I was standing in my office at my desk that morning, and at 0847 my executive assistant came in and said that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. And I remember thinking: "What a strange accident."
And so I called the president, who was in Florida at an education event, and I said: “Mr President, a plane has hit the World Trade Center.”
And he said: “That's a strange accident.”
And I said: “I'll call you when we know more.”
Initially, the reports were that it was maybe a twin engine plane of some sort, maybe a private plane.
And then when I got down to have my morning staff meeting, down in the Situation Room, my executive assistant handed me another note and it said, a second plane had hit the World Trade Center. And I thought, my God, this is a terrorist attack.
Ground civil aviation
And so I went into the Situation Support Center, and I was going to try to gather together the National Security Council principals. Colin Powell was in Peru. And I tried to call Don Rumsfeld, and I couldn't reach him right away, and I looked behind me, and a plane had hit the Pentagon.
And right about that time, the secret service came and they said: “You have to go to the bunker, because we think a plane may be headed for the White House.”
And so I stopped to call the president, who said: “I really should come back to Washington.”
We said: “No, Washington is under attack, you mustn't.”
And I then got down to the bunker and I spent the rest of the day, first of all, trying with the vice-president and the Secretary of Transportation, Norm Mineta, to ground civil aviation and to be able to track where all of the aircraft were, so that you knew what else was happening.