A chilling compilation of recordings from 9/11 was made public yesterday, three days before the tenth anniversary of the attacks.
The 114 tapes — some never heard before — reveal how aviation and military officials tried desperately to find out what was happening after al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four planes.
Boston air traffic controller Peter Zalewski realises something has gone horribly wrong as he tries to contact American Airlines Flight 11.
Zalewski: “American 11 if you hear Boston Centre ident please, or acknowledge.”
Silence for 43 seconds, then Zalewski repeats request.
Flight attendant Betty Ong calls from seat-back phone on flight AA11 to tell airline office the plane has been hijacked.
Betty Ong: “The cockpit’s not answering. Somebody’s stabbed in business class, and um I think there is mace that we can’t breathe.
“I don’t know, I think we’re getting hijacked. Our Number 1 is, is stabbed right now, and our Number 5.
“Our purser has been stabbed and we can’t get to the cockpit, the door won’t open. Hello?”
Betty is passed to AA operations specialist Nydia Gonzalez, who calls airline’s emergency line while stewardess remains on the phone.
Nydia Gonzalez: “I’m on still with security, OK Betty? You are doing a great job just stay calm, OK?”
AA emergency line: “We contacted air traffic control, they are going to handle this as a confirmed hijacking.”
AA: “He turned his transponder off, so we don’t have a definitive altitude for him. They seem to think they have him on a primary radar. They seem to think he is descending.”
Gonzalez: “What’s going on, Betty? Betty, talk to me. Betty, are you there? Betty?
“I think we might have lost her.”
Air traffic controller overhears voice of hijacker Mohamed Atta from cockpit of flight AA11.
Controller: “Is that America 11 trying to call?”
Atta: “We have some planes. Just stay quiet and we’ll be OK. We are returning to the airport.”
Controller: “And, uh, who’s trying to call me here? American 11 are you trying to call?”
Atta: “Nobody move, everything will be OK. If you try to make any moves, you will injure yourself and the airplane. Just stay quiet.”
Boston air traffic controller Joseph Cooper alerts Sgt Jeremy W Powell of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) Northeast Sector (NEADS), and reveals New York as target for the first time.
Cooper: “Hi, Boston Center, we have a problem here, we have a hijacked aircraft headed towards New York and we need someone to scramble some F-16s or something up there to help us out.”
Powell: “Is this real world or exercise?”
Cooper: “No, this is not an exercise, not a test.”
Powell: “Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, seriously, (indistinct words) big time.”
NEADS staff Stacia Rountree, Shelley Watson and Maureen Dooley, together with Boston air traffic control military operations specialist Colin Scoggins, try to establish where AA11 is heading.
Dooley: “Real world hijacking.”
Watson: “Cool. Where is it? Boston? And where are they going now, do you know?”
Scoggins: “He’s headed right for New York centre.”
Watson: “And is there any military assistance requested?”
Scoggins: “Ah, yes we’re actually trying to get ah F-15s to ah… “
At 8.40am, Sgt Powell orders two fighter pilots to battle stations at Otis Air Force Base, Cape Cod.
Powell: “This is Huntress placing Panta four-five, four-six on battle stations, I repeat battle stations, time one-two-four-one.”
NORAD Mission Crew Commander (MCC) Kevin Nasypany then calls Major James Fox after it emerges the hijackers have turned off the planes’ transponders, making them hard to track.
Fox: “I’ve never seen so much real world stuff happen during an exercise. MCC, I don’t know where I’m scrambling these guys to. I need a direction, ah, destination.”
Nasypany: “OK, I’m going to give you the Z point, it’s just north of ah New York City. Head ‘em in that direction.”
American Airlines Flight 11 crashes into World Trade Center’s North Tower. New York air traffic controllers are stunned when they realise the building was hit by hijacked plane.
New York ATC: “Kennedy Tower reports, are you serious? Kennedy Tower reports that there was a fire at the World Trade Center. And that’s, that’s the area where we lost the airplane.”
By now United Airlines flight 175 is also missing. A New York air traffic control manager, known only as Mulligan, calls Command Centre and tells them to alert the military immediately.
Mulligan: “We have several situations going on here, it is escalating big, big time, and we need to get the military involved.”
Seconds later, air traffic controllers watch in horror as United 175 nosedives and crashes into second tower.
Official One: “Hey, can you look out your window right now?
“Can you see a guy at about 4,000 feet, about five east of the airport right now, look’s like he’s… “
Official Two: “Yeah, I see him.”
Official One: “Do you see that guy, look, is he descending into the building also?”
Official Two: “He’s descending really quick too, yeah.”
Official Three: “Another one just hit the building. Wow. Another one just hit it hard. Another one just hit the World Trade.”
Official Two: “The whole building just, ah, came apart.”
Official Three: “Oh my God.”
Official One: “Holy smoke. All right, I guess you guys are going to be busy.”
Moments later, air traffic controllers confirm Atta said “planes” not “plane”.
At NORAD, Nasypany tells Fox fighter jets should be deployed in the sky over New York.
Nasypany: “OK Foxy, we need to talk to FAA (air traffic control).
“We need to tell ‘em if this stuff is going to keep on going we need to take those fighters, put ‘em over Manhattan. OK?”
First report that AA flight 77 is also missing.
Indianapolis air traffic control: “Did you get hold of American 77 by chance?”
AA dispatcher Jim McDonald: “No, sir…”
9.21am Fighter jets from Langley, Virginia, are scrambled north as officials fear AA11 is still airborne and heading for Washington.
Nasypany: “Foxy, scramble Langley. Head ‘em towards the Washington area…”
9.28am Signs of a struggle on United 93 are overheard by Cleveland air traffic control.
Cleveland official one: “Do you have United 93 south of Chardon?”
Official Two: “We hear some funny noises, we’re trying to get him. Do you have him?”
At the same time, NEADS officials suggest President Bush should be evacuated from the White House.
NEADS official: “Somebody’s gotta get the President going, this is not good.”
Dooley: “And I’d have the President airborne, wherever!”
Hijacker Ziad Jarrah on United 93 is overheard warning passengers the attackers have a bomb.
Jarrah: “Please sit down and keep remaining sitting, we have a bomb on board, so —
Cleveland air traffic controller: “Ah. Calling Cleveland Center, you are unreadable, say again slowly.”
Meanwhile air traffic controllers tell the military that AA flight 77 is the fourth plane to go missing.
Washington air traffic control: “We’ve been looking, we’ve also lost American 77.”
NEADS official: “Excuse me?”
Washington ATC: “They lost radar with him, they lost contact with him, they lost everything and they don’t have any idea where he is or what happened.”
American Airlines flight 77 crashes into the Pentagon, and crew of military cargo plane (call-sign Gofer 06) at Reagan National Airport tell controller they have seen AA77 crash.
Gofer 06: “This is Gofer zero six, it looks like that aircraft crashed into the Pentagon, sir.”
At the same time, NORAD commander Nasypany orders fighter jets to head to Washington at top speed.
Nasypany: “I don’t care how many windows you break.”
Pilot of another plane tells controllers he saw United 93 “rocking” in mid-air as brave passengers fought the hijackers.
Air traffic control: “United 93 was waving his wings as he went past the V, the VFR aircraft, they don’t quite know what that means.”
Moments later, United 93 crashes at Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and smoke is seen rising from the scene.
Confusion reigns as fighter pilots do not know if they have permission to shoot down planes. NORAD commander Nasypany warns them not to.
Nasypany: “Negative, negative clearance to shoot. Goddammit! Foxy?”
Fox: “I’m not really worried about the code words.”
Nasypany: “F*** the code words. Negative clearance to fire. ID, type, tail.” (Pilots are only to identify the type and tail number of the plane).
Washington air traffic control tells NEADS United 93 has crashed.
NEADS: “United nine three, have you got information on that yet?”
Washington: “Yeah, he’s down.”
NEADS: “When did he land?”
Washington: “He did not land.”
Finally, at 10.32am, Vice President Dick Cheney gives fighter pilots the order to shoot down civilian planes.
Mission Crew Commander: “Region Commander has declared that we can shoot down aircraft that do not respond to our direction. Copy that?”