Looking Back On Events That Shaped The War On Terror
Exactly two years ago,
terrorists hijacked four American jetliners and forced them to
crash. Two slammed into the World Trade Center towers. Another hit
the Pentagon. The fourth hijacked plane crashed in a field in rural
Pennsylvania. In all, more than three thousand people lost their
lives in the 9/11 suicide skyjackings. The attacks led to the war
on terror, increased domestic security and the invasion of
Afghanistan in late 2001.
It began at 8:45 Eastern time that Tuesday morning, when
American Airlines Flight 11 slammed into the North Tower of the
World Trade Center. The Boeing 767 had 81 passengers and 11 crew
members on board for the trip from Boston to Los Angeles. Five
hijackers were among the passengers of Flight 11, including
Mohammed Atta, the man American officials believe was the
mastermind behind the attacks. He and another hijacker were
photographed by security cameras as they rushed through security in
Portland, Maine, after they arrived on a commuter flight. Two
passengers on board their flight from Maine to Boston say the
hijackers got on separately and kept to themselves. The Boston
Globe reported at least two of the five hijackers were able to
get on board Flight 11 wearing phony airline uniforms and fake IDs.
The FAA says the hijackers had guns.
Eighteen minutes after Flight 11 crashed into the upper floors
of the north tower, United Flight 175 slammed into the south tower.
Like American Flight 11, United 175 took off from Boston that
morning, on its way to Los Angeles with 56 passengers and nine crew
members on board. The New York Times reported the cockpit
crew of the United 757 told to air traffic controllers that they
heard a suspicious radio transmission, supposedly from American
Flight 11. The United pilot told his controller, quote, "Sounds
like someone keyed the mike and said, 'Everyone stay in your
Air traffic control tapes then indicate one of the hijackers on
Flight 175 told the passengers, quote, "We have some planes. Just
stay quiet and you will be OK. We are returning to the airport."
One passenger on board the plane called his father on a cell phone
and said two of the hijackers were stabbing crew members. According
to the BBC, he said, "We're going down," just before Flight 175
crashed into the south tower. In all, 2,893 people were killed in
the World Trade Center attacks. The New York Times says
seven out of ten people who died were trapped on the twin towers'
upper floors when the buildings collapsed.
The Death Of AAL 77
At about the same time as American Flight 11 slammed into the
World Trade Center, another airliner, American Flight 77 veered
sharply off course over Kentucky. The flight, from Washington to
Los Angeles, had 58 passengers and a crew of six on board.
Controllers lost contact with the flight shortly after sending a
routine navigational instruction. The pilot reportedly filed a
revised flight plan, telling controllers he wanted to turn back to
Washington. The jetliner indeed turned back at 8:56, Eastern Time.
The crew of an Air Force C-130 transport, Golf 06 was
asked if they could see Flight 77. During its aggressive maneuvers,
crew members say the American flight came within a mile or so of
the transport. The tower at Reagan National Airport told the C-130
to follow the hijacked jet.
On board Flight 77 was Barbara Olson, wife of Solicitor General
Ted Olson. She used an on board phone to call her husband and ask,
"What can I tell the pilot? What can I do?" The conversation was
cut-off in mid-sentence. Flight 77 had flown straight into the
Pentagon, going as fast as 500 miles an hour. Ted Olson told the
London Daily Telegraph that, as soon as he heard there'd
been a crash at the Pentagon, he knew it was the plane his wife was
aboard. CBS reported the Flight 77 attack on the Pentagon was the
first successful military operation staged against the nation's
capital since the War of 1812.
Cities In Chaos
New York and Washington were in chaos. Parts of Manhattan were
evacuated. The White House was also evacuated. Those leaving the
executive mansion were repeatedly told by Secret Service agents to
"run." Warplanes were scrambled up and down the eastern seaboard.
American Airlines, then United, grounded their fleets. Eventually,
all non-military aircraft were ordered out of the sky.
The President Is Informed -- And Keeps His Cool
A few minutes after
Flight 77 veered off course, President Bush was informed about the
World Trade Center attacks. He was visiting an elementary school in
Sarasota, Florida. The president said nothing about the attacks for
almost 40 minutes, as details continued to pour in to his staff. At
first, Bush told CBS News, he thought the World Trade Center attack
must have been a terrible accident. But when Flight 175 hit the
second tower, his chief-of-staff, Andy Card, said the president
realized he would have to act as commander-in-chief. At around
9:40, President Bush announced from Florida that there had been a
"national tragedy." He was then physically hustled by Secret
Services agents to Air Force One.
Meanwhile, Back At The White House...
Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Advisor
Condoleeza Rice headed for a bunker under the White House, where
they continued to monitor and control the situation. When President
Bush told Cheney he was headed back to the White House, CBS
reported Rice told him, "That may not be wise."
The attack wasn't over.
"Get In The Air Now"
After the Pentagon was hit, F-16 fighters were ordered on alert.
Suddenly, the squadron at Andrews Air Force Base got a frantic call
from the Secret Service. The caller said, "Get in the air now!" The
White House reportedly also called the squadron, declaring the area
around the executive mansion a "free-fire" zone, authorizing the
use of force to protect the District of Columbia. Fighter pilots
were told to shoot down "anything flying" within 25-miles of the
Flight 93: "Let's Roll"
In the meantime, family and friends of the 40 passengers and
crew aboard United Airlines Flight 93 from Newark to San Francisco
started getting phone calls from the airplane. They, too, had been
hijacked. An air traffic control tape picked up one of the
hijackers warning passengers of a bomb on board and saying the
flight was going to head back to the airport. Passenger Todd Beamer
was on his cell phone, talking to a GTE operator.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports Beamer and the
other passengers vowed they wouldn't be the hijackers' pawns. He
reportedly told the operator that there were three hijackers on
board, armed with knives. One of them, said Beamer, appeared to
have a bomb tied to his waist. Beamer said he and the other
passengers planned to jump the hijacker with the bomb strapped to
his body. He dropped the phone, leaving the line open. The last
thing the operator heard was, "Let's roll."
Flight 93 crashed in a Pennsylvania field about 125 miles
northwest of Washington. At cruise speed, the passenger jet could
have been over the District of Columbia in less than 20 minutes.
Just 17 miles away, another plane was in the air. It was a C-130
cargo plane -- the same one that had witnessed Flight 77's crash
into the Pentagon.
Two years later, there
are still questions about security all across the country. Earlier
this week, the General Accounting Office reported to Congress its
undercover agents can still buy phony drivers' licenses and social
security numbers in at least eight states. The federal government
now controls security screening at airports in the U.S. and is
working on a new program to assign each passenger a color code --
green, yellow and red -- to indicate the threat that passenger
might pose in the air. Civil libertarians say the government
crackdown on domestic security and the restriction of some rights
is illegal. Others say it's the only way to make sure 9/11 never