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September 11, 2015, marks the 14th anniversary of one of the most tragic days in America's history. On that fateful day in 2001, almost 3,000 innocent civilians lost their lives to one of the most brazen and deadliest terrorist attacks on American soil. Organized by Islamic extremist organization Al Qaeda and its leader Osama Bin Laden, it led to the ongoing "Global War On Terrorism", and changed life as we knew it, forever.
The chain of events began to unfold early in the morning of the 11th. Nineteen Al-Qaeda members split into four groups each with a trained pilot, hijacked four commercial flights - United Flight 93 from New Jersey, American Flight 77 from Washington DC, and United Flight 175 and American Flight 11, from Boston. The planes were selected because they were all heading across the country to either Los Angeles or San Francisco, and hence had enough fuel to allow the terrorists to inflict the maximum damage.
While the passengers aboard the hijacked airplanes realized something was amiss shortly after the flights took off, the rest of America was blissfully unaware of any wrongdoing until 8:46 AM (EST). That's when American Flight 11 was seen heading directly toward New York City's tallest buildings - The World Trade Center's Twin Towers. Before anyone had time to react, the plane crashed into the North Twin Tower, creating a massive impact hole all the way from the 93rd to the 99th floor. Experts immediately began to speculate whether the "accident" had been caused by a pilot error or an airplane malfunction. The idea of a terrorist attack on U.S. soil did not even occur to anyone.
However, that opinion changed within the next half hour. At 9:03 AM (EST) United Flight 175 made its way directly to the South Twin Tower, creating a giant gash all the way from the 77th to the 85th floors. At 9:37 (EST) a third airplane (American flight 77) hit the Pentagon and shortly after, United Flight 93 crash-landed in an empty field on the outskirts of Shanksville, Pennsylvania. By now it was evident that America had just experienced a well-orchestrated terrorist attack.
The aftermath was horrific, especially for the majestic Twin Towers. The fires from the impact of the airplanes were intensified by the fuel in the fully-loaded airplanes. These weakened the steel support trusses that attached each of the 110 floors to the building's exterior. This combined with the initial impact of the planes, caused both Towers to crumble into a giant heap of cement and steel.
What is more disheartening is that even experts did not realize this could happen. Hence while most of the estimated 16,000 - 18,000 people that were in the WTC complex were safely evacuated, many first responders - firefighters, paramedics, and police, rushing in to help those injured or trapped, did not make it out. Though the Pentagon building did not suffer the same fate, the attack did kill 184 people.
A total of 2,977 innocent people from 93 nations lost their lives in the senseless attacks. As officials later found out, the death toll would have been higher had it not been for the brave passengers and crew of United Flight 93. They received news of what was going on around the country and managed to divert the flight, which was believed to be making its way to the US Capitol building in Washington DC. Though none of 40 survived the crash landing on the empty Shanksville field, their courage saved the country from an even bigger catastrophe.
Soon after, the U.S. and its allies declared a "Global War on Terror." Despite their best efforts, it took them a decade to finally locate and assassinate Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the US and other terrorist attacks around the world. Unfortunately, it has made little difference in stopping the organization that has spawned several offshoots, the most deadly one of which is ISIS.
Following the tragedy, there was much debate about whether to resurrect the Twin Towers or leave the site as a memorial to those that had lost their lives. After much deliberation it was decided that both were needed - One to remind the world that Americans cannot be intimidated by cowardly actions and the other to ensure that the innocent lives lost will never be forgotten.
The first of the three structures, the 1,776-feet tall "Freedom Tower" that stands out like a shining beacon amidst the already impressive New York City skyline welcomed its first tenants in October 2014. Alongside, lies the elegant 911 Memorial and Museum that features twin reflecting pools with the names of every person that perished in the terrorist attacks etched onto its bronze-paneled edges.
In addition, on September 10, 2015, a new memorial to honor the 40 brave passengers and crew of United Flight 93 was opened in the Shanksville field where they lost their lives. Visitors will be able to view exhibits and artifacts that commemorate the 9/11 events and listen to playbacks of messages left by the passengers to their loved ones, before the flight crashed.