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On tape, passengers heard trying to retake cockpit

9/11 jury relives final minutes of hijacked United Flight 93

From Phil Hirschkorn
CNN

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United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, about 80 miles from Pittsburgh.

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ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (CNN) -- Sounds of a 9/11 hijacking and a heroic struggle to retake the jetliner filled a courtroom Wednesday as jurors relived the final minutes of United Airlines Flight 93 through its cockpit voice recorder.

Prosecutors seeking the execution of admitted al Qaeda terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui played the tape for the first time in public, closing their case with high drama.

The 31-minute tape is punctuated by the voices of people saying they didn't want to die, cries of "No, no, no!" and "Oh, God!" and hijackers barking commands and praising Allah. (Read the transcript -- PDF)

Moussaoui, a 37-year-old French citizen, is the only person tried in this country for the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that claimed nearly 3,000 lives.

Every seat in the courtroom was taken as the static-filled recording was played. (Watch what riveted the courtroom -- 2:01)

The tape also was broadcast to 9/11 families at federal courthouses in six cities, including Newark, New Jersey, where Flight 93 originated with 33 passengers, seven crew members and four hijackers on board. It was bound for San Francisco.

The government's presentation included real-time graphics showing the plane's altitude, air speed and flight path. The information was retrieved from the flight recorder, also recovered from the Pennsylvania crash site.

The voices on Flight 93's cockpit recording, the only one recovered intact from the four planes hijacked on September 11, speak in English and Arabic.

The tape begins at 9:32 a.m., four minutes after the terrorists took control of the plane. (Watch for details on prayers to Allah and the cockpit confusion -- 5:36)

"Ladies and gentlemen: here the captain," says Ziad Samir Jarrah, the Lebanese hijacker the FBI has identified as the pilot. "Please sit down, keep remaining seating. We have a bomb on board. So sit."

Pressing the wrong button, he transmits his announcement to air-traffic controllers in Cleveland, Ohio.

"Is that United 93 calling?" a controller asks. There is no response.

At 9:34, the sounds of hijackers assaulting someone, possibly the pilot or co-pilot can be heard.

"Please, please, don't hurt me," a man says.

"Down, no more," a hijacker replies.

"Oh, God," says the man.

'I don't want to die'

The hijackers are heard shouting "sit down" many times.

At 9:35, a woman prosecutors identified as a flight attendant begs for her life.

"I don't want to die," she pleads.

"No, no, down, down," a hijacker responds.

"I don't want to die. I don't want to die," she repeats.

Loud female cries then are heard on the tape.

"Everything is fine. I finished," a hijacker says in Arabic.

Moussaoui sat serenely in court as the tape was played. He has testified that he "rejoiced" when, acting as his own lawyer in 2002, he first heard the recording.

At 9:39 Jarrah makes a U-turn, reversing his course to head east toward Washington. He again makes an announcement that is heard only by the air traffic controllers.

"Here's the captain: I would like to tell you all to remain seated. We have a bomb aboard, and we are going back to the airport, and we have our demands. So please remain quiet," he says.

"That's 93 calling?" a controller asks. Again, there is no reply.

Transponder turned off

One minute later, Jarrah or another hijacker in the cockpit, Saeed al-Ghamdi, a Saudi, switches off the transponder that enables air traffic controllers to track the plane.

"This green knob?" one of the hijackers asks the other in Arabic. "Yes, that's the one."

At 9:48 Jarrah sets his course. The plane is flying level at 17,000 feet.

Herded to the back of the plane, at least eight passengers and two flight attendants make phone calls that provide detailed information about the attack, New Jersey state trooper Ray Guidetti told the jurors on Tuesday.

Passengers calling from the plane are informed by people on the ground about the synchronized suicide hijacking attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Flight 93's passengers and crew decide to storm the cockpit.

One of the more storied calls comes from passenger Todd Beamer of New Jersey, who has a long conversation with a GTE Airphone operator, Lisa Jefferson. The call was not taped.

"Are you ready?" a fellow passenger asks Beamer toward the end of the call. "Let's roll," Beamer replies, according to Jefferson's previous account.

Run on cockpit

The passengers' counterattack on the cockpit begins at 9:57 a.m., the recording reveals.

"Is there something?" a hijacker asks in Arabic. "A fight?"

"Yeah," another replies.

Hijackers grab an axe to scare away the passengers who might peer through the cockpit door's peephole.

Jarrah makes a hard turn to the left, banking the plane. For the next minute, he rapidly pitches the plane from side to side, left to right, over and over again.

"Oh, Allah. Oh, Allah. Oh the most gracious," an Arabic voice inside the cockpit says.

Outside the cockpit, voices are heard saying, "In the cockpit. In the cockpit."

A hijacker says in Arabic, "They want to get in here. Hold, hold from the inside. Hold from the inside. Hold."

At 9:59 Jarrah points the plane's nose down, then jerks it back up. There are sounds of shouting and breaking glass.

"Is that it? Shall we finish it off?" a hijacker asks in Arabic.

"No. Not yet. When they all come, we finish it off," another hijacker responds in Arabic.

'Roll it!'

The passengers then make another run for the cockpit.

"In the cockpit! If we don't, we'll die," a male passenger says.

Seconds later, another passenger yells, "Roll it," a possible reference to a drink cart passengers might have used to ram the cockpit door.

"Cut off the oxygen," one of the hijackers says in Arabic, repeating the order three times.

Jarrah resumes pitching the plane from side to side.

Inside the cockpit the hijackers decide to crash the plane. "Pull it down. Pull it down," an Arabic voice says. The jetliner heads downward and rolls upside down.

"Allah is the greatest. Allah is the greatest!" one of the hijackers shouts over and over.

The tape ends at 10:03 as the plane nose-dives at an estimated 580 mph into a reclaimed coal field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, about 80 miles from Pittsburgh.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema decided last week to permit the government to play the tape for the jury. But she allowed only a written transcript to be released.

After the tape was played, Florida policeman Lorne Lyles testified that his wife, CeeCee, a 33-year-old flight attendant, called from the plane.

She told him, "Babe, I need for you to listen to me. My plane's been hijacked," he testified. "She said she hoped to see my smiling face again. I could hear the panic in her voice."

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