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F-16 Pilot Who Wanted To Take On A Suicide Mission To Save Lives On 9/11 Retires


Marc Sasseville, an F-16 fighter pilot, was sent on what he thought would be his final mission twenty-three years ago.

Two hijacked aircraft had struck the World Trade Center’s twin towers in New York City, while a third aircraft had targeted the Pentagon. Sasseville was given orders on September 11, 2001, to stop another hijacked plane from getting to Washington. Four al-Qaida terrorists hijacked United Airlines Flight 93, which ultimately crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Sasseville discussed his valiant mission with fellow F-16 pilot Heather Penney, who was only 26 years old at the time, in an exclusive interview with Chief Global Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz for ABC News.

Both of them took off from Joint Base Andrews, which is close to Washington, D.C., without first knowing the exact details of their mission.

Sasseville stated that everything that transpired that day and the days that followed motivated him to constantly be ready for new challenges.

Sasseville told Raddatz that as soon as he saw the devastation, he instantly remembered the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

After a while, Sasseville and Penney got the terrifying orders to find Flight 93.

Their fighters had not been equipped with missiles because they had scrambled their jets so quickly.

Penney and Sasseville decided to carry out a suicide mission by using their fighter jets to ram the hijacked aircraft, should the need arise.

Penney would aim for the back of the jetliner, while Sasseville would focus on the front.

Sasseville shared a home with his wife and their two small children, who were three and five years old. They had no idea about his mission or that he was willing to sacrifice himself to save others.

Following this, Sasseville and Penney learned that the passengers and crew of Flight 93 had stormed the cockpit, engaging the terrorists in combat. They took back control of the aircraft just before it crashed, killing everyone inside, in an empty field near Shanksville.

The pilots took off again, this time on a combat air patrol mission over the nation’s capital, after making a landing at Joint Base Andrews for refueling. At the time, they had no idea that they would be escorting President George W. Bush back to Washington on Air Force One. Sasseville’s F-16 is seen taking off from the left wing of the presidential jet in pictures taken at the time by the press corps that accompanied Bush.

Sasseville did not discuss his involvement in 9/11 when he got back to his wife Karin and their kids. He gave his family a strong embrace, expressed his love, and said that he would be gone from home “for a long time because something very bad had happened to America.”

Karin eventually discovered the whole account of what her husband had done that day. Sasseville expressed her pride and admiration for him.

After 9/11, Sasseville stayed in the Air Force and rose to the rank of three-star general, heading the National Guard’s second-highest ranking.

Lt. Gen. Sasseville of the US Air Force retired on Wednesday after 40 years of service. On May 15, he made his last aircraft flight in an F-16 from Joint Base Andrews, the same base from which he and Penney had taken off on September 11, 2001. He was given the mission to track down and destroy Flight 93 as it approached Washington, D.C.

The Air Force has since modified the unarmed F-16 aircraft that Sasseville flew on September 11, 2001, so that it can be used as a target drone for aspiring pilots.

Karin went to Sasseville’s retirement ceremony with their children.

Sasseville is taking a well-earned vacation to Puerto Rico with his family to celebrate the start of his retirement.

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