Los Angeles Times
September 12, 2001 Wednesday Home Edition
SECTION: Part A; Part 1; Page 1; National Desk
LENGTH: 4698 words
HEADLINE: AMERICA ATTACKED; STRIKE AGAINST THE NATION;
TERRORISTS ATTACK NEW YORK, PENTAGON; Thousands Dead, Injured as Hijacked
U.S. Airliners Ram Targets; World Trade Towers Brought Down; Tragedy:
Assault leaves Manhattan in chaos. Three of the flights were en route to
L.A., one to San Francisco. President Bush puts military on highest alert,
closes borders and vows to 'find those responsible.'
BYLINE: Los Angeles Times Team including special
correspondent Russ Baker
DATELINE: NEW YORK
In the worst terrorist attack ever against the United States, hijackers
struck at the preeminent symbols of the nation's wealth and might Tuesday,
flying airliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and killing
or injuring thousands of people.
As a horrified nation watched on television, the twin towers of the World
Trade Center in lower Manhattan collapsed into flaming rubble after two
Boeing 767s rammed their upper stories. A third airliner, a Boeing 757,
flattened one of the Pentagon's five sides.
A fourth jetliner crashed in western Pennsylvania. Authorities said the
hijackers might have been trying to aim the plane at the presidential
retreat at Camp David, Md., the Capitol or other targets in Washington.
The assaults, which stirred fear and anxiety across the country and evoked
comparisons to Pearl Harbor, were carefully planned and coordinated,
occurring within 50 minutes. No one claimed responsibility, but official
suspicion quickly fell on Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden. Unexplained was
how the terrorists boarded the jets and overpowered the crews.
Federal law enforcement sources said the FBI conducted searches and served
subpoenas, some in south Florida. One official said agents were
investigating the possibility that some of the terrorists were pilots who
had been trained "for this kind of action."
The FBI was sifting through hundreds of tips pouring into a toll-free
hotline and a Web site and pursuing dozens of leads.
Addressing the nation Tuesday night, President Bush vowed to "find those
responsible and bring them to justice." This country, he said, would
retaliate against "those behind these evil acts" and any country that
Altogether, the four downed planes carried 266 people. All were killed.
Scores of people jumped to their deaths or died in fires and the
collapsing superstructure at the Trade Center. New York Mayor Rudolph W.
Giuliani said earliest reports counted 2,100 people injured, about 150 of
them in critical condition.
Estimates of the death toll at the Pentagon ranged from 100 to 800.
At nightfall, more than nine hours after the attack, a 47-story annex to
the 110-floor twin towers at the Trade Center collapsed as well. It too
had caught fire, but by the time it fell, all of its occupants had been
At a late-night news conference, New York authorities said more than 300
firefighters and three dozen police officers were missing. Many had rushed
into the towers after the airliners hit, only to be trapped when the
Among the dead were the New York fire chief, his chief of special
operations and a first deputy commissioner.
Some of those still in the rubble reportedly called officials or family
members on their cell phones, and some trapped police officers made radio
contact with headquarters. But because of fires and unstable debris,
rescue attempts were halted after dark.
Bush placed U.S. forces around the world on highest alert and flew from a
visit in Florida to secure military bases in Louisiana and Nebraska before
returning to Washington to address the nation. Vice President Dick Cheney,
Cabinet members, congressional leaders, and the president's family also
were taken to secure locations.
It was the worst siege of terrorism waged against the United States in its
history. It shut down the federal government in Washington and the
financial markets in New York. It closed all airports across the nation
for the first time, as well as some Amtrak rail lines in the Northeast. It
put off the primary election in New York and closed Disneyland. It halted
major league baseball for a day, as only World War I and D-day have done
America tightened security at its borders and at embassies and military
sites around the world. The National Guard patrolled Washington and New
York. Bridges and tunnels into Manhattan were closed. Authorities
evacuated the Capitol Building, the State Department, the CIA building,
the United Nations and the Sears Tower in Chicago. Hoover Dam was closed
to visitors. Patrols increased along the trans-Alaska oil pipeline.
Even in Europe, authorities evacuated high-rise buildings as a precaution.
Members of Congress, after being briefed by FBI and intelligence
officials, said Bin Laden was the suspected mastermind. "They've come to
the conclusion," said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), "that this has the
signature of Osama bin Laden." He is the fugitive Saudi terrorist under
indictment here for the bombing of American embassies in Kenya and
Tanzania. Bin Laden has been granted asylum by Afghanistan.
That nation's hard-line Islamic Taliban rulers condemned the attacks in
New York and Washington and rejected suggestions that Bin Laden was behind
them. In London, editor Abdel-Bari Atwan of the Al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper
said he had heard that Islamic fundamentalists close to Bin Laden were
planning a major operation but that he did not take the threat seriously.
"They said it would be a huge and unprecedented attack," Atwan told
Associated Press, "but they did not specify."
Anger across the United States brought talk of retaliation. "These attacks
clearly constitute an act of war," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
He was echoed by Adm. Robert J. Natter, commander of the U.S. Atlantic
Fleet. "We've been attacked like we haven't [been] since Pearl Harbor."
"This is the second Pearl Harbor," said Sen. Charles Hagel (R-Neb.). "I
don't think I overstate it." Nearly 2,400 people died when the Japanese
attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. It drew the United States into
World War II.
Governments around the world offered condolences and pledged solidarity in
the fight against terrorism. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said he was
horrified by the attacks. But in the West Bank town of Nablus, about 3,000
people took to the streets, chanted "God is great" and handed out candy in
a gesture of celebration.
Russian President Vladimir V. Putin called the attacks "terrible
tragedies." China said it was "horrified." Pope John Paul II condemned the
"unspeakable horror" and prayed for the victims and their families.
The sequence of events that stunned New York into grief-stricken agony
began at 7:59 a.m. EDT, when American Airlines Flight 11 took off from
Boston's Logan International Airport. The flight carried 81 passengers and
a crew of 11 westward toward Los Angeles International Airport. Fifteen
minutes later, United Airlines Flight 175 left Logan, also bound for Los
Angeles. It carried 56 passengers and a crew of nine.
What transpired inside both aircraft in the minutes that followed remains
unclear; it never may be known. Later in the day, however, federal
authorities would speculate that the planes were chosen by their hijackers
because their transcontinental loads of jet fuel effectively made them
Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft said the hijackers of Flight 11 were armed with
knives. Other reports indicated some flight attendants on Flight 175 were
A Routine Start to Day and Then Chaos
What is known for certain is that Flight 11--the first aircraft to strike
the World Trade Center--was hijacked somewhere over upstate New York, made
a hard left turn and flew for approximately 14 minutes until it struck the
Flight Explorer, a Virginia-based company that sells Federal Aviation
Administration radar data to airlines, was tracking the flight. According
to Walter Kross, one of the company's technical specialists, the 767 was
flying at 29,000 feet near Albany, N.Y., when it veered to the southeast.
The plane's speed dropped from about 450 knots to 340 knots. The Boeing
767 flew faster as it headed for the New York area, reaching a speed of
500 knots. It then slowed to about 300 knots as it approached the World
About 8:30 a.m., it slammed into the building.
"It had to have been hand-flown," Kross said, suggesting that at least one
of the hijackers was skilled enough to pilot the aircraft with precision.
A thunderstorm Monday night had cleared the air over Manhattan and the
sunlight of a warm September morning was glinting off the Hudson River as
the business day began in the city's highest buildings.
Clyde Ebanks, vice president of an insurance company, was at a meeting on
the 103rd floor of the World Trade Center's south tower when his boss
said, "Look at that!"
He turned and saw a plane go past and hit the north tower.
Carnage and chaos ensued.
Peter Dicerbo led his 44 colleagues from the First Union National Bank
down 47 flights of stairs. He staggered away from the building, his
clothes torn; the workers were stunned, dazed and coughing.
Less than 20 minutes later, the United Airlines jet struck the other World
Trade Center tower.
"The minute I got out of the building, the second building blew up," said
Jennifer Brickhouse, 34, from Union, N.J., who was riding an escalator
into the trade center when she "heard this big boom."
"All this stuff started falling," she said, "and all this smoke was coming
through. People were screaming, falling and jumping out of the windows."
At least one couple were seen leaping hand-in-hand from the tower's upper
Three miles away, across the East River in Brooklyn, sheets of office
paper fluttered out of the sky.
At 9:50 a.m., an hour after the first crash, the first World Trade Center
tower collapsed in smoke and rubble.
There were reports of an explosion right before the tower fell, then a
strange sucking sound, and finally the sound of floors collapsing. Then
came a huge surge of air, followed by a vast cloud of dirt, smoke, dust,
paper and debris. Windows shattered. People screamed and dived for cover.
"I heard the largest, loudest collective scream I've ever heard," said
Melissa Easton, who was watching from the roof of her Chinatown apartment
building about 20 blocks away.
Not long afterward, at 10:30 a.m., the second tower of the World Trade
The top of the building exploded with smoke and dust. There were no
flames, just an explosion of debris, and then more vast clouds swept down
to the streets. People were knocked to the ground on their faces as they
ran from the building.
Hyman Brown, a University of Colorado civil engineering professor and the
construction manager for the World Trade Center, said that flames fueled
by thousands of gallons of aviation fuel melted the towers' steel
"This building would have stood had a plane or a force caused by a plane
smashed into it," he said. "But steel melts, and 24,000 gallons of
aviation fluid melted the steel. Nothing is designed or will be designed
to withstand that fire."
In addition to the more than 200 missing firefighters, police officials
said nearly 100 of their officers were similarly unaccounted for. Brian
Stark, a former Navy paramedic who assisted rescuers, said paramedics had
been told that hundreds of police officers and firefighters were missing
from the ranks of those sent in to respond to the first crash.
Giuliani said the 2,100 injured included 1,500 "walking wounded" who were
taken by boat to New Jersey, and 600 others who were taken to New York
hospitals. It could take weeks to dig through the rubble for victims. "I
have a sense it's a horrendous number of lives lost," Giuliani said.
"Right now we have to focus on saving as many lives as possible."
Hundreds of volunteers and medical workers converged on triage centers,
offering help and blood. So many people lined up to donate blood that many
were turned away.
The city took on the eerie hush of a metropolis under siege. With public
transportation shut down and major bridges and tunnels closed to traffic,
walking became the only way to get anywhere. Thousands clogged Manhattan
bridges, leaving the city on foot. Throughout the metropolitan area,
people stunned by the day's events strolled about as if in a daze.
More than nine hours after the attack, an annex in the complex--7 World
Trade Center--continued to burn. At 5:20 p.m., that building collapsed.
Blocks away, crowds roared with astonishment.
"People stared open-mouthed and were in shock," said a bystander.
Jesus Soriano Jr., 34, of Brooklyn, said he was there when the twin towers
"I felt the first building collapse. I saw the second tower collapse,"
Soriano said. "It collapsed from the outside in."
"Those terrorists are real cowards," he said.
Tyler Catalana, 23, a resident of Mill Valley, Calif., who is studying
architecture in New York, said he saw the north tower collapse into
"It looked like a nuclear war," he said.
Catalana said that when the dust began to settle, "it looked like the
surface of the moon."
Much of lower Manhattan was evacuated as officials feared potential gas
leaks and falling debris could cause further casualties.
Like refugees fleeing a war-town nation, tens of thousands walked across
the Brooklyn Bridge and along a nearby highway as they sought safety.
Some people wore paper masks to block out the dust. People gathered around
cars listening to news over their radios. Others washed off the dust with
the water from open fire hydrants.
Giuliani said the New York Stock Exchange was intact, but he doubted it
would reopen today, because it was necessary to keep lower Manhattan clear
for emergency vehicles. Public and parochial schools in the city were
scheduled to be closed.
"New York is still here. The World Financial Center is still here," the
mayor said. "We have undergone tremendous losses and we will grieve for
them horribly. We are going to prevail."
Three large trucks arrived at the city morgue in the afternoon with extra
supplies. A spokesman said that bodies were expected later.
Families searching for missing relatives were directed to an office where
city employees took information. Extra medical examiners were summoned to
The most severely burned were taken to a center at New York Presbyterian
Hospital on Manhattan's upper East Side. Elective surgery at the hospital
was canceled. Patients in the emergency room watched the disaster on
Tiffany Keeling, 32, of New Mexico was treated at Bellevue Hospital for
smoke inhalation and head injuries. She said she was attending a training
seminar for financial consultants on the 61st floor of the south tower of
the trade center.
"We were looking out the window and the entire sky was filled with paper,"
she said. "We thought it was a ticker tape parade."
Then, Keeling said, she noticed a huge cloud of smoke billowing from the
north tower. "Fireballs were falling to the ground, which I now know were
Keeling and the other trainees headed for the stairs. When they were
between the 59th and 58th floors, a voice on the building's public address
system said the north tower was the only structure in danger and that
everyone could return upstairs. Half of her group went back up. She and
others continued to the street.
"People were coming down from the top floors in every condition you could
imagine," Keeling said, through tears.
"I heard a woosh like air getting sucked in a vacuum. I grabbed my jacket
and got as close to a planter as possible and started feeling little
things on my back like hail, and they got bigger and bigger until the air
was solid debris."
Keeling said she turned to a man who walked down the stairs with her and
asked: "Are we dead?"
She said only 75 of the people who attended her training group were
Denny Levy, 36, a videographer, witnessed the impact from the ground.
"I saw this plane flying low over the buildings down the center of
Manhattan," said Levy, who was uninjured. "It went toward the World Trade
Center. It sounded like its engine was broken. Your brain tricks you. I
thought it went past the building, and then it went a little to the left
and took a plunge at the building.
"Then there was this burst of stuff coming out of the building. There was
no fire and no explosion. I wondered why the plane was making so much
noise and was so low.
"You could tell it was a passenger plane, that it was in trouble or trying
to get close for a view. You'd never think a plane would go dead center
into a building. It was like a missile.
"I thought it was an accident, except he took a sudden left. He went right
for it. It was so creepy. I thought, 'Oh my God, I just saw 300 people
John Kelly, 38, a furniture designer, said he looked out a window of his
apartment after hearing the first explosion.
"My wife says, 'Oh, my God, they hit the second building.' I looked. The
plane went through the building, and there was a blast out two sides. It
was like exit wounds in all directions.
"I saw people jumping, bodies flying through the air. I saw people waving
white flags. It was horrible.
"Police and ambulances were everywhere, and within seconds there was no
one. You saw everyone running, running, running. You saw shoes, sunglasses
on the street. People dropped their stuff and ran.
"It was like a nuclear explosion."
A Crushing Blow to Symbol of Strength
As a stunned nation attempted to grasp the horror of television images
from New York, a third hijacked airliner crashed into the Pentagon,
bursting into flames and delivering an incendiary blow to the symbol of
America's military might.
American Airlines Flight 77, a Boeing 757 with 58 passengers and a crew of
six aboard, hit the west side of the building at 9:41 a.m. EDT, half an
hour after it left Dulles International Airport en route to Los Angeles.
"I glanced up just at the point where the plane was going into the
building," said Carla Thompson, who works in an Arlington, Va., office
building about 1,000 yards from the crash.
"I saw an indentation in the building and then it was just blown-up
up--red, everything red," she said. "Everybody was just starting to go
crazy. I was petrified."
Within 20 minutes of the crash, the White House, the Pentagon--the world's
largest office building--and the U.S. Capitol were evacuated.
What began as an orderly exodus from the nation's defense headquarters
turned to panic as evacuees made their way to parking lots.
"People were just milling around in a daze," said Ginger Groeber, a
civilian Defense Department official who had been in the Pentagon watching
television reports of the attacks in New York when the building was hit.
"These people were panicking out there," she said. "People were looking
for their staffs. Nobody's cell phones were working."
The District of Columbia government shut down. Many private firms also
closed and sent employees streaming home, causing traffic nightmares.
As parking garages closed and cars poured out, one woman grabbed the door
of a lone car going in.
"Don't park," she yelled, her face twisted in fear. "They're hitting the
Pentagon! They're hitting the Pentagon!"
Naval officer Clyde Ragland, who works near the Pentagon, was stuck in his
office because the streets outside were clogged with traffic.
He and his co-workers were watching television reports of the disaster in
New York when "we gazed out our own windows and, to our horror and
disbelief, saw huge billows of black smoke rising from the northeast, in
the direction of D.C. and the river . . . and the Pentagon."
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
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
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
Barbara Olson had originally planned to take a Monday flight to Los
Angeles but changed her plans to have breakfast with her husband Tuesday,
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
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
"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
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.
Reporters said the crater was about 40 feet wide and more than 8 feet
deep. The largest debris from the plane was no bigger than a phone book.
The crater was cordoned off, and officials said the task of removing
bodies and the debris would not begin until this afternoon.
After a briefing by the Marine Corps, Rep. James P. Moran (D-Va.) said the
plane may have been turning toward Camp David or Washington targets in its
flight path when it went down. The crash site was 85 miles northwest of
Camp David in the mountains of Maryland.
Response to the tragedies came from a number of quarters, some calling for
swift retaliation while others urged moving ahead cautiously.
Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III said the United States should
strengthen its intelligence capabilities.
"In effect, we unilaterally disarmed our intelligence capabilities," Baker
said. "We need human intelligence to penetrate these groups."
Richard Holbrooke, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said it
would take the cooperation of numerous countries, including Russia and
states in the Middle East, to bring those responsible to justice.
"Any nation seen to harbor or aid and abet these people must be treated as
co-equally responsible," he said.
Larry Johnson, a former State Department counter-terrorism official, said
the United States must wage war against those who launched the attacks.
"This is a declaration of war," Johnson said. "You don't go in for a tie
here. If these guys want to cross the line this way, so be it. But so will
we. We can't go back now. If we don't act, the U.S. will be seen as unable
But John L. Martin, the former chief of the internal security section at
the Department of Justice, urged restraint.
"Any kind of retaliation must be very restrained, and methodical,
deliberate and accurate," Martin said. "Or else it's going to worsen the
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) called the attacks a "day of
infamy" for the nation's intelligence community.
"For the national security apparatus to have missed this is the biggest
intelligence blunder in our lifetime," Rohrabacher said. "The people we
pay billions of dollars to have left us at the mercy" of international
Brian Jenkins, a Rand Corp. expert on terrorism and international crime,
said in Santa Monica: "We've seen elements of this event before. Thirty
years ago, almost to the day, Sept. 6, 1970, four hijackings, one of which
failed, involved the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who
held hostages in the desert outside Jordan. It was a multiple coordinated
"And we've had concerns that hijackers might crash into a major city.
Algerian extremists in Marseilles [in] 1994 wanted refueling. French
Intelligence, listening, feared they would take off and crash into Paris.
"Today, versus 30 years ago, the acts are large scale and often
indiscriminate. The World Trade Center event today combines the two."
At UCLA, David Rapoport, editor of Terrorism and Political Violence, an
academic journal, said there has been nothing like today's attack "in the
history of terrorism."
Rapoport said the attack required "extensive planning by numerous
"The organization capable of this act has managed to elude our
intelligence. We were not looking at the right organizations. And if we
were, our failure is even greater."