September 11, 2001, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 'None of us will ever forget', Updated 10:00 p.m., Tuesday, September 11, 2001
NEW YORK -- In the most devastating terrorist onslaught ever waged against the United States, knife-wielding hijackers crashed two airliners into the World Trade Center yesterday, toppling its twin 110-story towers. The deadly calamity was witnessed on televisions across the world as another plane slammed into the Pentagon, and a fourth crashed outside Pittsburgh.
"Today, our nation saw evil," a grim-faced President Bush said last night in a televised address to the nation. He said thousands of lives were "suddenly ended by evil, despicable acts of terror."
With the country on a war footing, the nation's aviation system was shut down, government buildings around the country were closed, along with major skyscrapers and a variety of other sites, ranging from Disney theme parks to the Golden Gate Bridge and U.N. headquarters in New York.
In his first prime-time Oval Office address, Bush asked the nation to find comfort in Scripture as he mourned the deaths and vowed to avenge their killings. He said the United States would find and punish "those behind these evil acts," and any country that harbors them.
Establishing the U.S. death toll could take weeks. The four airliners alone had 266 people aboard and there were no known survivors. Officials put the number of dead and wounded at the Pentagon at about 100 or more, with some news reports suggesting it could rise to 800.
In addition, a union official said he feared 300 New York firefighters had died in rescue efforts at the trade center and dozens of police officers were missing.
"The number of casualties will be more than most of us can bear," a visibly distraught Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said.
An army of 10,000 workers brought in dogs and lights last night as they began heading into ground zero to search for survivors and recover bodies.
All that remained of the twin towers by then was a pile of rubble and twisted steel that stood barely five stories high, leaving a huge gap in the New York City skyline and making the Empire State Building once again the city's tallest structure.
No one took responsibility for the attacks. But federal authorities identified Osama bin Laden, who has been given asylum by Afghanistan's hard-line Taliban rulers, as the prime suspect. The Taliban denied such suggestions.
Investigators descended on Logan International Airport in Boston yesterday, trying to determine how terrorists commandeered two nearly identical jets that took off moments apart and then crashed them into the trade center.
"Everything seemed normal when they left Logan," said Joseph Lawless, public safety director of the Massachusetts Port Authority. "We don't know how the hijackers accomplished what they did."
The Boston Herald, quoting a source it did not identify, reported that authorities had seized a car at Logan that contained Arabic-language flight training manuals. The source said five Arab men had been identified as suspects, including a trained pilot. At least two of those men flew to Logan yesterday from Portland, Maine, the Herald said.
The luggage of one of the men who flew to the airport yesterday didn't make his scheduled connection. The Boston Globe reported the luggage contained a copy of the Koran, an instructional video on flying commercial airliners and a fuel consumption calculator.
The FBI refused to comment on the reports.
A senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, cited "strong information" implicating bin Laden. The official said Bush is considering a wide range of military options targeting bin Laden and, perhaps, Afghanistan.
Authorities also were focusing some of their efforts on possible bin Laden supporters in Florida based on the identification of a suspected hijacker on one of the manifests of the four jets that crashed, law enforcement sources told The Associated Press.
The sources said the FBI was preparing to search locations in central Florida that had links to the suspected bin Laden supporter on a jet manifest, the officials said.
U.S. intelligence intercepted communications between bin Laden supporters discussing the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon, according to Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Also aided by harrowing cell phone calls from at least one flight attendant and two passengers aboard the jetliners before they crashed, U.S. officials began assembling a case linking bin Laden to the devastation.
The people aboard planes who managed to make cell phone calls each described similar circumstances: The hijackers were armed with knives, in some cases stabbing flight attendants. The hijackers then took control of the planes.
Among the victims was Barbara Olson, the wife of Solicitor General Ted Olson. She had telephoned her husband twice during the hijacking, telling him that the terror-stricken passengers had been herded to the back of the aircraft. "What do I do?" she reportedly asked her husband.
"She called from the plane while it was being hijacked. I wish it wasn't so, but it is," her husband said.
At the World Trade Center, the dead and the doomed plummeted from the skyscrapers, among them a man and woman holding hands.
"People were jumping out of the windows from all the way at the top," said John Fay, a window washer at the World Trade Center. "I must have seen 15 people jump out of the windows. It was horrific."
"Freedom itself was attacked this morning and I assure you freedom will be defended," said Bush, who was in Sarasota, Fla. A speech on education was scrapped, and Bush headed to Louisiana's Barksdale Air Force Base and, in midflight, authorized Vice President Dick Cheney to put the U.S. military on high alert worldwide.
Bush said the government offices deserted after the bombings yesterday would open today.
More than nine hours after the U.S. attacks began, explosions could be heard north of the Afghan capital of Kabul, but American officials said the United States was not responsible. "It isn't us. I don't know who's doing it," Pentagon spokesman Craig Quigley said.
Congressional leaders of both parties, joined by most members, made a joint evening appearance on the steps of the Capitol as a demonstration of American resolve above political alliances.
This is how yesterday's mayhem unfolded:
At about 8:45 a.m., a hijacked airliner crashed into the north tower of the trade center, the 25-year-old, glass-and-steel complex that was once the world's tallest.
Clyde Ebanks, an insurance company vice president, was at a meeting on the 103rd floor of the south tower when his boss said, "Look at that!" He turned to see a plane slam into the other tower.
The enormity of the disaster was just sinking in when 18 minutes later, the south tower also was hit by a plane.
"All this stuff started falling and all this smoke was coming through. People were screaming, falling, and jumping out of the windows," said Jennifer Brickhouse, 34, Union, N.J.
The chaos was just beginning. Workers stumbled down scores of flights, their clothing torn and their lungs filled with smoke and dust.
Donald Burns, 34, was being evacuated from the 82nd floor when he saw four people in the stairwell. "I tried to help them but they didn't want anyone to touch them. The fire had melted their skin. Their clothes were tattered," he said.
Worse was to come. At 9:50, one tower collapsed, sending debris and dust cascading to the ground. At 10:30, the other tower crumbled.
Mayor Giuliani advised people to leave the lower part of the city and an exodus on foot ensued, sometimes by people covered in blood who had lost their shoes in the carpet of ash.
"If you are south of Canal Street, get out. Walk slowly and carefully," Giuliani said. "If you can't figure out what else to do, just walk north."
The attack at the World Trade Center shut down vast stretches of New York, stranding millions of people in their homes, offices and on the streets. Many could not get home or reach loved ones by phone.
New York City's primary election, to select candidates for mayor and other city offices, was called off.
The cause of the collapse of the twin towers was most likely the intense fire fed by thousands of gallons of jet fuel on board the two jetliners that crashed into the buildings, experts on skyscraper design said.
The high temperatures, in the thousands of degrees, probably weakened the steel supports, these experts said, causing the tower walls to buckle and allowing the floors above the crash sites to fall almost straight downward. That led to failures of the rest of the buildings.
In Washington, D.C., at about 9:30 a.m., a hijacked passenger plane sliced into the Pentagon, triggering a thunderous explosion and fierce fires in the five-sided headquarters of the American military.
The surprise assault, the first in the history of the 58-year-old building, came within an hour of the attack on New York and set off a state of emergency in the nation's capital that swiftly shut down the government.
American Airlines Flight 77, a Boeing 757 carrying 58 passengers and six crew members, was on a flight from Dulles International Airport west of Washington to Los Angeles when it flew low and slammed into the concrete-walled structure.
A half-hour after the Pentagon attack, United Airlines Flight 93, a Boeing 757 en route from Newark, N.J., to San Francisco, crashed about 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.
All that remained after the Boeing 757 crashed into an open field were a crater about eight to 10 feet deep, and 30 to 50 feet wide, pieces of debris no larger than a phone book, said Capt. Frank Monaco of the Pennsylvania State Police.
Today, authorities will begin trying to recover the flight's voice data recorder, debris and victims' remains. There were 35 passengers and seven crew members aboard.