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Background Attack Aftermath Evidence Misinformation Analysis Memorial

Minimized Fatalities

Intents of the Perpetrators

The death toll of the September 11th mass murder was large by historical standards of massacres. Yet it would have been much larger if not for a number of characteristics of the attacks which appear planned to minimize the death toll while still carrying out the unprecedented terror of flying jetliners into two of the largest buildings in the world, then demolishing them with people still inside. The characteristics include the selection of flights, the timing of the attacks, the selection of targets, and the positions of the aircraft collisions in each of the three targets.


Date and Time

The timing of the attacks greatly reduced the human carnage. September 11th was an election day in New York City, and the first day of primary school for many parents. 1   These factors must have delayed the arrival of many World Trade Center workers. The portion of the Pentagon that was hit had just been retrofitted with bomb-resistant walls, and the office space lethally affected by the attack was only partially occupied. The timing of the attack seemed calculated to minimize the loss of life while still maximizing the psychological impact.



The following table shows the seating capacities and numbers of passengers thought to be aboard each flight, based on sources described on the Commandeered Flights page. Since the published passenger lists do not include the alleged hijackers, we show percentage occupancy numbers and percentages both including and excluding the alleged hijackers. All flights had occupancies of less than 52 percent, and the aggregate occupancy was only 31 percent.

flight capacity manifest percent with hijackers percent
AA Flight 11 158 76 48.1 81 51.3
UA Flight 175 166 46 27.7 52 31.3
AA Flight 77 188 50 26.6 55 29.3
UA Flight 93 182 26 14.3 30 16.5
aggregate 694 198 28.5 218 31.4

Although flights less than half full were not uncommon in 2001, the fact that all four flights had low occupancy rates suggests the possibility that bookings for the targeted flights were manipulated to reduce the death toll.


1 & 2 World Trade Center

WTC 1, the first Tower to be hit, was struck around the 96th floor at 8:46 AM. Since there were only about 14 floors above the crash site, hundreds, rather than thousands, of people were cut off from escape by the crash. If the strike were much higher, a gravity-driven collapse would not have been a plausible explanation for the following "collapse." WTC 2 was struck around the 81st floor at 9:03. Although the second strike was more than ten stories lower than the first, the 18 minutes between the two strikes allowed most of the people in the top 30 stories of WTC 2 to evacuate while the elevators were still running. More would have survived if not for a message over the PA system assuring people the building was secure, and that they could return to their floors. The veering of the second jet to the right before it hit WTC 2 caused it to hit the right half of the southeast wall and partly emerge from the east corner. That allowed the core and its stairwells to remain largely undamaged. At least 18 people escaped from above the crash zone after the impact, according to the New York Times. 2  

When the first plane hit, the Twin Towers were at well below their typical daily peak occupancy. Only about half of office workers normally arrive before 9 AM, and many were delayed by voting, since it was an election day. Few tourists and shoppers were present at that hour. Two hours later the buildings would have held around 50,000 people rather than the 20,000 actually present. If the strikes had been in the middle of the day, and the impacts had been centered and at the 45th floors (just above the surrounding buildings), 30,000 could have been trapped and killed.



At the time the Pentagon was hit, about 20,000 people were at work in the building. Yet despite the significant portion of the building affected by the crash, only 125 Pentagon employees were killed. The portion of the building that sustained the impact, called "Wedge One", had recently undergone renovations including the reinforcement of exterior walls with steel beams and columns. 3  


Other Targets

Also interesting are the far more lethal targets that the perpetrators passed over. Flight 11 flew directly over the Indian Point nuclear power plant, and Flight 175 flew within about two minutes of it. That facility contains three nuclear power stations, one of which was online, and a unit storing 65 operating years' worth of highly radioactive waste. It is surrounded by heavily populated areas. Although the containment domes of the reactors might have survived an impact, the radioactive waste storage facility could easily have been breached by an impact, and damage to systems outside the containment domes could have led to a meltdown.


1. WTC Disaster Shows Value of Evacuation Drills, National Research Council Canada, 8/03 [cached]
2. Fighting to Live as the Towers Died, New York Times, [cached]
3. Engineering Report on Pentagon Disaster, ArchitectureWeek.com, 2/12/03 [cached]

page last modified: 2013-03-21