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American Morning

Remembering September 11th

Aired September 11, 2006 - 08:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Our timeline continues now.
It's 8:00 a.m. Eastern time.


UNIDENTIFIED CNN CORRESPONDENT: This just in. You are looking at obviously a very disturbing live shot there. That is the World Trade Center.


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Five years ago this morning, we first heard the news. And stunning as it was to hear of a plane crashing into the World Trade Center, it was just the beginning of a nightmare that would not end.

S. O'BRIEN: And while police and firefighters were rushing to lower Manhattan to help, they could never imagine what was going to happen next.

Good morning, everybody.


You are watching a special edition of AMERICAN MORNING.

I'm Soledad O'Brien.

M. O'BRIEN: And I'm Miles O'Brien.

it was five years ago this morning. The first team of hijackers was already in the air. It would be 45 minutes before any of us had any idea how much different this day would be.

S. O'BRIEN: All through our broadcast this morning, we're going to follow the actual timeline of events as they happened five years ago.

So at this hour, here's what was going on.

American Airlines Flight 11 in the air. It's on its way from Boston to Los Angeles. And within the next 20 minutes, it will be hijacked and turned toward New York City.

Fifteen minutes from now, United Airlines Flight 175 is going to take off from Boston. And a few minutes after that, American Airlines Flight 77 will leave Washington-Dulles Airport.

M. O'BRIEN: In the next 15 minutes or so, air traffic controllers at Boston Center would realize something was terribly wrong with American Flight 11 -- no communication, a sudden left turn to the south and then a troubling transmission from hijacker Mohammed Atta, meant as an announcement for the passengers on the plane.

By 8:25, controllers determined the plane was hijacked. Thirteen minutes later, they would notify NORAD. But it was too late for the fighters to do anything.

We have correspondents positioned all across the country this morning.

Alina Cho live at ground zero, the site of the World Trade Center Towers, to bring us the memorial events from there.

Barbara Starr live at the Pentagon. She'll have memorials from that location.

Bob Franken in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, site of the crash of United Flight 93, the plane brought down after the passengers revolted.

S. O'BRIEN: John Zarrella is live in Sarasota, Florida. That's where President Bush was on September 11, 2001. He was visiting an elementary school when he was told of the attack, just after 9:00 a.m.

And Dan Lothian is live for us in Boston, where two of the hijacked planes departed from, on this day, five years ago.

Let's begin with Dan this morning -- good morning, Dan.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Soledad.

This is the terminal where five of the hijackers boarded American Flight 11 and took off, as you mentioned, a couple of minutes ago. They would now be in the air.

We are using broadband technology, which allows us to go live from inside of this terminal. After 9/11, the rules were changed for security reasons, so you can only use a conventional live equipment to go live outside.

Now, one other plane remains on the ground here, or would have remained on the ground here, United 175. Five hijackers on board. That plane taking off in about 15 minutes or so -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Dan Lothian in Boston for us.

Dan, thanks -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: At this moment five years ago, on American Airlines Flight 11, Captain John Ogonowski and First Officer Thomas McGuinness were still at the controls. They and all of us, for that matter, operating under some false assumptions about hijackings, to comply with requests, for one thing.

Two hijackers sat two rows behind the cockpit door. Six rows behind them, the man who would be flying the plane in about 14 minutes.

It was the first plane to hit the Twin Towers.

And AMERICAN MORNING'S Alina Cho is at the site now, ground zero, this morning -- Alina.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Miles, good morning to you.

Hundreds of family members have already begun-to arrive here at ground zero. The bagpipers are playing. It has become a sad reunion of sorts. Many family members are spending this time to reconnect, hug, comfort each other on this five year anniversary.

The ceremony will begin about 30 minutes from now, at 8:40 a.m. Eastern time. There will be four moments of silence twice, to mark the times each tower was struck, twice to mark the times each tower fell.

The mayor of New York at that point will introduce the reading of the names. All 2,749 names of the World Trade Center victims will be read today. And this year, the spouses, partners and significant others will be reading the names -- 100 pairs of readers. Each will read approximately 14 names.

Now, throughout the morning, as in years past, family members will be able to descend this ramp to the lowest part of ground zero, what many people call sacred ground. They will be at the footprints of the towers, where there are two small temporary reflecting pools.

Family members will be able to lay flowers, will be able to pay their respects. And this is a day of reflection, Miles. And family members, many of them, will be staying here throughout the afternoon.

M. O'BRIEN: Alina Cho at ground zero.

Thank you very much.

We will continue our special coverage of the fifth anniversary of 9/11.

But first, a look at some of the other stories making news today.

Carol Costello live now from the newsroom -- Carol.


Good morning to all of you.

A new warning from Osama bin Laden's top deputy. In a videotaped statement on an Islamist Web site, Ayman el-Zawahiri warns that "new events are on the way." The tape appears to be recent, with references to the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah. A deadly attack in eastern Afghanistan today. Witnesses tell the Associated Press a suicide bomber targeted the funeral of a provincial governor who was assassinated yesterday by a suicide attack. No word yet on the exact number of deaths.

The death toll is rising in Iraq this morning. At least 13 Iraqi Army recruits now dead after a suicide bomber blew himself up on board a bus. The attack happened in northern Baghdad, just outside of an Iraqi Army recruiting center.

Saddam Hussein's trial is now adjourned until tomorrow. He was back in court today for the first time in almost three weeks. Three witnesses testified on an alleged chemical attack on northern Iraq, killing tens of thousands of Kurds in the 1980s.

The Space Shuttle Atlantis has reached its mark, now docked at the International Space Station. The Atlantis crew is delivering equipment to help complete construction of the space station. Three space walks are planned for tomorrow. And if all goes well, Atlantis will be back on Earth a week from Wednesday.

Some relief for firefighters in Nevada today. Crews there have contained the last of the fires that have burned more than 400 square miles in the northeast part of the state. Fires h been active in the region since early June.

That's a look at the latest headlines this morning.

Back to you -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you, Carol.

This special edition of AMERICAN MORNING continues after this.


M. O'BRIEN: Ten after eight now.

Within five minutes, the hijackers on American Flight 11 would make their move five years ago. By the time the coordinated attacks were over, four planes would be down, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in flames and official Washington evacuating.

Tim Roemer was a congressman from Indiana that morning. He later became a member of the 9/11 Commission.

He joins us from Washington.

Mr. Roemer, good to have you back with us on the program.

TIM ROEMER, FORMER 9/11 COMMISSIONER: Nice to see you, Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: What are your recollections of that morning?

ROEMER: Well, many things. First of all, just, like so many people, Miles, I remember the crispness of the air in your lungs, the beauty of the sky, the blueness of the sky. And then the surprise. I was actually watching CNN that morning when that first plane went in. I was in my congressional office. We evacuated the office about an hour-and-a- half later. I told my staff to go home.

And the rest of the day seems, Miles, like it's in slow motion, carved into my heart and my brain. I remember the confusion that day, the chaos. My cell phone did not work very well. We tried to get the Intelligence Committee to meet.

I remember stopping by a church on Capitol Hill, St. Joseph Church, and trying to look for some inspiration and hope. I remember stopping by the Pentagon that night, still seeing it in smoke and a desk hanging off one of the sliced open sides and wondering what happened to that person that had been sitting at that desk at the Pentagon.

And then being inspired that night, too, and seeing all the people at the Pentagon pitching in to help out. I knew that there would be hope and promise and the best of America would come forward at the end of that very difficult day.

M. O'BRIEN: At any point during this day were you just, in a very base way, afraid?

ROEMER: There was -- there were many times, Miles, that you were afraid. You were -- you were worried, especially when I was standing in front of the Pentagon that night, seeing one of our fortresses pried open by a missile, an airplane, thinking about the number of people that probably died on the plane and on the ground, thinking about if they could hit our Pentagon, what else could they do? And then turning around and looking into the lights that were still there, seeing the thousands of Americans lined up -- urban rescue people, fire people, people from the Pentagon, all pitching in to help.

And I really felt the sense of, you know, as the country came together in the next few months, this unity and this hope.

And I hope we get that back. I hope we can come together as a people. We have a lot of work to do. We have 12 Ds, five Fs and two incompletes as grades from the 9/11 Commission, a lot of work to go. We see bin Laden and Zawahiri releasing a tape over the weekend. They want new events to attack America. We have a lot of work to go to make this country safer. We're not as safe as we should be and we have a long way to go in terms of healing the scars and paying respect to the people that died that day.

I think that's what this is about today.

M. O'BRIEN: You know, one of the things that you're talking here is a sense of bipartisanship. And that's reflected in the 9/11 Commission report. Everybody would say that's a bipartisan document.

How -- this discussion about how to make us safer, how does it get removed from the partisan world?

Can it be?

ROEMER: I think the American people realize that there are going to be fights, there are going to be disagreements, there are going to be times when the Republican and the Democratic Parties may have different versions of how to go forward.

But the 9/11 Commission book outlined 41 ideas to make our country safer, to say with five Democrats and five Republicans, on foreign policy, on reorganizing government, on brand new ideas, here is what we can do to better protect our country, reorganize our government in new ways against this Jihadist threat.

And only half of these recommendations have been passed five years later. And we see difficulties in Afghanistan, some backsliding, record levels of opium production. We have bin Laden and Zawahiri releasing tapes faster than the rock group U2. We're not winning the war in terms of the political battles of communicating with those people that may line up as future Jihadists.

We can, I think, Miles, have the same kind of unity that we had, even though we may disagree on some of the ways to go forward, we can still have some kind of bipartisanship going forward in Congress in the weeks ahead to pass these remaining reforms. Yet we haven't seen that happen yet.

I think that would be a real honor to the people that died, when we think about the photo albums that will never be completed from these people, the 3,000 people that died. Let's give them tribute. Let's remember those people that stood up on Flight 93 to save our Capitol and lawmakers. Let's have our lawmakers stand up for America today, work in a bipartisan way and get the job done.

M. O'BRIEN: Tim Roemer, thanks for your time.

ROEMER: Thanks, Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: We want to get to another crucial moment in the timeline of September 11, 2001.

Five years ago, here's what was happening.

Just about a minute ago, United Airlines Flight 175 taking off from Boston's Logan Airport. It's bound for Los Angeles, but within 30 minutes, hijackers will take control and the flight will be turned around and head to New York City.

While United Flight 175 was just about to leave Boston, further south, in Manassas, Virginia, 13-year-old Colin Wolfe is just about to start his school day. Friends say 9/11 had a big impact on him. Colin would later become a Marine and would go to Iraq.

In August, Colin Wolfe was killed in combat and his funeral is today at Arlington National Cemetery.

CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr joins us this morning -- hey, Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning again, Soledad.

You know, we've talked so much about this American journey through the war on terror over the last five years.

We want to tell you about Colin Wolfe and his journey, his journey to manhood from being a little 13-year-old boy on the morning of September 11 here in the nation's capital, here in the suburbs.

He was going to school that morning. And by all accounts, he told his parents he wanted to become a Marine. Well, Marine Lance Corporal Colin Wolfe, 18 years old, died just a few days ago in Iraq and later today, around noon, his parents will lay him to rest just over that hill from where we are, at Arlington National Cemetery. It will be yet again another funeral for a member of the armed services who has died under enemy fire in the war on terror.

But Colin Wolfe, like so many young people, apparently watched the events unfolded on the morning of September 11th and this 13-year- old boy became an 18-year-old young man who died in the war on terror -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: ... for us this morning.


AMY WOLFE, COLIN'S MOTHER: Yes, you want to cry. You want to cry horribly. But I felt he's a hero and he's a Marine.


STARR: His mother speaking very briefly at this moment of grief. She's becoming, of course, another type of 9/11 mother. Again, today, later today, he will be laid to rest by his parents, his family and his friends here at Arlington National Cemetery.

S. O'BRIEN: Barbara Starr working at the Pentagon this morning.

Thanks, Barbara.

AMERICAN MORNING'S coverage of the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks will continue in just a moment.

Stay with us.


M. O'BRIEN: It's now about 8:20. And five years ago this moment, American Airlines Flight 77 took off from Washington's Dulles Airport. The third hijacked airliner was now airborne. Bound for Los Angeles, it, too, was loaded with at least 14,000 gallons of jet fuel.

Within 30 minutes from this moment, Flight 77 would become a guided missile headed toward Washington.

8:21 now, and just about this moment five years ago, hijacker Mohammed Atta turned off the transponder on American Airlines Flight 11. We don't know for sure how Atta and the others gained access to the cockpit. We do know they stabbed two flight attendants, perhaps to get their key or to lure one of the pilots out of the cockpit.

The flight began 20 minutes earlier at Boston's Logan Airport.

AMERICAN MORNING'S Dan Lothian is there -- Dan.

LOTHIAN: Well, good morning, Miles.

You know, so many people responded and helped out after the attack. But here in Boston, one chaplain began to minister before Flight 11 hit one of the Twin Towers.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): Boston Logan Airport Chaplain Father Richard Uftring was still unpacking from his Bermuda vacation when an American Airlines official called his home shortly after 8:20 a.m.

REV. RICHARD UFTRING, LOGAN AIRPORT CHAPLAIN: He was saying that there was a plane in trouble. I didn't have to question that very long.

LOTHIAN: There was a hijacking in progress. But the details were sketchy. Father Uftring was summoned to the airport.

UFTRING: Just come over. We need some help because we have a plane and a crew in trouble. And I came over here right away.

LOTHIAN: He had been the chaplain here for only three years, was used to dealing with grief. But Father Uftring was about to be tested like never before.

(on camera): What was that like?



LOTHIAN: It was a difficult, painful day for him, as he ministered. But there was also some personal loss because he knew some of the people on Flight 11.

I just want to point out that we're going live via broadband from here at the Terminal B. This is where Flight 11 took off from -- back to you.

M. O'BRIEN: Dan Lothian at Terminal B at Logan Airport.

Thank you -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: At this hour five years ago, former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer was with the president. They were preparing for an event at an elementary school in Sarasota, Florida.

Ari Fleischer would remain at the president's side for most of the rest of this day, from the moment the president learned of the first attack to the speech that President Bush would deliver that night from the Oval Office.

Ari Fleischer is our guest this morning.

It's nice to see you.


S. O'BRIEN: At this point, at this time in the morning, you're preparing to go into this elementary school where the president is going to sit down and read to a bunch of second graders. There comes a point where you get word of the first plane crash.

Did you automatically assume, like most of us did, that it was just a horrible freak accident?

FLEISCHER: Absolutely. I got a pager just as I was getting out of the motorcade that said the World Trade Center had been hit by an aircraft. In Florida the weather was beautiful and I thought maybe it's a terribly stormy day in Manhattan.

Nobody knew. And then when we arrived into the school, the president was also told about it and he was under the impression it must have been some terrible accident. We all thought it was a small aircraft. That was our impression when the first tower was hit.

S. O'BRIEN: Until the second plane hit. It seemed like all of us immediately thought it's an attack.

FLEISCHER: Well, Soledad, you know, I had never seen it until this morning and I was watching your show. But I got a second page telling me the second tower was hit and I instantly knew it had to be terrorism. And I saw that you had that tape this morning and I saw my face getting that report. And I just remember instantly from that moment and for the next many months, it was just a terrible time of tension and a hard, heavy somberness just set in on everybody at the White House, as we recognized right away that we were a nation that was heading to war.

S. O'BRIEN: When you look at the president's face, really, you do see it on the face of every single person who was in that classroom, except for, obviously, the second graders and everybody who doesn't know what's going on.

FLEISCHER: That's right.

S. O'BRIEN: You write a note to the president.


S. O'BRIEN: Andy Card leans over and whispers -- fills the president in as he's reading this book. And you write a note to the president that says: "Don't say anything yet."


S. O'BRIEN: Why?

FLEISCHER: Well, what happened was the president was going to haven't been told about the first tower, thinking it an accident, he was going to make remarks to the country inside that schoolroom about this accident and that federal resources would be made available to help the people of New York.

As soon as it was clear the second tower had been hit, it wasn't an accident. And the most important thing was to get the president a full briefing before he spoke to the country, because at that point, obviously tens of millions were watching their TV to see what was happening. He wasn't. He was sitting in a schoolroom for those moments until he could get those briefings.

S. O'BRIEN: Anything prepare you for something like this moment?

FLEISCHER: No, Soledad. Nothing can ever prepare you for this. There's no imaginable feeling like going into the White House, particularly when you think most of the issues are domestic -- education, taxes, the economy. And on one morning everything just riveting -- changes -- because the country has been attacked and you know we're going to be preparing for military conflict.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, everything changed for so many people.

Ari Fleischer, we're going to ask you to stick around so we can talk to you a little bit more as we progress through this morning.

Appreciate it.

M. O'BRIEN: Let's go back now to our timeline and American Flight 11.

At this moment five years ago, air traffic controllers knew they had a hijacking. At 8:24, they heard a radio transmission from the flight. And this is how it went. It said: "We have some planes. Just stay quiet and you'll be OK. We're returning to the airport."

And then: "Nobody move. Everything will be OK. If you try to make any moves, you'll endanger yourself and the airplane. Just stay quiet."

Apparently meant as a public address to the passengers on board.

And right about now, five years ago, just about a minute from now, 8:27 a.m. Flight 11 took a left turn to the south.

Take a look. We're running the radar data tracks from that morning in real time. And I just want to point out what we have here.

That's United Airlines Flight 175 as it would be five years ago this moment and that is American Airlines Flight 11 at this moment. Just to orient you, at this point, American Airlines Flight 11 is very near to Albany and very shortly will be making that sudden turn. You see how it turns red there at this point and says cryptically there in its box there, ETA changed.

We're going to follow this radar track all throughout the morning so you can see where these planes were at any given moment. But very shortly, this flight and this hijacking would turn very ominous and very chaotic for the controllers.

Things started happening very quickly in Boston Center. At this moment, they called the FAA command center in Herndon, Virginia and they told them that American Airlines Flight 11 was hijacked and was headed for New York air space.

AMERICAN MORNING'S timeline coverage of the events of 9/11 continues after a quick break.


M. O'BRIEN: Welcome back to CNN's special coverage of the fifth anniversary of the September 11th attacks. I'm Miles O'Brien.

S. O'BRIEN: And I'm Soledad O'Brien.

All morning long, we are following the timeline of that fateful day, moment by moment. In this half hour, we're focusing on five significant events. 8:37 a.m. Eastern time, five years ago today, American Airlines Flight 11 is reported as hijacked. Five minutes later, United Flight 93, the flight that's eventually going to crash into a Pennsylvania field, departs Newark Airport. A minute after that, United flight 175 is hijacked. 8:46 a.m., American Flight 11 hits the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Moments later, United Flight 175 changes altitude. Eventually it will turn toward New York City.



S. O'BRIEN: Five years ago, American Airlines Flight 77 was airborne. In an hour, it would slam into the Pentagon.

CNN's Jamie McIntyre, live at the Pentagon for us this morning.

Good morning, Jamie.


Five years ago, I ended my day in this gas station parking lot across the street from the Pentagon, but I began my day in my Pentagon office on the outer E-ring of the building.


MCINTYRE (on camera): It was just after 9:30, and my CNN office was filled with people watching what was happening in New York. Not everybody at the Pentagon has a TV on their desk. I suddenly began computer messages from colleagues at CNN, "Are you OK? Is everything all right?" I thought, why are they asking me that? Then I looked up at CNN and I that saw my producer, Chris Plante, who had just arrived at work, was reporting via a cell phone that an aircraft had hit the building.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A huge plume of smoke which continues to rise from the west side of the Pentagon.

MCINTYRE: I never heard or felt the impact. The building is that big. I rushed out and back to get my first report on the air around 10:00, and I kept trying to call home, but the line was tied up with concerned friends who were calling my wife. Finally, she called me, just as I was about to go on the air. "I'm OK," I said, just as Aaron Brown was introducing me.

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Jamie McIntyre is there.

MCINTYRE: And I no sooner got started -- then he interrupted me.

BROWN: Wow, Jamie, Jamie, I need you to stop for a second. There has just been a huge explosion. We can see a billowing smoke rising. And I can't -- I'll tell you that I can't see that second tower.

MCINTYRE: And the bad day had just gotten much worse.


MCINTYRE: And Soledad, I just remember sitting in this parking lot with Chris Plante talking about -- among ourselves about how we thought the world and our lives were going to change from that day on, and it certainly -- they certainly did.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, they certainly did for many, many people. Thanks, Jamie.


M. O'BRIEN: Now 8:37 and five years ago this moment, 13 minutes after they first became aware of the first hijacking, FAA flight controllers contact NEADS, that's the Northeast Defense Sector, or a subsect of NORAD. Take a look at what they were seeing at this moment five years ago on their radar screen. We're replaying the radar tape as it happened that day.

And what you're seeing right there, that's American Airlines Flight 11 making its way down -- following probably pretty much the Hudson River on its way down, definitely way off course, not communicating with controllers, its transponder off. And you can see over here -- I'll put a number beside it. That's United Airlines Flight 175, the trouble still brewing on that particular airplane.

Nine minutes later, if you look here on the Cape, right where I'm putting that number one there, Otis Air National Guard Base got the scramble order. And it was their mission to fly as quickly as they could up Long Island Sound, across Long Island, to the New York area. At the same moment that they got that scramble order, however, moving ahead just about 10 minutes from now, American Airlines Flight 11 hit the North Tower.

This morning, at the site of the World Trade Center, Ground Zero, they are marking the anniversary with a solemn ceremony.

AMERICAN MORNING's Alina Cho is there -- Alina.

CHO: Miles, good morning to you. That ceremony is set to begin in just a few minutes, at 8:40 a.m. Eastern time. Hundreds, if not thousands, of family members have already arrived here. The ceremony will begin with four moments of silence, then there will be the annual reading of the names, all 2,749 World Trade Center victims. And this year, the spouses, partners and significant others will be reading the names.

Now, when you talk about the victims, it is impossible not to talk about Cantor Fitzgerald. Six hundred and 58 of its workers perished in the North Tower on 9/11. But by sheer luck, the company's CEO, Howard Lutnick, was not there. Instead, he was taking his son for his first day of school.


HOWARD LUTNICK, CEO, CANTOR FITZGERALD: As I was standing outside his school, taking that first day picture, you know, with your son, five-year-old wearing short pants and his hair a little wet behind the ears. And we have that picture at 8:46 in the morning.

CHO (voice-over): The precise moment American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower, Lutnick was still enjoying a special moment with his son.

(on camera): A school administrator came to you and summoned you to the lobby. What happened next?

LUTNICK: Well, I was told a plane had hit the building. So I thought it was like a Cessna or some sort of little plane. So I jumped in my car. And immediately, as I got in my car and drove through New York City, you could see the smoke in the sky.

And I just had to get there. I just was trying not to think too much. I said, I just have to get there. I had to get there. I had make sure my people got out. So all the people were coming this way and I was going that way and I got to the door of the building.


CHO: Howard Lutnick immediately started grabbing people who were on their way out, asking them what floor they were on. Cantor Fitzgerald occupied floors 101 to 105 of the North Tower, so Lutnick was trying desperately to find out if anyone on any of those floors had survived. Miles, in the next hour, we will hear much more from Lutnick and what happened next. M. O'BRIEN: It always amazes me, Alina. You know, hearing these little twist of fate stories -- we were just talking to the executive chef at Windows on the World who had a problem with his eyeglasses. And that's the reason he's alive today. Just these simple twists of fate. On the one hand, they might feel lucky; on the other hand, they might feel guilty, too.

CHO: That's absolutely right, Miles. In fact, Howard Lutnick's brother was one of the 658 people who died. And Cantor Fitzgerald had this policy, whereby if you knew someone or had a family who you thought might be good for the firm, they brought them along. And so Cantor Fitzgerald lost 50 sets of two people in each families, and 658 people in all.

M. O'BRIEN: Wow. It's very difficult to comprehend it all, isn't it?

CHO: It certainly is.

M. O'BRIEN: Alina, thank you. Alina Cho at Ground Zero.

As the world remembers the attacks of 9/11 five years ago today, our coverage continues.



M. O'BRIEN: Live pictures from Ground Zero, the national anthem and a solemn memorial on this, the fifth anniversary of the September 11th attacks.

It's now 8:44 in the morning. Five years ago just about this moment, after a long traffic delay on the ground, United flight 93 is finally taking off from Newark Airport. The fourth transcontinental flight to be hijacked is now in the air. The plane is bound for San Francisco. Supposedly, the four-man hijacking team was a little slower to act than the others. They didn't take over the plane for about 45 minutes. It was about 9:28 Eastern Time. By that time, many of the passengers were becoming aware of what had happened at the World Trade Center.

Now one minute later, 8:43, about two minutes ago, growing chaos and confusion inside the FAA radar rooms. At this moment, the hijackers on United flight 175 are taking over the flight. Controllers at the New York center come to the conclusion in about eight minutes or that yet another plane is hijacked. United flight 175 is now headed toward the World Trade Center.

S. O'BRIEN: Let's take you back now to where the World Trade Center once stood, live pictures coming to you from Ground Zero, as they begin the ceremony to honor those who died on that day five years ago.

(MUSIC) MYR. MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK CITY: Five years have come and gone, and we still stand together as one. We come back to this place to remember the heartbreaking anniversary...

S. O'BRIEN: Michael Bloomberg beginning remarks. Live pictures coming to us from ground zero this morning. It is 8:46 a.m. East Coast time.

M. O'BRIEN: At this moment five years ago was the moment we all became aware, just the tip of the iceberg really, American Airlines flight 11 heads south, flying over Manhattan. New Yorkers hear the deafening roar of a jet engine and look up to see a frightening and confusing sight.

S. O'BRIEN: It's a passenger plane, and it's a plane that's flying so low it almost seems to be brushing the top of the buildings. And it's heading right for the north tower of the World Trade Center, and that is where the true horror of the 9/11 attacks begins to unfold.

Back now, live pictures to Ground Zero; 2,749 people perished at this site. This morning, the names of those who died in the attacks are being read by spouses, the husbands, the wives, the family members, the partners, of the people who were lost. There are about 200 people who will each read 14 names apiece, and this is going to continue until every name has been read.

Let's pause for a moment of silence.

BLOOMBERG: It surely cannot be easy to come to this site and speak out loud the name of the person that you had always thought would be next to you, the one with whom you had hoped to face the world, to standby your side, yet who can know what is in your hearts.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My name is Susan Slewack (ph). My husband, Robert, worked at Cantor Fitzgerald. We had been married for only nine years, though it felt as if we had shared a lifetime together, because of all that we had been through.

The light of his life were our three children, Ryan and our twins, Kyle and Nicole. Of all the many things I wish I could still tell him, there is one thing my heart wants to say above all the rest, feeling best expressed in the words of an American song, "How much do I love you? I'll tell you no lie. How deep is the ocean? how high is the sky? How many times a day do I think of you? How many roses are sprinkles with dew?"

S. O'BRIEN: Family members this morning. We also want to show you the names of those who lost their lives on this day five years ago, 2,973 people were confirmed dead in the 9/11 attacks. And at this moment five years ago, less than three minutes back to the crash, CNN broke the news to the world. Here's a look at what it looked and sounded like.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) 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 unconfirmed reports this morning that a plane has crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center. CNN Center right now is just beginning to work on this story, obviously calling our sources and trying to figure out exactly what happened. But clearly something relatively devastating happening this morning there on the south end of the island of Manhattan.

That is, once again, a picture of one of the towers of the World Trade Center.

VINCE CELLINI, CNN ANCHOR: You can see these pictures. It's obvious something devastating has happened. And again, unconfirmed reports that a plane has crashed into one of the towers there. We are efforting more information on this subject as it becomes available to you.

LIN: Right now we've got Sean Murtagh -- he is a CNN producer -- on the telephone.

Sean, what can you tell us what about you know?

SEAN MURTAGH, CNN PRODUCER: This is Sean Murtagh. I just was standing on the vice president of finance -- vice president of finance for CNN.

CELLINI: Sean, we're on the air right now. What you can tell us about the situation?


CELLINI: Yes, Sean, you are on the air right now. Go ahead. What you can tell us?

MURTAGH: I just witnessed a plane that appeared to be cruising at slightly lower-than-normal altitude over New York City, and it appears to have crashed into -- I don't know which tower it is -- but it hit directly in the middle of one of the World Trade Center towers.

LIN: Sean, what kind of plane was it? Was it a small plane, a jet?

MURTAGH: It was a jet. It looked like a two-engine jet, maybe a 737.

LIN: You are talking about a large passenger commercial jet.

MURTAGH: A large passenger commercial jet.

LIN: And where were you when you saw this?

MURTAGH: I am on the 21st floor of 5 Penn Plaza.

LIN: Did it appear that the plane was having any difficulty flying?

MURTAGH: Yes, it did. It was teetering back and forth, wingtip to wingtip, and it looks like it crashed into, probably, 20 stories from the top of the World Trade Center, maybe the 80th to 85th floor.


M. O'BRIEN: 8:50 now, the World Trade Center in flames. But none of us, including the U.S. military, knew that this was just the beginning. At NORAD's NorthCom command center, then beneath Cheyenne Mountain, near Colorado Springs, they were in the midst of a drill, tracking some Russian bombers. They had never run a drill that simulated what was happening five years ago.

An exclusive look inside NORAD today. Lieutenant General Eric Findley was director of operations at NORAD on 9/11. He joins us now from the new NORAD operation center at Peterson Air Force Base.

General, good to have you with us.


M. O'BRIEN: This morning at this time, what did you know, what was your understanding of what was going on?

FINDLEY: Well, we were in the middle of an exercise and some training, and we got the first request for assistance from the FAA for what we thought was initially a routine hijacking.

M. O'BRIEN: And when you say routine hijacking, what were the assumptions that NORAD operated under when they heard about a hijack?

FINDLEY: Well, we always looked out for external threats. And if we requested -- well, we got a request for assistance. It was simply a hijacking that would probably have the aircraft captain taking that aircraft to another location and asking for money or some political issue that had to be resolved.

M. O'BRIEN: So NORAD's role in that case would be, more than anything, to be an escort, I suppose, right?

FINDLEY: Just an unarmed escort to ensure where the aircraft captain says he's going, he's going.

M. O'BRIEN: And, so, obviously you were watching this unfold, and then the second tower exploded with the second crash. What -- how did you find out about that, and what went through your mind at that point?

FINDLEY: Well, we were watching CNN at the time, because CNN was broadcasting a hole in the first World Trade Center. And we were trying to determine if that, in fact, was the hijacked aircraft that we were asked to assist. And we were told, no, it was an accident. And when we saw the second World Trade Center hit, we knew we had a coordinated attack, but we didn't understand the extent at that particular point in time. M. O'BRIEN: Well, and not only that, you really had never drilled for anything of this nature. I mean, after all, that morning you were focused on a drill that had something to do with Russian bombers. So it required an almost instantaneous change in your mindset, didn't it?

FINDLEY: It required an instant transformation. We knew that our mission had just changed. We needed a better situational awareness and ability to see, to communicate and to take action. We did our best that particular morning, but it was just a little bit behind the power curve.

M. O'BRIEN: As you look back on it, is there anything you would have done differently that morning if you could do it over?

FINDLEY: We'd love to have what we have today, a situation awareness, information sharing, radars, communications and a lot more armed aircraft that had been trained and exercised in this particular mission.

M. O'BRIEN: Tell us a little bit more about that. Because there's an awful lot in the 9/11 Commission report about the somewhat dysfunctional communication between the FAA and NORAD. Has -- how much has that improved?

FINDLEY: It is realtime, instantaneous. As your folks are standing here in this command center, they're actually hearing the domestic events network from the FAA, they're getting realtime information. Anything that is going wrong is caught right there at that spot. There's no delay and we're taking action.

M. O'BRIEN: If you had this kind of capability five years ago this morning, could you have stopped those airliners from striking the buildings? Would you have had the time?

FINDLEY: We would have stopped the airliners. Still would have been a tragic day, because unfortunately, we would have had to engage at least one or two of them.

M. O'BRIEN: And that's a sobering thought on its own right. Lieutenant General Eric Findley, who was director of operations at NORAD on 9/11, joining us from Peterson Air Force Base. Thank you for your time, sir.

FINDLEY: You're welcome.

M. O'BRIEN: Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Five years ago today, American Airlines Flight 11 had crashed into the North Tower by this time. United Flight 175 is just minutes away from hitting the second tower.

Both of the hijacked planes departed from Boston's Logan International Airport. That's where Dan Lothian is for us this morning.

Good morning, Dan.

LOTHIAN: Five years ago, the chaplain at Boston Logan Airplane was called from American Airlines. He was told that there was trouble. On his way to the airport, the first plane crashed.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): Father Richard Uftring, arrives at Logan Airport in Boston around 8:50 a.m., after the first crash, and immediately begins meeting with American Airlines employees.

FATHER RICHARD UFTRING, CHAPLAIN, LOGAN INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT: You can just do so much at that moment with so many people and so many emotions.

LOTHIAN: He tries to offer spiritual comfort, to give answers in the midst of so much grief. It's tough.

UFTRING: I know at times I help some people. I'm also sure some people are upset at me.

LOTHIAN: Father Uftring has to stay strong, even as he deals with his own emotions. He knows three of the crew members on the doomed American Airlines flight.

UFTRING: It was just surreal. It was just not possible.


LOTHIAN: Father Uftring says about 100 ministers and agencies, such as the Red Cross, responded, not only to help out employees of the airlines, but also the relatives of the victims on both of those flights who would soon be coming to an airport hotel not only to be counseled, but to be updated on the crash.

Back to you -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Dan Lothian in Boston for us. Thanks, Dan.

On the ground now here in New York City, first responders are already realizing just how grave the situation is. Paramedic Michael Martin (ph) was at home when he first heard the news.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I had worked the night before, so I was just getting up, taking a shower. And my wife called up to me and said that it was actually something went into the Trade Center. I said a plane, stuff like that. So I was watching more and more of it, and then I told her I have to go in.


S. O'BRIEN: One of thousands -- one of hundreds of paramedics and first responders who came in as many people were fleeing the buildings. Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: It's now 8:57. Let's go back about three minutes to five years ago. At 8:54, a key time, there is really chaos in the skies right now. Take a look now at the flight tracker technology that we have from Flight Explorer. We're replaying the actual radar data tracking information from that day, synched up exactly in time.

As we know, we've have one plane, American Airlines 11, that has already hit the World Trade Center. That's flight number one there. Number two is United Airlines Flight 175, heading into western New Jersey, will dip over Pennsylvania for just a little while, and then loop back around to the north, and take aim for the South Tower of the World Trade Center. United Flight 93 is making its way -- still has not been commandeered at this juncture. It left late from Newark Airport.

And the one we want to focus on the most right now is American Airlines Flight 77. At this point, controllers are realizing there is trouble. You see there's a sudden turn there to the south, apparently toward Washington. Now, at 8:56, a hijacker onboard that plane, Hani Hanjour, turns off the plane's transponders. And it makes it appear as if the plane just drops off radar screens.

The controller tracking the flight didn't know anything about what was going on in New York. This was an entirely different sector than was dealing with this problem up in here. These were actually two sectors here. This was Indianapolis Center. He didn't know what was going on. In about 20 minutes, though, they put it all together, they realized it might be something else, and they began searching desperately for American 77. It remained missing up until the very end.

S. O'BRIEN: A few minutes later, 8:56 a.m., a hijacker pilot has turned off the plane's transponder. He's made it drop off the radar screen, as Miles said. What is happening now, as the first responders are going in, there are hundreds of them who are running into the building, and as people start evacuating the second tower. So, the North Tower of the World Trade Center is on fire. And we have hundreds of police officers and fire fighters and paramedics in the area or heading into the area. And what the police and firefighters don't know is that at this moment, a second plane is heading their way, right toward the South Tower. It's only five minutes away.

Our timeline coverage of the fifth anniversary of the September 11th attacks will continue straight through our 9:00 hour, which begins right now.