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'Let's Roll': Remembering 9/11 21 Years Later

AP Photo/J. David Ake

September 11, 2001, began as a morning like any other crisp, early fall day in the Northeast United States. But by the time the sun set over New York, Washington, and Somerset County, Pennsylvania, the entire world had changed. After the dust settled, fires were extinguished, and all was counted, 2,977 innocent lives had been stolen by Al Qaeda terrorists.


At 7:59 a.m. American Airlines Flight 11 scheduled from Boston Logan International Airport to Los Angeles International Airport takes off with 92 people on board.

A few minutes later, United Airlines Flight 175 departs Boston Logan with 65 people on board at 8:14 a.m., also en route to Los Angeles.

By 8:19 a.m., flight attendant Betty Ong on American 11 notifies her base that her flight has been hijacked: "The cockpit’s not answering; somebody’s been stabbed in business class—and I think there’s mace that we can’t breathe. I don’t know. I think we’re getting hijacked." Ong continues to inform American Airlines on the hijacking for the next 26 minutes while AA employees alert and update the FBI. 

A minute later at 8:20 a.m., American Airlines Flight 77 departs Virginia's Dulles International Airport with a destination of Los Angeles and 64 people on board.

At 8:25 a.m., flight attendant Amy Sweeney aboard American 11 also calls American Airlines to report that her flight has been hijacked, a first class passenger was killed, two flight attendants were stabbed, and the crew is unable to reach the cockpit. Along with fellow crew member Betty Ong, Sweeney reports the seat numbers of the hijackers. 

It took until 8:40 a.m. for the FAA to notify the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) of reports that Flight 11 had been hijacked. 


Around the same time, at 8:41 a.m., United Airlines Flight 93, carrying 44 people, departs Newark International Airport bound for San Francisco International Airport after being delayed nearly 30 minutes.

At 8:46 a.m., hijackers crash American 11 into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan as flight attendant Amy Sweeney is still on the phone with American Airlines: "I see the water. I see the buildings. I see buildings. We are flying low. We are flying very, very low. We are flying way too low. Oh, my God! We are way too low." 

NYPD and FDNY immediately scramble units to WTC who begin evacuations of the North Tower. Initial media reports state that a small plane has crashed into the World Trade Center — a terrible accident. 

While in Sarasota, Florida, visiting Emma E. Booker Elementary School, President George W. Bush is told at 8:50 a.m. by his chief of staff, Andrew Card, that a two-engine plane has hit the World Trade Center.

Peter Hanson, a passenger aboard United 175, calls his father at 8:52 a.m.: “I think they’ve taken over the cockpit—an attendant has been stabbed—and someone else up front may have been killed. The plane is making strange moves. Call United Airlines.” A flight attendant calls his base to report the hijacking and murder of both pilots. Another passenger, Brian Sweeney, calls his wife and gets her voicemail: "Hi Jules, this is Brian. Listen, I'm on an airplane that's been hijacked. If things don't go well, and it's not looking good, I just want you to know I absolutely love you. I want you to do good, go have good times. Same to my parents and everybody, and I just totally love you, and I'll see you when you get there. Bye, babe — I hope I call you."


In the final moments of United 175, passenger Peter Hanson again calls his father: "It’s getting bad, dad—a stewardess was stabbed—they seem to have knives and mace—they said they have a bomb. I don’t think the pilot is flying the plane—I think we are going down—I think they intend to go to Chicago or someplace and fly into a building—don’t worry, dad—if it happens, it’ll be very fast—my God, my God."

By 9:02 a.m., the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey issues orders to evacuate both the North and South Tower of the World Trade Center.

One minute later at 9:03 a.m., hijackers crash United 175 into the South Tower of the World Trade Center as millions of Americans watch live while TV networks carry the aftermath of American 11's crash into the North Tower. It becomes clear that the events in Manhattan are no accident.

At 9:05 a.m., White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card whispers to President Bush as he sits before a classroom of Florida students that "a second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack."


Shortly thereafter, the FAA bans all takeoffs and diverts traffic en route to New York City at 9:08 a.m., and the Port Authority shuts down all bridges and tunnels in the New York area at 9:21 a.m.

At 9:19 a.m., Ed Ballinger, a United flight dispatcher, transmits a warning to the flights he's overseeing: "BEWARE ANY COCKPIT INTRUSION. TWO AIRCRAFT IN NY, HIT TRADE CNTER BLDS."

At 9:24 a.m., the FAA alerts to the suspected hijacked status of American 77 based on calls from passengers and crew members aboard the flight.

Air Traffic Controllers hear sounds of a struggle aboard United 93 at 9:28 a.m. The captain or first officer is heard shouting "Hey get out of here—get out of here—get out of here."

At 9:32 a.m., another transmission from United 93 is heard by ATC: "Ladies and Gentlemen: Here the captain, please sit down keep remaining sitting. We have a bomb on board. So, sit."

Minutes later, at 9:37 a.m., hijackers crash American 77 into the west side of the Pentagon.

Also at 9:37, Mark Bingham — a passenger aboard United 93 — calls his family: "This is Mark. I just want to tell you I’m on a plane and it’s being hijacked... I want to let you know I love you. I love you all... I’m on a flight from Newark to San Francisco and there are three guys who have taken over the plane, and they say they have a bomb. I’m calling you from the air phone."

As fires rage in the Twin Towers, one of the most searing photographs encapsulating the horror of 9/11 is taken at 9:41 a.m. by Associated Press photographer Richard Drew.


Amid continuing uncertainty over how many more flights may have been hijacked, the White House and Capitol Building in Washington are evacuated, as are skyscrapers in other cities.

United 93 passenger Tom Burnett calls his wife at 9:44 a.m. and tells her "a group of us are getting ready to do something." Burnett's fellow passenger Linda Gronlund calls her sister and leaves a voicemail at 9:46 a.m.: "Apparently, they, uh, flown a couple of planes into the World Trade Center already and it looks like they’re going to take this one down as well. Mostly, I just wanted to say I love you and I’m going to miss you."

At 9:48 a.m., United 93 flight attendant CeeCee Lyles calls her husband and leaves a voicemail: "We’re turned around and I’ve heard that there’s planes that’s been, been flown into the World Trade Center. I hope to be able to see your face again."

Two minutes later at 9:50 a.m., United 93 flight attendant Sandy Bradshaw calls and talks with her husband. He confirms that two hijacked planes were flown into the Twin Towers and she explains that passengers are discussing plans to attempt regaining control from hijackers, including heating water to use in their assault.

At 9:55 a.m., an Airfone operator who's been talking with United 93 passenger Todd Beamer overhears "Are you guys ready? Okay! Let’s roll!" The passengers' attempt to wrest control from the hijackers begins at 9:57 a.m.


At 9:59 a.m., the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapses.

In the midst of United 93 passengers' heroic attempt to prevent their flight from being used as a weapon in the ongoing attack against the United States, hijackers intentionally fly the plane into the ground in Somerset County, Pennsylvania at 10:03 a.m. The passengers' selfless actions prevent hijackers from reaching their intended target in Washington, believed to be the United States Capitol.

The North Tower of the World Trade Center collapses at 10:28, 102 minutes after being struck by American 11.

By 11:00 a.m., New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani orders the evacuation of Lower Manhattan as first responders and bystanders begin the monumental task of finding and caring for survivors near the World Trade Center.

Just after noon, at 12:15 p.m., airspace over the United States is devoid of traffic. The only planes in the skies for the rest of the day are Air Force One, carrying President Bush, and U.S. military aircraft. 

After stopping off at Nebraska's Offutt Air Force Base in the afternoon, President Bush returns to the White House and addresses the nation at 8:00 p.m. "Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist attacks," the president told a shocked United States and changed world as fires still burned in Manhattan and Washington. "Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve," he added. "None of us will ever forget this day, yet we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world."


As Townhall remembers the losses America suffered on one of its darkest days 21 years ago and honors the memory of the lives that were snuffed out, you can join in our observance of 9/11 by sharing your tributes and memories of the day in the comment section below.

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