Newly released audiotapes show how civilian and military officials tried to grapple with the ever widening crisis on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, as reports of hijacked planes first began to trickle out.
The 33 minutes of phone conversations and radio transmissions show how confusion reigned among military commanders and air traffic controllers as they tried to locate planes after hijackers turned off transponders, making it difficult to track them on radar.
The tapes, some of which have been published previously, were released by the Rutgers Law Review website and detail events beginning around 8 a.m. as air traffic controllers in Boston fail to make contact with American Airlines Flight 11.
The recordings end two hours later with scrambled air force jets being given the order to fire — a full 10 minutes after United Airlines flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania, 30 minutes after American Airlines Flight 77 had slammed into the Pentagon and 90 minutes after the first plane had hit the World Trade Center in New York.
The audio compilation was made as part of the 9/11 Commission investigation into al-Qaeda's attacks, but was not completed before the commission shut down in 2004.
The tapes provide a revealing look into the events of 9/11 and include audio recordings of hijackers in the airplane cockpits, a flight attendant aboard the American Airlines Flight 11 and air traffic controllers in New York who watched as United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Centre.
No response as plane heads off course
At 8:13 a.m., a Boston-based air traffic controller with the Federal Aviation Administration, Peter Zalewski, makes several failed attempts to reach American Airlines Flight 11. However, there is no response and the plane heads off course.
Six minutes later, a flight attendant on the plane, Betty Ong, contacts American Airline officials and tells them about an incident. Two crew members have been stabbed but she does not know by who or why.
"We can't even get up to business class right now because nobody can breathe," she said. "Our number 1 is, is stabbed right now. And our number 5. Our first-class passenger that, ah first ah class galley flight attendant and our purser has been stabbed and we can't get to the cockpit, the door won't open."
At 8:24 a.m., a Boston FAA controller hears one of the hijackers, Mohamed Atta, say "We have the planes."
However, because the plane's transponder had been turned off civilian and military officials were having trouble determining the location of the plane. Two fighter jets are sent from Otis Air Force Base in Cape Cod, Mass.
American Airlines Flight 11 slammed into the North Tower at 8:46 a.m.
Second plane missing
By 9 a.m., a second plane was missing and FAA officials move to alert military about that incident as well.
Only moments later, a chilling conversation was recorded in New York as air traffic controllers watched United Airlines Flight 175 descending rapidly over New York.
"Another one just hit it hard. Another one just hit the World Trade," someone says in the background.
"The whole building came apart," another person says.
United Airlines Flight 175 hit the South Tower of the World Trade Center at 9:03 a.m.
At 9:21 a.m., fighter jets from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia are sent north, as news of a third hijacked plane reaches officials.
At this point authorities believed American Airlines Flight 11 was still flying.
"American Airlines is still airborne, 11, the first guy, he's heading toward Washington. OK, I think we need to scramble Langley right now and I’m, I’m gonna take the fighters from Otis and try to chase this guy down if I can find him," says one military commander.
Disturbance on United Airlines flight
Sounds of a struggle and what sounds like a scream can be heard in a transmission from United Airlines Flight 93, which starts to descend. Two other planes in the area confirm that they heard the same transmission though neither is sure what it was.
Moments later, Ziad Jarrah, a hijacker, can be heard on a radio transmission saying, "Keep remaining sitting. We have bomb on board."
It is only at 9:32 a.m. that military officials hear from the FAA that American Airlines Flight 77 is one of the missing planes, which lost contact with controllers over Indianapolis.
Five minutes later the plane slammed into the Pentagon.
A military cargo plane confirms the plane has hit the building.
Even though American Airlines Flight 77 had already crashed, a North American Aerospace Defence Command commander orders fighter jets to head to Washington, D.C., as fast as possible, saying, "I don’t care how many windows you break."
Military ordered to shoot down planes
A few minutes before United Airlines Flight 93 crashed — at 10:03 a.m. in a field in Pennsylvania — another commercial pilot reports that he saw the plane rocking its wings.
Some have theorized that hijackers were trying to defend against passengers who were fighting for control of the plane.
At 10:07 a.m., the FAA reports that black smoke has been seen rising from a field in Shanksville, Pa., and seven minutes later informs NORAD that the plane had hit the ground.
At 10:14 a.m., fighter pilots receive permission to shoot down any commercial airliners that do not respond to direction, an order relayed from then vice-president Dick Cheney.