Accessibility links

Breaking News

Cockpit Recording from Hijacked Plane Played at Moussaoui Trial

Jurors in the death penalty trial of convicted terror conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui heard chilling tapes from the cockpit of United Airlines Flight 93, one of four planes hijacked as part of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

A federal jury in Alexandria, Virginia, must decide whether Moussaoui should be executed or sent to prison for life.

As part of the prosecution's arguments in favor of the death penalty, cockpit tapes from Flight 93 were played in court for the first time.

Flight 93 is the plane that crashed into a field in Pennsylvania after passengers tried to retake control of the aircraft from four hijackers on September 11th, 2001.

The cockpit tape begins with the voice of one of the hijackers warning passengers that there is a bomb on board and telling them to sit down and shut up.

Later, another voice from cockpit, possibly a crewmember, is heard to say, "Please do not hurt me, oh God." Seconds later, another person is heard to say, "I do not want to die."

Passengers on board already knew of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon outside Washington and decided to storm the cockpit in an effort to retake control of the plane.

Later on the tape, as a struggle apparently ensues in or near the cockpit between the hijackers and passengers, one of the passengers urges on the others, saying, "If we don't, we die." One of the hijackers is heard to say, "They want to get in. Hold from within."

At this point, signs of an apparent struggle are heard on the tape, with one of the hijackers saying, "Give it to me, give it to me," likely referring to the plane's controls.

The hijacker in control of the plane began to rock it from side to side in hopes of preventing the passengers from crashing into the cockpit with a food cart. One of hijackers yelled, "Allah is the greatest," right before the plane crashed into a field in southwestern Pennsylvania.

The dramatic airing of the audiotapes from Flight 93 helped to wrap up the prosecution's arguments in the Moussaoui case. They maintain Moussaoui lied about his knowledge of the 9/11 plot when he was arrested in Minnesota three weeks before the attacks.

Hamilton Peterson favors the death penalty for Moussaoui. He lost his father and stepmother in the crash of Flight 93 and has heard the tapes before.

"I think it captures the American spirit," he said. "It is truly remarkable that when one appreciates the brutality and the complexity of the conspiracy, that in a matter of moments, these brave Americans overcame a horrific challenge."

When the trial resumes, Moussaoui's defense attorneys will have their turn to try and convince the jury to spare their client's life and send him to prison for life without chance of parole.

George Washington University legal expert Jonathan Turley predicts that Moussaoui's defense team will have an uphill struggle.

"This is going to be a very difficult role for the defense because there is virtually nothing that they can present," he explained. "They will very likely try to chip away, as best they can, at Moussaoui's instability and the fact that he seems to relish the idea of dying in connection with 9/11."

Moussaoui's lawyers maintain their client knew little of the 9/11 plot and that the U.S. government bungled other clues that might have helped unravel the conspiracy before the attacks.

But Jonathan Turley and other legal analysts say the defense will have a hard time countering the emotional testimony from relatives of victims in court this week who spoke about the impact of the deaths of loved ones on their lives.