On September 11th, 2001, one of the world’s most horrific and wide-scale terrorist attacks took place in the center of New York City.
The hijacking of 4 airplanes and suicide attacks in one of the busiest and most densely populated cities in the world killed nearly 3,000 innocent people.
Today marks twenty years since the devastating attacks, and the reality of the events from that fateful day is still sinking in for many New Yorkers. Today is a day in which we remember those lost in the attacks, but also those who helped to scour the rubble for survivors in the initial aftermath and clean-up operation.
And one story which resurfaces every year is that of a hero’s final words to his wife while on one of the hijacked airplanes.
Keep reading to hear the full story of his heroic actions, minute by minute.
Today marks the twentieth anniversary.
Of one of the most tragic days that many of us will learn of.
Nineteen militants associated with the Islamic extremist group, al Qaeda, hijacked 4 airplanes around the country and carried out suicide attacks against targets in the United States.
And it was an event that was completely unexpected. An American Airlines Boeing 767 loaded with 200,000 gallons of jet fuel was hijacked by a brainwashed member of al Qaeda and was flown into the north tower of the World Trade Center at 8.45 am.
The airplane was driven into the tower at such a staggering speed that many passersby and people in the building believed it to be an explosion from the inside.
The impact left a gaping, burning hole in the eightieth floor of the skyscraper – instantly killing hundreds of people on board the aircraft and on several floors of the building.
Eighteen minutes after the first impact, a second Boeing 767 – United Airlines Flight 175 – appeared out of the sky at a worryingly low altitude and was driven straight into the next-door south tower, crashing into the sixtieth floor.
The collision caused another huge explosion, which told the world that this wasn’t an accident…
Debris was showered across central New York, causing locals to panic and take shelter in nearby and much lower buildings.
But, devastatingly, hundreds of people were still trapped in both towers with no way of getting down past the burning holes in the center of the skyscrapers. This led to many perishing from the fires and people were even seen jumping and falling to their deaths from the towers to escape the unbearable smoke and heat.
American Airlines Flight 77 was also hijacked and began circling over downtown Washington D.C before crashing into the west side of the Pentagon military headquarters at 9.45 am.
Collectively, sixty-four people were killed on board the aircraft and a further 125 military personnel and civilians who were in or around the Pentagon.
By 10.30 am, both the north and south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed into a massive cloud of toxic dust and smoke.
The steel structure of the skyscrapers, which had been built to withstand winds in excess of 200 miles-per-hour, simply could not withstand the tremendous heat of the burning jet fuel any longer than it already had.
There were many fortunate enough to be on the lower floors of the towers when both crashes occurred meaning they were evacuated safely.
However, many underestimate how tall these towers were and many people were still trapped in the buildings or were making their way down the fire escapes when they began to collapse.
As the towers were collapsing and causing complete chaos to New York City, a fourth airplane – United Flight 93 – was hijacked after leaving Newark Liberty International Airport in New York.
Passengers broke into the cockpit…
There was an immense struggle in the cockpit, which caused the airplane to flip and plummet to the ground at 500 miles-per-hour.
The wreckage and debris of the airplane were found in a rural field near Shanksville in western Pennsylvania at 10.10 am. All forty-four people on board were killed instantly.
Speaking to The Independent, Lee Purbaugh, who worked at a scrapyard near the field, was the only eye-witness to the crash.
“There was an incredibly loud rumbling sound and there it was, right there, above my head,” he said. “It was only a split second but it looked like it was moving in slow motion. I saw it rock from side to side then, suddenly, it dipped and dived, nose first, with a huge explosion, into the ground.”
President Bush was in Florida at the time of the attacks and spent the day being shuttled around the country due to security concerns.
He stated: “Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.”
“The search is underway for those who were behind these evil acts. I have directed the full resources of our intelligence and law enforcement communities to find those responsible and to bring them to justice…” he went on to say in his speech that evening.
And it is believed that up to 80,000 people – including police officers, firefighters, and emergency workers – rushed to the aid of the victims in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.
The emergency services of the United States worked together instantly in a valiant and honorable manner.
343 firefighters and paramedics, twenty-three New York City police officers, and thirty-seven Port Authority police officers were amongst those who lost their lives on the 11th of September 2001.
As of September 2018, more than 2,000 of the courageous men and women who assisted at the scene of the attacks have passed away as a result of 9/11 related illnesses.
From those who spent months in the Ground Zero ruins searching for survivors to those who lost their lives for their incredibly bravery and courage.
And the story of Tom Burnett, an American hero killed in the 9/11 attacks during United Flight 93.
“Those exact words are at the top of this page, and the bottom. They were spoken seventeen years ago, under conditions I hope to never experience. I’ll never forget Tom’s last words. I hope you won’t either.”
Underneath he shared the minute by minute transcript of Tom’s last calls to wife Deena…
Deena: Tom, are you O.K.?
Tom: No, I’m not. I’m on an airplane that has been hijacked.
Tom: Yes, They just knifed a guy.
Deena: A passenger?
Deena: Where are you? Are you in the air?
6:31 Deena calls 911
Tom: They’re in the cockpit. The guy they knifed is dead.
Deena: He’s dead?
Tom: Yes. I tried to help him, but I couldn’t get a pulse.
Deena: Tom, they are hijacking planes all up and down the east coast. They are taking them and hitting designated targets. They’ve already hit both towers of the World Trade Center.
Tom: They’re talking about crashing this plane. (a pause) Oh my God. It’s a suicide mission…(he then tells people sitting around him)
Tom: How many planes are there?
Deena: They’re not sure, at least three. Maybe more.
Tom: O.K….O.K….Do you know who is involved?
Tom: We’re turning back toward New York. We’re going back to the World Trade Center. No, wait, we’re turning back the other way. We’re going south.
Deena: What do you see?
Tom: Just a minute, I’m looking. I don’t see anything, we’re over a rural area. It’s just fields. I’ve gotta go.
Deena: Tom, you’re O.K. (I thought at this point he had just survived the Pentagon plane crash).
Tom: No, I’m not.
Deena: They just hit the Pentagon.
Tom: (tells people sitting around him “They just hit the Pentagon.”)
Tom: Do you know who is involved?
Tom: What is the probability of their having a bomb on board? I don’t think they have one. I think they’re just telling us that for crowd control.
Deena: A plane can survive a bomb if it’s in the right place.
Tom: Did you call the authorities?
Deena: Yes, they didn’t know anything about your plane.
Tom: They’re talking about crashing this plane into the ground. We have to do something. I’m putting a plan together.
Deena: Who’s helping you?
Tom: Different people. Several people. There’s a group of us. Don’t worry. I’ll call you back.
Tom: Hi. Anything new?
Tom: Where are the kids?
Deena: They’re fine. They’re sitting at the table having breakfast. They’re asking to talk to you.
Tom: Tell them I’ll talk to them later.
Deena: I called your parents. They know your plane has been hijacked.
Tom: Oh…you shouldn’t have worried them. How are they doing?
Deena: They’re O.K.. Mary and Martha are with them.
Tom: We’re waiting until we’re over a rural area. We’re going to take back the airplane.
Deena: No! Sit down, be still, be quiet, and don’t draw attention to yourself! (The exact words taught to me by Delta Airlines Flight Attendant Training).
Tom: Deena! If they’re going to crash this plane into the ground, we’re going to have do something!
Deena: What about the authorities?
Tom: We can’t wait for the authorities. I don’t know what they could do anyway. It’s up to us. I think we can do it.
Deena: What do you want me to do?
Tom: Pray, Deena, just pray.
Deena: I love you.
Tom: Don’t worry, we’re going to do something…”
The group stormed the cockpit and prevented the plan to crash the plane into the Capitol Building or the White House.
The Tom Burnett Family Foundation is set up in honor of his life and courageous efforts.
For more heroic stories from 9/11 scroll on…