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Ordinary flight from Boston took suspicious turn

©New York Times

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 13, 2001

BOSTON -- American Airlines Flight 11 to Los Angeles took off on schedule out of the tangle of construction choking Boston's Logan Airport, right on time at 7:59 Tuesday morning.

Capt. John Ogonowski was at the controls, a 50-year-old veteran who lived on a farm north of the city and was looking forward to a family picnic on the weekend.

His co-pilot was First Officer Thomas McGuiness, and there were nine flight attendants and 81 passengers, a seemingly everyday mixture: a successful television producer, some businessmen, a retired ballet dancer, an actor and photographer, a young man who had made a success in the area's technology economy.

And several hijackers.

The plane held on course, almost due west, for only 16 minutes.

Just past Worcester, Mass., instead of taking a southerly turn, the Boeing 767 swung suddenly to the north at 8:15 a.m. It had been taken over by hijackers.

Shortly after the plane took off, Justice Department officials said, an ugly, bloody scene -- almost identical on each of the four airliners that were hijacked Tuesday -- played itself out in the cabin.

On each plane, the officials said, a group of three to six men pulled out knives and box cutters they had apparently brought on board in their carry-on luggage, perhaps concealed in shaving kits. They threatened or slashed the flight attendants, possibly to get the pilots to open the cockpit door.

The northerly turn was clear only later when the plane's fatal route toward the World Trade Center could be traced along the series of radar beacons beaming from high points of land along the way. But four minutes later, at 8:20 a.m., Flight 11 failed to follow an instruction to climb to its cruising altitude of 31,000 feet, and it was then that air controllers suspected something was wrong.

It was just about then that the plane's transponder, a sophisticated piece of equipment that broadcast its location, went out.

Ogonowski apparently tried to signal air controllers by "keying" the microphone, pushing its button intermittently to signal the controllers that something was wrong and at one point allowing them to hear the voice of the hijacker, the Christian Science Monitor reported.

"Don't do anything foolish, you won't be hurt," the Monitor reported a hijacker said, quoting air controllers. "We have more planes, we have other planes."

In the cabin, meanwhile, one of the flight attendants managed to make a telephone call -- either on a cell phone or those on the back of the seats -- to the American Airlines Operations Center, officials there said, warning that a hijacking was in progress.

Neither the airline, the flight attendant's union nor federal investigators would reveal the name of the flight attendant.

On a beautiful early fall day, Flight 11 headed northwest, where the Berkshires, the Taconic Range and the beginning of the Green Mountains mark the spot where the borders of Massachusetts, New York and Vermont intersect.

Crossing into New York, the plane flew into the area known as the Albany-Schenectedy-Troy triangle and over Amsterdam and veered sharply left, heading due south to New York City.

It was 8:29 a.m.

The flight path was straight now, along the Hudson Valley and then right above the broad river itself.

It should have been a long, leisurely flight to Los Angeles, the time passed, perhaps, with one of those thick paperback novels in which heroes battle the complicated schemes of terrorists. But Tuesday, the schemes were real.

In the cabin were David Angell, an executive producer of the television comedy Frasier, who had won several Emmy awards, along with his wife, Lynn. Executives at the network said the couple were on the way home from a vacation on Cape Cod. Also returning home from Cape Cod was Berry Berenson Perkins, 53, an actor and photographer and the widow of the actor Anthony Perkins. There was Daniel Lewin, 31, a co-founder of Akami Technologies Inc., based in Cambridge, Mass., an Internet content provider, and Sonia Puopolo, a retired ballet dancer. There was Robert Hayes, 37, a salesman for machinery to record onto compact discs, and a surfer who worked mostly from home so he could spend time with his wife and sons, 4 years old and 6 months old. He met his wife, Debora, when she was a customer service agent for Trans World Airlines, dealing with a flight he missed. Since then, they traveled frequently together. Somehow, she said, he had a premonition about this flight, taking a walk alone the night before and hugging her tight before he left.

The plane was low now, only about 900 feet high, and the silvery twin towers of the World Trade Center rose above Manhattan.

In the Windows on the World restaurant on the 107th floor of the north tower, several dozen businessmen in suits and ties, members of the exclusive World Trade Center Club, were enjoying a leisurely breakfast and the spectacular view when Flight 11 slammed into the building 20 floors below.

It was 8:45 a.m.

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