He admitted he thought of the possibility of using his shooting chair to jump out just before he hit the jet.
But Penney said it was a much bigger concern to shoot from her plane and miss the target and miss the mission, even if it saved her life.
& # 39; While we were setting up our flight gear in the livelihood shop, Sass looked at me and said, "I ram the cockpit." I decided that I would take the tail off the plane, "Penney recalled.
She said: & # 39; I knew that if I were to remove the tail from the aircraft, it would essentially go straight down and thus minimize the debris pattern. & # 39;
"As we go to the jets, Lucky and I had a quick conversation about what we were going to do and how we would in principle do the unthinkable if we had to," Sasseville said.
& # 39; This sounds counter-intuitive & # 39 ;, Penney says, & # 39; but when the magnitude of the situation struck me, I really lost all emotion. It was really much more focused on What are the things I need to do to protect our capital? What are the things I need to do to get us up in the air? & # 39;
She made the usual preparations for the flight, left, and walked to where they believed it was a hijacked plane.
On the morning of September 11, the F-16 fighter jets were not armed and there was not even time to perform flight checks
Heather Penney is now a mother of two who has not lost her passion for flying
& # 39; I was never trained in clambering (mobilizing) the aircraft. Normally it takes about 20 minutes to start the jets, launch the avionics systems, go through all flight controls to check if the systems are working properly, program the computers on the aircraft, & # 39; Penney explained.
& # 39; We usually scheduled about half an hour to 40 minutes from the moment you walked out the door to the moment you actually left. I just got my radios & # 39; s and I shouted to my crew chief: "Pull the blocks!" He pulled the blocks and I pushed my gas pedal.
& # 39; I was taxiing to leave immediately. I didn't even have an inertial navigation unit. I hadn't set it up. It was lucky, it was a clear blue day because we didn't have all the avionics. They weren't awake yet when we left, & Penney said.
The rudder F-16 fighter jets passed the destroyed Pentagon, flew low and searched the sky.
Penney remembers how she got into the F-16, taxied, and then immediately set off to look for the hijacked spot
Vice President Dick Cheney gave the pilots the ultimate power to shoot the plane.
& # 39; Sass and I had fully expected to intercept and take flight 93, & # 39; said Penney. & # 39; I really believed this was the last time I left. If we did it right, this would be it. & # 39;
& # 39; I addressed this moral or ethical justification of the needs of many versus the needs of a few, & # 39; Sasseville noted.
Only hours later did the couple discover that United 93 had already crashed in a field outside of Shanksville in western Pennsylvania.
The 33 passengers from Flight 93, who were traveling from Newark, New Jersey to San Francisco, had fought back. The passengers, crew and the hijackers all died when they took down the plane.
& # 39; The real heroes are the passengers on flight 93 who were willing to sacrifice themselves & # 39 ;, said Penney.
& # 39; They made the decision we didn't have to make & # 39 ;, Sassville adds.
Flight 93 of United Airlines crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania where all 45 people died on board
Heather Penney spent the rest of September 11 in the air, piloted an F-16 like this, saw the president escort in Air Force One
Penney spent the remainder of September 11 in the air, clearing the airspace and accompanying President Bush through the country as he flew in Air Force One.
After the mission, Miss Penney became a major and flew two duty tours in Iraq.
Now a mother of two, she didn't have to make the ultimate sacrifice on 9/11 – a group of brave passengers did that instead.
& # 39; The real heroes are the passengers on flight 93 who were willing to sacrifice themselves. I was just a casual witness to history, & she said.
The full interviews are part of a new book entitled The only plane in the sky: an oral history of 9/11, published on September 10, 2019.
President George W. Bush is portrayed on the phone after hearing about the terrorist attack while attending a primary school in Sarasota, Florida. Also to the left of the photo are: Deborah Loewer, director of White House Situation Room, and senior adviser Karl Rove
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