By Elaine Owen, Editor
Those born after 2001 are familiar with the strict air travel rules that forbid taking even water past security gates. However, airports were not always like that. Eighteen years ago, passengers were not only allowed to carry on board liquids, but also “dangerous” items such as baseball bats, box cutters, darts, knitting needles, scissors, and even four-inch blades.
That changed Sept. 11, 2001, when members of the Islamic extremist organization Al Qaeda used airplanes as weapons to carry out the deadliest terrorist attacks on American soil in U.S. history.
That fateful Tuesday appeared to be like any other day. East Coast residents were at or on their way to work or school, while those on the West Coast were still sleeping. However, things were not as normal for the passengers aboard United Airlines Flights 93 and 175 and American Airlines Flights 77 and 11. That’s because among the passengers were 19 terrorists, split into four teams, each with an experienced pilot. The cross country flights, heading from the East Coast to either Los Angeles or San Francisco, were selected to ensure the airplanes had ample fuel to enable the hijackers to inflict maximum damage.
To those on the ground, the first indication that something was terribly wrong came at 8:46 a.m. (EST) when American Flight 11 crashed into One World Trade Center, or North Twin Tower. The impact, witnessed by thousands of onlookers, created a gaping hole all the way from the 93rd to the 99th floor. While horrifying, everyone, including experts, assumed the crash was an accident caused by pilot error. That changed at 9:03 a.m. EST when United Flight 175 hurtled into Two World Trade Center (South Twin Tower). Before anyone had time to process the tragic events, American Flight 77 struck the Pentagon building in Washington DC. Shortly after, United Flight 93 crash-landed in an empty field on the outskirts of Shanksville, Pennsylvania. By then, it was evident that America had suffered a series of orchestrated terrorist attacks.
Meanwhile in New York, firefighters, paramedics, and police officers rushed to assist and evacuate the thousands of survivors inside the damaged Twin Towers.
While their quick action helped save 18,000 lives, many of the brave first responders did not make it out alive. That’s because the fires, sparked by the well-fueled airplanes, melted the steel support trusses that framed the 110 floors of each building. This, combined with the damage caused by the initial impact of the aircraft, resulted in both towers collapsing into a massive heap of cement and steel less than two hours after the airplanes hit the buildings. As the structures collapsed, they ignited fires in the surrounding buildings, leading to the collapse of World Trade Center Seven as well. Fortunately, everyone in the area had been safely evacuated. Though the Pentagon building did not collapse, the airplane attack resulted in the deaths of 184 people. All in all, 2,977 innocent people from 93 nations lost their lives on 9/11/2001.
The death toll would have been even higher had United Flight 93 succeeded in reaching the terrorist’s intended target — the US Capitol building in Washington.
However, when New Jersey resident Jeremy Glick called his wife to tell her his flight had been hijacked, he heard about the attacks on the Twin Towers. Determined not to allow the terrorists to use the flight as a weapon, the brave 31-year-old called again a few minutes later to inform her that all the passengers and crew were uniting to try to overpower the hijackers. Shortly after, the plane was seen meandering across the skies before nose-diving into an abandoned coalfield in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Though all 33 passengers and seven crew members perished, their heroic act saved the country from an even bigger catastrophe.
We were forever changed, that day we watched unspeakable acts unfold. But we also witnessed incredible courage, outpouring of human kindness, fierce solidarity. And that is what will be remembered, along with thousands of memories of those who perished that day. Today, we remember. And we honor those we lost. And we will never forget Sept. 11, 2001.