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Flight 93

9/11 conspiracy: Flight 93 myths debunked

Flight 93 National Memorial Visitor Center located near Shanksville | Image: Mark Van Scyoc /

For many, the events that unfolded on American soil back on September 11 2001 remain fresh in the memory; the horrific images of the burning towers forever seared into the mind’s eye.

Nearly 3,000 people died that fateful day as al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four commercial aeroplanes, crashing them all at various locations.

Almost as soon as the sun had set that Tuesday evening, the conspiracy theories began to reverberate. Now, over 20 years later, the reverberations continue to echo around our digital world, fanned by the claims of those who don’t believe the official story.

One area that has drawn particular interest is the events surrounding Flight 93, the last of the hijacked planes to come crashing down that day.

The official version of events states that the terrorists downed the plane in a field in Pennsylvania after a passenger revolt. The plane never reached its target and although all souls onboard were lost, countless more lives were saved by the heroic actions of the passengers.

However, for some, that story is a lie. Conspiracy theorists have argued the plane was shot down by a U.S. fighter jet on the orders of the government. Let’s see if their arguments hold up under scrutiny.

Conspiracy Theory #1: A small white jet flew over the crash site

Almost immediately after Flight 93 went down, eyewitnesses claimed to have seen a small white jet flying low over the crash site. Theorists argue that the presence of that jet proves their theory that Flight 93 was downed by a missile.

Explanation: There was a white jet but it wasn’t a fighter

The white jet in question did exist, however, it wasn’t a fighter jet but instead a small business plane called a Dassault Falcon. The aircraft was owned and operated by an apparel company and was approaching Johnstown-Cambria airport when it was contacted by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The FAA asked if the plane could descend to a low altitude and survey the crash site since it was in the immediate vicinity. After circling the crash site and relaying its location, the aircraft continued to Johnstown. This account of events has been corroborated by the FAA, the pilots of the Dassault Falcon as well and the FBI.

The FAA also confirmed that no military aircraft were anywhere near Flight 93 when it went down.

Conspiracy Theory #2: The large debris field indicates a mid-air explosion

Debris from Flight 93, including the plane's engine, was found miles away from the crash site. Residents around Indian Lake, some six miles away, also reported fishing out debris from the water. Theorists argue that such distances would only occur if the aircraft had broken up at high altitudes, most likely due to being struck by a heat-seeking missile.

Explanation: The size of the debris field was often misreported

Whilst debris was found at Indian Lake, the distances often reported in the aftermath of the crash were incorrect. As the crow flies, Indian Lake is only just over a mile from the crash site, not six miles. Plus, most of the debris that was collected from there was paper that was most likely launched into the air by the heat of the explosion. The paper then rode the wind, which was blowing in a southeast direction that day straight towards Indian Lake.

As for the plane's engine being found miles away, this is also factually incorrect. The engine was discovered just 300 yards from the main crash site and in a direction consistent with the flight path of the plane as it impacted the ground. Considering the velocity of the crash, 300 yards is well within the distance expected for large debris to be thrown.

Conspiracy Theory #3: An Army Colonel identified the fighter pilot who pulled the trigger

According to retired U.S. Army Colonel Donn de Grand-Pre, Major Rick Gibney was ordered to shoot down Flight 93, which he did at exactly 09:58 after firing two Sidewinder missiles at the plane. The claim was made on ‘The Alex Jones Show’ (an American radio talk show) back in early 2004.

Explanation: The claims are completely unsubstantiated

Whilst the theory was given credence since it was coming from the mouth of a high-ranking military officer, the claim cannot be substantiated. Firstly, Rick Gibney was a lieutenant colonel, not a Major, and secondly whilst he was flying a F-16 that morning (according to a spokesperson from the Air National Guard), he was nowhere near Flight 93.

Instead, he was under orders to pick up Ed Jacoby Jr., the director of the New York State Emergency Management Office, and fly him from Montana to New York. Jacoby has confirmed all of this as well as Gibney’s exact whereabouts when Flight 93 went down.

Conspiracy Theory #4: The ‘mushroom cloud’ photo of Flight 93 is a fake

Theorists believe that a photo of Flight 93’s mushroom cloud, taken by local resident Valencia M. McClatchey, is a fake. They not only argue that the colour of the cloud is wrong for burning jet fuel, but it’s also too small, in the wrong position and is actually from an ordnance blast, not a plane crash. They believe the forgery was created as part of the elaborate cover-up by the government to mask the fact they shot the plane down.

Explanation: Multiple authorities have confirmed the photo is 100% genuine

Several authorities, including the FBI and the Smithsonian Institution, have examined the photo along with its negatives and have confirmed its authenticity.

Conspiracy Theory #5: The passenger phone calls were faked by actors

Several passengers and crew onboard Flight 93 made phone calls to loved ones after discovering their plane had been hijacked. The calls were a key part in piecing together what happened to the plane, as the audio recordings told the story of the passenger revolt that eventually led to the hijackers downing Flight 93 in a field. Conspiracy theorists believe these calls were faked by actors to corroborate the government's story and cover up the fact Flight 93 was shot down.

They support this accusation with the fact that you supposedly can't get a phone signal whilst at high altitude on a plane, so how were those calls made?

Explanation: The passengers used GTE airfones

Firstly, over 35 calls were made from Flight 93 after it was hijacked and the people receiving those calls can all confirm speaking to their loved ones, not actors.

Secondly, 95% of those calls were made from GTE airfones, which was an air-ground radiotelephone service that allowed passengers to make calls whilst in flight. The handsets were provided by the airline and often located on the back of seats.

Only two of the calls from Flight 93 came from mobile phones. It is possible to make a call from a mobile phone whilst in flight, the issue is the connectivity which will often drop due to the location of the cell phone towers. Also, one of the mobile phone calls was made right before the plane crashed, meaning the aircraft was at a lower altitude making mobile calls more possible.

For more articles about 9/11, check out our September 11th attacks hub