How 9/11 Unfolded, As Told By Former Aide to George Bush

On 20th anniversary of 9/11, here’s a dramatic unfolding of the day’s events from inside a tense Air Force One.

2 min read
How 9/11 Unfolded, As Told By Former Aide to George Bush

(It’s been 20 years since the 9/11 attacks that shook America and then the world. The Quint is reposting this article from its archives in commemoration, originally published on 10 September 2015.)

If you want to know how the news of the attack on the World Trade Center unfolded, moment by moment, look no further than the twitter feed of Ari Fleischer, former Press Secretary to then President George Bush.

On the day of the attack and in the following days, Fleischer stayed with Bush, making comprehensive, urgent notes and clicking pictures of the decision-making process that would soon lead to Bush’s declaration of ‘war on terror’.

Each year for the last three years, Fleischer takes to Twitter to recount the story in a nail-biting series of tweets and pictures, often lasting over three hours. What better day – a Sunday, that too – to grab a cup of green tea and spare a few minutes reliving a seldom-told version of 9/11?


At this point, Bush went back into the reading session at the school. Within minutes, the second plane hit the South Tower.


Bush and his staff rushed back to the holding room where Bush was shown the footage of the planes hitting the WTC for the first time.

An hour after the first plane hit the WTC, at around 9:45 am, Bush and his staff were headed for Air Force One to go back to the White House.

In fact, six pages of handwritten notes on a legal pad remain the only legitimate account of what happened on Air Force One in the hours following the worst attack on American soil since Pearl Harbour in 1941. To mark 15 years since 9/11, Fleischer will be releasing the notes he took as presidential note-taker that day.

I always took notes. It’s how you do your job. But on 11 September, it was instantly clear how much more important it was to have a record of what the president did and said. I basically glued myself to his side almost the entire day and remained in his cabin on Air Force One to listen and take notes.
Ari Fleischer 
A look at the Fleischer’s notes when President Bush was told that America was officially under attack. (Photo: Reuters) 
The notes begin with a restless Bush, raring for revenge as soon as they had more details. “I can’t wait to find out who did it,” Bush said. “It’s going to take a while and we’re not going to have a little slap on the wrist crap.”

Then, came the first two directives from the President, sending a “chill down [Ari’s] spine”.

Bush then received a call from Dick Cheney, then-Vice President, informing him of a threat received to the Air Force One by the White House.

The atmosphere of shock, anger, determination, paranoia and suspicion in the following hours is clear through Fleischer’s tweets.

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