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The Day that Changed Everything

It has been 22 years since that typical morning in September. The world was moving along as it always had, with people getting up and going to work and school, boarding airplanes for long-awaited vacations, grabbing coffee in the shadows of the World Trade Center before heading up the elevators, having breakfast in the fire station, catching a taxi…

Just a typical day.

The streets of New York City were drying out from a series of thunderstorms the prior evening. Storms had moved through the city as late as 11:00 pm local time on September 10th. But on the morning of September 11th, the weather was perfect, with recorded temperatures of 64 degrees in Boston, 63 degrees at JFK Airport, and 64 degrees at Reagan National in Washington, DC. Most of the U.S. northeast was cloud free—perfect flying weather. American skies were speckled with more than 4,500 aircraft carrying passengers to planned destinations.  Among them were four flights destined for tragedy.

At 8:45 a.m. Eastern time, the first news flashes were broadcast that a plane had crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. There was a sense of pity and bewilderment. How could that happen? Did the pilot have a heart attack? Did anyone survive? How innocent we were. Americans across the country were waking into their morning routines, expecting just another Tuesday morning. Little did we all know, we only had 18 minutes of innocence left.

As we stood plastered to our TVs and radios, a collective shock was felt around the world as a second airliner, United Flight 175, slammed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. This shock reverberated in living rooms, restaurants, and workplace breakrooms across the country and beyond.

It was 9:03 a.m. Eastern time when the second plane hit, and we had to face these horrific realizations. This was purposeful. We were under attack. No place was safe anymore.

While trying to comprehend what was unfolding before our eyes, the attack persisted, with American Airlines 77 crashing into the Pentagon. A horrific and seemingly endless string of tragedies slammed into our brains again and again, with only moments between each travesty. 

And as we reeled from the shock, we were bombarded by questions. Who would be next? How many more will die? How can this be happening? Where is United Flight 93? Are there any more airplanes not accounted for? Please, God, make it stop!

And then, it fell. The South Tower actually fell. How could it fall? Oh, God, how many people were in there?! Beyond that is a blur of devastation, destruction, and death. United 93 crashes into a farmer’s field; the north tower falls, and the world darkens.

Then humanity leaps into action. Lines at blood donation centers wrapped around buildings, but there was no one to give the blood to. Doctors and nurses waited outside emergency rooms throughout New York, but there were no patients to attend. They were gone. Thousands of people were just gone.

The Airplanes

Most of us have boarded a plane to one place or another in our lifetime. On the morning of September 11, 2001, there were 265 people that boarded their flights, never to return home again. For most of the passengers, there was practically no time to react to what was happening to them.

On American Airlines Flight 11, hijackers breached the cockpit only 15 minutes into the flight and crashed the jetliner into the north tower of the World Trade Center just 32 minutes later. Meanwhile, United Flight 175, airborne for only twenty-eight minutes, was hijacked and ultimately flown into the World Trade Center’s south tower just 61 minutes later. American Airlines Flight 77 was airborne for only 31 minutes when attackers stormed the cockpit of the airliner and crashed it into the Pentagon 86 minutes after seizing control. 

United Flight 93 had experienced a 42-minute delay leaving Newark International Airport. The flight left the runway at 8:42 am Eastern time, just four minutes before Flight 11 would crash into the north tower. It is unknown why the hijackers of United Flight 93 waited more than 45 minutes to launch their attack, but this delay allowed the passengers on board to learn the fate of the World Trade Center and the hijacked Flight 77. For six minutes, passengers of United Flight 93 fought to gain control of the aircraft and their fates. Through an incredible act of heroism, the brave souls of Flight 93 saved countless lives by sacrificing their own. 

The Towers

At 8:46 am Eastern time, American Airlines Flight 11 tore into the north tower of the World Trade Center between floors 92 and 110, making escape impossible for anyone above the 91st floor. Just 17 minutes later, at 9:03 am, United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the south tower between floors 77 and 85, effectively blocking escape for everyone above the 76th floor. 

Flight 175 is reported to have had more than 9,000 gallons of jet fuel on board. Upon impact, blazing jet fuel traveled through the elevator shafts, exploding onto the 78th-floor Sky Lobby. The wingtip of United Flight 175 had grazed through the entire lobby, instantly killing everyone present.

When the towers began to fall, collapse took only 12 seconds, and the fires burned for 99 days. 

The Falling

We can’t even imagine how horrible conditions in the towers must have been to make an estimated 200 people decide to jump from the doomed structures. These people were seen falling from the upper levels of the burning skyscrapers by multiple witnesses, some caught on camera. It is believed that some deliberately jumped, while others appear to have fallen or lost their grip while attempting to hang on to the exterior of the building. 

While there could have been many contributing factors to making an escape by any means preferable to waiting, it has been estimated that some areas of the buildings would have exceeded 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, making it unbearable to stay. To this day, not one of the ‘jumpers’ has ever been identified. Medical examiners could not differentiate the jumpers from other tower casualties after the collapse of the buildings. 

The 2,977

Out of the 2,977 lives lost on September 11, 2001, eight were children who died on the doomed airline flights. American Airlines Flight 77 had five passengers under the age of 12: Asia (11), Rodney (11), Bernard (11), Zoe (8), and Dana (3). United Airlines Flight 175 had three passengers under the age of five: Juliana (4), David (3), and Christine (2).  

Other losses included:

  • 8 Airline Pilots (most of whom were American Veterans)
  • 22 Flight Attendants
  • 265 Airline Passengers (including the eight children)
  • 343 New York City Firefighters
  • 23 New York City Police Officers
  • 37 Port Authority Officers
  • 125 Military Personnel
  • 8 Emergency Medical Technicians
  • ~1600 lives in the North Tower
  • ~1000 lives in the South Tower

Surreal Blessings Within the Enormity of Loss

In his article published in the American Journal of Public Health1, Mr. Joe Murphy, MA, applied the capture-recapture method to estimate the number of people present in the World Trade Center towers on the morning of September 11th, 2001.  Utilizing the World Trade Center Health Registry (WTCHR), Mr. Murphy confirmed that follow-up interviews were conducted with 8,965 individuals who were in the World Trade Center towers at 8:46 a.m. local time on September 11th. Then, using his capture-recapture model, he estimated that approximately 15,552 people were actually on site that morning.  With confirmed Trade Center casualties numbering 2,152, and the towers having enough office space to accommodate about 35,000 people, there is no denying that many more lives could have been lost.

Likewise, on the hijacked flights, each airliner had an average capacity of 174 passengers. But on that September morning, American Airlines Flight 11 was at 58% capacity, United Flight 175 was at 39% capacity, American Airlines Flight 77 was at 34% capacity, and United Flight 93 was at 24% capacity. 

People working at the Pentagon were also blessed as an estimated 800 people were working in the area of impact that day versus the estimated 4,500 that would have been there if not for a recent renovation that forced area offices to be temporarily moved.

Although we know the losses could have been much higher, it does nothing to lessen the horror of losing nearly 3,000 lives of civilians and emergency services personnel in one day on American soil.

But it didn’t stop there. 

Beyond 9/11

Since that fateful day in September 2001, many more have been lost as a direct result of the actions taken by those 19 hijackers. More than 7,000 U.S. troops have been lost in the war against terror. It is reported that 52,802 service members have been wounded, and an unimaginable 30,177 military suicides have occurred since September 11th. According to Nancy Cutler in an article published by USA Today, “Deaths from 9/11 diseases will soon outnumber those lost on that fateful day.”2

As of December 2022, Karen Selby, RN, on behalf of www.asbestos.com, reports that 4,343 survivors and first responders have died from toxic asbestos exposure during the events of September 11th. These numbers continue to grow with no end in sight. 

Call to Action

According to the USO.org article Why 9/11 Inspired These Service Members to Join the Military,3 in response to the attacks of September 11th, 181,510 Americans enlisted in the ranks of active duty service, and 72,908 joined the enlisted reserves in 2002, the year after the tragedy. We had no way of knowing that the war in Afghanistan would last longer than World War I, Word War II, and Vietnam combined. 

With troop deployment lasting an average of six to twelve months, service members and their families were either dealing with deployment or training to re-deploy throughout their post-9/11 military career. The Washington Post reports at least 28,267 U.S. troops have deployed five or more times to the war zone. Service members in this 5+ group report traumatic brain injury in 27% of returning troops.4  

22 Years Later

Today the average age of the U.S. Service Member is 23, and 9/11 is just a subject covered in American History class.

Those who witnessed the horror of September 11, 2001, must be responsible for keeping the memory alive, no matter how painful, to help future generations understand the enormity of the loss, pain, and bravery America experienced on that day. For many, there is a clear distinction between life before and after September 11th, 2001. The world changed in a matter of minutes, and it will never, ever be the same. 

___________________________

1 Murphy, Joe, M. A. (2009). Estimating the World Trade Center Tower Population on September 11, 2001: A Capture-Recapture Approach. American Journal of Public Health (AJPH), August 30, 2011. https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/10.2105/AJPH.2007.124768 

2 Cutler, Nancy (2018). Deaths from 9/11 diseases will soon outnumber those lost on that fateful day. The Journal News, USA Today, September 6, 2018.  https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2018/09/06/9-11-deaths-aftermath-soon-outnumber-killed-sept-11/1209605002/ 

3 DeSimone, Danielle (2021). Why 9/11 Inspired These Service Members to Join the Military, September 7, 2021.  https://www.uso.org/stories/2849-why-9-11-inspired-these-patriots-to-join-the-military

4  Kline, A., Falca-Dodson, M., Sussner, B., Ciccone, D. S., Chandler, H., Callahan, L., & Losonczy, M. (2010). Effects of Repeated Deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan on the Health of New Jersey Army National Guard Troops: Implications for Military Readiness. American Journal of Public Health, 100(2), 276-283. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2009.162925  

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