On this day 15-years-ago the earth was changed and changed utterly as the entirety of the United States and the Western World as we know it was devastated by the most shocking terrorist attack in world history.
All in all 2,996 people were killed on that fateful day but nobody was left unhurt – and the world was scorched and distorted forever.
Though it is hard to look past the brutality and barbarianism on that day of terror, thousands of normal people became heroes – who, amidst the horror, surpassed their line of duty and did everything possible to save as many people as they could.
This is the story of one of 9/11’s most inspirational heroes – Lt. Heather Penney.
Lt. Heather ‘Lucky’ Penney was working as an F-16 fighter pilot when the news broke that two planes had flown into the World Trade Centre, according to the Washington Post.
She was given a mission – to bring down Flight 93. A third hijacked plane which was heading towards Washington.
Time was of the essence and if Penney didn’t act fast, another horrific atrocity could soon be making headlines.
She had been ordered to take down the jet but she had a problem. Penney wasn’t equipped with any missiles, live ammunition, or anything at all that she could use to take down the plane.
All she had capable of bringing down Flight 93 was her jet.
All the fighter jets in the nearby area had been on a training mission just days earlier and were still loaded with dummy bullets and as unbelievable as it probably sounds today, nobody at all was prepared for any sort of homeland attack.
Somebody had to leave immediately. So Penney and her commanding officer headed up into the sky with a plan to crash their own jets into the Boeing 757.
Commanding Officer Sasseville, planned to fly his jet into the cockpit of Flight 93, while Penney, who had never even scrambled a jet before, would take the tail.
Despite keeping her silence for years, a few years back Penney recalled:
We wouldn’t be shooting it down. We’d be ramming the aircraft. I would essentially be a kamikaze pilot. We had to protect the airspace any way we could.
We don’t train to bring down airliners. If you just hit the engine, it could still glide and you could guide it to a target. My thought was the cockpit or the wing.
The pair had also questioned the ejector seat. They had to get their F-16’s directly next to the Boeing 757, if they ejected too early they would miss their target, too late and they would die.
Sasseville planned on ejecting at the moment of impact, but as he said himself ‘it probably wouldn’t work’. Penney, however, was more scared of failing her mission than death itself. It was almost definitely suicide.
Their F-16’s scoured the air for a long while, endlessly searching for Flight 93, their fatal target, but they never found it.
Nor Penney or Sasseville died that day, they didn’t have to fly their planes into the steel body of Flight 93. The passengers of Flight 93 did it themselves.
After the attack on the World Trade Centre and the attack on the Pentagon word soon spread to the passengers on Flight 93 and they began to realise what was about to happen next.
At 09:57 they decided that they would revolt against the hijackers.
Using a food cart as a battering ram the passengers of Flight 93 attacked the cockpit. Although it is not known whether they managed to get into the cockpit or not, their actions without doubt disrupted the hijackers plans.
At 10:03:11 in a green field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, Flight 93 crashed, killing everybody on board.
Lt. Penney said:
I am not a hero. The real heroes are the passengers on Flight 93 who were willing to sacrifice themselves. I was just an accidental witness to history.
And on this, the 15th anniversary of one of the darkest days to ever painfully scorch our history with terror – let us remember all those who died, all those who were injured, and all those who were affected in any way, shape, or form, by the heartbreaking events of September 11 2001.
Joseph Loftus is a Gold Standard NCTJ journalist with four years experience working for international and regional press.
As well as working for UNILAD and LADbible, Joseph has worked as Liverpool Correspondent for Unsigned & Independent Magazine, as well as stints with the Liverpool Echo and Warrington Guardian.