If You Want To Humble An Empire

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LYLE OWERKO / POLARIS

(7 of 20)

But that was not all; there was a third front as well. At 9:58 the Westmoreland County emergency-operations center, 35 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, received a frantic cell-phone call from a man who said he was locked in the rest room aboard United Flight 93. Glenn Cramer, the dispatch supervisor, said the man was distraught and kept repeating, "We are being hijacked! We are being hijacked!" He also said this was not a hoax, and that the plane "was going down." Said Cramer: "He heard some sort of explosion and saw white smoke coming from the plane. Then we lost contact with him."

The flight had taken off at 8:01 from Newark, N.J., bound for San Francisco. But as it passed south of Cleveland, Ohio, it took a sudden, violent left turn and headed inexplicably back into Pennsylvania. As the 757 and its 38 passengers and seven crew members blew past Pittsburgh, air-traffic controllers tried frantically to raise the crew via radio. There was no response.

Forty miles further down the new flight path, in rural Somerset County, Terry Butler, 40, was pulling the radiator from a gray 1992 Dodge Caravan at the junkyard where he works. He had been watching the news and knew all flights were supposed to be grounded. He was stunned when he looked up in the sky and saw Flight 93 cutting through the lingering morning fog. "It was moving like you wouldn't believe," he said.

The rogue plane soared over woodland, cattle pastures and cornfields until it passed over Kelly Leverknight's home. She too was watching the news. Her husband, on his regular tour of duty with the Air National Guard's 167th Airlift Wing in Martinsburg, W.Va., had just called to reassure his wife that his base was still operating normally when she heard the plane rush by. "It was headed toward the school," she said, the school where her three children were.

Had Flight 93 stayed aloft a few seconds longer, it would have plowed into Shanksville-Stonycreek School and its 501 students, grades K through 12. Instead, at 10:06 a.m., the plane smashed into a reclaimed section of an old coal strip mine. The largest pieces of the plane still extant are barely bigger than a telephone book. "I just keep thinking — two miles," said elementary principal Rosemarie Tipton. "There but for the grace of God — two miles."

CIA Director George Tenet was having a leisurely breakfast with his mentor, former Senator David Boren, at the St. Regis Hotel, when he got the news. Their omelettes had just arrived when Tenet's security detail descended with a cell phone. "Give me the quick summary," Tenet said calmly into the phone. He listened a few moments, and then told Boren: "The World Trade Center has been hit. We're pretty sure it wasn't an accident. It looks like a terrorist act." He then got back to the phone, named a dozen people he wanted summoned to the CIA situation room. "Assemble them in 15 minutes," he said. "I should almost be there by then."

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