Seven years ago today, at 8:46:40 am, murderous jihadists crashed American Airlines Flight 11 into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
From the 9/11 Commission report:
The Hijacking of American 11
American Airlines Flight 11 provided nonstop service from Boston to Los Angeles. On September 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).22
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. About this time the “Fasten Seatbelt” sign would usually have been turned off and the flight attendants would have begun preparing for cabin service.23
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 transmis-sion, 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. From this and other evidence, we believe the hijacking began at 8:14 or shortly thereafter.24
Reports from two flight attendants in the coach cabin, Betty Ong and Madeline “Amy” Sweeney, tell us most of what we know about how the hijacking happened. 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.25
We do not know exactly how the hijackers gained access to the cockpit; FAA rules required that the doors remain closed and locked during flight. Ong speculated that they had “jammed their way” in. Perhaps the terrorists stabbed the flight attendants to get a cockpit key, to force one of them to open the cockpit door, or to lure the captain or first officer out of the cockpit. Or the flight attendants may just have been in their way.26
At the same time or shortly thereafter, Atta-the only terrorist on board trained to fly a jet-would have 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.27
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.28
About five minutes after the hijacking began, 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. This was the first of several occasions on 9/11 when flight attendants took action outside the scope of their training, which emphasized that in a hijacking, they were to communicate with the cockpit crew. The emergency call lasted approximately 25 minutes, as Ong calmly and professionally relayed information about events taking place aboard the airplane to authorities on the ground.29
At 8:19, Ong reported: “The cockpit is not answering, somebody’s 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.” She then told of the stabbings of the two flight attendants.30
At 8:21, one of the American employees receiving Ong’s call in North Carolina, Nydia Gonzalez, alerted the American Airlines operations center in Fort Worth, Texas, reaching Craig Marquis, the manager on duty. Marquis soon realized this was an emergency and instructed the airline’s dispatcher responsible for the flight to contact the cockpit. 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.31
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.” Air traffic controllers heard the transmission; Ong did not. The hijackers probably did not know how to operate the cockpit radio communication system correctly, and thus inadvertently broadcast their message over the air traffic control channel instead of the cabin public-address channel. Also at 8:25, and again at 8:29, Amy Sweeney got through to the American Flight Services Office in Boston but was cut off after she reported someone was hurt aboard the flight. Three minutes later, Sweeney was reconnected to the office and began relaying updates to the manager, Michael Woodward.32
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.33
Sweeney calmly reported on her line 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. Sweeney told Woodward that she and Ong were trying to relay as much information as they could to people on the ground.34
At 8:38, Ong told Gonzalez that the plane was flying erratically again. Around this time Sweeney told Woodward that the hijackers were Middle Easterners, naming three of their seat numbers. One spoke very little English and one spoke excellent English. The hijackers had gained entry to the cockpit, and she did not know how. The aircraft was in a rapid descent.35
At 8:41, Sweeney told Woodward that passengers in coach were under the impression that there was a routine medical emergency in first class. Other flight attendants were busy at duties such as getting medical supplies while Ong and Sweeney were reporting the events.36
At 8:41, in American’s operations center, a colleague told Marquis that the air traffic controllers declared Flight 11 a hijacking and “think he’s [American 11] headed toward Kennedy [airport in New York City].They’re moving everybody out of the way. They seem to have him on a primary radar. They seem to think that he is descending.”37
At 8:44, Gonzalez reported losing phone contact with Ong. About this same time Sweeney reported to Woodward,” Something is wrong. We are in a rapid descent . . . we are all over the place.” Woodward 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.38
At 8:46:40, American 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.39 All on board, along with an unknown number of people in the tower, were killed instantly.
* Barbara Arestegui, 38, Marstons Mills, Mass., flight attendant
* Jeffrey Collman, 41, Novato, Calif., flight attendant
* Sara Low, 28, Batesville, Ark., flight attendant
* Karen Martin, 40, Danvers, Mass., flight attendant
* Thomas McGuinness, 42, Portsmouth, N.H., first officer
* Kathleen Nicosia, flight attendant
* John Ogonowski, 52, Dracut, Mass., captain
* Betty Ong, 45, Andover, Mass., flight attendant
* Jean Roger, 24, Longmeadow, Mass., flight attendant
* Dianne Snyder, 42, Westport, Mass., flight attendant
* Madeline Sweeney, 35, Acton, Mass., flight attendant
* Anna Williams Allison, 48, Stoneham, Mass., founder, A2 Software Solutions
* David Angell, 54, Pasadena, Calif., executive producer, NBC’s ”Frasier”
* Lynn Angell, Pasadena, Calif.
* Seima Aoyama
* Myra Aronson, 52, Charlestown, Mass., press and analyst relations manager
* Christine Barbuto, 32, Brookline, Mass., TJX Co.
* Carolyn Beug, 48, Los Angeles, Calif.
* Kelly Booms, 24, Boston, Mass., PricewaterhouseCoopers
* Carol Bouchard, 43, Warwick, R.I., emergency room secretary, Kent County Hospital
* Neilie Casey, 32, Wellesley, Mass., TJX Co.
* Jeffrey Coombs, 42, Abington, Mass., security analyst, Compaq
* Tara Creamer, 30, Worcester, Mass.
* Thelma Cuccinello, 71, Wilmot, N.H.
* Patrick Currivan
* Brian Dale, 43, Warren, N.J.
* David DiMeglio, Wakefield, Mass.
* Donald Ditullio, 49, Peabody, Mass., Smith and Nephew
* Albert Dominguez, 65, Sydney, Australia
* Alex Filipov, 70, Concord, Mass., electrical engineer
* Carol Flyzik, 40, Plaistow, N.H.
* Paul Friedman
* Karleton D.B. Fyfe, 31, Brookline, Mass., John Hancock
* Peter Gay, 54, Tewksbury, Mass., plant manager, Raytheon Co.
* Linda George, 27, Westboro, Mass., TJX Co.
* Edmund Glazer, 41, Los Angeles, Calif., chief financial officer, MRV Communications
* Lisa Fenn Gordenstein, 41, Needham, Mass., TJX Co.
* Andrew Curry Green, 34, Los Angeles, Calif., director of business development, eLogic
* Paige Farley Hackel, 46, Newton, Mass., spiritual counselor
* Peter Hashem, 40, Tewksbury, Mass., salesman
* Robert Hayes, 37, Amesbury, Mass., sales engineer, Netstal
* Ted Hennessey, 35, Belmont, Mass., consultant
* John Hofer
* Cora Holland, 52, Sudbury, Mass., Sudbury Food Pantry at Our Lady of Fatima Church
* Nicholas Humber, 60, Newton, Mass., owner, Brae Burn Management
* John Jenkins, 45, Cambridge, Mass., corporate office services manager, Charles River Associates
* Charles Jones, 48, Bedford, Mass., computer programmer
* Robin Kaplan, 33, Westboro, Mass., TJX Co.
* Barbara Keating, 72, Palm Springs, Calif.
* David Kovalcin, 42, Hudson, N.H.
* Judy Larocque, 50, Framingham, Mass., founder and CEO, Market Perspectives
* N. Janis Lasden, 46, Peabody, Mass., General Electric
* Daniel John Lee, 34, Los Angeles, Calif.
* Daniel C. Lewin, 31, co-founder, Akamai Technologies
* Susan MacKay, 44, Westford, Mass., TJX Co.
* Chris Mello, 25, Boston, Mass., analyst
* Jeff Mladenik, 43, Hinsdale, Ill., interim president, E-Logic
* Antonio Montoya, 46, East Boston, Mass., housekeeping worker, Boston Harbor Hotel
* Carlos Montoya
* Laura Lee Morabito, 34, Framingham, Mass., national sales manager, Qantas Airways
* Mildred Naiman, Andover, Mass.
* Laurie Neira
* Renee Newell, 37, Cranston, R.I., customer service agent, American Airlines
* Jacqueline Norton, 60, Lubec, Maine, retiree
* Robert Norton, 82, Lubec, Maine, retiree
* Jane Orth, 49, Haverhill, Mass., retiree, Lucent Technologies
* Thomas Pecorelli, 31, Los Angeles, Calif., cameraman, Fox Sports and E! Entertainment Television
* Berry Berenson Perkins, 53, Wellfleet, Mass., actress and photographer
* Sonia Morales Puopolo, 58, Dover, Mass., former ballet dancer
* David Retik, Needham, Mass.
* Philip Rosenzweig, Acton, Mass., executive, Sun Microsystems
* Richard Ross, 58, Newton, Mass., Ross Group
* Jessica Sachs, 22, Billerica, Mass., accountant, PricewaterhouseCoopers
* Rahma Salie, 28, Boston, Mass.
* Heather Smith, 30, Boston, Mass., Beacon Capital Partners
* Douglas Stone, 54, Dover, N.H.
* Xavier Suarez
* Michael Theodoridis, 32, Boston, Mass., consultant
* James Trentini, 65, Everett, Mass., retired teacher and assistant principal
* Mary Trentini, 67, Everett, Mass., retired secretary
* Pendyala Vamsikrishna, 30, Los Angeles, Calif., project manager for consulting firm, DTI
* Mary Wahlstrom, 75, Kaysville, Utah
* Kenneth Waldie, 46, Methuen, Mass., Raytheon Co.
* John Wenckus, 46, Torrance, Calif., tax consultant
* Candace Lee Williams, 20, Danbury, Conn., student
* Christopher Zarba, 47, Hopkinton, Mass., software engineer, Concord Communications
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