Investigating 9-11 -- The doomed flights

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"Tuesday, September 11, 2001, dawned temperate and nearly cloudless in the eastern United States. Millions of men and women readied themselves for work. Some made their way to the twin towers, the signature structures of the World Trade Center complex in New York City. Others went to Arlington, Va., to the Pentagon. Across the Potomac River, the Congress was back in session. At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, people began to line up for a White House tour. In Sarasota, Fla., President Bush went for an early morning run. For those heading to an airport, weather could not have been better for a safe and pleasant journey. Among the travelers were Mohamed Atta and Abdulaziz Alomari, who arrived at the airport in Portland, Maine."

So begins the Sept. 11 commission's report detailing how 19 men easily defeated America's civil aviation security system, hijacked four jetliners filled with fuel and, in the case of Flight 93 bound for San Francisco, violently rocked the jet's wings to knock attacking passengers off balance.

The commission offers a chilling account of the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, with fresh details about the hijackings and what occurred aboard each of the four airliners. It also details the security lapses, the lack of communication among government agencies and the horror unfolding aboard the planes.

What follows are excerpts on each of the four hijackings, in the words of the authors:

American Airlines Flight 11

(Mohamed) Atta and (Abdulaziz) Alomari boarded a 6:00 a.m. flight from Portland to Boston's Logan International Airport.

When he checked in for his flight to Boston, Atta was selected by a computerized prescreening system known as CAPPS (Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System), created to identify passengers who should be subject to special security measures. Under security rules in place at the time, the only consequence of Atta's selection by CAPPS was that his checked bags were held off the plane until it was confirmed that he had boarded the aircraft. This did not hinder Atta's plans.

Between 6:45 and 7:40, Atta and Alomari, along with Satam Al Suqami, Wail Alshehri, and Waleed Alshehri, checked in and boarded American Airlines Flight 11, bound for Los Angeles. The flight was scheduled to depart at 7:45.

While Atta had been selected by CAPPS in Portland, three members of his hijacking team -- Al Suqami, Wail Alshehri, and Waleed Alshehri -- were selected in Boston. Their selection affected only the handling of their checked bags, not their screening at the checkpoint. All five men cleared the checkpoint and made their way to the gate for American 11. Atta, Alomari, and Al Suqami took their seats in business class (seats 8D, 8G, and 10B, respectively). The Alshehri brothers had adjacent seats in row 2 (Wail in 2A, Waleed in 2B), in the first-class cabin.

On September 11, Captain John Ogonowski and First Officer Thomas McGuinness piloted the Boeing 767. It carried its full capacity of nine flight attendants. Eighty-one passengers boarded the flight with them (including the five terrorists).

The plane took off at 7:59. Just before 8:14, it had climbed to 26,000 feet, not quite its initial assigned cruising altitude of 29,000 feet.

Reports from two flight attendants in the coach cabin, Betty Ong and Madeline "Amy" Sweeney, tell us most of what we know about how the hijacking happened. As it began, some of the hijackers -- most likely Wail Alshehri and Waleed Alshehri, who were seated in row 2 in first class -- stabbed the two unarmed flight attendants who would have been preparing for cabin service.

About five minutes after the hijacking began, Betty Ong contacted the American Airlines Southeastern Reservations Office in Cary, N.C., via an AT&T air phone to report an emergency aboard the flight.


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