On this day, 16 years ago, five hijackers crashed American Airlines Flight 11 into the northern facade of the World Trade Center’s North Tower, followed by another five hijackers crashing United Airlines Flight 175 into the southern facade of the South Tower. Five more hijackers flew American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon moments later. Within 51 minutes, all three events transpired.
A fourth flight, United Airlines Flight 93, under the control of four hijackers, crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, southeast of Pittsburgh, a few minutes later. Flight 93’s target is believed to have been the Capitol or the White House.
At 9:40 a.m., the FAA grounded all aircraft within the continental United States, and aircraft already in flight were told to land immediately. All international civilian aircraft were either turned back or redirected to airports in Canada or Mexico, and all international flights were banned from landing on U.S. soil for three days.
The attacks created widespread confusion among news organizations and air traffic controllers. Among the unconfirmed and often contradictory news reports aired throughout the day, one of the most prevalent said a car bomb had been detonated at the U.S. State Department’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. Another jet – Delta Airlines Flight 1989 – was suspected of having been hijacked, but the aircraft responded to controllers and landed safely in Cleveland, Ohio.
If ever there was a day when we all remember where we were, it was 9/11. I got the call from my soon-to-be assistant at my new position, as pastor of a church in north Texas. I quickly turned on my TV and followed the events with the rest of America.
There are too many lessons from 9/11 to recount here. I leave you with one. Ours is a great country. May it not take another tragic event like 9/11 to remind us of that fact.