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The Footnotes of 9/11
Aired September 8, 2012 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MICHAEL TUOHEY, TICKET AGENT: This guy don't look like an Arab terrorist, nobody does.
ED BALLINGER, DISPATCHER: I said three words. Should I have said something else? What is more to the point than beware of cockpit intrusion?
AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER: Is that America 11 trying to call?
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN HOST (voice-over): They are the people who awoke September 11th living ordinary lives.
MIKE MCCORMICK, HEAD, FAA'S NEW YORK CENTER: I was in my office sitting in that chair.
GRIFFIN: Suddenly thrust into one of the most horrific days in this nation's history.
TERRY BIGGIO, FLIGHT OPERATIONS SUPERVISOR: They said we have some planes.
MOHAMED ATTA, HIJACKER: Nobody move. If you try to make any moves, you'll endanger yourself and the airplane.
BIGGIO: We clearly had a hijack in progress.
LT. COL. TIM DUFFY, PILOT: And they said be prepared to shoot down the next hijack track, and then I said (ph) Roger.
MCCORMICK: And they report 10 miles from the White House, nine miles, eight miles.
GRIFFIN: This is their story.
NELSON GARABITO, SECRET SERVICE AGENT: If it was going to hit anything, it was going to hit us.
GRIFFIN: "The Footnotes of 9/11."
Tuesday, September 11, 2001, dawn temperate and nearly cloudless in the Eastern United States. So begins the 9/11 Commission Report on what was about to become a day filled with dark skies.
The first event of that day happened not in Washington, Boston or New York, but here in Portland, Maine, at Mike Tuohey's US Airways ticket counter. It was just before 6:00 A.M. and Tuohey had just checked in the first commuter flight to Boston.
TUOHEY: I'm going to step out the sidewalk and have a smoke. But just as I stepped over the counter, I look up and I see these two fellows standing there and they're looking around.
GRIFFIN: In the official report of the 9/11 attack, there are 1,742 footnotes. Mike Tuohey is the very first.
TUOHEY: I look at the tickets. I go, whoa, first class tickets. You don't see $2,400 tickets anymore. And these were real tickets. They were not - they were paper tickets. So I'm saying, well, good thing, I can check them in, you know, first class.
GRIFFIN: The names on the tickets -- Abdulaziz al-Omari and Mohamed Atta, the ring leader of the operation.
TUOHEY: I think they were less than 30 minutes prior to the flight. I'm sure they were.
GRIFFIN: Five hundred miles away and 1 hour 46 minutes later, Vaughn Allex was at an American Airlines ticket counter in Dulles Airport where he had worked for 20 years.
VAUGHN ALLEX, TICKET AGENT: They came in through the doors behind us, walk back and forth a little bit, and I had them come right up to my position.
GRIFFIN: Vaughn Allex is footnote number 12.
ALLEX: We just finished the morning check-in. Actually the counter was clear at that point. We had no passengers and I saw these two gentlemen come in and it was kind of - you know, you look back on it and you hate to use words, but it was comical.
They came in and they kind of went one way, they looked at our camera, they went the other way. And I turned around to my trainees and I just said Flight 77 watch, you know? It's going to be the last two.
GRIFFIN: The passengers - two of that flight's five hijackers, brothers - Nawaf and Salem al-Hazmi. They, too, were running late, missing Flight 77's official check-in deadline by mere minutes.
ALLEX: And at that point, I said to the agent, I'll tell you what. Let me show you how do to do this, because here are the passengers that's running late but I think that we can get them on.
TUOHEY: The younger fellow, he's standing sort of off to the right and behind him. And he's standing there, and he's got this grin on his face and he's holding his license up next to his head and I'm asking the questions, has anybody given you anything to carry on-board the plane and (INAUDIBLE), no. And have your bags been out of your control since you packed them? Then he's going - just shaking his head like that. Smiling at me, so it's OK. And Atta, he's the opposite. He's holding his license, you know, like this and he's not looking at me. He's got his head cocked out to the side, and he's just no, no.
ALLEX: And the impression I've always had was so odd because he was grinning, he was smiling and he was dancing back and forth. They had one bag, totally inappropriate for a trip to Los Angeles. It was almost like a satchel that had straps across the top of it but didn't even - didn't even seal.
GRIFFIN: For both Vaughn Allex at Dulles and Mike Tuohey in Portland, something just didn't seem right.
TUOHEY: I look at them at all (ph) and I said this guy don't look like an Arab terrorist, nobody does.
GRIFFIN: But this was pre-9/11.
TUOHEY: And I saw, that's not a nice thing to think, you know? In this day and age, you know, how you've dealt with thousands of these Arabics and Sheikhs and Muslims. It's not nice to think like that. It's just a couple of business guys heading out of town. But he did give me a creepy feel, you know?
ALLEX: If I had had somebody I wasn't comfortable with, I would follow them over to security and sometimes give a high sign to on one of the security guys.
GRIFFIN (on camera): Did you consider doing that?
ALLEX: I did. As they left the ticket counter, I stepped off the ticket counter and followed them for about three steps. Caught myself. I said why am I doing this? Am I really sure that there might be something wrong or am I doing this for other reasons that, you know, because they're, you know, foreign or not English speaking.
GRIFFIN: I mean you caught yourself thinking am I racial profiling, basically, right?
ALLEX: I caught myself thinking, you know, am I doing this for a racial reason and I said, no, I'm not doing it for that and I didn't want to be accused of that and I went back to what I was doing.
Right after they left the ticket counter, they came around here. I had no reason to doubt that they were who they said they were. I didn't know that they were terrorists. I didn't know anything until the next day.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): The next day would change Vaughn Allex forever.
ALLEX: I just looked up at the two FBI and I said, I did it, didn't I? I checked them in.
GRIFFIN: But Tuohey would realize his role within hours of the crashes.
TUOHEY: It was immediate. He was the terrorist.
GRIFFIN (on camera): It was immediate -
TUOHEY: Immediate. I mean, come on. Two planes? One in a lifetime. Two in a day? Never.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): It would be only the beginning of Tuohey's 10- year struggle to forget one face.
TUOHEY: Why do I see Mohamed Atta driving by me looking at me in a car?
GRIFFIN: And the day was not over. Many more ordinary Americans were about to become "Footnotes of 9/11."
BALLINGER: All I know is that there was trouble and I wanted to warn everybody.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): At 7:59 A.M., American Airlines Flight 11, a Boeing 767 with 81 passengers and 11 crew was taking off from Boston's Logan Airport on its way to Los Angeles.
After US Airways' Mike Tuohey checked them in for their first flight in Portland, Mohamed Atta and Abdul al-Omari had made their connections, were now seated in 8D and 8G. They would be joined by three more - Satam al-Suqami and brothers Wail and Waleed al-Shehri.
As the plane made its routine ascent, American Airlines 11 emerged as a blip on the FAA's Air Traffic Control Systems.
CONTROLLER: Boston Center, good morning. American 11 is with you passing through 1-1 thousand to 1-4 thousand.
GRIFFIN: Terry Biggio, footnote 102, was overseeing flight operations for the FAA's Boston Center.
BIGGIO: Normal routine day. We were working the morning push and we were set up for a routine day.
GRIFFIN: Mike McCormick, footnote 127, was in charge of the FAA's Center in New York. He had spent the past weekend celebrating his 45th birthday with his family in the city.
MCCORMICK: We spent the weekend in Manhattan and that was my son's first visit to the World Trade Center.
GRIFFIN (on camera): You went to the Trade Center like a lot of tourists do.
MCCORMICK: We went up to the base of the South Tower and I had him stick his toes right up against the building and look straight up the building into the sky and you get that sense of vertigo that you can only get in a city like New York.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): In the next 15 minutes, McCormick and Biggio would face the biggest challenges of their careers.
At 8:14 A.M., American Airlines Flight 11, a blip on Terry Biggio's radar screens, was climbing to 26,000 feet and would make its last transmission to Air Traffic Control.
CONTROLLER: American 11, turn 20 degrees right.
AMERICAN 11: 20 right, American 11.
GRIFFIN: But then 16 seconds later, it goes silent.
CONTROLLER: American 11, Boston.
GRIFFIN: At Boston's Air Traffic Center, Terry Biggio and his controllers know something is wrong.
CONTROLLER: American 11, if you hear Boston Center, ident please or acknowledge.
GRIFFIN (on camera): I don't think you immediately thought hijacking.
BIGGIO: Absolutely not. I mean, I've been in the agency at the time about 20 years. I'd never seen a hijack. We thought, OK. We have a catastrophic failure of some sort with the aircraft. They can't talk to us. We'll clear the airspace away from them and let them fly to wherever they're going to fly.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): As the plane turn south, the 9/11 Commission Report believes the hijackers tried to talk with passengers on-board, but did not know how to use the intercom. Instead the messages in Middle Eastern accents begin transmitting to Air Traffic Control.
CONTROLLER: American 11, are you trying to call?
BIGGIO: We had a series of three transmissions. First one about 8:25 and the transmission was - the first portion was not intelligible to the controller.
GRIFFIN: Biggio asks a specialist named Robert Jones to pull the tape, review it, and report back.
ROBERT JONES, QUALITY ASSURANCE SPECIALIST: I made sure I had those words exact. This is such an important event that I didn't want to misinterpret what was said.
ATTA: Nobody move. Everything will be OK. If you try to make any move, you'll injure (ph) yourself and the airplane. Just stay quiet.
BIGGIO: We had a hijack in progress.
GRIFFIN: American 11 was now a confirmed hijacking and heading straight for New York where Mike McCormick was in charge of the FAA's New York Center.
(on camera): Had you dealt with even a potential hijacking before?
MCCORMICK: No. It was absolutely the first time. It was brand-new event for - for me.
This is the air traffic operation at New York Center. It's the largest control room in the United States.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Mike McCormick sprinted to the floor of New York's Air Traffic Control and went directly to an already-crowded screen displaying the airspace where the plane was headed - Area B.
MCCORMICK: The altitude and the fact they were turning southbound, I knew that it was going to be Area B, so I could be with the controllers, be with the supervisors and look at a radar display.
GRIFFIN (on camera): You wanted to see that plane.
MCCORMICK: Absolutely. Look up into the radar screens right in here. I went back and forth between the radar screens looking at the activity as it took place and take appropriate actions and make the right decisions.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): With Flight 11 not responding, controllers turned to other eyes in the sky, asking other commercial airline pilots if they could spot the American Airlines jet. One of the crews responding - United Flight 175.
CONTROLLER: See if you can see an American 767 out there please.
PILOT: OK. We're looking. Negative contact United 175.
CONTROLLER: OK. United 175, you have him at your 12 o'clock now, 5 - 10 miles.
PILOT: Affirmative, we have him. He looks about 29,000, 28,000.
GRIFFIN (on camera): One of those planes you contacted was United planes.
MCCORMICK: Yes. United was one of the aircrafts that we actually asked to help identify American.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): United 175 also had left Boston bound for L.A. The crew had no idea it, too, was about to be hijacked. Terry Biggio and Mike McCormick were focusing on the American Airlines Flight 11, full of fuel and headed south.
MCCORMICK: You can't assume that the aircraft was going to do anything in New York. Possibly it was going to continue south and go south into Washington.
GRIFFIN: Otis Air Force Base, Cape Cod. National Guard Fighter Pilot Tim Duffy is about to become 9/11's footnote 117.
DUFFY: They said there's American 767 from Boston to California. It looks like the real thing.
GRIFFIN (on camera): Were you prepared to take a plane down?
GRIFFIN (voice-over): 8:46 A.M., Otis Airbase, Cape Cod. Tim Duffy, a commercial airline pilot for United, was working his second job, on alert, as a fighter pilot with the Massachusetts Air National Guard.
Duffy, footnote 117, is given the order to scramble his F-15. There is a confirmed hijacking. The order for Duffy and his wingman - take off from this now-deserted airfield.
DUFFY (voice-over): It's Otis Tower. I have an active air defense scramble. F-15's climbing to flight level two-niner-zero.
GRIFFIN: Under orders to find and intercept American Flight 11.
(on camera): So these were the two hangars?
DUFFY (on camera): Yes. These were Cells Three and Four. They would have jets and all, it just depends on which jets you're going to need that day, which these were the ones that were armed up, so we have hot missiles and a hot gun, so they were all armed up.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): By the end of this morning, Duffy will be asked if he is prepared to use those missiles to bring down U.S. passenger jets. That meant he might be shooting down a plane carrying his United Airlines colleagues.
DUFFY: And they just said be prepared to shoot down the next hijack track. And I can say (ph) is Roger. And then they came back right after that and said do you have a problem with that. That kind of ticked me off that's why it kind of sticks in my memory from that call being in that situation if I wasn't ready to do whatever was called for, I was the wrong person in that seat.
GRIFFIN: At Boston's Center, Terry Biggio has asked Quality Assurance Specialist Robert Jones to review a tape of the terrorist's radio transmissions. On that tape a startling find - 9/11 may be bigger than just one plane.
ATTA: We have some planes. Just stay quiet and you'll be OK. We are returning to the airport.
JONES: We could hear the hijacker reference "planes," meaning multiple planes, more than one aircraft involved and what I was doing was using the phone and relaying back to Terry up in the Operations area that there's potentially more aircraft involved.
BIGGIO: Even today the hair on the back of my neck stands up when we talk about the hijacking. GRIFFIN (on camera): And you were following it to New York.
BIGGIO: Well, thinking that we watched the speed, very high rate of speed at I believe it was about 600 knot southbound (ph), which was extremely unusual for an air carrier. So that was another indication that something was obviously really bad because someone is in a real hurry here.
And I was watching the track of American 11 continue southbound, slowed down. That's why we thought it was landing at either Kennedy or Newark setting themselves up for an arrival.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): But it isn't landing. What Biggio doesn't see on his radar screen is this.
BIGGIO: I was on the phone with the New York Center Operations manager and he said, no, he hit the building.
GRIFFIN (on camera): At that moment -
BIGGIO: Very - we knew it was American 11. We watched it fly, watched it disappear. There was no doubt.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Breaking the sound barrier, Tim Duffy is barreling towards Manhattan, still under orders to intercept a plane, but which plane?
His conversation with Air Traffic Control shows how fast events were moving that chaotic morning.
CONTROLLER: OK. I understand you are going out to look for American 11, is that correct?
DUFFY (voice-over): Affirmative.
CONTROLLER: OK. I've just got information that the aircraft has been crashed into the World Trade Center. So I'm not quite sure what your intentions are or if you're still going to head that way, or you may want to talk to - to your operations.
GRIFFIN: Then 17 minutes after American Airlines Flight 11 slams into the World Trade Center's North Tower, at 9:03 A.M., United 175 hits the South Tower.
DUFFY (on camera): We were about 60 miles from Kennedy. Probably about, you know, 80 miles or so from Manhattan. That's when they told me the second aircraft just hit the World Trade Center. Obviously some confusion in my cockpit.
I thought I was still chasing American Flight 11. They told me a second aircraft which I didn't even know about. So I looked up right away and I could see the smoke coming out of both towers.
As I saw the towers burn, you know, with two airliners in them, we're obviously under attack.
GRIFFIN: In the New York Air Traffic Control Center, Mike McCormick, too, realizes the United States is under assault from the air.
MCCORMICK: We have to do something to remove their weapons. The weapons of course are aircraft. So I couldn't have anymore aircraft to be in and around New York because I didn't know what else could happen.
So we made the decision to clear the skies. We brought all the supervisors from all the areas up here and provided a briefing to them, this is what happened, this is what we're doing and this is how we're going to do it.
GRIFFIN: Eventually, the unprecedented no-fly order would spread from New York to nationwide.
CONTROLLER: All aircraft on the ground for a national emergency.
GRIFFIN: Every airplane in the sky, literally thousands would be told to land. Any airplane that refused the order would be considered hostile.
CONTROLLER: Only battle station aircraft are supposed to be airborne right now.
MCCORMICK: By 10:00, the skies were empty of all aircraft except for military aircraft.
GRIFFIN: As the military was being called to protect the air, a United Airlines employee was on the ground desperately trying to save his flights from disaster.
BALLINGER: And so I said lock the so-and-so door. So they said hijacking alert. So they said a possible hijacking.
RICHELLE CAREY, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Richelle Carey at the CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta. Here are your headlines.
Three locations - three commemorations. They began in New York where thousands came to be part of the memorial service. Parallel ceremonies were held in Washington where the third hijacked plane crashed right into the Pentagon, and also that field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where the fourth hijacked airliner crashed.
Another member of Moammar Gadhafi's family has fled Libya. The latest is Saadi Gadhafi, a former soccer player and notorious playboy, who is now in Niger, according to officials there. He was accepted along with eight former regime officials on humanitarian grounds.
Those are the headlines this hour. CNN's Special "Footnotes of 9/11" continues now.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): For six years, Ed Ballinger has been sailing away from his memories.
BALLINGER: OK. That's good.
GRIFFIN: His refuge, this boat, named "The Great Old Broad," where he's been afloat with his wife, trying to escape the memory of a few brief words - "Beware cockpit intrusion."
BALLINGER: I tried and said lock the so and so door. So he said, "Hijacking alert. Hijacking." So they said a possible hijacking.
GRIFFIN: Ballinger is Footnote 69.
Ten years ago, on September 11th, he was a dispatcher for United Airlines in Chicago, handling 16 flights leaving the East Coast and heading west, including United's Flights 175 out of Boston and 93 from Newark.
BALLINGER: The first indication I had 175 was when the stewardess on board had called in her contact, which was the Maintenance Center, that they were hijacked.
GRIFFIN: In United Airlines' San Francisco maintenance office, supervisor Rich Belme was working one last day before leaving the airline for a new job.
RICH BELME, MAINTENANCE SUPERVISOR: And I kind of was just looking around the room and drinking my coffee, and just kind of realizing it was my last day, kind of bittersweet. And I heard a commotion or someone talking about something hit a building in New York, and I go, "That's odd."
GRIFFIN: At that moment, one of his workers catches his attention. Belme is about to become Footnote 81.
BELME: He's walking up towards me, white as a ghost. I - I can just tell something's wrong. And he says, I just got a call from 175. The crew has been killed, the plane has been hijacked.
GRIFFIN: Inside United's maintenance office, Belme was overseeing the routine calls flight crews make in the air. Air phones dial to star- 349, spelling "fix" on the keypad. Flight attendants asking about coffee makers that didn't work, or entertainment systems that needed fixing.
But at 9:36 A.M., the call Belme answered was chilling. It was from Flight 93.
BELME: Then a female voice comes on the line and goes, a flight attendant has been killed. There's two guys, one guy in the cockpit, one guy's at 1st class, behind the curtain.
And extremely calm. I was trying to act calm. As a controller, we always want to be calm and in control. But she had me beat. She was like talking to a friend.
GRIFFIN: United flight attendant Sandy Bradshaw was calmly telling her airline the plane was no longer being controlled by the crew.
Back in Chicago, Ed Ballinger, alerted about the possible hijacking, was trying to send out warnings, messages - anything he could to try and save his planes.
BALLINGER: All I know is that there was trouble and I wanted to warn everybody.
GRIFFIN: One of those flights Ballinger tried to warn by the airline's version of an e-mail - United Flight 93.
BALLINGER: And I was sending out messages one after the other. I think I sent 122 messages in a short time, an hour or two. I don't know what it was.
They're like screaming on the keyboard. I don't want to get the captain excited, I don't want to put something in like are you in trouble. I just sent him a discrete message, can I be of assistance? Can I help you?
And, at that time, this huge TVs that we have came on with CNN.
CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: This just in. You are looking at obviously a very disturbing live shot there. That is the World Trade Center and we have -
BALLINGER: And I saw the second airplane, which I didn't know at the time was my airplane, 175, hit the second tower.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That looks to me certainly a passenger jet.
BALLINGER: And I thought the most succinct method of doing it, the least amount of words - beware cockpit intrusion, and I sent it to all my 16 flights. And before - before I got that one out, 93 called up and said they had a little disturbance going off in their flight.
GRIFFIN (on camera): So, at that moment, 93 was routine?
BALLINGER: It was in routine.
GRIFFIN: So you sent out your note and you know they got that.
BALLINGER: Yes. So they came back, "Hey, Ed, confirm." I confirmed back with him by telling him two airplanes at the World Trade Center, which I sent to all the other flights.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): But the confirmation came too late. Investigators say two minutes after Flight 93's pilot, Jason Dahl, requested clarification, hijackers stormed his cockpit.
BALLINGER: Does "Beware cockpit intrusion" say it all? Can you say it faster, quicker? And I wanted to quickly get the message out.
GRIFFIN (on camera): It's 10 years later. You're still thinking that?
BALLINGER: Yes. Yes.
(INAUDIBLE) really a dissertation on the thing and sent it to everybody, but I just sent them the quickest, fastest I could. I could ask you, how would you do it faster? But I keep asking myself that question.
GRIFFIN: Isn't that the real reason you're out on this boat?
BALLINGER: Yes. It could be.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Rich Belme, recounting his call from a Flight 93 flight attendant, for the first time also wonders what more he could have done.
BELME: Boy, I - I think about that all the time. You know - and I think what should I have said to her? And I go, should I have said something encouraging? Because I knew what was going on.
Should I have said a prayer? Should I - you know? I don't know. It's - she's - she's an employee. She's doing her job.
There's something wrong with the airplane. Call work. Now, let's do our thing and - and what they decided to do, which is - which is amazing and shows a huge amount of courage, is when they know their end is near but they said, hey, you know, we're not going to give up.
I - I think we should never forget that.
GRIFFIN (on camera): When did you find out they didn't - they didn't make it?
BALLINGER: Well, we can see the FAA had it on - on the scope, and we could tell that it was 93. The thought of crashing did not enter my mind.
GRIFFIN: When his shift ended, so did Ballinger's 44-long year career. He tried to go back to work, but became so overly cautious he began making up reasons to keep planes on ground.
He retreated for six months to this warehouse, where he restored his old sailboat. He was put on 100 percent disability and retired. He's been sailing with his wife Sally ever since.
Ed, do you still have a problem?
BALLINGER: I don't know. Maybe so that's why I - I play a lot of music myself. I do that and I try not to get into any confrontations at all.
I guess I got a problem in that respect. I don't want to relive it.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Up next, another hijacked jet, American Airlines Flight 77 from Washington makes an unauthorized turn south, heading right towards Footnote 208, Secret Service agent Nelson Garabito at the White House. GARABITO: As the one nearest us got closer and closer, six minutes out, five minutes out, it kept coming. And then, at one point, we got under a minute and I said it's about 30 seconds out.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): With now two towers burning, Mike McCormick, Terry Biggio and an army of air traffic controllers frantically try to ground all airplanes. Those that refused, they would become Lieutenant Colonel Tim Duffy's problem.
(on camera): Were you prepared to take a plane down?
GRIFFIN: If I had to, yes, I would have.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): At 9:05 A.M., American Airlines learned Flight 77 from Dulles to Los Angeles was hijacked. It was already turning around, this time heading for Washington, D.C.
Nelson Garabito, Footnote 208, was the Secret Service agent in charge of protecting the White House airspace. In Washington, Vice President Dick Cheney was hustled to a nearby bunker, while the president was on Air Force One.
GARABITO: First thing I did was I picked up the phone to call my - my contact, the FAA. He said we have four planes outstanding. Two have hit the towers and two are headed to Washington, he said, one of them approximately 30 minutes out, one of them approximately 45 minutes out. So we knew we had some - some time, but little time.
GRIFFIN: The order came to evacuate the White House. Garabito said he could hear workers scrambling to leave.
His supervisors gave him and the rest of his staff, including two civilians, the option to leave. No one did.
(on camera): So you're basically counting down the plane coming overhead.
GARABITO: You know, we knew there were two coming. At that point, we know - we know they're coming to the Washington, D.C. area, but we don't know where they're coming to.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): As the minutes, then seconds, ticked by, Garabito braced for impact.
GARABITO: As the one nearest us got closer and closer, six minutes out, five minutes out, we knew it was sort of over the CIA and we thought, is that where it's going? But it kept coming.
And then, at one point, we got under a minute and I said it's about 30 second out. GRIFFIN: In New York, FAA control manager Mike McCormick was on a teleconference call, listening helplessly to a similar countdown.
MCCORMICK: The Washington controllers came up on the speaker phone and started counting down, 10 miles from the white house, nine miles from the White House, eight miles from the White House - all the way down to one mile from the White House.
GARABITO: Seems like more than 30 seconds. When you got - and he said I don't know. It's dropped off our radar.
GRIFFIN: American Flight 77 did not hit the White House. Instead, it crashed into the Pentagon.
As for the fourth plane, the passengers on board United Flight 93 made sure the terrorists wouldn't hit anything but a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
GARABITO: Those individuals on that aircraft that fought back may have saved my life, or the lives of those in the Capitol. When I think of that, those are - those are the first heroes I think of, the first people that fought back, and we'll never know if we, the White House, was the target, or whether it was the Capitol.
GRIFFIN: As that terrible morning went on, the footnotes of 9 /11 would remain on duty. Lieutenant Colonel Tim Duffy flew over Manhattan for five more hours, and he would witness one of the worst images from his cockpit, looking directly down on the last standing tower of the World Trade Center as it imploded.
DUFFY: I flew right up over the top of it and just kind of rolled up up on the edge so I can - I can look down at it. And I was looking at the square of the tower, and as I was looking at the square it just started getting smaller.
And then, as I was looking at it, I could see the plume coming out the bottom and I realized it was falling away from me. And, I got to say, that's the one time during the day where, you know, I was absolutely horrified.
GRIFFIN: The image would not stop him. Days after 9/11, days after his company lost two planes, Tim Duffy volunteered to fly a United Airlines jet to Tokyo. In between commercial assignments, he would patrol the East Coast in his fighter jet.
FAA managers Terry Biggio and Mike McCormick would take this day and ask what more they could do. After invading Iraq, the U.S. government would try to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure, including its air traffic control system. Mike McCormick volunteered and recruited others, including Biggio, whose brother-in-law was fighting there for the U.S.
BIGGIO: I felt like I was on the sidelines. I felt I could do more. I've got all this experience. I was an FAA academy instructor. They needed a training program for the Iraqi controllers, and that was something that I've done for my entire career.
So I've done all of those things and I felt I could help. I signed up in a minute.
GRIFFIN: Biggio would help train air traffic controllers in Iraq, spending nearly a year. Mike McCormick stayed through four tours.
MCCORMICK: I done think anyone ever gets over it. September 11th is irrevocably intertwined into everything I am and everything I do today. So it's - it's part of me.
GRIFFIN: "The Footnotes of 9/11" continues. Up next, the footnotes who can't forget that face.
TOUHEY: Eight months after I retired, I started having psychological problems.
DUFFY: Feels good. I miss it. It's been a long time.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Ten years later, Tim Duffy, now a colonel, is once again seated in the fighter jet he patrolled the skies of New York. He hasn't seen this plane in years.
DUFFY: It's funny. Every time I see it's a beautiful day to go flying I kind of think of that one.
GRIFFIN: The F-15 Eagle that patrolled the skies seemingly endlessly after the attack that was Tim Duffy's bird's eye view of the World Trade Center's North Tower collapsing underneath him is now permanently on display at California's Pacific Coast Air Museum.
DUFFY: Nice to see the Eagle out here. It's a great thing. I think the Pacific Coast Air Museum is kind of saving the bird, you know, some of the history that goes with it.
GRIFFIN: Duffy no longer works for United Airlines and now serves in the Air Force Reserves, responsible for supporting the Department of Defense during disasters.
After spending time in Iraq rebuilding the Air Traffic Control system there, Mike McCormick has now been promoted to the FAA's Headquarters in Washington, still carrying a desert camouflage backpack to remind him of those who have died and those still serving.
Terry Biggio, he's also back from Iraq and he, too, has been promoted at the FAA, to his dream job, overseeing the busiest Air Traffic Control Center in the nation, Atlanta. His office, filled with reminders of 9/11, memories of his father, a former air traffic controller and a baseball bat from his brother, former Houston Astro Greg Biggio.
BIGGIO: I knew when I was about 10 year old what I wanted to be. I wanted to be an air traffic controller and I accomplished that and I have absolutely no regrets, you know, as an athlete - a former athlete, it would have been cool. But there's nothing like working airplanes. You know, there's nothing like being involved in our air traffic control system. It's the greatest in the world.
GRIFFIN (on camera): Are you glad you were working that morning?
BIGGIO: I was. You know, we wonder, you know, at points in time depending on - on your views of religion that why has God put me here. In part for me, I'd like to think 9/11 is why I was here.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): The United Airlines dispatcher, Ed Ballinger, left the airlines after 44 years. He has thought about but has not talked to the relatives of those who died on United Flight 93, the flight he tried to warn to say he was sorry. 9/11 Commission investigators say there was nothing more Ballinger or any of the footnotes in this story could have done.
Still, Ballinger remains haunted by the what-ifs. Still trying to put 9/11 in his wake. When we left him, he and his wife were waiting to sail away again.
Rich Belme, who took the phone call from Flight 93, now works for a private aviation company.
BELME: Again, time went by so quickly.
GRIFFIN: Nelson Garabito is still with the Secret Service. He's a special agent in charge of the Protective Intelligence Division.
Vaughn Allex and Mike Tuohey, the airline ticket agents who first suspected trouble on 9/11, like the other footnotes, still live in the shadow of that terrible day. The day after the attack, they looked at the suspicious names and the faces of their passengers once more, this time with the FBI.
TUOHEY: The FBI came by my house. They had a full photo array of all of these people and they said, yes, here's a sheet. Can you pick out the two? Atta was easy, because he's got a bit sallow. He looked (INAUDIBLE).
ALLEX: And when I came to the name Hazmi (sic), it was an unbelievable moment. And less than a second, I saw them. I remembered the brothers. I remembered the whole transaction and I just stopped. My finger was on their names and I said, I did it, didn't I? These are the guys and I did it, didn't I? I checked them in.
GRIFFIN: It would take touhey days to return to work full time. For Alex, it would be months before he could return to Dulles.
(on camera): It had to have been hard to go back to work.
ALLEX: Yes. I'm not going to kid about it. The paranoia, obviously, was the next person you checked in going to do something horrible again? Or was the next passenger you checked in going to die on a flight that you worked? So it was stressful. GRIFFIN: You went into a real tailspin after this, didn't you?
ALLEX: I put a lot on me. You know, my wife was really good about things and, you know -
GRIFFIN: Your wife actually made you go back to work, right?
ALLEX: I thought about quitting. And she said, no, if you don't go back to work, they've won. Just go back to work, and go out on your own terms. And I did. I stayed another seven years.
TUOHEY: I continued to work until 2004. It took me a while to grasp, get my - my arms around how big it really was. And, you know, it just sort of what do I expect? I mean, it's something that happened and, you know? It was just (INAUDIBLE).
But after I retired, eight months after I retired, I started having psychological problems.
GRIFFIN: Psychological problems in that you began to second-guess yourself?
TOUHEY: Yes. Oh, things that I don't even believe in like hallucinations and seeing people that you know are dead.
Why do I see Mohamed Atta driving by me and looking at me in a car? I know that none of this is true. I said, I know he's dead.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Tuohey long since retired was afraid to leave his rural home in Maine. He sought counseling, was prescribed medication and only now realizes he did nothing wrong.
Vaughn Allex now works for the Federal Air Marshals helping schedule the cops now in the air. He, too, will never forget.
ALLEX: I mean, it never goes away. There is not a single day that I don't think about it. There is not a single day that I don't wonder what would have happened if I had done something differently. I did what I was supposed to do that day. I was supposed to take care of passenger service and I took care of those passengers.
One of the unfortunate things to this very day is that when I go out on a - on a day when there are no clouds, when I go out on - on a beautiful day, I look up and I go, that sky is September 11th blue. And that's what was taken away from me. I have never yet been able to look at the sky and not said September 11th blue, because that's the way it was that day.