(Translated imperfectly from Vietnamese)
On the afternoon of September 11, 2001, Heather "Lucky" Penney was on the runway of Andrews Air Force Base and was poised to direct the F-16 fighters with the intent of stabbing United Airlines Flight 93, hijacked, according to the Washington Post .
Penney was the first F-16 female pilot of the 121st Armored Infantry Division of the DC P Air Defense Corps to complete two weeks of aerial training in Nevada. When the terrorist attacks occurred, there were no armed aircraft at the base. Fighter jets are still equipped with counterfeit bullets from the training mission. (After 9/11, they deployed two fully armed aircraft, ready to be launched all the time.)
The al-Qaeda terrorist group hijacked control of four planes. They drove two planes straight into the World Trade Center Tower Towers in Manhattan, New York. The third aircraft crashed into the Pentagon in Virginia.
When it is reported that a fourth plane may be on the way to Washington, Colonel Marc Sasseville has asked Penney to deploy the aircraft to stop it. Their shots did not carry live ammunition or missiles.
"Lucky, you come with me," said Colonel Marc Sasseville.
"I'm going to crash into the cockpit," Sasseville said.
"I'm going to crash into the tail," Penny replied without hesitation.
"We dashed into the plane," recalls Penney. "I will be a suicide pilot pilot."
They fly over the burning Pentagon, heading northwest at a speed of over 650 km / h at low altitudes.
"We were not trained to crash down the passenger aircraft," Sasseville said. "If I hit the engine, the plane would still be able to glide, and I thought I had to aim at the cockpit or wing."
He also thought about whether to use the launcher just before the crash. "I hope I can do both at the same time," he said.
Penney worries that if she uses the launcher to escape first, the fighter will miss the target. For her, worrying about failure is worse than worrying about death.
But in the end Penney is not dead. You do not have to crash a plane full of passengers. The passengers did it themselves.
United 93 crashed in Pennsylvania. The hostages resisted the hijackers and did what the two fighters were ready to do: sacrificing to prevent the plane from causing heavy casualties on the ground.
The fourth plane crashed in Pennsylvania after the hostage fought off the hijackers. Photo: alchetron .
"The passengers on United Airlines 93 are real heroes, they are ready to sacrifice themselves," Penney said. "I'm just a historical witness."
She and Sasseville then transferred the task of escorting the president and reviewing the airspace.
Penney's father is a United Airlines pilot. Penney was not sure whether his father was the driver of United Airlines 93.
"It sounds heartless but frankly, I have no way of knowing and that does not change what I need to do," Penney said. In fact, her father was not present on the fateful flight.
Penney is currently a director in the US F-35 program. Although she is no longer a fighter pilot, she still likes to fly and often recalls her special departure more than a decade ago.
"At the time I really believed this would be my last take off," she said.