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Never forget the day that changed the course of US history

Photo by Mike Longo Jr.

President Donald J. Trump along with First Lady Melania Trump salute the Army Honor Guard upon arrival at the John Murtha Johnstown Cambria County Airport enroute to the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pa. for the 9/11 remembrance service.

By Lisa Mullen


Sept. 11, 2001 dawned across much of the U.S. with a blue sky and no clouds in sight. Then the seemingly beautiful day went horribly wrong. At 8:46 a.m., American Airlines Flight 11 flew straight into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in the heart of New York City.

The city’s fire department was aware of the disaster as soon as it occurred because the Fire Chief of the Department’s 1st Battalion, Joseph Pfiefer, and his fellow firefighters were on a call to investigate an odor of gas just blocks from the World Trade Center. As soon as they witnessed the plane crash into the building, Pfeifer called dispatch to alert them to the disaster and reroute fire companies and police to the area.

Firefighters and police arrived at the World Trade Center almost immediately after the plane struck the first tower and began the evacuation process as well as rescuing as many injured people as they could.

It is estimated that 15,000 people made it out of the towers that day. Yet, 2,996 people died; including terrorists and airline passengers.

At 9:03 a.m., United Airlines Flight 175 hit the World Trade Center South Tower, striking between floors 77 and 85.

Welles Crowther, a 24-year-old equities trader for Sandler O’Neill & Partners, was working on the 104th floor of the South Tower.

Unlike the North Tower where all access to elevators and stairways were destroyed when the plane hit, a stairway was still open for people to escape in Crowther's building. At 9:12 a.m., he called his mom and left this message, “Mom, this is Welles. I wanted you to know that I’m OK.”

He then took the stairs down to the 78th floor where he found a group of survivors waiting for the elevator. That's where his experience as a young firefighter kicked in. Crowther, carrying an injured woman on his back, led the survivors down 17 flights of stairs to relative safety where he gave them directions to continue on out of the building.

He then repeated the process with another group of survivors. On his third trip, Crowther went back up the stairs and was never seen again.

Crowther became known as "the man in the red bandana" to those he saved. His family learned how their son's last minutes were spent when they heard testimony from survivor Judy Wein who mentioned her rescuer wore a red bandana. Crowther’s father had told him to carry a bandana in his pocket which he always did. Crowther's heroism in saving 18 lives has since prompted his university, Boston College, to hold an annual 5K known as the "Red Bandana Run."

Another iconic 9/11 figure is Todd Beamer. When terrorists took over United Airlines Flight 93 at 9:28 a.m., Beamer and fellow passengers were sent to the back of the plane where they were told to wait quietly as there was a bomb on the plane. Some of the passengers made phone calls to loved ones and learned other planes had already hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

After hearing this, Beamer and several other passengers and flight attendants came up with a plan to take the plane back from the terrorists. Before doing so, Beamer tried to place a call to his wife on the plane phone but instead the call was routed to a United Airlines representative.

He relayed to her that the plane had been hijacked and they were going to try to take it back.

The last thing the rep heard was Beamer speaking to the group saying, "Are you ready? OK. Let's roll." The passenger's last act was to stop it from hitting its intended target. At 10:03 a.m., Flight 93 came to rest in a farmer’s field near Shanksville, Somerset County, 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

Some wonder if it hadn’t been for the bravery of Beamer and his fellow passengers, what would have happened if Flight 93 had hit its intended target? Some say the target was the White House.

At 9:37 a.m., the Pentagon was hit by American Airlines Flight 77 just as Vice President Dick Cheney and key personnel were being moved to safety underneath the White House East Wing in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center. By 9:43 a.m. both the White House and the Capitol Building had been safely evacuated. President George W. Bush was safely on Air Force One and in the air by 9:57 a.m.

Nineteen years ago, on the night before 9/11:

• 246 people went to sleep in preparation for their morning flights

• 2,606 people went to sleep in preparation for work in the morning

• 343 firefighters went to sleep in preparation for their morning shift

• 60 police officers went to sleep preparing for morning patrol

• 8 paramedics went to sleep in preparation for their morning shift

None of them lived past 10 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001.



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