Skepticism and Flight 93

What thought process led you to your conclusion about the cause of Flight 93's crash?

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Conspiracies

Skeptoid #22
January 19, 2007
Podcast transcript | Listen | Subscribe

Today we're going to talk about something that's perhaps still a little too near & dear to the hearts of some: Flight 93, the fourth aircraft on September 11 that crashed in Pennsylvania on its way to a target, taking the lives of all 44 people on board, including the 4 hijackers. I think it's appropriate that the subject be discussed only after acknowledging that it was first and foremost a human tragedy, in which a lot of valuable family people were lost, and that we hold their memory in great respect.

There are two basic theories about Flight 93. The first, which is the government's official version, is that the plane crashed. The competing theory, favored by conspiracy theorists because it's the one denied by the government, is that Flight 93 was shot down by our own fighter planes.

Many discussions of Flight 93 that purport to be skeptical either choose one side or the other, and argue in favor of it, claiming that the competing theory is implausible, and citing all sorts of evidence in favor of whichever version they support. Well, that's not skepticism. Trying to justify a preconceived notion is simply spreading propaganda. Skepticism means to follow a critical thought process, examine all of the evidence, and arrive at a supported conclusion. I like Flight 93 as a skeptical topic, because it reminds us of what Dr. Shermer says: Skepticism is not a position, it's a process.

Flight 93 is an interesting case because the version of events favored by conspiracy theorists is, for once, not wholly implausible. We know for a fact that fighter jets were scrambled and that some were on an intercept course with Flight 93, and we know for a fact that we were prepared to shoot down any passenger jets that we had to on that day.

The National Transportation Safety Board has only the following quote about the cause of Flight 93: "The Safety Board did not determine the probable cause and does not plan to issue a report or open a public docket. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 are under the jurisdiction of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Safety Board provided requested technical assistance to the FBI, and any material generated by the NTSB is under the control of the FBI." And, of course, whatever the FBI has determined is not publicly available, and certainly will not be at least until after their investigation is finished, and who knows when that will be if ever. So, in the lack of an authoritative explanation of the exact cause of Flight 93's crash, we can only do our best to study the available information ourselves. Let's look at four debated points.

1. The mysterious "white jet" circling the crash site.

There are reports of an unmarked white business jet circling the crash site. The official version is that controllers asked a nearby Falcon 20 business jet to descend and provide coordinates of the crash. This is corroborated by the pilot of the Falcon 20. Conspiracy theorists concede that fighter jets are not white, but they point to numerous examples of white business jets flown by the military and other government agencies, such as Customs, which they say could have been quickly armed with missiles. They also cite some reports of controllers saying that no other aircraft were in the vicinity, and that the eyewitness evidence of a white jet indicates that those controllers must be part of the conspiracy. The white jet tells us nothing about the cause of the crash.

2. Debris was found up to 8 miles away, fluttering down from the sky.

Conspiracy theorists say that this disproves the official version that has Flight 93 crash intact. However, the FBI has not released their official cause of the crash. There are at least two plausible explanations for this that don't require the plane being shot down. First, we know that the terrorists claimed to have a bomb on board. A bomb certainly could have blown a hole in the plane, releasing debris, and causing the subsequent crash. Second, the aircraft could have broken up in mid-air from aerodynamic stresses as it exceeded its maximum design speed (called the VNE). The FBI has said nothing about the cause of the crash; they have not claimed definitively that it was a controlled flight into terrain by the terrorist pilot or struggling passengers. Without access to the FBI analysis, the existence of secondary debris fields tell us nothing about the cause of the crash.

3. There is an alleged 3 minute discrepancy in the times.

The published cockpit transcript ends at 10:03 with the voices of the terrorists chanting "Allah is the greatest." The NTSB analysis of the flight data recorder, infrared satellite imagery, and some air traffic controllers agree with the 10:03 crash time. Cleveland air traffic control and some seismologists put the time of the crash at 10:06. My own research was not able to find what the clocks of cockpit voice recorders are synchronized to, if anything; if you know this answer for a fact, I'd appreciate your comments on the web site or in the forum. However, if a bomb celebrating Allah's greatness went off at 10:03, or if the aircraft suffered structural failure at 10:03, the voice recorder would be no less likely to be stopped as it would by a missile strike. The alleged missing 3 minutes tells us nothing about the cause of the crash.

4. Covering up a shootdown.

Tip Skeptoid $2/mo $5/mo $10/mo One time

Think of all the people who must be involved with keeping track of air to air missiles. Obviously the pilot and any other pilots with him, the air boss and all the officers in the situation room, and anyone keeping an eye on the situation with radar, would know if a missile had been fired. This includes civilian controllers as well as military controllers, and anyone standing by the radar screen or at the local civilian airport's control tower water cooler talking to their girlfriend on the cellphone saying "You won't believe what just happened." September 11 was not a day when little attention was being paid to the radar screens. The airmen at the base who are responsible for loading and unloading missiles from the aircraft would know that a missile had been fired, as would their chain of command. The people who view and archive the electronic and video logs of the flight would know. Then you have the people who inventory and store the missiles - they'd know if ten went out and only nine came back. Military and civilian auditors verify these counts. Potentially thousands of people on the ground would have been in a position to see a missile being fired. Hundreds of people were on the ground at the crash site picking up wreckage, possibly including missile fragments, cataloging it, identifying it, and storing it. Let's say you disagree with me that any large number of people might be able to know that a missile had been fired. I ask you, what then is the smallest number? Fifty people at the air force base and through the chain of command? Forty? Nobody on the ground at all, or in the NTSB? That's hard for me to believe, but it's harder still to believe that even such a large number of people as that could be adequately paid off with nobody at any bank knowing it, or could be threatened by mysterious Men In Black, without a single whistle blower — especially when you consider how broadly unpopular the war on terror has become.

For my money, the official version of the incidents is consistent with my own knowledge of aviation and all sounds plausible. I also can't get past what, to me, is the implausibility of covering up a shootdown. Your own mileage may vary. But regardless of your own conclusion, better that you look at the situation with skepticism rather than with a preconceived notion, and don't base your judgment on politics or emotion, as so many people do.

There's one school of thought that says it doesn't matter how Flight 93 ended. The terrorists killed everyone on board, regardless of the details. Ultimately the terrorists are to blame, no matter the cause of the crash. Then there's the viewpoint that whether the government lied has everything to do with it: that if we can't trust our own government, how can we ever feel truly safe under its protection? Deciding what's important to you is a question for every individual to answer on his own. The skeptical process can lead to the truth of what happened, but only you can answer what truths are important.

Brian Dunning

© 2007 Skeptoid Media Copyright information

References & Further Reading

9/11 Commission. The 9/11 Commission Report. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2004.

Dunbar, D., Regan, B. Debunking 9/11 Myths: Why Conspiracy Theories Can't Stand Up to the Facts. New York: Hearst Books, 2006.

Heltzel, Bill, Gibb, Tom. "2 planes had no part in crash of Flight 93." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 16 Sep. 2001, Newspaper: A.10.

NTSB. "DCA01MA060." National transportation safety board. US Government, 3 Jul. 2006. Web. 19 Oct. 2009. <>

Popular Mechanics. Debunking 9/11 Myths: Why Conspiracy Theories Can't Stand Up to the Facts. New York: Hearst Books, 2011.

Wagner, M., McCall, K. "Plane Damaged Before Crash." Dayton Daily News. 14 Sep. 2001, Newspaper: 6A.

Reference this article:
Dunning, B. "Skepticism and Flight 93." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, 19 Jan 2007. Web. 10 Oct 2015. <>


10 most recent comments | Show all 133 comments

Prove it, dave.

"You have no credibility "

I don't need any. All I need is evidence, and that has been provided by agencies such as the FBI, 9-11 Comm. and BTS.

You going to argue with your own govt agencies ?

"You base your conclusion on half truths"

Then if they are half-true, it's time you woke up and started examining them seriously, don't you think ?

"You haven't achieved anything other than insulting America in over a year."

Only your own opinion. I've brought heaps of evidence to combat the Official Story of Fl77, and some evidence against aspects of Fl93, and 9-11 in general.
That has taken a lot of research, and serious thought about what that research implies.

When someone on Skeptoid can refute my research with some of their own, then I'll change my stance on my skepticism.
So far that hasn't happened, but at least many other pro-9-11 SM supporters provided some valid points and intelligent discussions in support of their beliefs.

You've provided nothing.

Macky, Auckland
April 26, 2014 6:58pm

Brian by the way you gave up trying to have a rational conversation months ago with macky...

That says it all.

Since you dont like my llist.of.reasons of whats.wrong with mackys conclusions

And the fact that he constantly tries to connect dots were there isn't any between northwoods and his other 100% irrelevant past events as evidence that the forensic findings at the pentagon arent reliable and 1500 investigators at shanksville investigations and their conclusions aren't reliable as evidence for fl93 crashing in shanksville

You keep deleating my posts that show evidence using mackies own words that his conclusions are based on trash in trash out reasoning,

There's is nothing to gain by debating macky ,or any other individual whose
basis of argument is.a self serving agenda...dismiss the obvious, then to use half truth tactics and shove them down the throat if others.

How can an individual who argues that there is know evidence of planes being hijacked or evidence of terrorism on 9-11 qualify for a person that ihas spent months bragging about his critical thinking. ..

How is person supposed to give consideration to such absurd thinking

Since macky continues to sight wiki

Maybe ill site wiki's definition of ignorant!

Im thinking you abandoned debating macky because he'll drag down to his level.

Then what?

You'll be deleating your own posts!

dave festa, florida
April 28, 2014 10:12am

"How can an individual who argues that there is know evidence of planes being hijacked or evidence of terrorism on 9-11 qualify for a person that ihas spent months bragging about his critical thinking. .."

You're getting out of hand, dave.

I'm not bragging about anything, and your blanket statement that I have alleged that there is no evidence of terrorism (at all) on 9-11 is not the same as I have been posting, and proving with FBI, 9-11 Commission report, and BTS records and files, that there is no evidence of Islamic terrorist hijack on Fl77, or Hanjour's participation.

Yes I have used a wiki or two, but only as reference to JetTech (Hanjour's B737 simulator training) reporting Hanjour at least five times to the FAA because his standard of English was incompatible to the licenses he held, and the general information that the alleged terrorists were never identified in the Pentagon remains, which I confirmed later by FBI files.

I have asked you repeatedly to provide evidence in the spirit of Skeptoid that supports your continuing repetition of the Standard Model of Fl77, but all we've had is more repetition(100% fact..etc) abuse, accusations of lying, and quoting my posts inaccurately, plus blanket assertions about what I've supposed to have said.

In addition, you've completely ignored any citations I've posted.

That's not dialectic discussion/debate, and it's certainly not critical analysis.

Macky, Auckland
April 28, 2014 1:51pm

"The spirit of skeptoid?"

Yes that's correct. Critical analysis of pop phenomena, informed and evidenced skepticism, with a strong science foundation.
That's as I understand it.

"What does skeptoid have to do with 9-11"

Skeptoid decided to provide articles on at least four aspects of 9-11, and invited all to discuss.

We all have something to do with 9-11, whether we wanted it that way or not.
9-11 has affected the world, and will continue throughout this century, at the very least.

"Macky critical analysis, you claim there's know evidence for hijacking or terrorism"

There's no evidence for Islamic terrorists on Fl77, and very little on Fl93.
Terrorism, as it's been portrayed in the media, generally refers to Islamic and Al Qaeda involvement, but none of that has been conclusively proven, outside of what appears (by all the evidence) as US govt-concocted stories that have been "self-proven" and "confirmed" by a corrupt Commission report, but which glaring examples of FBI, BTS evidence etc directly contradict.

" Your stupid moron. .."

Unfortunately, pretty much the sum total of your "arguments" in support of the Standard Model of Fl77 and the other aspects of 9-11.

Macky, Auckland
April 28, 2014 2:47pm

Invited all to discuss

So your discussion is no evidence for terrorism and hijacking therefore 9-11 is just an American myth.

You contradict yourself constantly and no matter what many people post thier wrong your right even if you have to change your story

I say.dna at the Pentagon is valid you say the DNA is valid and they did a great job ..i quote you im still wrong.

I say fl77 was.hijacked you say it was hijacked. I qoute you im still wrong

I say terrorists were on board. You say terrorists were on board ,i quote you im still wrong

You say hanjour was on board i agree. I qoute you, im still wrong

I agree with things that you post though when i state the same exact same thing im wrong

You say hijackers hit three out of4 targets when i mention hijackers you say there isn't any proof of hijackers

You say fl77 hit the pentagon. I say it hit the pentagon, you say there's no evidence it took off.

You ask for evidence outside what the government told us. I say millions of people watched planes on 9-11 hit the pentagon.and witnessed blatant acts of terrorism. You come back and say people didn't know that.till after the government told us?

What ever anybody says you say no thats wrong .you disagree with yourself and blame it on me.

Brian cant even make sence of your comments were he posted back to you.

No wonder that skeptoid has lost all its posters on this subject

Its like beating your head up against the wall

you bring the worst out of me !

dave festa, florida
April 28, 2014 5:31pm

Looking at your last post, dave, you're a very confused and angry man....

Skeptoid has not provided any arguments against my evidence that I presented via citation on March 31.

Nevertheless, Skeptoid as a decent site for critical analysis (normally) has allowed hundreds of my posts to stay up. I have always said that anybody that posts to me or the subject at hand deserves an answer.

The reason why many do not now post against my evidence and assertions that Fl77 as per the Standard Model is not true, is because they ran out of arguments that were continuously refuted, some even posting "evidence" that wasn't even in the SM of Fl77.

And you will readily see ( well, maybe not, given your state of mind ) that nobody has addressed a single citation re March 31 that I posted.

They sensibly realize that official evidence against the SM of Fl77, and in some aspects against Fl93 and 9-11, cannot be argued with, when the sources of the evidence comes from the US govt and its agencies themselves.

But not dave festa. Things are much more simple for dave.
All he has to do is repeat the SM of Fl77 in order to prove its authenticity.
Evidence presented against doesn't mean a thing. It must be wrong because as he well knows, what comes out of the US govt and what everyone saw that day absolutely and irrefutably proves that Islamic terrorist hijackers were to blame, that Al Qaeda sent them, and Bin Laden was the mastermind.

The only hitch is that dave has no evidence for that..

Macky, Auckland
April 28, 2014 6:16pm

First of all im about 60 years old not young

Im confused? Your the one that keeps changing his story

Your so confused you dont even no it,,!

When others posted ,you claimed hanjour was on board.

Terrorists and hijackers were responsible for 9-11,anf fl77.hit the Pentagon

And. Al Q. Was responsible for 9-11

And the terrorists only hit ,3, out 4 targets, because of the civilians on board prevented fl,93 from hitting its target

You your correct about those facts.

Some how you got lost after that and changed your story.

Your so confused you dont qualify.

dave festa, florida
April 28, 2014 6:46pm

Part-summary of the alleged Fl93 hijack:- Bandana in near-pristine condition allegedly worn by one of the "hijackers", none of them identified by DNA.
Two alleged Fl93 hijackers are still alive and have been interviewed.
None of the alleged 19 9-11 hijackers were ever identified by DNA.

ACARS, a form of texting between the aircraft and ATC, records show Fl93 was still in the air after alleged crash.
Records of ATC script also show Fl93 to still be aloft after alleged crash time.
Fl93 phone calls from Jeremy Glick and Todd beamer lasted for well past the time of the alleged crash, one of them for 1 hour 20 minutes, the other, 1 hour. FBI evidence. Any idea how phones can survive a crash that the passengers but NOT the alleged hijackers have to be identified by DNA ?

Osama Bin Laden never proven to have been involved with 9-11.
Never indicted because of no proof.
FBI file.

Macky, Auckland
July 10, 2015 1:56am

I think some folk never let go of their etherics..

Mulga Gill, Sydney
July 10, 2015 3:48am

Try addressing the evidence against the Official Story instead of posting unrelated opinions or beliefs.

Macky, Auckland
July 11, 2015 12:09am

Make a comment about this episode of Skeptoid (please try to keep it brief & to the point).

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