Maj. Heather Penney recounts 'suicide mission' to protect the nation on 9/11

Maj. Heather Penney recounts 'suicide mission' to protect the nation on 9/11 (Photo: KUTV)

Maj. Heather "Lucky" Penney says she doesn't feel special about 9/11 and said she hopes the nation doesn't wait for another tragedy of that magnitude before America unites.

Penney, who was a 24-year-old first lieutenant at the time, was ordered into the air in her F-16 fighter jet alongside Marc H. Sasseville's aircraft at Andrews Air Force Base as the terrorist attacks were unfolding on September 11, 2001.

She is now a senior resident fellow at the Mitchell Institute of Aerospace Studies and was in St. George on Wednesday and granted an interview to 2News.

She recounted as a brand new wingman with the 121st fighter squadron waiting for the authorization to launch in what she termed as a "suicide mission."

Her aircraft did not have any weapons on it and the order to protect the nation left the only option of ramming the F-16 she piloted into United Airlines Flight 93 before it reached Washington, DC. She told 2News:

When I reflect on 9/11, I don’t actually feel very special about it because in my mind we were a complete mission failure. We caught the authorization to launch far too late. We couldn’t protect the Pentagon, and when you actually go back and reconstruct the timeline, there’s no way we could’ve intercepted Flight 93 anyway because the passengers had crashed the jet half an hour before we’d even got the authorization launch. There were so many failures that prevented us from being able to protect and prevent anything that for me there’s a bitter taste in my mouth.

Yet Penney said if she had to do it over again, she'd do as ordered. She's been quoted as saying:

Why? Because there are things in this world that are more important than ourselves. Freedom. The Constitution of the United States. Our way of life. Mom, baseball, apple pie; these things and so many more that make us uniquely American. We belong to something greater than ourselves. As complex and diverse and discordant as it is, this thing, this idea called America, binds us together in citizenship and community and brotherhood.