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Tuesday, July 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

United Airlines Cleared for Fall of WTC Tower 7

MANHATTAN (CN) - United Airlines is not liable to a company that leased Tower 7 of the World Trade Center for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

In granting the Boise-based airline summary judgment, U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein quoted influential early-20th century jurist Benjamin Cardozo.

"As Chief Judge Cardozo famously wrote, '[t]he risk reasonably to be perceived defines the duty to be obeyed, and risk imports relation; it is risk to another or to others within the range of apprehension,'" Hellerstein's order states. "It was not within United's range of apprehension that terrorists would slip through the PWM [Portland International Jetport] security screening checkpoint, fly to Logan, proceed through another air carrier's security screening and board that air carrier's flight, hijack the flight and crash it into 1 World Trade Center, let alone that 1 World Trade Center would therefore collapse and cause Tower 7 to collapse."

Tower 7 collapsed after debris from the crumbling Tower 1 pierced the neighboring building's facade and caused fires. As lessee, 7 World Trade Co. Properties sought to push liability to the airlines that had been hijacked by al-Qaida that fateful day.

Just two months before the terrorist attacks, World Trade Center Properties had paid the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey $2.805 billion to lease Towers One, Two, Four and Five for 99 years.

The 11-page order dismissing United from the case draws upon the timeline of the attacks as compiled by the 9/11 Commission and staff reports.

"In the early the morning of September 11, Mohamed Atta and Abdul Aziz at Omari arrived at PWM, planning to take Colgan Air Flight 5930 ('Flight 5930') to Boston's Logan International Airport ('Logan'), where they planned to board Flight 11, bound for Los Angeles International Airport," Hellerstein wrote. "At 5:43 a.m., they received their Flight 5930 boarding passes at the U.S. Airways ticket counter in the unsccure area of the PWM terminal. At 5:45 a.m., Atta and Omari entered the security screening checkpoint to access the secure area of the PWM terminal. They passed through the checkpoint and proceeded to Gate 11, where they boarded Flight 5930 for its on-time 6:00 a.m. departure. United bore no responsibility for Flight 5930's ticketing, passenger check-in and boarding, or for the operation of the flight itself.

"Flight 5930 arrived at Gate B9(A) in Pier B of Terminal B at Logan at approximately 6:45 a.m. American Airlines Flight 11 was scheduled to depart at 7:45 a.m. from Gate 32 in Pier A of Terminal B. Piers A and B were separated by the Terminal B Parking Garage. Traveling from Gate B9(A) to Gate 32 required exiting both the secure and unsecure areas of Pier B, crossing the Terminal B Parking Garage, entering the unsecure area of Pier A, passing through a security screening checkpoint to enter the secure area of Pier A, and, finally, proceeding to Gate 32. ...

"Upon exiting Flight 5930, Atta and Omari followed this route to the unsecure area of Pier A. After obtaining their Flight 11 boarding passes from American Airlines, Atta and Omari entered a security screening checkpoint to access the secure area of Pier A. There were two such security screening checkpoints providing access to the secure area of Pier A, both operated by Globe Aviation Services under a contract with American Airlines. ... United had no responsibility for either checkpoint; United's checkpoint and gates were in Terminal C of Logan Airport, a substantial distance removed from the American checkpoints and gates. ... Atta and Oman each passed through one of these checkpoints before boarding Flight 11. The other Flight 11 hijackers, Wail al Shehri, Waleed al Shehri and Satam al Suqami, arrived at Logan via automobile and each passed through one of the same two checkpoints before boarding Flight 11. Flight 11 pushed back from the gate at 7:40 a.m. and by 8:00 a.m. was airborne.

"At approximately 8:15 a.m., the hijackers began their takeover of the aircraft. At 8:46 a.m., Flight 11 crashed into the upper stories of I World Trade Center. The 11O-story structure collapsed at 10:28 a.m., spewing flaming debris as it fell. The debris, expelled to the north, pierced the façade of Tower 7, starting fires inside the building. The fires burned unchecked, and at 5:21 p.m., Tower 7 collapsed."

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