9/11 Timeline: Three Hours That Changed Everything
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9/11 Timeline: Three Hours That Changed Everything

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9/11 Timeline: Three Hours That Changed Everything

For Americans and people watching around the world, September 11, 2001, is a day that will never be forgotten.

Within three hours, New York’s tallest buildings were reduced to rubble, and the Pentagon—the nerve center of the American armed forces—was burning and partially collapsed. Thousands of civilians had lost their lives and were seriously injured, and the entire country was in collective shock, still trying to make sense of how a coordinated act of terrorism of that magnitude was allowed to take place on American soil.

In the 20 years since 9/11, the events that occurred that morning have been analyzed in-depth from a thousand different angles. Even though the attacks took place in the era just before mobile phones had viable cameras, there are countless images and videos of the event. As well, we now have the 9/11 Commission Report, which compiles interviews from over 1,200 people in 10 countries, and draws upon two and a half million pages of documents to present its findings.

For many people younger than Generation X, 9/11 is a feeling—a grim milestone from their youth—but the details are likely more fuzzy. The timeline visualization above is a high-level record of what happened that morning during the three hours when everything changed.

A Chronology of Terror

In its most simple form, the 9/11 attacks can be described as a coordinated hijacking of four commercial airplanes, which were then used to fly into high profile targets in New York City and Washington, DC. Here is a summary of the planes involved in the incident:

911 hijacked planes

These four flights play a central role in what unfolded that morning. In the early hours of September 11, 2001, a collection of 19 would-be hijackers made their way through security at airports in Boston, Newark, and Washington, DC.

Our three-hour timeline begins just before 8am, as the first plane involved in the attack leaves the tarmac just outside of Boston. (In situations where the exact time isn’t known, a range is given.)


Sept 11, 2001, 7:59am – American Airlines Flight 11, a Boeing 767 carrying 81 passengers and 11 crew members, departs from Logan International Airport in Boston, bound for Los Angeles International Airport.

8:14 – United Airlines Flight 175, a Boeing 767, carrying 56 passengers and 9 crew members, departs from Logan International Airport in Boston, bound for Los Angeles International Airport.

8:14 – Flight 11 is hijacked over central Massachusetts. There are five hijackers on board.

8:20 – American Airlines Flight 77, a Boeing 757 with 58 passengers and 6 crew members, departs from Washington Dulles International Airport, for Los Angeles International Airport.

8:42 – United Airlines Flight 93, a Boeing 757 with 37 passengers and 7 crew members, departs from Newark International Airport, bound for San Francisco International Airport.

8:42–8:46 – Flight 175 is hijacked above northwest New Jersey. There are five hijackers on board.

8:46 – Flight 11 crashes into the north face of the North Tower (1 WTC) of the World Trade Center, between floors 93 and 99. All 92 people on board are killed.

8:50–8:54 – Flight 77 is hijacked above southern Ohio. There are five hijackers on board.

9:03 – Flight 175 crashes into the south face of the South Tower (2 WTC) of the World Trade Center, between floors 77 and 85. All 65 people on board are killed.

9:28 – Flight 93 is hijacked above northern Ohio. There are four hijackers on board.

9:37 – Flight 77 crashes into the western side of The Pentagon. All 64 people on board are killed.

9:45 – United States airspace is shut down; all operating aircraft are ordered to land at the nearest airport.

9:59 – The South Tower of the World Trade Center collapses, 56 minutes after the impact of Flight 175.

10:03 – Flight 93 is crashed by its hijackers in a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. Later reports indicate that passengers had learned about the World Trade Center and Pentagon crashes and were resisting the hijackers. All 44 people on board are killed in the crash.

10:28 – The North Tower of the World Trade Center collapses, 1 hour and 42 minutes after the impact of Flight 11. The Marriott Hotel at the base of the two towers is also destroyed.

10:50 – Five stories of the western side of the Pentagon collapse due to the fire.


Two and a half hours after the first plane left Boston, the iconic “Twin Towers” lay in ruins in Lower Manhattan, and brave first responders and military personnel were scrambling to save lives and secure the country.

Life in America was set on a new trajectory.

Information Shockwave

Two decades is a long time in the world of technology and media. Though the communication channels of that era may seem slow by today’s standards, the September 11 terrorist attacks still took place in the age of 24-hour cable news coverage and nascent online reporting.

Add in the fact that New York was (and still is) a linchpin of global media, and it’s easy to see why media coverage of the attack spread so quickly.

911 media information spread timeline

Within two minutes of the first impact on the World Trade Center, a nearby camera crew covering New York’s mayoral primary election was already broadcasting a live feed of the burning building to a TV audience. Within three minutes, news of the attack hit the Associated Press newswire, and moments after that, most major networks cut away from scheduled programming to cover the story.

Less than 10 minutes after the impact, President Bush–who was attending an event at a Florida elementary school–was informed of the crash (which at that point was characterized as an accident).

Because media outlets were able to cover the incident so quickly, millions of people witnessed the second plane striking the South Tower in real-time a mere 17 minutes after the first impact. This was a defining moment as millions of people around the world experience the events precisely as they unfolded.

The still-young internet was strained that day. Moments after the impact of the North Tower, the CNN and MSNBC websites experienced a crushing load of traffic that overwhelmed servers. The FBI’s website also experienced issues after posting the images of the 9/11 hijackers later that day.

Lasting Impact

The Pentagon has been repaired, and a shiny, 94-story World Trade Center now punctuates the skyline of Lower Manhattan, but not all wounds have healed.

For one, many 9/11 survivors are living with lingering health issues believed to be linked to the toxic smoke from the attack and building collapse. Many others are living with the absence of the nearly 3,000 loved-ones who died during the attacks.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is still a lasting legacy of the 9/11 attacks. When DHS began operations in 2003, it was the largest U.S. government reorganization in the 50 years since the Department of Defense was created. In addition to this largely “hidden” layer of security, people now encounter more vigorous security protocol at airports around the world.

As well, the recent withdrawal from Afghanistan was a reminder that long shadow of the attack is still influencing events today, even two decades later.

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Misc

Animated Map: Visualizing Earth’s Seasons

This map visualizes Earth’s seasons, showing how our planet’s Arctic sea ice and vegetation changes throughout the year.

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Animated Map: Visualizing Earth’s Seasons

Why does Earth have seasons?

Many people think the seasons are dictated by Earth’s proximity to the Sun, but this isn’t the case. It’s the Earth’s tilt, not its closeness to the Sun, that influences our seasons.

This animated map by Eleanor Lutz visualizes Earth’s seasons, showing how the temperature changes impact ice levels in the Arctic as well as vegetation more broadly. It also highlights the cloud cover and sunlight each hemisphere receives throughout the year, with each frame in the animation representing a month of time.

Why is Earth Tilted?

Unlike some of the planets that sit completely upright and rotate perpendicularly, Earth rotates on a 23.5-degree axis.

But why? A commonly accepted theory among the scientific community is the giant impact hypothesis. According to this theory, a celestial object called Theia collided with Earth many years ago, when the planet was still forming. This collision not only knocked Earth into its tilted position—some believe that the dust and debris from this impact ended up forming our moon.

Ever since, our planet has been rotating with a slight tilt (which itself is not fixed, as it “wobbles” in cycles), giving us our varying seasons throughout the year.

How Earth’s Tilt Influences our Seasons

As our planet orbits the Sun, it’s always leaning in the same direction. Because of its tilt, the different hemispheres receive varying amounts of sunlight at different times of the year.

In December, Earth is technically closer to the Sun than it is in June or July. However, because the Northern Hemisphere is tilted away from the Sun during December, that part of the planet experiences winter during that time.

Earth's Seasonal Climates

The graphic above by the Smithsonian Science Education Center (SSEC) visualizes Earth’s orbit throughout the year, showing when each hemisphere receives the most direct sunlight (and thus, experiences summer).

The Climate Change Impact

While our seasons have always varied, it’s worth noting that climate change has impacted our seasons, and changed how much Arctic ice we lose each summer.

In the past, millions of miles of ice remained frozen throughout the summer months. In the 1980s, there were 3.8 million square miles of ice in July—that’s roughly the same size as Australia.

Over the years, Arctic ice cover has steadily declined. In July 2020, the ice cover was only 2.8 million square miles—a million less than the amount four decades ago.

Some scientists are predicting that we could lose our summer sea ice entirely by 2035, which would have a devastating impact on the Artic’s wildlife and the indigenous people who live there.

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Misc

10 Travel Destinations for Post-Pandemic Life

Excited to get back to travelling the world? This infographic highlights the 10 most popular tourist destinations.

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10 Travel Destinations for Post-Pandemic Life

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization formally classified the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic. The resulting travel bans decimated the tourism industry, and international air travel initially fell by as much as 98%.

Almost two years later, travel is finally back on the table, though there are many restrictions to consider. Regardless, a survey conducted in September 2021 found that, as things revert to normalcy, 82% of Americans are looking forward to international travel more than anything else.

To give inspiration for your next vacation (whenever that may be), this infographic lists the 10 most visited countries in 2019, as well as three of their top attractions according to Google Maps.

Bon Voyage

Here were the 10 most popular travel destinations in 2019, measured by their number of international arrivals.

CountryNumber of international arrivals in 2019 (millions)
🇫🇷 France*90.0
🇪🇸 Spain83.5
🇺🇸 U.S.79.3
🇨🇳 China65.7
🇮🇹 Italy64.5
🇹🇷 Turkey51.2
🇲🇽 Mexico45.0
🇹🇭 Thailand39.8
🇩🇪 Germany39.6
🇬🇧 United Kingdom39.4

*Estimate | Source: World Bank

France was the most popular travel destination by a significant margin, and it’s easy to see why. The country is home to many of the world’s most renowned sights, including the Arc de Triomphe and Louvre Museum.

The Arc de Triomphe was built in the early 1800s, and honors those who died in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. In 1944, Allied soldiers marched through the monument after Paris was liberated from the Nazis.

The Louvre Museum, on the other hand, is often recognized by its giant glass pyramid. The museum houses over 480,000 works of art, including Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.

Art isn’t the only thing that France has to offer. The country has a reputation for culinary excellence, and is home to 632 Michelin-starred restaurants, the most out of any country. Japan comes in at second, with 413.

While You’re There…

After seeing the sights in Paris, you may want to consider a visit to Spain. The country is the southern neighbor of France and is known for its beautiful villages and beaches.

One of its most impressive sights is the Sagrada Familia, a massive 440,000 square feet church which began construction in 1882, and is still being worked on today (139 years in the making). The video below shows the structure’s striking evolution.

At a height of 172 meters, the Sagrada Familia is approximately 52 stories tall.

Another popular spot is Ibiza, an island off the coast of Spain that is famous for its robust nightlife scene. The island is frequently mentioned in pop culture—Netflix released an adventure/romance movie titled Ibiza in 2018, and the remix of Mike Posner’s song I Took a Pill in Ibiza has over 1.4 billion views on YouTube.

Beaches Galore

If you’re looking for something outside of Europe, consider Mexico or Thailand, which are the 7th and 8th most popular travel destinations. Both offer hot weather and an abundance of white sand beaches.

If you need even more convincing, check out these links:

Expect Turbulence

Under normal circumstances, hundreds of billions of dollars are spent each year by international tourists. According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTCC), this spending accounted for an impressive 10.4% of global GDP in 2019.

Travel restrictions introduced in 2020 dealt a serious blow to the industry, reducing its share of global GDP to 5.5%, and wiping out an estimated 62 million jobs. While the WTCC believes these jobs could return by 2022, the emerging Omicron variant has already prompted many countries to tighten restrictions once again.

To avoid headaches in the future, make sure you fully understand the rules and restrictions of where you’re heading.

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