|Beyond 9/11: Portraits of Resilience
The Day That Changed Our Lives Forever
TIME in association with HBO presents the story of the 9/11 decade in
the words of those who led us, moved us, and inspire us.
The World Trade Center cross, also known as the Ground Zero cross, is a group of steel beams found amidst the debris of the World Trade Center following the September 11, 2001 attacks which resembles the proportions of a Christian cross.
See the faces
and hear the stories of survivors, first responders, and others as they
reflect on the events of 9/11 a decade later.
At 8:46 a.m., five hijackers crashed American Airlines Flight 11 into the World Trade Center's North Tower (1 WTC), and at 9:03 a.m., another five hijackers crashed United Airlines Flight 175 into the South Tower (2 WTC). Five hijackers flew American Airlines Flight 77 into the The Pentagon at 9:37 a.m.
A fourth flight, United Airlines Flight 93, under the control of four hijackers, crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, southeast of Pittsburgh, at 10:03 a.m. after the passengers fought the hijackers. Flight 93's ultimate target is believed to have been either the Capitol or the White House.
Flight 93's cockpit voice recorder revealed crew and passengers attempted to seize control of the plane from the hijackers after learning through phone calls that similarly hijacked planes had been crashed into buildings that morning.
Once it became evident to the hijackers that the passengers might regain control of the plane, one hijacker ordered another to roll the plane and intentionally crash it.
Soon afterward, Flight 93 crashed into a field near Shanksville. Some passengers and crew members who were able to make phone calls from the aircraft using the cabin airphone service and mobile phones provided details that there were several hijackers aboard each plane; that mace, tear gas, or pepper spray was used and that some people aboard had been stabbed.
Reports indicated hijackers stabbed and killed pilots, flight attendants, and one or more passengers. In their final report, the 9/11 Commission found the hijackers had recently purchased multi-function hand tools and assorted knives and blades.
A flight attendant on Flight 11, a passenger on Flight 175, and passengers on Flight 93 said the hijackers had bombs, but one of the passengers also said he thought the bombs were fake.
The FBI found no traces of explosives at the crash sites, and the 9/11 Commission concluded the bombs were probably fake. Once it became known that Flight 11 had been hijacked, two F-15s were scrambled from Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts and were airborne by 8:53 a.m.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) had 9 minutes' notice that Flight 11 had been hijacked. Because of poor communication with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), they had no notice about any of the other flights before they crashed.
After both of the Twin Towers had been hit, more fighters were scrambled from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia at 9:30 a.m. At 10:20 a.m. orders were issued to shoot down any commercial aircraft that could be positively identified as being hijacked. However, these instructions were not relayed in time for the fighters to take action.
Some fighters took to the air without live ammunition, knowing that to prevent the hijackers from striking their intended targets, the pilots might have to intercept and crash their fighters into the hijacked planes, possibly ejecting at the last moment. In a 2005 interview with the fighter pilots who responded from Otis Air National Guard Base, one pilot observed, "Nobody would be calling us heroes if we shot down four airliners on September 11."
Three buildings in the World Trade Center Complex collapsed due to structural failure. The South Tower collapsed at 9:59 a.m. after burning for 56 minutes in a fire caused by the impact of United Airlines Flight 175. The North Tower collapsed at 10:28 a.m. after burning for 102 minutes.
Relics from the Rubble
When the North Tower collapsed, debris fell on the nearby 7 World Trade Center building (7 WTC), damaging it and starting fires.
These fires burned for hours, compromising the building's structural integrity, and 7 WTC collapsed at 5:21 p.m. The Pentagon also sustained major damage.
All aircraft within the continental U.S. were grounded, and aircraft already in flight were told to land immediately.
All international civilian aircraft were either turned back or redirected to airports in Canada or Mexico, and all international flights were banned from landing on U.S. soil for three days.
The attacks created widespread confusion among news organizations and air traffic controllers. Among the unconfirmed and often contradictory news reports aired throughout the day, one of the most prevalent said a car bomb had been detonated at the U.S. State Department's headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Another jet—Delta Air Lines Flight 1989—was suspected of having been hijacked, but the aircraft responded to controllers and landed safely in Cleveland, Ohio. In a September 2002 interview, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, who are believed to have organized the attacks, said Flight 93's intended target was the United States Capitol, not the White House.
During the planning stage of the attacks, Mohamed Atta, the hijacker and pilot of Flight 11, thought the White House might be too tough a target and sought an assessment from Hani Hanjour, who would later hijack and pilot Flight 77. Mohammed also said al-Qaeda initially planned to target nuclear installations rather than the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but decided against it, fearing things could "get out of control".
Final decisions on targeting, according to Mohammed, were left in the hands of the pilots.