This year marks the 20th anniversary of September 11, 2001. On what seemed like a normal Tuesday, 19 members of al Qaeda hijacked four planes, flying out of Boston, Washington, D.C. and Newark, New Jersey.
According to Wall Street Journal’s timeline, American Airlines Flight 11 hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m., followed shortly by United Airlines Flight 175 hitting the South Tower at 9:03 a.m.
Thirty-four minutes later, American Airlines Flight 77 was flown into the Pentagon and more than an hour after the first plane hit, United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into a Pennsylvania field after an on-flight struggle between the hijackers and passengers.
In total, 2,996 people died that day, including the hijackers, according to History.com.
In the aftermath, stories began to emerge of people who narrowly missed death. Among them were a few celebrities. Here is what you need to know:
“I flew with the 9/11 hijackers on the dry run … without realizing. I was shooting ‘The West Wing’ in D.C. at the time and I always took, I think it was 93 or 73, the flight that leaves Dulles to Los Angeles that eventually they put into the Pentagon,” he told the show’s hosts.
The actor continued, “And so it was 11 days before 9/11 and you know, I make the flight a lot and I didn’t think anything of it. I got on the flight and it was packed, small plane. Looked around the cabin, don’t remember anything in particular, nobody looked scary, nobody looked like a terrorist … It looked like an absolutely normal flight.”
Sleeping through most of the flight, Lowe revealed he learned the truth a year later when he received a letter from the Attorney General of Maryland informing him he was on the list to be deposed for al Qaeda leader Zacarias Moussaoui. The “9-1-1 Lonestar” actor said he never had to testify.
“I was giving a lecture at my college the night before and went out with some of the faculty afterwards and had a few pints,” the creator of “Family Guy” explained. He added, “And coupled with the fact my travel agent had listed the flight on my itinerary as leaving 10 minutes later than it did.”
He continued, telling host Piers Morgan, “I got to the counter and I said, ‘Yeah, I’m booked on flight 11 and the woman behind the counter said ‘You’re too late, they just closed the gate,’ and I said, ‘All right, well you know, I’ll take the 11 o’clock.’”
He recounted taking a nap in the airport lounge and waking up “about 45 minutes later” to what he called “a commotion.” When they announced which flights hit the tower, MacFarlane turned to the man next to him and said, “My God, that was the flight I was supposed to be on.”
Sarah Ferguson was running late for a meeting for her Chances for Children charity, which was based on the 101st floor of the World Trade Center, on September 11, 2001, reported ABC News. According to the outlet, she arrived within seconds of the first crash and quickly collected the staff waiting to greet her in the lobby.
“The Duchess of York is desperately upset for everyone involved in this terrible tragedy,” her spokesman told ABC News. “It is unbelievable, she was just a few minutes away when the explosion took place.”
The charity’s mascot, Little Red, was found among the rubble. As the Duchess of York told Hello!, “From 101 floors Little Red came down in her dress, a little tiny rag doll, and she was found in the rubble. And CNN filmed it and said ‘oh a child’s doll,’ and Larry King said ‘no, that’s Little Red, and she stands for children’s rights all over the world.’ From Little Red, I’ve gone on to build a lot of schools and taught many teachers.”
The financial firm, Cantor Fitzgerald, was renting office space from her charity at the time and 700 of its employees died in the attacks, reported Mirror.
Despite originally being scheduled for the Los Angeles-bound American Airlines Flight 11, Mark Wahlberg made the last-minute decision to instead head to Toronto for a film festival, according to The Sun.
In a 2011 Men’s Health interview, he discussed narrowly avoiding one of the flights that hit the World Trade Center. Wahlberg told the outlet, “If I was on that plane with my kids, it wouldn’t have went down like it did. There would have been a lot of blood in that first-class cabin and then me saying, ‘Okay, we’re going to land somewhere safely, don’t worry.’”
After his remarks drew criticism, including from one of the victim’s widows, the actor issued an apology. In a statement published by Reuters, he said, “To speculate about such a situation is ridiculous to begin with, and to suggest I would have done anything differently than the passengers on that plane was irresponsible. I deeply apologize to the families of the victims that my answer came off as insensitive, it was certainly not my intention.”
Michael Jackson had meetings scheduled for September 11, 2001, at The World Trade Center, but overslept, his brother Jermaine told Billy Bush in a 2011 Access interview. Jermaine was promoting his book, “You Are Not Alone: Michael, Through a Brother’s Eyes.”
As The Jackson 5 singer told Bush, Jackson suffered from sleep deprivation. “My mother had stayed up with him all the way until four in the morning and he just slept; he missed his appointments, which was great,” Jermaine explained. “My mother told us that he was fine.”
Gwyneth Paltrow Is Credited for Saving a Passerby
As the outlet reported, the then 24-year-old was trying to make her train so she could be on time for her job on the 77th floor of The World Trade Center. She was stopped in her tracks as she jaywalked.
“It was one of those mornings that felt good, you had a little skip in your step,” Clarke explained. “What the heck – I always cut across 7th Avenue. Then all of the sudden a silver Mercedes SUV came barreling down towards me.”
She continued, “I stopped and they screeched to a halt. Then it developed in to one of those classic who-goes-first situations. It got ridiculous. Then I made eye contact with the Mercedes driver. OMG it was Gwyneth Paltrow.”
With the delay, she arrived at her train as the doors were shutting. While she admitted to the publication that she was “annoyed at everything” that caused to her late arrival at work, including the Academy Award-winning actress, she ended up emerging from the subway as the first plane hit. The second “plane’s wing sheared through her office,” wrote The Morton Report.
“If I had made that train I would have been at my desk on the 77th floor of 2 World Trade Center,” Clarke added. The publication reported that of the 170 people on duty in her office, only four died in the attacks.
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