9/11 20th anniversary: How the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks unfolded at ...

9/11 20th anniversary: How the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks unfolded at ...
9/11 20th anniversary: How the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks unfolded at ...

It was a morning marked with chaos, courage, calamity and ultimately deep loss. When the commercial plane hit the North Tower at 8:46 a.m., it was unclear at first what had just happened in Lower Manhattan.

But it was clear to first responders that people needed help. Cops, firefighters – some had witnessed the surreal moment in the sky – rushed to the World Trade Center complex. Thick black smoke was already pouring out of the burning building.

Elevators were out. Firefighters climbed the stairs of the 110-story tower to figure out what was happening on its upper floors to report back. 911 operators tried to keep people calm as wave after wave of calls rolled in.

It was unthinkable that the skyscraper and its twin, which for so long had been a fixture of the New York City skyline, would completely collapse.

First responders were trying to get a grip on the crisis when another plane struck the South Tower at 9:03 a.m.

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At 9:37 a.m., a third plane ripped a hole into the Pentagon near Washington, D.C. 

Minutes earlier, four men had hijacked flight 93 and rerouted it from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. – their target was believed to be the White House or the U.S. Capitol. Forced to the back of the plane, passengers and crew called family and friends who told them America was under attack. Understanding what was at stake and that their lives were in peril, they bravely fought to get inside the cockpit. In response, the hijackers downed the plane in a Pennsylvania field.

The South Tower fell at 9:59 a.m. The North buckled at 10:28 a.m.

Nearly 3,000 people died.

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 unfolded in 102 minutes.

The war on terror began that October. Seeking to destroy the terrorist network al Qaeda and its leader Osama bin Laden, who was behind the attacks, U.S. and British forces bombed Afghanistan where the Taliban had given him sanctuary. Last month, the Taliban regained control of the country amid a mishandled drawdown and a Kabul airport suicide bombing that killed over 170 people including 13 U.S. service members.

More than $4 trillion has been spent for two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – which started in March 2003 until the U.S. withdrawal in December 2011 – that Brown University's Cost of War project estimates killed at least 433,000 people.

The World Trade Center was an idea for decades that finally became a design of two 110-story towers in the 1960s. Built for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the 16-acre 'superblock' with its own zip code would have seven buildings. Construction on One World Trade Center, right, began in 1968 and was 'topped out' - meaning the last piece of steel was placed - in December 1970. Two World Trade Center, left, was topped out in July 1971. The two buildings were officially opened on April 4, 1973. Five more buildings - Marriott Hotel at 3 WTC, 4 WTC, 5 WTC, 6 WTC and 7 WTC - completed the complex. Dubbed the Twin Towers, the two skyscrapers became an iconic part of New York City's skyline. Above, the South Tower, left, and the North Tower, right, in 1998

The World Trade Center was an idea for decades that finally became a design of two 110-story towers in the 1960s. Built for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the 16-acre 'superblock' with its own zip code would have seven buildings. Construction on One World Trade Center, right, began in 1968 and was 'topped out' - meaning the last piece of steel was placed - in December 1970. Two World Trade Center, left, was topped out in July 1971. The two buildings were officially opened on April 4, 1973. Five more buildings - Marriott Hotel at 3 WTC, 4 WTC, 5 WTC, 6 WTC and 7 WTC - completed the complex. Dubbed the Twin Towers, the two skyscrapers became an iconic part of New York City's skyline. Above, the South Tower, left, and the North Tower, right, in 1998

First responders at the Twin Towers after a bomb went off in the underground garage of the North Tower on February 26, 1993

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Two New York City police officers help an injured woman away from the scene near the World Trade Center after the explosion on February 26, 1993

The Twin Towers were first targeted on February 26, 1993. At around 12:17 p.m. a bomb went off in the underground garage of the North Tower. Six people were killed and over 1,000 were injured. While looking through the rubble, the FBI found the remnants of the rented van that held the 1,200 pounds of explosives. When one of the members of the plot went to get back his $400 deposit back, the FBI arrested him, according to the agency's website. The leader of the attack, Ramzi Yousef, evaded capture for two years before his arrest. Yousef, who is currently serving life in prison, is the nephew of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Known as KSM, he was arrested in Pakistan in 2003 and faces charges of being the architect of the September 11, 2001 terrorism attacks at a military tribunal in Guantanamo Bay. Left, first responders at the Twin Towers after the explosion in 1993. Right, two NYPD officers help a woman at the scene

When the first plane slammed into the North Tower at 8:46 a.m. on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, it was not immediately clear it was an attack. President George W. Bush was at a Florida elementary school and was initially told 'that a small, twin-engine plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. The President's reaction was that the incident must have been caused by a pilot error,' according to The 9/11 Commission Report, which was released in July 2004. The notion it was an accident was dispelled when the second plane hit the South Tower at 9:03 a.m. It is seen above bursting into flames after the crash

When the first plane slammed into the North Tower at 8:46 a.m. on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, it was not immediately clear it was an attack. President George W. Bush was at a Florida elementary school and was initially told 'that a small, twin-engine plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. The President's reaction was that the incident must have been caused by a pilot error,' according to The 9/11 Commission Report, which was released in July 2004. The notion it was an accident was dispelled when the second plane hit the South Tower at 9:03 a.m. It is seen above bursting into flames after the crash

The attacks happened quickly. The North Tower was hit at 8:46 a.m., then 17 minutes later the South. A third hijacked plane ripped a hole into the western side of the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. and 184 people were killed. At both the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, bravery was on display from first responders as well as people helping others to evacuate. 'Lt. Col. Ted Anderson carried two of the injured away from the burning building. Then he re-entered the smoke-filled Pentagon through a broken window to drag out two more injured employees, one whose clothes were on fire,' according to a 2008 article on the Army's website. Above, a helicopter flies over the Pentagon after the attack

The attacks happened quickly. The North Tower was hit at 8:46 a.m., then 17 minutes later the South. A third hijacked plane ripped a hole into the western side of the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. and 184 people were killed. At both the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, bravery was on display from first responders as well as people helping others to evacuate. 'Lt. Col. Ted Anderson carried two of the injured away from the burning building. Then he re-entered the smoke-filled Pentagon through a broken window to drag out two more injured employees, one whose clothes were on fire,' according to a 2008 article on the Army's website. Above, a helicopter flies over the Pentagon after the attack

Not long before the third plane crashed into the Pentagon, a fourth flight, United Airlines Flight 93, was hijacked. Forced to the back of the plane, passengers and crew called family and friends who told them America was under attack. After voting to revolt, they bravely fought to get inside the cockpit. In response, the hijackers downed the plane in field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, seen above the day after the attacks as investigators search for the plane's recorders. 'With almost no time to decide, they gave the entire country an incalculable gift. They saved the capitol from attack. They saved God knows how many lives. They saved the terrorists from claiming the symbolic victory of smashing the center of American government. And they did it as citizens,' former President Bill Clinton said at the flight's memorial dedication on September 10, 2011

Not long before the third plane crashed into the Pentagon, a fourth flight, United Airlines Flight 93, was hijacked. Forced to the back of the plane, passengers and crew called family and friends who told them America was under attack. After voting to revolt, they bravely fought to get inside the cockpit. In response, the hijackers downed the plane in field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, seen above the day after the attacks as investigators search for the plane's recorders. 'With almost no time to decide, they gave the entire country an incalculable gift. They saved the capitol from attack. They saved God knows how many lives. They saved the terrorists from claiming the symbolic victory of smashing the center of American government. And they did it as citizens,' former President Bill Clinton said at the flight's memorial dedication on September 10, 2011

That morning, 19 men boarded four different commercial flights – all slated to cross the country from the East Coast to the West – as part of a coordinated attack.

'They were planning to hijack these planes and turn them into large guided missiles, loaded with up to 11,400 gallons of jet fuel. By 8:00 a.m. of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, they had defeated all the security layers that America's civil aviation security system then had in place to prevent a hijacking,' according to The 9/11 Commission Report, which was released in July 2004.

On American Airlines Flight 11, the hijackers stabbed two flight attendants, used some kind of irritant like pepper spray or mace in first class, and pushed passengers and crew to the back of the plane. They also claimed to have a bomb.

One of the flight attendants, Betty Ong, called the airline's reservations office in North Carolina and told them what was happening.

'We are flying low. We are flying very very low. We are flying way too low,' Ong said, according to the report.

'Oh my God we are way too low.'

The plane was the first one to be turned into a weapon when it slammed into the North Tower from its 93rd to 99th floors.

United Airlines Flight 175 was the second to be hijacked. Similar tactics to flight 11 were used, according to the report. Crew members were stabbed and the hijackers had mace, knives and claimed to have a bomb.

Passengers and crew also called family and friends to report the hijacking and what was happening. One passenger said they were thinking about storming the cockpit, according to the report.

Peter Hanson called his father Lee and spoke with him twice.

'It's getting bad, Dad. A stewardess was stabbed. They seem to have knives and Mace. They said they have a bomb. It's getting very bad on the plane. Passengers are throwing up and getting sick. The plane is making jerky movements. I don't think the pilot is flying the plane. I think we are going down. I think they intend to go to Chicago or someplace and fly into a building. Don't worry, Dad. If it happens, it'll be very fast. My God, my God.'

The call cut off, according to the report. Lee Hanson turned on the television and saw the second plane hit the South Tower from its 77th to 85th floors.

According to The 9/11 Commission Report: 'Most federal agencies learned about the crash in New York from CNN.' When President George W. Bush, above, heard a second plane hit the South Tower, he told the commission 'his instinct was to project calm, not to have the country see an excited reaction at a moment of crisis.' The press was there to cover his visit to the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida. After the Pentagon was also attacked, Bush told Vice President Dick Cheney, according to the report: 'Sounds like we have a minor war going on here. I heard about the Pentagon. We're at war¿ somebody's going to pay'

According to The 9/11 Commission Report: 'Most federal agencies learned about the crash in New York from CNN.' When President George W. Bush, above, heard a second plane hit the South Tower, he told the commission 'his instinct was to project calm, not to have the country see an excited reaction at a moment of crisis.' The press was there to cover his visit to the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida. After the Pentagon was also attacked, Bush told Vice President Dick Cheney, according to the report: 'Sounds like we have a minor war going on here. I heard about the Pentagon. We're at war… somebody's going to pay'

First responders rushed to the World Trade Center after the first plane crashed into the North Tower. The Fire Department of the City of New York, known as FDNY, called a fifth alarm and units flooded the scene. According to the report, fire chiefs  determined it would primarily be a rescue mission. When they entered the lobby of One World Trade Center, firefighters 'encountered badly burned civilians who had been caught in the path of a fireball.' But lights were still functioning and 'one engine and one ladder began climbing as scouting units and reporting back to chiefs in the lobby,' according to the report. Division Chief for Lower Manhattan Peter Hayden said: 'We had a very strong sense we would lose firefighters and that we were in deep trouble, but we had estimates of 25,000 to 50,000 civilians, and we had to try to rescue them.' Above, people flee as the World Trade Center collapses

First responders rushed to the World Trade Center after the first plane crashed into the North Tower. The Fire Department of the City of New York, known as FDNY, called a fifth alarm and units flooded the scene. According to the report, fire chiefs  determined it would primarily be a rescue mission. When they entered the lobby of One World Trade Center, firefighters 'encountered badly burned civilians who had been caught in the path of a fireball.' But lights were still functioning and 'one engine and one ladder began climbing as scouting units and reporting back to chiefs in the lobby,' according to the report. Division Chief for Lower Manhattan Peter Hayden said: 'We had a very strong sense we would lose firefighters and that we were in deep trouble, but we had estimates of 25,000 to 50,000 civilians, and we had to try to rescue them.' Above, people flee as the World Trade Center collapses

Above, Marcy Borders covered in dust as she takes refuge in an office building following the Twin Towers collapse. This image became well-known. Borders was working for Bank of America on the 81st floor of the North Tower when the plane hit, according to her obituary in The New York Times. 'We had no idea what was going on,' she told filmmaker Mike McGregor in an interview. 'The way the building was shaking, I couldn't sit there.' She managed to get out of the building. Borders died of stomach cancer at the age of 42 in 2015, according to the obituary

Above, Marcy Borders covered in dust as she takes refuge in an office building following the Twin Towers collapse. This image became well-known. Borders was working for Bank of America on the 81st floor of the North Tower when the plane hit, according to her obituary in The New York Times. 'We had no idea what was going on,' she told filmmaker Mike McGregor in an interview. 'The way the building was shaking, I couldn't sit there.' She managed to get out of the building. Borders died of stomach cancer at the age of 42 in 2015, according to the obituary 

'Clearly, however, the prospect of another plane hitting the second building was beyond the contemplation of anyone giving advice. According to one of the first fire chiefs to arrive, such a scenario was unimaginable,

'Clearly, however, the prospect of another plane hitting the second building was beyond the contemplation of anyone giving advice. According to one of the first fire chiefs to arrive, such a scenario was unimaginable, "beyond our consciousness,"' according to the report. First responders were trying to get a grip on the crisis when another plane struck the South Tower at 9:03 a.m. The South Tower fell at 9:59 a.m. The North buckled at 10:28 a.m. Above, firefighter Gerard McGibbon, of Engine 283 in Brownsville, Brooklyn, prays after the World Trade Center fell. Many first responders lost their lives: 343 firefighters, 37 police officers for the Port Authority, 23 NYPD as well as other emergency service workers

By the time passengers on the third plane that was hijacked, American Airlines Flight 77, were calling friends and families, the attacks on the Twin Towers were known. Like the other two flights, the hijackers had knives and passengers were moved to the back of the plane.

The flight crashed into the western part of the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia across from Washington, D.C.

'No one at the (Federal Aviation Administration) or the airlines that day had ever dealt with multiple hijackings. Such a plot had never been carried out anywhere in the world in more than 30 years, and never in the United States. As news of the hijackings filtered through the FAA and the airlines, it does not seem to have occurred to their leadership that they needed to alert other aircraft in the air that they too might be at risk,' according to the report.

The last plane to be overtaken by terrorists was United Airlines Flight 93, which took off late. Unlike the other flights, there were four men – not five – to hijack the plane. The operative who was likely the fifth 'had been refused entry by a suspicious immigration inspector at Florida's Orlando International Airport in August,'

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