The country watched with horror Tuesday as a series of hijacked and crashed airliners resulted in what many will hail as the most profound act of terrorism in American history.
As of a 1:30 a.m. CDT Wednesday press time, news services reported more than 1,200 fatalities in New York City and more than 700 in Washington, D.C., independent of the victims of the plane crashes.
At 8:45 a.m. EDT Tuesday, American Airlines Flight 11, a Boeing 767 jet en route from Boston to Los Angeles, hit the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York, according to CNN. U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft later said the hijackers took Flight 11 by force with knives.
At 9:03 a.m., 18 minutes after the first attack, United Airlines Flight 175, flying from Boston to Los Angeles, crashed into the center’s south tower.
At 9:40 a.m., the Federal Aviation Administration canceled all flights, a first in American history. Shortly afterward, all incoming international flights were rerouted to Canada, followed by the closing of the Mexican and Canadian borders.
Five minutes later, American Airlines Flight 77, departing from Dulles Airport near Washington, D.C., en route to Los Angeles, struck the Pentagon in northern Virginia.
The crashes at the World Trade Center resulted in the collapse of the south tower at 10 a.m., a 60-foot portion of the Pentagon at 10:10 a.m. and the north tower of the trade center at 10:29 a.m.
According to a statement from United Airlines, Flight 93, flying from Newark to San Francisco, went down near Johnstown, Pa., approximately 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh at 10:10 a.m. News services reported that U.S. officials believe the flight could have been heading for another Washington location. Reports of a fifth plane being monitored near the Pentagon and a car bomb going off outside the State Department were later retracted as false.
Fire and debris from the collapse of the twin towers sparked a fire in nearby building seven of the World Trade Center and led to its eventual disintegration at approximately 5:15 p.m.
While the final death and injury tallies won’t come until after the dust settles—literally and figuratively—early estimates continue to be reported.
New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani estimated 2,100 injuries from early hospital reports.
As of press time at 1 a.m. CDT, NBC reported that more than 300 New York City firemen are dead, as are 33 New York police officers.
American Airlines reported 81 passengers and 11 crew members were lost on Flight 11 and 58 passengers and six crew members on Flight 77. United reported 56 passengers and nine crew members on Flight 175 and 38 passengers and seven crew members on Flight 93. No one is believed to have survived.
New York City shuts down
“One of my neighbors was banging on my door saying, ‘Wake up, a plane crashed into the World Trade Center,’” said Andrew Haskell, 20, a New York City resident. “I went up to the roof where a bunch of people were taking photos. ... Everyone was in shock, and everyone was on their rooftops.”
The New York City Port Authority ordered all bridges and tunnels shut down. Giuliani advised citizens to stay home if possible, according to news reports.
The New York Stock Exchange is expected to remain closed Wednesday.
An estimated 50,000 people are employed at the World Trade Center. It is unknown how many were able to escape the buildings, but rescue officials are not optimistic. Witnesses reported seeing people jumping out of the 110-story towers.
Tuesday morning after the crashes, Giancarlo Potente, a Wisconsin native, awoke in his Greenwich Village apartment about a mile from the World Trade Center’s remains, at first unaware of what had happened.
“I’m looking up and down Fifth Avenue, and down Fifth Avenue is usually where you can see the World Trade Center—and now it’s gone,” he told The Daily Cardinal. “It’s very strange, because there’s a certain amount of unspeakable trepidation that hangs in the air now,” Potente said. “This is probably on par with Pearl Harbor.”
Jeffrey Grotte, a Washington-area resident who regularly works in the Pentagon, said residents have been working together to restore some kind of order.
“The atmosphere in D.C. is pretty calm,” Grotte said. “People have been offering rides and sharing cell phones and giving blood.”
Grotte added that what his office “may end up doing is offering facilities for people without offices.”
Scrambling to react
Within minutes of the destruction in New York and Washington, federal buildings and offices in the Washington area were evacuated. Shortly after, Los Angeles International Airport and the San Francisco International Airport, the intended destinations of the four doomed flights, shut down, and John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York asked customers to take their luggage and leave.
According to CNN, skyscrapers closed in Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Cleveland and Minneapolis, as did prominent locations nationwide, such as Disneyland, the Space Needle in Seattle and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.
Israel shut down its embassies worldwide, and NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, evacuated all non-essential employees.
The FAA said Tuesday that civilian flights would not resume until after noon Wednesday EDT at the earliest.
‘If you’re going to die, why go that way?’
In an interview with The Daily Cardinal, Gene Poteat, a former CIA officer and president of Former American Intelligence Officers, said he believes the terrorists behind Tuesday’s attacks brought their own trained pilots to steer the commercial airliners.
“I don’t think that the airline pilots of these planes would, even with a gun to their heads, fly a plane into these targets,” Poteat said.
Poteat’s statements are consistent with reports that Flight 93, which went down in western Pennsylvania, may have been intended for a Washington target.
“I think the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania was a failed mission. Something went wrong in that cockpit,” Poteat said. “The cockpit voice recorder, when recovered, will be a good starting clue.”
“You know,” Poteat asked, “if you’re going to die, why go that way?”
In a statement Tuesday evening, President Bush offered his condolences and said, “None of us will ever forget this day, yet we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.”