By Kat Ainsworth Stevens
The morning of September 11th, 2001, began like any other for most Americans across the country. They went to work, attended morning classes, and followed their normal routines. Many of those living on the West Coast were still asleep when the terror attacks began. Some saw the destruction play out in real time; some woke to a world forever changed by hate and terror.
What Happened on September 11th?
Although the terrorist attacks carried out on American soil were in the planning stages long before we became aware of them, their timeline here is well-documented. In the States, the attacks are recorded as beginning at 5:45 AM Eastern Standard Time (EST). One good way to honor those lost in the 9/11 attacks is to set an alarm on your cell phone to go off at the specific times listed below; that way, you can take a moment of silence for all those lost in the attacks.
Timeline of Events:
5:45 AM EST: The first group of what will be 19 terrorists pass through airport security on their way to hijack airplanes to carry out their attacks. Two hours later, the five terrorists who hijack American Airlines 77—the airplane that will be crashed into the Pentagon—pass through Washington Dulles International Airport security. Three of them set off alarms going through security, but the knives they concealed on themselves and in their carry-on luggage were not found by airport personnel.
7:59 AM EST: American Airlines Flight 11, the hijacked plane that will be crashed purposefully into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, takes off from Boston.
8:15 AM EST: United Airlines Flight 175, the hijacked plane that will be deliberately crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center, takes off from Boston.
8:19 AM EST: A flight attendant on American Airlines Flight 11, Betty Ann Ong, manages to contact ground personnel informing them of a hijacking in progress. She stays on the phone for 25 minutes and relays valuable information, including the seat numbers of the terrorists whom she had just witnessed murder an Israeli passenger, Daniel M. Lewin. Another flight attendant, Madeline Amy Sweeney, is also able to report the hijacking to a friend on the ground. Sweeney gives detailed descriptions of the terrorists.
8:20 AM EST: American Airlines Flight 77, the hijacked plane that will be purposefully crashed into the Pentagon, takes off from Washington Dulles International Airport.
8:24 AM EST: A terrorist on American Airlines Flight 11 accidentally hits the wrong button while trying to talk to passengers and crew, instead transmitting his threats to air traffic control. The same terrorist then makes the same error a second time a few minutes later. Because of this, air traffic control is alerted and Victor J. Saracini, the pilot of Flight 175, is able to inform the Federal Aviation Administration of the attacks underway.
8:42 AM EST: United Flight 93 takes off late, having been delayed by traffic. This is the flight that will later be taken down in a Pennsylvania field thanks to passengers fighting back against the terrorists.
8:46 AM EST: American Airlines Flight 11 is crashed into floors 93 through 99 of the North Tower of the World Trade Center by terrorists. Due to the impact severing emergency stairwell connections, hundreds of people above the 91st floor are trapped with no way down.
“I just want to let you know I love you and I’m stuck in this building in New York. There’s a lot of smoke, and I just wanted you to know that I love you always.” Melissa Harrington Hughes to her husband in a voicemail. Melissa died in the North Tower; she had been visiting New York for only one day.
8:46 AM EST: First responders in New York are immediately dispatched to the North Tower.
8:50 AM EST: President George W. Bush, who is currently reading a book to school children, is told a small plane hit the North Tower. At first, his advisors believe it to be a tragic accident.
8:55 AM EST: The South Tower of the World Trade Center is announced secure with the following message: “Your attention, please, ladies and gentlemen. Building Two is secure. There is no need to evacuate Building Two. If you are in the midst of evacuation, you may use the re-entry doors and the elevators to return to your office. Repeat, Building Two is secure.”
8:59 AM EST: Port Authority Police Department (PAPD) orders the evacuation of both towers; by 9:00 AM EST, they’ve extended the order to the entire World Trade Center.
9:00 AM EST: Flight 175 passenger Brian David Sweeney leaves a message for his wife, Julie: “Jules, this is Brian—listen, I’m on an airplane that’s been hijacked. If things don’t go well, and it’s not looking good, I just want you to know I absolutely love you, I want you to do good, go have good times, same to my parents and everybody, and I just totally love you, and I’ll see you when you get there. Bye, babe. I hope I call you.”
9:03 AM EST: United Airlines Flight 175 is crashed into floors 77 through 85 of the South Tower of the World Trade Center by terrorists. Two emergency stairwells are rendered useless, and a major cable for the elevators is severed.
“Well, there’s no one here yet, and the floor’s completely engulfed. We’re on the floor, and we can’t breathe. It’s very, very, very, hot.” Melissa Doi, calling 911 from the 83rd floor of the South Tower. Doi is known for her 24-minute call used in the trial of a terrorist prosecuted for involvement in 9/11. At the end of the call, Doi asks the operator to pass a message to her mother: “Tell my mother that I love her, and that she’s the best mom in the whole world.” Three years will pass before Doi’s remains are recovered.
9:37 AM EST: American Airlines Flight 77 is crashed into the Pentagon by terrorists. All passengers and crew are murdered in the crash, along with 125 members of the military and civilians on the ground.
9:42 AM EST: Federal Aviation Authority grounds flights. By 12:16 PM EST, United States airspace is cleared, creating an eerie stillness across the country.
9:53 AM EST: Calls are coming in from hijacked United Flight 93. Family members on the ground tell their loved ones the United States is under attack by terrorists.
9:59 AM EST: The South Tower collapses.
10:03 AM EST: Passengers of United Flight 93 successfully fight back, and the airplane crashes in a field in Pennsylvania, killing everyone on board. The airplane was only 20 minutes from Washington, D.C.
“Let’s roll.” —Todd Beamer, encouraging his fellow passengers to fight for control of United 93.
“Get ‘em!” —Mark Bingham, fighting for control of United 93 alongside the other passengers.
“We’re going to rush the hijackers.” —Jeremy Glick, United 93 passenger, saying goodbye to his wife on the phone.
10:28 AM EST: The North Tower collapses.
5:20 PM EST: 7 World Trade Center collapses after burning for hours.
Is September 11th a National Holiday?
September 11th is not a federal holiday, but it is a nationally recognized day of remembrance. On December 18, 2001, President George W. Bush signed a resolution, Public Law 107-89, designating the day as “Patriot Day.” The Patriot Day resolution states:
(a) DESIGNATION.—September 11 is Patriot Day.
(b) PROCLAMATION.—The President is requested to issue each year a proclamation calling on—
(1) State and local governments and the people of the United States to observe Patriot Day with appropriate programs and activities;
(2) all departments, agencies, and instrumentalities of the United States and interested organizations and individuals to display the flag of the United States at halfstaff on Patriot Day in honor of the individuals who lost their lives as a result of the terrorist attacks against the United States that occurred on September 11, 2001; and
(3) the people of the United States to observe a moment of silence on Patriot Day in honor of the individuals who lost their lives as a result of the terrorist attacks against the United States that occurred on September 11, 2001.
During his statement to the nation on September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush made the following remarks:
Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly acts. The victims were in airplanes or in their offices: secretaries, business men and women, military and federal workers, moms and dads, friends and neighbors. Thousands of lives were suddenly ended by evil, despicable acts of terror. The pictures of airplanes flying into buildings, fires burning, huge—huge structures collapsing have filled us with disbelief, terrible sadness, and a quiet, unyielding anger. These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed. Our country is strong.
Traditionally, a moment of national silence is observed at 8:46 AM EST, the moment the first hijacked airplane struck the North Tower. A ceremony of remembrance begins at that same time at the 9/11 Memorial Plaza at the World Trade Center site. There are also numerous candle lighting ceremonies across the nation. Some ceremonies light a candle for each person who was murdered on 9/11. According to the 9/11 Commission Report, 2977 people died that day. The colors for 2977 candles are broken down in the following way (specific colors of candles are used in many similar memorial ceremonies):
- 343 red candles for fire department personnel (including a chaplain and two paramedics)
- 60 blue candles for police personnel (23 NYPD, 37 PAPD)
- 55 green candles for military personnel (33 U.S. Navy, 22 U.S. Army)
- 2519 white candles for civilians
In 2020, it was reported that more than 22,000 remains had been recovered since 2001, with recovery and identification being an ongoing process. Some possible victims are still listed as missing; some bodies may never be found. Experts have been working on this for two decades, and there is no telling when their work will be completed.
Many people light candles in the windows of their own homes on September 11th, as well.
What Was the Aftermath of September 11th?
Even as crushing grief gripped the country in the wake of the September 11th attacks, a wave of patriotism swept the nation. People showed resilience and desire to work together that hadn’t been seen since World War II. Within hours of the terrorist attack, Americans across the country were donating blood and volunteering to help their communities in any way possible. Old Glory hung proudly from new and old flagstaffs on every corner, in people’s yards, and from trucks rolling down the highways. In the months and years to follow, our nation’s military, along with dozens of allies, would make extraordinary sacrifices fighting the war on terror across the globe.
How to “teach” September 11th to younger generations that didn’t directly experience its aftermath is a common question. The answer is that it will depend on the child, as no two children are alike; but there are many resources available such as the 9/11 Memorial Museum and countless books chronicling the events of that day. It is important to remember this was a pivotal moment in American history, much like the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Remembering what took place on September 11th—the death, the destruction, and the stunning acts of heroism—is vital in order for future generations to learn from these events.
“May we walk in the memory of those who forever hold the burden of our freedoms. And I promise to never let your memory die, because I’m free in it. And you are always with me, and never forgotten.” —Mat Best, Black Rifle Coffee Company
We honor the memories of all those lost on September 11th, 2001, today and every day. We also remember those lost in the war that followed, as well as those who have passed away from Ground Zero-related illnesses.
Where Were You on September 11th?
Where were you when the events of September 11th took place? Let us know in the comments. We would like to hear your memories of this day.
Here, members of the firearms industry and the first responder community share where they were and what they felt 20 years ago on September 11th:
“I thought to myself, ‘God help whoever was responsible because no one in America would.” —Derrek Sigler, Outdoor and PowerSports Editor for VerticalScope
“I was in Corporal’s course at Cherry Point, N.C. As soon as the second plane hit, I was recalled back to my unit and packed for deployment in 15 minutes (I was on a ready team we kept on standby). We sat on a flightline with all of our gear, waiting to take off and get ‘payback’ for three days. The stand-down order came, and we were redeployed to guard nuclear and submarine facilities around the country. Crazy times, but it started my career of deployments and training cycles for the next 15 years.” —Eric Suarez, retired SOF, Owner of marketing firm Red Cell Media, Vice President at On Mission Motorsports
“The morning was filled with violence and death; in the afternoon, I was holding my nephew, who decided to come into this world on 9-11-01.” —David Werner, competitive shooter
“I was sitting in the front row during my 5th-grade science class… I saw the planes hit the tower for the first time. The explosion was hot and smoked enough to blanket the entire screen in my little mind. I didn’t know what it meant until I got home when my dad told me we were attacked and people had flown planes into buildings. We rewatched it and could see people throwing themselves out of the buildings; it wasn’t the inanimate objects of a plane interacting with a building like I thought in class, but the destruction of people like me, kids like me.” —James Hebert, outdoor writer
“I was a high school student, EMT, and junior firefighter. My most vivid memory of that day is sitting in class in the early afternoon as we watched the first camcorder video of Ground Zero, and heard the cacophony of hundreds of PASS alarms (firefighter down indicators carried on airpacks). I was sitting next to another junior firefighter, and we both knew what that sound was, and what that meant.” —Jonathan Blatman, Paramedic and Firefighter
“I had just finished a public tour of the White House as part of my mother-in-law’s bucket-list trip. We were enjoying the Rose Garden when the plane hit the Pentagon, and the military and first responders rolled in and shooed us into Lafayette Park. Smoke was rising behind the White House; there was an anti-aircraft encampment on the roof, now manned. As we were being herded from the park by law enforcement, we paused by a limousine with the doors open and radio playing news bulletins on planes hitting the Twin Towers. Major reality check moment. I told my companions that we had to get to the Metro to the beltway right now if we wanted to get to our vehicle and back home. We managed to catch the last train out before D.C. shut down. Holy crap that can happen to little old me and those I love! When I finally got back to the Pacific Northwest, my husband and I decided to get some serious firearms training. The rest can be bottom-lined with our positions on staff at FAS passing on what we learned to like-minded people.” —Diane Walls, defensive handgun instructor
“Standing in the parking lot on my first day of EMT class listening to the radio news. Instructor shows up and says, ‘better get you guys trained, they may need you’ and we all went to start classes.” —Keith Randall, firefighter and hunting guide
“I saw the second plane hit on live TV. Our building was rocked by the shockwave from the impact at the Pentagon. I’ll never forget the low-flying F-16s over D.C.” —Paul Leitner-Wise, former Chief Technical Officer at LWRC International
“At the time, I was a cadet in Civil Air Patrol. The next day I went to my squadron in Manville, and only one other cadet and two senior members showed. Two other senior members were sent home after being there for over 24 hours. We jumped in a Cessna 172 and were told to resume spotter survey duties. I didn’t realize at the time we were about to fly directly over Ground Zero and take photos. There were several kids in my school that lost a parent or both parents. Some were firefighters; some worked in the towers. We had to deal with that reality for years in classrooms and at home.” —Jonathan Kilburn, Reclaimed Outdoors
“My 9/11 experience includes watching multiple parking tickets being applied to the same vehicles (my studio was across from a popular train station commuter lot). I couldn’t stand it anymore, so I walked across the street to the meter maid and explained I was certain the vehicles being ticketed belonged to the dead in the Pile at the Trade Center. Mid-ticket, she stopped and collected all the weathered tickets from abandoned cars. It took days for next of kin to remove them. No fines were paid.” —David Rosenthal, Vice President of the Coalition of New Jersey Firearms Owners