Never before in the history of the United States had a large-scale terrorist attack occurred on American soil until September 11, 2001, also known as 9/11. Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives that day as a result of three suicide missions involving planes hitting strategic buildings. The date of the attack is ironically the same as the telephone number we use in case of fire, accidents, robberies or any other emergency, and for those whose lives were forever altered on that day, that number is a grim reminder of the events.
Early on the morning of 9/11, four planes left their terminals but would never reach their intended destinations in California. Two crashed into the iconic World Trade Center in New York. A third slammed into the Pentagon in Washington, DC. The fourth crashed in a rural field in Pennsylvania.
Nineteen terrorists from Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations were reportedly financed by the al-Quaeda terrorist organization led by Osama bin Laden. It is believed the hijackers were retaliating against American support of Israel, as well as US involvement in the Persian Gulf War, and our military presence in the Middle East.
Some of the terrorists lived in the US and took flying lessons at American flight schools. Others came to America undetected over several months before the attack. They chose three East Coast airports and four specific flights, all headed for California because the planes were loaded with fuel for a long journey. The jet fuel turned the airplanes into guided missiles. The terrorists were able to smuggle box-cutters and knives through airport security and take over control of the planes shortly after takeoff.
World Trade Center
At 8:45 a.m., the first plane hit the north tower of the World Trade Center. A gaping hole burned near the 80th floor of the 110-story skyscraper. Hundreds of people were instantly killed while hundreds more were trapped. Eighteen minutes later, the second plane – a Boeing 767, United Airlines Flight 175 – crashed into the south tower near the 60th floor. By 10:30 a.m., the north building of the twin towers collapsed.
In all, 2,763 people died at the World Trade Center. This includes 23 New York City police officers, 37 Port Authority police officers, and 343 firefighters and paramedics.
At 9:45 a.m., just one hour after the first plane hit the World Trade Center in New York, American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the west side of the Pentagon, the headquarters of the US Department of Defense. There were 64 people aboard the airplane who died in the crash as well as 125 military personnel and civilians on the ground, causing a total of 189 deaths.
United Flight 93 had been delayed, and because of that, the passengers became aware via their cell phones that America was under attack. They were not surprised when the plane was hijacked about 40 minutes after leaving Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey. The destination of this fourth and final attack is not known, but some speculate it could have been the White House.
Passengers aboard the plane decided not to let the terrorists gain control, even though they knew the possibility of surviving was not high. Flight attendant Sandy Bradshaw called her husband from the galley where she was filling pitchers with boiling water. Her last words to her husband were, “Everyone’s running to first class. I’ve got to go. Bye.”
Thomas Burnett, Jr., a passenger, told his wife over the phone, “I know we’re all going to die. There’s three of us who are going to do something about it. I love you, honey.”
The passengers fought the four hijackers, and the plane crashed at near 500 miles per hour at 10:10 a.m. in a rural field near Shanksville in western Pennsylvania. All 44 people aboard were killed.
Not only Americans perished on that day; citizens of 78 countries also died during the 9/11 attack. A total of 2,996 people lost their lives on September 11, 2001.