ALEXANDRIA, Virginia - In the last minutes before United Flight 93 crashed into a Pennsylvania field on September 11, a passenger urged others to help storm the cockpit and take on the hijackers because "if we don't, we die", a jury heard today.
The cockpit recording of the chaotic final 30 minutes of the flight and the futile attempt to take back control of the plane was played for the first time in public to a jury deciding whether September 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui should be executed.
Moussaoui showed little emotion as the courtroom listened spellbound to the hijackers who were believed to be aiming the plane at the US Capitol or the White House in Washington and the passengers who tried to stop them.
They heard the yelling and the crashing, banging sounds of the struggle, and a plea from an unidentified crew member: "Please, please, please don't hurt me. I don't want to die."
Moussaoui sat back in his chair and stared at a screen which showed a visual depiction of the some key gauges in the cockpit and their movement as the plane neared the ground.
Moussaoui, an admitted al Qaeda member and only person charged in the United States in connection with the September 11 attacks, has pleaded guilty to six counts of conspiracy.
The jury is deciding whether he should spend his life in prison or be executed.
During the flight some passengers learned via phone calls that three other planes had crashed into the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon. Believing they were part of a similar plot, some of them agreed to fight the hijackers.
US District Judge Leonie Brinkema ruled that the recording would only be played in court and not publicly released, though a transcript was made available. Federal prosecutors, who had requested it be heard, finished presenting evidence later in the day. The defence will begin on Thursday.
The tape began with a man believed to be Ziad Jarrah, the hijacker who became the plane's pilot, announcing "Here the captain, please sit down ... We have a bomb on board, so sit." After the announcement, the hijackers appeared to be struggling with pilots, and a female flight attendant.
The hijackers yelled "sit, sit, sit down, sit down" and "In the name of Allah, the most merciful, the most compassionate." Unidentified crew members shouted "No, no, no, no" and "Please, please, please don't hurt me. I don't want to die."
Nearly six minutes after the cockpit struggle began, one of the hijackers said, "Everything is fine. I've finished."
Then the Boeing 757, which was en route to San Francisco from Newark, New Jersey, with 33 passengers, seven crew and four hijackers on board was turned around to head east.
The recorded struggle to take back the cockpit began when the passengers apparently rolled food carts down the aisle to try to force open the door.
At about 9:58, the hijackers realised that the passengers were starting to revolt.
In Arabic someone says, "Is there something? A fight?" Another hijacker responds, "Yeah.
"Roll it," a person outside the cockpit yelled, apparently referring to the cart. "In the cockpit. If we don't we die," a voice said.
The hijacker pilot began rocking the plane violently from side to side, while a hijacker chanted in Arabic "Allah is greatest."
Crashing and banging noises could be heard, interspersed with "ugh" sounds and the sound of breaking glass or dishes.
"They want to get in there," a hijacker said. "Hold, hold from the inside, hold from the inside."
The hijackers conferred about whether it was time to crash the plane then said "Allah is the greatest" several times before the plane ploughed into the field around 10:03am.
The tape was played in 2002 for families of the victims aboard the doomed plane, but the families were ordered not to reveal the contents.