9/11 timeline: how events unfolded

This weekend marks 20 years since the deadliest terror attack in history

George W. Bush speaks to Vice President Dick Cheney on board Air Force One
(Image credit: Eric Draper/The White House/Getty Images)

US President Donald Trump today attended a 9/11 commemoration in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where the hijacked United Airlines flight 93 crashed on 11 September 2001.

A 93-foot monument - called the Tower of Voices - has been unveiled at the crash site, to honour the passengers who prevented the plane from reaching its target.

When it is completed, it will contain 40 aluminium wind chimes to represent each of the passengers who died.

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The tower is the final component of the Flight 93 National Memorial, which spans 2,200 acres, two miles north of Shanksville in Somerset County.

Ahead of the 17th anniversary of the attacks, Paul Murdoch, the memorial’s architect, told CBS: “The tower itself is quite heroic; it’s a monumental piece, it’s meant to be heroic. But the sounds are not booming chimes.

“They’re meant to be actually quite subtle and intimate, so that people can be there and have a very personal experience, whatever it is for them.”

Of the four planes hijacked by Al-Qaeda terrorists on 9/11, flight 93 was the only one that didn’t reach its target, believed to be the Capitol building in Washington DC. Fortunately, nobody on the ground was injured.

The then vice president Dick Cheney, in a bunker deep under the White House, authorised flight 93 to be shot down, but upon learning of the crash, is reported to have said: “I think an act of heroism just took place on that plane.”

But what exactly happened to the passengers on flight 93 that day?

What happened during the flight?

The 9/11 Commission Report released in 2004 found that at least ten passengers and two crew members contacted family, friends or others on the ground during the flight. The passengers reported that the hijackers, roughly 45 minutes into the flight, assaulted the cockpit and forced people to the back of the plane claiming a bomb was aboard, according to the report.

The passengers learned from conversations with their loved ones that the World Trade Center in New York City and The Pentagon in Virginia had already been attacked.

It was at this time that passengers Mark Bingham, Todd Beamer, Tom Burnett and Jeremy Glick formulated a plan to overpower the hijackers, according to accounts from the phone calls.

“They’re talking about crashing this plane into the ground. We have to do something. I’m putting a plan together,” Burnett told his wife, Deena, on the phone.

“Who’s helping you?” his wife asked, to which Burnett replied: “Different people. Several people. There’s a group of us.”

Glick told his wife, Lyz, according to NewsWeek, that he and four or five other passengers were thinking of making a rush to “jump the hijackers”.

One of the more storied calls comes from Beamer, who had a long conversation with airphone operator Lisa Jefferson.

“Are you ready?” a fellow passenger asked Beamer towards the end of the call. “Let’s roll,” Beamer replies, according to Jefferson’s account of the call.

What happened just before the crash?

Recordings from the plane “reveal the passengers’ counterattack on the cockpit began at 9.57 AM”, says CNN.

At that time outside the cockpit, voices are heard on the flight deck’s recording device saying, “In the cockpit. In the cockpit.”

A hijacker then says in Arabic, “They want to get in here. Hold, hold from the inside. Hold from the inside. Hold.”

The passengers then make another run for the cockpit. “In the cockpit! If we don’t, we’ll die,” an unnamed male passenger says.

Seconds later, another passenger yells, “Roll it,” which was “a possible reference to a drink cart passengers might have used to ram the cockpit door”, adds CNN.

At 10.03 am, the hijacker put the plane down and it crashed into a field near a reclaimed coal strip mine in Pennsylvania, just 20 minutes in flight time from Washington DC.

There is some controversy between some of the family members of the passengers and the investigative officials as to whether the passengers managed to breach the cockpit. The 9/11 Commission Report concluded that “the hijackers remained at the controls but must have judged that the passengers were only seconds from overcoming them”.

But many of the victims’ relatives believe that the passengers breached the cockpit and killed at least one of the hijackers guarding the cockpit door.

“Without a doubt, the passengers breached the cockpit,” Randall Greene, whose brother Donald, a pilot of smaller aircraft, was on board told Fox News in 2008. “I’m surprised by the theory that the passengers did not take control of the aircraft.”

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