September 11, 2001
May we never forget!
The story of September 11
The morning of Tuesday Sept 11 was bright and crisp as thousands of people made their way to work in New York and Washington. Most people thought that a terrible accident had happened when a plane hit the north tower of the World Trade Centre just before 9am.
But within an hour, as thousands lay dead in the wreckage of the twin towers and the Pentagon, it was apparent that America had been the victim of a terrible terrorist attack. What follows is the story of the day that changed America forever.
At 7.58am United Airlines flight 175 takes off from Boston's Logan airport bound for Los Angeles. Over the next 12 minutes another three flights take off from cities on America's eastern seaboard, all heading to either Los Angeles or San Fransisco.
Among the 266 people on board the flights are 19 suicidal terrorists preparing to hijack the airliners with knives and razors.
At 8.40am, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issues an alert that American Airlines flight 11, a Boeing 767 which took off from Boston at 8.02am, has been hijacked.
One of the pilots manages to switch on the intercom with air traffic controllers who hear the voice of one of the hijackers. He says: "Don't do anything foolish. You are not going to get hurt. We have more planes. We have other planes."
Two F16 fighter jets from Otis Air Force Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, are scrambled over New York.
Three minutes later, the FAA says that United Airlines flight 175 has also been taken over by terrorists. A female flight attendant manages to make an emergency call from a telephone at the rear of the aircraft, saying that her colleagues have been stabbed.
At 8.46am American Airlines flight 11 crashes into the north tower of the World Trade Centre in Manhattan between the 93rd and 103th floors. The impact and resulting fireball kills all 92 people on board together and many more inside the building.
Emergency teams rush to the scene and an order is put out to evacuate both the north and south towers where an estimated 20,000 people are are working.
Fifteen minutes later a second airliner, United Airlines flight 175, slams into the 80th floor of the south tower of the World Trade Centre, killing all 65 people on board and hundreds more inside the building. It is now clear that the crashes are no accident and the world stops to watch the terror unfolding in New York.
The fires within the twin towers are fuelled by more than 20,000 gallons of aviation fuel and soon reach temperatures of more than 800C, cutting off the hundreds of people trapped in floors above the explosions. Thousands of people working in the towers and other buildings in the World Trade Centre complex try to flee downtown Manhattan.
Ten minutes later, an ashen-faced President George W Bush is informed about the attacks in New York while addressing schoolchildren at a primary school in Florida. Soon after, the FBI announces that other hijackings have been reported.
Just before 9.40am a Boeing 757 is seen approaching Washington from the south-west. The plane, American Airlines flight 77, had taken off from Dulles airport in Washington and headed off towards Los Angeles over an hour earlier before looping back towards the capital.
As the plane drops lower over the city, it turns sharply towards the Pentagon before crashing into one side of the US military headquarters.
The resulting fireball destroys a large chunk of the five-storey building. Sixty-four people on the airliner are killed together with 188 inside the Pentagon. President Bush orders any other hijacked plane to be shot down as the White House and Capitol Hill are evacuated.
Meanwhile in New York, people can be seen jumping to their deaths from the twin-towers in order to escape the inferno inside.
By this time, the soaring temperatures of the fire in the south tower have destroyed the protective coating surrounding the building's steel supports and people on the ground report large blobs of molten steel falling from the sky as the structure of the building begins to giveway.
At around 9.50am a surge of air followed by a loud crash can be heard as the floors directly affected by the explosion in the south tower collapse.
By the time of the Pentagon attack, United Airlines Flight 93 which took off from Newark, New Jersey, bound for San Fransisco at 8.01am, has been reported hijacked. It also heads out towards the west coast before doubling back and heading towards Washington.
However, the plane never reaches its target - possibly the presidential retreat at Camp David in Maryland - as several passengers tell their families on mobile phones that they are going to fight the hijackers.
Thomas Burnett called his wife to say: "I know we're all going to die - there's three of us who are going to do something about it. I love you, honey."
It is later thought that the passengers were close to overpowering the terrorists when the plane crashed in field near the rural town of Shanksville, near Pittsburgh, at 10.03am. Forty-five people on board are killed in the crash.
Two minutes later the horror of the attacks in New York escalates as the south tower of the World Trade Centre collapses, sending a huge cloud of heavy, grey dust rolling through Manhattan. Thousands of people in the tower are crushed to death, including hundreds of firefighters and police officers who had rushed into the building to help.
Emergency workers in the north tower now try to escape the World Trade Centre complex, including New York's Mayor Rudolph Guiliani who had rushed to the scene shortly after the first impact. For a short time it is feared that New York may have lost most of its senior officials with many fire and police chiefs among those crushed.
Twenty-four minutes later the north tower collapses. Like the south tower, thousands of workers, fire rescue workers, police officers and paramedics are trapped inside as hundreds of thousands of tons of concrete and steel falls to the ground. The catastrophe also causes massive damage to many buildings in Manhattan, and a 47-storey building in the World Trade Centre complex collapses several hours later.
By the time the north tower collapses, it is clear that the US is under attack in a way not seen since World War II and federal agencies start to close America to the outside world.
American forces in the US, the Gulf and Europe are put on the highest level of alert as five battleships and two aircraft carriers set sail from the naval base in Norfolk, Virginia, to protect the cities on the eastern seaboard.
The border with Mexico is closed and restrictions are tightened along the Canadian frontier. Flights heading towards the US are told to either turn back or divert to Canada or the Caribbean and the FAA makes the unprecedented move of grounding all 4,000 civilian aircraft in the US.
Meanwhile, President Bush travels from Florida to Louisiana where he makes a television address vowing to hunt down the terrorists. "Make no mistake, we will show the world that we will pass this test," the president says, before being bundled back on to Air Force One by the Secret Service and being flown to a bunker at Ormitt Air Force Base, Nebraska.
However, by mid-afternoon the panic of the morning has been replaced by anger. President Bush leaves Nebraska at 4.30pm and heads back to Washington.
Many leading politicians, including Colin Powell and Senator John McCain, call the attacks an act of war.
Henry Kissinger, the former Secretary of State, says: "This is comparable to Pearl Habor and we must have the same response and the people who did it must have the same end as the people who attacked Pearl Harbor."
Similar sentiments are expressed by leaders across the world, including Tony Blair who pledges that Britain will stand "shoulder to shoulder" with America. The Prime Minister also calls a meeting of Cobra, the committee that meets only in times of national emergency, and bans flights over the centre of London.
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany calls the attack a "declaration of war" and pledges his country's support to the US.
President Bush, who returns to the White House in the early evening, tries to reassure his country that the government continued to function during the attacks despite the his flight to Nebraska.
He says in a television address: "These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat, but have failed. Our country is strong. A great people has been moved to defend a great nation."
By now the finger of suspiscion has been firmly pointed at Osama bin Laden and his al-Qa'eda terror network based in Afghanistan. Few other terrorist groups could have planned such a co-ordinated attack, but the Taliban government attempts to distance itself and bin Laden from the acts of mass murder in New York and Washington.
Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, says: "Osama is only a person. He does not have the facilities to carry out such activities. We want to tell the American people that Afghanistan feels their pain."
Meanwhile, it is still not known how many people have died in New York and Washington. Most of New York's hospitals are put on alert, waiting to be overwhelmed by casualties. But the flood turns out to be a trickle as it emerges that people either managed to escape the twin-towers or died inside them.
Mayor Guiliani poignantly says that the number of dead "will be more than any of us can bare" and only five people are found alive in the rubble at "Ground Zero" in the 24-hours after the attacks.
Nevertheless, the estimated death toll drops over the subsequent weeks and months as people who managed to escape the collapsing towers report their survival to the authorities.
A year after the disaster, it was confirmed that 3,044 people died in the attacks in New York and Washington, 2,811 of whom were killed in the twin towers. In comparison, more than 2,400 US sailors died in the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor in 1941.