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Context of '9:06 a.m. September 11, 2001: Flight Controllers Nationwide Are Told Flight 11 Crash Caused by Hijacking'

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After 9/11, NORAD and other sources will claim that NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) is notified at this time that Flight 175 has been hijacked. [Washington Post, 9/12/2001; CNN, 9/17/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; Associated Press, 8/19/2002; Newsday, 9/10/2002] However, the FAA’s New York Center, which is handling Flight 175, first alerts its military liaison about the hijacking at around 9:01 (see 9:01 a.m.-9:02 a.m. September 11, 2001). In addition, according to the 9/11 Commission, NEADS is not informed until two minutes later (see (9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] According to the Commission, the first “operational evidence” that there is something wrong on Flight 175 is not until 8:47, when its transponder code changes (see 8:46 a.m.-8:47 a.m. September 11, 2001), and it is not until 8:53 that the air traffic controller handling it concludes that Flight 175 may be hijacked (see 8:51 a.m.-8:53 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 7, 21-22]

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Northeast Air Defense Sector

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Ryan Gonsalves.Ryan Gonsalves. [Source: Institute for the Study of War]An officer in the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon learns, during a phone call to the FAA, of the hijacking of Flight 11, but the FAA tells him it does not need any help dealing with this, as everything seems to be under control. [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 35]
NMCC Officer Calls FAA for Information - After those in the NMCC learned from television that an aircraft had crashed into the World Trade Center (see (8:48 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Lieutenant Colonel Ryan Gonsalves, the senior operations officer there, began gathering up as much information as he could on the crisis. One of the phone calls he makes is to the FAA operations center at the agency’s Washington, DC, headquarters. The employee at the operations center who answers the call tells Gonsalves that the FAA has had a report of a hijacking on a plane that departed Boston. [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 5/5/2004]
FAA Says It Does Not Need Help - The FAA employee apparently does not connect the plane crashing into the WTC with the hijacked Flight 11, which they claim is still airborne and heading for New York’s JFK International Airport. The entry in the senior operations officer’s log about the call will state: “9:00 NMCC called FAA, briefed of explosion at WTC possibly from aircraft crash. Also, hijacking of American Flight 11 from Boston to LA, now en route to Kennedy.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 462] Furthermore, when Gonsalves asks if the FAA needs any assistance dealing with the hijacking, the operations center employee replies, “No,” and says the pilot “had called in and said everything was under control, and he was going to land at New York shortly.” [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 5/5/2004] The possibility of scrambling fighter jets is not discussed during the phone call. Even though military instructions state that the NMCC is to be “notified by the most expeditious means by the FAA” in response to aircraft hijackings in US airspace (see June 1, 2001), this call, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, appears to be the first time the FAA informs the NMCC of the hijacking of Flight 11. [US Department of Defense, 6/1/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 35]

Entity Tags: National Military Command Center, Federal Aviation Administration, Ryan Gonsalves

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

All flight control facilities nationwide are notified that the Flight 11 crash into the WTC was probably a hijacking. [US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure, 9/21/2001; Newsday, 9/23/2001]

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The FAA Command Center in Herndon, Virginia.The FAA Command Center in Herndon, Virginia. [Source: Federal Aviation Administration]Ben Sliney, the national operations manager at the FAA’s Herndon Command Center, puts the word out that he wants all air traffic control facilities around the US to inform him of anything unusual that occurs with the flights they are handling. In response, news of suspicious activity quickly starts coming in to the Command Center. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 125-126]
Command Center Calls Field Facilities - Sliney wants air traffic control facilities to notify him of anything out of the ordinary, such as a radar target disappearing from the radar scope, loss of communication with an aircraft, or an aircraft making an unauthorized change of course. He also wants to know immediately of any glitches that occur, even if these are common, everyday problems, such as a flight deviating from its course, missing a frequency change, overlooking a radio call, or getting a transponder code wrong. The center’s controllers at each regional desk therefore start calling their field facilities, and ask them to report any unusual occurrences. [9/11 Commission, 7/22/2003 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 125] The Command Center has telecommunications lines to all the major air traffic control facilities in the US, which enables it to reach out to those facilities and establish the big picture about aircraft activity. [Freni, 2003, pp. 64]
'More and More' Responses Received - Following the call for information, numerous reports of suspicious activity are received from the air traffic control facilities. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 125-126] Linda Schuessler, the deputy director of system operations at the Command Center, will later recall, “[W]e started getting more and more calls about bomb threats, about aircraft that we had lost communication or radar identification with.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 12/17/2001]
Center Lists Suspect Aircraft - Sliney wants a list compiled of the reportedly suspicious aircraft. A dry-erase board is set up in the middle of the room. On it a manager keeps track of the reports that are coming in, writing down where each suspect aircraft was last seen, who was working it, where the flight originated, and where it is going. Another person contacts the field facilities to follow up on the reports. [9/11 Commission, 7/22/2003 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 126]
Two Dozen Suspicious Flights - Author Pamela Freni will later describe, “[F]or the next several hours the call signs and status” of every suspicious aircraft will be recorded. Command Center personnel call “airline operations centers, trying to determine any crises on each flight. Only when each plane landed or was found safe did its identification information disappear from the board. Upward to two dozen were listed at one time, but ultimately the number was whittled to 11 highly suspicious cases” (see (9:09 a.m. and After) September 11, 2001). “Nine of those airplanes would land safely. Two of them—AA 77 and UA 93—would not.” [Freni, 2003, pp. 64-65]

Entity Tags: Linda Schuessler, Ben Sliney, Federal Aviation Administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A Delta Air Lines Boeing 767, the same kind of aircraft as Delta 1989.A Delta Air Lines Boeing 767, the same kind of aircraft as Delta 1989. [Source: Public domain]The FAA’s Cleveland Center incorrectly concludes that Delta Air Lines Flight 1989 has been hijacked, but accounts will conflict over how it comes to this conclusion. [USA Today, 8/13/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 167] Delta 1989, a Boeing 767, is currently in the sector of airspace being monitored by Cleveland Center air traffic controller John Werth. [9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003 pdf file; USA Today, 9/11/2008] It is flying west over Pennsylvania, approaching the Ohio border, and is about 25 miles behind Flight 93. FBI agents suspected Delta 1989 might be the next plane to be hijacked and called the Cleveland Center after the second attack on the World Trade Center, with the warning to watch this flight (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 8/13/2002] A supervisor at the center told Werth to keep an eye on the flight because, as Werth will later recall, “he was a suspected hijacking because he had taken off from Boston at approximately the same time as” the first two hijacked aircraft, Flights 11 and 175. [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 pdf file; USA Today, 9/11/2008]
Controllers Hear Suspicious Communications - When, at 9:28, Werth hears the sound of screaming (subsequently determined to have come from Flight 93) over the radio (see (9:28 a.m.) September 11, 2001), he is unsure which of seven or eight possible aircraft it is coming from. The radio frequency is put on the speaker so other controllers can hear it, and they subsequently make out the words, “get out of here.” [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 11, 28]
Controllers Think Delta 1989 Is Hijacked - According to USA Today, when Cleveland Center controllers then hear a voice with a heavy accent over the radio, saying “Ladies and gentlemen: Here the captain.… We have a bomb on board” (see (9:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001), they mistakenly think it is coming from Delta 1989, not Flight 93. They suspect the flight has been hijacked, and start informing their chain of command. “Officials at Cleveland Center rush word to Washington: Hijackers have another flight. At the Federal Aviation Administration’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, Delta Flight 1989 joins a growing list of suspicious jets.” [USA Today, 8/13/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 12]
Werth Decides Hijacked Aircraft Is Flight 93 - Werth then calls all of the aircraft in his sector, and Flight 93 is the only one that does not respond. He also sees Flight 93 go into a quick descent and then come back up again. Werth therefore concludes that it is Flight 93, not Delta 1989, that has been hijacked, and instructs his supervisor to “tell Washington” of this. [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003 pdf file] However, events in the following minutes will cause Cleveland Center controllers to remain suspicious of Delta 1989 (see (Shortly After 9:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 9:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 8/13/2002; 9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 168; USA Today, 9/11/2008]
Book Gives Alternative Account - In a book published in 2008, author Lynn Spencer will give a different explanation for why Cleveland Center becomes suspicious of Delta 1989. According to her account, after hearing a later radio transmission where a hijacker again says “There is a bomb on board” (see (9:39 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Werth begins to hand off his flights to other controllers so he can devote his full attention to Flight 93. “In the distraction of the emergency, the crew of Delta 1989 misses the hand-off to the new frequency. The new sector controller for Delta 1989 calls out to the plane several times and gets no response.” As a result, “News travels fast,” and “Soon, word on the FAA’s open teleconference call is that a fifth aircraft is out of radio contact: Delta 1989… is added to the list of suspect aircraft.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 167] At 9:39 a.m., even though it is not responsible for handling Delta 1989, the FAA’s Boston Center will call NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) and incorrectly tell it that Delta 1989 is another possible hijack (see 9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 2004; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]

Entity Tags: John Werth, Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center, Federal Aviation Administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline


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