By Harriet Alexander for Dailymail.com
23:58 17 Mar 2023, update 06:50 18 Mar 2023
The captain of a United Airlines flight due to take off from JFK Airport in New York on the morning of September 11 said he believed his plane was intended to be a fifth plane in the terror plot.
Tom Mannello was sitting on the tarmac in the cockpit of United Flight 23 at 9 a.m., waiting to take off, when air traffic control ordered all flights back to their gates.
Mannello later learned that box cutters had been found in a plane parked next door, and believes a ground crew assisting the terrorists got on the wrong plane, thwarting any attempted attack.
“There’s a good chance someone was plotting to try and use our plane as a weapon of mass destruction,” he said on TMZ INVESTIGATES: 9/11: THE FIFTH PLANE, which airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on Fox.
United 23 was not listed in the official 9/11 Commission report and there were never any confirmed arrests of people on board. US officials have not commented on years of speculation that the flight would be a possible fifth aircraft slated for the attack.
September 11, 2001 remains the deadliest terrorist attack in American history and claimed 2,977 lives in four separate attacks.
The five planes of September 11?
American Airlines Flight 11 takes off from Boston, bound for Los Angeles, with five hijackers on board.
At 8:46 a.m., it crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
United Airlines Flight 175 takes off from Boston, also heads for Los Angeles, with five hijackers on board.
At 9:03 a.m., it crashed into the South Tower of the WTC.
American Airlines Flight 77 takes off from Dulles, outside Washington, DC, bound for Los Angeles, with five hijackers on board.
At 9:37 a.m., it crashes into the Pentagon.
United Flight 93 takes off from Newark, New Jersey, after a delay due to routine traffic. It was heading for San Francisco and has four hijackers on board.
At 10:02 a.m., he crashed into an empty field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania after passengers staged a riot and knocked him down. His intended target is believed to be the White House or the Capitol.
United Flight 23 was on the tarmac at JFK, queuing to take off for Los Angeles.
At 9:08 a.m., New York Air Traffic Control announced there would be no takeoff from the airport, so Flight 23 returned to the gate.
Four planes crashed that morning.
American Airlines Flight 11 took off from Boston bound for Los Angeles and crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m.
United Airlines Flight 175 also took off from Boston, 15 minutes after Flight AA, heading for LA: it crashed into the WTC South Tower at 9:03 a.m.
At this point United 23 were on the tarmac and told to get back to the gate.
At 9:37 a.m., American Airlines Flight 77, which had taken off from Washington DC, crashed into the Pentagon.
And finally, at 10:02 a.m., United Flight 93, which had taken off from Newark bound for San Francisco, was shot down in a field in Pennsylvania. Analysts now believe the hijackers were targeting the White House or the Capitol.
Sandy Thorngren, a stewardess on United 23, told the documentary: “I really think Flight 23 was the fifth plane.”
Thorngren said after returning to the gate, the passengers disembarked and the crew were questioned by the FBI.
“They wanted to take us to show us a line of people at the Port Authority,” she said, in a clip from the documentary obtained by DailyMail.com.
“They put us all in a van, a windowless van. I felt like we were sneaking into that van. And taken to the Port Authority offices where everyone – I mean, the doors were locked and guarded by armored personnel who had machine guns, or whatever rifles they were using.
“We were escorted into this room with these double windows where you could see in but not out.
“And they asked us if we could identify the people who were behind that window.”
The documentary says four passengers traveling first class allegedly engaged in suspicious behavior, but no one was ever arrested.
Mannello said he later learned box cutters had been found in the plane parked next to his, and he suspects a hijacking team had help on the ground – but they were mistaken d ‘plane.
“The chief pilot reported to me that they had found two box cutters in the pockets of the first class seat on the plane next to them, which had a single-digit tail number,” Mannello told the documentary.
“If anyone was on the ground cooperating with them, they just made a mistake and put the cutters on the wrong plane.
“You have people who clean the plane, people who load food on the plane, who have access to the plane.
“If someone had cooperated with the group, they could have been placed there. It wouldn’t be the hardest thing in the world to get on a plane like that.
“That’s the only thing that makes me think there’s a good chance someone was plotting to try to use our plane as a weapon of mass destruction.”
Nineteen hijackers were on board the four planes and died in the attacks.
In the two months following the attacks, the security forces had arrested, at least for interrogation, more than 1,200 people.
Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay naval base was turned into a prison to house those arrested in what became George W. Bush’s “war on terror”: at its peak, the camp had 780 men, but none counts more than 32.
Among them, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the attacks, whose trial must begin decades ago.
Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden said he was behind the attacks, and on May 2, 2011, under orders from Barack Obama, a special operations unit raided the Pakistani compound where he lived and killed him.
The attacks led George W. Bush to bomb Afghanistan in October 2001, where the Taliban regime supported al-Qaeda.
The Taliban were overthrown within a month and Bin Laden fled.
Bush then sent US troops to Iraq in March 2003, ostensibly to destroy Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and end the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein.
There was little or no sign of an al-Qaeda link to Iraq, and no WMD was ever found.