GOSHEN, Indiana — When Capt. Jason Dahl piloted a Boeing 757 into the air early on Sept. 11, 2001, he was doing so as a favor to another pilot, who was a family man, according to his cousin Stanley Atkinson of Goshen.
Dahl was commanding United Flight 93 – a Boeing 757 with six other crew members and 33 passengers from Newark, New Jersey – and was on the way to San Francisco when terrorists overwhelmed him and his crew and commandeered the jet. It was the fourth jet to be taken over that day and investigators later determined the terrorists’ goal was to fly it into the Capitol Building.
The jet never reached the Capitol because the crew and passengers fought back after learning of the other attacks. The plane crashed into the ground outside Shanksville.
“Jason was an extraordinary individual,” Atkinson said this week as he prepared to join his family at the annual service at the Flight 93 memorial at the crash site. “He didn’t fly as much as he trained other pilots. This particular month he said he would fly because United was short some pilots.”
Atkinson said his family and Dahl’s family are close. He said Dahl was family-oriented and would often attend family events, bringing his own family to them. He was friendly and outgoing as well, Atkinson said, and his willingness to do a good deed put him in the captain’s seat that fateful morning.
“He was scheduled to be home.. but switched with another pilot to give that man time to be at home,” Atkinson said.
Looking back over the 15 years since the attacks, Atkinson speculated that if the nation knew then that such attacks could occur, perhaps lives would have been saved.
“One thing about it if the security at the airports would have been as strong as they are now,” he said. “Maybe we would not be experiencing this. I think no matter who the leadership of our government is, they should realize this. It was an awakening that we need to pay more attention.”
And now is not the time to let up on security, he suggested.
“I believe we are always going to have to keep our toes heading in the right direction. Once we let down who know who might think they can take a shot at our great country.”
Atkinson, his wife Joanne and their daughter Lori Pickard and her husband Jim will be attending Sunday’s service at the Flight 93 memorial. It will be Stanley’s fifth trip there and Joanne’s third trip.
Dahl and his family attended the Pickard’s wedding when they lived in Waterloo, Iowa.
“Lori has always remembered that,” Atkinson said.
The families of the attack’s victims gather together in an old construction building during the day of the memorial ceremony, Atkinson said. They grieve together and talk about their loved ones.
“We always talk about what ifs, what if Jason said ‘no I have other commitments.’ Then it would have been another pilot. We also always talk about how these insurgent were allowed to come to our country and learned to fly these airplanes. I think a lot of that has been straightened out now. I don’t think the those kinds of people can come in as easily and learn. But one never knows.”
He said the gathering of the families is also used to lift the spirits of all.
“It is just a good, warm, hugging time where we can reflect on the positives,” he said.