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How long did it take for Flight 93 to crash?

On September 11, 2001, four commercial airliners were hijacked by terrorists as part of a coordinated attack against the United States. Two of the planes crashed into the World Trade Center towers in New York City, one plane hit the Pentagon building in Arlington, Virginia, and the fourth plane, United Airlines Flight 93, crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Flight 93 took about 46 minutes from the time of its hijacking to the time it crashed.

The Hijacking of Flight 93

United Airlines Flight 93 was scheduled to fly from Newark, New Jersey to San Francisco on the morning of September 11, 2001. The flight was delayed by about 45 minutes due to airport congestion. It ultimately took off from Newark at 8:42 AM Eastern Time.

There were 37 passengers, 2 pilots, and 5 flight attendants on board, for a total of 44 people. The flight was hijacked by four al-Qaeda terrorists at 9:28 AM, just 46 minutes after takeoff. The hijackers stabbed and killed one passenger and two flight attendants and forced their way into the cockpit. They then took over control of the plane.

Flight 93’s Airborne Time

After the hijacking occurred at 9:28 AM, Flight 93 stayed in the air for another 46 minutes before crashing at 10:03 AM in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. This gave the total airborne time of Flight 93 as approximately 1 hour and 21 minutes:

Flight 93 Takeoff 8:42 AM Eastern
Flight 93 Hijacked 9:28 AM Eastern
Flight 93 Crashed 10:03 AM Eastern
Total Airborne Time 1 hour 21 minutes

During those 46 minutes after the hijacking occurred, several passengers and crew members were able to make phone calls and learned that other hijacked planes had been crashed into buildings. Realizing their plane was also going to be used in a suicide attack, they decided to revolt against the hijackers. Their actions likely caused the plane to crash prematurely in rural Pennsylvania before reaching its intended target, believed to be either the White House or the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

Details of the Hijacking and Crash

According to the 9/11 Commission Report, here is the detailed timeline of the major events regarding Flight 93 on the morning of September 11, 2001:

8:42 AM Flight 93 takes off from Newark airport
9:28 AM Hijackers breach cockpit and take over control of plane
9:35 AM One passenger/crew member makes a phone call reporting the hijacking
9:36 AM Flight 93 makes a turn toward Washington, D.C. area
9:45 AM Three more phone calls made reporting hijacking; passengers learn of WTC attacks
9:57 AM Passenger revolt against hijackers begins aboard plane
10:00 AM Passengers reported attempting to gain control of the plane
10:02 AM Plane rolls sharply left and right, then flips upside down
10:03 AM Flight 93 crashes in field near Shanksville, PA going 580 mph

In summary, it took the four hijackers about 7 minutes to infiltrate and gain control of the cockpit after Flight 93 took off at 9:28 AM. The passengers then became aware of the hijacking starting around 9:35 AM as they were able to make calls.

The passenger revolt started at 9:57 AM, roughly 30 minutes into the hijacking. For the final 6 minutes, they tried to gain control of the plane until it crashed at full speed upside down into an empty field at 10:03 AM. The whole flight lasted just 1 hour and 21 minutes, with the critical hijacking timeline only encompassing 46 minutes.

Confusion and Misreporting About Crash Timing

In the chaos on 9/11, there was a lot of confusion in media reports about when exactly Flight 93 crashed. Some early reports stated times as early as 10:06 AM and as late as 10:37 AM. One factor adding to the uncertainty and misreporting was a seismic event detected by a seismograph at 10:06 AM near Shanksville that some initially wrongly attributed to the crash impact time.

In reality, the consensus agrees that the precise time the plane crashed was 10:03 AM based on several corroborated sources:

  • Cockpit voice recording – The sound of the crash impact was recorded by the cockpit voice recorder at 10:03 AM.
  • Flight data recording – The flight data recorder showed a loss of data at 10:03 AM.
  • NTSB investigation – Analysis of flight data recorder, cockpit recordings, air traffic control transcripts, and impact analysis narrowed crash time to 10:03 AM.
  • Caller corroboration – Analysis of passenger cell phone call times corroborated the crash at 10:03 AM.

Despite some early erroneous media reports, the comprehensive NTSB and 9/11 Commission investigations conclusively found that the crash time of Flight 93 was 10:03 AM.

Cockpit Voice Recorder Reveals Details

The cockpit voice recorder, recovered from the crash site, provided important timing evidence and details about events in the final minutes of Flight 93 before its crash. According to the transcript from the CVR, here is the sequence of events:

9:58:50 Voice identified as hijacker pilot heard
9:59:15 Sounds of passenger revolt heard entering cockpit
9:59:58 Hijacker pilot starts chanting and rolling the plane
10:00:03 Passengers shout in effort to gain control
10:00:36 Hijacker chants “Allah akbar! Allah akbar!”
10:01:00 Airplane rolls hard left and inverts upside down
10:01:09 Crash impact sounds begin
10:03:02 End of recording – estimated crash time

The CVR shows the hijacker pilot was chanting loudly and rolling the plane aggressively right before impact, likely to thwart the passenger revolt. The cockpit breach and crash followed shortly after. This close-to-impact CVR transcript revealed important details and corroborated the 10:03 AM crash time.

Factors Allowing Passenger Revolt

Unlike the other hijacked flights on 9/11, Flight 93 encountered a different set of circumstances that enabled the passengers to mount a revolt:

  • Delayed takeoff – The delayed departure meant they were 35 minutes behind schedule.
  • Longer flight time – Flight 93’s intended West Coast destination gave more airborne time before their likely Washington D.C. target.
  • Passenger phone calls – Ability for passengers to learn of WTC attacks fueled their decision to act.
  • Smaller passenger cabin – The 757 only had 37 passengers allowing planning to organize their counterattack.
  • Slower to kill passengers – The 4 hijackers waited longer than other flights, allowing more phone calls.

These factors combined gave the passengers enough situational awareness, time, information, and opportunity to make the heroic choice to act against the hijackers and stop an even greater loss of life.

Wreckage and Debris Scattered Widely

The flight path and impact speed of Flight 93 created a devastating crash scene with debris scattered over a very large area in the rural reclaimed strip mine area near Shanksville. The wide debris field provided investigators important clues about the flight’s final moments. According to the FBI, key details about the crash site included:

  • Crash site area – 8 miles in total diameter around the impact crater
  • Largest pieces – Largest airplane fragments were no bigger than a telephone book
  • Debris field – Primary debris field measured 300 yards diameter, with lighter debris scattered miles further
  • Impact crater – Crater was 15 feet deep and 30 feet wide
  • Missing wreckage – 95% of plane wreckage buried in crater or scattered widely

The extreme shattering of the plane indicates it was traveling at very high speed inverted and pointed almost straight down when it crashed. This condition created an ultra-destructive impact that left very little intact wreckage. The wide debris radius proved that the plane was completely fragmented on impact.

Memorials and Tributes Constructed

Several memorial sites and tributes have been constructed to honor the 40 victims of Flight 93 and the heroic actions of the passengers and crew who saved countless lives:

  • Flight 93 National Memorial – The 2,200 acre national park at crash site containing memorial plaza, visitor center, walls inscribed with names, walking paths, and ceremonial gates.
  • Tower of Voices – A 93 foot tall musical tower with 40 wind chimes representing each victim, installed at memorial in 2018.
  • Wall of Names – Marble wall inscribed with names of all victims at Ground Zero 9/11 memorial in NYC.
  • Heroes Award – Posthumous award from Congress given to civilians for extreme acts of bravery like Flight 93 passengers.

These memorials help ensure the incredible sacrifice made by those aboard Flight 93 continues to be honored and remembered for generations to come. The passengers of Flight 93 earned their place in American history as true heroes who stood up to terror in the country’s darkest hour.


In summary, Flight 93 was hijacked 46 minutes after takeoff at 9:28 AM on September 11, 2001. After learning their likely fate through phone calls, a courageous group of passengers and crew revolted approximately 30 minutes later around 9:58 AM. Their brave actions resulted in the plane crashing near Shanksville, Pennsylvania just 6 minutes later at 10:03 AM instead of hitting the hijackers’ intended target in Washington D.C.

The comprehensive NTSB and 9/11 Commission investigations conclusively determined the crash time as 10:03 AM through extensive analysis of all available evidence. Testimony from callers combined with the recovered cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder proved invaluable in piecing together the full timeline of events during Flight 93’s final moments.

The wreckage debris field indicated an extremely high-speed inverted impact that obliterated 95% of the plane. The passengers onboard Flight 93 made the heroic choice to sacrifice their lives to save countless others in one of the most remarkable acts of bravery in American history, forever enshrined by memorials constructed in their honor.