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Planes Crash Into World Trade Center And Pentagon Also On Fire

Aired September 11, 2001 - 09:31   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: David, we're going to have to cut you off.


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Leon, on the heels of the president's remarks, CNN has learned that at least one of the planes involved in this hit on the World Trade Center was an American Airlines 767, a Boeing aircraft that took from Boston.

What happened to that airplane as it took off from Boston and how it ended up at the World Trade Center are details we'll have to fill in as we go.

But, let's go ahead and bring in our David Ensor. David, you were saying before we interrupted for you for the president's remarks?

DAVID ENSOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Unfortunately, the amount of detail that the officials are tracking this have is pretty sketchy at this point. But I was just saying that officials are calling this an act of terrorism. They're saying that's clearly what it, clearly not an accident. And law enforcement agencies, the FBI and others, will be taking the lead on this, officials say. And clearly, obviously, they will first try to ascertain who did this. What nationality are they. What's behind this?

That's really all I can say. There are several places around the government -- there are groups of official gathering and setting up crisis centers to try and deal with the flow of information on this, which, as you can imagine, is going to be considerable as the day progresses.

KAGAN: And so far, as far as we know, no one has been taking responsibility for this?

ENSOR: There have been no claims of responsibility, and U.S. intelligence officials say they had no warning of anything like this coming along.

KAGAN: All right. David Ensor, thank you for joining us on the phone.

Once again, you can see that information at the bottom of your screen. Two different planes have flown into the World Trade Center within the last hour. One plane was an American Airlines Boeing 767 from Boston. In terms of how many people were onboard that plane and if it was forcibly taken from Boston into New York, we still have yet to learn.

HARRIS: We're joined now on the telephone by the former Federal Emergency Management Agency director, James Lee Witt.

Director Witt, you are watching these pictures with us this morning. Your comments?

JAMES LEE WITT, FMR. DIRECTOR, FEMA: Well, it's just horrible. There's no doubt. I did see the one plane flying into the building. Just unbelievable, something like this.

But, you know, we've been -- for several years now we've been working on terrorist type events, and this is apparently one of those events, do not know yet, but apparently it could be. And right now I know I really feel for those families. And but -- Ritchie and the New York Emergency Management in the state of New York, and I know they're very busy right now, and the FBI and the law enforcement. But, this is one of those crisis management as well as consequence management situations that they're going to have to be dealing with.

HARRIS: The first thing this calls to mind to many of us, who have been here to cover these events, was the World Trade Center bombing back in -- was it '96 when that bombing act occurred?

WITT: Yes.

HARRIS: And you were director of FEMA at that particular time. Since then, has there been a plan put in place for something like this to recover from this, or to actually to go through the exercises necessary to get people out and to recover from it?

WITT: Well, they have a very good plan in place. For even events not as -- I don't if they put a plan in place for an airline crashing into it. But I know they take every scenario they can think of and try to deal with a plan that will help them respond in the most effective way. And you know, we even practiced airplanes flying into igloos at some of the arsenals around the United States.

So you try to practice for everything you can think of, and hope for the best that you can be able to respond and hope none of this happens but --

HARRIS: On that note then, did you run -- how many -- did you run any kinds of tests at all, or any kinds of theoretical tests or computer tests or anything on something like this?

WITT: We didn't, I'm not sure if New York City did. I'm sure they did. But, you can't --- you know, how can you stop something like this without having anti-aircraft guns sitting on top of buildings, you know? You just can't. You can prepare the best you can be, and that's all you can do.

But I'm sure that they've got everything in place, and doing -- they are always do an excellent job up there in New York.

HARRIS: Director Witt, Director James Lee Witt, former director of FEMA, we thank you very much for your time this morning. We'll be talking with you later on.

KAGAN: As we continue our coverage, our Aaron Brown in New York City joining now.

Aaron we see over your left shoulder there, the building still smoldering of the World Trade Center.

AARON BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is a grotesque site to look at from about 30 blocks away, from where we are. For those of you just joining us, let's just briefly recap what we know.

About an hour ago, about 8:45 eastern time, one plane crashed into the tower -- the World Trade Center tower on the right, the first of those towers that you can see behind me. And then about a half hour later, a second plane crashed into the tower number two, that's the one to the left, where the darker smoke is billowing out right now.

We have reports -- CNN has been told that one of the planes was an American Airlines 767, that had been hijacked from Boston. We don't know if that was the first or the second plane that hit the tower. But, we do know that it was a 767 American Airlines jet, at least that's what CNN has been told by sources so far this morning.

We also have reports of 1,000 injuries, that is unconfirmed. We always remind you in moments like these, that as these initial reports come in, it is very early. I can tell you driving in, it is extraordinarily chaotic on the west side of New York. It is the kind of situation where numbers change, where situations change. But this is the information we have now, that there are at least 1,000 injuries, and we're working on that. As you can see the smoke billowing out of the Trade Center.

In Sarasota, Florida, now Major Garrett joins us. Major, what are you being told?

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hello. President Bush has notified -- or talked, rather, to Vice President Cheney. He has talked to the FBI director Robert Mueller, and he has also spoken with the governor of New York, Governor Pataki about this catastrophe.

The president will convene a national security meeting upon his arrival back at Washington. Those are the four pieces of information we have gathered here in moments since I just spoke to you on the telephone.

The president, as we just saw a few moments ago, identifying this as an apparent act of terrorism against the United States. Said there will be full investigation. The entire apparatus of the United States government, FBI, national security, CIA, the vice president, who you may remember was placed in charge of a domestic terrorism study group within the White House, to monitor and develop plans to deal with a catastrophe of just this kind. All those parts of the government have been mobilized.

The president is heading back to Washington very soon.

Here's what the president said about this catastrophe of the Twin Towers in New York just a few moments ago here at a Sarasota elementary school.


BUSH: Today we've had a national tragedy. Two airplanes have crashed into the World Trade Center in an apparent terrorist attack on our country.

I have spoken to the vice president, to the governor of New York, to the director of the FBI, and have ordered that the full resources of the federal government go to help the victims and their families, and to conduct a full scale investigation to hunt down and to find those folks who committed this act.

Terrorism against our nation will not stand.

And now if you join me in a moment of silence.

May god bless the victims, their families and America. Thank you very much.


GARRETT: The president was first notified about the situation in New York by National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice. Then, the second notification updating him with more details on the situation came from his chief of staff Andrew Card, who's traveling with the president here in Sarasota.

The day was supposed to talk about education reform. But the president is scrubbing all of hose plans, marshaling all the resources of the federal government, talking with his aides as he can and preparing to fly back to Washington to again, as we said, convene a National Security Council meeting.

Back to you.

BROWN: Major, before you get away, and I apologize if you - if I'm asking you to repeat something, I'm having a little trouble hearing you. Do we know exactly where the president was when he was told?

GARRETT: He was just arriving here in Sarasota at Emma E. Booker (ph) Elementary School. He had taken an early morning jog this morning in Sarasota. Had just arrived here with the presidential motorcade.

Then the spectacular, horrific pictures began appearing on television sets here at the elementary school. The president received a telephone call from Condoleeza Rice, national security advisor. Then he received an update from his chief of staff, Andrew Card, traveling with him. Then it was made clear to the press traveling with the president he would make a statement.

Shortly before that statement he was actually sitting down with some children here at the elementary school reading them a book. Reporters asked him if he knew about the situation of the Twin Towers. He nodded and said he would talk about it momentarily, in fact he did. We just heard the president's statement, declaring this an apparent act of terrorism.

Yes, Aaron.

BROWN: Let me interrupt you here, Senator Ted Kennedy - Senator Kennedy is speaking in Washington.