Response and Recovery
New York, New York
The attack started in New York City when terrorists flew American Airlines Flight 11 into the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m. Just blocks away, the FBI’s New York Office immediately sent members of its Joint Terrorism Task Force to the scene. The FBI and its law enforcement partners knew they had to determine the true nature of the crash as they assessed the damage and helped rescue workers aid victims.
At 9:03 a.m., another team of terrorists crashed United Airlines Flight 175 into the South Tower. Hundreds of additional special agents and professional staff joined the rescue effort and narrowly escaped death when the South Tower collapsed in just 10 seconds at 9:59 a.m. Survivors were still emerging from the debris when the North Tower fell 29 minutes later. In less than two hours, 10 terrorists had caused the death of 2,752 people, including hundreds of emergency responders and one current and one former FBI special agent.
FBI New York Responds
The FBI’s New York Office sent members of its threat response squad to the World Trade Center minutes after Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower. Other special agents in the city instinctively headed for the complex on their own. The crash into the South Tower drew an even greater FBI response: hundreds of special agents and professional staff gathered in the immediate area to help.
The sudden collapse of the South Tower forced the FBI to regroup. When the North Tower fell minutes later, the FBI office lost its communications and dust made the office unusable. Within hours, the FBI converted its automotive garage into a command post. In addition, agents received assignments from onboard a decommissioned aircraft carrier, the USS Intrepid.
In the midst of the destruction, agents and professional staff started collecting evidence, conducting interviews, and analyzing data.
The Towers Fall
The collapse of the Twin Towers killed more than 2,600 people in the buildings and on the ground. Fortunately, several factors—the first day of school for some, Primary Day for others, and the early hour—reduced the number of people in the towers from the usual 40,000 to about 17,500.
- North Tower: About 8,900 people were in the 110-story building when Flight 11 crashed into it at roughly 440 miles per hour. More than 1,400 people were still inside when it collapsed less than two hours later.
- South Tower: More than 5,400 people were still inside the South Tower when Flight 175 flew into the building at about 540 miles per hour. The tower collapsed unexpectedly an hour later with more than 600 people inside.
For three decades, the Twin Towers stood as symbols of American prosperity and leadership. Their sudden collapse damaged several nearby buildings and choking dust and ash covered the city. Yet thanks to the efforts of more than 1,000 emergency workers and other heroes, approximately 15,000 people escaped from the towers alive.
Recovery Efforts in New York
The FBI immediately started planning the staggering task of sifting through 1.8 million tons of debris from the World Trade Center. The men and women of the FBI vowed to recover as many remains of the victims and their personal belongings as possible. They also had to collect evidence to identify everyone responsible.
The City of New York started moving the debris to a closed landfill on Staten Island right away. For 11 months, more than 1,000 special agents from nearly every FBI field office rotated through the 175-acre operation. Representatives from the New York Police Department and 22 other state, local, and federal agencies processed 17,000 tons of debris a day.
Workers helped identify more than 200 victims, examined 3,300 vehicles, and recovered approximately 75,000 personal items, helping to bring a sense of closure to many of the victims’ families and friends.