September 11, 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
On September 11, 2001, 19 militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al Queda hijacked four airliners and carried out suicide attacks against targets in the United States.
Two of the planes were flown into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, a third plane hit the Pentagon just outside Washington, D.C., and the fourth plane was crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Often referred to simply as 9/11, the attacks resulted in extensive death and destruction, triggering major U.S. initiatives to combat terrorism. Nearly 3,000 people were killed during the attacks, including more than 400 police officers and firefighters and 246 passengers and crew on the four planes. This was the most deadly terrorist attack in U.S. history.
A timeline of the morning of September 11, 2001
On the morning of September 11, 2001, 19 terrorists hijacked four commercial airplanes bound for California. The planes departed from airports in Boston; Newark, NJ; and Washington, D.C. September 11 would become an infamous date in American and world history, and the events of that day would forever change the world. As the world commemorates the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the following timeline, courtesy of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, can help people fully understand how events unfolded on that late-summer morning two decades ago.
• 5:45 a.m.: Two of the hijackers pass through security at Portland International Airport in Maine. The men will take a short flight to Boston Logan International Airport, where they will join three other hijackers and board American Airlines Flight 11.
• 6:00 a.m.: Two of the hijacked planes, American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175, will eventually crash into the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center complex in New York City. The day was a significant one on the New York City political calendar, as polling stations opened at 6 a.m. for primary elections.
• 7:59 a.m.: American Airlines Flight 11 takes off from Boston with 11 crew members, 76 passengers and five hijackers on board. The plane, which will eventually crash into the North tower at the World Trade Center, is filled with more than 76,000 pounds of fuel.
• 8:15 a.m.: United Airlines Flight 175 takes off from Boston with nine crew members, 51 passengers, and five hijackers on board. This flight also is loaded with 76,000 pounds of fuel.
• 8:19 a.m.: American Airlines ground personnel are alerted by flight attendant Betty Ann Ong that Flight 11 is being hijacked. This call lasts roughly 25 minutes and Ong reports that the cockpit is unreachable. In the moments before Ong’s call, one of the hijackers stabbed Daniel M. Lewin, who was sitting in front of him in first class. Lewin is likely the first person killed in the 9/11 attacks.
• 8:20 a.m.: American Airlines Flight 77 takes off from Washington Dulles International Airport. The flight has 49,900 pounds of fuel and is carrying six crew members, 53 passengers and five hijackers.
• 8:21 a.m.: The transponder on Flight 11 is turned off. This device is meant to allow air traffic controllers to identify and monitor the flight path of a plane.
• 8:24 a.m.: One of the hijackers of Flight 11 unwittingly broadcasts a message to air traffic controllers alerting them to the attacks. The hijacker was attempting to communicate with passengers and crew within the cabin.
• 8:30 a.m.: Around this time, roughly 80 people have already begun gathering on the 106th floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center for a financial technology conference. The conference is one of many events on the Trade Center schedule that day.
• 8:37 a.m.: The Boston Air Traffic Control Center alerts the military that a hijacking is under way.
• 8:42 a.m.: United Airlines Flight 93 takes off from Newark International Airport. The flight was due to take off at roughly the same time as the other hijacked planes, but was delayed due to routine traffic. Seven crew members, 33 passengers and four hijackers are on board. The flight is filled with 48,700 pounds of fuel.
• 8:46 a.m.: Five hijackers crash Flight 11 into floors 93 through 99 of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Hundreds, including everyone on board the flight, are killed instantly. The crash severs all three emergency stairwells, trapping hundreds of people above the 91st floor.
• 8:46 a.m.: Police, paramedics and firefighters are sent to the North Tower.
• 8:50 a.m.: While visiting an elementary school in Florida, U.S. President George W. Bush is notified that a small plane has hit the North Tower.
• 8:52 a.m.: A flight attendant aboard Flight 175 reaches a United Airlines operator in San Francisco and reports the flight is being hijacked. By 9 a.m., various passengers on Flight 175 have called family members.
• 8:55 a.m.: The Port Authority informs people inside the South Tower via a public address system that the building is secure and there is no need to evacuate.
• 8:59 a.m.: The Port Authority Police Department orders both towers evacuated. One minute later Captain Anthony Whitaker expands the order to include all civilians in the entire World Trade Center complex.
• 9:02 a.m.: An evacuation order is broadcast in the South Tower.
• 9:03 a.m.: Five hijackers crash Flight 175 into floors 77 through 85 of the South Tower. All onboard the flight are killed, as are an unknown number of people inside the building. Two of the three emergency stairwells are impassable, and most elevator cables are severed, trapping many people above the impact zone and inside elevator cars.
• 9:03 a.m.: A second call for mobilization brings the total number of New York City Police Department officers responding to the scene to roughly 2,000. In addition, the FDNY issues a fifth alarm and deploys several hundred additional firefighters to the scene.
• 9:05 a.m.: President Bush is informed that a second plane has crashed into the World Trade Center.
• 9:12 a.m.: Flight attendant Renée A. May calls her mother and tells her that hijackers have seized control of Flight 77. When May’s call is disconnected, she calls American Airlines.
• 9:30 a.m.: Amid reports of additional hijacked planes, the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management at 7 World Trade Center is evacuated.
• 9:37 a.m.: Hijackers crash Flight 77 into the Pentagon. All 53 passengers and six crew members perish, and 125 military and civilian personnel on the ground are killed in the fire caused by the crash.
• 9:42 a.m.: The Federal Aviation Administration grounds all flights, ordering all civilian planes in United States airspace to land. Departures also are prohibited.
• 9:45 a.m.: Evacuations at the White House and the U.S. Capitol begin. Both the House of Representatives and Senate are in session at the time the evacuation begins.
• 9:58 a.m.: Flight 93 is flying so low to the ground that passenger Edward P. Felt is able to reach an emergency 911 operator in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania.
• 9:59 a.m.: The South Tower collapses after burning for 56 minutes. The tower collapses in just 10 seconds.
• 9:59 a.m.: Continuity-of-government procedures are implemented for the first known time in American history.
• 10:03 a.m.: Four hijackers crash Flight 93 into a field near the town of Shanksville, Pennsylvania. All 33 passengers and seven crew members on board perish. Passengers and crew had stormed the cockpit, and the plane ultimately crashes just 20 minutes’ flying time from Washington, D.C.
• 10:15 a.m.: The E Ring of the Pentagon collapses.
• 10:28 a.m.: The North Tower collapses after burning for 102 minutes. More than 1,600 people are killed as a result of the attack on the North Tower.
• 11:02 a.m.: New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani urges the evacuation of lower Manhattan.
• 12:16 p.m.: The last flight still in the air above the continental United States lands. Within two and a half hours, U.S. airspace has been cleared of roughly 4,500 commercial and general aviation planes.
To honor those who lost their lives during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, three memorials were built; one at the Twin Towers site, one just outside the area where the Pentagon was struck, and one in the Stonycreek Township in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, roughly two miles north of Shanksville.
The 9/11 Memorial
Among the more indelible images to emerge on September 11, 2001 was the sight of two planes crashing into the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center. Still photos and video footage of those planes flying into the Twin Towers were the first images of the attacks many Americans saw, and no one who watched events unfold that morning will ever forget those images.
Though both the North and South Towers fell on that day, today the site where each tower once stood is a serene retreat in the bustling lower Manhattan neighborhood that was shaken to its core on the day of the attacks. The 9/11 Memorial was designed by architect Michael Arad and landscape architect Peter Walker. The 9/11 Memorial and Museum notes that Arad and Walker’s proposal was chosen in a design competition that featured 5,201 submissions from 63 countries.
The 9/11 Memorial is located on the western side of the formal World Trade Center where the Twin Towers once stood. Two enormous reflecting pools are part of the Memorial Plaza, which is where the North and South Towers once stood. The pools feature the two largest man-made waterfalls in North America. Around the edges of the pools, the names of people who were killed in the 9/11 attacks in New York, the Pentagon, on Flight 93, and in the 1993 bombing at the World Trade Center are etched in bronze.
In recognition of the crash sites, 400 swamp white oak trees were selected from nurseries located in New York, Pennsylvania and near Washington, D.C. These trees are located throughout the Memorial Plaza, providing a peaceful respite separate from the surrounding city. The Memorial Plaza also includes one Callery pear tree. That tree was discovered at Ground Zero weeks after the attacks and it was severely damaged. The tree, now known as the Survivor Tree, was nursed back to health by members of the New York City Parks and Recreation Department and returned to the World Trade Center site in 2010, where it still stands as an enduring symbol of resilience and perseverance.
The 9/11 Memorial is free and open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. More information about the 9/11 Memorial and the 9/11 Memorial and Museum can be found at www.911memorial.org.
The Pentagon Memorial
At 9:37 a.m. on September 11, 2001, five hijackers crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia. All 53 passengers and six crew members perished in the crash, and an additional 125 military and civilian personnel on the ground were killed in the fire caused by the crash.
The hijacking of Flight 77 was part of the broader attack on 9/11, which remains the deadliest terrorist attack in world history. The Pentagon Memorial was created to honor the 184 people whose lives were lost at the Pentagon on 9/11, as well as their families and all those who sacrifice to protect and preserve the freedom of Americans.
The design of the Pentagon Memorial was developed by architects Julie Beckman and Keith Kaseman. Their design was chosen from 1,100 submissions.
The Pentagon Memorial sits on two acres of land just outside where Flight 77 struck the building. The memorial includes 184 benches that are dedicated to each of the victims. The benches are organized in a timeline of their ages, stretching from the youngest victim, 3-year- Dana Falkenberg, to the oldest, 71-year-old John Yamnicky. Each bench is engraved with a victim’s name and arches over a shallow reflecting pool of water, lit from below. The benches for the passengers who were aboard the plane at the time of the crash are positioned so visitors will face the sky when reading the victim’s name. The benches dedicated to the victims who were inside the building are positioned so their names and the Pentagon are in the same view.
A curved wall known as the Age Wall also is a significant part of the memorial. The wall increases in height from 3 inches to 71 inches to represent the ages of the victims.
Eighty-five paperbark maple trees were clustered throughout the memorial, and these trees feature foliage that changes to orange and red each fall. The trees will eventually grow to 30 feet, providing a canopy of shade over the memorial.
The Pentagon Memorial is free and open seven days a week year-round, though visitors are urged to contact the Memorial in advance due to potential restrictions or closures related to the COVID-19 pandemic. More information about the Memorial is available at https://washington.org/find-dc-listings/national-911-pentagon-memorial.
The Flight 93 National Memorial
At 10:03 a.m. on September 11, 2001, the last of four planes that were hijacked earlier that morning crashed into a field near the town of Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The people behind the 9/11 attacks later claimed the hijackers who commandeered the plane intended to crash it into the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., but passengers and crew stormed the cockpit, prompting the hijackers to crash the plane into the field, which is less than 20 minutes’ flying time to Washington, D.C.
The efforts of passengers and crew onboard Flight 93 were nothing short of heroic. Though everyone aboard the flight perished in the crash, the attack on the U.S. Capitol was thwarted, saving untold number of lives. All passengers and crew on board Flight 93 were awarded a Congressional Gold Medal on September 11, 2014.
The Flight 93 National Memorial is located in Stonycreek Township in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, roughly two miles north of Shanksville. The memorial was opened to family members of the victims on September 10, 2015 and is now open to the public seven days a week, 365 days a year from sunrise to sunset, though visitors are urged to contact the Memorial in advance due to potential restrictions or closures related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In September 2005, the Flight 93 Advisory Commission, which included family members of the victims as well as design and art professionals and community and national leaders, chose a design proposal submitted by Paul Murdoch Architects and Nelson Byrd Woltz Architects from among 1,100 entries.
The Flight 93 National Memorial includes the Tower of Voices, a 93-foot-tall musical instrument that holds 40 wind chimes, one to represent each of the 40 passengers and crew members who perished in the crash. The tower is located on an oval concrete plaza that includes two curved concrete benches facing the opening of the tower. The tower is surrounded by concentric rings of white pines and deciduous plantings. A live webcam of the Tower of Voices can be viewed at https://www.flight93friends.org/plan-your-visit/webcams.
Visitors to the Flight 93 National Memorial also can visit the Memorial Plaza. The Memorial Plaza features the Wall of Names, which is made up of 40 white polished marble stones inscribed with the names of the passengers and crew who were aboard Flight 93 on 9/11. The Memorial Plaza extends one-quarter mile alongside the area where Flight 93 crashed. Visitors can walk along the Memorial Plaza and view the impact site, including a grove of eastern hemlock trees that were damaged by the crash. A gap in the tree line is still visible and serves as a lasting “scar” of the crash.
More information about the Flight 93 National Memorial is available at https://www.nps.gov/flni/planyourvisit/index.htm.
From Staff Reports • [email protected]