Community members recall their reactions to 9/11

This is part of the 2019 Community Relations series

NEBRASKA — It’s akin to Pearl Harbor, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and the Challenger disaster, everyone remembers where they were the day the events occurred. On morning Sept. 11, 2001 Americans’ idea of security was shattered in the face of the most audacious terrorist attack in history.

The planes were selected because they were large, and on cross country flights, they would be carrying more fuel. The 19 hijackers, made up of 15 Saudis, two from the United Arab Emirates, one Egyptian and another Lebanese, boarded the flights on the Eastern seaboard.

American Airlines Flight 11 departed Logan Airport at 7:59 a.m. bound for Los Angeles, United Airlines Flight 175 also departed Logan for Los Angeles at 8:14 p.m. American Airlines Flight 77, left Dulles International Airport at 8:20 a.m. and United Airlines Flight 93 left Newark International at 8:42 a.m. also bound for California.

Around 8:14 a.m. the hijackers on American Flight 11 forced their way into the cockpit and killed the pilots, taking control of the craft and turning off its transponder. The plane turned south over rural New York state and descended rapidly, headed for New York City.

One of the flight attendants, Amy Sweeney was able to contact ground controllers, “We are in rapid descent ... we are all over the place. Oh, my God, we are too low!”

French cameraman Jules Naudet was making a documentary about the New York Fire Department and was following them to the scene of a possible gas leak in lower Manhattan the morning of Sept. 11.

Naudet heard the sound of jet engines behind him and raised his camera as Flight 11 passed overhead, it impacted the northern façade of the North Tower of the World Trade Center complex at 8:46 a.m. The plane was traveling at 456 mph carrying 10,000 gallons of jet fuel. It hit between the 93rd and 99th floor.

Current Dawson County Commissioner Chairman Bill Stewart said he was at Husker Harvest Days and later got the news. “I was totally mad, how could this happen?” he said and wondered. Stewart noted in the days to come, all the airplanes disappeared from the sky, not one contrail was seen as all air traffic was grounded. He also remembers the cars lining up at the gas station as people filled up all they could, uncertain of the future.

Cantor Fitzgerald, an investment bank on the 101 and 105th floor of the North Tower, lost 658 employees, notably more than any other employer.

The impact of Flight 11 trapped 1,344 people above the crash site and inferno. Many were killed by the smoke inhalation, others chose to jump rather than suffocate or burn alive.

CNN began reporting the news of a disaster at the World Trade Center at 8:49 p.m. “Yeah. This just in: you are looking at, obviously, a very disturbing live shot there. That is the World Trade Center, and we have unconfirmed reports this morning that a plane has crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center.” said news anchor Carol Lin.

It is believed Flight 175 was hijacked around 8:42 a.m., minutes before Flight 11 hit the North Tower. The hijackers failed to turn off the transponder, its flight data could still be recorded. As Flight 175 deviated from its flight path, it nearly collided with a Delta flight out of Hartford, a mid-air collision was avoided by only 300 feet.

Flight 175 aimed for New York City, it descended more than 24,000 feet in five minutes, a rate of 5,000 feet per minute. Air traffic controller Dave Bottiglia said, “were counting down the altitudes, and they were descending, right at the end, at 10,000 feet per minute. That is absolutely unheard of for a commercial jet.”

Unknown to the hijackers, calls were made from the flight, Peter Hanson made a second call to his father at 9 a.m.

“It’s getting bad, Dad. A stewardess was stabbed. They seem to have knives and Mace. They said they have a bomb. It’s getting very bad on the plane. The plane is making jerky movements. I don’t think the pilot is flying the plane. I think we are going down. I think they intend to go to Chicago or someplace and fly into a building. Don’t worry, Dad. If it happens, it’ll be very fast ... Oh my God ... oh my God, oh my God.”

The call ended abruptly, Flight 175 crashed into the southern façade of the South Tower. It had impacted the tower at 590 mph, with the same amount of fuel Flight 11 had. The oldest passenger on board was 80-years-old, the youngest, two.

Flight 175 banked slightly before impact, this would prove critical to the survival of 18 people, unlike the North Tower, one stairway remained open. They were able to descend down to the ground floor. There were 637 people killed instantly or trapped above the impact zone.

At the time the South Tower was hit, there were over 100 cameras filming the burning North Tower, they captured the crash in its entirety. Millions of television viewers saw the crash occur before their very eyes.

Dawson County Emergency Manager Brian Woldt was on his first year in the position, having started in February. Woldt said dispatch called him about it and he went to the nearest TV and began watching the coverage.

“Panic, fear of what was going to happen next,” Woldt said about his feelings at the time. Later he was told by Emergency Management offices, “to stay put and be ready.”

Flight 77 was turned 180 degrees over the Kentucky and West Virginia border after it was hijacked 35 minutes into the flight around 8:51 a.m. The pilots were not immediately killed, but shoved to the back with the rest of the passengers. The transponder was shut off and headed east toward Washington D.C.

A nearby C-130 of the Air National Guard piloted by Steven O’Brien was asked by ground control if he could locate Flight 77. O’Brien responded he could see the silver fuselage of an American Airlines jet, he had difficulty tracking it in the “East Coast haze.”

O’Brien then reporting seeing a “huge” fireball, he contacted ground control, “Looks like that aircraft crashed into the Pentagon, sir.”

Flight 77 had hit the west side Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. at a speed of 530 mph. The impact killed 125 people, 55 military personnel and 70 civilians.

The news of the attacks was spreading, the view of the two towers with black smoke pouring out of them is still burned into people’s memories.

Over in Rocky Hill, Conn., 104 miles to the northeast of New York City, Marcus Kloepping, now Cozad’s mayor, was arriving at work. He had just flown back from Nebraska having attended Husker Harvest Days in his home state.

Kloepping said his coworker had gotten a call about the attacks and they went down into the training center to see the World Trade Center burning from the attacks. Raised in the Great Plains, Kloepping did not think much of the distance between him and the attacks, New York City seemed like something so far away.

A coworker of Kloepping’s broke down sobbing after she saw the news, she said her daughter commuted to New York City and worked in the World Trade Center complex. “This isn’t a long way at all,” Kloepping thought to himself.

By a stroke of luck the daughter of Kleopping’s coworker had been late to work and was going through security when the planes hit. She managed to get out of the area in time, but due to the lockdown of the area, she had to walk 17 miles out of Manhattan to get on a train back to Connecticut.

Kleopping said months later there were still cars in the area covered in the dust from the collapse of the towers, “It was a different perspective,” he said, “It had huge consequences…it changed the whole world.”

Over Ohio, just south of Lake Erie, four Al-Qaeda terrorists storm the cockpit of Flight 93 and take control, the entry is heard by flight traffic controllers in Cleveland. The pilots were able to disable the autopilot before being overpowered. The hijackers tell the passengers they have a bomb on board and to remain in their seats.

Several passengers on Flight 93 are able to contact relatives. Tom Burnnet learned from his wife about the attacks on the World Trade Center, he said the hijackers were “talking about crashing this plane ... Oh my God. It’s a suicide mission.” Burrent’s last call to his wife ended with, “Don’t worry, we’re going to do something.”

KRVN’s current news director Dave Schroeder was a member of the news department in 2001. He said he was just finishing up a meeting with a persona involved in local Hispanic ministry, who asked Schroeder if he had heard about the attacks.

Schroeder said he was unaware and went back to the radio station and got informed through wire reports and through television coverage. “I was struck by the magnitude of the destruction, how could this happen in the United States,” he said.

Not more than a few weeks before Sept. 11, Schroeder had interviewed Senator Chuck Hagel for KRVN, in the weeks following the attacks, Hagel was on the national and international stage speaking about the terrorist acts.

Ever since the towers were hit, first responders from the FDNY, Port Authority, New York City Police Department and other first responders have been making their way into the towers to try to evacuate people trapped inside.

After the impact at the North Tower and over the next few hours, 121 engine companies, 62 ladder companies and 27 fire offices were deployed on scene. All off-duty firefighters recalled, the first time in 30 years this order had been issued.

After 56 minutes of burning, the South Tower collapses, despite being the second hit. The destruction is viewed on live television. Clouds of dust and debris fill the streets sending people fleeing for their lives. After the cloud clears, it is clear to everyone, the building is no longer there.

Lexington Police Department Chief Tracy Wolf said, “I was probably like most people and couldn’t believe this was happening on our soil. Knowing lives were being taken and frustrated there was nothing we could do to save them.”

“It was probably one of the saddest days in our history but it was a day that also brought America together and that bond lasted for quite a few years. On the anniversary, it is still a day that unites us all,” Wolf said.

Still in the air, Flight 93’s passengers have decided to take matters into their own hands. Todd Beamer has been in contact with a phone operator after trying to contact his wife. He had relayed details of the hijacking to her.

After some consideration Beamer told the operator they were going to “jump on,” the hijackers and force the plane into the ground before the terrorists could carry out their plan. Beamer recited the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm with the operator with other passengers joining in.

Beamer’s last words heard by the operator were, ““Are you guys ready? Okay. Let’s roll!”

The hijackers attempted to roll the plane from side to side and then pitched it up and down in an effort to stop the passengers from assaulting the cockpit. This was to no avail as the passengers attempted to force their way into the cockpit.

According to the 9/11 Commission Report, “the hijackers remained at the controls but must have judged that the passengers were only seconds from overcoming them.”

The plane was turned earthward and plummeted into a steep nose dive, at 10:03 a.m. the plane crashed into a field near Stoneycreek Township, Pa. It was believed the hijacker’s intended target was the U.S. Capitol Building.

Upon hearing about Flight 93’s crash, Vice President Dick Cheney said, “I think an act of heroism just took place on that plane.”

Mayor John Fagot was Lexington’s mayor in 2001 and was at Fagot Electric’s offices when he heard the news reports on the television. He said he stopped what he was doing and listened to the reports come in.

Later a reporter from the Lexington Clipper-Herald arrived and asked Mayor Fagot for a quote, all he said was, “We need to pray.”

A year later, on Sept. 11, 2002, the clock tower downtown was able to be erected to honor those had perished in the 9/11 attacks, Fagot said. Middle school students had helped raise funds for it. A balloon release, a balloon for each victim, was held this day as well, when a siren sounded, all the balloons were released.

“It’s a day never to be forgotten,” said Fagot.

At 10:28 a.m., an hour and 42 minutes after the impact, the North Tower collapses. Similar to the collapse of the South Tower, dust and debris fills the air. Again, millions witness the devastation from their homes, offices, etc.

The attacks killed 2,996 people and injured more than 6,000 more. The death toll among emergency workers was shocking, 343 firefighters and 72 law enforcement officers.

The attacks ignited the 2003 Iraq War and invasion of Afghanistan, to this day the United States is under a state of national emergency.

For those who lived through it, the pain, anger and fear of the day will never be forgotten. Now 18 years later, we remember the lives which were lost and ensure they, above all, are never forgotten.

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