'America is under attack': When White House chief of staff whispered to George W. Bush on 9/11
Americans are commemorating the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks that claimed nearly 3,000 lives and resulted in a years-long war in Afghanistan and Iraq. While the remembrances have become an annual tradition, the recent withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, which saw the return of the Taliban in the war-torn country, this day holds a special significance.
Al Qaeda terrorists hijacked commercial airliners and crashed them into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon. A United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania after passengers tried to regain control of the hijacked plane.
On that fateful day, then US President George W. Bush was in Sarasota to interact with a class of students at Emma E. Booker Elementary School.
Here's how the things unfolded on September 11, 2001:
American Airlines 11 departed from Boston for Los Angeles at 07.59am and has its last routine communication with the ground at 8.15am.
At 08.19am, a flight attendant reported an emergency to the airline's reservation office in North Carolina via an airphone.
After 22 minutes, a duty manager was told that air traffic controllers declared hijacking of the flight, believing it was headed toward New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.
"Something is wrong. We are in a rapid descent," another flight attendant told the airline's office in Boston.
"Oh my God, we are way too low," the flight attendant said after she was asked to determine the plane's location by looking out of the window.
The flight crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8.46am.
Then White House chief of staff Andrew Card, who was in Sarasota with Bush, told Fox 13 that initially it was believed to be a small private plane.
“Sir, it appears a small twin-engine prop plane crashed into one of the towers at the World Trade Center," Card recounted a Navy captain telling the president.
Bush remained seated with the children as they believed it was an accident.
At 8.42am, the United Airlines Flight 175, which had departed from Boston for Los Angeles at 7.58am, reported a “suspicious transmission” overheard from another plane. It was American Airlines 11 which was about to crash into the North Tower. The United Airlines Flight 175 lost communication with the ground after reporting the transmission.
A flight attendant called the airline's San Francisco office to report that the plane has been hijacked. She informed that both pilots had been killed, another flight attendant stabbed and hijackers were flying the plane in all probability.
The plane crashed into the World Trade Center's South Tower at 9.03am. The tower collapsed at 9.58am in 10 seconds.
The Navy captain, who had informed Bush about the plane crash, told Card that another plane had crashed into the second tower of the World Trade Center.
Card walked up to the president and whispered, "A second plane hit the second tower, America is under attack."
Bush remained in the classroom for about five to seven minutes and left with his motorcade at 9.35am. Air Force One departed without any fixed destination and landed at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.
American Airlines 77, which departed from Dulles for Los Angeles, deviated from the assigned course at 8.54am. The transponder was turned off two minutes later. An airline executive learnt about the communication being lost with another flight, with one already crashed into the WTC. The airline ordered flights to not take off and those already in theair to make emergency landings.
At 9.34am, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport advised theUS Secret Service of unknown aircraft heading in direction of the White House. But the plane made a 330-degree turn for downtown Washington and crashed into the Pentagon three minutes later.
United Airlines Flight 93 from Newark to San Francisco crashed into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania at 10.02am as passengers tried to regain control of the flight.
(With inputs from agencies)