"The story of the day, of 9/11 itself, is best told in the voices of 9/11," said Miles Kara, a retired Army colonel and an investigator for the September 11 Commission, in a recent New York Times report.
Included here is a selection of recordings of Federal Aviation Administration, Defense Department, and American Airlines communications from September 11, 2001. You will hear air traffic controllers, military aviation officers, airline and fighter jet pilots, as well as two of the hijackers, during two hours of that historic morning.
Transcripts and some of the recordings have been released previously, but not the complete "audio monograph", as it was described by the September 11 Commission. The recordings were originally intended to be part of the Commissions' 2004 report on the terrorist attacks, but were not ready in time for a legal review before the Commission finished its work. They have now been released in their entirety.
A selection of recordings of Federal Aviation Administration, Defence Department, and American Airlines communications from September 11, 2001. Including air traffic controllers, military aviation officers, airline and fighter jet pilots, as well as two of the hijackers. Transcripts and some of the recordings had been released previously, but not the complete "audio monograph", as it was described by the September 11 Commission. The recordings were originally intended to be part of the Commissions' 2004 report on the terrorist attacks, but were not ready in time for a legal review before the Commission finished its work. They have now been released in their entirety.
This is a free listen for Audible members and runs for I hour 45 minutes. There’s very little overview provided, just a few sentences introducing sections focusing on each of the four planes. The sound quality is a little patchy - as I’m sure it was for the people actually having the conversations, as there are frequent requests for speakers to repeat elements of their message – but it’s good enough to pick up most of what’s said. To say this is harrowing to listen to is probably underplaying it, I felt hairs rising on the back of my neck as I listen to the early calls. One such call an airline worker phoned an aviation official to say she was currently handling a live call on a separate line with a flight attendant on one of the planes. The attendant had described an attack on fellow flight attendants - it was graphic and and truly horrific.
These calls don’t paint a totally cohesive picture, its very clear that there was a lot of confusion amongst the aviation officials as to what exactly was happening. Suspicions were aroused with regard to three of the planes when the pilots failed to respond to the aviation official’s commands, and then as the flight movements were tracked a different set of officials came into the picture as each plane entered the airspace the new team were responsible for controlling. Despite the confusion it’s quite amazing how focused these people remained, there was no panic just a desire to get a clear understanding of what they were dealing with. With the fourth plane it was different, the officials could clearly hear shouting from the plane to the effect that a bomb was on board.
In truth, no background narrative is required. Everyone knows what happened on that dreadful day and these calls are just another way of driving home the sheer horror of the events that transpired. Of course, it’s a useful historical record and most certainly lessons will have been learned that will have changed how people on the ground are now trained to manage such situations, but most of all it’s just a very sad reminder of one of the most dramatically horrible days in recent history.
Knowing the final outcome, it was hard to listen to this - especially at the beginning when you knew there was a flight attendant giving reports regarding one of the aircraft that would eventually crash. I’ve listened to many 9/11 stories about those left behind, about those we lost. But this shares a whole other side - what were the aircraft controllers to do when they were getting reports of flights that would eventually “go down?” Crushed my heart, but I also feel that those involved deserve for other to see & hear what they experienced that day. My heart continues to be with all of those directly affected….
I've had these recordings in my Audible library for a long time, but I wasn't quite ready to listen to them...until now. I'm really glad I did. Not only did they give me a new perspective of the events that occurred on September 11, 2001, but they helped me see how much actually goes on "behind the scenes" when flying from Point A to Point B. In addition, listening to them gave me an overall deeper sense of appreciation toward those who work each day to create a seamless flight experience for passengers, pilots, and crew.
Today marks the 20th anniversary of September 11, 2001. For years I've struggled to understand why the military planes were called up AFTER United 93 already went down. Now, to some degree, things are more clear to me. I say "to some degree" because this is just one piece that contributes to my own interpretation of the day's events. I am a high school Spanish teacher, and on 9/11/01, I was 24 years old. Yes, 24 is old enough to comprehend what was happening in the US, but I was still confused about why/when things were unfolding the way they were. My lack of knowledge about certain aspects of our world, about certain countries and cultures different from my own, and about life in general, motivated and inspired me to do better.
It took me a few more years to absorb both the reality and severity of these events, but once I began learning about 9/11 and all of its various factors (pre to post), I couldn't stop. Not only do I continue to learn for all the victims (and families) of 9/11, but I learn for myself and for my students. With each passing year, it has become more and more difficult for me to teach about these events, mainly because my (current) students weren't born yet. However, recordings like these (The Voices of 9-11) allow us to see and hear the unfolding of events from a perspective that is different from the usual and expected newscasts, articles, videos, and so on. For that, I am thankful.
In terms of technology, I was surprised to learn how unconnected each of the air-traffic control centers were (sorry if I'm referring to the control centers incorrectly) and how many "hoops" they all had to jump through at the time to relay messages and/or communicate with one another as they gained new information about the events happening (in real-time). I guess being that it was 2001, our world just wasn't that advanced yet. (Just a reminder that I'm writing this on 9/11/21.) The recordings also left me with a few new realizations, as well as some questions I had never considered before now, regarding Delta 1989 and the possibility of additional planned hijacks for that day.
I'm sure we could listen to recordings, stories, opinions, points-of-view, and personal experiences for the rest of our lives and still never be able to hear from everyone. But, for those interested in gaining insight to the events on 9/11/01, specifically from those at the air-traffic control centers, I highly recommend you give The Voices of 9-11 a listen. I found the recordings to be well organized, chronological, and easy to follow. Each chapter separately focuses on recordings for each of the planes: AA 11, Flight 175, AA 77, and United 93, as well as a chapter for Delta 1989. Having said that, in order to get the most out of these recordings, I do feel it is best that listeners first have a general knowledge of 9/11, as well as familiarity with the overall timeline. Please note that while these recordings can easily stand on their own as an explanation of the day's events (to those who are familiar), they are not accompanied by any additional narration, as a documentary-type listen would be. There is, however, an 83-page transcript that can be downloaded in case you would like to follow along with the audio. One last thing...because the recordings come from actual audio recorded on 9/11, a few parts are a bit difficult to understand and/or follow. This is mainly due to the frantic and chaotic shuffle of the many involved who are trying to obtain and relay information quickly and accurately, so make sure to listen closely! :-)
Without hesitation, I give a rating of 5-stars to The Voices of 9-11. I would also like to thank Audible for curating these recordings and providing them for free to listeners.
If you've made it this far, thank you so much! I appreciate you reading my review; I hope it was helpful. :-)