Anniversary of 9/11: Detailed chronology of events that rocked the US 20 years ago
The US was struck with the worst terrorist attack in its history on September 11, 2001.
On the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, here is the chronology of the events that took place according to the Department of Homeland Security and the US government's commission report:
Lead up to 9/11
Early 1999: Al-Qaeda's Osama Bin Laden summoned operatives to Afghanistan to discuss using commercial aircraft as weapons and developed a list of potential targets in the US.
April 1999: The hijackers began to obtain passports and visas for travel to the US.
1999 and 2001: Many of the hijackers prepared for the 9/11 attack while living in Germany.
April 2001: The hijackers began arriving in the US on tourist visas with cash and travelers checks acquired in the Middle East.
2001: The hijackers enrolled in flight schools and conducted cross-country surveillance flights in order to identify aircraft that would produce their desired impact.
2001: Several of the hijackers were apprehended by US law enforcement for various traffic violations.
September 11, 2001: The hijackers passed through security checkpoints at four US airports, allegedly carrying knives, box cutters and concealed weapons on their person or in carry-on luggage.
September 11, 2001: Eight of the hijackers were randomly selected for additional screening and a gate agent flagged two as suspicious, none were prevented from boarding their flights on 9/11.
September 11, 2001, 8:19 AM: Flight attendants and passengers began reporting hijackings of the aircraft via airphone.
Inside the four flights
In Boston: Flights American 11 and United 175. Mohamed Atta and Abdul Aziz al-Omari boarded a 6:00 AM flight from Portland to Boston’s Logan International Airport.
Atta and Omari arrived in Boston at 6:45. Seven minutes later,Atta apparently took a call from Marwan al Shehhi, a longtime colleague who was at another terminal at Logan Airport.They spoke for three minutes. It would be their final conversation.
Between 6:45 and 7:40, Atta and Omari, along with Satam al Suqami, Wail al-Shehri, and Waleed al-Shehri, checked in and boarded American Airlines Flight 11, bound for Los Angeles.The flight was scheduled to depart at 7:45.
In another Logan terminal, Shehhi, joined by Fayez Banihammad, Mohand al-Shehri, Ahmed al-Ghamdi, and Hamza al-Ghamdi, checked in for United Airlines Flight 175, also bound for Los Angeles. Their flight was scheduled to depart at 8:00.
All five men cleared the checkpoint and made their way to the gate for American 11. Atta, Omari, and Suqami took their seats in business class (seats 8D, 8G, and 10B, respectively). The Shehri brothers had adjacent seats in row 2 (Wail in 2A,Waleed in 2B), in the firstclass cabin. They boarded American 11 between 7:31 and 7:40. The aircraft pushed back from the gate at 7:40.
Shehhi and his team boarded United 175 between 7:23 and 7:28 (Banihammad in 2A, Shehri in 2B, Shehhi in 6C, Hamza al Ghamdi in 9C, and Ahmed al Ghamdi in 9D).Their aircraft pushed back from the gate just before 8:00.
In Washington Dulles: Flight: American 77. At 7:15 Khalid al-Mihdhar and Majed Moqed checked in at the American Airlines ticket counter for Flight 77, bound for Los Angeles. Within the next 20 minutes, they would be followed by Hani Hanjour and two brothers, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Salem al-Hazmi.
At 7:50, Majed Moqed and Khalid al-Mihdhar boarded the flight and were seated in 12A and 12B in coach. Hani Hanjour, assigned to seat 1B (first class), soon followed.The Hazmi brothers, sitting in 5E and 5F, joined Hanjour in the first-class cabin.
In Newark: Flight: United 93. Between 7:03 and 7:39, Saeed al-Ghamdi, Ahmed al-Nami, Ahmad al-Haznawi, and Ziad Jarrah checked in at the United Airlines ticket counter for Flight 93, going to Los Angeles.
The four men boarded the plane between 7:39 and 7:48. All four had seats in the first-class cabin; their plane had no business-class section. Jarrah was in seat 1B, closest to the cockpit; Nami was in 3C, Ghamdi in 3D, and Haznawi in 6B.
The 19 men were aboard four transcontinental flights. They were planning to hijack these planes and turn them into large guided missiles, loaded with up to 11,400 gallons of jet fuel.
American Airlines Flight 11: Captain John Ogonowski and First Officer Thomas McGuinness piloted the Boeing 767.It carried its full capacity of nine flight attendants. Eighty-one passengers boarded the flight with them (including the five terrorists).
The plane took off at 7:59. Just before 8:14, it had climbed to 26,000 feet, not quite its initial assigned cruising altitude of 29,000 feet. All communications and flight profile data were normal.
At that same time, American 11 had its last routine communication with the ground when it acknowledged navigational instructions from the FAA’s air traffic control (ATC) center in Boston. Sixteen seconds after that transmission, ATC instructed the aircraft’s pilots to climb to 35,000 feet. That message and all subsequent attempts to contact the flight were not acknowledged.
The hijacking began at 8:14 or shortly thereafter.
As it began, some of the hijackers—most likely Wail al-Shehri and Waleed al-Shehri, who were seated in row 2 in first class—stabbed the two unarmed flight attendants who would have been preparing for cabin service.
It's unclear how the hijackers gained access to the cockpit.
Atta—the only terrorist on board trained to fly a jet— moved to the cockpit from his business-class seat, possibly accompanied by Omari.
As this was happening, passenger Daniel Lewin, who was seated in the row just behind Atta and Omari, was stabbed by one of the hijackers—probably Satam al-Suqami, who was seated directly behind Lewin. Lewin had served four years as an officer in the Israeli military. He may have made an attempt to stop the hijackers in front of him, not realizing that another was sitting behind him.
The hijackers quickly gained control and sprayed Mace, pepper spray, or some other irritant in the first-class cabin, in order to force the passengers and flight attendants toward the rear of the plane. They claimed they had a bomb.
About five minutes after the hijacking began, flight attendant Betty Ong contacted the American Airlines Southeastern Reservations Office in Cary, North Carolina, via an AT&T airphone to report an emergency aboard the flight.
At 8:23, the dispatcher tried unsuccessfully to contact the aircraft. Six minutes later, the air traffic control specialist in American’s operations center contacted the FAA’s Boston Air Traffic Control Center about the flight. The center was already aware of the problem.
Boston Center knew of a problem on the flight in part because just before 8:25 the hijackers had attempted to communicate with the passengers. The microphone was keyed, and immediately one of the hijackers said: “Nobody move. Everything will be okay. If you try to make any moves, you’ll endanger yourself and the airplane. Just stay quiet.”
At 8:26, Ong reported that the plane was “flying erratically.” A minute later, Flight 11 turned south. American also began getting identifications of the hijackers, as Ong and then Sweeney passed on some of the seat numbers of those who had gained unauthorized access to the cockpit.
Flight attendant Amy Sweeney got through to the American Flight Services Office in Boston and reported that the plane had been hijacked; a man in first class had his throat slashed; two flight attendants had been stabbed—one was seriously hurt and was on oxygen while the other’s wounds seemed minor; a doctor had been requested; the flight attendants were unable to contact the cockpit; and there was a bomb in the cockpit.
At 8:44, the center reported losing phone contact with Ong. About this same time Sweeney reported, “Something is wrong. We are in a rapid descent . . . we are all over the place.” A manager asked Sweeney to look out the window to see if she could determine where they were. Sweeney responded: “We are flying low. We are flying very, very low. We are flying way too low.” Seconds later she said, “Oh my God we are way too low.” The phone call ended.
At 8:46:40, American 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in NewYork City. All on board, along with an unknown number of people in the tower, were killed instantly.
United Airlines Flight 175: Captain Victor Saracini and First Officer Michael Horrocks piloted the Boeing 76, which had seven flight attendants. Fifty-six passengers boarded the flight.
United 175 pushed back from its gate at 7:58 and departed Logan Airport at 8:14. By 8:33, it had reached its assigned cruising altitude of 31,000 feet.
The hijackers attacked sometime between 8:42 and 8:46.They used knives (as reported by two passengers and a flight attendant), Mace (reported by one passenger), and the threat of a bomb (reported by the same passenger).
They stabbed members of the flight crew (reported by a flight attendant and one passenger). Both pilots had been killed (reported by one flight attendant). The eyewitness accounts came from calls made from the rear of the plane, from passengers originally seated further forward in the cabin, a sign that passengers and perhaps crew had been moved to the back of the aircraft.
The first operational evidence that something was abnormal on United 175 came at 8:47, when the aircraft changed beacon codes twice within a minute.
At 8:51, the flight deviated from its assigned altitude, and a minute later NewYork air traffic controllers began repeatedly and unsuccessfully trying to contact it.
At 8:52, in Easton, Connecticut, a man named Lee Hanson received a phone call from his son Peter, a passenger on United 175. His son told him: “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—Tell them it’s Flight 175,Boston to LA.” Lee Hanson then called the Easton Police Department and relayed what he had heard.
Also at 8:52, a male flight attendant called a United office in San Francisco, reaching Marc Policastro.The flight attendant reported that the flight had been hijacked, both pilots had been killed, a flight attendant had been stabbed, and the hijackers were probably flying the plane. The call lasted about two minutes, after which Policastro and a colleague tried unsuccessfully to contact the flight.
At 8:58, the flight took a heading toward New York City.
At 9:03:11, United Airlines Flight 175 struck the South Tower of the World Trade Center. All on board, along with an unknown number of people in the tower, were killed instantly.
American Airlines Flight 77: The aircraft was a Boeing 757 piloted by Captain Charles F. Burlingame and First Officer David Charlebois. There were four flight attendants. On September 11, the flight carried 58 passengers.
American 77 pushed back from its gate at 8:09 and took off at 8:20. At 8:46, the flight reached its assigned cruising altitude of 35,000 feet.
At 8:51, American 77 transmitted its last routine radio communication.
The hijacking began between 8:51 and 8:54.
As on American 11 and United 175, the hijackers used knives (reported by one passenger) and moved all the passengers (and possibly crew) to the rear of the aircraft (reported by one flight attendant and one passenger).
A passenger reported that an announcement had been made by the “pilot” that the plane had been hijacked.
At 8:54, the aircraft deviated from its assigned course, turning south. Two minutes later the transponder was turned off and even primary radar contact with the aircraft was lost.
At 9:00, American Airlines Executive Vice President Gerard Arpey learned that communications had been lost with American 77. This was now the second American aircraft in trouble. He ordered all American Airlines flights in the Northeast that had not taken off to remain on the ground.
Shortly before 9:10, suspecting that American 77 had been hijacked, American headquarters concluded that the second aircraft to hit the World Trade Center might have been Flight 77. After learning that United Airlines was missing a plane, American Airlines headquarters extended the ground stop nationwide.
At 9:29, the autopilot on American 77 was disengaged; the aircraft was at 7,000 feet and approximately 38 miles west of the Pentagon.
At 9:32, controllers at the Dulles Terminal Radar Approach Control “observed a primary radar target tracking eastbound at a high rate of speed.” This was later determined to have been Flight 77.
At 9:34,Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport advised the Secret Service of an unknown aircraft heading in the direction of the White House. American 77 was then 5 miles west-southwest of the Pentagon and began a 330-degree turn.
At the end of the turn, it was descending through 2,200 feet, pointed toward the Pentagon and downtown Washington.The hijacker pilot then advanced the throttles to maximum power and dove toward the Pentagon.
At 9:37:46, American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon, traveling at approximately 530 miles per hour. All on board, as well as many civilian and military personnel in the building, were killed.
United Airlines Flight 93: The aircraft was piloted by Captain Jason Dahl and First Officer Leroy Homer, and there were five flight attendants. Thirty-seven passengers, including the hijackers, boarded the plane.
Scheduled to depart the gate at 8:00, the Boeing 757’s takeoff was delayed because of the airport’s typically heavy morning traffic.
The hijackers had planned to take flights scheduled to depart at 7:45 (American 11), 8:00 (United 175 and United 93), and 8:10 (American 77).
Three of the flights had actually taken off within 10 to 15 minutes of their planned departure times. United 93 would ordinarily have taken off about 15 minutes after pulling away from the gate. When it left the ground at 8:42, the flight was running more than 25 minutes late.
As United 93 left Newark, the flight’s crew members were unaware of the hijacking of American 11.
Around 9:00, the FAA, American, and United were facing the staggering realization of apparent multiple hijackings.
At 9:03, they would see another aircraft strike the World Trade Center. Crisis managers at the FAA and the airlines did not yet act to warn other aircraft.
At the same time, Boston Center realized that a message transmitted just before 8:25 by the hijacker pilot of American 11 included the phrase, “We have some planes.”
United 175 was hijacked between 8:42 and 8:46, and awareness of that hijacking began to spread after 8:51.
American 77 was hijacked between 8:51 and 8:54.
By 9:00, FAA and airline officials began to comprehend that attackers were going after multiple aircraft. American Airlines’ nationwide ground stop between 9:05 and 9:10 was followed by a United Airlines ground stop.
FAA controllers at Boston Center, which had tracked the first two hijackings, requested at 9:07 that Herndon Command Center “get messages to airborne aircraft to increase security for the cockpit.”
By all accounts, the first 46 minutes of Flight 93’s cross-country trip proceeded routinely. Radio communications from the plane were normal. Heading, speed, and altitude ran according to plan.
At 9:24, a warning to United 93 was received in the cockpit. Within two minutes, at 9:26, the pilot, Jason Dahl, responded with a note of puzzlement: “Ed, confirm latest mssg plz—Jason.”
The hijackers attacked at 9:28. While traveling 35,000 feet above eastern Ohio, United 93 suddenly dropped 700 feet.
Eleven seconds into the descent, the FAA’s air traffic control center in Cleveland received the first of two radio transmissions from the aircraft. During the first broadcast, the captain or first officer could be heard declaring “Mayday” amid the sounds of a physical struggle in the cockpit.
The second radio transmission, 35 seconds later, indicated that the fight was continuing. The captain or first officer could be heard shouting:“Hey get out of here—get out of here—get out of here.”
At 9:32, a hijacker, probably Jarrah, made or attempted to make the following announcement to the passengers of Flight 93: “Ladies and Gentlemen: Here the captain, please sit down keep remaining sitting. We have a bomb on board. So, sit.”
The flight data recorder (also recovered) indicates that Jarrah then instructed the plane’s autopilot to turn the aircraft around and head east.
The cockpit voice recorder data indicate that a woman, most likely a flight attendant, was being held captive in the cockpit. She struggled with one of the hijackers who killed or otherwise silenced her.
At 9:57, the passenger assault began. Several passengers had terminated phone calls with loved ones in order to join the revolt. One of the callers ended her message as follows: “Everyone’s running up to first class. I’ve got to go. Bye.”
The cockpit voice recorder captured the sounds of the passenger assault muffled by the intervening cockpit door.
In response, Jarrah immediately began to roll the airplane to the left and right, attempting to knock the passengers off balance.
At 9:58:57, Jarrah told another hijacker in the cockpit to block the door. Jarrah continued to roll the airplane sharply left and right, but the assault continued.
At 9:59:52, Jarrah changed tactics and pitched the nose of the airplane up and down to disrupt the assault.The recorder captured the sounds of loud thumps, crashes, shouts, and breaking glasses and plates.
At 10:00:03, Jarrah stabilized the airplane.
Five seconds later, Jarrah asked,“Is that it? Shall we finish it off?” A hijacker responded, “No. Not yet.When they all come, we finish it off.” The sounds of fighting continued outside the cockpit. Again, Jarrah pitched the nose of the aircraft up and down.
At 10:00:26, a passenger in the background said, “In the cockpit. If we don’t we’ll die!”
Sixteen seconds later, a passenger yelled, “Roll it!” Jarrah stopped the violent maneuvers at about 10:01:00 and asked another hijacker in the cockpit,“Is that it? I mean, shall we put it down?” to which the other replied,“Yes, put it in it, and pull it down.”
The passengers continued their assault and at 10:02:23 ,a hijacker said,“Pull it down! Pull it down!”
The hijackers remained at the controls but must have judged that the passengers were only seconds from overcoming them. The airplane headed down; the control wheel was turned hard to the right. The airplane rolled onto its back.
With the sounds of the passenger counterattack continuing,the aircraft plowed into an empty field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, at 580 miles per hour, about 20 minutes’ flying time from Washington, DC.
Jarrah’s objective was to crash his airliner into symbols of the American Republic, the Capitol or the White House. He was defeated by the alerted, unarmed passengers of United 93.