Pilot ordered to prevent 9/11 hijacked plane from reaching DC retires

Pilot ordered to prevent 9/11 hijacked plane from reaching DC retires

A military pilot who was ordered to prevent one of the planes hijacked by terrorists on September 11, 2001, from reaching its targets has retired.

US Air Force Lt. Gen. Marc Sasseville told ABC News that one of his most notable missions occurred during the terrorist attacks more than two decades ago.

He had been an F-16 fighter pilot and at the time was ordered, along with fellow F-16 pilot Heather Penney, to locate and prevent United Airlines Flight 93 from reaching its target in Washington, DC.

“My challenge was, how do we shoot down this unique threat, a civilian airliner… full of people, full of civilian people?” Sasseville recalled the medium.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Marc H. Sasseville poses for an official photo at the Air National Guard Readiness Center, Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, Aug. 11, 2020. Official photo produced by the office of public affairs of the Air National Guard.

U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. David J. Fenner

Explaining that his and Penney’s planes were not equipped with missiles when they took off from Joint Base Andrews, near Washington, D.C., he prompted them to formulate a plan to possibly ram the hijacked plane with their own planes to redirect it, which would have been a suicide mission, Sasseville explained to ABC News.

“The training started to work,” he added. “I felt like I was on autopilot.”

Despite having a wife and two young children at home, then ages five and three, Penney said Sasseville “didn’t ask anyone else to lead that mission,” adding: “He wouldn’t ask anyone else to give what he was.” “I’m not willing to give.”

Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE’s free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best PEOPLE has to offer, from celebrity news to compelling human interest stories.

In the end, the pair did not have to perform the maneuver, as the passengers of Flight 93 fought to regain control of the flight from the hijackers. The plane eventually crashed into an empty field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, killing everyone on board.

“If those ’93 heroes – and by the way, those are the real heroes – if they hadn’t acted and done what needed to be done, it would have been a very different outcome for me and my family,” Sasseville told ABC. News.

Sasseville further detailed that when he and Penney returned to base, they were assigned another mission: escorting Air Force One with then-President George W. Bush on board, as it returned to Washington, D.C. to deal with the aftermath of the attacks.

Sasseville stated that “the event and everything that has happened since” had been “a motivating imperative” that prompted him to “look forward and be prepared for future challenges.”

He eventually became a three-star general and the number two officer in the National Guard, according to ABC News.

After 40 years of military service, Sasseville made his final flight in an F-16 on May 15 from Joint Base Andrews.

On May 29, he celebrated the honor with his wife and three children. “It has been a tremendous honor and privilege to serve, and a truly unique opportunity for me and my family to make a difference,” Sasseville said during his speech, according to ABC News. “Now you have the watch. Thank you all.”