SJSU in the News: Aviation Department Honors Captain Jason Dahl, Alumnus and Flight 93 Pilot

San Jose School Honors Flight 93 Pilot

Originally published by the San Jose Mercury News September 6, 2011.

By Julia Prodis Sulek

From the San Jose elementary school where he first dreamed of being a pilot to San Jose State University where he earned his aviation degree, Capt. Jason Dahl was honored Tuesday for being at the helm of the only hijacked plane on Sept. 11, 2001, that didn’t hit its intended target.

Some 650 students sat in folding chairs, listened to speeches and watched a color guard on the same playground where Dahl once played in the 1960s, back when the school south of Tully Road was known as Hillsdale Elementary, before it took his name.

This is where a kindergarten teacher once wrote on Dahl’s report card that “Jason does everything with zest.”

That was the message for the students at Jason M. Dahl Elementary on Tuesday, many from poor immigrant families, to work hard to achieve their goals, like Dahl did.

“All of you are capable of reaching the skies like Jason has,” U.S. Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, said from the podium Tuesday.

Dahl was pilot of United Airlines Flight 93 that morning 10 years ago, flying from Newark, N.J., to San Francisco when terrorists barged into the cockpit. The cockpit recording picked up Dahl or his co-pilot repeatedly yelling, “hey, get out of here!” before they were killed and the terrorists took over the controls.

The rebellion on Flight 93 is considered America’s first campaign to “fight back” against terrorism. The passengers on the plane, alerted by calls to their wives on the ground that the Twin Towers had been hit and Flight 93 was likely on a suicide mission as well, staged a counterattack against the terrorists.A group charged to the front of the plane and was on the verge of breaching the cockpit when the terrorists pitched the plane into a Pennsylvania farmfield instead of losing control to the passengers.

The plane likely was headed to the White House or the U.S. Capitol.

As Honda put it Tuesday, the terrorists already had struck a blow to the symbol of America’s economy by hitting the Twin Towers, and the symbol of the military when another plane hit the Pentagon. Because of the heroism of Flight 93, he said, the symbols of democracy — the White House and Capitol building were spared.

Three red hybrid tea rose bushes were planted Tuesday in the elementary school garden to signify “courage and strength,” Principal Maria Martinez said. Honda, a group of local pilots from United Airlines and American Airlines, and Dahl’s sisters each shoveled dirt around the bushes.

In the aviation department at San Jose State, where Dahl graduated in 1980, students and faculty gathered to pay their respects to Dahl’s family, including sisters Carol Heidrick and Joan Raymundo.

Tommy Ondrasek, a 28-year-old junior who received the 2010 Jason Dahl Scholarship, considers Dahl a role model.

“He died doing something he loved, and that inspired me to do the same, regardless of what happened 10 years ago,” he said.

Dahl’s son, Jason Matthew Dahl Jr., who is 25 now with a degree in astrophysics, will rendezvous with his aunts on Sunday during a memorial at the crash site. The pilot’s widow, Sandra Dahl, remained in Colorado on Tuesday, where a memorial is planned there.

David Bunger, who studied at San Jose State with Dahl before becoming a pilot himself, pointed out the bronze plaque on the wall of the flight simulation lab Tuesday commemorating Dahl’s heroism. As he put it, “we can’t let Jason’s memory evaporate into the winds.”

Contact Julia Prodis Sulek at 408-278-3409.