The solar was shining and there have been no clouds within the sky as United Airways captain Tom Manello went via his pre-flight checks within the early morning of 11 September, 2001.
As he did so, passengers on 4 different flights leaving from Boston, Newark, and Washington DC have been getting ready to execute a coordinated sequence of hijackings that in the end kill practically 3,000 folks and ignite twenty years of worldwide warfare.
However for all of the investigations and soul-searching that adopted the 9/11 assaults, there are nonetheless some mysteries we’ve not solved. Chief amongst them: was Manello’s plane additionally supposed to be a goal?
“I now consider that it’s extra probably than not that we have been the fifth airplane,” stated Manello in a TV interview. “There is a good probability that any person was planning to attempt to use our airplane as a weapon of mass destruction.”
That was the thesis of a brand new TMZ documentary referred to as 9/11: The Fifth Airplane, which aired on Fox, based mostly on interviews with Manello and three different members of his flight crew.
The net tabloid investigated longstanding claims that United Airways Flight 23 may even have had its personal set of hijackers aboard, who aborted their mission when the flight was delayed by pure probability.
However the principle raises many questions, not least why neither the FBI or the US authorities’s landmark investigation into the catastrophe ever talked about something about United 23.
“It is undoubtedly chilling,” Henry Harteveldt, a journey trade analyst and president of the Ambiance Analysis Group, tells The Impartial. “If [these claims] are certainly correct, it’s info that must be taken critically…
“It raises the query: if there may have been a fifth plane, then may there have been much more than that? And would any of these plane be supposed to assault different cities within the US?”
Entry limitless streaming of flicks and TV exhibits with Amazon Prime Video
Join now for a 30-day free trial
Entry limitless streaming of flicks and TV exhibits with Amazon Prime Video
Join now for a 30-day free trial
Nevertheless, he additionally forged scepticism on a number of the documentary’s claims, saying: “I am involved concerning the accuracy of a few of these assertions.”
United 23 was as a consequence of take off round 9am from New York Metropolis’s JFK Airport. Like the opposite planes utilized in 9/11, it was a cross-country flight – on this case, sure for Los Angeles – which meant that it was totally loaded with extremely flammable jet gasoline.
“All the pieces appeared completely regular,” Manello instructed TMZ. “All people was in a great temper, all people was joyful. It was going to be a enjoyable day.”
Whereas boarding passengers and getting ready to taxi to the runway, there have been a number of incidents that struck crew members as unusual, though they appeared innocent on the time. Flight attendant Sandy Thorngren observed a passenger in enterprise class who appeared extremely nervous, sweating profusely regardless of carrying solely a T-shirt within the comparatively chilly airplane cabin.
In top quality, the purser – identified within the documentary solely as Deborah – bought right into a minor dispute about meals with 4 passengers: a “well-built” man in a tan swimsuit, a younger boy round 6 or 7 years outdated, a person who appeared to be a “bodyguard”, and a girl in a niqab, or full-body masking.
Nevertheless, Thorngren and one other flight attendant, Barbara Brockie Smaldino, turned suspicious that the particular person within the niqab was really a person, as a result of that they had giant palms with hair on the again of them. “It was undoubtedly a male beneath that [niqab],” Thorngren instructed TMZ.
The group had stated that they didn’t eat meat, so Deborah spent a very long time attempting to get them fruit plates. However they have been insistent they didn’t need to eat and needed to take off as quickly as potential, despite the fact that it will be a really lengthy flight. Considered one of them additionally requested if they might go to the cockpit, as a result of the kid actually needed to see inside.
Airplane hatches discovered mysteriously open
At 8:46am, the primary airplane flew into the north tower of the World Commerce Middle. Reviews of the hijackings took time to percolate out via the US air site visitors management and navy grapevine, so when Manello heard about it over the radio, he assumed a small airplane had unintentionally crashed whereas “attempting to do one thing silly” similar to flying between the towers.
Nevertheless, that day at JFK turned out to be unusually busy, and Flight 23 was caught in a queue behind 10 or so different planes. Therefore, it nonetheless had not taken off when a second airplane hit the south tower and United’s dispatcher warned all transcontinental pilots to “beware cockpit intrusion”.
Pandemonium ensued as all flights throughout the US have been grounded for concern of additional hijackings and JFK Airport was evacuated. Manello and his co-pilot barricaded the door, readied improvised weapons, and taxied again to the gate whereas passengers frantically referred to as their family members to allow them to know they have been protected.
Then got here the incident that really alarmed the crew. Airport staff on the bottom noticed somebody working contained in the airplane, seen via the portholes – after all of the passengers and the crew had left. Employees had already checked the entire airplane for stragglers and have been fairly positive no one was left on board.
Manello reported this to the airline, and the subsequent day all crew members have been interviewed by the FBI. Investigators discovered that one of many hatches within the airplane’s flooring, main down into electronics compartment, was open – which couldn’t have occurred earlier than the passengers disembarked as a result of they’re cumbersome and block the entire aisle when raised.
“Once I was speaking to the FBI, and so they instructed me these flooring hatches have been open, I could not breathe. I attempted to determine how these hatches may very well be opened, except there was any person down within the electronics space, and so they opened it after we left the plane,” stated Deborah.
Worse, airline employees later discovered boxcutters – small knives utilized in no less than two of the 9/11 hijackings – hid in a seat-back pocket of one other airplane that had been sitting subsequent to Flight 23. Its tail quantity was 6001, very near Manello’s 6002.
Becoming a member of these dots, the crew now consider that these boxcutters have been planted forward of time by an undercover terrorist, maybe working for the airport or certainly one of its non-public contractors. They have been meant for use by the hijackers, however via a easy mistake, they have been placed on the flawed airplane.
Then, when the plot failed, somebody – maybe the identical particular person – snuck on board Flight 23 in an try to take away the proof, explaining the particular person seen working and the hatch left open. In line with TMZ, it will have been straightforward sufficient to entry the electronics compartment through a hatch on the airplane’s stomach, earlier than climbing up into the cabin via the interior hatch.
Requested by TMZ whether or not he may consider one other rational rationalization for these occasions, Manello stated: “Truthfully, no. I am unable to consider another excuse why any person would do this.”
‘There’s little or no doubt in my thoughts’
There has lengthy been hypothesis that the 4 planes hijacked on 9/11 weren’t the one targets. In 2004, the US authorities’s 9/11 Fee reported that Al Qaeda mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed initially hoped to seize ten planes.
After the assaults, boxcutters have been additionally discovered on two long-range Delta Airways flight and an American Airways flight. An FBI report made public final yr stated that the seat the place they have been hidden had been occupied by a Saudi Arabian pilot who had beforehand attracted suspicion from the company (15 of the 19 hijackers have been Saudi Arabian, as was ringleader Osama bin Laden).
As early as 2011, Manello’s co-pilot Carol Timmons, who later turned the primary feminine normal within the Delaware Nationwide Guard, raised the query of whether or not the 4 folks in top quality had additionally been hijackers. Manello additionally instructed his story to The Florida Bulldog in 2022, and the United dispatcher stated he was instructed that the 4 suspicious passengers by no means claimed their baggage and that “incriminating” objects have been discovered inside.
In TMZ’s documentary, aviation security knowledgeable and 9/11 historian Lynn Spencer stated: “Throughout my analysis, it was made very evident to me from the best ranges of our authorities… that there have been extra than simply the 4 planes.
“United 23 would have turn out to be airborne proper concerning the time of the opposite hijacked plane on September 11, and there is little or no doubt in my thoughts that United 23 was the fifth airplane.”
Haarteveldt, nonetheless, does have doubts. He factors out that numerous individuals are nervous after they fly; that young children continuously ask to be proven contained in the cockpit, and are sometimes allowed to; and that we should be “very cautious about not resorting to cultural biases” in casting suspicion on Muslim passengers.
Concerning the dispute over fruit plates, he says: “I’ll let you know one thing from expertise working with airways. Should you inform folks that you will should take a considerable delay for catering, usually, passengers will say ‘we might moderately go and get to our vacation spot and eat after we get there’.”
As for the report of individuals working contained in the airplane, Harteveldt says it’s shaky, as they might have been airline crew mistaken for passengers. The boxcutters are tougher to elucidate, however he questions why an infiltrator inside the airport employees wouldn’t have been found prior to now.
Authorities gained’t say what got here of their investigation
There’s additionally the truth that the FBI, in keeping with United 23’s crew, investigated all this – however we do not know what got here of the investigation. Requested by The Impartial whether or not it had ever made any expenses or arrests in connection to the flight, the company declined to remark.
“If the FBI missed details about a possible fifth plane, it is embarrassing for the company,” says Harteveldt. “Or in the event that they nonetheless take into account it to be a matter of nationwide safety that has not but been cleared for public dialogue.”
The 911 Fee additionally by no means talked about United 23 in its last report. Former staffer Miles Kara instructed the Bulldog that his evaluation of Al Qaeda’s plot “doesn’t have room for a fifth airplane”, and that if there was one, it was unlikely to have come from “one more airport” along with the three already confirmed.
Therefore, the reality about United 23 is unclear and should by no means be identified. However the expertise of no less than seeming to have suffered such a close to miss was clearly traumatic for the crew, who stated they struggled to work afterwards.
In line with the documentary, they have been denied compensation by the airline, which argued that that they had not suffered any distinctive stress past what all different air crew suffered on that day, till lastly being sued and reaching a settlement.
“It has been 21 years, and it nonetheless stays with me,” stated Thorngren. “The terrifying, horrific occasions, and the way in which I used to be handled by an organization that I used to be loyal to for 30 years. I made a decision I simply stated could not do anymore. I retired in 2003.”
“The indifference, and the way in which we have been handled, was abominable,” stated Smaldino. “So it was time to depart that job that I labored so arduous for.”
United didn’t reply to requests for remark.