Reflections on 9/11

We just passed the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks. I spent part of the day watching some of the specials on the History Channel. Some I’d seen before. A couple were new.

I think one of the points was this was the “where were you?” moment for that time. Before, it was the Pearl Harbor attack, the JFK assassination and the Challenger explosion.

My “where were you?” was just waking up and the clock radio, which would normally be playing music, is instead has what sounds like a discussion of a TV show. “That sounds like Seven Days”, I think to myself. As I listen more, I find out they weren’t. Since I’m on the opposite of the country, as best as I can recall, the clock radio would have turned on shortly after United Airlines Flight 175 hit the second tower, the point where everyone started to realize this was deliberate and not an accident.

Seven Days was a TV show that had ended four months before about time travel that has a limitation of only being able to send one person back a week (Roswell, alien technology, limited fuel source, etc.), so it’s reserved for national security emergencies. The pilot episode involved an attack on the White House and one of the last episodes of the final season involved an accident at an airport that killed two airliners worth of passengers.

The next few days had a quietness about them as we all tried to absorb what happened. For my job, I had to drive past an airfield that provides regional service. I had never driven by at a time when a flight was departing or arriving before that day. Still haven’t, in fact, though I only go by there very infrequently now, so that’s just a minor tidbit in my life. With all aircraft grounded nationwide (with few exceptions), the airfield felt like a ghost town viewed from afar. The decision to clear the airspace was made by Ben Sliney, who was at work on his first day as the FAA National Operations Manager. You or I probably will never make such a decision that immediately impacts so many people at the same time.

The 9/11: Four Flights documentary the History Channel broadcast yesterday focused on the planes used in the attacks. When United Airlines Flight 93 was hijacked, announcements to the passengers were also unintentionally broadcast back to air traffic control. The usual “we’re taking over the plane to prove our point but we’ll land and eventually you’ll go home” type of message everyone was used to hearing in hijackings was told to the passengers. Because the flight had been delayed, by the time passengers started making phone calls with the onboard airphones, they were given the information about the other attacks told them the hijackers’ reassurances were a lie. They became “The Flight That Fought Back”.

Somewhere on the Internet is the announcement one commercial airliner Captain said to his passengers after flights could resume. It was one of the first changes in attitude about hijackings, telling them he knew they were nervous about flying again, but if they saw anything like that, they were to fight back. The days of cooperating were over.

Some final reflections on the day.

Whichever company provided the closed captioning for the History Channel programs needs to be informed that the aircraft were made by Boeing, not Bowing.

In a way, the terrorists were correct about bombs being aboard the airplanes, but technically, the bombs were the airplanes.

For the final report issued by the 9/11 Commission, it seems like they made up their mind and were unwilling to consider any new information. Beyond the usual conspiracy theories, there a more credible one that makes quite a bit of sense.

On the idea of how did the fires manage to take down the towers, the aircraft aluminum that made up the airplanes was not factored in. I think the reasoning is that it was supposed to have been pulverized in the impacts, so there wasn’t enough in any one spot to add to the fire. Aluminum melts at a lower temperature than building materials like steel, gets pretty molten under the right conditions and crashes like that wouldn’t have resulted in the planes being mashed into teeny tiny bits. There’d be bigger chunks.

So, yeah, I think that’s a good candidate for what made the fires do more damage. I think we’ll just have to wait for some time in the future when official will be willing to reevaluate evidence and maybe issue an updated version of the report, just like the nation is reevaluating other significant events such as whether statues of Robert E. Lee still have a place. Maybe as more documents are released like the first one today that’s been declassified, it could happen.

I think the idea of pulverized aluminum acting as fuel, or even as accelerant, is a high possibility.