Ten Numerical Facts About 9/11


Each week I set out to research and document ten "fun facts" on a topic loosely based on the two books I've reviewed that week.  "Loosely" being the operative word. 

This week I reviewed Ghostways by MacFarlane/Donwood/Richards, two stories specific to particular places (one of which, Orford Ness, is a former military testing ground) and journalist Garrett M. Graff's The Only Plane in the Sky, an oral history of 9/11.

There is of course no opportunity for "fun facts" when the subject is 9/11. Something else is needed for this week's post, and I've settled on Ten Numerical facts instead.

There are some connections between the themes of the two books I could have commented on - Ghostways uses geography as an entry into history and remembrance (as the title hints at), while 9/11 is an event those of us who were alive when it happened will always remember. So remembrance could have been a theme. Or geography, given that 9/11 was an event with international impact, and Ghostways is tied to it's specific places.

But after a lot of thought I decided numbers would keep the focus on 9/11 itself. Because listening to the audiobook The Only Plane in the Sky was an emotional experience that brought back many of the feelings from that day and the days immediately after it, I'm still thinking about it days after having finished it. 

There are two (2) connections I have found that can be made between the events of 9/11 and the Orford Ness of Ghostways, along with many significant numbers from 9/11 that may help to bring the event back into focus after 20 years. Nine-Eleven is after all an event which we all remember by it's numerical date. And so I settled on my theme for this week - Ten Numerical Facts about 9/11:


Ten Numerical Facts About 9/11

  1. One - Prior to 9/11 the World Trade Center in New York was the subject of 1 previous terrorist attack. In 1993 two al Qaeda terrorists drove a rental van loaded with explosives into an underground parking garage beneath the South Tower. They ignited a 20 foot fuse and fled. The resulting explosion blew through four sublevels, cut off electricity at the Trade Center, caused the death of 6 people, and injured around 1000. 50,000 people were evacuated. The terrorists had hoped that the bomb would cause the South Tower to collapse into the North Tower resulting in the death of tens of thousands of people. Ramzi Yousef, the planner and bomber, was the nephew of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was considered the architect of the 9/11 attacks eight years later.
  2. Two - There are two interesting connections I've found between this week's two books.
    1. Orford Ness, site of the first story in Ghostways was once a military testing ground. Here, the Orfordness Beacon, one of the earliest experiments in long-range radio navigation was set up in 1929. Commercial aircraft such as those in the sky on 9/11 fly by Instrument Flight Rules, or "IFR" and use a successor to these early beacon systems to navigate. (These systems are slated to be replaced by GPS in the US by 2025). 
    2. An experimental radar transmitting station at Orford Ness was taken over by the BBC and from 1982 until 2011 it was used to transmit BBC's World Service in English to continental Europe. News of the events of 9/11 would have been transmitted from this station.
  3. Four - On the morning of 9/11/2001 four US commercial aircraft were hijacked by al Qaeda terrorists. Because they were transcontinental flights all four were fully loaded with jet fuel. The four flights were:
    1. American Airlines Flight 11 departed Boston at 8 AM bound for Los Angeles. There were 81 passengers and 11 crew members on board. Flight 11 was hijacked and intentionally crashed into the North Tower of New York's World Trade Center at 8:46 AM.
    2. United Airlines Flight 175 departed Boston at 8:14 AM bound for Los Angeles. There were 65 passengers and 9 crew members on board. Flight 175 was hijacked and intentionally crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center at 9:03 AM.
    3. American Airlines Flight 77 left Dulles Airport in Washington, DC at 8:20 AM bound for Los Angeles. There were 58 passengers and 6 crew members on board. Flight 77 was hijacked and intentionally crashed into the Pentagon at 9:37 AM.
    4. United Airlines Flight 93 left Newark NJ at 8:42 AM (delayed) bound for San Francisco. There were 44 passengers and 7 crew members on board. Flight 93 was hijacked, but because of the delayed takeoff many passengers and crew members on board learned of the other hijackings and crashes via cell phone calls to loved ones. Passengers attempted to storm the cockpit, and as a result the hijackers forced the plane into a steep dive, crashing it outside Shanksville PA at 10:03 AM. It was the only plane of the four that did not strike it's intended target. Though the actual target is not decisively known, it is thought to have been the Capital, the White House or possibly Camp David.
  4. Seven - The World Trade Center complex in New York included 7 buildings, the tallest being the Twin Towers. The aircraft striking the Twin Towers on 9/11 caused fires in both buildings, and the heat of the burning jet fuel from the aircraft caused both buildings to sustain significant structural damage and to collapse within a couple hours of having been struck. A combination of falling debris from the Twin Towers, and the spread of fire from that debris, caused the partial or complete collapse of the remaining five Trade Center buildings. 10 other large structures in the immediate vicinity also suffered catastrophic damage.
  5. Nineteen - A total of 19 al Qaeda members, all men, were involved in the hijacking plot. 15 of the men were from Saudi Arabia, 2 from the United Arab Emirates and one each from Egypt and Lebanon.
  6. Ninety - Among the victims of the 9/11 attacks were citizens of over 90 countries, as recognized by the US State Department on the 5th anniversary of the attacks. Nations range from Antigua to Zambia. The second highest death toll after US citizens were citizens of the UK, with 67 deaths.
  7. One Hundred Twenty Five - Working in or visiting the Pentagon that morning were 125 people who lost their lives when Flight 77 was intentionally crashed into the building.
  8. Two Hundred Sixty Five - Altogether 265 people who were onboard the 4 flights, including the 19 terrorists, were killed in the crashes.
  9. Two Thousand Seven Hundred Fifty Three - Finalizing the total death toll at the World Trade Center site took a number of years. Initial estimates were as high as 6,700 people, but quickly settled into the range of 3,000. In 2004 New York City issued a "final official" toll of 2,749. Of this number only 1,538 were identified through physical remains. In 2007, 2009 and again in 2011 officials added victims whose deaths were caused by exposure to the airborne dust from the collapsed buildings, bringing the toll to 2,753. This includes 344 firefighters and 71 law enforcement officers. It does not include these additional people:
    1. In 2013 it was concluded that 1,140 people who lived or worked in lower Manhattan had been diagnosed with cancer as a result of exposure to toxins from the Trade Center site. I do not know how many have already succumbed to those cancers.
    2. It has also been estimated that since 9/11 1,400 rescue workers who responded to the Trade Center had since died, and a large share of them from causes related to 9/11.
  10. Four Thousand - Over 4,000 aircraft (the exact number is not known) were in US airspace at the time of the 9/11 attacks, and were ordered into immediate "ground stop". All these planes were diverted to the nearest available airport. This unplanned ground stop was unprecedented and resulted in thousands of people being stranded in cities they had not intended to be in. Over 60 international flights inbound to the US were instead diverted to Halifax Nova Scotia, resulting in 12,000 stranded passengers in that city alone. Ben Sliney, the chief of Air Traffic Control on that day, and the man who ordered the ground stop, was on his first day on the job. 
Those are my ten numerical facts about 9/11. Do you have memories of 9/11? Have you listened to Graff's audiobook? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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