The Only Plane in the Sky | Garrett M. Graff

Summary of: The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11
By: Garrett M. Graff


The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 explores the tragic events of September 11, 2001, through the emotional, harrowing accounts of witnesses and survivors. The book offers an in-depth look at the chaos, confusion, and terror that unfolded that day, delving into the perspectives of air traffic controllers, first responders, and leaders who faced unprecedented challenges. In this summary, readers will gain a better understanding of the events leading up to the attacks, the realization of their coordinated nature, the lives and sacrifices of heroes, and the subsequent impact on national security and warfare.

The Tragic 9/11 Attack

On September 10, 2001, Monika Bravo captured a beautiful storm descending on NYC from her vantage point on the
92nd floor in the North Tower of the World Trade Center. However, the next day September 11, 2001, began as any other day, except there was chaos aboard four planes in the air. Nineteen hijackers seized control of American Airlines Flights 11 and 77 and United Airlines Flights 175 and 93. News of Flight 11’s hijacking reached air traffic controllers, and a flight attendant called American Airlines to report the hijackers’ entrance into the cockpit. The airspace was cleared and NORAD was notified. A passenger aboard Flight 93 called his wife to report another hijacking. At the World Trade Center, Flight 11 hit the building and was believed to be an accident, but minutes later, Flight 125 hit the South Tower, broadcasters fell silent, and it became clear it was a coordinated attack. Flight 77 disappeared from radar and hit the Pentagon. As a result of the first-time use of a hijacked plane as a weapon, it was a sad day for the United States, and no one in history ever imagined the possibility of such an attack.

9/11: Myth vs Reality

The United States’ defense system was unprepared for internal threats on 9/11. Al-Qaeda carried out a well-planned attack, leaving the country in a state of emergency. Evacuations were orderly, but rescue missions were challenging. The government officials were overwhelmed and struggled to reassure the American people during the chaos.

Tragedy at the World Trade Center

The events of 9/11 and the immediate aftermath witnessed the bravery of first responders and the resilience of New Yorkers. As the towers collapsed, chaos ensued, with survivors running from massive clouds of debris at the speed of a train. The cloud of debris was visible from space, and thousands of survivors made their way to safety across Brooklyn Bridge or to Battery Park. Every kind of boat, from civilian and commercial to state and federal, came to the rescue, evacuating almost half a million people, a maritime rescue larger than the World War II evacuation from Dunkirk. Others walked north, stunned and speechless, but they were met with kindness by fellow New Yorkers, offering water, transportation, and a phone to use to call their loved ones. Father Mychal Judge was the first official death, the only clergy on-site after the impact. The tragedy shook the world in real-time, with millions watching it on television, and as one survivor put it, “Your brain couldn’t adjust to the concept of the World Trade Center coming down on you.”

The Tragic Event of 9/11

On September 11, 2001, the world witnessed horrific events unfold in New York City and the Pentagon. While New York City received most of the media coverage due to the real-time nature of the events and the number of lives lost, the Pentagon also faced significant losses, with 125 fatalities and dangerous carbon monoxide poisoning. Donald Rumsfeld, who helped at the crash site, insisted that everyone return to work on September 12 to show that terrorists could not intimidate the United States.

Amidst the chaos, UA Flight 93 was hijacked, and passenger Jeremy Glick knew that the terrorists would use his flight to attack the Capitol. He called his wife before the plane crashed into an abandoned mine, disintegrating and vaporizing everyone aboard. The black box revealed that passengers had tried to stop the hijackers and crashed the plane.

The world watched the events of September 11 unfold on television. Broadcasters reported on the Twin Towers burning and saw the second plane hitting the South Tower. Viewers saw people jumping to their deaths and waving for help from the towers’ top. The president and his team learned about the day’s events while watching television on Air Force One. Television also informed the people in the Pentagon about the attack.

The entire event lasted only 102 minutes, and Robert de Niro, who lived near the WTC, had to confirm what he saw with television. The passengers on Flight 93 were the real heroes, willing to sacrifice themselves to stop the terrorists.

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