Flight 93 Ordered Shot Down
Here is a report from The Aquin, the student newspaper of the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, that contains the report that United Airlines Flight 93 was actually ordered to be shot down. The author is Dave Forster, St. Thomas class of 2002. This is an excerpt of an excerpt that appeared in the 2002 summer edition of St. Thomas' alumni magazine.
Unlike most Americans on the morning of September 11, St. Thomas graduate Anthony Kuczynski '98 wasn't watching the news. He was flying toward Pittsburgh alongside two F-16 fighter jets.
"I was given direct orders to shoot down the airliner," said Kuczynski, a first lieutenant in the Air Force. "It was one of those things where it was an absolutely surreal experience.
Kuczynski's E-3 Sentry was one of the few military planes in the sky during the opening moments of the terrorist attacks.
Less than four years after leaving St. Thomas' Air Force ROTC chapter, Kuczynski found himself in a six-month military deployment that began in defense of U.S. airspace, including hundreds of hours of combat missions, and ended with Operation Anaconda, the deadliest mission for U.S. troops thus far in the war in Afghanistan.
Just as Kuczynski and his crew were about to intercept United Airlines Flight 93 on Sept. 11, passengers on the hijacked plane apparently rushed the terrorists, and the airliner crashed southeast of Pittsburgh. From there, Kuczynski orbited an area near Washington, D.C., for the next 15 hours.
The story that passengers took over the plane and caused it to crash is part of the official version of what happened on 9-11, but this report that orders had actually been given to shoot the plane down is not. The former Canadian ambassador to the United States, Paul Cellucci, has told a Canadian audience that Flight 93 was ordered shot down, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in what he later claimed was an inadvertent misstatement, has said that the passenger plane was shot down (see http://www.freedomfiles.org/war/flight93.htm), but this is the only known instance in which an Air Force officer has stated that he was given orders to shoot the plane down.
Whatever caused the plane eventually to crash or to explode, one has to wonder about these orders. What was called for at this point, with the off-course airplane still hundreds of miles from Washington, was for it to be intercepted. That is to stay, a number of steps should have been taken to redirect the plane or force it to land before orders were given to use lethal force. First, radio contact should have been attempted to determine the pilot's intentions. If no contact was possible, or if the results otherwise proved unacceptable, cockpit to cockpit visual communication should have been attempted, with hand motions indicating that the plane should land. The next step for the interceptors should have been to fire shots across the bow. Only if all these other attempts to interdict the airliner's flight had failed would the actual destruction of the plane with the attendant loss of innocent life been called for. There is no indication in this article that any of those steps were taken.
One has to wonder why that airplane had to be destroyed and who ultimately gave the order.
An alert reader has pointed out that Lt. Kuczynski's plane, an E-3 Sentry, is an AWACS electronic monitoring plane that directs the fire of other airplanes. It's mission is not to shoot down other aircraft, although it might be armed to defend itself. So what do we make of this story, which I simply transcribed from the St. Thomas alumni magazine?
This was just a student reporter after all, so maybe he didn't quite understand what Lt. Kuczynski was telling him. Maybe the lieutenant was talking about the orders that his wing or his squadron received, as opposed to his own airplane's orders. Maybe the lieutenant was puffing himself up a bit by making it sound like he would have personally been shooting the lethal missile. What's newly interesting is the information that at least one AWACS was involved in monitoring what went on on 9-11. That makes it sound like the Air Force was a good deal more on top of things on that fateful day than we have previously been led to believe.
July 4, 2006
(I have learned 7-24-06 that the original Aquin article is here.)