These 9/11 Airline Recordings Are the Most Horrifying Thing I've Heard

9/11 is a mostly visual terror. Photos of exploding towers are synonymous with the day. But the fear, desperation, and confusion captured in this chatter between pilots, the FAA, military, and terrorists themselves are unbelievably chilling.

The New York Times' audio archive of the day's radio communication is far more than an archive—the nightmare of the morning and afternoon play in sequence, annotated so you know who's talking, and about what. From the first moments of disbelief—this must just be some sort of misunderstanding, right?—to the Vice President's order to shoot planes out of the sky. All the while, a map shows the positions of each plane before they met their awful end.

Some of the background talk is striking—an FAA employee who shouts "Cool!" when she finds out a plane's been hijacked. The repeated questioning of the day's veracity—was it really be happening? It wasn't just a training exercise?

Some just filled me with despair. The frustration of fighter pilots who have no idea where to go. The screams from United 93 as the violent hijacking is executed. You can feel the day begin to swell, bloated with fear, as people around the country realize the hell they're in the midst of. Tributes to the day are worthwhile, but listening to things like this might be the most worthwhile reminder there is. [NYT]

Photo: USAF