Most people don’t know the name, Jason Dahl.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, Dahl was one of the pilots on United Airlines Flight 93, whose courageous passengers and crew thwarted an attack on our nation’s capital. Their Boeing 757 crashed in a field outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania, killing all on board.
National tragedies touch us all, and sometimes we discover people with intimate connections to those events close to home. Steve Jacques (B.S., ’74) is one of them.
The Aviation Bug
Jacques was born in Wichita, Kansas in 1951, and as a boy, his favorite toys were airplanes. His father was a mechanical engineer who worked for the commercial airplane division of Boeing. He was later hired by IBM and the family eventually moved to Longmont, Colorado in 1966 where Jacques finished high school.
He was sold on attending Colorado State University before he even applied having fly fished the Poudre River with his father and brothers, visited campus with a friend, and watched basketball tournaments in Moby Gym. “CSU’s campus is just so spread out and lovely,” Jacques said. “The campus just has a wonderful vibe to it and we had such a great dorm floor in Corbett Hall.”
He pursued a degree in accounting at the College of Business and had the good fortune of working with Molly Murray, a much-beloved instructor, counselor, and friend to many. Several years after she retired in 1996, a scholarship was created in her honor that Jacques regularly donates to. He also became an Alumni Association member in 2021. “It’s great to be part of the university again,” he said. “The opportunities to connect with others who share similar experiences are really meaningful. The older I get the more I appreciate my time at CSU and how much it shaped my life.”
After graduating in 1974, Jacques worked for three years at Stone, Gray & Co., CPAs, an accounting firm in Denver while earning his certified public accountant certificate. But his dream job was to fly airplanes.
Joining the Friendly Skies
In the 1970s, military pilots leaving the service during the Vietnam War were providing a steady stream of pilots for the U.S. airline industry. With few pilot positions available, Jacques followed the advice of a friend and applied for a job as a flight attendant with United Airlines while continuing to work as a CPA on the side.
Jacques and a co-worker later purchased a 1960 Cessna 210 – a small, single-engine airplane – which allowed him to earn his private pilot’s license. In 1980, however, economic conditions prompted United Airlines to begin laying off employees. Jacques managed to keep his job, but he took a leave of absence to begin working with a small business outside San Jose, California, that needed help with both accounting and flying cargo. It fit his skill set perfectly.
That was when Jacques first met Jason Dahl, who was working at the Reid-Hillview Airport of Santa Clara County fueling and moving airplanes while attending San Jose State University. The two men were only casually acquainted. Little did they know their paths would cross again more than a decade later.
Jacques returned to United Airlines in 1981, became a pilot for them in 1985, and was promoted to captain in 1993. Pilots are required to annually participate in “check rides” conducted by a standards captain to requalify them on specific aircraft. As fate would have it, the standards captain for Jacques’ check ride in 1994 was Dahl. Although it took a few minutes to figure out their connection, they soon became fast friends. As their friendship developed, Jacques also became Dahl’s CPA.
In August of 2001, Jacques was attempting to coordinate a check ride with Dahl for the Boeing 767/757, a fleet of aircraft both men were flying at that time. In May 2001, Dahl had increased his commercial flying time, which limited his training and requalification duties as did his piloting international flights from New York to Milan, Italy.
On the morning of Sept. 11, Jacques was at his home in Denver glued to his television as the events of the day were unfolding. To commiserate, he called Dahl’s home, but an unfamiliar voice answered the phone.
“Is this Matt?,” Jacques asked, thinking it was Dahl’s son. “No, this is Dan, Jason’s neighbor, can I help you.”
And then it hit me … and I said, “‘Oh my God, is Jason on Flight 93.’ Before answering, Dan asked, ‘Who are you?’ I said, ‘I’m Steve Jacques. I’m a United pilot, too, and one of Jason’s dear friends. I’m also his and Sandy’s [Jason’s wife] CPA.’”
“And Dan said, ‘Yeah, that’s Jason’s flight.’ I felt like I was sucker punched.”
Dahl wasn’t scheduled to be on Flight 93. He had traded flights with another pilot so he could take his wife to London the following weekend to celebrate their wedding anniversary.
The Captain Jason Dahl Scholarship
Sandy and other close friends wanted to do something to memorialize Dahl’s life and legacy. According to Jacques, “Jason had been awarded a scholarship when he was a student at San Jose State University after writing an essay about why he wanted to be a pilot, and we thought ‘What better way to honor him than to set up a scholarship fund?’” They established the fund (https://www.dahlfund.org/) and began soliciting donations.
In 2003, they awarded $1,000 aviation scholarships to a SJSU student and one from Metro State University in Denver (both schools have four-year degree programs in aviation). Since then, they have awarded 200 scholarships valued at more than $400,000 to promising young aviators in 43 schools across the country. Each year they award about $40,000 to students.
“People get into aviation because they love it, but it’s a very expensive training program,” said Jacques. “It’s a wonderful scholarship program and has become a prestigious award. Like Jason, we get some really top-notch students.”
In June 2016, Jacques retired from United Airlines after 39 years of service. He still lives in Centennial (south of Denver), works part-time as a CPA, and volunteers as a Dahl Scholarship board member.