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America Under Attack: Last Calls From Fateful Flights

Aired September 13, 2001 - 06:31   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
VINCE CELLINI, CNN ANCHOR: Through flight information and reports of cell phone calls, CNN has been able to piece together some of what happened during those fateful flights on Tuesday.

CNN's Miles O'Brien brings us what we know so far.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nothing seemed amiss when American Airlines Flight 11 left the runway in Boston Tuesday morning. The 767-200 was about half full, toting 81 passengers, a cockpit crew of 2, and 9 flight attendance to the opposite coast.

The captain likely planned for a five-hour flight, so there was roughly 8,500 gallons of jet fuel in its three tanks.

FAA radars tracked the airliner as it followed the flight plan. But then about 20 minutes into the flight, somewhere over upstate New York, it turned sharply to the south. Flight 11 was hijacked, apparently by knife-wielding men.

Airline pilots are trained to handle such situations by keeping calm, complying with requests, and if possible, dialing in an emergency four-digit code on a device called a transponder. It transmits crucial flight data to air traffic controllers. The action takes seconds, but it appears no such code was entered.

But in the cabin, a frantic flight attendant managed to use a phone to call American Airlines Command Center in Dallas. She reported the trouble. A pilot apparently keyed the microphone, transmitting a cockpit conversation. The hijackers could be heard saying, "We have more planes, we have more planes." Radio transmissions like this would have been reported on the ground by the FAA.

JOHN WELLS, "BOSTON HERALD": The police have identified five suspects that they believe were involved with this terrorist act, and two of whom may be brothers, apparently, reportedly; two of whom -- two others may have flown in from Portland and originated in Canada.

O'BRIEN: About five minutes before Flight 11 started heading south, another 767, United Flight 175, left Boston, also for Los Angeles; 65 souls aboard. Fifteen minutes after becoming airborne, it veered off course.

One passenger made two calls to his father. In one exchange, he said a flight attendant was stabbed. In the second call, he told his dad the plane was going down.

JOHN TEERLING, COMMERCIAL PILOT: They knew not to carry guns on the airplane. If they fired off a bullet, then they could have had explosive decompression on the aircraft. They knew what they were doing, and they knew what their mission was, obviously.

O'BRIEN: We know what happened next: The 767 struck and ultimately leveled the World Trade Center's Twin Towers.

TEERLING: I'm a pilot (ph). If you're going to die, you're not going to -- you're not going to fly in the World Trade Center to do it. Yes, there would be a struggle -- major struggle.

O'BRIEN: By 8:20, the third hijacked flight, American Flight 77, a 757, left Dulles Airport outside Washington, again bound for Los Angeles with 66 people on board.

Radar tracking information on this flight, obtained by CNN, seems to indicate the transponder was turned off, which would have made it tougher to see on radar.

We do know this: an hour and 20 minutes after departure, it plowed into the Pentagon.

On board was Barbara Olson, a well-known attorney and frequent CNN legal commentator. Huddled in the back of the plane, Olson called her husband twice from her cell phone. She described the frantic scene.

TIM OLSON, HUSBAND OF BARBARA OLSON: She said that they were armed with knives and box cutters -- paper cardboard cutters.

O'BRIEN: Even as the focus shifted to the nation's capitol, a fourth plane, United Airlines Flight 93, bound for San Francisco out of Newark, takes a sudden 180 degree turn near Cleveland. More than one of the 38 passengers called their families to offer final good- bys.

ALICE HOGLAN, VICTIM'S MOTHER: And he said: "I want you to know I love you very much, and I am calling you from the plane. We have been taken over. There are three men that say they have a bomb." And then, the phone went dead.

O'BRIEN: Miles O'Brien, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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