It comes as no surprise that newly released audio recordings from the morning of 9/11 are extremely heavy, but it's also strange to find that something so disturbing could also be so difficult to turn off. Go to the NY Times website, click play at the beginning, and listen in as various air traffic controllers, hijacked passengers, and other helpless authorities try to piece together what the hell is happening. It's sickeningly immediate, as if that horrific morning were unfolding again right in front of you, and maybe if you could just scream loud enough, maybe you could do something.
Of course, you're as powerless as those you're overhearing during the final minutes of their lives. It's not something you want to relive, but it's also difficult to stop listening once it starts. And it's maddeningly frustrating to hear how futile and uncomprehending the response could be at times. Here's American Airlines 11 flight attendant Betty Ong talking to American Airlines reservations agents (AAL) on the ground:
Betty Ong: Our Number 1 has been stabbed, and our 5 has been stabbed. Can anybody get up to the cockpit? Can anybody get up to the cockpit? We can't even get into the cockpit. We don't know who's up there.
AAL: Well if they were shrewd, they would keep the door closed, and...
Betty Ong: I’m sorry?
AAL: Would they not maintain a sterile cockpit?
Betty Ong: I think the guys are up there. They might have gone there — jammed their way up there, or something. Nobody can call the cockpit. We can't even get inside. Is anybody still there?
AAL:Yes, we're still here.
Betty Ong: O.K. I'm staying on the line as well.
The newly released multimedia documents, which were published by Rutgers Law Review, consist of 114 recordings of air traffic controllers, military aviation officers, airline and fighter jet pilots, as well as two of the hijackers. The recordings also chronicle authorities' chaotic and uncoordinated response. At one point, the Times reports, "A military aviation official contacted the Washington center of the F.A.A. to discuss the situation, and learned, to her surprise, that American Airlines Flight 77 had disappeared more than 30 minutes earlier. No one had told the military."
Two essential pieces of audio are still being kept from the public. One is the cockpit recording from Flight 93 as passengers tried to storm the cockpit in a field in Pennsylvania. (Families of those passengers have so far blocked the audio's release.) The other audio segment, the Times reports, consists of a high-level conference call that began at 9:28 and grew to include senior figures like Mr. Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard B. Myers.