September 11 attacks
On the morning of Tuesday, 11th September 2001, four landmarks were targeted in a series of four coordinated terrorist attacks against the United States. Carried out by nineteen members of the militant Islamist terrorist group al-Qaeda, the attacks comprised four commercial airliners being hijacked mid-flight and flown into various locations within the north-eastern region of the country. Three of the targets were struck: the two prominent Twin Towers of the World Trade Center complex in New York City, and the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. The fourth plane was intended to attack a landmark in Washington, D.C. — most likely the White House or the U.S. Capitol Building — but instead crashed into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after the passengers attempted to take back control of the aircraft.
▸ Attack on the North Tower: the North Tower of the World Trade Center was the first subject of the attacks on the day. It was flown into by American Airlines Flight 11, which had been hijacked fifteen minutes after taking off from Logan International Airport in Boston at 07:59. It was operating its daily scheduled morning transcontinental service towards Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, and had 92 occupants onboard — including the five hijackers.
Upon striking the northern face of the North Tower at exactly 08:46:30 EDT, Flight 11 was travelling at around 465 mph and carrying around 10,000 U.S. gallons of jet fuel. It collided with the building between the 93rd and 99th floors, rupturing everything in its path and instantly killing hundreds of people in the building and everybody onboard the aircraft. The subsequent damage to the structure, which involved every elevator and stairwell being destroyed, eradicated any means of escape for those in and above the impact zone; the figure of those killed or trapped approximated thirteen hundred. Those who were killed in the North Tower died as a result of the fire and smoke, the imminent collapse of the building, or tragically jumping or falling from its upper stories.
As television stations learned of the crash, they gradually began reporting it under a breaking news headline. For the first seventeen minutes after the collision, they and many eyewitnesses were under the impression that it was a terrible accident, perhaps instigated either by engine failure in the aircraft or indirect navigation from air traffic controllers.
In-depth information about American Airlines Flight 11, its hijacking and subsequent attack on the North Tower, and aftermath of the collision, is available on the aircraft's Wikipedia article from the day of the attacks.
▸ Attack on the South Tower: while millions, if not billions, of people around the world were fixated on the blazing North Tower from surrounding areas and/or live television news broadcasts, United Airlines Flight 175 was in the midst of its diversion towards New York City. Like Flight 11, the aircraft departed from Boston and was bound for Los Angeles. It carried 65 occupants — including the 5 hijackers — one of whom was the youngest victim of the attacks: two-year-old Christine Lee Hanson of Groton, Massachusetts.
Soon after the hijacking, the aircraft was in a sustained power dive, at one point reportedly descending at a rate of 10,000 feet per minute. The last minute saw the plane approach Lower Manhattan from over Staten Island and Upper New York Bay. The burning North Tower would have been visible from the cockpit and parts of the cabin, meaning some of the passengers would have instinctively become aware of where they were heading. In its final moments, the aircraft was in a banking left turn and almost inadvertently missed the building.
United Airlines Flight 175 dove into the south-eastern face of the South Tower at precisely 09:03:02 EDT, travelling at an estimated 540 mph and carrying approximately 9,100 U.S. gallons of jet fuel. The strike was captured at many angles via amateur video and photographs, and blanket coverage of the already engulfed North Tower meant it was witnessed on live television news broadcasts worldwide. The plane ripped through floors 77 to 85 of the South Tower, destroying two of the three stairwells and all but perhaps a single elevator. Because of the aircraft's 38-degree bank to the left, and furthermore striking the easternmost corner of the south face, it meant Stairwell A — to the north of the building — remained intact, allowing for all occupants above the impact zone to escape. Unfortunately, only eighteen individuals based on or above the affected floors made it out of the tower before it collapsed.
In-depth information about United Airlines Flight 175, its hijacking and subsequent attack on the South Tower, and aftermath of the collision, is available on the aircraft's Wikipedia article from the day of the attacks.
▸ Attack on the Pentagon: xxx
▸ Collapse of the South Tower: at 9:59 a.m., fifty six minutes after being struck by United Airlines Flight 175, the eastern facade of the South Tower's 78th floor caved inwards, prompting the whole upper portion of the building to tilt forwards as it fell onto the unaffected regions below. A total progressive collapse was initiated from the falling upper section, releasing a mushroom cloud that quickly smothered Lower Manhattan. Within nine seconds, the entire structure was pulverised into dust and debris, killing everybody inside and many others on the ground who were close to the site.
Some surrounding buildings sustained excessive damage after the South Tower collapsed; in particular, the adjacent Deutsche Bank Building — which was subsequently demolished because of contamination — and the World Financial Center buildings. The 22-storey Marriott Hotel (World Trade Center 3), which stood between the two towers, was effectively sliced in half when the falling debris ripped through it. The St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church was completely destroyed.
The reasoning behind the South Tower's shorter burning time, as opposed to the North Tower's, was because of the plane striking the building close to the south-eastern corner, as well as at a significantly lower level. After the plane rammed through the building, the perimeter columns along the eastern face were under immense stress, and were being weakened very quickly by the fires. The stress, in addition to softening from the heat, meant the columns were unable to support the weight of the structure above. This accounted for the top section tilting eastwards as it fell, all while still (briefly) intact.
▸ United Airlines Flight 93: xxx
▸ Collapse of the North Tower: ablaze for one hundred and two minutes, the North Tower finally succumbed to the raging fires within it at 10:28 a.m.
The collapse of the North Tower finished off the Marriott Hotel, which had already suffered extensive damage from the fall of the South Tower half an hour beforehand. It also destroyed the remaining buildings in the complex, and started heavy fires in World Trade Center 7 across the street.