By Charles Babington
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 11, 2001; 12:30 p.m.
In the nation’s most devastating terrorist attack, suicide pilots hijacked
commercial airliners today and destroyed New York’s World Trade Center
towers and badly damaged the Pentagon.
Earlier reports of other explosions in the Washington region, at the State
Department and the Capitol, were not accurate, law enforcement officials
At least three commercial airliners -- one traveling from Washington Dulles
to Los Angeles, two others departing from Boston -- apparently were hijacked
and used in the attacks. Officials said all those aboard were feared dead.
American Airlines said Flight 77 from Dulles, a Boeing 757 with 58
passengers, 4 flight attendants and 2 pilots, was “lost.” American Airlines
Flight 11 from Boston, hijacked after takeoff from Boston’s Logan Airport,
also was missing and presumed used in the attacks.
Meanwhile, two United Airlines jetliners crashed, one near Pittsburgh, the
airline said. The company said another of its planes crashed, but did not
The stunning events prompted officials to evacuate all federal buildings in
Washington, creating a late-morning downtown scene of chaos and gridlock.
The number of people killed in Manhattan was not immediately known, but
officials feared high casualty counts from the collapse of the twin
110-story towers, where about 50,000 people normally work. People began
evacuating the towers soon after the first airplane crashed into the upper
floors at about 9 a.m. But many were feared still inside later in the
morning when first one tower, and then the other, crumbled into horrific
heaps of smoke and dust. New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said he feared “a
horrendous number” of people were killed.
According to the Associated Press, the Pentagon took a direct, devastating
hit from an aircraft. The nerve center of the nation’s military burst into
flames and a portion of one side of the five-sided structure collapsed.
Secondary explosions were reported in the aftermath of the attack and great
billows of smoke drifted skyward toward the Potomac River and the city
Authorities immediately began deploying troops, including a regiment of
President Bush in Florida this morning pledged to use “the full resources of
the federal government government to help the victims and their families”
and “to hunt down and find those folks who committed these acts....
Terrorism against our nation will not stand.” The president and other top
officials were moved to undisclosed locations for their safety.
“This is the second Pearl Harbor. I don’t think that I overstate it,” said
Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.).
The Pentagon explosion and fire was caused when a plane crashed into the
building’s helicopter landing pad. Early reports of an explosion at the
Capitol building proved unfounded, but by then officials had ordered all
federal workers home.
The federal government took the additional step of shutting down national
landmarks across the country, including the Washington Monument, the Statue
of Liberty and the St. Louis Gateway Arch, among other locations, according
to the National Park Service.
In Pennsylvania, airport officials at Somerset County Airport reported a
large plane crashing just north of the Somerset County Airport, at about 10
a.m. The plane, believed to be a Boeing 767, crashed about 8 miles east of
Jennerstown, according to county 911 dispatchers, WPXI-TV in Pittsburgh
reported. The airport is about 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.
According to Washington Post reporters the FBI deployed all personnel under
the assumption that the United States has suffered a coordinated terrorist
attack. All FBI offices have been put on full alert, and offices near the
outside windows of the J. Edgar Hoover Building in downtown Washington were
evacuated with all personnel moving to interior locations safer from the
effects of an outside attack.
Although officials had no direct information this morning linking him to the
attacks, fugitive terrorist Osama bin Laden is automatically considered the
leading suspect behind the bombings, a senior government official said.
Dave Kansas, who lives on Broadway just north of the World Trade Center,
said that after the first explosion he ran down he ran to see what happened
just in time to see the second plane hit the building and explode.
“It was gruesome,” Kansas said. “People were falling out of the building
from very high up.”
After that, crowds started streaming up Broadway to get away from the area.
Navy installations throughout Hampton Roads, home of the world’s largest
Navy base, tightened security Tuesday after terrorist planes crashed into
the World Trade Center and explosions rocked the Pentagon and State
“We ask for the public 1/8s understanding and cooperation in helping ensure
public security,’’ said Adm. Robert J. Natter, commander of the Atlantic
As a precaution, Natter placed naval installations under an increased
security condition called Threatcon Charlie. Threatcon Charlie is
implemented when an incident occurs or when intelligence is received that
some form of terrorist action is imminent.