WASHINGTON Sept. 11 -- Three civilian U.S. passenger planes were hijacked and turned into flying bombs Tuesday to destroy New York's World Trade Center towers and a major portion of the Pentagon Building in Virginia in what officials called a concerted terrorist attack.
A fourth passenger plane, also hijacked, crashed near Johnston, Pa. The FBI is investigating whether it was headed toward destroying a major target when it went down.
All four planes were scheduled passenger flights from the East Coast to the West Coast. All four planes were hijacked in the first few minutes of flights and were loaded with aviation fuel, which made them lethal flying bombs.
Attorney General John Ashcroft Tuesday night confirmed that all four aircraft had been hijacked, two deliberately slammed into the Twin Trade Towers after departing Boston, one into the Pentagon after leaving Washington's Dulles airport, and a fourth plowed into the ground near Johnstown, Penn after leaving Newark, N.J.
Ashcroft said some of the Hijackers were "armed with knives," that crime scenes had been established by federal authorities in New York, the Washington area, Pittsburgh, Boston and in Newark, and that all possible government resources had been dispatched in the investigation.
The FBI is investigating how terrorists managed to enter three major U.S. airports and board the aircraft successfully.
American Airlines confirmed Tuesday that it lost two aircraft with a total of 156 people on board.
American said Flight 11, a Boeing 767 scheduled to leave Boston's Logan International Airport about 7:45 a.m. was lost en route to Los Angeles with 81 passengers, 9 flight attendants and 2 pilots. It is believed that it struck one of the World Trade Center's towers.
American Airlines Flight 77, a Boeing 757, was scheduled to leave Washington's Dulles International Airport at about 8:10 a.m. on the way to Los Angeles with 58 passengers, 4 flight attendants and 2 pilots. The American statement did not say where the planes were lost.
But an eyewitness near the Department of Defense in Arlington, Va., said he noticed American Airlines markings on the aircraft that struck the Pentagon moments before it hit the building at 9:39 a.m. Tim Timmerman, who said he was a pilot, told CNN in a telephone interview that he viewed the passenger jet as it struck the building. Arlington County firemen said that there were American Airlines markings on the pieces on the ground. There would be no survivors from the plane that hit the Pentagon.
Passengers using cell telephones managed to call and alert people on the ground about what was happening.
On American Flight 77, Barbara Olson, the wife of the U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson, managed to call her husband twice on a cell phone from the aircraft. According to Justice Department officials, she told her husband that several men armed with knives and parcel cutters had taken over the plane.
A call from a passenger on a United Airlines plane was picked up by a police dispatcher in Westmoreland County Pennsylvania. Clayton Murphy, the supervisor of Police Dispatch Services, said that Glenn Cramer a dispatcher on the morning shift received a call from a man who said "We arebeing hijacked, we are being hijacked," Cramer said the man yelled.
The man told the dispatchers the "plane was going down. He heard some sort of explosion and saw white smoke coming from the plane and we lost contact with him," Murphy confirmed. The tapes of this call were impounded by the FBI.
United Airlines Tuesday confirmed two of its planes went down.
Flight 175, a Boeing 767 that also operated as Air New Zealand NZ9051, took off at 7:58 a.m., carrying 56 passengers, 2 pilots and 7 flight attendants. Set to travel from Boston to Los Angeles, it disappeared from radar screens between Newark, N.J., and Philadelphia. It is suspected that it is one of the two aircraft that struck the World Trade Center. There would be no survivors from that flight.
United said Flight 93, a Boeing 757 that also operated as Air Canada AC4085, took off at 8:01 a.m. EDT from Newark, carrying 38 passengers, 2 pilots and 5 flight attendants. It crashed near Johnstown, Pa. Authorities there said there were no survivors.
Investigators say that only postage stamp-sized pieces of United Airlines flight 93 remain. It went nose-down into a field in Somerset County. Witnesses say that the plane went in at such a vertical angle -- like that of a swimmer executing a perfect dive -- it left only a small scar on the ground, about ten feet deep and 20 feet long.
United said it was sending a team to Johnstown to help investigate the situation and provide assistance, help and support to family members. In addition, United said "based on information received from authorities," it was sending a second team to New York.
"United has mobilized all our resources to work with the authorities, including the FBI and other government agencies. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with everyone involved, including the passengers and crew members of our airline, as well as all their family members and friends," said James E. Goodwin, United's chief executive officer.
At mid-afternoon, United said it would advance $25,000 to the families of victims aboard the two planes to help meet immediate needs. The airline said all those on board had been identified and families were being notified. No names were immediately made public.
American also said it would provide $25,000 to each victim's family.
"Every effort is being made in every corner of the company to help the families of our customers and our fellow employees," American Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Donald J. Carty said late Tuesday.
United issued a worldwide ground stop for its fleet and the FAA ordered all flights canceled in the United States. Many airlines offered to rebook travel scheduled for Tuesday without penalty.