Jason Dahl, the pilot of United Flight 93, which crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pa., on Sept. 11, 2001, after passengers stormed hijackers in a last-ditch attempt to regain control of the hijacked aircraft, was the brother of Carol Dahl Heiderich, assistant to the San Benito High School superintendent of schools. A few years ago, Carol Heiderich wrote this letter to the San Benito High School community; she has shared it every year since as an important personal remembrance of that day. Here is an edited version. The complete version is at sanbenito.com.
Dear students and staff at San Benito High School,
The tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the loss of so many people remain active in our thoughts. On that fateful day, we lost Capt. Jason M. Dahl. He was my little brother—and son, husband, uncle, cousin, friend to many, and most importantly to Jason, a father.
Who was Capt. Jason M. Dahl ? We all know Jason was at the controls of United Airlines Flight 93 when it was taken over by terrorists in an attack on America. But Jason was much more than that—he was my little brother. Now, he would not appreciate that! I called him my ‘little’ brother. He teased me on a couple of occasions when I introduced him as such. You see, Jason was of average height but he always had hopes of growing much taller. Although he was an average height, Jason’s heart was bigger than most. Jason was a kind, generous man who always went out of his way to make sure you had what you needed. Whether it was entertaining you while your flight was delayed or calming your fear of flying by letting you sit in a flight simulator and explaining how the equipment worked, your well-being was his priority. Jason brought his interest in aviation to a San Benito High School career fair in the 1990s. He spoke to the SBHS students about his love of flying and what it takes to become a commercial pilot. Jason loved flying so much and when I asked if he would be willing to speak to our high school students about what it takes to become a pilot, he got on a plane and flew from Colorado. Mind you, Jason was working fulltime and participated in school events for his son Matthew, but It was Jason’s style to go out of his way to teach and share his knowledge with others.
Jason grew up in San Jose and attended Andrew Hill High School. He graduated from San Jose State University with a degree in aeronautical engineering. Jason’s love of flying began while he was in junior high. He began flying radio-controlled airplanes and joined the Civil Air Patrol organization at Reid Hillview Airport. He began taking flying lessons and obtained his pilot’s license as soon as he turned 16. A picture of my dad and Jason was taken in front of the small Cessna airplane Jason flew at the time. Before he gave the picture to my dad, he wrote on the back, “Maybe someday this will be a 747. Your loving son, Jason.”
Jason was so appreciative of having the opportunity to learn to fly and was thanking our dad, while still dreaming of the possibilities that lay ahead of him.
While at SJSU he belonged to a student organization called the Flying 20s. This club still exists today. As part of this organization he flew on humanitarian aid trips, delivering much-needed supplies within the United States. The students in the aviation department at SJSU in the 1970s, as well as the students in the program today, are a close-knit group. Jason had five friends who remain close friends to this day.
Upon graduation from SJSU, he was hired as a corporate pilot for a construction company in Fresno. He continued to gain experience while continuing towards his goal of
flying for a commercial airline. United Airlines hired Jason in 1985. After eight years of
flying, in 1993 Jason earned his captain title. With that title Jason became the person responsible for the airplane rides you and l may take for granted. Jason was extremely skilled and knowledgeable about flying and worked hard to ensure our plane rides were safe. Jason rose through the ranks as a pilot and then became a trainer of pilots. Jason worked in the United training center in Denver, Colorado. The weekend before 9/11, Jason called our mother to say he was flying to San Francisco on Sept. 11 and would be performing a check ride on one of the United pilots on Sept. 12 before heading back to Colorado.
Jason’s son, Matthew Dahl, has special memories of his dad reading books to him. Matthew said, “My father never missed a chance to read to me.” Each evening when Jason was not flying but home with the family, Jason and Matt would pick a favorite book, sit on the bed together and share a story. Matt says his dad was great at changing his voice for each character in the story, and they would laugh together as they spent time with each other.
Mark Hoog, a United Airlines captain who worked closely with Jason, was inspired to write some children’s books. A quote from Captain Hoog’s website states, “Mark was inspired by Jason’s talents to encourage and challenge people to develop their unique talents and share these gifts with others. Mark travels the country and speaks with children, business organizations and parent groups to deliver his message on conscious leadership, a lesson shown to him by Jason Dahl that challenges people from all walks of life to develop their unique gifts and talents and to share these gifts with the world through their own leadership contribution.”
I encourage you, the students at San Benito High School, to find your talents and share your gifts with the world. Each student at this school has the ability to follow their dreams and offer their own contributions to this world.
The Dahl family would like to thank the San Benito High School ASB for honoring this day all of the victims of 9/11/2001.