United 93: Film Review--Questions, Questions

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Will we, each of us, live or die heroically? Most of us will never know, right up to the exact moment of our death. We might, however, act exactly like the doomed passengers of United Flight 93, terrorized, dithering, agonizing before finally taking decisive action, according to the recent movie about the hijacked flight.

I saw the movie last weekend. A tense and suspenseful film, although how truthful it is, God only knows. Portrayed convincingly by an ensemble of unknown actors, together with a handful of real air traffic controllers who watched the events unfold on the ground, the movie succeeds while failing, leaving more questions than answers.

Months ago, The Discovery Channel commenced the myth-making in Flight 93 ' the Flight That Fought Back. This movie'United 93--unwinds in real time, in much the same time frame the hijacking occurred. Unfortunately, the viewer is never able to determine the actual, real time. No clocks are shown. Instead, for the first 30 minutes of this recent film, we often follow a series of blips on a radar screen that signify transponders, and overhear the brief radio commands from air traffic controllers.

What happens when transponders fail in flight? Since every second of response time is vital, automatic alarms on every radar screen within range would have alerted FAA controllers ' as well as NORAD and NEADS--that something was seriously wrong onboard the first hijacked plane, American Flight 11. That didn't happen in the movie, and you wonder why.

'Charged with protecting America 's industrial, political and population heartland, the Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) commanded eight armed, alert fighters on 15-minute standby to escort wayward aircraft,' wrote William Thomas (Google 911 Commission/911 Commission Hearings/911 Commission). 'But many more fighter jets were available to fly interceptions for the day's practice drill.'

Instead, in the movie, we watch outright bumbling and criminal negligence that would have justified long penitentiary sentences, if America possessed a justice system. Soon-to-be-promoted General Richard Myers couldn't be reached, reportedly having given orders not to be disturbed in a meeting. The Pentagon liaison shown in the movie is some hapless officer with little power. Likewise, the NORAD officer portrayed in the movie clamors for more fighter planes on the telephone.

While the passengers of United 93 fly westward, blithely unaware of what is happening around them, both Flight 11 and 175 turn abruptly off course. To the consternation of the air traffic controllers, the pilots do not respond. The controllers soon report one hijacking and then another. The planes are bound for the WTC.

Rather than to alert, emphatically and immediately, every other airline pilot in the sky that TWO commercial planes have been hijacked, and both have crashed into the WTC, the air traffic supervisors, especially FAA chief Ben Sliney, appear to waste precious moments in the movie.

Instead of radioing every pilot to lock their doors, they send a text message to the pilots of United 93. According to the film director of 'United 93,' the pilots questioned the message! As if TWO crashes at the WTC happened every day! Meanwhile, back on the ground, our $500 billion defense system is visibly disintegrating, like the airship Hindenburg.

Despite the many nagging questions while watching the movie--Did the hijackers really tie red headbands around their heads? Where in the hell was NORAD? Can people really carry on extended cell phone conversations while a plane rises and falls and careens through the sky at more than 500 MPH ?--as a heroic myth, the movie succeeds. You want to believe the passengers resisted after calling their loved ones. You want to believe perhaps more than a little truth and courage really was captured in the movie, United 93.

But as James Ridgeway recently noted in What You Won't See in Flight 93, the Film, the hijacking of United 93 could have been avoided altogether, while the plane was still at the terminal (security conveniently provided by an Israeli-owned company).

'If someone on the ground had acted, Flight 93, sitting on the Newark airport tarmac, might well have avoided the hijack. Flight 93 took off at 8:42 that morning, a few minutes before Flight 11 struck the WTC. It was not hijacked until 9:28 . It is simple fact that the FAA, American Airlines and the military knew about the 911 hijacking before Flight 93 took off.'

According to William Thomas' timeline, flight 11 should have been reported astray at 8:20 a.m. , as the transponder shut down a minute before.

Questions, Questions.

The chief unanswered question: How does a crashed airplane spread debris over several miles? While the passengers of United 93 might have fought to regain control, the pieces found floating in Indian Lake appear to indicate that 93 may have been shot down.

USAF blue beret Tom Kovach wrote: (Flight 93 was shot down (Part 1) 'There is nothing in the shoot-down scenario that negates the heroism of the passengers and crew of Flight 93. There is no doubt in my mind that they did, in fact, breach the cockpit door and physically attack the hijackers. But ' as even The Discovery Channel documentary notes ' shortly after the door was breached, the cockpit voice recorder ( CVR ) picks up the sound of the wind. The sound had not previously been recorded, even though the recording is continuous, and despite the fact that it picked up other sounds outside the cockpit.'

Another puzzling mystery: Why the eight minute time lapse between the minute all the cell phones ceased until the moment the plane crashed? Certainly one or more passengers would have remained on the phone to spouse or family member; they did not ALL rush to the front of the plane. Did they simply fly out of range of a cell tower?

The movie United 93 is certainly valid as a life-affirming scenario of events, but is hardly history. Indeed, I found the recent cable TV production of 'Flight 93,' which aired recently on A&E, to be a better overall film. While each portrayed the hijackers as cold-blooded suicide bombers, 'Flight 93' at least allowed the viewer to visualize the survivors on the ground, as they received desperate cell phone calls. That was particularly moving.

In conclusion, don't waste your money.

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Columns on STR: 136

Award winning artist, photographer and freelance journalist, Douglas Herman enjoys exploring the occasional ghost town or spooky conspiracy and can be found wandering the back roads of America. Recently Doug finished writing, directing and producing an independent feature film, naturally a "road movie," and credits STR for giving him the impetus to write well, both provocatively and entertainingly. A longtime gypsy, Doug completed a 10,000 mile circumnavigation of North America, by bicycle, at the age of 35, and still wanders between Bullhead City, Arizona and Kodiak, Alaska with forays frequently into the so-called civilized world of Greater LA.