It is 8.46 in the morning twenty years ago. At that moment, the first of four flights hijacked by Al Qaeda terrorists crosses the New York sky at full speed and crashes into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Thus began September 11, the day of the attack that would have led to the collapse of the Twin Towers, causing the death of 2,997 people and changing history. Here are all the stages that marked that day.
It is 5.45 am when hijackers Mohammed Atta and Abdulaziz al-Omari evade security checks at Portland airport on their way to Boston. Here, along with three other terrorists, they board American Airlines Flight 11 to Los Angeles, carrying 92 people. The five take control of the plane which, three hours later, will crash into the center of New York: the impact will occur between the 93rd and 99th floors of the North skyscraper at a speed of 710 kilometers per hour.
A few minutes later, United Airlines 175, also departed from Boston and hijacked by five other men, crashes into the South Tower, between the 77th and 85th floors, at 870 kilometers per hour. It is 9.03 am and the impact takes place live on TV. After the first violent impact, in fact, the world’s media cameras are aimed at the World Trade Center in search of news for what, at least initially, appears to be an accident. A hypothesis that, in the face of the second crash, will however soon be set aside in favor of that of the attack.
Just half an hour later, the script repeats itself and Al Qaeda hits its third target: at 9.37 am American Airlines Flight 77, departing from Dulles International Airport in Washington with destination Los Angeles, hits the Pentagon, the headquarters of the American Defense Department , in Virginia. The attack caused the collapse of the west facade of the building and the death of 189 people in total: 125 inside the structure plus the 64 passengers on the flight, including the five terrorists responsible for the hijacking.
Meanwhile, upon becoming aware of the hijackings and the following coordinated attacks, the Federal Aviation Administration issues an order to block all civilian aircraft within the borders of the United States and orders those already in flight to land immediately. In an instant, at 10.42 am, all international civil air traffic is banned from landing in the United States. The block will remain in effect for three days.
It is now 10.00 in the morning in New York, and while it is becoming clear that it is a terrorist act, one of the Twin Towers, the one facing south, collapses on itself and crashes to the ground in front of the cameras of the whole world. Only an hour has passed since the moment of impact but the impact was so strong that it compromised the structural strength of the building and less than half an hour later, precisely at 10.28, the same fate will befall the North Tower. Some of the surrounding buildings are also damaged, one of which will collapse after 12.30, and for several minutes there have been scenes of people, trapped in the flames, who throw themselves into the void in desperation, rather than die charred or intoxicated. . The police speak of thousands of dead and injured: by the end of the day there will be 2,606 victims under the rubble of the World Trade Center.
But Al Qaeda’s plan is not yet fully realized. And in fact it never will be. About 30 minutes after the attack on the Pentagon, news arrives of a fourth and last aircraft involved in the offensive: a few hours earlier it left Newark airport, near New York, to head to San Francisco but the terrorists they presumably took control of it with the intent of turning to Washington to hit the seat of Congress. In a gesture that will become the subject of film scripts, the passengers of the Boeing 757 manage to get the better of the commando and crash the plane in Shanksville, in the countryside of Pennsylvania.
In addition to the images broadcast worldwide, the reaction of George W. Bush, who became president of the United States eight months earlier, remains a symbolic scene of the 9/11 attacks. Bush Jr. is in an elementary school classroom in Florida when the presidential chief of staff approaches him and whispers that a second plane has also hit the Twin Towers. The president decides to stay in the class and read the story of the goat with the children. “His face changed color,” said former student Mariah Williams ten years later. “We realized that something bad was happening.”