Skip to main content /transcript




Terrorism Strikes In The United States in a Massive Attack

Aired September 11, 2001 - 09:42   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Chris Plant (ph), a CNN producer, is at the Pentagon, where there is a significant fire.

Chris, you're on the phone, can you hear me OK?

CHRIS PLANT, CNN PRODUCER: Yes, I can hear you just fine.

BROWN: Tell me what you know.

PLANT: Well, arriving at the Pentagon a short time ago, there was a huge plume of smoke which continues to rise from the west side of the Pentagon over in the area where there is a helicopter landing zone. It's along route 27 if you're looking at maps of the area.

The building is currently being evacuated and police and emergency units are, of course, responding from all around the building and from the local Arlington County Fire Department. The plume of smoke is enormous, it's a couple of hundreds yards across at its base. It is billowing into the sky, hundreds of yards.

It's impossible for me to say from this side of the building whether the building itself is on fire or up in flames or exactly what caused this. I did not hear an explosion but there is certainly a very, very significant fire in this enormous office building on the West Front. The building is being evacuated. The Defense Protective Service officers, the police force for the Pentagon, are on a very tight string right now. As I arrived I was held at gunpoint.

BROWN: OK, Chris, Chris, Chris, let me interrupt you for a second, just hang on. Don't go anywhere.

We're getting reports now that the White House is being evacuated as well. We don't know precisely what is - caused that decision to be made, whether that is precautionary, whether something has happened at the White House.

Again the president is in Florida this morning. So the president is not in any danger, but the White House, of course, is fully operational, whether the president is there or not. And we have reports that the White House is being evacuated.

Getting back to Chris in a moment, we also have reports now from Chris Plant on the scene that the Pentagon is being evacuated as well. All of this coming on the heels of a large fire at the Pentagon. And we can't tell you at this moment whether that fire is inside the Pentagon building itself or on the grounds of the Pentagon.

And these two planes that you can see behind us that hit the World Trade Center, That's Washington, the Old Executive Office Building, I believe. And you can see the plume of smoke behind it, which we will assume until we are told otherwise that's the fire at the Pentagon. I believe that's correct, as you look now at Washington.

So we've got a major fire at the Pentagon, and the Pentagon being evacuated, the White House being evacuated. And we don't know precisely the circumstances there, what caused that decision. And we have these two enormous explosions at the World Trade Center here in New York, where two planes slammed into the buildings.

We are also getting reports now that there is a fire on the Mall in Washington, that part of the Capitol that runs essentially from the Capitol to the White House in kind of a straight line going up Washington, D.C. And we have reports of a fire there. What you are looking at now is Washington, at least if I can see the monitor in front of me, it's a little tricky from where we are. But that looks to me like the Old Executive Office Building, and then in back of it you see the large plume of smoke. Here in New York, sirens everywhere, people out in the streets staring at this grotesque scene of the World Trade Center buildings.

It was in February of '93, if memory serves me correctly, that there was an attack, a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. A bomb exploded in the garage of the Trade Center on that day in February of '93. Now here we are in the year 2001, and what appears to be deliberate attacks on the World Trade Center. And then we have these two reports out of Washington, the fire at the Pentagon.

Chris Plant is still on the phone, I do believe - all right, we'll get to him in a second. Greta Van Susteren is at National Airport in Washington.

Greta, what are you hearing?

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I just got off my plane, I was headed to New York, planes were stalled. I'm at National Airport on the parking lot. I heard a huge the noise. I looked over in the direction of the Pentagon, there is a huge plume of smoke coming from that area. I can't verify it's the Pentagon because there are these buildings in the way. You see particles coming down in the air. Some sort of white particles. I can't tell what that is. I'd heard a noise slightly before I'd seen the smoke. I didn't know if it was an airplane or it was a bomb, but it was certainly something. And obviously there's a terrific fire going on.

The skies are clear here except for the tremendous amount of smoke that's coming from there, lots of sirens, from all different directions, and of course, a lot of uncertainty here at National Airport.

BROWN: Greta, thank you. I want to just, again, recap as we pick up small pieces of information along the way. Associated Press is reporting that a plane, it was a plane that crashed at the Pentagon. And the Pentagon is being evacuated. There's a large fire there, and that is the smoke you see in the shot that you are looking at now. Whether that fire is in the building itself or outside we have not yet confirmed. There is a fire on the Mall in Washington. The cause of the fire on the Mall in Washington we cannot yet tell you. We can tell you that the White House has been evacuated. And we can tell you that two planes have crashed into the World Trade Center in New York, all of this began just a little more than an hour ago, at about 8:45 Eastern time.

Chris Plant, tell me what you've learned since we last talked.

PLANT: Well, and speaking to people here at the Pentagon, as they're being evacuated from the building. I'm told by several people that there was, in fact, an explosion.

I was told by one witness, an Air Force enlisted - senior enlisted man, that he was outside when it occurred. He said that he saw a helicopter circle the building. He said it appeared to be a U.S. military helicopter, and that it disappeared behind the building where the helicopter landing zone is - excuse me - and he then saw fireball go into the sky.

I'm attempting to make my way around to that side of the building in my car right now to see if I can get a better visual perspective on the scene on that side of the building. But I can tell you that security has certainly clamped down. The U.S. Park Police another federal law enforcement department, has arrived in force on the scene. There is a Park Police helicopter overhead, every car arrives at the gates where I was located was being stopped by officers at gun point, everyone is being forced out of their vehicles as they arrive at the Pentagon.

It's a very tense situation obviously, but initial reports from witnesses indicate that there was in fact a helicopter circling the building, contrary to what the AP reported, according to the witnesses I've spoken to anyway, and that this helicopter disappeared behind the building, and that there was then an explosion. That's about all I have from here.

BROWN: OK. Let's do this, Chris, why don't you continue reporting, and we will pass along a couple of other things that we're picking up along the way. Trading at the New York Stock Exchange, the stock exchange, as many of you probably know, but some of don't, is in that part of Lower Manhattan, not quite as far down as the Trade Center, but is in that part of Lower Manhattan, and trading has been suspended there. Bridges and tunnels coming into New York have been closed. That will create a whole different set of problems. We are also being told that the FAA has suspended takeoffs and landings, and I want to make sure I get this right, guys, that in all - at all airports around the country.

So air travel in this country has come to a halt this morning as clearly people are trying, people in government, people, police forces, fire departments are trying to figure out what exactly is going on. There are several, now, incidents that look for all that we can tell to be a major terrorist attack here in the United States. So all airports, all across the country are closed, all bridges and tunnels coming into Manhattan are closed, the Pentagon has been evacuated or is being evacuated, the White House is being evacuated.

The president, who is in Sarasota today to make a speech on education has spoken briefly to cameras and is - will shortly make his way back to Washington. They are checking out Air Force One now.

Let's go to Atlanta, Chad Myers can talk to us a bit about the air traffic problems.

Chad, are you there?

CHAD MYERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, yes, all of the airports across the country have been shut down. We started with zone New York, which includes Islip, Newark, JFK, La Guardia, all the way down to Philadelphia, and then IAH, Houston, and then San Francisco, and then L.A. They were just falling like a deck of cards. And then all of a sudden, the FAA just said we're shutting down everything, all flights have canceled for another seven hours, which is about 5:00 Eastern time. And then we'll reignite there, we'll take a look what's going on after that.

The probability of extension, as they call that, is high, which means even after 5:00, the airports may still be shut down. We'll keep watching it for you here from Atlanta.

BROWN: Chad, just - and if you don't know, just say you don't know. Can you recall a situation where every airport in the country had been shut down?

MYERS: Absolutely not, except in wartime, of course, Aaron, and obviously this is not that. But with all the airports that - as they were going down from west to east, we could see them, and then we could eventually see from New York. And then they canceled Boston as we got the report that the first flight, or one of the possible hijacked flights did come out of Boston, and then it just started going down from there. But never ever before have we ever seen all of the airports shut down like this, not this quickly.

BROWN: Chad, thank you. Stay on this for awhile, we'll get back to you.

We know that many people are just joining us. We want to get everyone on the same page before we move on. So, one more time let's go through the sequence of events.

At about 8:45 eastern time, a plane crashed into the foremost of those towers that are the World Trade Center. That's Air Force One you see in Florida, the president onboard. Obviously, extraordinary security around the plane before the president got on, and the president is heading back to Washington.

A short time ago, the president made a statement. He said terrorism against our nation will not stand. The government will hunt down those responsible. Mr. Bush said today we've had a national tragedy. Two planes have crashed into the World Trade Center in an apparent terrorist attack on the country.



Back to the top