<<

. 91
( 118 .)



>>

class, in seat 8D, Mohamed Atta, a clean-shaven thirty-three-year-old
Egyptian in casual clothes, did not bother lowering his food tray. He had
already eaten his last meal. Instead, he pulled his small black shoulder
bag from under the seat in front of him, withdrew a plastic knife and a
box cutter, and stepped into the aisle. At that same moment, as if
choreographed, four other men assigned to Row 8 also rose and headed
toward the front of the plane.
John Ogonowski again heard the crackle of a traffic controller in his
earphones. Sitting in front of a twenty-seven-inch, high-resolution Sony
TV console, the controller could see Flight 11 's key information” its
altitude, direction, and identifying number. "AAL eleven, your traffic is at,
uh, two o'clock, twenty miles southwestbound, MD eighty," he said,
alerting Ogonowski to a McDonald Douglas MD-80 nearby.
"AAL eleven, roger," said the captain, adding, "Twenty right, AAL
eleven."
At that very moment, 8:13 A.M., the move was on. Atta and his men
quickly grabbed a flight attendant, likely put the cool gray edge of a box
cutter to her throat, and forced her to admit them to the cockpit. "Don't
do anything foolish," one of the men yelled in English. "You're not going
to get hurt." But, likely within minutes, the two pilots were killed and
Atta took over the left seat.
Sixteen seconds later, unaware of the horror then taking place in the
blood-splattered cockpit, the Boston controller again radioed Flight 11.
"AAL eleven. Now climb maintain FL three fifty," he said, giving the pilot
permission to climb from 29,000 to 35,000 feet. Hearing nothing, he


517
repeated the message ten seconds later, again eleven seconds later, and
once more fifteen seconds later at 8:14:23, but still with no reply. Then,
suddenly, in an electronic blink, the critical information on Flight 11
disappeared from his screen, indicating that the plane's transponder had
been turned off.

Two hundred miles to the south, at Washington's Dulles International
Airport, American Airlines Flight 77 was preparing for takeoff to Los
Angeles. "American seventy-seven, Dulles tower," said the controller at
8:16 A.M. "Runway three zero taxi into position and hold. You'll be
holding for landing traffic one left and for spacing wake turbulence
spacing behind the DC-ten." Among the sixty-four people on board was
Barbara Olson, a cable-TV talk-show regular who turned bashing the
Clintons into a professional blood sport. Her husband was Theodore
Olson, the Bush administration's solicitor general. Also on board were
Hani Hanjour and his four associates.
As American Airlines Flight 77 nosed into the crystal clear sky,
Danielle O'Brien, an air traffic controller in the Dulles tower, passed
them on to another controller at a different frequency. "American
seventy-seven contact Washington center one two zero point six five," she
said. Then she added, "Good luck." Later she thought how odd that was.
"I usually say 'good day' as I ask an aircraft to switch to another
frequency. Or 'have a nice flight.' But never 'good luck.' "

By 8:15, the air traffic controller in Boston was becoming greatly
concerned. Despite his numerous calls, there was only silence from
American Airlines Flight 11. "AAL eleven, if you hear Boston center, ident
please or acknowledge," repeated the controller, his voice rising. Then, at
8:24, frightening words poured from his earphones. "We have some
planes," said a voice. "Just stay quiet, and you'll be okay. We are
returning to the airport." It was a message, likely from Mohamed Atta,
intended for his passengers but relayed accidentally to the Boston
center.
"And, uh, who's trying to call me here?" said the controller. "AAL
eleven, are you trying to call?"
Then another troubling message. "Okay. If you try to make any
moves, you'll endanger yourself and the airplane. Just stay quiet." And
finally, at a second before 8:34, came one more. "Nobody move please,"
said the voice, "we are going back to the airport. Don't try to make any
stupid moves." Six minutes later, at 8:40, the worried controller notified
the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).
Responsible for defending the country against airborne attack,
NORAD had become a Cold War relic. Outdated, unable to think outside
the box, it had been transformed into little more than a weed-watching
agency for the drug war. Protecting the country from hostile attack were
fourteen aged fighters at seven bases, none near Washington, DC., or


518
New York City, long the two prime targets for terrorists.
The hijack warning was received at NORAD's North East Air Defense
Sector in Rome, New York. There, at the Mission Crew Control Desk, men
and women in blue uniforms huddled intently over rows of green glowing
screens. The transponder on Flight 11, they were told, was no longer
working. Also, the Los Angeles”bound plane had suddenly made an
unexpected left turn toward New York City. And then there were the
frightening transmissions.
Concern deepened when, just three minutes after the first, another
alert of a possible hijacking came in from the FAA, this time for United
Flight 175. Like American Airlines Flight 11, United Flight 175 was a
Boeing 767 flying from Boston to Los Angeles. Sitting in the pilot's seat
was Victor Saracini, a fifty-one-year-old Navy veteran from Pennsylvania
who often took his guitar along with him on flights. Saracini had also
heard the troubling messages from Flight 11 and notified New York
Control in Rokonkoma, New York. "We heard a suspicious transmission
on our departure from Boston," said Saracini. "Sounds like someone
keyed the mike and said everyone stay in your seats." Now Saracini knew
he had his own set of hijackers on board.
As a result of the two alerts, NORAD's Weapons Desk sent out a
scramble order to Otis Air National Guard Base at Falmouth,
Massachusetts. There, on a quiet Cape Cod marsh, a flock of seagulls
suddenly began flapping toward the sky as a Klaxon let out a series of
deafening blasts and red lights began flashing in the corner of the alert
barns. Within minutes, two national guardsmen, one a commercial pilot
on temporary duty and the other a full-time member of the guard, began
racing toward their jets, "hot and cocked" on the tarmac. Crew chiefs
quickly pulled protective covers from the two vintage F-15 Eagles, built in
1977. Chocks were yanked from the wheels and the heat-seeking and
radar-guided missiles were armed. At 8:52 the F-15s were screaming
down the tarmac.
By then, however, they were already too late for Flight 11.
Nevertheless, the fighter pilots still had a chance of catching up to United
Flight 175. But distance and time were critical factors. Cape Cod was
nearly two hundred miles from downtown Manhattan. Another Air
National Guard base with F-16s was located at Atlantic City, New
Jersey”and Flight 175 would pass within just four minutes of the base
before turning north to New York City. But it did not have interceptors on
alert. Time was also a problem. Rather than push their throttles to the
max, bringing the fighters to their top speeds in excess of Mach 2, over
1,300 miles per hour, the pilots cruised toward New York at just under
the speed of sound, around 700 miles per hour. This was apparently to
avoid disturbing anyone below with a sonic boom.

At 8:41, around the same time that NORAD was receiving hijack
alerts concerning the American and United flights out of Boston, another


519
plane with hijackers aboard was roaring full throttle down a runway at
Newark International Airport in New Jersey. After a forty-minute delay,
United Flight 93 was on its way to San Francisco with a light load of
passengers.
In the cockpit, pilot Jason Dahl, a NASCAR fan from Littleton,
Colorado, gently pulled back on his controls to take the jet up to 35,000
feet. As the plane climbed, Mark Bingham, a publicist returning home
from a meeting with high-technology clients, could feel the pressure
gently pushing him back into his cushy first-class seat. Sharing an
armrest with him was another Bay Area resident, Tom Burnett, a
healthcare executive. Behind the curtain in business class, Jeremy Glick,
a sales manager for an Internet company, was seated in Row 11 and no
doubt happy to finally get off the ground. Farther back, in the main
cabin, Oracle software manager Todd Beamer was on his way to the
company's headquarters in Silicon Valley.

In Washington at 8:41, during the penultimate moments before the
most devastating surprise attack in American history, the country's vast
intelligence machine was humming along on autopilot. George Tenet, the
director of Central Intelligence, was enjoying a leisurely breakfast with an
old friend in royal splendor at the St. Regis, a hotel built in the style of
an Italian Renaissance palace. Surrounded by European antiques and
rich damask draperies, he was chatting about families over omelets with
David Boren. The former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee,
and now president of the University of Oklahoma, Boren had been
Tenet's patron as the former Intelligence Committee staff director rose to
the top of the spy world.

Two hundred miles north, American Airlines Flight 11 was tearing
toward New York City. Huddling out of sight, a shaken flight attendant
managed to telephone a fellow American Airlines employee at Logan
Airport on her cell phone. Near rows 9 and 10, she said in hushed tones,
were several Middle Eastern”looking men, armed with knives, who had
wounded other passengers and had commandeered the plane.
In Manhattan, forty-eight-year-old Steve Mclntyre left his Upper West
Side home a good half hour earlier than usual and was just arriving at
the World Trade Center. The director of regulatory affairs for the
American Bureau of Shipping, he had an office on the ninety-first floor of
Tower One. For nearly a quarter of a century, since graduating from the
University of Michigan's Naval Architecture School, he had worked for
the company, which sets standards for maritime safety.
From his north-facing office, the entire city was laid out below him.
Silver towers and glass walls radiated in the sun, and flat, tar-covered
rooftops with stubby chimneys stretched to the horizon. The glare was so
great that he had to close the blinds before sitting down at his computer.
Until 1999, when ABS headquarters relocated to Houston, the company


520
had more than 130 workers in Tower One. Now it had only twenty-two to
handle local New York business. About half of them were then at work.
Nearly one hundred floors below, French filmmakers Jules and
Gedeon Naudet were shooting scenes for their documentary about a
typical day in the life of a rookie New York fireman. At 8:43, as they were
zooming their lenses in on men closing a sewer grate, they heard the
sound of a low-flying plane. Curious, they pointed the camera almost
straight up just as American Airlines Flight 11 streaked across the lens.
It was headed directly toward Tower One of the World Trade Center.
Steve Mclntyre was plowing through his e-mail when he heard what
he thought was the roar of jet engines followed by a shadow crossing the
blinds. In a nearby office, Claire Mclntyre, no relation, was also checking
her e-mail when she heard the same sound”the blast of a jet engine.
Impossible, she thought. Then, to her horror, she looked up to see the
wing and tail of a colossal plane coming right at her. "Oh my God, all my
people," she thought. Screaming, she bolted from her office and raced
into the hall to alert the rest of the staff. "Everyone, get out now,"
Mclntyre yelled at the top of her voice. At the same moment, Steve
Mclntyre also realized it was a plane but had no idea of its size. "Oh,
shit," he thought to himself. "Someone's lost control of a private Lear jet."
Far below on the street, the lens of Naudet's camera caught the
fuselage of the massive Boeing 767, converted into a flying bomb, slicing
directly into the building. For a fraction of a second, the event seemed
almost graceful. The building simply swallowed up the plane, like a
bullfrog catching a grasshopper in flight. But in the blink of an eye, when
the nearly full fuel tanks were suddenly compressed like crushed soda
cans, a massive fireball exploded and it was bedlam in hell.
The plane entered on the ninety-third floor, just two floors above the
heads of Steve and Claire Mclntyre, shaking the entire building as if an
earthquake had struck. In the American Bureau of Shipping offices, an
interior wall and ceiling collapsed and one employee had to be extricated
from his cubicle. People began grabbing fire extinguishers while another
person had the presence of mind to soak a fat roll of paper towels. Steve
Mclntyre left to check the fire exits.
Seconds after the blast, at 8:43:57, the cockpit crew aboard U.S.
Airways Flight 583 heard Flight ll's eerie final gasp. "I just picked up an
ELT on one twenty-one point five," the pilot told New York air traffic
control, referring to an emergency locator transmitter and its frequency.
"It was brief but it went off." The sound probably came from the black
box aboard the doomed American Airlines flight in the second before it
vaporized. "We picked up that ELT, too," reported a pilot on Delta Airlines
Flight 2433, "but it's very faint."
Slowly it was beginning to dawn on New York Control just what had
taken place. "Anybody know what that smoke is in lower Manhattan?"
said another pilot flying over the area. "A lot of smoke in lower
Manhattan is coming out of the top of the World Trade Center”a major


521
fire."

By now it had been eleven minutes since New York Control had heard
from United Flight 175, and the controller again tried to regain contact.
"UAL one seventy-five," he said, "do you read New York?" But, just as
with Flight 11, there was only silence. Growing more and more
concerned, he checked that his equipment was working correctly and
asked whether other locations may have picked him up. "Do me a favor,
see if UAL one seventy-five went back to your frequency," he asked a
southern traffic control center. "He's not here," came the response.
After another minute of agonizing quiet, he expressed his suspicion.
"We may have a hijack," he told a colleague. "I can't get hold of UAL one
seventy-five at all right now and I don't know where he went to." "UAL
one seventy-five, New York," he called again. But by then the hijackers
were in full control. Near Albany, they made a U-turn back to the east
and were at that moment screaming south toward Manhattan over the
Hudson Valley at about 500 miles per hour”more than double the legal
airspeed. The hijack pilot probably followed the Hudson River, like a
thick line on a map, directly toward his target: Tower Two of the World
Trade Center.
At the time American Airlines Flight 11 hit Tower One, the CNN
program Live at Daybreak was carrying a report on a maternity-wear
fashion show in New York. Then, at 8:49 anchor Carol Lin broke into a
commercial. "This just in," she said. "You are looking at”obviously a
very disturbing live shot there”that is the World Trade Center and we
have unconfirmed reports this morning that a plane has crashed into one
of the towers of the World Trade Center."

CNN then switched to Sean Murton, the network's vice president of
finance, who had observed the crash from the twenty-first floor of 5 Penn
Plaza. "I just witnessed a plane that appeared to be cruising at a slightly
lower than normal altitude over New York City," he said during a live
telephone interview. "And it appears to have crashed into”I don't know
which tower it is”but it hit directly in the middle of one of the World
Trade Center towers. ... It was a jet, maybe a two-engine jet, maybe a
seven thirty-seven, a large passenger commercial jet. It was teetering
back and forth, wing tip to wing tip and it looks like it has crashed into
probably twenty stories from the top of the World Trade Center."
Fighting the blinding, choking, oily smoke, black as chimney soot,
Steve Mclntyre made his way out to the nearly impassable hallway and
began looking for the emergency stairwells. The first one he tried was
filled with water and debris. After locating the second emergency exit he
found it dark and worse than the first. "Where the hell is the third fire
stair?" he cursed. A few seconds later he found it, but in the rubble-filled
darkness he slipped on a piece of gypsum board and fell, sliding down to
the next landing and then bouncing down to another.

<<

. 91
( 118 .)



>>