9/11: Relatives of victims onboard United flight 93 tell their stories of losing loved ones in terror crash

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40 passengers and airline staff lost their lives when hijackers brought the plane down over Shanksville on September 11 2001

When the 33 passengers and seven crew members boarded the United Airlines flight 93 on the morning on September 11 2001, they had no idea they were entering in to the last moments of their lives.

There were four hijackers among them, who intended to crash the plane. It was one of four passenger planes which were hijacked by suicide attackers that morning. They crashed them into two New York skyscrapers and two further US sites. 

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Two of the planes were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York City, a third plane hit the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C., and the fourth plane, United flight 93, crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. United 93 was the only one of four planes seized by al-Qaeda terrorists, led by Osama bin Laden, not to reach its intended target on that day.

Almost 3,000 people were killed during the attacks. In total, 2,996 people lost their lives, including plane passengers, paramedics, police officers, firefighters and the 19 terrorist hijackers. A total of 40 innocent airline staff and passengers on United flight 93 were among the death toll. For the families of the victims, the pain caused by their loss continues to be felt to this day - 22 years after the fateful event.

But, many relatives of the victims have decided to share their stories over the years as they seek to keep the memory of their loved ones alive and ensure people never forget them.

A Flight 93 Memorial which has been built near the crash site in Shanksville spans about 2,200 acres, and includes a visitors centre and the Tower of Voices, which is a 93-foot tower with a wind chime representing each person killed. There’s 40 memorial groves and a Wall of Names to honour the victims and also the crash site itself which can be visited, although the latter can only be seen by families and loved ones of victims.

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Visitors view the memorial to the victims of the hijacked Flight 93 at sunset on 10 September 2002 in Shanksville, PA. (Photo credit should read DAVID MAXWELL/AFP via Getty Images)Visitors view the memorial to the victims of the hijacked Flight 93 at sunset on 10 September 2002 in Shanksville, PA. (Photo credit should read DAVID MAXWELL/AFP via Getty Images)
Visitors view the memorial to the victims of the hijacked Flight 93 at sunset on 10 September 2002 in Shanksville, PA. (Photo credit should read DAVID MAXWELL/AFP via Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images

‘She’s been gone longer than she was alive’

Debby Borza, the mother of 20-year-old Deora Frances Bodley, the youngest United 93 victim, has previously said the memorial is like her second home now and will sometimes speak to members of the public who visit it.

"I would let them know that my daughter was onboard Flight 93 and then they get a little quiet," she said. "I try to put them at ease and share the importance of what this site is for me." She has also spoken about how she is still processing her grief, over two decades after the terror attack, as she finds it “so strange” that Deora has now been gone longer than she was alive.

‘All I could think about was my lost child’

Jack Grandcolas went to the site of the crash in the aftermath of the tragedy but then refused to visit the memorial site until it was completely finished. He lost his wife Lauren, aged 38, and their unborn child in the disaster. Jack, who was asleep in California when his wife boarded the plane at Newark, awoke that morning to find a message from his wife on their telephone answering machine

In it, she said: “"Honey, are you there?  Jack? Pick up sweetie.  Okay, well I just wanted to tell you I love you.  We're having a little problem on the plane. Umm. I'm totally fine. Umm. I just love you more than anything, just know that.  And you know, I'm, you know, I'm not uncomfortable and I'm okay... for now. Umm. It's just a little problem. So, I'll a... I just love you. Please tell my family I love them too. Bye, honey."

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Lauren, who was three months pregnant, knew at that time the plane had been hijacked and was just one of many passengers who called loved ones from the plane when they realised the likely, and horrific, outcome of their situation. 

Jack said in a previous interview that he has always struggled with his grief because after the shock of the event wears off, the real pain sets in. “That's the longing part," he said. "The first year is extremely painful." Every holiday and family milestone he went through only compounded his pain. He added that he often thinks about the child that was also taken from him that day. “All I could think about year in and year out was, 'This child would have been 12 this year. What would they have been doing?,” he said.

‘I’ve been grieving backwards’

One of the youngest relatives to be affected by the terror attack is Jody Greene. Now in her late twenties, she was just six-years-old the day her father, 52-year-old Donald Greene, died on Flight 93. Unsurprisingly, she doesn’t remember much about 9/11, but she does have fond memories of her father.  She said that the years since the crash happened have been "a little bit of grieving backwards."

She also said that she’s heard so many stories about 9/11 from others that she sometimes thinks they could be her own memories. "I think that it's kind of hard to discern what's a memory, versus something you kind of put together in your head, after hearing so many stories about it,” she said. She added: “I think for me, at least, the 10 year anniversary was maybe the hardest because I was fully cognizant of what was going on. And there was that media attention, and there was so much happening. And additionally, I understood the full impact."

You can view the names, pictures and profiles of all the Flight 93 victims on the Friends of Flight 93 National Memorial website.

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