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8:30 The motorcade leaves the hotel for the elementary school. Here’s the motorcade lineup:
8:41 United Airlines flight 93 with 44 people on board takes off from Newark Airport in New Jersey for San Francisco.
8:46 American Airlines flight 11 is flown by Mohammed Atta and other terrorists into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
8:50 As the motorcade pulled up to the school, I received a page from Brian Bravo, a staffer in the press office at the WH whose job was to monitor all press coverage, that a plane hit the World Trade Center. We didn't have smart phones then. I had an old fashioned pager.
The President got out of his limo and shook hands with school officials who were there to greet him. I waited for him and was going to tell him the news. Karl Rove got a phone call from his office telling him about the crash, and he told POTUS after he shook the last hand.
Instead of going into the reading event as scheduled, the President got on the phone in a "holding room", a secure location set up everywhere POTUS goes, complete with classified phones, to get a report from National Security Adviser Condi Rice.
At that moment, we all thought it must have been some type of horrible accident. We also didn't know how big the aircraft was and no one travelling with POTUS was aware yet of the four hijackings.
He hung up with Condi and entered the room where second grade teacher, Kaye Daniels, would lead her students in an excercise to show what good readers they were. It was part of POTUS' education initiatives to show that all kids, no matter their background, can be good readers.
Here's the scene in the classroom. I was standing just to the right of the photographer who took this picture. The holding room was located through the door at the back of this picture, immediately adjacent to this room.
9:03 United Airlines flight 175 is flown by terrorists into the World Trade Center's south tower.
Immediately after the south tower was hit, I received a second page from Brian Bravo informing me. Here's the picture of me getting the page:
9:05 Andy Card walks into the classroom from the holding room to whisper in the President's ear, "A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack."
The President remained in the classroom for about 5-7 minutes after Andy whispered in his ear. He was criticized for doing so in a movie by Michael Moore. He later said he wanted to collect his thoughts and not bolt from his chair, which might have panicked people.
9:15 The President entered the holding room and he, and several staff members, worked the phones to try to get additional information. Here is the scene:
Someone brought a TV into the holding room so POTUS could watch what the American people were watching:
No one in the Secret Service (USSS) thought the President was threatened at that time. They wanted to get going, but POTUS wanted to address the people who were waiting for a speech he was going to give after the reading event, and he wanted to address that nation.
Arrangements were being made to get the President back to Washington. We knew two towers had been hit, but at that moment, we had no information about other airplanes being hijacked.
According to the 9/11 Commission, "Staff was in contact with the White House Situation Room, but as far as we could determine, no on with the President was in contact with the Pentagon."
9:24 The FAA informs the military of the suspected hijacking of flight 77.
9:31 Bush addresses the nation from the school. Here is the video of his roughly one-minute long remarks. He was criticized for what some saw as "shaky" remarks in which he refererred to the terrorists as "folks."
9:35 The President's motorcade leaves the Emma E. Booker Elementary School for the Sarasota Airport.
9:37 Flight 77 is flown into the Pentagon by the terrorists who had hijacked the flight. The President hears about it in his limo enroute to the airport.
Immediately before the plane hit the Pentagon, the USSS burst into VP Cheney's office in the West Wing and literally picked him up "so his feet sometimes touched the ground" and took him to the bunker under the White House. One minute later the plane hit the Pentagon.
9:45 We arrived and started to board the plane. The USSS, which always goes above and beyond to protect POTUS, doubled their efforts, subjecting much of the staff and the press to extra searches. Here is the scene as dogs sniffed for possible bombs:
9:45 Back in Washington, The White House and the Capitol Building are evacated.
As Air Force One took off, its pilot, Colonel Mark Tillman, received a report that there was a sniper at the end of the runway. The plane took off at a much higher angle than usual. The report about the sniper turned out to be false. It was actually a USSS counter-sniper team.
9:59 The South Tower of the World Trade Center collapses.
Instead of going to my usual seat in the staff cabin, I spent much of the day in the President's cabin, taking notes on what he did and said. He boarded the plane and told the head of this USSS detail, Eddie Marenzel, to "be sure to get the first lady and daughters protected."
POTUS called the VP, who was in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center, PEOC, underneath the WH. "Sounds like we have a minor war going on here," Bush said. "I heard about the Pentagon."
Someone, my notes don't show who, told POTUS there were still 3 aircraft missing. We knew about three that hit their marks. We thought there were three more hijacked planes in the sky.
"We're at war," Bush said to his staff that were in his cabin. "That's what we're paid for boys. We're going to take care of this. When we find out who did this, they're not going to like me as President. Somebody's going to pay."
10:07 Flight 93 is taken back from the terrorists who hijacked it and flown into the ground in Shanksville, PA by its passengers. In giving up their lives, they prevented either the Capitol or the White House from being destroyed.
On a tragic day marked by heroism throught our country, especially in NYC and in Washington, DC, the brave souls who crashed flight 93 into the ground were the definition of heroes.
My notes resume at 10:20. I likely left POTUS' cabin to go back to mine or to talk with the press.

POTUS had authorized a shoot down of aircraft if necessary. Fighters were scrambled to protect cities. He met with his CIA briefer.
Andy Card said Air Force One was going up to 45,000 feet. "They claim we can outrun anybody," he said.

For one of the best reads about what happened on 9/11, read journalist Garrett Graff's book, "The Only Plane in the Sky". It's a superby retelling of what happend that day.
10:28 The World Trade Center's North Tower collapses.
We barely had TV reception on board the plane. In 2001, we did not have satellite TV, so we could sometimes get reception as we flew up ground locations with powerful antennae. It was frustrating as hell to have coveage come in and out.
Not only that, but the phones kept cutting out, even for the President. The communications systems, amazingly even on AFOne, were overwhelmed. Here's a picture from the President's office onboard AFOne:
10:32 POTUS was on the phone with the VP. He turned to his military aide, Lt. Col. Tom Gould, (the man carrying the nuclear football) to say a call came in to the WH switchboard saying "Angel is next." Angel was the codeword for Air Force One.
Imagine that. Somone had the codeword for the plane and on a day when the unbelievable was happening, people took that report seriously. Colonel Tillman, the pilot, stationed an armed security force officer to stand watch at the stairs going to the cockpit.
We took that report seriously, but like so many other reports, it turned out months later to be false. It was a mistake in translation as people inside the WH talked about it. A Sit Room intell officer used the word "Angel", and it got passed up the chain.
There were also false reports on the news. There were widespread reports that the mall was on fire and a bomb went off at the State Department. At a moment of crisis, it's hard to know whats fasle or accurate. But on 9/11, we had to take all threats seriously.
"We're going to find out who did this and we're going to kick their ass," Bush told Cheney.
Cheney also told Bush that there may be six aircraft that were hijacked. The President wanted to get back to Washington, but the USSS, Cheney and others advised him it was not safe to return there.
Here are several pictures from the scene aboard the plane:
To this day, I have no idea who I was talking to or why I was sitting at the President's desk:
My notes show that the President gave authorization for the military to go to DefCon 3, the highlest level of alert our military had been on since the 1973 Yom Kippur War. 5 is peacetime. 1 is war.
Condi later noted that when Russia and Vladmir Putin saw we were going to DefCon3, he called her to say Russia would not increast its alert status, as they would have done during the Cold War. Putin in 2001 was a good and helpful ally, especially in the months after 9/11.
CORRECTION: It turns out the suspected gunman was not a USSS countersniper team. It was a journalist with a camera.
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