Nightly News   |  September 08, 2011

New 9/11 tapes show confusion and disbelief

As we approach the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the events of that awful day seem clear in our memories. But new audio tapes just out are stark reminders of the confusion and disbelief, as those four suicide hijackings unfolded. NBC’s Pete Williams reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> as we count down now to the tenth anniversary of 9/11, tonight we're getting our first listen to new and chilling reminders of what it was like that day in real time, specifically for the air traffic controllers tracking those aircraft. the audiotapes you're about to hear are part of a newly published collection originally prepared for the 9/11 commission but not released until now. tonight our justice correspondent pete williams tells us about some of these voices of 9/11.

>> reporter: on a bright morning in boston, american airlines flight 11 takes off for los angeles and acknowledges it's directions, the last it's heard from.

>> turn 20 degrees right.

>> american 20 left will not respond to me now.

>> reporter: then the airline itself contacts controllers.

>> i'm monitoring a call that the flight attendant is advising our reps that the pilot and everyone's been stabbed.

>> if you try to make any moves, you endanger yourself and the plane. just stay quiet.

>> kennedy tower reports. kennedy tower reports that there was a fire at the world trade center and that's the area where we lost the airplane.

>> reporter: controllers and other pilots soon realized more planes had been hijacked.

>> i can't get a hold of 175 at all right now.

>> would you look out your window right now, is he heading for the building also?

>> he's descending really quick.

>> it just hit the building.

>> the whole building just came apart.

>> holy smokes.

>> reporter: to the south near washington, a third plane goes missing.

>> american, 77 american, radio check, how do you read?

>> reporter: a nearby pilot reports seeing it crash.

>> that aircraft crashed into the pentagon.

>> reporter: then the pilot of the fourth plane hijacked makes a desperate radio call and soon disappears from radar.

>> united 93 .

>> we hear some funny noises. do you have him?

>> no.

>> there's a report of black smoke in the last position i gave you.

>> 15 miles south of johnstown.

>> reporter: near the recording's end, a military radio call reflects the sobering reality.

>> and, brian, as we prepare for the 9/11 anniversary this weekend, there's new information tonight that has the administration concerned over the last several days, they have been monitoring what they call the chatter, the intake of intelligence in the last 24 hours , they have picked up what they consider to be a specific piece of information, but it's unconfirmed, it's internally contradict try, and there are meetings tonight trying to decide how serious to take this, whether to take it public, there's even a discussion underway about whether to invoke the homeland security new elevated terror threat level . they'll probably tell local police about it to be wary of it. but so far no decision to make it public.

>> this is what we used to call the new normal and now it's just the normal. all right, we'll look for more reporting on it. pete williams , as always, thanks.