Chronology of a nightmare
By MURRAY CAMPBELL
With files from AP and Reuters
Wednesday, September 12, 2001
The first plane came from the south, swooping low in the crystal blue skies over the glistening Hudson River at the beginning of what promised to be a transcendently lovely late-summer day.
It was about 15 minutes before 9 a.m. (EDT) and the 50,000 people who work in the two soaring, 110-storey towers of the World Trade Center were just beginning their workdays.
Clyde Ebanks, vice-president of an insurance company, was at a meeting on the 103rd floor of the south tower when his boss said, "Look at that!"
He turned and saw a plane go by and hit the trade centre's north tower.
The day that had started with coffee and office gossip had disappeared. Suddenly, it was replaced with a scene of horrific and exceedingly systematic destruction.
The circle of violence, what U.S. President George W. Bush called "an apparent terrorist attack," spread quickly after that first crash. For a couple of hours yesterday morning, events were happening so fast that confusion reigned about what had hit where.
This is a chronology of one of the most appalling days in human history:
8 a.m.: American Airlines Flight 11, a Boeing 767 with 92 people on board, leaves Boston's Logan Airport. It flies west for a while toward its scheduled destination of Los Angeles and then, somewhere over upstate New York, it veers sharply south toward New York City after apparently being hijacked.
It slows to about 313 knots from a top speed of about 500 knots as it nears the southern tip of Manhattan. "It's as if it were seeking a target," says Walter Kross, president of Flight Explorer, a U.S. Internet site that tracks aircraft movements.
8:45: The jet, now a guided missile pointed at the symbol of U.S. financial might, hits the trade centre's north tower somewhere around the 90th floor.
"I just heard the building rock, it knocked me on the floor," says Peter Dicerbo, who is working in the 47th-floor offices of First Union National Bank when it hits. "It sounded like a big roar, then the building started swaying, that's what really scared me."
Richard Cruz is getting off the elevator on the 92nd floor of the south tower when the plane hits.
He rushes to the stairwell and, as he is descending, he looks out a window to see one side of the building opposite him engulfed in flames and people jumping out.
"I saw the horror. That's when it hit me and I thought to myself "I have to get out of here.' "
When he gets to the bottom, he catches the eye of a co-worker. They exchange shaky smiles. "We're very lucky, aren't we?" she says.
9:03: A second jet swooping over the Hudson at an angle strikes the trade centre's south tower from the south, about two-thirds of the way up.
Television cameras capture the impact of United Airlines Flight 175, a Boeing 767 carrying 65 people, which left Boston for Los Angeles about 8:15 a.m., but hooked back toward Manhattan over Philadelphia.
An enormous ball of orange flames bursts from the building's north side a second after the plane hits the tower.
Witnesses report seeing people jumping out of the windows to their certain deaths.
"The minute I got out of the building, the second building blew up," says Jennifer Brickhouse, who is on an escalator near the ground floor when the first plane strikes.
"All this stuff started falling and all this smoke was coming through. People were screaming, falling and jumping out of the windows."
Lolita Jackson, who was working on the 70th floor of the south tower, has made it down to the 44th floor when the second plane hits. Ms. Jackson, who went through a 1993 terrorist bombing of the trade centre, has good reason to believe that lightning can strike twice.
"I always tell my friends that my disaster chit has already been used up," she says.
9:05: U.S. President George W. Bush, reading to children at a school in Sarasota, Fla., is interrupted by an aide who whispers in his ear. He resumes reading.
9:21: Tunnels leading into Manhattan are closed.
9:28: Bush cuts short his Florida visit and boards Air Force One. "Terrorism against our nation will not stand," he says.
9:45: A third passenger jet, American Airlines Flight 77, a Boeing 757 carrying 64 people, crashes on a helicopter landing pad beside the Pentagon, near Washington, D.C. It had left Dulles International Airport outside Washington at 8:21 a.m. for a scheduled flight to Los Angeles.
The plane is travelling so low that it clips light standards on the roads around the Pentagon and eyewitnesses report that it powers up just before impact.
The impact of the crash causes one side of the five-sided structure, the headquarters of the massive U.S. military, to collapse.
9:48: The U.S. Capitol, home to the House of Representatives and the Senate, is evacuated.
9:49: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration grounds all flights departing from U.S. airports.
9:50: The White House is evacuated as the central part of Washington is thrown into chaos.
District of Columbia police herd bewildered pedestrians farther away from the White House as rumours abound about another hijacked plane heading for the city. Drivers looking to get out of the city quickly run red lights and speed across intersections, sending pedestrians scattering.
"We are all sitting ducks here. We can't get out of the city. If they want to bomb the city, we are all just waiting," one federal employee complains.
Authorities begin deploying troops in the capital, including an infantry regiment. The Situation Room at the White House goes into full operation.
"This is the second Pearl Harbor. I don't think that I overstate it," Republican Senator Chuck Hagel says.
9:58: A man calls an emergency dispatcher in Pennsylvania and says he is a passenger locked in a bathroom aboard United Airlines Flight 93, which had left Newark, N.J., for San Francisco at 8:43 a.m.
"We are being hijacked, we are being hijacked," he says before the line goes dead.
10:00: The trade centre's south tower collapses.
Witnesses report hearing a sucking sound and then an incredible surge of air as the floors pancake downwards.
A vast cloud of dirt, smoke and debris descends onto the streets below. Thousands of pieces of office paper drift over Brooklyn, about five kilometres away.
A man on a pay telephone near the trade centre is mobbed by people who want to use the phone to call relatives but find they can't use their cellphones.
At nearby St. Vincent hospital, doctor Stephen Stern reports that "hundreds of people are burned from head to toe."
"Everyone was screaming, crying, running, cops, people, firefighters, everyone," New York City fire marshal Mike Smith says. "It's like a war zone."
Businessmen Gabriel Ioan, shaking in shock outside nearby City Hall, says: "I just saw the building I work in come down."
10:10: United Airlines Flight 93, which has 45 people aboard, crashes in rural Somerset County, about 120 kilometres southeast of Pittsburgh.
Michael R. Merringer, out on a mountain bike ride with his wife, says he hears the plane's engines throttle up twice before the crash.
"I looked up and I saw the smoke coming up," he says.
Flight Explorer reports that the plane makes a series of "dramatic turns," taking it west of Cleveland, before before the pilot refiles his flight plan and the plane heads southeast for Washington.
"Then suddenly it went down," Kross says.
10:25: All international flights scheduled to land in the United States are diverted to Canadian airports.
10:30: The trade centre's north tower collapses. The top of the building explodes with smoke and dust as the giant communications antenna at the summit topples like a rocket in reverse. The fallout of debris blocks out the brilliant sun.
"There are no words to describe this," says CBS announcer Dan Rather, who stops talking for many long seconds.
10:50: Chaos breaks out around the Pentagon as rumours spread that a second attack plane is on its way. A fighter jet flies over the Pentagon, but no second plane appears.
11:04: The United Nations evacuates its headquarters on Manhattan's East Side.
11:18: American Airlines confirms that two of its planes have been hijacked and presumed crashed.
11:59: United Airlines reports that two of its planes have been hijacked and presumed crashed.
12:43 p.m.: Bush places the U.S. military on high alert.
12:53: At a hastily arranged news conference at Barksdale Air Force Base near Shreveport, La., Bush says all "appropriate" security precautions have been taken.
"Make no mistake, the United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts," he says.
12:55: Taliban rulers in Afghanistan deny any responsibility for the attacks even though they have granted asylum to Osama bin Laden, the Saudi man who most U.S. officials believe is behind the carnage.
"What happened in the United States was not a job of ordinary people. It could have been the work of governments," says Taliban spokesman Abdul Hai Mutmaen. "Osama bin Laden cannot do this work, neither us. We are not supporting terrorism. Osama does not have the capability. We condemn this."
1:27: A state of emergency is declared in Washington.
1:44: Two U.S. aircraft carriers are deployed off the coast of New York. Five battleships are sent out to sea.
2:45: The death toll from the attacks will be "more than any of us can bear," New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani says. He says the scene at the World Trade Center is horrific, but he adds: "The city of New York is stronger than any barbaric group of terrorists."
3:47:Presidential adviser Karen Hughes says Bush has convened a meeting of the U.S. National Security Council.
4:32: The White House announces that Bush is heading back to Washington after spending the afternoon at the Strategic Air Command headquarters at Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Neb.
5:03: Two U.S. officials accuse bin Laden of masterminding the day's attacks.
5:21: A third building at the trade centre, the 47-storey Building 7, collapses after being on fire since the morning.
5:57: CNN reports explosions in Kabul.
6:32: CNN reports that the White House denies the explosions in Kabul are a U.S. attack.
8:30: Bush addresses Americans in a televised speech.