Sunday, 4 September 2011

9/11: The day that changed the world

We all remember where we were on September 11th 2001. We all remember being glued to the TV, watching the haunting images of that second plane hitting the South tower of the World Trade Center. I remember vividly coming home from school to find my mum watching the news and seeing the pictures for the first time, sitting down on the couch in shock. It was a day that started like any other and ended like no other.

19 hijackers boarded four planes that morning, intent on driving them into the most important buildings in the country. At 8:46am, five of the hijackers flew American Airlines flight 11 into the North tower of the World Trade Center. People on the ground were obviously shocked, many believed they had seen a small aircraft fly into the building and it was beginning to seem like a tragic accident. However, at 9:03am, when all eyes and all TV cameras were on the North tower which was burning fiercely, billowing smoke, a second plane which was quite visibly a jet airliner, United Airlines flight 175, flew straight into the South tower. It was then that it became obvious that this was no accident. America was under attack.

New York became a scene of utter chaos with nobody knowing what was going to happen next. People were running for their lives, screaming, away from the towers. Meanwhile, at 9:37am, American Airlines flight 77 flew into the Pentagon. The White House began evacuating, believing that they would be the next target. And then there was news that a fourth hijacked plane was on its way towards Washington. However the plane never made it. United Airlines flight 93 crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Originally thought to have been shot down by F-15 fighter pilots, it surfaced that in fact, the passengers had attempted to take over the plane from the hijackers after finding out that other planes had hit buildings that day. The hijackers feared the passengers would override them and instead, abandoned their plans and crashed into the field. It is believed the flight was bound for the White House.

Back in New York, the towers burned and thousands of firefighters, police and paramedics had rushed to the scene, evacuating people outside and inside the towers. The first fireman killed on that day was killed by a man who had fallen from the 100+ storey building and landed on him. That man was not the only one to "jump" that day. Around 200 people fell to their deaths from the towers, either because they felt that was their only choice or the intensity of the fires forced them out. One of the most famous images of 9/11 is that of "The falling man." The man was photographed a number of times as he tumbled through the air towards the ground after falling from somewhere near the top of the burning towers. Many attempts were made to identify him from the photo. Although it has never officially been confirmed, he was identified as Jonathan Briley, a worker in the Windows on the World restaurant in the North tower.

With fireman inside both towers attempting to rescue all of those trapped beneath the impact zones, more disaster was to come. At 9:59am, the South tower fell, 56 minutes after it was hit followed by the North tower at 10:28am, 102 minutes after it was hit. All still trapped inside were killed, including 343 firemen. In total, including people in the Pentagon, New York and all passengers on board the four planes, almost 3,000 died.

The FBI were certain that these hijackers were part of al-Qaeda, a terrorist group fronted by their most wanted man, Osama Bin Laden, after having read through the flight manifests of the crashed planes to see names that they recognised. It begs the question as to why these men were allowed on the planes if they were known to be terrorists but of course, there are plenty of what-ifs surrounding this tragic and horrifying day.

Also surrounding these attacks are conspiracy theories. Many people believe that this was not an attack on America. In fact, it is believed that it was the government themselves that orchestrated the attacks. I am a little on the fence over these conspiracy theories. Having read about both points of view it is difficult to know what to believe. There are a lot of unanswerable questions, strange coincidences that crop up on this subject time and time again. Eyewitness accounts that don't add up. Numerous explosions seen before the towers collapsed in a way that many would describe as "as if they fell due to a controlled demolition." I'll go through a few of the more major points that crop up in the conspiracy theories of 9/11.

George W. Bush, the former President was in Florida on September 11th. When the attacks took place, he was inside a classroom full of eight year olds. He was being filmed at the time and in this film we see a White House advisor walk over to him and whisper into his ear. The advisor was telling him that a second plane had hit the second tower, after being briefly told about the first before he entered the classroom, and that America was under attack. The President's reaction was strange to say the least. He seemed calm considering and continued to look down and bite his lip as if anxious. But he continued to listen to the children reading in the class until they had finished before he took any kind of action. He did not return to Washington until hours later after being advised by the secret service to stay away as he was probably a target. However, a few months after the attacks, Bush spoke at a conference, describing the events he witnessed that day. He is heard clearly saying that he was outside the Florida classroom when he saw the first plane hit the North tower on the TV. He was then ushered into the room and told about the second plane whilst inside. But there is no way he could have seen the first plane hit that day because there was no video of it that surfaced until September 12th and he was inside the classroom when he heard the news of the second plane so he couldn't have confused the two as he wouldn't have seen either of the planes hit the towers.

Another point raised is the ways in which the surrounding areas of the crashes of United flight 93 and AA flight 77 were inconsistent with that of a plane crash. At the site of the crash of United flight 93, there were no bodies or body parts found. There were no wing or tail sections, tyres and only remains of one engine was found miles away from the scene. In any ordinary plane crash, where an airline has gone down in a field, hillside etc there have always been remains of passengers and plane. I have a small obsession with air crashes and have watched countless programmes and documentaries on them. And from watching them, I know that no matter how intense the crash, there are always recognisable pieces left which identify the plane. But we are led to believe that the plane that went down in that field in Pennsylvania was pulverised on impact, leaving behind only a small littering of metal debris and a gaping hole. Where were the bodies? Where were the huge wing and tail sections?

Similarly, flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon left no real sign that a plane had been the cause. Only a small hole was left in the side of the building, in comparison to the size of the plane and there was no evidence that the huge wings of the airline had penetrated the building, as the windows next to the hole were still intact, nor were they found. The hijacker in control of the plane was only used to a single engine plane but managed to manouvre the jet in a way that not even a professional pilot could in order to crash into building the way it did. It seems questionable.

Some of the recordings from the planes have been under scrutiny, leading some to believe they were not from the planes at all. Betty Ong, an air stewardess on flight 11 is heard describing the events that were unfolding on the plane as the hijackers took over. She seems extremely calm and passive whilst telling the operator that people had been stabbed and the men had taken over the cockpit. Not particularly the kind of reaction you would expect from a woman witnessing these horrors, knowing she is probably going to die. On flight 93, Mark Bingham calls his mother from an airphone. He says "Hi, this is Mark Bingham." Why would you use your full name to your own mother? He then went on to say "You believe me don't you, mom?" after describing the scene.

One of the biggest points conspiracy theorists make is about the towers and how they fell. Many, including experts, say that the way in which the towers collapsed mirrored the way a building collapses in a controlled demolition. A lot of people claim to have heard a number of loud bangs, like explosions and seen numerous flashes of light underneath the impact zones of both towers before their collapse, suggesting explosives had been let off throughout them to further weaken its structure and bring it down. To date, only 3 buildings have ever collapsed completely due to fire. WTC 1, WTC2 and WTC7. WTC 7 was a smaller building on the WTC complex that collapsed a few hours after the towers. It has been said that this happened due to a small internal fire that was started from the falling debris and fires from the towers.

A couple of other points are, from eyewitness accounts on the day, a lot of people described the planes that hit the towers as having "no windows" and looking more like some kind of military aircraft as there were no markings on them to suggest they were a commercial airliner from that area. And there was also a record that two planes landed at a nearby airport when the alert was sent out that planes were being hijacked. One was a Delta flight. The other; United Airlines flight 93. It is said that the Delta flight was offloaded within an hour or so with all passengers being taken into the airport buildings. Flight 93 however, was evacuated within a few minutes with all passengers being taken to a nearby NASA building. However it has been said by authorities that flight 93 had been confused with the Delta airline and only the Delta had landed safely that day.

So you may ask, why the conspiracy theories? On a day when so many lives were lost, why add to the tragedy by suggesting it was all part of a plan? Most people believe one of two things: Either the government constructed the plot themselves, deciding that a small loss of American lives was what length they were willing to go to in order to justify going to war with Afghanistan and Iraq. Others suggest that, although the government were not the ringleaders, they did have some knowledge that al-Qaeda were planning the attacks but didn't intervene knowing that this would give them the justification without them having to do anything themselves. It is well documented that the FBI knew these attacks were being planned by al-Qaeda but a miscommunication with government officials meant that nothing was done about it. In May 2011, American troops finally found their most wanted man; Osama Bin Laden. He was shot and killed in his small hideaway home.

As I said, I am on the fence with the conspiracy theories. On the one hand I do see all the discrepencies, the coincidences that conspiracy theorists see. I do believe that there is something not quite right about the whole thing. However, a part of me still carries a small bit of hope that a government could not do that to its own people. It is one of those things that we will probably never know the truth of. The only people who know what really happened for certain are the ones that people cannot trust or the victims who are no longer with us.

Whatever happened, government scheme or act of terrorism, thousands of innocent civillian lives were lost that day. Wives lost husbands, children lost parents, parents lost children. It is a day that we will all remember. For the shock images, for the lives lost and for the brave who risked and gave their lives to save others. It has been almost 10 years since 11th September 2001 yet the impact that day had on us all is still fresh in everyone's minds. And we can only pray that we will never again witness such horror and tragedy again in our lifetime.

RIP to all the victims of 9/11

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