9/11: As it happened

September 11, 2001

On September 11, 2001, 19 Islamist terrorists hijacked four California-bound commercial flights shortly after their departures from Boston, Newark and Washington D.C.

The aircraft were carrying significant volumes of jet fuel for the trans-continental flights.

7:59 AM          Flight 11 takes off from Boston with 11 crew, 76 passengers and five hijackers.

8:15 AM          Flight 175 takes off from Boston with 9 crew, 51 passengers and five hijackers.

8:19 AM          The hijacking of flight 11 is underway. Flight Attendant Betty Ann Ong reports that a passenger has been stabbed and the cockpit is unreachable. She provides the seat                 numbers of the perpetrators to ground staff.

"The cockpit’s not answering. Somebody’s stabbed in business class. And I think there’s mace—that we can’t breathe. I don’t know. I think we’re getting hijacked.” – Betty Ann Ong, Flight 11 Flight Attendant

8:20 AM          Flight 77 takes off from Washington with six crew, 53 passengers and five hijackers.

8:24 AM          Flight 11 hijacker accidentally broadcasts a message to ground control intended for passengers. He reassures passengers that “you will be okay.” The pilot of flight 175                       overhears the messages and reports them to ground control minutes before his own                   plane is hijacked.

“We have some planes, just stay quiet, and you will be okay, we are returning to the airport.” Mohamed Atta, Flight 11 Hijacker

8:42 AM           Flight 93 takes off from Newark with seven crew, 33 passengers and four hijackers.

8:46 AM           Flight 11 slams into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York         between floors 93 and 99. Hundreds are killed instantly both onboard and in the                             building. An evacuation commences, but all three emergency stairwells are severed,                         trapping everyone above floor 91.

“I stood up, and I just turned my body towards the window, and I could see the big airline coming straight towards us… I couldn’t move I just stood at the window. I could see it coming closer and closer… and then it just bellowed into Tower One. And for a moment, just for that moment, I was almost, a sigh of relief, until I realized all those people that had just been killed in that tower.” – Constance Labetti, South Tower

8:50 AM          President George Bush is alerted while visiting an elementary school in Florida. He and his advisors assume the crash is an accident.

8:52 AM          A flight attendant on board flight 175 reports to ground staff that the flight has     been hijacked.

8:55 AM          The South Tower is declared secure and those who may have left are invited to       return. Four minutes later the Port Authority, which manages the buildings, reverses                       the decision and orders an evacuation.

“The people who were coming down from the other floors and who were very badly burned. No skin. No hair. Just burnt.” – Bruno Dellinger, evacuating from the floor 47 of the North Tower

9:03 AM          Flight 175 slams into the south tower of the World Trade Center between floors 77   and 85. The explosion kills many instantly and severs most elevators and emergency                       stairwells.

50 to 200 people die jumping or falling to their deaths. Heat and smoke levels above and around the impact sites were extreme.

9:05 AM          President Bush is informed of the second attack. It becomes clear that the crashes   were not an accident.

9:12 AM          Flight Attendant Renée May calls her mother and tells her the flight is being           hijacked. When they are disconnected her mother calls American Airlines.

Between 16,400 and 18,000 people were in the World Trade Center complex when the planes hit. As workers evacuated, police, firefighters and paramedics rushed in.

9:30 AM          Intelligence agencies are aware that additional planes may be hijacked, prompting the Mayor’s office of Emergency Management to evacuate its headquarters at 7                               World Trade Center. The Vice President is evacuated to a secure location beneath the                       White House at 9:36. Building seven later collapsed due to an intense fire caused by                       the original attacks.

9:37 AM          Flight 77 slams into the headquarters of the US Department of Defence, located at the Pentagon. The crash and fire kill 125 on the ground and all on board.

“New York City seemed so far away, and I never gave it a thought.” – Louise Rogers,The Pentagon

9:42 AM          All civilian flights in the US are ordered to land and departures are prohibited.

9:45 AM          The White House, House of Representatives and the US Senate are evacuated.

9:58 AM          Flight 93 is flying so low that passengers are able to place calls through their cell     phones. At least 37 calls are made from crew and passengers.

“Mark, apparently it’s terrorists, and they’re hell-bent on crashing the aircraft, so if you can, try to take over the aircraft. There doesn’t seem to be much plan to land the aircraft normally, so I guess your best bet would be to try to take it over if you can. Or tell the other passengers. There’s one flight that they say is headed toward San Francisco, it might be yours, so if you can, group some people and perhaps do the best you can to get control of it. I love you, sweetie. Good luck. Bye-bye.” – Voicemail left by Alice Hoagland for her son on board Flight 93, Mark Bingham

9:59 AM          After 56 minutes, the south tower collapses. More than 800 people inside and         around the building have been killed.

“As I was taking pictures, I could hear these sounds, this sort of cracking—loud cracking. And it collapsed.” – Catherin Leuthold, Independent photojournalist

10:03 AM        Flight 93 crashes in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania after passengers and crew storm the cockpit. All onboard are killed. The flight was 20 minutes away from                 Washington DC.

10:28 AM        After 102 minutes the north tower collapses. More than 1,600 people inside and  around the building have been killed.

11:02 AM        The New York City Mayor, Rudy Giuliani, orders the evacuation of lower Manhattan.

12:16 PM         US Airspace is closed. Air Force One carrying President Bush is one of the few           planes still in the sky. It lands at various air force bases throughout the base before                         returning to Washington DC that evening with the president taken to the White                       House by helicopter.

5:20 PM           After burning for hours, World Trade Center 7 collapses. The tower had been           evacuated and no casualties are recorded.

8:30 PM           President Bush addresses the nation from the White House.

“The search is under way for those who are behind these evil acts. I’ve directed the full resources of our intelligence and law enforcement communities to find those responsible and to bring them to justice. We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.” – George W Bush, US President


The attacks by Islamist extremist group al Qaeda on September 11, 2001, killed 2,977 people. 

2,735 people were killed in New York, 184 people were killed at the Pentagon and 40 people were killed as Flight 93 crashed into a Pennsylvanian field.

People from 93 countries were killed, including 10 Australians

"If a loved one died in a car crash, nobody has filmed it, nobody plays it for you repeatedly. But, for something like September 11, you have images of the time that your loved one was killed" – Stuart Knox, whose 29-year-old twin brother Andrew Knox from Adelaide was killed in the attack

More than 1,000 victims could not be identified from remains, which were destroyed in the inferno and collapse. Between 50 and 200 people are thought to have jumped or fallen to their deaths to escape the heat and smoke in the World Trade Centers.

Between 50 and 200 people are thought to have jumped or fallen to their deaths to escape the heat and smoke in the World Trade Center towers.

Severe burns and other injuries have affected thousands of survivors. Hundreds and perhaps thousands of first responders have developed cancer as a result of inhaling dust, smoke and other particles as they rushed to the World Trade Center attack site. 

Those Responsible

On September 14, 2001, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation released a preliminary list of the 19 suspected hijackers they believed to be behind the attack. The list has since been updated by the CIA

Most of the attackers were in their early to mid 20s. Fifteen came from Saudi Arabia, two from the United Arab Emirates, one from Lebanon and one from Egypt.

The men were part of al Qaeda, an international Islamic extremist terror group formed in the late 1980s by Saudi extremist Osama bin Laden.

The group was implicated in a number of attacks on US targets in northern Africa and the Middle East in the 1980s, 90s and a suicide attack on the USS Cole in 2000. In 1993 it was thought that al Qaeda was behind a car bombing in the car park underneath the World Trade Center.

A member of a wealthy Saudi family, bin Laden planned the 2001 attack with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Mohammed Atef.

According to the 9/11 Commission Report, the group first discussed the plan in meetings in Afghanistan in 1996. By around 1998/1999 it had been agreed upon.

The relatively small group did not have the means to attack the USA militarily, so chose symbols of American power. 

The World Trade Center in the heart of the country's financial capital, the Defence Department which controlled America's military, and the US Capitol building - thought to be the final target - a symbol of American political influence.

Al Qaeda was based in Afghanistan, where they operated training camps and had the support of the Taliban, an Islamist political force which ruled the country.

Bin Laden was killed in a raid by US special forces on May 2, 2011. He was killed in Pakistan, in an operation across the border from US bases in Afghanistan which the US did not seek approval for from the Pakistani government. 

"The American people did not choose this fight.  It came to our shores, and started with the senseless slaughter of our citizens.  After nearly 10 years of service, struggle, and sacrifice, we know well the costs of war." - Barack Obama announcing the killing of Osama bin Laden

Global Fallout

The events of the morning of September 11, 2001 have reverberated around the world for more than a decade. 

Within a month of the attacks, President George Bush announced the invasion of Afghanistan. The Taliban was held responsible for sheltering al Qaeda and given an ultimatum for surrendering the group. 

Supported by forces from more than 40 countries, including Australia, the United States overthrew the Taliban government and attempted to establish a representative democracy. The conflict, still ongoing, is the longest war the US has ever mounted.

Initially expected to be a brief operation, the conflict has become the longest war in US history. Despite a significant reduction US and NATO personnel, thousands still remain as the conflict continues.  

Thousands of troops have been killed in the conflict and tens of thousands injured. The Australian Defence Force counts more than 260 injured and 40 killed.

More than 100,000 people are estimated to have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001, with roughly a third estimated to be civilians. 

Despite contested and discredited evidence, the Bush Administration also claimed al Qaeda links to the government of Iraq in the build-up to the 2003 invasion. Australia was one of America's key allies in supporting the war.

The decision to mount the invasion is widely regarded as a foreign policy failure, having caused ongoing instability in the country and facilitating the rise of violent Islamist terror groups in the region.

The Sites Today

Each of the attack sites now hosts memorials to the attacks, from the understated benches and foliage at the Pentagon to the plunging, dark fountains where the World Trade Center towers once stood.

The names of the victims are carved into the edges of the New York fountains and the benches of the Pentagon. A memorial and visitor's centre now stands in the Pennsylvania field where Flight 93 crashed.

On the victims' birthdays, volunteers place a white rose by their name in the World Trade Center memorial.