Skepticism and Flight 93

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

Filed under Conspiracies

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

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.

$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.

Follow me on Twitter @BrianDunning.

Brian Dunning

© 2007 Skeptoid Media, Inc. 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. <>

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, Inc., 19 Jan 2007. Web. 18 Apr 2014. <>


10 most recent comments | Show all 113 comments

thanx Macky, I admire a lot of people..personal anecdote to this extent is unnecessary

Now as to your para 3,

We can get all this sort of stuff from conspiracists sites and conspiracists movies. In fact these predate any of your posts by about 11 years on your skeptoid comments.

As to para 4.. didnt I post clearly that I wouldn't feed you until I finalise your narrative?

I am enjoying collating all your comments for review at a later date. I think you call it corporate behaviour..

Ive noted the slight changes in your position since the start of your conspiracists bent.

A final narrative is all it needs..

Magnanamous Dinoflagellate, sin city, Oz
July 04, 2013 7:09pm

I've said so many times now Mud that I do not read CT's sites, nor have I obtained any evidence for my skepticism against the official version of Fl77 from them.

When you decide to actually read my posts you will strangely find (to your mind anyway) that most of my evidence comes from official reports and court records, with a non-CT Wiki or two as an additional piece of historical record.

Your whole strategy it seems as far as I'm concerned is to simply keep repeating your own version of the argument, and it doesn't matter what I post, you turn up next posting the exactly the same nonsense as you posted before.

I see no reason why I shouldn't make a slight change in my position from time to time, as new evidence continues to support my basic stance, which BTW DOES NOT change until I am supplied with better evidence than mine.

Except for a few minor details, on Skeptoid, this has not happened as yet. I was hoping that you may be able to present some decent evidence of your own that may change my mind.

As for YOU noting any slight changes in my position, you have not even demonstrated the capability to note the difference between a B757 flight deck and the inside of a parrot's cage.

In addition, my advice to you is to go back to English school and learn what a straight answer to a straight question is, because so far you have utterly failed on this skill.

Plain English Mud, that's all that's required.

ITMT post a list of CT's that you think I've asserted here.

Macky, Auckland
July 04, 2013 10:55pm

hang on...repeating ones own version of the argument is Quacky only territory?

No, with reference to my continued;

"I am enjoying collating all your comments for review at a later date. I think you call it corporate behaviour.."

is much easier and elicits far less invent as your posts on quackery.

Magnanamous Dinoflagellate, sin city, Oz
July 04, 2013 11:12pm

"ITMT post a list of CT's that you think I've asserted here."

Make a list of all the conspiracies you think I've asserted, and post them on here, Honk.

Plain English request.

Macky, Auckland
July 05, 2013 3:39pm

Nice Macky!

griff, over the rainbow
July 07, 2013 3:54pm

I'm calling you out for the second time to provide evidence for your assertions, Mud.

Apart from the fact that I believe your continued name changes are a way to divert new Skeptoid readers into thinking they are looking at 3 or 4 different posters when they read your rants, the last time I called you out was to either stop your continued posts where you insinuated that I was lying, or provide evidence for same and I would answer to them.

If it was found that I had lied on Skeptoid I would accept that and apologize.

In other words, put up or shut up.

You wisely decided to cease your direct or implied comments of me lying after that, and went onto another kick, namely that I don't research and am lazy.

I'm not calling you out on those two because while you cannot prove them, I cannot disprove them.

However, in reply to your assertion that I am mimicking conspiracists (and their sites), then post a list of conspiracies that you think I've promoted on Skeptoid since I started posting here 13 months ago.

I think that Skeptoid is going to find that there are perhaps one two such as Pearl Harbour, but that your continued rants about me are mostly fabrication and imagination residing in your own head.

However, you have this opportunity to prove me wrong, and I'm calling you out on it.

Macky, Auckland
July 07, 2013 10:22pm

"Skepticism is not a position, it's a process."
Nicely put.
The same thing could be said about science.
Keep up the good work.

Micah, Paris, FR
December 06, 2013 5:05am

Quite so, Micah.

Skepticism and science are processes, not positions, nor institutions.

It is plainly evident over the time I've been writing in to Skeptoid that many Skeptoid posters use skepticism and science as fixed positions to argue against anything outside the "commonly accepted view" or Official Story.

When one examines said posters' arguments, it is easy to observe that they are not using any critical analysis or logical deduction, and are in fact often ignoring glaring evidence that clearly conflicts with their "scientific" world view and/or said Official Story.

Several examples of unevidenced pronouncements that are questioned, and requests to provide some clarification and evidence for said pronouncements continue to go unanswered, and it is plain to see that the posters, particularly Magnanamous Dinoflagellate, have no intention of explaining their assertive statements, preferring instead to carry on a regime of mere repetition and diversionary musings.

This is of course NOT critical analysis, nor is it science.
It is certainly not skepticism.
All it is in fact is the expression of a rigid and quasi-religious world view that anything outside that world view must be attacked in any way possible, logically or not.

Worse still, often when evidence from official sources is presented to such "skeptical" posters that clearly debunks their "world view" on a subject, they ignore that evidence and steadfastly stick to what is only their unevidenced beliefs.

Macky, Auckland
December 06, 2013 12:12pm

Regarding Flight 93 and the competing theories as to the reason(s) for its crash, the information that would clear it all up is once again still in FBI custody, with no prospects of it ever being released.

Why ? Most people who are familiar with the 9-11 Official Story would surely have no objection to the news that the plane was deliberately shot down in order to avert further casualties, should that have actually been the case. Was it really the "terrorist pilot" that crashed the plane ? Or did the passengers accidently fly it into the ground trying to recover the flight after a violent struggle ?

Once again we have this silence from the FBI, despite the 9-11 Commission Report released for some years now, and reportedly the final word on what happened on 9-11.

And once again we have the terrorists being identified only by elimination from the other passengers' DNA. Their names were supplied by the FBI, the list was never released for independent scrutiny, the intended target of the "terrorists" has never been firmly established, and the very black boxes that would clear up the whole argument about what actually happened is still withheld from independent and public scrutiny.

Again the US govt version of Flight 93 is entirely dependent on the US govt telling the truth about what really happened that day on board Fl93.

As in Fl77, because the FBI continues to withhold vital information, it's left to simple belief as to whether the US govt told the truth or not.

Macky, Auckland
January 07, 2014 2:26pm

Your using skepticism as a platform to vent your position of hatred of America.

Once again you sculpt your bias verbage to strengthen Your BS..You say that.the commision report is the final word of what happened on 9-11..Thats your blatant lies.

You know quite well that the report is written based on the limitations of what the evidence shows up until the report was published, with very obvious verbage written into the report that indicates that obvoiusly new evidence will be uncovered in the future that will shed new information about 9-11 because of the on going investigation after the publication of the 9-11 report

Also just recently you posted that their no evidence fl93 even went down in shanksville your posting an argument that it was shot down.or did terrorists fly it into the ground or did the.passengers accidentally fly it into the ground after a struggle. .

Also you keep posting that theres no evidence that these planes were ever hijacked and there were no terrorists. .if fl93 wasnt hijacked why would there be a need to shoot it down ? Also who would the passengers be fighting with? Because you keep stating that there's no proof of terrorists on board of any of these flights..

.your comments are anything other than a consistent rational thought process that can be described as being authored by an objective individual. .You need to tighten doesn't look good!

dave festa, florida
April 15, 2014 8:45am

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

Your Name:
characters left. Discuss the issues - personal attacks against other commenters, posts containing advertisements or links to commercial services, nonsense, and other useless posts will be deleted.
Answer 4 + 9 =

You can also discuss this episode in the Skeptoid Forum, hosted by the James Randi Educational Foundation, or join the Skeptalk email discussion list.

What's the most important thing about Skeptoid?

Support Skeptoid
Skeptoid host, Brian Dunning
Skeptoid is hosted
and produced by
Brian Dunning

The Black Eyed Kids
Skeptoid #410, Apr 15 2014
Read | Listen (11:18)
Oil Pulling
Skeptoid #409, Apr 8 2014
Read | Listen (12:24)
Skeptoid Media is a 501(c)(3) Public Charity
Apr 4 2014
Listen (1:13)
15 Phreaky Phobias
Skeptoid #408, Apr 1 2014
Read | Listen (12:44)
The Death of Mad King Ludwig
Skeptoid #407, Mar 25 2014
Read | Listen (11:49)
#1 -
Listener Feedback: Alternative Medicine
Read | Listen
#2 -
The JFK Assassination
Read | Listen
#3 -
Asking the Socratic Questions
Read | Listen
#4 -
5 False Arguments for Raw Milk
Read | Listen
#5 -
The Vanishing Village of Angikuni Lake
Read | Listen
#6 -
The Riddle of the L-8 Blimp
Read | Listen
#7 -
The Secrets of MKULTRA
Read | Listen
#8 -
Who Discovered the New World?
Read | Listen

Recent Comments...

[Valid RSS]

  Skeptoid PodcastSkeptoid on Facebook   Skeptoid on Twitter   Brian Dunning on Google+   Skeptoid RSS

Members Portal


"Locally Grown Produce"
inFact with Brian Dunning

Support Skeptoid