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Reagan National Airport, which was located close to downtown
Washington. "Fast moving primary target," they said, indicating that a
plane without a transponder was heading their way.
At the time, the plane was about twelve to fourteen miles southwest of
Dulles and moving at lightning speed. Tom Howell, the controller next to
O'Brien, glanced over at her screen and his eyes grew wide. "Oh my God!"
he yelled. "It looks like he's headed to the White House! We've got a target
headed right for the White Housel" At full throttle, American Airlines
Flight 77 was traveling at about 500 miles per hour directly toward P-56,
the prohibited air space surrounding the White House and the Capitol.
Because of its speed and the way it maneuvered and turned, everyone in
the radar room of Dulles Airport's tower assumed it was a military jet.
Among the passengers on Flight 77 were the hijackers from the
Valencia Motel and Barbara Olson. Originally, Barbara Olson had
planned to fly to Los Angeles on Monday, September 10. But because her
husband's birthday was on the 11th, she decided to leave the next
morning so she could spend a little time with him on that day. After
saying good-bye early in the morning, she called him at the Justice
Department about 7:40, just before boarding her plane.
About an hour and a half later, Olson heard about the hijackings and
quickly turned on his office television, worried that one of the planes
might be Barbara's. But after a brief mental calculation, he figured her
plane could not have gotten to New York that quickly.
Suddenly a secretary rushed in. "Barbara is on the phone," she said.


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Olson jumped for the receiver. "Our plane has been hijacked!" she said
quickly, but then the phone went dead. Olson immediately called the
command center at Justice and alerted them that there was yet another
hijacked plane”and that his wife was on it. He also said she was able to
communicate, even though her first call had been cut off.
Minutes later Barbara called back. Speaking very quietly, she said the
hijackers did not know she was making this call. All the passengers, she
said, had been herded to the back by men who had used knives and box
cutters to hijack the plane. The pilot had announced that the plane had
been hijacked shortly after takeoff.
Ted Olson then told her about the two other planes that had flown
into the World Trade Center. "I think she must have been partially in
shock from the fact that she was on a hijacked plane," Olson recalled.
"She absorbed the information."
"What shall I tell the pilot? What can I tell the pilot to do?" Barbara
said, trying to remain calm. Olson asked if she could tell where the plane
was. She said she could see houses and, after asking someone, said she
thought the plane was heading northeast.
They then reassured each other that at least the plane was still up in
the air, still flying. "It's going to come out okay," Olson told his wife, who
agreed. But Ted Olson knew the situation was anything but all right. "I
was pretty sure everything was not going to be okay," he recalled. "I, by
this time, had made the calculation that these were suicidal persons,
bent on destroying as much of America as they could." "I love you,"
Barbara said as they expressed their feelings for each other. Then the
phone suddenly went dead again. While waiting for her to call back,
Olson remained glued to the television. It was now about 9:30.
At that same moment, NORAD's three F-16s, each loaded with six
missiles, were wheels up from Langley Air Force Base. It was the closest
alert base to Washington, only 130 miles away. The pilots' job was
somehow to find Flight 77 before it found its target and possibly shoot it
down. But that would require the authorization of the president.

At 9:30, nearly half an hour after being told that the country was
under attack, President Bush was still at the Emma E. Booker
Elementary School, far from the madness in New York. Having finished
his photo op with the second graders and been given a quick update on
the state of the crisis, he strolled into the school's library. He had
originally planned to give a speech promoting his education policies.
Instead, still seemingly unaware of the magnitude of what was taking
place, he told the children and teachers that he would have to leave. "I,
unfortunately, will be going back to Washington," he said, because the
country had suffered "an apparent terrorist attack."
With one brief exception, that was the last anyone would see of either
the president or vice president until long after the crisis ended. Air Force
One was not going to Washington. The commander in chief was headed


529
for the safety of a bunker deep under Nebraska. At first, an
administration spokesman said flying to Omaha was a result of a threat
against Air Force One called into the White House. But later the
administration was forced to admit that such an event never took place.

Within the tower at Dulles Airport, the tension was almost visible. The
supervisor in the radar room began a countdown as the unknown plane
got closer and closer to the White House. "He's twelve miles west," he
said. "He's moving very fast eastbound. Okay, guys, where is he now? .. .
Eleven miles west, ten miles west, nine miles west." About that point, the
supervisor picked up the phone to the Secret Service office at the White
House. "We have an unidentified, very fast-moving aircraft inbound
toward your vicinity," he said. "Eight miles west. Seven miles west."
At the White House, Secret Service officers quickly rushed into Vice
President Dick Cheney's office. "We have to move," said one agent. "We're
moving now, sir; we're moving." Once out, they hustled him down to the
Presidential Emergency Operations Center, a special bombproof bunker
under the East Wing of the building. The rest of the White House staff
were told to get out and away from the building as quickly as possible.
"All the way to H Street, please," one uniformed Secret Service officer
yelled.
"Six miles," said the supervisor. "Five miles, four miles." He was just
about to say three miles when the plane suddenly turned away. "In the
room, it was almost a sense of relief," recalled traffic controller Danielle
O'Brien. "This must be a fighter. This must be one of our guys sent in,
scrambled to patrol our capital and to protect our president, and we sat
back in our chairs and breathed for just a second. In the meantime, all
the rest of the planes are still flying and we're taking care of everything
else."
But then the plane suddenly turned back, completing a 360-degree
loop. "He's turning back in!" O'Brien yelled. "He's turning back east-
bound!" O'Brien's fellow traffic controller, Tom Howell began to yell to the
supervisor. "Oh my God, John, he's coming back!"
"We lost radar contact with that aircraft," recalled O'Brien. "And we
waited. And we waited. And your heart is just beating out of your chest,
waiting to hear what's happened."
At that same moment, Catholic priest Father Stephen McGraw was in
traffic so heavy it was almost at a standstill. He was on his way to a
graveside service at Arlington National Cemetery but had mistakenly
taken the Pentagon exit onto Washington Boulevard. Suddenly McGraw
felt the teeth-rattling roar of a large aircraft only about twenty feet above.
He looked out just as the plane clipped an overhead sign and then
toppled a lamppost, injuring a taxi driver a few feet away. "It looked like a
plane coming in for a landing," he said. "I mean, in the sense that it was
controlled and sort of straight." A second later, at 9:37, American Airlines
Flight 77 smashed into the gray concrete wall of the Pentagon, hitting


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with such force that it penetrated four of the five concentric rings of
corridors and offices surrounding the center court, long nicknamed
Ground Zero.
"I saw it crash into the building," said McGraw. "There was an
explosion and a loud noise, and I felt the impact. I remember seeing a
fireball come out of two windows [of the Pentagon]. I saw an explosion of
fire billowing through those two windows. I remember hearing a gasp or
scream from one of the other cars near me. Almost a collective gasp it
seemed."
Nearby in another car was Aydan Kizildrgli, a student from Turkey
who was just learning English. "Did you see that?" he shouted to the
next car. Traffic along the highway came immediately to a halt as people
jumped out of their cars and began putting their cell phones to their
ears. Stunned and dazed, Kizildrgli left his car on the road and began
walking aimlessly for half an hour.
Minutes later, in the Dulles Airport tower, the words of an air traffic
controller at Reagan National Airport came over the loudspeaker. "Dulles,
hold all of our inbound traffic," said the voice. "The Pentagon's been hit."
"I remember some folks gasping," recalled O'Brien. "I think I remember a
couple of expletives." "It's just like a big pit in your stomach because you
weren't able to do anything about it to stop it," said Tom Howell. "That's
what I think hurt the most."
Twelve minutes after the crash, the three Air National Guard F-16s
from Langley finally arrived. Too late to save the Pentagon, they were
ordered to patrol the airspace over the White House. "A person came on
the radio," said National Guard Major General Mike J. Haugen, "and
identified himself as being with the Secret Service, and he said, 'I want
you to protect the White House at all costs.' "
At the Justice Department, Ted Olson heard on television that an
explosion had taken place at the Pentagon. Although no one identified
the aircraft involved, he knew it was Flight 77 carrying his wife. "I did
and I didn't want to," he recalled, "but I knew." Late that night, when he
finally got to bed around 1 A.M., Olson found a note under his pillow
that Barbara had left for his birthday. "I love you," she had written.
"When you read this, I will be thinking of you and will be back on
Friday."

* * *

As rescue workers began racing to the Pentagon, it was quickly
becoming clear to air traffic controllers in Cleveland that yet another
passenger jet”a fourth”was in the process of being hijacked. This time
it was United Flight 93, which had taken off at 8:42 that morning from
Newark International Airport en route to San Francisco. Shortly after
nine, following the attacks on the World Trade Center, pilot Jason Dahl
had heard a brief ping on his company computer. It was an electronic


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alert notifying him of a message from United's operations center near
Chicago. In green letters on a black background came a warning to be
careful of someone trying to break into the flight deck. Beware, cockpit
intrusion, it said. Confirmed, typed one of the pilots, acknowledging the
message.
At about 9:28, as the plane was flying near downtown Cleveland,
Captain Dahl radioed Cleveland Control a cheerful greeting. "Good
morning, Cleveland. United ninety-three with you at three-five-zero
[35,000 feet]. Intermittent light chop."
But back in the main cabin there was pandemonium. Three men who
had tied red bandannas around their heads were taking over and herding
the passengers to the back of the plane, near the galley. One of those
passengers, Tom Burnett, managed to pick up a phone without being
noticed. He quickly called his wife, Deena, in San Ramon, California,
where she was preparing breakfast for the couple's three young
daughters. "We're being hijacked!" he said. "They've knifed a guy, and
there's a bomb on board! Call the authorities, Deena!"
Seconds later, the Cleveland controller heard the frightening sound of
screaming in the cockpit. "Somebody call Cleveland?" he asked. There
was no answer, just the muffled sounds of a struggle, followed by silence
for about forty seconds. Then the Cleveland controller heard more
struggling followed by someone frantically shouting, "Get out of here! Get
out of here!" Finally, the microphone once again went dead.
Unsure of what he had actually heard, the controller called another
nearby United flight to see if they might have picked up the broadcast.
"United fifteen twenty-three," he said, "did you hear your company, did
you hear some interference on the frequency here a couple of minutes
ago”screaming?" "Yes, I did," said a crew member of the United flight.
"And we couldn't tell what it was either." The pilot of a small executive jet
had also heard the commotion. "We did hear that yelling, too," he told the
Cleveland controller.
"Any airline pilot with any experience, and I've had quite a bit," said
veteran commercial pilot John Nance, "who sits up there strapped into a
seat knows what happened here: two of my brethren being slashed to
death. In the cockpit, I think what happened is the pilots had been
subdued. I think their necks had been slashed. And they're strapped in,
they've got no way of defending themselves. You can't turn around and
fight. They're just sitting ducks."
Suddenly the microphone aboard United Flight 93 came to life again,
but this time with a foreign-sounding voice. "Ladies and gentlemen, here
it's the captain. Please sit down. Keep remaining sitting. We have a bomb
aboard." Startled, the Cleveland controller called back. "Say again
slowly," he said. But silence returned to Flight 93.

In New York, the twin towers had become twin infernos. Nearly ten
million square feet of vertical space was converted into burning torches.


532
Completed in 1974, the nearly 1,300-foot towers had become modern-
day temples of wealth and commerce. Unencumbered by interior
columns or load-bearing walls, they were tubes of metal and glass
containing 200,000 tons of steel, 425,000 cubic yards of concrete, and
600,000 square feet of glass in 43,000 windows. The wide, file cabinet
and desk-clogged floors on which the pools of jet fuel were burning were
designed to hold tremendous weights. Made of reinforced concrete pads
on metal decks supported by cross beams, each floor covered about an
acre and weighed nearly 4.8 million pounds. Much of this weight was
transferred to a series of exterior columns by a complex network of
beams and slabs connecting to and spanning the distance between the
columns.
But it was also made of flesh. Like an upright city, the towers housed
55,000 workers. On a typical day the buildings had about 90,000
visitors. The complex had its own subway station, and in place of taxis,
nearly a hundred elevators whisked people from the seven-story entrance
to the 107 floors of offices. Some people there made millions and had
endless, heart-thumping views, while others hustled, toiled, and scraped
by, never seeing much more than blank walls.
As in life, economic stratification is also often present in death. Those
in the higher, more expensive offices stood less of a chance of surviving.
With a stairwell in all four corners, the towers were designed to be
evacuated in an hour. Although theoretically designed to sustain a hit
from a Boeing 707, it is clear that the architects never anticipated that
the towers would survive an attack by fuel-laden, wide-body jets. Those
in the area of the direct hits and above were trapped, prevented from
going down by the damage to the stairwells caused by the exploding
fuselage and the fuel-filled wings. They could only go up, but that was
where the searing heat and smoke were accumulating. Below the impact
zone, the fuel not expended in the original explosion poured down on
lower floors like flaming waterfalls.
The World Trade Center had become a place were life or death would
be decided not by the laws of man but by the laws of physics, where
massive steel columns would turn to liquid and solid blocks of reinforced
concrete instantly revert to dust.
At 9:24, fire rescue received a call from a frightened man who said
that the stairway had collapsed on the 105th floor of Tower Two. It would
be an omen.

About 9:30, aboard United Flight 93, Tom Burnett again picked up
his phone and called his wife. At that moment Deena was passing his
message on to the FBI, but when she heard the call-waiting click, she
switched to the other line. "They're in the cockpit now," said Burnett.
Then, as the hijackers began vectoring toward Washington, he noticed
the plane shifting course. "We're turning back to New York," he said. "No,
we're heading south." Deena then connected him to the FBI on the other

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