«1.1 INSIDE THE FOUR FLIGHTS Boarding the Flights Boston:American 11 and United 175. Atta and Omari boarded a 6:00 A.M. flight from Portland to ...»
Tue sday, Se ptembe r 11, 20 01, dawned temperate and nearly cloudless in
the eastern United States. Millions of men and women readied themselves for
work. Some made their way to the Twin Towers, the signature structures of the
World Trade Center complex in New York City. Others went to Arlington,Virginia, to the Pentagon.Across the Potomac River, the United States Congress
was back in session. At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, people began to
line up for a White House tour. In Sarasota, Florida, President George W. Bush went for an early morning run.
For those heading to an airport, weather conditions could not have been better for a safe and pleasant journey.Among the travelers were Mohamed Atta and Abdul Aziz al Omari, who arrived at the airport in Portland, Maine.
1.1 INSIDE THE FOUR FLIGHTS Boarding the Flights Boston:American 11 and United 175. Atta and Omari boarded a 6:00 A.M.
flight from Portland to Boston’s Logan International Airport.1 When he checked in for his flight to Boston, Atta was selected by a computerized prescreening system known as CAPPS (Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System), created to identify passengers who should be subject to special security measures. Under security rules in place at the time, the only consequence of Atta’s selection by CAPPS was that his checked bags were held off the plane until it was confirmed that he had boarded the aircraft. This did not hinder Atta’s plans.2 Atta and Omari arrived in Boston at 6:45. Seven minutes later,Atta apparently took a call from Marwan al Shehhi, a longtime colleague who was at another terminal at Logan Airport.They spoke for three minutes.3 It would be their final conversation.
2 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT Between 6:45 and 7:40,Atta and Omari, along with Satam al Suqami,Wail al Shehri, and Waleed al Shehri, checked in and boarded American Airlines Flight 11, bound for Los Angeles.The flight was scheduled to depart at 7:45.4 In another Logan terminal, Shehhi, joined by Fayez Banihammad, Mohand al Shehri, Ahmed al Ghamdi, and Hamza al Ghamdi, checked in for United Airlines Flight 175, also bound for Los Angeles.A couple of Shehhi’s colleagues were obviously unused to travel; according to the United ticket agent, they had trouble understanding the standard security questions, and she had to go over them slowly until they gave the routine, reassuring answers.5 Their flight was scheduled to depart at 8:00.
The security checkpoints through which passengers, including Atta and his colleagues, gained access to the American 11 gate were operated by Globe Security under a contract with American Airlines. In a different terminal, the single checkpoint through which passengers for United 175 passed was controlled by United Airlines, which had contracted with Huntleigh USA to perform the screening.6 In passing through these checkpoints, each of the hijackers would have been screened by a walk-through metal detector calibrated to detect items with at least the metal content of a.22-caliber handgun. Anyone who might have set off that detector would have been screened with a hand wand—a procedure requiring the screener to identify the metal item or items that caused the alarm.
In addition, an X-ray machine would have screened the hijackers’ carry-on belongings.The screening was in place to identify and confiscate weapons and other items prohibited from being carried onto a commercial flight.7 None of the checkpoint supervisors recalled the hijackers or reported anything suspicious regarding their screening.8 While Atta had been selected by CAPPS in Portland, three members of his hijacking team—Suqami,Wail al Shehri, and Waleed al Shehri—were selected in Boston.Their selection affected only the handling of their checked bags, not their screening at the checkpoint. All five men cleared the checkpoint and made their way to the gate for American 11. Atta, Omari, and Suqami took their seats in business class (seats 8D, 8G, and 10B, respectively). The Shehri brothers had adjacent seats in row 2 (Wail in 2A,Waleed in 2B), in the firstclass cabin. They boarded American 11 between 7:31 and 7:40. The aircraft pushed back from the gate at 7:40.9 Shehhi and his team, none of whom had been selected by CAPPS, boarded United 175 between 7:23 and 7:28 (Banihammad in 2A, Shehri in 2B, Shehhi in 6C, Hamza al Ghamdi in 9C, and Ahmed al Ghamdi in 9D).Their aircraft pushed back from the gate just before 8:00.10
of them, Khalid al Mihdhar and Majed Moqed, checked in at the American Airlines ticket counter for Flight 77, bound for Los Angeles.Within the next 20 minutes, they would be followed by Hani Hanjour and two brothers, Nawaf al Hazmi and Salem al Hazmi.11 Hani Hanjour, Khalid al Mihdhar, and Majed Moqed were flagged by CAPPS.The Hazmi brothers were also selected for extra scrutiny by the airline’s customer service representative at the check-in counter. He did so because one of the brothers did not have photo identification nor could he understand English, and because the agent found both of the passengers to be suspicious.The only consequence of their selection was that their checked bags were held off the plane until it was confirmed that they had boarded the aircraft.12 All five hijackers passed through the Main Terminal’s west security screening checkpoint; United Airlines, which was the responsible air carrier, had contracted out the work to Argenbright Security.13 The checkpoint featured closed-circuit television that recorded all passengers, including the hijackers, as they were screened. At 7:18, Mihdhar and Moqed entered the security checkpoint.
Mihdhar and Moqed placed their carry-on bags on the belt of the X-ray machine and proceeded through the first metal detector. Both set off the alarm, and they were directed to a second metal detector. Mihdhar did not trigger the alarm and was permitted through the checkpoint. After Moqed set it off, a screener wanded him. He passed this inspection.14 About 20 minutes later, at 7:35, another passenger for Flight 77, Hani Hanjour, placed two carry-on bags on the X-ray belt in the Main Terminal’s west checkpoint, and proceeded, without alarm, through the metal detector. A short time later, Nawaf and Salem al Hazmi entered the same checkpoint. Salem al Hazmi cleared the metal detector and was permitted through; Nawaf al Hazmi set off the alarms for both the first and second metal detectors and was then hand-wanded before being passed. In addition, his over-the-shoulder carry-on bag was swiped by an explosive trace detector and then passed. The video footage indicates that he was carrying an unidentified item in his back pocket, clipped to its rim.15 When the local civil aviation security office of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) later investigated these security screening operations, the screeners recalled nothing out of the ordinary.They could not recall that any of the passengers they screened were CAPPS selectees.We asked a screening expert to review the videotape of the hand-wanding, and he found the quality of the screener’s work to have been “marginal at best.” The screener should have “resolved” what set off the alarm; and in the case of both Moqed and Hazmi, it was clear that he did not.16 At 7:50, Majed Moqed and Khalid al Mihdhar boarded the flight and were seated in 12A and 12B in coach. Hani Hanjour, assigned to seat 1B (first class), 4 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT soon followed.The Hazmi brothers, sitting in 5E and 5F, joined Hanjour in the first-class cabin.17 Newark: United 93. Between 7:03 and 7:39, Saeed al Ghamdi, Ahmed al Nami, Ahmad al Haznawi, and Ziad Jarrah checked in at the United Airlines ticket counter for Flight 93, going to Los Angeles.Two checked bags; two did not. Haznawi was selected by CAPPS. His checked bag was screened for explosives and then loaded on the plane.18 The four men passed through the security checkpoint, owned by United Airlines and operated under contract by Argenbright Security. Like the checkpoints in Boston, it lacked closed-circuit television surveillance so there is no documentary evidence to indicate when the hijackers passed through the checkpoint, what alarms may have been triggered, or what security procedures were administered.The FAA interviewed the screeners later; none recalled anything unusual or suspicious.19 The four men boarded the plane between 7:39 and 7:48. All four had seats in the first-class cabin; their plane had no business-class section. Jarrah was in seat 1B, closest to the cockpit; Nami was in 3C, Ghamdi in 3D, and Haznawi in 6B.20 The 19 men were aboard four transcontinental flights.21 They were planning to hijack these planes and turn them into large guided missiles, loaded with up to 11,400 gallons of jet fuel. By 8:00 A.M. on the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, they had defeated all the security layers that America’s civil aviation security system then had in place to prevent a hijacking.
The Hijacking of American 11 American Airlines Flight 11 provided nonstop service from Boston to Los Angeles. On September 11, Captain John Ogonowski and First Officer Thomas McGuinness piloted the Boeing 767. It carried its full capacity of nine flight attendants. Eighty-one passengers boarded the flight with them (including the five terrorists).22 The plane took off at 7:59. Just before 8:14, it had climbed to 26,000 feet, not quite its initial assigned cruising altitude of 29,000 feet.All communications and flight profile data were normal. About this time the “Fasten Seatbelt” sign would usually have been turned off and the flight attendants would have begun preparing for cabin service.23 At that same time, American 11 had its last routine communication with the ground when it acknowledged navigational instructions from the FAA’s air traffic control (ATC) center in Boston. Sixteen seconds after that transmission,ATC instructed the aircraft’s pilots to climb to 35,000 feet.That message and all subsequent attempts to contact the flight were not acknowledged.
From this and other evidence, we believe the hijacking began at 8:14 or shortly thereafter.24 “WE HAVE SOME PLANES” 5 Reports from two flight attendants in the coach cabin, Betty Ong and Madeline “Amy” Sweeney, tell us most of what we know about how the hijacking happened. As it began, some of the hijackers—most likely Wail al Shehri and Waleed al Shehri, who were seated in row 2 in first class—stabbed the two unarmed flight attendants who would have been preparing for cabin service.25 We do not know exactly how the hijackers gained access to the cockpit;
FAA rules required that the doors remain closed and locked during flight. Ong speculated that they had “jammed their way” in. Perhaps the terrorists stabbed the flight attendants to get a cockpit key, to force one of them to open the cockpit door, or to lure the captain or first officer out of the cockpit. Or the flight attendants may just have been in their way.26 At the same time or shortly thereafter, Atta—the only terrorist on board trained to fly a jet—would have moved to the cockpit from his business-class seat, possibly accompanied by Omari.As this was happening, passenger Daniel Lewin, who was seated in the row just behind Atta and Omari, was stabbed by one of the hijackers—probably Satam al Suqami, who was seated directly behind Lewin. Lewin had served four years as an officer in the Israeli military.