Shown is 1 & 2 World Trade Center, the “Twin Towers”, behind the Statue of Liberty, in 1977. © Brownie Harris/Corbis Historical, via Getty Images
20 years ago to this day, at 8:46AM Eastern Daylight Time, America, and the world as a whole, was changed forever.
19 men, affiliated with the terrorist group known as al-Qaeda, launched a surprise attack against America. Four flights, American Airlines Flight 11, United Airlines Flight 175, American Airlines Flight 77, and United Airlines Flight 93 were hijacked early on that Tuesday morning, in various locations over the Northeast United States.
American Airlines Flight 11
Shown is N334AA, the incident aircraft, in 1990. © Peter Frei 1990
Flight 11 was operated by N334AA, a Boeing 767-223ER delivered new to American in April 1987. N334AA departed Boston Logan International Airport at 7:59AM from Runway 04R.
The 11 crew members aboard were Captain John Ogonowski, 50, First Officer Thomas McGuinness Jr., 42, purser Karen Martin and flight attendants Barbara Arestegui, Jeffrey Collman, Sara Low, Kathleen Nicosia, Betty Ong, Jean Roger, Dianne Snyder, and Amy Sweeny.
There were 81 passengers (including 5 hijackers), including David Angell, the creator and executive producer of 90s’ sitcom “Frasier”, his wife Lynn, and actress Barry Berenson. “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane and actor Mark Wahlberg were supposed to be on Flight 11 but missed the flight and canceled his reservation, respectively.
The 9/11 Commission estimates the hijacking began at 8:14AM in Boston ARTCC airspace, over central Massachusetts.
All 92 aboard perished when Flight 11 collided with 1 World Trade Center (The North Tower) at 8:46AM. The North Tower collapsed at 10:28AM.
“Okay, my name is Betty Ong. I’m Number 3 on Flight 11. Our Number 1 got stabbed. Our purser is stabbed. Nobody knows who stabbed who and we can’t even get up to business class right now because nobody can breathe. And we can’t get to the cockpit, the door won’t open.” - Betty Ong
United Airlines Flight 175
Shown is N612UA, the incident aircraft, in 1999. © Jon Proctor 1999
Flight 175 was operated by N612UA, a Boeing 767-222 delivered new to United in February 1983. N612UA departed Boston Logan International Airport at 8:14AM, 14 minutes behind schedule, from runway 09. It was around this time that American Airlines Flight 11 was hijacked.
The 9 crew members aboard were Captain Victor Saracini, 51, First Officer Michael Horrocks, 38, purser Kathryn Laborie, and flight attendants Robert Fangman, Amy Jarret, Amy King, Alfred Marchand, Michael Tarrou, and Alicia Titus.
There were 56 passengers aboard, including 5 hijackers.
At 8:37AM, Boston ARTCC asked Flight 175 if they were able to locate American Airlines Flight 11. The crew responded that Flight 11 was at 29,000 feet, and Boston instructed Flight 175 to avoid the aircraft. The crew declared that they had heard a suspicious transmission from Flight 11 during their departure, “Sounds like someone keyed the mic and said ‘Everyone, stay in your seats’”. This was the last transmission from Flight 175.
It is estimated the hijacking began between 8:42 and 8:46AM, while American Airlines Flight 11 was making it’s final descent over New York City. Between 8:58 and 9:03AM, Flight 175 turned towards New York City in a powered dive. The average rate of descent exceeded 5,000 feet per minute. Controllers in New York City reported Flight 175 had achieved a rate of descent of 10,000 feet per minute shortly before colliding with 2 World Trade Center (The South Tower), "and they were descending, right at the end, at 10,000 feet per minute. That is absolutely unheard of for a commercial jet."
All 65 aboard perished when Flight 175 collided with the South Tower at 9:03AM. The South Tower collapsed at 9:59AM.
“It’s getting bad, Dad. A stewardess was stabbed. They seem to have knives and Mace. They said they have a bomb. It’s getting very bad on the plane. Passengers are throwing up and getting sick. The plane is making jerky movements. I don’t think the pilot is flying the plane. I think we are going down. I think they intend to go to Chicago or someplace and fly into a building. Don’t worry, Dad. If it happens, it’ll be very fast… Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God…” - Peter Hanson, moments before Flight 175 collided with the South Tower
American Airlines Flight 77
Shown is N644AA, the incident aircraft, in 2001. © Javier Rodriguez 2001
Flight 77 was operated by N644AA, a Boeing 757-223 delivered new to American in May 1991. N644AA departed Washington Dulles International Airport at 8:20AM, from runway 30. By this time, American Airlines Flight 11 was already hijacked.
The 6 crew members aboard were Captain Charles Burlingame, 51, First Officer David Charlebois, 39, purser Renee May and flight attendants Michele Heidenberger, Jennifer Lewis and Kenneth Lewis.
There were 58 passengers aboard, including 5 hijackers.
The 9/11 Commission estimated the hijacking began between 8:51 and 8:54AM, shortly after American Airlines Flight 11 collided with the North Tower and United Airlines Flight 175 was hijacked. Shortly after the hijacking occurred, the aircraft turned towards Washington, D.C., and the transponder onboard was turned off. The FAA was aware there was a problem onboard by this point, as American Airlines Flight 11 had already collided with the North Tower and United Airlines Flight 175 was known to have been hijacked and was nearing New York City.
All 64 aboard perished when Flight 77 collided with the Pentagon at 9:37AM. 125 in the Pentagon perished, including first responders.
“The speed, the maneuverability, the way that he turned, we all thought in the radar room, all of us experienced air traffic controllers, that that was a military plane. You don’t fly a 757 in that manner. It’s unsafe.” - Danielle O’Brien, Dulles International Airport ATC
United Airlines Flight 93
Shown is N591UA, the incident aircraft, in 1999. © Joe G. Walker 1999
Flight 93 was operated by N591UA, a Boeing 757-222 delivered new to United in June 1996. N591UA departed Newark Liberty International Airport at 8:42AM, from runway 30. By this time, American Airlines Flight 11 was 4 minutes from colliding with the North Tower, United Airlines Flight 175 was being hijacked, and American Airlines Flight 77 was 9 minutes from being hijacked.
The 7 crew members aboard were Captain Jason Dahl, 43, First Officer LeRoy Homer Jr., 36, and flight attendants Lorraine Bay, Sandra Bradshaw, Wanda Green, CeeCee Lyles, and Deborah Welsh.
There were 37 passengers aboard, including 4 hijackers.
The hijacking began at 9:28AM. By this time, American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 had already collided with the North and South Towers, respectively, and American Airlines Flight 77 was 9 minutes from colliding with the Pentagon. Of the four flights, only Flight 93 was able to send a distress call. This may have been because the crew was made aware of the previous incidents via ACARS and purposefully keyed their mic when the intrusion occurred to inform Cleveland ACC.
Some 29 minutes after the hijacking of Flight 93 began, the passengers, herded at the back of the cabin, discussed and voted on attempting to revolt against the 4 hijackers and retake control of the aircraft. By now, the other three hijacked flights had reached their intended destinations. The passenger revolt began at 9:57AM. The hijacker in control of the aircraft departed the set course for Washington, D.C., and violently maneuvered the aircraft in an attempt to prevent the passengers from reaching the flight deck. The CVR recorded sounds of crashing, screaming, and the shattering of glass and plates. The hijacker in command initiated a dive after consulting another hijacker at 10:01AM. It is believed the passengers managed to breach the flight deck and were seconds from regaining control of the aircraft, but were too late. Then-Vice President Cheney is reported to have said, “I think an act of heroism just took place on that plane” after learning about the crash.
All 44 aboard perished when Flight 93 crashed in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.
“Let’s Roll.” - Todd Beamer
In total, 2,977 lives were taken, and a further 25,000 were injured, as a result of the actions of those 19 al-Qaeda terrorists. Their acts of violence may have not been held in vain, but our resolve was stronger than they could have ever imagined. Almost 10 years after the events of September 11th, 2001, Osama bin Laden, the man responsible for orchestrating the attacks against America was finally found and subsequently killed in Pakistan on May 2nd, 2011.
Even 20 years after America’s darkest hour, we still remember and honor those whose lives were taken, from the businessmen and women working in the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, the passengers of Flights 11, 175, 77, and 93, and the first responders and everyday people who saved the lives of others in exchange for their own.
Shown is the temporary September 11 memorial and One World Trade Center, also known as “Freedom Tower”. © Demerzel21