11 September, 2010

It’s 12:16 PM September 11, 2001 – Where Are You?

12:16 PM

US airspace is clear of aircraft except for military and emergency flights. Only a few transoceanic flights are still landing in Canada.

Where were you?

2,996 souls were lost on that day, including 343 of New York's Bravest and New York's Finest who gave their lives trying to save others.

Oh, where was I during all of this? In a meeting. No one bothered to interrupt the meeting to mention what was happening. After the meeting, I walked out to my car, somehow managing not to talk to a single person. I got in the car and drove home for lunch, without turning on the radio. I got home, made myself a sandwich, sat down at about 12:05 PM, turned on the TV and discovered that the world had changed while I wasn't looking. Rudy Giuliani has said it best, many times (paraphrasing). "We learned on September 11, 2001 that we were at war. The other side had known they were at war for quite some time, but we didn't know it."

There's a very poignant picture on the NY Times website from 9/11/2006, with the caption "The Hole in the City's Heart"

Where were you?

On September 12, we all promised ourselves that we'd never forget the events of that day. Have you kept that promise?

The times and events listed here are a very small excerpt of what's available at the Cooperative Research History Commons. The whole thing is well worth a read, if you have the time (it's very long). I’ve left out quite a bit, including the actions at the White House, Pentagon, NORAD, etc. There were many heroic decisions and actions made that day. And some less than heroic ones. Right guesses and wrong guesses; it’s all there at the link above, including enough information to make any “truther” giddy as a school girl.

I’ve expanded this quite a bit this year, because too many of us seem to have forgotten what happened that day, and what it felt like to go through it and the following days. Russia was conducting a military exercise in the North Atlantic and shut it down. Putin called Bush and told him that he knew that the U.S. was raising their military alert status and in response, Russia’s military would stand down, in order to make sure nothing bad happened in a moment of high tension. Putin also told Bush that the world must unite against terrorism and that Russia would stand by the United States.

Where were you?


"Freedom and Fear are at War." - U.S. President George W. Bush

"This is a battle with only one outcome: our victory, not theirs." - UK Prime Minister Tony Blair

It’s 11:00 AM September 11, 2001 – Where Are You?

11:00 AM

Most skyscrapers and tourist attractions in the U.S. are evacuated and closed. The list includes Walt Disney World, Seattle’s Space Needle, Independence Hall, and many others.

There are still nearly 1000 airborne flights in U.S. airspace, and every one of them is a potential weapon.

It’s 10:39 AM September 11, 2001 – Where Are You?

10:39 AM

The FAA shuts down all U.S. airports.

It’s 10:28 AM September 11, 2001 – Where Are You?

10:28 AM

The World Trade Center’s North Tower collapses. It was hit by Flight 11 at 8:46, 102 minutes earlier.

It’s 10:06 AM September 11, 2001 – Where Are You?

10:06 AM

United Airlines Flight 93 crashes into an empty field just north of the Somerset County Airport, about 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, 124 miles or 15 minutes from Washington, D.C.


All four hijacked planes are now down. Thousands of planes are still airborne in U.S. airspace and several of them are suspected of being under the control of hijackers. All of these suspicions later turn out to be false.

Note that the exact timing of this crash is still unclear, and it could have been as early as 10:03. NORAD says 10:03. A seismic study says 10:06.

After the crash, Washington still believe the plane is headed towards them. Vice President Dick Cheney (R-USA) gives the order to shoot it down. And this is why I’m glad I’m not President or Vice President. I am not saying that was the right decision or the wrong one. I am saying that I wouldn’t want to be the one to have to make it.

It’s 9:59 AM September 11, 2001 – Where Are You?

9:59 AM

The South Tower of the World Trade Center collapses. It was hit by Flight 175 at 9:03 A.M., 57 minutes earlier.


Sometime in the next hour, astronauts aboard the space station take this picture:


It’s 9:57 AM September 11, 2001 – Where Are You?

9:57 AM

Todd Beamer is still on the phone with Lisa Jefferson. He asks her to recite the Lord’s Prayer with him, and then he recites the 23rd Psalm. He tells her that some of the passengers are going to try to take control of the plane, “We’re going to do something. I know I’m not going to get out of this.”

The group he’s been talking to is apparently not the same as the group containing Tom Burnett, but both groups seem to make their move about now. Todd leaves the phone connected, and Jefferson hears screaming and commotion and Todd’s last words, “Let's Roll.

This is followed by more screaming. Jefferson stays on the line until it goes dead.

The cockpit voice recorder records the following:

PASSENGER: In the cockpit! In the cockpit!

HIJACKER: Allah o akbar

ANOTHER HIJACKER: Should we finish?


PASSENGER: Give it to me!


MORE PASSENGERS: Roll it up! Lift it up!

Some believe that this means that the passengers did regain control, but too late to save the plane.

It’s 9:54 AM September 11, 2001 – Where Are You?

9:54 AM

Tom Burnett is on the phone with his wife Deena once more. He tells her that he and some of the other passengers are going to try to regain control of the aircraft: “We’re waiting until we’re over a rural area. We’re going to take back the airplane.If they’re going to crash this plane into the ground, we’re going to have to do something.… We can’t wait for the authorities. I don’t know what they could do anyway. It’s up to us. I think we can do it. Don’t worry. I’ll be home for dinner. I may be late, but I’ll be home. We’re going to do something,” and hangs up. These are the last words that Deena will ever hear from her husband.

It’s 9:45 AM September 11, 2001 – Where Are You?

9:45 AM

Ben Sliney, FAA’s National Operations Manager, orders the entire nationwide air traffic system shut down. All flights at US airports are stopped. Around 3,950 flights are still in the air. Sliney makes the decision without consulting FAA head Jane Garvey, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, or other bosses, but they quickly approve his actions. It’s Sliney’s first day on the job.

Also, at about this time, Tom Burnett makes yet another phone call to his wife Deena. By now he knows what has happened with the other flights, and he tells her, “[The hijackers are] talking about crashing this plane into the ground. We have to do something. I’m putting a plan together. There’s a group of us.” Deena is amazed at how calm he sounds.

Meanwhile, Todd Beamer has still been unable to contact his family, but is still on the phone with GTE. He tells Lisa Jefferson the details of what’s going on, and she fills him on the details of what has happened outside his plane.

My sister-in-law is stranded in Ft. Lauderdale, FL (yes, I know...not a terribly bad place to be stranded, all things considered) after her flight lands safely there, but all outbound flights are canceled.

It’s 9:43 AM September 11, 2001 – Where Are You?

Todd Beamer, aboard Flight 93 manages to reach a GTE operator using one of the Airfone’s on board. Phone services across the U.S. are having overload issues, and GTE is no exception. Miraculously, this call stays connected all the way to the end.

By now, Cleveland Center is tracking Flight 93 as it heads towards its target in Washington, D.C. They know they have a hijacking, and they know what has happened so far, but are unable to do anything other than move other nearby flights out of the way.

It’s 9:37 AM September 11, 2001 – Where Are You?

9:37 AM

American Airlines Flight 77 crashes into the Pentagon. Approximately 125 people on the ground are later determined killed or missing. Many key officials including Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, escape injury due to the plane hitting the wrong side of the massive building. The joint chiefs and secretary of defense offices are above the River Entrance. The National Military Command Center is also on that side of the building. Hitting it would have essentially shut down the Defense Department.

11 September 2001 - Arlington, Virginia - A ball of flame erupts as a commercial airliner crashes inton the Pentagon September 11, 2001. PHOTO CREDIT: DARYL DONLEY / SIPA PRESS


It’s 9:34 AM September 11, 2001 – Where Are You?

Flight 77 appears to turn away from Washington D.C., causing air traffic control to breathe a sigh of relief. The reason? It’s too high to hit it’s target, and the pilot makes a large circle while descending rapidly.

It’s 9:32 AM September 11, 2001 – Where Are You?

9:32 AM

Dulles air traffic control notices a plane moving very fast (500 mph+) heading eastbound on their radar. This is Flight 77. Over the next several minutes, this plane’s path will be tracked and various nearby facilities will be notified and will engage disaster plans. Some people are evacuated from the Pentagon.

It’s 9:28 AM September 11, 2001 – Where Are You?

9:28 AM

Flight 93 starts behaving erratically and is noticed by Cleveland flight control. In addition, screaming and sounds of struggle in the cockpit are heard by the controller and other pilots in the vicinity.

In the next minute or so, President George W. Bush (R-USA) will make his first public statement on the incident:

BUSH: Today we’ve had a national tragedy. Two airplanes have crashed into the World Trade Center in an apparent terrorist attack on our country.

It’s 9:27 AM September 11, 2001 – Where Are You?

9:27 AM

Flight 93 makes it’s last normal communication with air traffic control. A minute from now the hijackers will take control of the cockpit. Meanwhile, Tom Burnett is calling is wife Deena to tell her that his plane has been hijacked. Tom wasn’t supposed to be on this flight, but his business in New York ended early and he was able to take an earlier flight out of town. She’s surprised to get his call from his cell phone, since she knows cell phone use isn’t allowed once in the air.

DEENA: Are you in the air?

TOM: Yes, yes, just listen. Our airplane has been hijacked. It’s United Flight 93 from Newark to San Francisco. We are in the air. The hijackers have already knifed a guy. One of them has a gun. They’re telling us there’s a bomb on board. Please call the authorities.

Tom says he will call back and hangs up. Deena doesn’t have time to tell him about the World Trade Center, but she does write down everything he says.

It’s 9:20 AM September 11, 2001 – Where Are You?

9:20 AM

The FAA’s Indianapolis Center finally learns that there are other hijacked aircraft, and now doubts that Flight 77 crashed. They discuss this possibility with the FAA Command Center in Herndon, Virginia.

Also, at about this time, United Airlines Flight 23, bound to Los Angeles from JFK International in New York cancels takeoff. It was scheduled to take off at 8:30, but left the gate late and has been sitting in line. Several Arab passengers become aggressive at this news and refuse to debark the plane. Security is called but before it arrives, the men will have vanished, leaving behind box-cutters, copies of the Koran, and al-Qaeda instruction sheets.

It is reasonable to conclude that Flight 23 was supposed to be the fifth plane to be hijacked. However, the target is unknown.

It’s 9:15 AM September 11, 2001 – Where Are You?

9:15 AM

American Airlines grounds all its flights, ordering all airborne planes to land at nearest available airport. By now, they have discussed the situation with United Airlines and doubt that the second plane to hit the WTC was their missing Flight 77.

It’s 9:10 AM September 11, 2001 – Where Are You?

9:10 AM

Flight 77 enters Washington D.C. airspace, yet flight control does not realize that this mystery plane is the hijacked American Airlines flight.

It’s also at about this time that Indianapolis flight control reports that Flight 77 may have crashed near Ashland, Kentucky. No plane crashed anywhere near here, and this appears to be the result of confused radio chatter. Nevertheless, the end result is that the search for Flight 77 is disrupted.

It’s 9:03 AM September 11, 2001 – Where Are You?

9:03 AM

United Airlines Flight 175 hits the South Tower of the World Trade Center (Tower Two). Seismic records pinpoint the time at six seconds before 9:03 a.m. (rounded to 9:03 a.m.). Millions watch it live on TV.

Also, at around this time, American Airlines, having realized that Flight 77 has also been hijacked, grounds the rest of their flights for the day.

It’s 8:58 AM September 11, 2001 – Where Are You?

8:58 AM

Flight 175 makes a power dive, descending at a rate near 10,000 feet per minute over the next few minutes, having yet another near mid-air collision with flight Midwest Airlines Flight 7.

It’s 8:55 AM September 11, 2001 – Where Are You?

8:55 AM

Flight 175 nearly has another mid-air collision with Delta Flight 2315. The radar blips overlap. Moments later, Flight 175 again nearly hits US Airways Flight 542. Within the next two minutes, it will make its final turn towards New York City.

It’s 8:51 AM September 11, 2001 – Where Are You?

8:51 AM

The last radio contact with American Airlines Flight 77 out of Dulles occurs. Sometime in the next 6 minutes it will become the third hijacked plane.

Flight 175 is now reported as being hijacked, and in the next few minutes Mike McCormick, head of the FAA’s New York Center will connect the dots. He sees the coverage on CNN, and knows that Flight 175 is heading in the same direction.

Probably one of the most difficult moments of my life was the 11 minutes from the point I watched that aircraft, when we first lost communications until the point that aircraft hit the World Trade Center. For those 11 minutes, I knew, we knew, what was going to happen, and that was difficult.

It’s 8:50 AM September 11, 2001 – Where Are You?

8:50 AM

Flight 175, believed to have been hijacked sometime in the last 8 minutes, now deviates from it’s assigned flight plan, turning southeast towards New York City, and climbing to 33,500 feet.

It’s 8:46 AM September 11, 2001 – Where Are You?

8:46 AM

American Airlines Flight 11 Hits the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Two minutes later CNN would break off a commercial with live news on this. Carol Lin says, “This just in. You are looking at ... obviously a very disturbing live shot there—that is the World Trade Center, and we have unconfirmed reports this morning that a plane has crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center.” CNN then switches to Sean Murtagh, the network’s vice president of finance, who says in a live telephone interview, “I just witnessed a plane that appeared to be cruising at a slightly lower than normal altitude over New York City. And it appears to have crashed into—I don’t know which tower it is—but it hit directly in the middle of one of the World Trade Center towers. It was a jet, maybe a two-engine jet, maybe a 737 ... a large passenger commercial jet ... It was teetering back and forth, wing-tip to wing-tip, and it looks like it has crashed into—probably, twenty stories from the top of the World Trade Center—maybe the eightieth to eighty-fifth floor. There is smoke billowing out of the World Trade Center.”

Video (requires Windows Media Player)

It’s 8:44 AM September 11, 2001 – Where Are You?

Flight attendant Amy Sweeney of Flight 11 has been on the phone, describing what’s been going on. She was the second of the attendants on the flight to make a call, and has been on the phone since 8:25 AM. Her phone call ends with the following exchange between her and American flight service manager Michael Woodward.

SWEENEY: Something is wrong. We are in a rapid descent… we are all over the place.

WOODWARD: Look out the window. Can you see where you are? [paraphrase]

SWEENEY: I see the water. I see the buildings. I see buildings.

SWEENEY: Oh my God!

SWEENEY: We are flying low. We are flying very, very low. We are flying way too low.

SWEENEY: Oh my God, we are way too low.


These are Sweeney’s last words.

It’s 8:42 AM September 11, 2001 – Where Are You?

8:42 AM

The flight crew of Flight 175 makes their last transmission to air traffic control. At some point in the next four minutes, the hijackers get their second plane. We know little about the takeover of the cockpit of Flight 11, but the hijacking of Flight 175 was bloody and violent. Both pilots are killed.

At around this time, Flight 11 and Flight 175 nearly have a mid-air collision, 55 miles north of New York City.

Also at this time, United Airlines Flight 93 takes off from Newark International, bound for San Francisco. The flight is 41 minutes late getting off the ground.

So far, nothing has been reported in the media. In four minutes, that will change.

It’s 8:38 AM September 11, 2001 – Where Are You?

8:38 AM

The pilot of Flight 11 stops activating the talkback button. It’s reasonable to believe that he’s been replaced in the pilot’s seat by a hijacker.

It’s 8:26 AM September 11, 2001 – Where Are You?

8:26 AM

Flight 11 makes a series of turns over the next few minutes, eventually ending up heading south-southeast, now heading towards Manhattan.

It’s 8:25 AM September 11, 2001 – Where Are You?

8:25 AM

Twelve minutes after losing contact with Flight 11, Boston flight control begins notifying the chain of command that a suspected hijacking is in progress. This includes the FAA’s New England Regional Operations Center, and the FAA Command Center in Herndon, Virginia.

It’s 8:24 AM September 11, 2001 – Where Are You?

8:24 AM

The pilot of Flight 11, apparently trying to signal flight control, has been intermittently turning on the talkback button in the cockpit. Boston Center hears the hijacker for the first time, talking to the passengers:

“We have some planes. Just stay quiet and you’ll be OK. We are returning to the airport.”

The transmission is unclear and there’s confusion about what flight this transmission originated from, and from whom. Boston Center gets to work trying to find out more.

It’s 8:20 AM September 11, 2001 – Where Are You?

8:20 AM

Several things happen at or around this time. Flight 11 veers off course, now heading towards Albany, New York. Flight control decides at this time that the plane has likely been hijacked. In addition, American Airlines Flight 77 takes off at this time from Washington Dulles International Airport. Like Flight 11, and Flight 175, it’s bound for Los Angeles, and like the other two, will never arrive.

At around this time, Daniel Lewin, a passenger aboard Flight 11, and former Israeli Special-Ops member is killed, becoming the first 9/11 fatality.

It’s 8:19 AM September 11, 2001 – Where Are You?

8:19 AM

Flight attendent Betty Ong, onboard Flight 11, calls Vanessa Minter of American Airlines and informs her that the plane has been hijacked. This is the first of independent calls made by flight attendants reporting the hijacking, but officials doubt their validity.

It’s 8:14 AM September 11, 2001 – Where Are You?

8:14 AM

United Airlines Flight 175, bound for Los Angeles, takes off from Boston’s Logan Airport. Scheduled for 7:58, the flight takes off 16 minutes late.

It’s 8:13 AM September 11, 2001 – Where Are You?

8:13 AM

Pilot John Ogonowski of American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston acknowledges the instruction from Boston Center air traffic controller Pete Zalewski to turn 20 degrees to the right. Seconds later he fails to respond to a command to climb to 35,000 feet. This is the last communication from the crew of Flight 11. Within the next 10 minutes or so, the plane’s transponder is turned off, and flight control suspects a possible hijacking in progress.

It’s 7:59 AM September 11, 2001 – Where Are You?

I’ve been requested to do this again. I’ve added a few more posts this year.

7:59 AM

American Airlines Flight 11 takes off from Boston’s Logan Airport, bound for Los Angeles. It’s 14 minutes later than the scheduled 7:45 departure time.