What would you do if you were aboard a passenger jet held hostage by terrorists who intended to ram the aircraft into a building, killing all the passengers and anyone in the building?
Sounds like a Hollywood movie, and in fact it has been the plot for four movies, including one scheduled for release in select theaters tomorrow.
But it’s also a true story, a familiar story that will no doubt be retold over and over again, joining the ranks of America’s many iconic stories of heroism — Bunker Hill, the Alamo, D-Day, the Challenger and Columbia.
The events of Sept. 11, 2001, continue to resonate in the American psyche, and to many, a movie celebrating the passengers of United Flight 93, who stood up against the terrorists, is not just senseless jingoism but a tribute to civilian heroes who saved other people’s lives.
There’s more to the story, however, and not everyone agrees about the movie’s merits. Television brought the images of 9/11 into everyone’s home, but for many people, the terrorist attack on the U.S. was a personal attack.
Laurie Baldwin, a Kalispell-area resident whose brother, Donald Freeman Greene, was aboard United Flight 93, has mixed feelings about Universal Studios’ new movie United 93.
“As a relative of a victim, they invited me and my family to attend the private screening of this movie,” she told the Pilot. “I don’t care to see it. It will not ever change the ending.”
Baldwin said some of her family plan to watch the movie, including her brother’s widow and children.
“My brother was a hero, as were all the non-terrorists on that plane,” she said. “They were tortured physically and mentally by knowing for an hour or more what had happened on the other planes, and by their thwarted attempts to recapture the plane.”
Baldwin’s sister, Terry Greene, of Cambridge, Mass., is concerned about how the public will react to United 93.
“One grave concern I have with the film is the possibility it will contribute to hate crimes rising, as they have dramatically since 9/11 among those who (like the film producers apparently do from what I read on their Web site) view the lesson as ‘strike them first before they strike you,'” she told the Pilot. “Certainly, 9/11 families don’t want to see more innocent families victimized by hate — that is the model the terrorists followed.”
Baldwin says her father, Leonard Greene, 87, of White Plains, N.Y., “continues to invent and to beat NSC lung cancer and survive Don’s death.” He was the co-founder of Corporate Angel Network, which provides flights for cancer patients.
Donald Greene, who lived in Greenwich, Conn., was on his way to San Francisco on Sept. 11 to meet his four brothers for a hiking trip before attending an aviation industry convention. Greene worked for The Safe Flight Instrument Co., a company his father started 57 years ago.
“My brother was a peaceful, loving man with very strong values,” Baldwin said. “But my son reminded me that he was always a hero, and that he would have wanted to be one of those who stopped that plane from killing those in the Capitol building, its intended target.”
Donald Greene stood out in one way among the passengers aboard Flight 93. He was an instrument-rated pilot, and although he was not familiar with the cockpit of a Boeing 757, many believe he could have safely landed the jet if the passengers had successfully regained control of the craft.
While the specific details of what took place about Flight 93 will always remain murky, cockpit recorder tapes suggest that what many suspected right away did in fact occur — passengers learned by cell phone calls about other hijacked jets hitting the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and rose up against the terrorists.
In the end, the jet crashed into a field near Pittsburgh, Pa. Aboard were 33 passengers, seven crew members and four terrorists.
The public first heard portions of the cockpit recording on April 12 when they were played for the jury in the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui — the alleged “20th hijacker,” who was captured before he could take part in the 9/11 terrorist attack.
The 30-minute cockpit recording seems to indicate that passengers had successfully reached the cockpit door and were banging on it to gain entry when the hijackers flying the jet decided to intentionally crash the plane. The tapes also recorded the hijackers asking the passengers to remain quietly seated.
“We are going back to the airport, and we have our demands,” one hijacker said.
But passengers reportedly learned by cell phone that the hijackers’ story wasn’t true — that their jet was one more missile of destruction controlled by terrorists.
According to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a Pakistani-Kuwaiti who was captured in Pakistan in 2003 and has been identified by the 9/11 Commission as the principal architect of the Sept. 11 attacks, United Flight 93’s intended target was the Capitol building.
Critics have questioned whether it’s too soon to make movies about 9/11, and whether Hollywood is motivated more by money than altruism.
Paul Greengrass, the United 93 director, created the spy thriller The Bourne Supremacy, but he also dealt with political and social issues in Bloody Sunday, about civil unrest in Ireland in 1972.
A portion of the box office proceeds from United 93 will go towards a national memorial in Shanksville, Pa.
United 93 will not be the last of the Hollywood movies on the Sept. 11 attacks — Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center, about two police officers trapped in the rubble of the Twin Towers, is scheduled for release in August.