A new documentary has raised mystifying questions about 9/11’s so-called ‘fifth plane’ amid demands for the FBI to reveal what they know.
The pilot and three crew members of United Flight 23 told TMZ INVESTIGATES: 9/11: THE FIFTH PLANE that they believe their jet was intended to be used in the attacks.
They raise questions about why there was a burka-clad man sitting in first class with a group of three other Arabs. There was nobody else in the exclusive compartment.
One of these passengers became irate when takeoff was delayed, demanding for the jet to get airborne as it sat at the gate.
United 23 was taxiing to the runway at JFK ahead of its flight to Los Angeles at 9am when all flights at the New York airport were grounded when the second plane hit the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
Flight attendant Sandy Thorngren said she was struck by the person in the burka because it ‘was very tight and you could barely see his eyes.’ She added: ‘It was a man and you could tell by the size of his hands. He had hair on his hands. There was definitely a male underneath that burka’
Pilot Tom Mannello speculated that hatches were opened after they left the jet because someone had been on board to remove evidence
The World Trade Center towers are seen billowing with smoke on September 11, 2001, after the second plane hit at 9:03am
After the plane was evacuated, the FBI came aboard to investigate. They found four hatches in the floor of the main cabin open – despite the crew leaving them closed and the jet being locked up.
Later a pair of box cutters were discovered on the adjacent plane, which had a tail number identical to United 23 bar one digit.
The FBI refused to reveal to the pilot, the crew or the filmmakers whether any of the passengers had ever been traced after they departed the plane.
United 23 did not feature in the official report of the 9/11 Commission, and there were never any confirmed arrests of those on board. Officials have refused to comment on years of speculation about the flight being a possible fifth attack plane.
Here DailyMail.com looks at six of the biggest unsolved mysteries from United 23…
WHY WAS THERE A BURKA-CLAD MAN AND ANOTHER PASSENGER SWEATING PROFUSELY?
Flight attendants Sandy Thorngren and Barbara Brockie Smaldino both attested to seeing a man dressed in a burka along with three other Arabs who were seated in first class. There was nobody in first apart from the four people.
Accompanying the burka-clad man was someone who appeared to be a bodyguard.
A taller well-built gentleman in a suit was seated with a young boy who was about six or seven years old.
Thorgren said she was struck by the person in the burka because it ‘was very tight and you could barely see his eyes.’
‘I did explain to our purser (the lead flight attendant) that I thought that that wasn’t a woman, I thought that was a man. It was a man and you could tell by the size of his hands. He had hair on his hands. There was definitely a male underneath that burka,’ Thorgren told filmmakers.
Smaldino corroborated her claims, adding: ‘I was absolutely convinced it was a man, absolutely. There was no doubt in my mind.’
In business class, Thorgren spotted another man who she found suspicious because he was ‘sweating profusely’ in a t-shirt.
‘It was odd because it was eight o’clock in the morning and airplanes are cold anyway. But it was a cool morning. He wasn’t jittering or anything, but I could see his face sweating, his body, his t-shirt was wet under his arms.’
WHY DID A PASSENGER INSIST ON SEEING THE COCKPIT?
Flight attendant Smaldino recounted how she overheard the Arab who was wearing a suit talking to the purser, identified only as Deborah, asking if the child with him could be shown the cockpit.
‘He asked the purser that he show his young son the cockpit and passengers were just not allowed in the cockpit anymore,’ Smaldino said.
But despite this, Thorngren said that she walked back into first class she saw the child and the man peering into the cockpit.
WHY WERE THE PASSENGERS DEMANDING TAKEOFF?
Prior to takeoff, Deborah was trying to organize for fruit plates to brought onto the plane because all the other meals consisted of meat which the Arabs could not eat.
Thorngren said: ‘The people in first class, they didn’t wanna eat. Our purser was determined they get food because it was going to be a long flight.’
However, the passengers became frustrated by this and told her that they did not need any food, they just wanted to leave.
‘They were arguing with her that they didn’t want to eat. They wanted to takeoff. “We don’t need food, we want to take off, we don’t need food, we just wanna go”‘, Thorngren recounted.
WHO OPENED HATCHES AFTER THE PLANE WAS EVACUATED?
Shortly after the second plane smashed into the World Trade Center, flights at JFK were grounded and the airport evacuated.
United 23 was turned back on the runway and taxied back to the gate.
The passengers departed and then the crew went through the jet to make sure it was totally cleared because an engineer had been ordered to lock the aircraft.
Around 20 minutes later, the FBI went aboard the plane and found that four hatches in the floor of the cabin were open. The hatches lead down to a compartment for the plane’s electronics. Within this compartment there is also a further hatch below in the floor which allows the jet to be accessed from the runway.
Purser Deborah said she was stunned when the FBI asked her about the open hatches.
‘When they told me the hatches were open I couldn’t breathe. I tried to figure out how those hatches could be opened unless there was somebody down in the electronics area and they opened it after we left the aircraft,’ she said.
Pilot Tom Mannello suspected that somebody could have been trying to get out of the aircraft ‘without being noticed’ and had been trying to get on board to remove evidence.
‘Whether it be box cutters in the seats, or knives or weapons, I’ve got no idea but somebody could have entered the aircraft through the electronics bay and into the cabin and removed whatever evidence they wanted to and then simply left the airplane,’ he said.
On a Boeing 767 jet the hatch into the bottom of the electronics compartment is located behind the front wheel. It can be opened from the runway with the turn of a handle. Someone can then hoist themselves inside with their arms, or use a ladder.
Once inside the electronics compartment a second hatch above allowed access to the main cabin of the aircraft. The hatch is beside the main entry door of the aircraft to the rear of the cockpit.
People run away as the North Tower of World Trade Center collapses on 9/11
Smoke billows from the Pentagon after one of the four planes crashed into it on September 11
WHY WERE BOX CUTTERS FOUND IN FIRST CLASS IN ADJACENT PLANE?
In their searches of other planes at JFK, the FBI discovered a pair of box cutters in the seat compartment of the jet beside United 23 at the terminal.
The plane’s tail number was just one digit off the United flight, leading pilot Mannello to suspect that the blades were actually destined for his jet but had been misplaced.
Mannello said he learned that the FBI had found the box cutters through a discussion with another pilot.
‘If somebody was on the ground cooperating with them they just simply made a mistake and put the box cutters on the wrong airplane,’ he said.
‘I believe that those box cutters were meant for my airplane, not the one next to me.
‘It’s the one thing that makes me think that there’s a good chance that somebody was plotting to use our airplane as a weapon of mass destruction.’
Firefighters and emergency workers investigate the crash site of United Flight 93 after the jet was hijacked during the 9/11 terrorist attacks and passengers brought it down near Shanksville, Pennsylvania
WHERE DID THE PASSENGERS GO?
The crew were taken to the Port Authority the day after by the FBI. Agents came to their hotel rooms and they were interviewed individually.
They were later taken to view a lineup of people at the Port Authority but none of them were able to identify any of the people behind the window.
Thorgren said she told them she was suspicious about the four people in first class and the sweating man in business.
Pilot Mannello said that during his interview with the feds, they said they had seven people on their radar. The FBI didn’t go into detail about the four gentlemen in first class but Mannello recalled that the agent referred to them all as ‘Arabs’.
‘I think he suggested they were going to be questioned,’ Mannello said.
The pilot said he does not understand why the FBI never explained what they found about United 23. The agency did not respond to a request for comment from the filmmakers.
Mannello said: ‘Nobody was forthcoming with what I think is a simple statement: “No these were innocent people on the flight, forget about it.” I don’t know why that information can’t be released.
‘If they were involved then I could understand why that information isn’t being released.’
He said: ‘I now believe it was more likely than not that we were the fifth plane.’