NEW YORK | In what President Bush called an “apparent terrorist attack,” two planes crashed into the World Trade Center towers minutes apart, a third plane crashed into the Pentagon and a car bomb exploded outside the State Department.
Both towers collapsed after another secondary explosions in each tower rocked the buildings. The Pentagon is reported to be partially collapsed.
“This is perhaps the most audacious terrorist attack that’s ever taken place in the world,” Chris Yates, an aviation expert at Jane’s Transport in London, told The Associated Press. “It takes a logistics operation from the terror group involved that is second to none. Only a very small handful of terror groups is on that list. … I would name at the top of the list Osama bin Laden.”
There was no immediate word on deaths or injuries. About 50,000 people work in the World Trade Center. Another plane, United Airlines Flight 93 from Newark to San Francisco, crashed in Pennsylvania, according to CNN.
A second hijacked United Airlines flight has crashed. There was no immediate word where the plane, which was previously unaccounted for, went down.
Witnesses told The Associated Press they saw bodies falling and people jumping from the trade center. Second explosions occurred in each tower just before their collapse.
“Everyone was screaming, crying, running, cops, people, firefighters, everyone,” said Mike Smith, a fire marshal. “It’s like a war zone.”
The Federal Aviation Administration has halted all flights nationwide, according to CNN. International flights into New York have been diverted to Canadian airports.
The president ordered a full-scale investigation to “hunt down the folks who committed this act.” The twin disasters, which happened shortly before 9 a.m. EDT, blasted fiery, gaping holes in the 110-story buildings. Two inches of ashes cover downtown Manhattan.
One of the planes that crashed into the towers was a hijacked American Airlines Boeing 767 Flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles. Another plane, American Airlines Flight 77 from Dulles airport to Los Angeles, crashed into the Pentagon.
Heavy black smoke billowed into the sky above the gaping holes in the side of the 110-story twin towers, one of New York City’s most famous landmarks, and debris rained down upon the street, one of the city’s busiest work areas and tourist spot. When the second plane hit, a fireball of flame and smoke erupted, leaving a huge hole in the glass and steel tower.
“Today we’ve had a national tragedy,” Bush said. He called it “an apparent terrorist attack.” Former NTSB spokesman Ira Furber discounted likelihood of accident.
“I don’t think this is an accident,” he said on CNN. “You’ve got incredibly good visibility. No pilot is going to be relying on navigational equipment.”
“It’s just not possible in the daytime,” he added. “A second occurrence is just beyond belief.” The towers were struck by terrorist bombers in February 1993, killing six people and injuring more than 1,000 others.
Several subway lines were immediately shut down. Trading on Wall Street was suspended. New York’s mayoral primary election was called off today.
“The plane was coming in low and … it looked like it hit at a slight angle,” said Sean Murtagh, a CNN vice president, the network reported.
“I was watching TV and heard a sonic boom,” Jeanne Yurman told CNN. “The side of the World Trade Center exploded. Debris is falling like leaflets. I hear ambulances. The northern tower seems to be on fire.”
Thousands of pieces of what appeared to be office paper came drifting over Brooklyn, about three miles from the tower.
A senior government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the agency is pursuing reports that one or both of the planes were hijacked and that the crashes may have been the result of a suicide mission.
The source stressed that the reports are preliminary and officials do not know the cause of the crashes.
“It certainly doesn’t look like an accident,” said a second government official, also speaking on condition of anonymity.
In 1945, an Army Air Corps B-25, a twin-engine bomber, crashed into the 79th floor of the Empire State Building in dense fog.
In Sarasota, Fla., Bush was reading to children in a classroom at 9:05 a.m. when his chief of staff, Andrew Card, whispered into his ear. The president briefly turned somber before he resumed reading. He addressed the tragedy about a half-hour later.
Brandon Barker, a student at Borough Manhattan Community College, four blocks from the World Trade Center, was along studying in the library when he said “a loud boom shook the building about 9 a.m.” He reported seeing falling debris and glass in the reflection of buildings nearby and flames erupting from the top of the structure.
He said students began coming out of classrooms, some crying, before officials began evacuating the building. Barker has just gotten off work at R.R. Donnelley and Company, just two blocks from the Trade Center.