“The World Trade Center has just blown up, we seen the explosion outside our windows.”
By 8.53am, seven minutes after the plane went in, the New York police operations division is still in the dark. “POSSIBLE EXPLOSION WORLD TRADE CENTER BUILDING,” it tells its officers as it announces the start of its highest-level mobilisation to downtown Manhattan.
Meanwhile, for many, ordinary life continues. Also at 8.53am, Melissa messages her loved one: “Did you turn the iron off?” and Heather sends a message that reads: “Why don’t YOU come sit on MY lap and kiss me :-)”.
But elsewhere, anxiety is starting to set in. Numerous notes are sent urging colleagues, friends and relatives to tune in to what is happening. “TURN ON CNN Sat channel 202 ASAP!” says Robert Sargent.
Then, equally swiftly, come the messages pleading for information that will indicate loved ones are safe: “LARRY, CALL BRIAN. WANT TO KNOW IF OUR MEN ARE OKAY, SAW A PLANE HIT BLDG.”
At that point, most people thought it was a small plane, and probably an accident, but many were worried none the less. “A SMALL PLANE CRASHED INTO THE WORLD TRADE CTR IN NY JUST NOW. CALL ME, LOVE YOUR WIFE.”
Panic sets in only after the south tower is hit at 9.03am. “HUGE explosion just rocked the World Trade Center,” comes a text a minute later. “The second tower is now on fire.”
Once again, confusion reigned. A message sent at 9.04am said that the fuselage of the first plane at the north tower had caused a second explosion – misinterpreting the second strike at the south tower.
Through the morning, false leads multiply as terror sets in. A mistaken alarm is put out about a car bomb in downtown Washington, a report of “two Arab males” detained at Camp David, and a text that an aircraft had hit the White House.
But the scale and nature of the attacks is also quickly realised. The first mention of a “terrorist attack” comes at 9.05am, just two minutes after the second plane strikes.
By 10.48am, 20 minutes after both the towers have collapsed, the finger is already being pointed at Al Qaeda by individual pagers.
“I guess we are not going tonight!” messages Duane. “I want some Bin Landen [sic] ass!”
The mental and emotional storm that struck the US on 9/11 has been recreated with the release of more than half a million pager messages sent on that day.
The whistleblowing website Wikileaks published the messages over a 24-hour period beginning on Tuesday, releasing them in batches in chronological order as if in real time.
The massive archive includes thousands of messages from US officials including Pentagon workers and New York police, as well as normal people.
They provide an insight into the chaos and confusion, followed by a dawning horror as 9/11 unfolded.
The released messages begin by underlining what an ordinary day it had started out to be. At 7.55am CNN puts out its world news headlines: Israel has surrounded yet another West Bank city; Michael Jordan is making yet another return to pro basketball “for the love of the game”.
By 8.18am, four minutes after flight AA11 was hijacked en route from Boston to Los Angeles, the country is gearing itself up for work. “Not good yesterday goal $21,175. actual $11,455,” came one message.
At 8.46 and 46 seconds, six seconds after flight 11 crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Centre, the following message is paged: “Market data inconsistent … Cantor API problem Trading system offline.” The global financial services firm Cantor Fitzgerald had its offices on the 101st to 105th floors of the north tower and lost 658 employees in the devastation.
The media began catching up with events. At 8.50am Karen sends out a message saying: “CNN SAID THEY THINK IT WAS A PLANE THAT HIT THE BLDG.”
8.51am THERE WAS SOME KIND OF EXPLOSION AT WORLD TRADE CTR.
8.51am World de Center is on FIRE!!!! No Joke.- Rick.
8.53am CRASH AT WORLD TRADE CENTER. THIS IS NOT A DRIL (sic)
8.56am holy shit! a plane just hit the top of the world trade center! - Kate
9.15am Hey Honey! Can you bring some bagels when you get back? The pork chop is now crying about the World Trade Center plane crash.
9.17am GET OUT OF NEW YORK CALL ME LOVE YOUR WIFE.
9.20am US military has go to a high level DEFCON alert. Fighter aircraft have been scrambled.
9.55am Honey Did you hear about the terrorist hijacking etc? I’m totally freaked. My heart is in my throat.
10.31am ABSOLUTLY UNBELEAVABLE!!! The 2’nd tower ha now just fallen GONE just a billow of debris
10.46am AS A PRECAUTIONARY MEASURE STAY HOME TODAY, DO NOT COME INTO WORK UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE. STANDY BY YOUR HOME PHONES AND/OR PAGER
10.46am My goodness, what’s happening?
10.46am There is NO WORLD TRADE CENTER, ANYMORE! Honey, stay put and be safe. May G-D help us!
10.47am F you can please call me and let me know where you are going. I am a wreck. love you
10.47am Talk to me... I hoping you are no where near this. Eric
10.48am I love you baby....please becareful....i don't want anything to happen to you - Jennifer
10.54am YOU ARE ON ALERT FOR POSSIBLE DEPLOYMENT - LOCATION UNKNOWN - PACK AND BE READY TO MOVE
12.28pm The carnage/cowardess terroism pains me 4 those that hav left life/those left behind in pain/mourning-WHY, my god WHY? – Louise