More than two decades after the devastating terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, that claimed the lives of 2,976 people, questions remain as to whether more aircraft were potential targets of the hijackers. Now, a TMZ investigation poses the question if there was a fifth plane on 9/11 with interviews from the flight crew of United Airlines flight 23 who believe they were also a target.
The September 11 attacks were four coordinated suicide attacks carried out by the militant extremist network al-Qaeda, having hijacked four commercial aircraft scheduled to travel from the east coast of the United States to California. After violently taking control of the aircraft, two passenger jets collided with the World Trade Center towers in New York City while a third crashed into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the US Department of Defense. A fourth plane was intended to hit a similar federal building in Washington DC but crashed into a field in Pennsylvania.
Was there a 5th plane on 9/11? An independent commission that investigated the horrific events of 9/11 reported in 2004 that the original plan for the attacks actually involved 10 planes and other government targets. “That preliminary list also included the White House, the Pentagon, and the World Trade Center,” said 9/11 the commission staff, formally known as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. “Some of the 9/11 terrorist plans, the commission staff said, called for the hijacked jets to be crashed into the headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency, various nuclear power plants, and skyscrapers in California and Washington State, a captured leader of Al Qaeda, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, told interrogators.”
This certainly fits with new information presented in TMZ’s TMZ Investigates 9/11: The Fifth Plane documentary, in which United Airlines pilot Tom Mannello claimed his plane was targeted by terrorists on September 11 but was ultimately grounded after the first tower was hit. “There is a good chance that somebody was plotting to try to use our airplane as a weapon of mass destruction,” Mannello said in the documentary, which TMZ said it took six months to investigate suspicious activity on the aircraft which was scheduled to fly from New York’s JFK to Los Angeles at 9 am. Three flight attendants, a United dispatcher, and a member of the 9/11 Commission among others were interviewed for the documentary.
It’s said four passengers who sat in first class aroused suspicion almost immediately after boarding the plane. First-class flight attendant, Sandy Thorngren, said she believed one was dressed in disguise and while she offered them fruit planes prior to taking off, it triggered a heated argument. “I could hear them say, ‘We do not want to eat, we don’t need food. We want to take off. We don’t need food. We just want to go’,” she recalled them saying. One of the men was sweating profusely, which struck her as “odd because it was 8 o’clock in the morning, and airplanes are cold anyway, but it was a cool morning,” she said.
The plane taxied along the runway but didn’t have an opportunity to take off, the first WTC tower was hit and the airport shut down, the plane returned to the gate, and it was evacuated and locked. Not long after, witnesses claimed they saw two uniformed people running in the UA23 passenger cabin and when authorities arrived, they discovered a mysteriously opened hatch that led from the belly of the plane to the cabin.
Manello believes the two individuals were there to remove weapons or other incriminating evidence. The pilot also learned of two box cutters—tools smuggled aboard by the successful 9/11 hijackers—which were discovered in first-class seat pockets of a plane parked next to Flight 23. “If somebody was on the ground cooperating with them, they just simply made a mistake and put the box cutters on the wrong airplane,” Mannello said, saying it “wouldn’t be the hardest thing in the world” to do at the time.
American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston to LA struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m., and United Airlines Flight 175, also from Boston to LA, crashed into the South Tower less than 20 minutes later. American Airlines Flight 77, from Washington DC, struck the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m., while United Flight 93, from Newark to San Francisco, crashed in a Pennsylvania field, likely headed for the Capitol Building or White House. Manello believes his plane could have met a similar fate. “I definitely think that Flight 23 from JFK to LAX was the fifth plane,” Thorngren said in the documentary. “And that’s what scares, haunts me to this day.”
TMZ Investigates 9/11: The Fifth Plane is available to stream on Hulu.
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