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World Trade Center and Pentagon attacked on Sept. 11, 2001

Thousands are dead and injured as hijacked U.S. airliners ram targets. The World Trade Towers are brought down, leaving Manhattan in chaos. President Bush puts the military on highest alert, closes borders and vows to 'find those responsible.'

September 12, 2001|Matea Gold and Maggie Farley | Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

That nation's hard-line Islamic Taliban rulers condemned the attacks in New York and Washington and rejected suggestions that Bin Laden was behind them. In London, editor Abdel-Bari Atwan of the Al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper said he had heard that Islamic fundamentalists close to Bin Laden were planning a major operation but that he did not take the threat seriously.

"They said it would be a huge and unprecedented attack," Atwan told Associated Press, "but they did not specify."

Anger across the United States brought talk of retaliation. "These attacks clearly constitute an act of war," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

He was echoed by Adm. Robert J. Natter, commander of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet. "We've been attacked like we haven't [been] since Pearl Harbor."

"This is the second Pearl Harbor," said Sen. Charles Hagel (R-Neb.). "I don't think I overstate it." Nearly 2,400 people died when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. It drew the United States into World War II.

Governments around the world offered condolences and pledged solidarity in the fight against terrorism. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said he was horrified by the attacks. But in the West Bank town of Nablus, about 3,000 people took to the streets, chanted "God is great" and handed out candy in a gesture of celebration.

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin called the attacks "terrible tragedies." China said it was "horrified." Pope John Paul II condemned the "unspeakable horror" and prayed for the victims and their families.

The sequence of events that stunned New York into grief-stricken agony began at 7:59 a.m. EDT, when American Airlines Flight 11 took off from Boston's Logan International Airport. The flight carried 81 passengers and a crew of 11 westward toward Los Angeles International Airport. Fifteen minutes later, United Airlines Flight 175 left Logan, also bound for Los Angeles. It carried 56 passengers and a crew of nine.

What transpired inside both aircraft in the minutes that followed remains unclear; it never may be known. Later in the day, however, federal authorities would speculate that the planes were chosen by their hijackers because their transcontinental loads of jet fuel effectively made them flying bombs.

Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft said the hijackers of Flight 11 were armed with knives. Other reports indicated some flight attendants on Flight 175 were stabbed.

A Routine Start to Day and Then Chaos

What is known for certain is that Flight 11--the first aircraft to strike the World Trade Center--was hijacked somewhere over upstate New York, made a hard left turn and flew for approximately 14 minutes until it struck the Manhattan landmark.

Flight Explorer, a Virginia-based company that sells Federal Aviation Administration radar data to airlines, was tracking the flight. According to Walter Kross, one of the company's technical specialists, the 767 was flying at 29,000 feet near Albany, N.Y., when it veered to the southeast.

The plane's speed dropped from about 450 knots to 340 knots. The Boeing 767 flew faster as it headed for the New York area, reaching a speed of 500 knots. It then slowed to about 300 knots as it approached the World Trade Center.

About 8:30 a.m., it slammed into the building.

"It had to have been hand-flown," Kross said, suggesting that at least one of the hijackers was skilled enough to pilot the aircraft with precision.

A thunderstorm Monday night had cleared the air over Manhattan and the sunlight of a warm September morning was glinting off the Hudson River as the business day began in the city's highest buildings.

Clyde Ebanks, vice president of an insurance company, was at a meeting on the 103rd floor of the World Trade Center's south tower when his boss said, "Look at that!"

He turned and saw a plane go past and hit the north tower.

Carnage and chaos ensued.

Peter Dicerbo led his 44 colleagues from the First Union National Bank down 47 flights of stairs. He staggered away from the building, his clothes torn; the workers were stunned, dazed and coughing.

Less than 20 minutes later, the United Airlines jet struck the other World Trade Center tower.

"The minute I got out of the building, the second building blew up," said Jennifer Brickhouse, 34, from Union, N.J., who was riding an escalator into the trade center when she "heard this big boom."

"All this stuff started falling," she said, "and all this smoke was coming through. People were screaming, falling and jumping out of the windows."

At least one couple were seen leaping hand-in-hand from the tower's upper stories.

Three miles away, across the East River in Brooklyn, sheets of office paper fluttered out of the sky.

At 9:50 a.m., an hour after the first crash, the first World Trade Center tower collapsed in smoke and rubble.

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