As the worst terror attack in US history, images and events from September 11 2001 are seared into cultural consciousness. 93% of Americans aged 30 and older remember exactly where they were on September 11 2001, when 2,977 people lost their lives as a result of a terrorist attack by militant Islamic terror group, Al-Qaeda. Shockwaves of fear, anger, and sadness reverberated around the world, and the attack quickly became one of the most defining events of the century thus far.
Here’s a timeline of events as they unfolded on the day.
The hijackers have been split into four teams which correspond to the four aircraft that they will board. Each team has a trained pilot-hijacker who will commandeer each flight, plus three or four ‘muscle hijackers’ who are trained to subdue the pilots, passengers, and crew. Each team is also assigned to crash into a different target.
The first group of hijackers – Mohammad Atta, Wail al-Shehri, Satam al-Sugami, Abdulaziz al-Omari, and Walled al-Shehri – successfully pass through security. Mohammad Atta is the ringleader of the whole operation. It is believed that they carry knives and boxcutters onto the plane with them. They board a flight to Boston, which connects them to American Airlines Flight 11.
American Airlines Flight 11 takes off from Boston. Hijackers on board are Mohammad Atta, Wail al-Shehri, Satam al-Sugami, Abdulaziz al-Omari, and Waleed al-Shehri. It has 92 people on board (excluding the hijackers) and is headed for Los Angeles.
United Airlines Flight 175 takes off from Boston. Hijackers on board are Marwan al-Shehhi, Fayez Banihammad, Mohand al-Shehri, Hamza al-Ghamdi, and Ahmed al-Ghamdi. It has 65 people on board and is also headed for Los Angeles.
Flight 11 crew alert ground personnel that the plane has been hijacked. Daniel Lewin, a passenger on the plane, is the first casualty of the whole attack as he is stabbed, probably trying to stop the hijackers. The FBI are alerted.
American Airlines Flight 77 takes off from Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C. Hijackers on board are Hani Hanjour, Khalid al-Mihdhar, Majed Moqed, Nawaf al-Hazmi, and Salem al-Hazmi. It has 64 people aboard.
Attempting to communicate with passengers, a hijacker from Flight 11 contacts air traffic control, which alerts them to the attacks.
Air traffic control in Boston alert the Military. Jets in Massachusetts are mobilised to follow Flight 11.
United Airlines Flight 93 takes off at Newark. It was meant to have departed at 8am, at around the same time as the other flights. Hijackers on board are Ziad Jarrah, Ahmed al-Haznawi, Ahmed al-Nami, and Saeed al-Ghamdi. It has 44 people aboard.
Mohammed Atta and the other hijackers aboard Flight 11 crash the plane into floors 93-99 of the North Tower of the World Trade Center, killing everyone on board and hundreds inside the building. Until 9/11, security had only considered that an attacker might use a plane as a bargaining chip in order to get money or redirect it to another route. The use of a plane as a suicide mission weapon in itself was almost entirely unforeseen.
Within seconds, police forces are dispatched to the World Trade Center, and the North Tower begins evacuation.
President George W. Bush that a plane has hit the World Trade Center as he arrives for a visit at an elementary school in Florida. His advisors assume that it is a tragic accident, and likely a small propeller plane that has hit the building. In a now-famous moment, President Bush is informed by White House Chief of Staff that ‘A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack.’
The South Tower is declared secure.
Port Authority police order the evacuation of both towers. This order is widened to the entire World Trade Center a minute later. At this time, around 10,000 to 14,000 people are already in the process of evacuating.
A flight attendant aboard Flight 175 alerts air traffic control that a their plane is being hijacked. It is also worth noting that at this time, cockpits contained little to no protection from cockpit takeovers. Since 9/11, these have been made more secure.
Flight 175 crashes into floors 77 to 85 of the South Tower, killing everyone on board and hundreds in the building.
Flight 77 passenger Barbara Olson calls her husband, Solicitor General Theodore Olson, who alerts officials that the plane is being hijacked.
At the same time, President Bush is informed the World Trade Center has been hit by a second plane. Twenty-five minutes later, he tells the American people in a broadcast that ‘terrorism against our nation will not stand.’
The Federal Aviation Administration bans all flights going to New York City or flying in its airspace.
The Port Authority closes all bridges and tunnels in and around New York.
A few passengers and crew aboard Flight 77 are able to alert their families on the ground that a hijacking is taking place. The authorities are then alerted.
From Florida, President Bush addresses the nation, stating that there has been an ‘apparent terrorist attack on our country.’
Flight 77 crashes into the west section of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. The crash and fire kills 59 people onboard the plane and 125 military and civilian personnel the building.
For the first time in its history, the Federal Aviation Administration grounds all flights. This is monumental: over the next two and a half hours, around 3,300 commercial flights and 1,200 private planes are guided to land at airports in both Canada and the United States.
Rumours around attacks on other notable sites escalate. The White House and U.S. Capitol are evacuated, along with other high-profile buildings, landmarks, and public spaces.
After burning for 56 minutes, the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapses in 10 seconds. This kills more than 800 people in and around the building.
Aboard the hijacked Flight 93, passengers have been able to contact friends and family, who inform them of the attacks in New York and Washington. They try to retake the plane. In response, the hijackers deliberately crash the plane into a field in Pennsylvania, which kills all 40 passengers and crew on board.
The World Trade Center’s North Tower collapses, 102 minutes after being hit by Flight 11. This kills more than 1,600 people in and around the building.
New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani orders the evacuation of Lower Manhattan. This affects more than 1 million residents, workers, and tourists. Throughout the afternoon, efforts are made to search for survivors at the World Trade Center site.
A group of 14 survivors emerge from a North Tower stairwell.
From Louisiana, President Bush announces that United States military forces are on high alert around the world.
The United States Navy dispatches missile destroyers to New York and Washington, D.C.
The Seven World Trade Center collapses after burning for hours. There were no casualties, but the impact of the 47-storey building mean that rescue workers had to flee for their lives. It is the last of the Twin Towers to fall.
President Bush returns to the White House, having stopped at military bases in Louisiana and Nebraska.
Bush addresses the nation, calling the acts ‘evil, despicable acts of terror’. He declares that America and its allies would ‘stand together to win the war against terrorism.’
Rescuers locate two Port Authority Police Department officers in the rubble of the World Trade Center. They are injured but alive.