Day of terror shatters confidence of a nation
By DAVID BALLINGRUD
© St. Petersburg Times,
The United States of America came under spectacular, murderous attack by invisible enemies Tuesday -- an unprecedented assault by terrorists that paralyzed the world's most powerful nation.
Shortly before 9 a.m. and again a few minutes after, two hijacked commercial airliners smashed into the twin towers of New York City's World Trade Center.
An hour later, as a stunned nation watched on television, the first 110-story landmark crashed into the streets of the city.
When the second collapsed 29 minutes later, Manhattan was a maelstrom of choking dust and death.
That was just in New York.
Moments after the World Trade Center was stricken, a third hijacked jet crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, killing dozens of people and injuring many more. The plane struck the five-sided structure with tremendous force, driving itself through the huge outer rings of the building -- where senior civilian and military personnel had the offices with views. Fires burned uncontrolled for hours.
The carnage continued moments later as a fourth hijacked jet crashed near Pittsburgh.
The number of victims -- dead, injured, missing -- will not be known for days. The total count is expected to be in the thousands.
A police source in New York said Tuesday night that some people trapped in the World Trade Center towers managed to call authorities or family members, but it was not clear how many people or when all the calls were made, the Associated Press reported. In one of the calls, which took place in the afternoon, a businessman called his family to say he was trapped with police officers, whom he named.
"The resolve of our great nation is being tested," said President Bush, who began his day in Florida and learned of the attacks while reading along with the second-graders in Kay Daniel's classroom in Sarasota.
"Make no mistake," the president said later. "We will show the world that we will pass this test."
After hopscotching from Florida to secure military facilities in Louisiana and Nebraska, Bush flew back to Washington. He tried to reassure the nation in a brief address Tuesday night from the Oval Office.
"These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat," the president said. "But they have failed. Our country is strong. A great people have been moved to defend a great nation.
"I've directed the full resources for our intelligence and law enforcement communities to find those responsible and bring them to justice. We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them."
By late Tuesday, U.S. officials had started assembling evidence in an attempt to link the attacks to Osama bin Laden, a fugitive being sheltered in Afghanistan.
U.S. intelligence intercepted communications between bin Laden supporters who were discussing the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. They relied on the anguished recounts by relatives of cell phone calls from victims aboard airliners before they crashed.
Shortly before midnight, the FBI was reportedly preparing to search locations in Broward County and in Daytona Beach tied to a suspected bin Laden supporter listed on the manifests of the four jets.
Afghanistan's hard-line Taleban rulers rejected all allegations.
New York City's nightmare will continue for days, as workers search the concrete and twisted steel for victims and possible survivors.
Tuesday morning, there was pandemonium on the streets:
People leaped from the windows to certain death, some from as high as the 80th floor. Among them were a man and a woman holding hands.
People on the ground screamed and dived for cover as debris rained down. Dazed office workers covered in dirt wandered around like ghosts, weeping, trying to make sense of what happened.
A roiling cloud of smoke and ash 10 stories tall raced down the streets, engulfing and choking survivors.
Jet A, the standard aviation fuel, is rated to produce 1500 degrees Fahrenheit. Not much of a skyscraper's outer skin is supposed to burn, but the towers turned into chimneys as floors collapsed into shafts.
"I don't know what it was like up there, but it must have been hell," said firefighter Paul Curran of New York Fire Patrol 3. "There were a lot of jumpers."
"The number of casualties will be more than any of us can bear," said New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. "There are a large number of police officers and firefighters that were in harm's way. This has been a very, very difficult and traumatic day."
There were early reports that as many as 200 firefighters and 78 police officers were among the missing.
Phone lines into the city, including cell phones, remained jammed late into Tuesday evening, frustrating efforts to check on friends and family who work or live in Manhattan.
Throughout the day and from border to border, the nation struggled to cope.
The president put the military on its highest level of alert. Authorities in Washington immediately called out troops, including an infantry regiment, and the Navy sent aircraft carriers and guided missile destroyers to New York and Washington.
The U.S. and Canadian borders were sealed, and security was tightened at naval installations and other strategic points.
Air traffic across the country was halted until at least noon today. The Sears Tower in Chicago and skyscrapers all over the nation were emptied. Some of the nation's most recognizable attractions, from Disney World to Hoover Dam to Seattle's Space Needle, closed.
Amtrak suspended train service. The Kennedy Space Center sent 12,000 workers home. Oklahoma police placed a secure perimeter around the prison holding bombing conspirator Terry Nichols.
Quickly, however, shock and revulsion turned to anger and a resolve to punish.
"My country was attacked today," said Rep. C.W. Bill Young, the Largo Republican who leads the House Appropriations Committee. "I am mad about it, and I'm determined to make every effort to support the president and the security agencies with whatever they need to not only hunt down the perpetrators of this cowardly act, but to make sure it never happens again."
Young, 70, was one of many who compared the attack to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. "This is a war. This was a declaration of war on the United States by terrorist states," he said. "We've got to come back the way we did after Pearl Harbor."
Others pointed out a critical difference in the two defining moments.
"After Pearl Harbor we had a return address -- Japan," noted Paul Bremer of the National Commission on Terrorism. Deciding on an appropriate response in this case "will be more difficult," he said.
There were explosions and rocket attacks seen in Kabul, Afghanistan, late in the day, but they were not the work of the U.S. government, according to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
The United States received no warning of the attacks, said White House press secretary Ari Fleischer. "First things first. There will come an appropriate time to do all appropriate look-backs."
Young, however, said he was disappointed that intelligence agencies did not know about the attack ahead of time.
"What really frustrates me is that we spent a lot of money developing overhead sensors and so forth, but we have not done the job getting human intelligence."
American Muslim groups rushed Tuesday to condemn the attacks and asked Americans not to blame all followers of Islam.
"Our hearts, thoughts and prayers go out to the families who have lost loved ones on this terrible day," said one group, the Islamic Institute of Washington.
Radar tracks four hijacked aircraft
Radar tracks for the planes tell a frightening story of how the attacks were coordinated and the planes were diverted from their original destinations.
United Flight 175 departed Boston for Los Angeles about 7:58 a.m., with 56 passengers, two pilots and seven flight attendants on board. The Boeing 767 flew west along the Massachusetts-Connecticut state line, according to FlightExplorer, a company that records radar data of airline flights. The plane appeared to be on its normal route.
At 7:59 a.m., American Airlines Flight 11 took off from Boston with 81 passengers, nine flight attendants and two pilots. It proceeded west along its scheduled route toward Los Angeles. But once the Boeing 767 was high above Saratoga Springs, N.Y., it suddenly turned south.
The American plane flew south toward Manhattan, turned slightly west to follow the Hudson River and then crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center about 8:45 a.m.
In the meantime, the United plane had actually crossed the path of Flight 11 and, at that point, was about 2 miles away from it, according to FlightExplorer.
The United plane then veered southwest over New Jersey, making what appeared to be a large loop back toward Manhattan. It crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center about 18 minutes after the first collision.
Meanwhile, United Flight 93 had taken off from Newark International Airport about 8:01 a.m. The San Francisco-bound Boeing 757 had a light load -- only 38 passengers, two pilots and five flight attendants. It flew west across Pennsylvania at a normal cruising altitude of 35,000 feet.
But once it was over Cleveland, the plane suddenly veered south, according to Flight Tracker. It climbed above 40,000 feet, turned sharply toward the southeast and flew over Pittsburgh. It zig-zagged slightly north and east and then south again.
At 9:56 a.m., the destination code for the plane in FAA computers was changed from "SFO," the code for San Francisco, to "DCA," the code for Reagan National Airport in Washington. That indicates an air traffic controller probably changed the destination. Typically, that is done only when it is requested by the pilots.
For reasons still unknown, the plane crashed near Somerset, Pa., seven minutes later.
Controllers watching their radar screens at Washington Dulles International Airport saw American Airlines Flight 77 flying at unusually high speed directly toward the White House early Tuesday morning, according to the Washington Post. They warned authorities minutes before the Boeing 757 turned tightly and circled around to slam into the Pentagon about 9:30 a.m., less than an hour after the two other aircraft hit the World Trade Center towers.
Among the passengers on the American Airlines flight was Vickie Yancey, 44, who caught the flight after missing her original flight to Reno by 15 minutes.
"I am so angry at this -- the waste of life," said her father, Sal Costanzo of Mercer County, N.J. "And I hope this country really takes a good, hard look a this kind of stuff and tries to curb it or prevent it. ... I would like to see President Bush do his utmost to do whatever it takes to put an end to it."
- Staff writers Bill Adair, Wes Allison, Paul de la Garza, David Adams, Stephen Hegarty and Thomas C. Tobin contributed to this report, which used information from Times wires.
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