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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

Ragland described billowing black smoke and "what looked like white confetti raining down everywhere." He said it soon became apparent "that the 'confetti' was little bits of airplane, falling down after being flung high into the bright, blue sky."

"Everything is confusion right now, but there was no panic. Just stunned disbelief," Ragland said.

Streets surrounding the Capitol Mall were paralyzed as people tried to get away from the federal buildings, worried that they would be targeted next.

Federal workers raced down the steps into the subway, only to be greeted by a sign flashing: "Security alert! The Metro is closed until further notice. Please try to call a relative or a taxi if you need a ride." The subway reopened by midday.

But with phone lines jammed and no taxis to be found, many people tried to hurry away on foot, exchanging rumors about the attacks.

"We never thought this could happen," said Mary Shea, 58, an FAA program analyst, as she stood outside the L'Enfant Plaza subway stop. "What a shock, what a shock."

Long lines formed around pay phones.

"My mom works at the Pentagon, my mom works at the Pentagon," one man repeated over and over again, rocking back and forth, urging the line to speed up.

Abigail Harrington, an employee at the District of Columbia Department of Health, stood with a large group of people on 7th Street, peering down the road for a bus she hoped to catch to pick up her daughter from school.

"I feel horrible," said Harrington, clutching her hands together. "I can't reach my husband on his cell phone. I don't know what's going on. You never think that something like this can affect the world's biggest superpower. It's really, really scary. It really is."

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld was in a wing of the Pentagon opposite the point of impact. He told reporters that he felt the shock and went outside where volunteers were helping to carry away the injured.

Rumsfeld refused to estimate the casualty toll at the military's nerve center. The plane crashed into a newly renovated portion of the building that had not been fully reoccupied.

Authorities estimate that 23,000 people work in the Pentagon, and Rumsfeld vowed that the building would reopen for business today.

Barbara Olson, the wife of U.S. Solicitor General Theodore B. Olson, spoke to her husband twice by cell phone from the hijacked airliner before it crashed.

She told him that all the passengers and crew, including the pilot, were forced to the back of the plane. The only weapons she mentioned were knives and cardboard cutters.

Olson said his wife made no reference to the nationality or motive of the hijackers.

Barbara Olson had originally planned to take a Monday flight to Los Angeles but changed her plans to have breakfast with her husband Tuesday, his birthday.

The plane that crashed in Pennsylvania, United Airlines Flight 93, took off at 8:01 a.m. EDT from New Jersey's Newark International Airport, bound for San Francisco. On board the Boeing 757 were 38 passengers, two pilots and five flight attendants. The early stages of the flight seemed normal, with the plane charting a westerly course that brought it to northern Ohio.

But as the jet was flying due west just below Cleveland, it made a sharp U-turn. Radar tracked it passing just south of Pittsburgh.

At 9:58 a.m., a 911 operator in Pennsylvania's Westmoreland County received a call from a man who said he had locked himself in a bathroom on a hijacked airliner. "We are being hijacked, we are being hijacked," the man said over his cell phone.

At the same time, flight attendant CeeCee Lyles, a mother of four, dialed her cell phone and told her husband, a Fort Myers, Fla., policeman, that her flight was being taken over by hijackers.

The Westmoreland County dispatcher, Edward Milliron, said his office was taking information from the passenger in the bathroom when the line went dead.

"We lost them," he said. "Two or three minutes later, we lost them."

Milliron said area residents began calling to report that a passenger jet was flying low over their homes. The plane crashed at 10:06 a.m. in a rural area near Indian Lake, about 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

"I felt it. My house was shaken by it. I thought a truck hit my house," said Rev. Sylvia Baker, who lives about two miles from the crash site. "When I saw it wasn't my house, I was sure it had to be my neighbor's house."

The plane went down in an open field near a coal strip mine outside Shanksville, a hamlet of 235 people nestled in the wooded hills of western Pennsylvania. Mark Stahl of nearby Somerset said it carved a large black hole in the field and that smoke and flames billowed out.

"I didn't know what to think. It was shocking," Stahl said.

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