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Sunday, July 19th, 2009 10:05 am
The following is how I understand the popular stance, a.k.a. "what most people believe", a.k.a. "what anyone except a wild-eyed conspiracy nut knows to be true"; please do correct me if I am misrepresenting it in any way. (I have also posted it as a page on Issuepedia.)

The Story

On the morning of September 11, 2001, terrorists working for Al Qaeda and on the orders of Osama bin Laden boarded four airliners as passengers. Soon after take-off and using only boxcutters as weapons, they overcame the crew and pilots, took over the controls, and succeeded in directing three of the planes into their intended targets -- WTC1, WTC2, and the Pentagon. On the one remaining aircraft, passengers heard via cellphone about one or more of the other incidents, and decided to fight back, resulting in the plane crashing into an uninhabited field in Pennsylvania, thereby probably saving many lives.

The military jets which are normally deployed within minutes to intercept troubled aircraft were unable to intercept the planes before they reached their targets, in part because the commercial jets' transponders had been turned off, making them difficult to track.

Overcome by the intense heat from the burning jet-fuel and having had their insulation partly stripped away by the impact, critical structural elements in WTC1 and WTC2 became sufficiently soft that the block of stories above the impact collapsed one or more floors in the impact area; the momentum built up from this initial collapse was sufficient to collapse the less-damaged floor below that and ultimately the rest of the building (one floor at a time in a downward progression). The mostly-intact upper floors presumably collapsed on themselves when the accumulating pile of rubble ran into non-compactable soil or bedrock below street level.

(The damaged Pentagon also burned out of control for some time, resulting in collapse of its upper floors over the impact area.)

Fires and debris from the collapsing WTC1 and WTC2 heavily damaged or destroyed several other buildings, starting fires throughout the World Trade Center complex which burned out of control for the rest of the day and eventually caused WTC7 to collapse that evening.