TECHNOLOGY

9/11 through the eyes of his victims: Farewell calls from the aircraft


The farewell calls from the planes … the growing horror of air traffic control … the mother who knew that they witnessed how their loved ones perished …

The story has never been told with such devastating human power by an author who has spent five years reconstructing his horror …

Flight 175 pops into the south tower of the World Trade Center in New York while the north tower burns

AMERICAN AIRLINES FLIGHT 11

At 6.45 a.m. Michael Woodward, a 30-year-old flight service manager at American Airlines, slipped into his office at Logan International Airport.

As always, he would ensure that all aircraft flying from Boston, Massachusetts are properly maintained and have a full number of flight attendants.

Some were already running around in the no-frills lounge in front of his office, logging on, and grabbing a cup of coffee.

Michael brightened when he saw his girlfriend Betty Ong, who was enjoying a few minutes' rest before their next flight. On the other side of the room he saw Kathleen Nicosia, 54, a green-eyed, factual flight attendant whom he had recently taken to dinner. He went over and she hugged him.

Amy Sweeney, 35, from Acton, Massachusetts

Amy Sweeney, 35, from Acton, Massachusetts

A hint of perfume lingered after Kathy and Betty went up to the passenger gates. The plane they were going to fly with today was a large-bodied Boeing 767.

Another flight attendant, Amy Sweeney (35), was already on board and fervently wished she was back home.

After spending the summer with her two young children, she had only recently returned to work – and today was the first time that she was unable to take her five-year-old Anna to the kindergarten bus.

Shortly before the start Michael went on board for the last check. He scanned the aisles to see if the clerk had closed all the lockers.

Suddenly he looked at the passenger in 8D. A shiver ran through him – a queasy feeling that he could not classify properly. Something about Mohamed Atta's brooding look seemed wrong.

But the flight to Los Angeles was already behind schedule and Michael couldn't challenge a passenger just because he was staring at him. He turned and got out of the plane.

In 2001, very few Americans knew that a man in an Afghan cave had used a violent fatwa on the United States.

The countdown had started earlier in the morning when 19 supporters of Osama bin Laden – all radicalized young Arabs – were ready to commit a previously unimaginable atrocity. Atta, the well-educated Egyptian in 8D, had been selected by bin Laden as its leader.

Together with four of the other 18 terrorists, he had had no problems getting through airport security. Nobody patted her. Nobody searched her carry-on bags.

Even if their knives or box cutters were discovered, it wouldn't have made any difference. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations allowed passengers to carry sheets less than four inches long.

Peter Hanson, right, his wife Susan Hanson and their daughter Christine, all from Groton, Massachusetts

Peter Hanson, right, his wife Susan Hanson and their daughter Christine, all from Groton, Massachusetts

Two of the terrorists had booked first-class seats directly behind the cockpit. Atta and the other two were in business class.

The usual exercise started: seats upright, seat belts fastened, tray tables secured, cell phones switched off. Flight attendants buckled into child seats. The passengers wondered if they should see the only film on offer: Dr. Dolittle 2.

The plane took off at 7:59 a.m. For the first 14 minutes, the pilots followed the routine instructions of an FAA air traffic controller on the ground. Betty Ong and Amy Sweeney prepared a cart with coffee, juice, and muffins.

8.14 a.m.: Air traffic controller Peter Zalewski instructed the pilots to climb to 35,000 feet. The plane rose, but only to 29,000 feet. Ten seconds passed. Zalewski tried again to reach the pilots. And again no answer.

"He is Nordo," said Zalewski to a colleague who used controller jargon for "no radio". Usually, Nordos were the result of technical problems or distracted pilots. Still, silent planes posed potential problems for air traffic controllers trying to avoid air collisions.

The World Trade Center, New York in 1981

The World Trade Center, New York in 1981

Zalewski tried five more times to contact them. Finally, he heard a short sound just before 8:18 a.m. It sounded like a scream, but he couldn't be sure.

Then it got worse. Zalewski observed on the radar how Flight 11 abruptly turned northwest and deviated from the assigned route. There must be a technological mistake, he guessed. No reason to declare an emergency yet.

8.21 a.m.: Someone in the cockpit switched off the transponder on the aircraft. This meant that air traffic controllers could still see Flight 11 as a point on their primary radar telescopes, but could only guess the altitude and speed. It would also be much easier to lose sight of the plane amidst the constant ups and downs of air traffic.

Zalewski said to a manager: "I think something is wrong with this plane." When asked if he thought the plane had been hijacked, Zalewski replied, "No way. No way."

As he knew, the pilots were trained to enter function codes during a kidnapping or to use the harmless word "trip" during a radio exchange. The idea that hijackers could kill the pilots and fly a Boeing 767 himself never occurred to him.

Six minutes after the pilots stopped responding to Zalewski's calls, Betty Ong grabbed an Airfone built into the Boeing 767 and reached the airline's reservations office in North Carolina.

"I think we'll be kidnapped," she said. It was quickly forwarded to Winston Sadler, an agent at the international settlement counter. Although only four minutes of their conversation was recorded, they spoke more than 25 minutes. "Um, the cockpit doesn't answer," said Betty. "Somebody got stabbed in the business class and I think there is Mace – that we can't breathe …"

While the World Trade Center north tower is on fire after being hit by hijacked American Airlines flight 11, United Airlines flight 175 hijacked approaches the World Trade Center south tower on September 11, 2001

While the World Trade Center north tower is on fire after being hit by hijacked American Airlines flight 11, United Airlines flight 175 hijacked approaches the World Trade Center south tower on September 11, 2001

Sometimes she stammered and continued, "Our first galley flight attendant and purser were stabbed and we can't get into the cockpit." The door doesn't open. I think the boys (kidnappers) are up there. You could have gone there, jammed yourself up there or something. "

Another agent took the call. "Betty, how are you honey? OK. You'll be fine … relax, honey. Betty, Betty. "

Betty reported several times that the plane was flying irregularly and turning almost sideways. "Please pray for us," she said. "Oh god … oh god."

Two minutes after her call, a manager reported the emergency to the airline's operations control headquarters in Texas. But nobody thought to inform the FAA headquarters, let alone the U.S. military.

In the meantime, Zalewski had tried to contact the pilots for 11 minutes. Suddenly he heard a male voice with a vague oriental accent – but he couldn't understand what he was saying.

That was deeply unfortunate; Had he been able to decipher this first message, he would have heard the man say: “We have some planes. Just stay calm and we'll be fine. We are going back to the airport. "

Flight attendant Renee May, 39, from Baltimore

Flight attendant Renee May, 39, from Baltimore

The use of the word "aircraft" could have made Zalewski aware that other flights were at risk – and that other pilots had to be warned about tampering with the cockpit.

Most likely, the kidnapper's words should only be heard by the passengers and the crew. But the person in the pilot's seat – certainly Atta – had not been able to operate the correct switch on the cockpit radio field.

Seconds later, Zalewski heard the next message loud and clear: “Nobody moves. Everything will be fine. If you try to move, you injure yourself and the plane. Just stay calm. "

So it was a kidnapping.

He watched with increasing alarm as the 767 turned sharply from its route to New York City. But another 12 minutes passed before someone alarmed the military.

Coincidentally, the military command center that answered the call was in the middle of a major training exercise. When the major in charge found out about the kidnapping of Flight 11, he growled: "The kidnapping shouldn't take any longer!"

After being convinced that this was a real emergency, he asked superiors for permission to crawl two F-15 fighters on Cape Cod, about 150 miles from NYC.

In the meantime, the military had difficulty locating the aircraft because air traffic controllers used a different radar system.

A Southwest Airlines flight departs from Boston Logan International Airport, from which flight 11 departed

A Southwest Airlines flight departs from Boston Logan International Airport, from which flight 11 departed

Flight attendant Amy, sitting in a back seat next to Betty, came to Michael Woodward in Boston.

"Amy, honey, what's up?" He asked. In a tightly controlled voice, she said, "Listen to me very, very closely."

The top flight attendants Karen Martin and Bobbi Arestegui were injured, she said. Karen was down on the floor, in bad shape, getting oxygen.

The kidnappers were from the Middle East, continued, and gave Michael their seat numbers. One had a device with red and yellow wires that looked like a bomb.

They had driven the first-class passengers into the economy. But Amy was pretty sure the economy passengers thought the problem was a routine medical emergency in the front of the plane.

Betty and the other employees were still working, she said, helping the passengers and finding medical care.

8:43 a.m.: About half an hour after the kidnapping began, the plane changed course to Lower Manhattan.

"Something's wrong," Amy said to Michael. "We are in a rapid descent … we are everywhere."

Aerial view of Boston Logan International Airport in Boston, where AA flight 11 departed

Aerial view of Boston Logan International Airport in Boston, where AA flight 11 departed

Another American Airlines employee who listened to the call said she heard Amy scream.

Michael tried to calm Amy down. Look out the window, he said and tell me what you see.

"We're flying low," she said. "We fly very, very deep. We fly far too low! “There was a long pause. Just before the call went static, Michael heard Amy's last words: "Oh my god! We're way too low!"

Five fanatics had managed to turn Flight 11 from a passenger jet into a guided missile.

8:46 a.m.: At a speed of approximately 40 km / h, the airliner cut to the 96th floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center and exploded.

Six minutes later, two military jets finally flew to New York to pursue a passenger jet that no longer existed.

UNITED FLIGHT 175

8.47 a.m.: The first sign of problems on Flight 175 came just a minute after Flight 11 hit the north tower. Someone in the cockpit of the United aircraft changed the aircraft's transponder code twice within a minute.

Air traffic controller Dave Bottiglia didn't notice for four minutes because he was furiously searching for American Airlines Flight 11, which at the time no longer existed.

When he did so, he ordered Flight 175 to return to the correct code, but received no response.

Instead, the plane rose several thousand feet before plunging into a steep descent. After another five radio attempts, Bottilglia's voice began to tremble.

New York City skyline with the Empire State Building with urban skyscrapers at sunset, USA

New York City skyline with the Empire State Building with urban skyscrapers at sunset, USA

8:52 a.m.: The phone rang in Lee and Eunice Hanson's cozy kitchen in Easton, Connecticut.

"Dad, we're on the plane. It's being kidnapped, ”said her son Peter, a senior executive at a computer software company.

His tone was somber – but it had to be a joke, Lee thought. & # 39; What are you talking about? Come on, don't scare everyone. "

"No, that's right," said Peter. "I think they took over the cockpit … a companion was stabbed … and someone else up front might have been killed." The plane is making strange movements. Call United Airlines … "

Lee froze. Not only his son was on this plane, but also his son's wife Sue, who was doing a doctorate in immunology, and her two-year-old daughter Christine.

They had decided to turn Peter's business trip to California into a family vacation and explore Disneyland.

Before hanging up, Peter told his father that all the passengers had gathered in the rear of the plane. "It's very tight here, Dad."

Before hanging up, Peter told his father that all the passengers had gathered in the rear of the plane. "It's very tight here, Dad"

Before hanging up, Peter told his father that all the passengers had gathered in the rear of the plane. "It's very tight here, Dad."

Lee could not reach the airline and called the local police. An officer said to him, "Gee, Mr. Hanson, an airplane hit the World Trade Tower. You should turn on the TV. "

The Hansons saw live recordings of the burning north tower in shock and disbelief.

Around the same time that Peter Hanson called his parents, a male flight attendant, probably Robert Fangman, picked up an airphone and dialed 349.

This led him directly to a United Airlines facility in San Francisco, to which employees regularly reported minor maintenance problems.

Both pilots were killed, he said. A flight attendant had been stabbed and hijackers were probably flying the plane.

The call was interrupted abruptly.

Not every attempt to raise the alarm has been successful.

When Flight 175 swung towards New York City, Brian Sweeney – a top gun instructor and former naval pilot – dialed his wife Julia and got through to her answering machine at 8:59 a.m. She had already gone to work as a high school health teacher.

"Jules, this is Brian," he said. "Listen, I'm on a plane that was kidnapped. If things don't go well and it doesn't look good, I just want you to know that I absolutely love you. I want you to do good and good Have time.

“The same applies to my parents and everyone. And I just totally love you and I will see you when you get there (heaven). Bye baby … & # 39;

Peter Hanson called his parents a second time and said, "... I think they want to go to Chicago or some other place and fly into a building.

Peter Hanson called his parents a second time and said, "… I think they want to go to Chicago or some other place and fly into a building.

After leaving the message for his wife, he chose his mother Louise. & # 39; mom. It's Brian. I'm on a hijacked plane and it doesn't look good. I called to say that I love you and my family. "

He and some other passengers could storm the cockpit, he told her.

9 am: Peter Hanson called his parents a second time. "It's going to be bad, Dad," he said to his father. & # 39; A stewardess was stabbed. You seem to have knives. They said they had a bomb …

“Passengers vomit and get sick. The plane makes jerky movements. I don't think the pilot is flying the plane. I think we're going down. I think they intend to go to Chicago or some other place and fly into a building.

"Don't worry, Dad. If it happens, it will go very quickly."

9:01 a.m.: A New York flight control manager late contacted the FAA Command Center and asked them to involve the military.

But even then, some air traffic controllers were convinced that the pilots were racing to the nearest airport, which was experiencing a routine mechanical or electrical problem.

The aircraft with 60 passengers and crew now flew low and quickly towards the World Trade Center. The Statue of Liberty was barely avoided.

"No!" Called a New York controller. "He won't land. He's going in!"

From the back of the plane, Peter Hanson spoke his last words to his father and wife, who were pressed against him, to his father: "Oh my god … oh my god, oh my god."

Lee Hanson heard a woman scream. Then nothing.

9:03 a.m.: Louise Sweeney and Eunice Hanson, both of whom reported live on TV atrocities, witnessed the murder of their sons. Flight 175 flew at speeds of up to 587 miles an hour and struck the 77th to 85th floors of the South Tower at an angle. A bright orange fireball exploded. The building rocked and belched smoke, glass, steel, and debris.

At the same time in Boston, an air traffic controller told the FAA exactly what the kidnapper had said about the first plane in his accidental radio transmission. According to the volume, it was "planes like in the plural," emphasized the controller.

For its part, the military was still looking for the first missing plane.

And their two F-15 fighters hadn't yet reached New York.

Two minutes after the second plane exploded, an adjutant whispered to President George Bush when he was sitting in front of 200 elementary school students in Florida.

Bush's expression waned and his eyes widened.

He sat on for the next seven minutes, listening to the students reading a story about a pet goat as his eyes wandered left and right.

He would later describe his response as responsible leadership designed to create calm and prevent panic. At 9.15 a.m., he said to his young audience: “These are great readers. Very impressive! & # 39;

AMERICAN AIRLINES FLIGHT 77

No one was known yet, a third hijack was underway.

American Airlines Flight 77 had left Dulles Airport near Washington DC at 8:20 a.m. with 58 passengers on board – five of them terrorists.

Two of them were on the State Department's no-fly list with 60,000 suspects. But no one had shared this list with the FAA – which had 12 names on its own no-fly list.

According to Atta's plan for the letter, the terrorists sat in front of the plane

According to Atta's plan for the letter, the terrorists sat on seats in the front of the plane

According to Atta's plan for the letter, the terrorists sat on seats in the front of the plane.

Also on board was Barbara Olson, a 45-year-old lawyer and right-wing activist who will be seen on TV that night in LA.

That morning she had left a note on her husband Ted's pillow and said, "I love you. If you read this, I will think of you and be back on Friday."

Flight attendant Renee May, who would serve in the first class, was looking forward to the flight. At 39 years old and recently engaged, she had only learned the day before that she was seven weeks pregnant and was going to visit her parents in Las Vegas to tell them their news.

In the first half hour of flight, everything was normal. Then it made an unauthorized turn to the southwest. Three minutes later someone switched off the transponder.

The controller who had spoken to the pilot suddenly couldn't find Flight 77 on his screen. In fact, he was looking in the wrong place: the plane had just made a hairpin turn and was flying to Washington DC.

In fact, he was looking in the wrong place: the plane had just made a hairpin turn and was flying to Washington DC

In fact, he was looking in the wrong place: the plane had just made a hairpin turn and was flying to Washington DC

Numerous messages remained unanswered. The air traffic controller and his colleagues reluctantly came to the conclusion that the plane had either crashed or suffered a catastrophic electrical or mechanical defect. Again, nobody thought of calling the US military.

In the meantime, air traffic controllers in Boston, New York and Cleveland had organized a hasty conference call on the hijackings of the first two planes. Unfortunately, the controllers were not included in Indianapolis.

8:51 a.m.: The five hijackers on Flight 77 have taken action.

Twenty-one minutes later, the Las Vegas phone rang Ron and Nancy May.

Nancy, who was about to start college admissions, was surprised to hear her daughter Renee's voice calling from an airplane. As a flight attendant, she would normally be too busy to call.

Her daughter calmly explained that "six men" hijacked her flight and forced "us" into the back of the plane. She asked her mother to call American Airlines and gave her three numbers.

"I love you, mom," she said. The connection got interrupted.

Nancy reached an American Airlines employee in Washington with one of the numbers and her message was forwarded to manager Rosemary Dillard.

At first there was confusion as to which plane Renee was on. When Rosemary noticed that it was Flight 77, she stumbled back onto a chair. Her husband Eddie, a 54-year-old real estate investor, was on the plane. That morning she had driven him to Dulles Airport, kissed him goodbye, and told him to come home soon.

The next person to call off the plane was Barbara Olson. When she reversed the charges, she reached her husband Ted, the U.S. attorney general, who watched the Twin Towers outrage at the Department of Justice on television.

Barbara told him that the plane had been kidnapped by men with knives and box cutters and that they had ordered passengers to the rear of the plane. The call was interrupted. Terrified, Ted Olson called the Justice Department command center and reported the kidnapping. For some unsettled reason, no one there has notified the US military.

The Boeing 757 was now 38 miles west of the Pentagon, the heart of the U.S. military

The Boeing 757 was now 38 miles west of the Pentagon, the heart of the U.S. military

Barbara rang the bell again. Ted decided that he had to tell her about the two planes that had just flown to the World Trade Center. His wife took the message quietly and stoically.

Both said how much they loved each other. And everyone assured the other that it wasn't over yet, the plane was still flying and everything would work out. Even when he said those words, Ted Olson didn't believe them. Neither did Barbara, he suspected. The call was interrupted.

9:09 a.m.: Air traffic controllers in Indianapolis finally reported the loss of contact with the aircraft to the FAA regional center. It was inexplicably another 15 minutes before a regional official passed the message on to the FAA headquarters.

No one has published an "All Points Bulletin" for other air traffic control centers to search for the missing plane on the screen.

9:29 a.m.: The Boeing 757 was now 38 miles west of the Pentagon, the heart of the U.S. military.

9:32 a.m.: The air traffic controllers at Dulles Airport discovered a green rogue spot on their radar screens that was moving at a speed of around 800 km / h.

At first, they thought it was a military jet. Then it clicked. "Oh my god," shouted a controller. "We have a goal that is heading straight for the White House!"

The secret service was alerted. Agents rushed into Vice President Dick Cheney's office, lifted him from his chair, and pushed him to a tunnel that led to an underground bunker.

Back at the military command center, the staff was still looking for Flight 11, which crashed into the north tower 45 minutes earlier.

9:34 a.m .: A military technician called a controller in Washington to say that Flight 11 could possibly fly towards Washington DC. After a pause, the controller offered its own messages: "OK … we also lost American 77."

It was too late for the military to do anything about it. The fighter jets were 150 miles away. And flight 77 flew just 2,000 feet over downtown Washington.

9.37 a.m.: A Catholic priest stuck in a traffic jam heard a whirring, rustling noise.

It was so powerful that he felt like he had fallen into a blender. When he looked up, he saw a plane flashing past that was so deep that it cut off a light pole.

Next, the right wing of the Boeing 757 hit a portable generator and triggered a small explosion of diesel fuel.

Then it cut into the Pentagon and exploded in an orange fireball. A thick black cloud of smoke rose 300 feet into the sky.

9.42 a.m.: To prevent further hijackings, the FAA ordered all 4,546 aircraft in the air to land at the nearest airport as quickly as possible. All but one would obey the order.

  • Continued on Monday: "We will jump the guy with the bomb."

Adapted from Corinna Honan from Fall and Rise: The Story of September 11th by Mitchell Zuckoff, published by HarperCollins, £ 25. © 2019 Mitchell Zuckoff.

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