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Context of '(Shortly After 9:41 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Park Police Helicopter Provides Live Video Feed of Pentagon Crash Scene to FBI and Other Agencies'

This is a scalable context timeline. It contains events related to the event (Shortly After 9:41 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Park Police Helicopter Provides Live Video Feed of Pentagon Crash Scene to FBI and Other Agencies. You can narrow or broaden the context of this timeline by adjusting the zoom level. The lower the scale, the more relevant the items on average will be, while the higher the scale, the less relevant the items, on average, will be.

A large training event is being held at the US Park Police Aviation Unit in preparation for the upcoming meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank in Washington, DC, on September 29-30, and some of the participants will later be involved in the emergency response to the terrorist attacks. (International Monetary Fund 9/17/2001; Reuters 9/17/2001; Bohn 11/19/2001; McDonnell 2004, pp. 18-20 pdf file) The Park Police Aviation Unit is located in Anacostia Park in southeast Washington, across the Potomac River from the Pentagon. (Wagstaff 10/1/2001; National Park Service 10/16/2004)
Event Preparing for Possibly Violent Demonstrations - According to Sergeant Ronald Galey, a helicopter pilot with the aviation unit, because of the preparations taking place for the IMF and World Bank meetings, “it started out to be a little bit of an unusual day.” (Galey 11/20/2001) Sergeant Keith Bohn, another Park Police helicopter pilot, will later recall, “As fate would have it, we were having a large training event right out in front of the building here [the aviation hangar in Anacostia Park] for the upcoming IMF, the International Money Fund demonstrations.” Consequently, there are “horse-mounted officers, motorcycle officers, ground troops all training together to handle the movement of large groups of people.” (Bohn 11/19/2001) According to Galey, “[W]e all anticipated” the protest demonstrations at the IMF and World Bank meetings “to be very violent, very different than anything we’ve had in a long time.” (Galey 11/20/2001)
Helicopter Pilot Giving 'Riot Training' - Another of the aviation unit’s helicopter pilots, Sergeant Kenneth Burchell, is reportedly “conducting riot training… in preparation for the upcoming World Bank/International Monetary Fund protest demonstrations.” The riot training is being attended by 40 police officers belonging to an (unnamed) force other than the Park Police, along with some Department of Defense medical personnel. (McDonnell 2004, pp. 18-20 pdf file)
Medical Personnel Participating in Training - Personnel from the Casualty Care Research Center (CCRC)—a medical outfit from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS) in Bethesda, Maryland—are attending the training event at the aviation unit. The CCRC provides medical support to law enforcement agencies and their “protectees” during emergencies. (Mientka 10/2001) One of these personnel, Jason Kepp, is reportedly teaching members of the Park Police “how to respond safely and effectively to the crowds of demonstrators expected to turn out at the upcoming meeting of the International Monetary Fund.” (USU Medicine 12/2002 pdf file)
Training Participants Involved in Response to Attacks - The Park Police Aviation Unit will be among the first agencies to respond to the Pentagon attack at 9:37 a.m. (see Shortly After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 161) Two medics from the USUHS who are attending the training event—Kepp and his colleague, Keith Kettell—will take off in the second Park Police helicopter to launch following the Pentagon attack, so as to assist in the emergency response. (USU Medicine 12/2002 pdf file; McDonnell 2004, pp. 20 pdf file) In addition to members of their own force, Park Police commanders will deploy the 40 police officers attending the riot training at the aviation unit when the attacks occur. (McDonnell 2004, pp. 18 pdf file) Members of firefighting agencies that later respond to the attack on the Pentagon are also involved in preparations for the upcoming IMF and World Bank meetings this morning (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). (US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002, pp. A-4 pdf file; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 69-70)

Doug Lute.Doug Lute. [Source: Joint Chiefs of Staff]General Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, learns of the terrorist attacks in New York and at the Pentagon while flying to Europe, but his plane is then initially denied permission to return to the US. Shelton’s plane took off from Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, DC, at 7:15 a.m. to transport the chairman to Hungary for a NATO conference (see 7:15 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002, pp. G-1; Giesemann 2008, pp. 20, 22-23; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell 2010, pp. 430-432)
Shelton Learns of First Crash - About an hour and a half into the flight, while the plane is over the Atlantic Ocean, a member of the flight crew approaches Colonel Doug Lute, Shelton’s executive assistant, and tells him a small aircraft has crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. Lute says, “That doesn’t sound good.” He goes to the chairman’s cabin at the rear of the aircraft and tells Shelton, “Sir, just to advise you, the pilot has received word that a civilian aircraft has just struck the World Trade Center.” Shelton is reminded of a speech he recently gave, in which he warned of the possibility of a terrorist attack on US soil (see (Shortly Before September 11, 2001)), and says to his wife, Carolyn, who is with him in the cabin, “I sure hope that is not a terrorist attack.” He will later recall, “This had the potential to play out exactly as I had warned.”
Shelton Learns of Second Crash - About 10 minutes after Lute returns to his seat, the member of the flight crew comes out again and reports that a second plane has crashed into the WTC. Lieutenant Commander Suzanne Giesemann, one of Shelton’s aides, says to Lute, “That can’t be an accident.” Lute goes again to Shelton’s cabin and tells the chairman, “Sir, it’s a second plane and it’s hit the other tower of the World Trade Center.” Shelton exclaims: “Doug, that’s no coincidence. Have them turn us around, we’re going back. Then I want General Myers on the line.” (General Richard Myers is the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.) After Lute returns to his seat, he and Giesemann put on headsets and make calls to the Pentagon. Giesemann talks to Kris Cicio, Shelton’s personal assistant, who tells her that the WTC towers were hit not by small planes, but by jetliners full of innocent passengers. Giesemann then loses her connection with Cicio, and so listens instead to BBC news reports through her headset and passes on what she learns to the other members of Shelton’s staff on the flight. Lute talks with someone in the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon. After the call, he heads to Shelton’s cabin. (Giesemann 2008, pp. 22-23; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell 2010, pp. 431)
Controllers Deny Request to Enter US Airspace - Having learned of the attack on the Pentagon (which takes place at 9:37 a.m.), Lute tells Shelton that there has been “some type of big explosion at the Pentagon.” He also tells the chairman that air traffic controllers have refused their request to fly into Washington. Lute says: “[W]e’ve been denied permission to return. All US airspace has been shut down” (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). But Shelton retorts: “Doug, tell the pilot we’ll ask for forgiveness instead of permission, so have him turn us around. We’re going home.” Shelton will later recall, “I knew there was no way they were going to shoot down a 707 with UNITED STATES AIR FORCE emblazoned along the side.” (Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002, pp. G-1; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell 2010, pp. 432)
Shelton's Plane Supposedly Cleared to Fly into Washington - After Lute returns from Shelton’s cabin, he nods to Giesemann and says, “We’re going back.” Giesemann will recall that she then heads into the cockpit and orders the pilot, “Major, take us back to Andrews.” The pilot replies, “Yes, ma’am.” (Giesemann 2008, pp. 23) According to an FAA report, “minutes” after the initial denial of permission to return to the US, Shelton’s plane is granted clearance. (Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002, pp. G-1) The pilot turns the plane around and heads back toward Washington, according to Shelton. (Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell 2010, pp. 432) But according to Captain Rob Pedersen, the flight navigator on Shelton’s plane, it is several hours before the plane is cleared to enter the US airspace (see (After 9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (McCullough 9/2011 pdf file) The plane will consequently only land at Andrews Air Force Base at 4:40 p.m. (see 4:40 p.m. September 11, 2001) and Shelton will only arrive at the NMCC an hour after that (see 5:40 p.m. September 11, 2001). (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001 pdf file; Myers 2009, pp. 159)

American Airlines orders all its aircraft in the Northeast United States that have not yet taken off to remain on the ground, and then, minutes later, extends this order nationwide. (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 30-31) At the American Airlines System Operations Control (SOC) center in Fort Worth, Texas, managers have learned that communications have been lost with a second one of their aircraft, Flight 77 (see 8:58 a.m. September 11, 2001). Therefore, at around 9:00, Gerard Arpey, the airline’s executive vice president for operations, orders a “ground stop” of all American Airlines and American Eagle flights in the Northeast US. This means aircraft that have not yet taken off must remain on the ground. Minutes later, American learns that United Airlines has lost contact with one of its flights. So, some time between 9:05 and 9:10, it extends its ground stop order to apply to all American Airlines and American Eagle aircraft across the entire US. (9/11 Commission 1/27/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 9-10) United Airlines will also prevent any further takeoffs of its flights at 9:20 (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Mccartney and Carey 10/15/2001) And the FAA will give out a similar order to all its facilities, initiating a “national ground stop,” at around 9:25 a.m. (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Donnelly 9/14/2001) At around 9:15, American Airlines will order all its airborne flights to land (see (9:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 31)

Denny Watson.Denny Watson. [Source: Risk Assessment Network + Exchange]Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld goes ahead with his daily intelligence briefing in his office at the Pentagon, even though Denny Watson, his CIA briefer, urges him to cancel it and respond to the terrorist attacks. (Rumsfeld 2011, pp. 335; Priess 2016, pp. 244) Rumsfeld has just been in a meeting in his private dining room that was attended by several members of Congress (see (8:00 a.m.-8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). During it, he was informed that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center (see Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Burns 9/12/2001; Rumsfeld 12/5/2001; 9/11 Commission 3/23/2004) He assumed the crash was an accident. (Vogel 2007, pp. 428; Rumsfeld 2011, pp. 335)
Rumsfeld Went to His Office for His Intelligence Briefing - After the meeting ended, apparently around 9:00 a.m., he returned to his office to receive his intelligence briefing. (Giambastiani 7/18/2002 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 37) Rumsfeld receives an intelligence briefing from Watson each morning, similar to the intelligence briefing provided to the president each day. The briefings usually last at least half an hour. (Rumsfeld 2011, pp. 335; Priess 2016, pp. 243) The briefing today is scheduled to run from 9:00 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. (Rumsfeld 8/12/2002)
CIA Briefer Learned of the Crashes from TV - Watson, meanwhile, recently arrived at the Pentagon and learned about the crashes at the WTC. After she entered the building, she noticed people staring at a television, which showed the North Tower burning after being hit by a plane. She then went to the anteroom of Rumsfeld’s office, where she saw the second hijacked plane crashing into the WTC live on television (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). She immediately called the operations center at CIA headquarters to see if she could find out more about what was happening. She was told only that there were 50 planes still airborne that were unaccounted for.
Rumsfeld Refuses to Cancel the Briefing - Rumsfeld then calls Watson into his office. Assuming the briefing will be suspended due to what has happened in New York, the CIA analyst hasn’t even opened her briefcase to pull out her copy of the President’s Daily Brief (PDB). “Sir, you just need to cancel this,” she says to Rumsfeld as she enters the office. “You’ve got more important things to do,” she adds. Rumsfeld, however, wants to go ahead with the briefing. “No, no, we’re going to do this,” he says. Watson then sits down and tells Rumsfeld what she learned from the CIA’s operations center, but the secretary of defense simply nods his head and starts flipping through the PDB. (Priess 2016, pp. 244) The PDB apparently contains no remarkable information today. “As we reviewed the threat reports from around the world, September 11 seemed to be no more or less different than any other day,” Rumsfeld will later comment. (Rumsfeld 2011, pp. 336)
Rumsfeld Will Be Receiving the Briefing When the Pentagon Is Hit - Vice Admiral Edmund Giambastiani Jr., Rumsfeld’s senior military assistant, will come into the office around this time and tell the secretary of defense about the second crash at the WTC (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Giambastiani 7/18/2002 pdf file; Rumsfeld 8/12/2002) Two of Rumsfeld’s aides will also come to the office and, like Watson, try, unsuccessfully, to persuade Rumsfeld to cancel his schedule so he can respond to the attacks (see a904rumsfeldrefuses). (Clarke 2006, pp. 218-219; Priess 2016, pp. 244) Rumsfeld will be in his office with Watson, still receiving his intelligence briefing, at 9:37 a.m., when the Pentagon is attacked (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 130; Vogel 2007, pp. 438-439)

At the FAA’s Herndon Command Center, national operations manager Ben Sliney responds to the second plane hitting the World Trade Center and orders a “first-tier ground stop” to prevent aircraft from departing, arriving at, or flying through the airspace of the FAA’s New York Center. Like many others at the Command Center, Sliney has just seen Flight 175 crashing into the South Tower of the WTC live on CNN. A manager at the center then reports to him the news just received over the Command Center’s teleconference, about the sinister radio transmissions that have been deciphered by the Boston Center, stating “We have some planes” (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). According to author Lynn Spencer, “The words take on a sickening significance” to Sliney “after what he has just observed.”
Sliney Orders 'First-Tier Ground Stop' - Sliney orders across the room, “Give me a first-tier ground stop!” According to Spencer, “The order stops all aircraft departing, arriving, or flying through New York Center’s airspace, effectively closing down the nation’s busiest skies.” At 9:06 a.m., an advisory is sent out to every air traffic control facility in the nation, and the skies above New York are now officially closed. Numerous flights that are in the air or preparing to take off are given “holding instructions.” Meanwhile, the large screen at the front of the room in the Command Center displays the footage of Flight 175 hitting the WTC as it is shown repeatedly on CNN. According to Spencer: “[I]t becomes sickeningly obvious to all watching that the plane was a large commercial airliner. And it was no accident.” (Marsh 11/2001; Spencer 2008, pp. 80-81) Around this same time, the FAA’s New York Center takes action similar to that of the Command Center, declaring “air traffic control zero,” which prevents all air traffic from departing, arriving at, or traveling through its airspace (see 9:05 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 24) And at around 9:25 a.m., the Command Center will order a “nationwide ground stop,” which prevents any aircraft from taking off in the entire United States (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 33)
Sliney Expands Teleconference - Also in response to the second WTC crash, Sliney decides that he needs to expand the Command Center’s teleconference (see (Between 8:48 a.m. and 9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001) so as to include the secretary of transportation. (Spencer 2008, pp. 81) It is expanded to include the secretary of transportation’s office, FAA headquarters, and other agencies. (Bond 12/17/2001) It is unclear whether Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta participates himself, as he is told to go to the White House around this time, and subsequently heads there (see (9:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 5/23/2003)
Military Liaison Unable to Help - Sliney also seeks out the military liaison at the Command Center to get more information about what is going on. (Spencer 2008, pp. 81) Presumably this officer is one of the three members of the Air Traffic Services Cell (ATSC) there (see (Between 9:04 a.m. and 9:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Bond 12/17/2001; Scott 6/10/2002) But, according to Spencer, it is “clear that the lieutenant colonel’s job has nothing to do with NORAD or the air defense interceptors. He is military, but his job duties at the Command Center are focused on military airspace usage. He has no place in the military chain of command that is relevant this morning.” Sliney therefore “can only assume that people much higher up than both of them are dealing with the military response. The fighters must be on their way.” (Spencer 2008, pp. 81)

American Airlines orders all of its airborne flights to land at the nearest airport. (Mccartney and Carey 10/15/2001; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 31) Managers at the American Airlines System Operations Control (SOC) center in Fort Worth, Texas have learned of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center. Initially, they mistakenly believed this second plane was American Airlines Flight 77 (see 9:08 a.m. September 11, 2001). Gerard Arpey, the airline’s executive vice president for operations, conferred with other operational managers, and they all agreed that the airline needed to land its aircraft immediately. American Airlines’ president Don Carty then arrives at the SOC and also agrees, telling Arpey, “Do it.” So, at about 9:15, the airline orders all its planes to land at the nearest suitable airport. (Mccartney and Carey 10/15/2001; 9/11 Commission 1/27/2004) This is the first time an airline has ever ordered all its planes to land. (Levin, Adams, and Morrison 8/12/2002) The FAA will give out a similar order to all its facilities about 30 minutes later (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 29) Around that time, United Airlines will also order its aircraft to land (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 1/27/2004) American Airlines ordered a ground stop earlier on that prevented any new takeoffs of its aircraft (see Between 9:00 a.m. and 9:10 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 30-31) Most of its domestic flights will have landed by about 11:50 a.m., though it will take longer to ground its international and trans-Pacific flights. (9/11 Commission 1/27/2004)

United Airlines orders its aircraft that have not yet taken off to remain on the ground. However, the exact time and details of this order are unclear. According to the 9/11 Commission, United orders the “ground stop” at an unstated time after about 9:10, when American Airlines had ordered a nationwide ground stop of its aircraft (see Between 9:00 a.m. and 9:10 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 10) The Wall Street Journal reports that Andy Studdert, United Airlines’ chief operating officer, gives the order for United aircraft to remain “frozen on the ground” at 9:20. However, it only describes this order applying to “all international flights,” so whether it also applies to United’s domestic flights is unclear. (Mccartney and Carey 10/15/2001) The FAA will issue an order to all its facilities, initiating a “national ground stop,” at around 9:25 a.m. (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Donnelly 9/14/2001) At around 9:45, United Airlines will order all its airborne flights to land (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 1/27/2004)

Managers from American Airlines and United Airlines are added by the FAA to a teleconference, but they receive no guidance from top government officials on what to do. According to author Lynn Spencer, at some point after the second aircraft hit the World Trade Center, the executives from the two airlines are “quickly on the phone to FAA headquarters and the FAA Command Center.” They are brought into “a conference call that has now been set up with Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta and Vice President Dick Cheney at the White House. The airline executives inform the secretary that they are each dealing with additional aircraft that they are unable to contact. They seek guidance, but there is none.… The nation is under attack, but there is no plan in place, and no guidance is forthcoming from the top as the crisis escalates.” (Spencer 2008, pp. 109) The time when the airline executives join the teleconference is unclear. In Spencer’s account, she places it after United Airlines dispatchers have warned their aircraft to secure their cockpits (see (Shortly After 9:21 a.m.) September 11, 2001), which would mean some time after 9:21. (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 37; Spencer 2008, pp. 109) But Spencer also says that, when the executives join the conference, the “president is still reading to children in a Florida school room” (see (9:08 a.m.-9:13 a.m.) September 11, 2001), which would be roughly between 9:05 and 9:15. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 38-39; Spencer 2008, pp. 109) If Norman Mineta is already participating in the teleconference when the airline executives join it, the time would have to be after around 9:20, which is when Mineta later says he arrived at the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House (see (Between 9:20 a.m. and 9:27 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 5/23/2003) And Cheney, who Spencer also says is participating in the teleconference when the executives join it, arrives at the PEOC as late as 9:58, according to the 9/11 Commission, although other accounts indicate he arrives there much earlier than this (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (ABC News 9/14/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 40) According to the Wall Street Journal, American Airlines president Don Carty and United Airlines CEO Jim Goodwin are talking on the phone with Mineta (presumably over the conference call) about five minutes before the FAA shuts down all US airspace (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001), which would mean they are participating in the teleconference by around 9:40 a.m. (US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure 9/21/2001; Mccartney and Carey 10/15/2001)


FAA Administrator Jane Garvey.
FAA Administrator Jane Garvey. [Source: FAA]Time magazine later reports that Jane Garvey, head of the FAA, “almost certainly after getting an okay from the White House, initiate[s] a national ground stop, which forbids takeoffs and requires planes in the air to get down as soon as is reasonable. The order, which has never been implemented since flying was invented in 1903, applie[s] to virtually every single kind of machine that can takeoff—civilian, military, or law enforcement.” Military and law enforcement flights are allowed to resume at 10:31 a.m. (see 10:31 a.m. September 11, 2001) A limited number of military flights—the FAA will not reveal details—are allowed to fly during this ban. (Donnelly 9/14/2001) Garvey later calls it “a national ground stop… that prevented any aircraft from taking off.” (US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure 9/21/2001) Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta later says he was the one to give the order: “As soon as I was aware of the nature and scale of the attack, I called from the White House to order the air traffic system to land all aircraft, immediately and without exception.” (US Congress. Senate. Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation 9/20/2001) According to Mineta, “At approximately 9:45… I gave the FAA the final order for all civil aircraft to land at the nearest airport as soon as possible.” (9/11 Commission 5/23/2003) At the time, 4,452 planes are flying in the continental US. A later account states that Ben Sliney, the FAA’s National Operations Manager, makes the decision without consulting his superiors, like Jane Garvey, first. It would be remarkable if Sliney was the one to make the decision, because 9/11 is Sliney’s first day on the job as National Operations Manager, “the chess master of the air traffic system.” (Levin, Adams, and Morrison 8/12/2002) When he accepted the job a couple of months earlier, he had asked, “What is the limit of my authority?” The man who had promoted him replied, “Unlimited.” (Adams, Levin, and Morrison 8/13/2002) Yet another account, by Linda Schuessler, manager of tactical operations at the FAA Command Center where Sliney was located, says, “… it was done collaboratively… All these decisions were corporate decisions. It wasn’t one person who said, ‘Yes, this has got to get done.’” (Bond 12/17/2001) About 500 planes land in the next 20 minutes, and then much more urgent orders to land are issued at 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Donnelly 9/14/2001; US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure 9/21/2001; Adcock, Donovan, and Gordon 9/23/2001; Scott 6/3/2002; Levin, Adams, and Morrison 8/12/2002; Levin, Adams, and Morrison 8/12/2002; Associated Press 8/21/2002; Adcock 9/10/2002)

Gordon England.Gordon England. [Source: US Department of Defense]Secretary of the Navy Gordon England is unable to communicate with colleagues on the ground while he is being flown from Texas to Washington, DC. England, the Navy’s top civilian official, traveled to Fort Worth, Texas, the previous evening to give a speech to the Navy League. When the terrorist attacks began this morning, he was getting ready to fly back to Washington. Initially, however, the Navy plane he was going to travel on was grounded. (CNN 10/16/2001; Miles 9/7/2006) (The FAA ordered a ground stop to prevent any aircraft taking off across the US at around 9:26 a.m. (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure 9/21/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 25) ) But after a “short period,” England will later recall, the Navy secretary and his companions “got clearance to come back to Washington.” While they are flying to the capital, however, they are unable to communicate with their colleagues on the ground. When he is asked about the flight, England will recall, “Well, of course, we didn’t have any communications.” England and his companions consequently have little knowledge of what the attacks involved. “We didn’t know what was happening,” England will say. “Literally just knew some of the things that happened, knew that something had been hit in Washington, but didn’t know until we were airborne that it had been the Pentagon.” England only learns more about what has happened when his plane lands. “I really didn’t hear much until we got on the ground,” he will say. Why England and those with him have these communication problems is unknown. After arriving in Washington, England joins colleagues of his at the Naval Criminal Investigative Service headquarters, where the Navy has set up a temporary headquarters (see After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (CNN 10/16/2001; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 133) Other senior US government officials also have trouble making and receiving communications while the attacks are taking place this morning, and in the following hours (see (After 8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). These officials include President Bush (see (9:34 a.m.-9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Secretary of State Colin Powell (see (12:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001), CIA Director George Tenet (see (8:55 a.m.-9:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and House Speaker Dennis Hastert (see (9:04 a.m.-9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Barrett 2002 pdf file; Hastert 2004, pp. 6; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006; Tenet 2007, pp. 162)

A group from FAA headquarters, who are apparently oblivious to the morning’s crisis, request and are given a tour of the air traffic control tower at Washington’s Reagan National Airport, until they are forced to leave there just before the time of the Pentagon attack. (Spencer 2008, pp. 157-158) Reagan Airport is located less than a mile from the Pentagon. (Adair and Garza 10/3/2001)
Tour Group Wants to See Tower - At 9:32, the tower supervisor, Chris Stephenson, receives a phone call from one of the airport’s maintenance workers. The maintenance worker says he has a group there from the FAA’s Washington headquarters that is visiting the airport to go over some maintenance issues, but they are also curious to see what goes on in the control tower. It appears the FAA personnel are unaware of the attacks in New York, and Stephenson is asked if it is okay to bring them up. Though he is busy dealing with the chaos resulting from the ground stop recently ordered by the FAA’s Command Center (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Stephenson reluctantly agrees. The group arrives moments later, but Stephenson tries to ignore them. According to author Lynn Spencer, Stephenson is as yet unaware that an errant aircraft has been spotted heading toward Washington (see (9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Spencer 2008, pp. 157) But according to USA Today, the Secret Service warned him about this aircraft at around 9:30 a.m. (see (9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Levin 8/11/2002)
Group Ordered to Leave - Shortly after the group arrives, Stephenson is called by a controller at the TRACON and notified of the unidentified aircraft (presumably Flight 77), which is five miles west of the tower (see (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). When he looks out the window, he sees it, now less than a mile away and approaching fast. Stephenson yells at the tour group: “Out! Get out!” The FAA group heads off down the stairs, but the last in the line looks out the window at the descending aircraft and asks, “What’s that guy doing?” ”Get out!” Stephenson repeats, and pushes the man into the stairwell. Soon afterwards, the Pentagon is hit (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Spencer 2008, pp. 158)

A helicopter belonging to the US Park Police Aviation Unit.A helicopter belonging to the US Park Police Aviation Unit. [Source: United States Park Police]A US Park Police helicopter is directed to intercept the aircraft that subsequently hits the Pentagon, according to the later statements of US Navy historian John Darrell Sherwood. The helicopter’s pilot reportedly describes the incident when later interviewed by a US Marine Corps historian. Details of the pilot’s account are then revealed by Sherwood, who is a colleague of the Marine Corps historian, while he is interviewing Jeffrey Mark Parsons of the United States Border Patrol about his experiences of the 9/11 attacks.
Pilot Is Told to Prevent the Plane from Hitting the Pentagon - According to Sherwood, the helicopter pilot, who is “an aviation sergeant with the United States Park Police,” is “in the area [of the Pentagon] and he got a call saying, ‘Try to intercept this plane, try to distract the plane, try to do something to, you know, prevent the plane from going into the Pentagon.’” It is unclear from what Sherwood says whether the helicopter is on the ground or already airborne at this time. In response to the instruction, the helicopter goes “to try to distract” the approaching aircraft.
Helicopter Is Witnessed near the Pentagon - What is apparently this Park Police helicopter is then witnessed by Parsons out of a window on the 17th floor of the hotel he is staying at. Parsons sees it flying toward the helicopter landing pad at the Pentagon, two or three minutes before the Pentagon is attacked. (Parsons 12/13/2001; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 258) Other individuals near or inside the Pentagon see what is presumably the same helicopter around this time (see (9:35 a.m.-9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and Shortly Before 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (CNN 9/11/2001; Washington Post 9/5/2002; Priess 2016, pp. 244-245) Parsons has been staying at the Marriott Residence Inn in Arlington, near the Pentagon, for almost a month, but, he will recall, he has “never seen a helicopter approach the Pentagon from that direction before.”
Pilot Sees the Pentagon Attack - At some point, the helicopter lands for a period near the Pentagon. According to Sherwood, it “landed, at one point, near the Memorial Bridge, and there’s that strip of land before you get to the Memorial Cemetery.” Its pilot reportedly witnesses the attack on the Pentagon. He “saw the plane go in, and then the next thing he started doing is medevacing people out of there,” according to Sherwood. When told while being interviewed by Sherwood that the helicopter pilot is instructed to intercept a plane approaching the Pentagon, Parsons will ask, “Then they knew [the plane] was headed toward the Pentagon before it actually hit the Pentagon, then?” To this, Sherwood will only answer, “I guess that helicopter swung around, but by the time he got around, the plane was already into the building.”
Park Police Flies Huey Helicopters - The helicopter is a white and blue Huey, according to Sherwood. (Parsons 12/13/2001) The Park Police Aviation Unit has two Bell 412 helicopters. (Wagstaff 10/1/2001; Forror 11/2001; Forror 2/2002; National Park Service 10/16/2004) (The Bell 412 is a more modern version of the “Huey” helicopter. (Brzezinski 8/24/2003; Hawley 10/25/2007) ) The aviation unit is located in Anacostia Park in southeast Washington, across the Potomac River from the Pentagon. (Wagstaff 10/1/2001; National Park Service 10/16/2004)
Witness Will Be Told, 'Don't Tell Anyone about' the Incident - Most accounts of the unit’s actions on this day will make no mention of this incident, and only describe Park Police helicopters taking off in the minutes after the attack on the Pentagon (see Shortly After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Forror 11/2001; NBC 4 9/11/2003; McDonnell 2004, pp. 20 pdf file; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 161-162) However, it appears there may be an attempt to keep the incident secret. After Parsons recalls seeing the helicopter near the Pentagon minutes before the attack there, Sherwood will instruct him: “Don’t tell anyone about that story, because that’s one of our, I think that’s one of the best stories that’s going to come out of this. We don’t want the press to get this.” (Parsons 12/13/2001)

A number of witnesses see a helicopter flying near the Pentagon in the minutes before the attack there.
bullet Jeffrey Mark Parsons, an assistant chief patrol agent with the United States Border Patrol, sees a blue and white helicopter that appears as if it is coming in to land, from a window on the 17th floor of the hotel he is staying at, near the Pentagon. Parsons will later recall that two or three minutes before the Pentagon attack occurs: “I saw [the helicopter] circle… between the hotel and the Pentagon, going toward the landing pad [at the Pentagon] where that airliner ultimately hit. And I thought that he landed on the pad.” Parsons will say the helicopter flies in at “a weird angle,” and recall that he has been staying at the Marriott Residence Inn in Arlington for almost a month, but has “never seen a helicopter approach the Pentagon from that direction before.” He will recognize the helicopter as a Huey because he has flown Hueys and knows they make “a very distinct sound.” According to John Darrell Sherwood, a Navy historian who interviews Parsons about the incident, the helicopter belongs to the US Park Police and has been instructed to intercept the aircraft that subsequently hits the Pentagon (see Shortly Before 9:35 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Parsons 12/13/2001; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 258)
bullet A senior Air Force officer who is somewhere outside the Pentagon also sees a helicopter circling the Pentagon around this time, although he believes it to be a US military helicopter. Shortly after the Pentagon attack, the unnamed officer will tell a CNN reporter that the helicopter “disappeared behind the building where the helicopter landing zone is… and he then saw [a] fireball go into the sky” when the Pentagon is hit. (CNN 9/11/2001)
bullet Jennifer Reichert, who is stuck in traffic on Route 27 in front of the Pentagon, will describe that just before the attack, “A helicopter takes off from the heliport at the Pentagon.” She will add: “Minutes—maybe seconds—later, I hear it: American Airlines Flight 77 screams toward the Pentagon. The explosion [of the crash] shakes my car.” (Washington Post 9/5/2002)
bullet Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Denny Watson, his CIA briefer, who are in Rumsfeld’s office at the Pentagon, see a helicopter flying very close to the building, outside the window of the office, and then pulling away just before the building is attacked (see Shortly Before 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Priess 2016, pp. 244-245)
Perhaps due to the presence of this helicopter in the area, some people will initially think the attack on the Pentagon involves a helicopter hitting the building. Captain William Durm, the commander of the Pentagon’s Triservice Dental Clinic, will head to the building’s center courtyard shortly after the Pentagon is hit. Someone there will tell him a helicopter has hit the other side of the building. (Office of Medical History 9/2004, pp. 11) Some early news reports will suggest a helicopter crashed into the Pentagon. (Thomas Crosbie Media 9/11/2001; Geisler 9/2/2002) One report will claim that “one aircraft and a helicopter have crashed into the Pentagon.” (Airline Industry Information 9/11/2001) Vice President Dick Cheney will tell NBC’s Meet the Press that “the first reports on the Pentagon attack suggested a helicopter” hit the building. (Cheney 9/16/2001) The Guardian will report that one witness claims the explosion that occurs when the Pentagon is hit blows up a helicopter circling overhead. (Borger et al. 9/12/2001) New York Times columnist William Safire will report that, at approximately this time, Cheney is told that either another plane or “a helicopter loaded with explosives” is heading for the White House. (Safire 9/13/2001)

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Denny Watson, his CIA briefer, see a helicopter flying very close to the Pentagon, just outside the window of Rumsfeld’s office, shortly before the Pentagon is attacked. (Priess 2016, pp. 244-245) Watson has been giving Rumsfeld his daily intelligence briefing in his office at the Pentagon and they are both aware of the crashes at the World Trade Center (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 37; Rumsfeld 2011, pp. 335) Rumsfeld is skimming through a copy of the President’s Daily Brief when the sound of a helicopter outside causes him to stop what he is doing. The helicopter, which is blue and white, is “hovering so close to the window that I could see what one of the men in it looked like,” Watson will later recall. He has “dark hair, a beard and a mustache, and reflector sunglasses.” Rumsfeld and Watson talk about how easy it would be for the pilot to turn the helicopter and crash into Rumsfeld’s office. Finally, the helicopter pulls away from the Pentagon. As it does, Rumsfeld and Watson feel the building shake due to it being attacked (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Priess 2016, pp. 244-245) A number of other people will recall seeing a helicopter flying close to the Pentagon around this time (see (9:35 a.m.-9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (CNN 9/11/2001; Washington Post 9/5/2002) One of them, Jeffrey Mark Parsons, will describe the helicopter he sees as being blue and white, so it is presumably the helicopter that Rumsfeld and Watson see. The helicopter belongs to the US Park Police and its pilot has been directed to try and intercept a plane, presumably Flight 77, that was approaching the Pentagon, according to US Navy historian John Darrell Sherwood (see Shortly Before 9:35 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Parsons 12/13/2001)

According to most accounts, at the time the Pentagon is hit, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is in his office on the third floor of the Pentagon’s outer E Ring, receiving his daily intelligence briefing. (van Natta and Alvarez 9/12/2001; Woodward 2002, pp. 24; 9/11 Commission 3/23/2004; Clarke 2006, pp. 221; Cockburn 2007, pp. 1; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 130; Vogel 2007, pp. 438-439) As he later recalls, “the building shook and the tables jumped.” (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 130) Although he has been informed of the two aircraft hitting the World Trade Center (see Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001), he supposedly does not initially suspect a plane has hit the Pentagon, thinking instead that a bomb has gone off. (Rumsfeld 9/16/2001; Rumsfeld 9/30/2001; Rumsfeld 1/9/2002) In his nearby office, Rumsfeld’s senior military assistant Vice Admiral Edmund Giambastiani Jr. also hears the explosion, and walks through his doorway toward Rumsfeld’s office. As the two meet, Rumsfeld asks Giambastiani, “What the hell’s happening?” (Miles 9/8/2006; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 130) Rumsfeld then looks out his window but, he later recalls, sees “nothing here.” (Rumsfeld 10/12/2001; Rumsfeld 1/9/2002) He goes into the hallway and, accompanied by his security guards, hurries toward the crash site (see 9:38 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 130) However, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later contradict these accounts. Clarke indicates that Rumsfeld has been participating in the video teleconference conducted from the White House Situation Room since shortly after the second WTC crash (see (9:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). He claims that Rumsfeld is still involved in this conference at the time the Pentagon is hit, and he tells his deputy, “I can still see Rumsfeld on the screen, so the whole building didn’t get hit.” (Clarke 2004, pp. 2-3 and 7-8) If Clarke’s account were correct, this would presumably mean Rumsfeld is in the Pentagon’s Executive Support Center (ESC), which has secure video facilities, rather than in his office. (Scarborough 2/23/2004) But according to other accounts, Rumsfeld does not go to the ESC until around 10:15 a.m., after he returns from the crash site (see (10:00 a.m.-10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Clarke 2006, pp. 221; Cockburn 2007, pp. 1-5)

A US Park Police helicopter on the road outside the Pentagon.A US Park Police helicopter on the road outside the Pentagon. [Source: Michael Garcia]The US Park Police Aviation Unit becomes one of the first agencies to respond to the attack on the Pentagon, with its two helicopters arriving on the scene within minutes of the crash. (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 161-162) The aviation unit is located in Anacostia Park in southeast Washington, DC, across the Potomac River from the Pentagon. It has two Bell 412 helicopters—a modern version of the “Huey”—that are prepared for virtually any emergency. They are equipped with mass casualty kits, which allow them to carry up to four critically injured patients, along with a large amount of additional medical and rescue apparatus, and other sophisticated equipment. (Wagstaff 10/1/2001; Forror 11/2001; Forror 2/2002; National Park Service 10/16/2004; Hawley 10/25/2007) The unit had been running a large training event (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001) when personnel there learned of the first crash in New York from television reports. After seeing the second plane hitting the World Trade Center live, they realized this was a deliberate act. Sergeant Ronald Galey, one of the unit’s helicopter pilots, will later recall that at that point, “[W]e just started talking, ‘Hey, we’d better get ready.’”
Personnel Hear Explosion from Pentagon - Personnel at the aviation unit hear the explosion when the Pentagon is attacked at 9:37 a.m. Galey and Sergeant Kenneth Burchell, another of the unit’s helicopter pilots, hear a loud thud and then look up to see a column of smoke rising from the vicinity of the Pentagon. Galey will recall, “We all knew” this was another terrorist attack. He will add, “[W]e’ve all been expecting something like this, for an attack of some sort.” However, Galey does not initially realize the smoke rising up in the distance is coming from the Pentagon. He will say he only “suspected it was some military installation over there.” (Bohn 11/19/2001; Galey 11/20/2001; McDonnell 2004, pp. 19-20 pdf file)
Controller Reports Crash, but Accounts Conflict - Soon, the “aircraft crash phone” in the aviation unit office rings, setting off a distinctive horn alarm. This phone is a direct communications line from the control tower at Washington’s Reagan National Airport, which enables the aviation unit to respond quickly to incidents at the airport. Galey answers the call. (McDonnell 2004, pp. 20 pdf file; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 161-162) On the other end of the line is air traffic controller David Walsh (see (9:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). According to author Lynn Spencer, Walsh yells down the phone: “Aircraft down at the Pentagon! Aircraft down at the Pentagon!” (Federal Aviation Administration 9/18/2001; Spencer 2008, pp. 158-159) Galey will give a similar account in a January 2002 interview, recalling that Walsh tells him that “they had a 757 go into the Pentagon and they needed us to respond to the incident.” (Galey 1/17/2002) But in November 2001, Galey will recall that Walsh says, “We have a 757 down somewhere in the vicinity of the 14th Street Bridge”—a bridge over the Potomac River, near the Pentagon. (Forror 11/2001) Later that month, Galey will state that Walsh says the tower has “lost a 757 somewhere in the vicinity of the Pentagon.” (Galey 11/20/2001)
Controller Reports Crash at Airport, according to Some Accounts - However, on another occasion Galey will say that Walsh tells him, “[W]e have a 757 down on the north end of the airport.” (Line 9/21/2002) And Sergeant Keith Bohn, another of the Park Police helicopter pilots, will give a similar account, recalling that in the initial phone call the aviation unit receives about the attack, it is informed that there is “an aircraft down at the end of the runway at National Airport.” Bohn will say he only learns the correct location of the crash while he is starting up his helicopter to respond, at which time he talks with someone in the unit’s other helicopter, and “they told me, in disbelief, that the aircraft had in fact hit the Pentagon.” (Bohn 11/19/2001)
Helicopters Reach Pentagon Minutes after Attack - The crew of one of the unit’s helicopters, which has the call sign “Eagle I,” comprises Galey as pilot, rescue technician Sergeant John Marsh, and rescue team officer John Dillon. The crew of the other helicopter, “Eagle II,” comprises pilots Burchell and Bohn, aviation unit commander Lieutenant Philip Cholak and assistant commander Sergeant Bernard Stasulli, and two Defense Department medics, Keith Kettell and Jason Kepp. (US Congress. House 9/11/2002; Line 9/21/2002; McDonnell 2004, pp. 20 pdf file) Eagle I is the first of the two helicopters to take off and arrive on the scene of the attack, according to most accounts. (Bohn 11/19/2001; US Congress. House 9/11/2002; NBC 4 9/11/2003) According to National Park Service reports, it is in the air less than two minutes after the aviation unit hears of the attack, and Eagle II follows it a minute later. (Line 9/21/2002; National Park Service 10/22/2002) But according to the Arlington County After-Action Report, Eagle I takes off at “approximately 9:43 a.m.” and Eagle II takes off eight minutes later, at 9:51 a.m. (US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002, pp. A-45 pdf file) Furthermore, according to Galey, Eagle II is in fact the first of the helicopters to launch, while Eagle I, in which he flies, takes off right after it. (Galey 11/20/2001) The two helicopters arrive at the Pentagon within six minutes of the attack there, according to Rotor and Wing magazine. (Forror 11/2001; Forror 2/2002) They are the first helicopters to arrive at the scene of the crash. (NBC 4 9/11/2003)
One Helicopter Lands, Other Circles Overhead - Eagle I remains airborne, circling overhead and assuming command and control of the airspace. Eagle II lands on a paved roadway 150 to 200 yards from the crash site, according to the National Park Service’s account of 9/11, and then some of its crew members grab their emergency medical equipment and run toward the building. After a time, Bohn moves the helicopter closer to the Pentagon. (Galey 11/20/2001; McDonnell 2004, pp. 20-21 pdf file) According to Bohn’s recollections, Eagle II initially lands in “the grass area of the cloverleaf” of Route 27 and Columbia Pike. But after “maybe 10 minutes,” Bohn takes off and moves the helicopter to the road by the Pentagon helipad. (Bohn 11/19/2001)
Helicopter Takes Off with Two Patients - The triage officer at the Pentagon indicates that there are 11 individuals requiring medical evacuation, but eventually only two severely burned patients are carried onto Eagle II. Minutes after landing outside the Pentagon, the helicopter takes off and flies the patients to the Washington Hospital Center. (USU Medicine 12/2002 pdf file; McDonnell 2004, pp. 20, 22 pdf file) While most accounts describe Park Police helicopters only taking off in the minutes after the attack on the Pentagon, Navy historian John Darrell Sherwood will later say that at least one of the aviation unit’s helicopters took off before the Pentagon was hit, and it was directed to intercept the aircraft approaching the Pentagon (see Shortly Before 9:35 a.m. September 11, 2001). And several witnesses will report seeing a helicopter near the Pentagon just before the attack there (see (9:35 a.m.-9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Parsons 12/13/2001; Washington Post 9/5/2002; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 258)

The Pentagon on fire.The Pentagon on fire. [Source: Press Association]Television news reports describe an explosion and fire occurring at the Pentagon, but do not specify that a plane hit it:
bullet Two seconds after 9:39 a.m., reporter Jim Miklaszewski states on NBC News: “I don’t want to alarm anybody right now, but apparently, there—it felt, just a few moments ago, like there was an explosion of some kind here at the Pentagon. We’re on the E-ring of the Pentagon. We have a window that faces out toward the Potomac, toward Kennedy Center. We haven’t been able to see or—or hear anything after the initial blast. I just stepped out in the hallway. Security guards were herding people out of the building, and I saw just a moment ago as I looked outside, a number of construction workers who have been working here, have taken flight. They’re running as far away from the building as they can right now. I—I hear no sirens going off in the building; I see no smoke, but the building shook for just a couple of seconds. The windows rattled and security personnel are doing what they can momentarily to clear this part of the building. Again, I have no idea whether it was part of the construction work, whether it was an accident or what is going on. We’re going to try to find those details and get them to you as soon as possible. But interestingly enough, one intelligence official here in the building said when he saw what appeared to be the coordinating attack on the World Trade Center, his advice was to stay away from the outside of the building today just in case.” (NBC 9/11/2001)
bullet At 9:40, CNN coverage includes a banner stating, “Reports of fire at Pentagon.” (CNN 9/11/2001) Three minutes later, CNN producer Chris Plant reports from the Pentagon: “It’s impossible for me to say… exactly what caused this. I did not hear an explosion but there is certainly a very, very significant fire in this enormous office building.” (CNN 9/11/2001)
bullet At 9:42, ABC News reports smoke coming from somewhere behind the Old Executive Office Building, next to the White House. Two minutes later it reports a “fire confirmed at the Pentagon.” (ABC News 9/11/2001)
bullet At 9:43, CBS News reports “smoke pouring out of the Pentagon,” but adds, “We don’t know whether this is the result of a bomb or whether it is yet another aircraft that has targeted a symbol of the United States’ power.” (CBS 9/11/2001)
However, no media outlets record video footage of the Pentagon crash, and the cause of the explosion remains unknown for some minutes afterward. The Associated Press is apparently the first source to report that a plane hit the Pentagon (see 9:43 a.m.-9:53 a.m. September 11, 2001).

A US Park Police helicopter that is responding to the attack on the Pentagon and flying above the building transmits a live video feed of the crash scene to the FBI and other agencies, providing them with instant information about the extent of the damage and destruction at the Pentagon. (US Congress. House 9/11/2002; Line 9/21/2002) The helicopter, which has the call sign “Eagle I,” is one of two helicopters belonging to the Park Police Aviation Unit that arrived at the Pentagon minutes after the attack there (see Shortly After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Forror 11/2001) It has microwave “downlink” capability, which enables its crew to fly over a particular location and transmit instantaneous video images to the Park Police chief’s command post and other locations.
FBI Requests Video of Crash Scene - Shortly after Eagle I arrives over the Pentagon, the crew receives a request from the FBI to send it information using the downlink on their helicopter’s video camera. (McDonnell 2004, pp. 22 pdf file) According to Sergeant Ronald Galey, the pilot of Eagle I, the FBI arrives on the scene “within 10 minutes or 15 minutes” of his helicopter reaching the Pentagon. Galey will later recall: “We heard from them immediately: ‘Start your downlink, we want to capture everything that we can.’” (Galey 11/20/2001) The downlink capability then enables the crew of Eagle I “to transmit real-time images and information to people who needed them to make decisions,” according to the National Park Service’s account of 9/11. As well as the FBI, the images are sent to the Secret Service, the Washington, DC, Metropolitan Police, and Park Police headquarters. Eagle I spends “the next four or five hours flying overhead and transmitting video images to the FBI.” (Line 9/21/2002; McDonnell 2004, pp. 23 pdf file)
Fire Department Chief Goes Up in Helicopter - The Park Police’s two Bell 412 helicopters are packed with sophisticated equipment. As well as the microwave downlink, they have an infrared heat detection system known as FLIR (forward looking infrared). When the Arlington County Fire Department later has difficulty getting its equipment to the proper locations to fight the fires in the Pentagon, its chief will be taken up in Eagle I and flown low over the building. The infrared imagery will help him locate the fires under the roof so he can better position his firefighting crews and equipment. (Galey 1/17/2002; Forror 2/2002; McDonnell 2004, pp. 23-24 pdf file)

An Associated Press news alert at 9:43 a.m. states, “An aircraft has crashed into the Pentagon, witnesses say.” (Associated Press 2001 pdf file; Miller 8/26/2002) This is apparently the first news of the crash. Initial television reports stated there had been an explosion at the Pentagon, but not that a plane caused it (see 9:39 a.m.-9:44 a.m. September 11, 2001). Minutes later, there is still uncertainty over what caused the explosion. At 9:49, CNN’s Chris Plant reports from the Pentagon, “[I]nitial reports from witnesses indicate that there was in fact a helicopter circling the building, contrary to what the AP reported, according to the witnesses I’ve spoken to anyway, and that this helicopter disappeared behind the building, and that there was then an explosion” (see (9:35 a.m.-9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (CNN 9/11/2001) It is not until 9:53 that CNN confirms, “it was a plane that crashed into the Pentagon.” (CNN 9/11/2001)

FAA National Operations Manager Ben Sliney.FAA National Operations Manager Ben Sliney. [Source: Publicity photo]Ben Sliney, FAA’s National Operations Manager, orders the entire nationwide air traffic system shut down. All flights at US airports are stopped. Around 3,950 flights are still in the air. Sliney makes the decision without consulting FAA head Jane Garvey, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, or other bosses, but they quickly approve his actions. It’s Sliney’s first day on the job. (CNN 9/12/2001; New York Times 9/12/2001; Washington Post 9/12/2001; MSNBC 9/22/2001; Levin, Adams, and Morrison 8/12/2002; LeBlanc 8/12/2002; Levin, Adams, and Morrison 8/12/2002; Adams, Levin, and Morrison 8/13/2002; Associated Press 8/21/2002; Adcock 9/10/2002) Seventy-five percent of the planes land within one hour of the order. (Levin 8/12/2002) The 9/11 Commission will later remark that this “was an unprecedented order” that the “air traffic control system handled… with great skill.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 29) The Washington Post has reported that Mineta told Monte Belger at the FAA: “Monte, bring all the planes down,” even adding, “[Expletive] pilot discretion.” (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002) However, it is later reported by a different Post reporter that Mineta did not even know of the order until 15 minutes later. This reporter “says FAA officials had begged him to maintain the fiction.” (Green 4/2/2002)

The plane that has been flying General Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, over the Atlantic Ocean has to spend two hours in a “holding pattern” near Greenland and then more time in a holding pattern over Canada before it is cleared to fly back into the United States. (McCullough 9/2011 pdf file) Shelton was flying toward Europe for a NATO conference (see 7:15 a.m. September 11, 2001), but, after he learned of the attacks on the World Trade Center, ordered that his plane turn around and return to the US (see (8:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, air traffic controllers have denied the request to do so because US airspace has been shut down (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002, pp. G-1; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell 2010, pp. 430-432)
Plane Has to Fly in a Holding Pattern near Greenland - Therefore, although Shelton’s plane, nicknamed “Speckled Trout,” does turn around, it doesn’t initially fly back to the United States. For a couple of hours, since its crew doesn’t have clearance to return to the US and it doesn’t have a destination, the plane goes into a “holding pattern” near Greenland. Captain Rob Pedersen, the flight navigator, comes up with a list of alternative landing sites, which include Thule Air Base in Greenland and Naval Air Station Keflavik in Iceland. Although the crew decides to head back to the US, Pedersen will later recall, it is still difficult to get a security clearance, even for such a high-profile passenger as Shelton.
Plane Goes into Another Holding Pattern over Canada - Speckled Trout eventually reaches Canada, but the plane is still refused entry into US airspace and so it goes into a holding pattern again. “In the beginning we had a few problems convincing [the air traffic controller] to allow us back into the country, [even though] we were ordered at a significantly high level to come back,” Pedersen will recall. “You can’t say over the radio who you are carrying because they don’t have secure communications at the FAA.… We had to tell them over an open line that we had a DV Code 2, which is a ranking that a lot of DVs [distinguished visitors] fall under.” Eventually, the crew receives permission to fly into the US, although the time when this occurs is unstated. “It took a little bit of time, and I’m sure there were a lot of phone calls made, before they let us back in,” Pedersen will say. (McCullough 9/2011 pdf file) Shelton, however, will contradict this account and claim his plane is cleared to enter US airspace significantly earlier. He will recall that those on the plane are told they have permission to enter US airspace 10 minutes after he talks on the phone with General Richard Myers, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (see (Shortly After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001), which would mean they receive clearance possibly as early as around 10:15 a.m. (Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell 2010, pp. 432-433)
Myers Takes Shelton's Place as Chairman While Shelton Is outside the US - After flying over New York, Speckled Trout will land at Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, DC, at 4:40 p.m. (see 4:40 p.m. September 11, 2001). (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001 pdf file; UNC-TV 1/27/2013) While the plane is being denied permission to enter US airspace, Myers remains as the acting chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Shelton’s place. This is “how the law reads whenever the chairman is out of the country,” Shelton will write. “Until I crossed back into United States airspace, all the decisions would be Dick’s to make, in conjunction with Secretary [of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld and the president.” (Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell 2010, pp. 432)

A television broadcast falsely describes smoke coming from Washington Mall instead of its true source, the Pentagon.A television broadcast falsely describes smoke coming from Washington Mall instead of its true source, the Pentagon. [Source: CNN]There are numerous false reports of additional terror attacks. Before 10:00 a.m., some hear reports on television of a fire at the State Department. At 10:20 a.m., and apparently again at 10:33 a.m., it is publicly reported this was caused by a car bomb. (Ottawa Citizen 9/11/2001; Langley 12/16/2001; Miller 8/26/2002) At 10:23 a.m., the Associated Press reports, “A car bomb explodes outside the State Department, senior law enforcement officials say.” (Miller 8/26/2002) Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke hears these reports at this time and asks Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage in the State Department to see if the building he’s in has been hit. Armitage goes outside the building, finds out there’s no bomb, and calls his colleagues to inform them that the reports are false. Reports of a fire on the Capitol Mall also appear and are quickly found to be false. (ABC News 9/15/2002; Clarke 2004, pp. 8-9) There are numerous other false reports over the next hour, including explosions at the Capitol building and USA Today headquarters. (Miller 8/26/2002) For instance, CNN reports an explosion on Capitol Hill at 10:12 a.m. CNN then announces this is untrue 12 minutes later. (Ottawa Citizen 9/11/2001)

The air traffic control tower at Washington’s Reagan National Airport is evacuated, after it is informed that a suspicious aircraft—presumably Flight 93—is heading its way.
Warning of Approaching Aircraft - In the control tower, supervisor Chris Stephenson receives a call from the FAA’s Herndon Command Center, telling him: “You have another [aircraft] headed your way. Confirmed bomb on board.” This information also makes it to the Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) at the airport. Around this time, the Command Center changes the information it has for Flight 93’s flight plan, so that it shows a destination of Reagan Airport (see 9:55 a.m. September 11, 2001). This means air traffic controllers are now able to track the flight on their situation displays. But in response to the news that the approaching aircraft has a bomb on board, the facility manager at Reagan Airport becomes concerned about the safety of his employees and decides to evacuate the control tower.
Tower Controllers Evacuated - Dan Creedon, a controller in the TRACON, tries calling the tower repeatedly, to pass on the manager’s instruction to evacuate, but he is unable to get through. He therefore leaves his post and takes the elevator up the tower. Once he reaches the control tower cab, he announces that there are to be “minimum bodies” in the tower, with only a skeletal staff remaining. Four controllers therefore volunteer to leave. (Spencer 2008, pp. 215-216) (Seven or eight controllers usually work in the tower during a given shift, so this would mean three or four controllers remain there. (9/11 Commission 7/28/2003 pdf file) )
Terminal Being Evacuated - When they make it down to the airport terminal, the controllers find that it too is being evacuated. Police are yelling at the crowd: “Everybody’s got to go! There are no more flights! Leave your stuff! Just go! It doesn’t matter where you go, just get away from the airport.”
Other Controllers Head to Mobile Unit - The controllers who had remained behind decide they too should leave the tower and relocate to an emergency mobile unit. Before doing so, they temporarily turn over the command and control of their airspace to Washington, DC, police helicopters. They are then escorted by members of the Secret Service down from the tower and through the terminal. (Spencer 2008, pp. 216)

A US Park Police helicopter flying above the burning Pentagon.A US Park Police helicopter flying above the burning Pentagon. [Source: Mark D. Faram / US Navy]A US Park Police helicopter that recently arrived over the Pentagon is contacted by an air traffic controller at Washington’s Reagan National Airport and given responsibility for controlling the airspace over Washington, DC, since the control tower at Reagan Airport is being evacuated. (Galey 11/20/2001; US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002, pp. A-48 pdf file; McDonnell 2004, pp. 21 pdf file) The Park Police Aviation Unit’s two helicopters arrived at the Pentagon within minutes of the attack there (see Shortly After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Forror 11/2001) While one of the helicopters landed to conduct medical evacuations, the other, which has the call sign “Eagle I,” circled overhead. (Galey 11/20/2001; McDonnell 2004, pp. 20-21 pdf file)
Airport Tower Being Evacuated - Eagle I has made three or four orbits around the Pentagon when a controller in the Reagan Airport tower radios its pilot, Sergeant Ronald Galey. The controller says the tower is currently evacuating. (Galey 11/20/2001; Galey 1/17/2002) According to some accounts, the tower is being evacuated due to reports of more hijacked aircraft heading in its direction (see (9:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (NBC 4 9/11/2003; Spencer 2008, pp. 215-216) But according to other accounts, the controller tells Galey the tower is evacuating because it is being affected by smoke that is drifting across from the burning Pentagon. (US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002, pp. A-48 pdf file; McDonnell 2004, pp. 21 pdf file; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 162) Galey will recall the controller saying: “Eagle I, we can’t see anything outside the tower. [The smoke is] getting in our ventilation system. We’re abandoning the tower.” Therefore, the controller gives Galey control of the airspace for the entire Washington area, telling him, “You’ve got the airspace.” (Galey 11/20/2001; McDonnell 2004, pp. 21 pdf file)
Pilot Alarmed at Being Given Control of Airspace - The control tower at Reagan Airport is “normally the ‘nerve center’ for directing any response to this type of incident,” according to a National Park Service news article. (Line 9/21/2002) Galey is initially alarmed. He will recall thinking, “Exactly what I need right now is I’ve got control of the airspace.” (Galey 11/20/2001) However, he is unaware that the FAA has ordered that all airborne aircraft must land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001), which will make his task easier. (US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure 9/21/2001; McDonnell 2004, pp. 21 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 29)
NORAD Advises Pilot on Controlling Airspace - The controller gives Galey the radio frequency for NORAD, and tells him to contact NORAD. (Galey 1/17/2002; McDonnell 2004, pp. 21-22 pdf file) The person Galey then talks to at NORAD informs him: “Look, you have no [air] traffic in DC, except for the traffic that you’re calling. The aircraft that you’re calling in, we’re going to allow to come in. Other than that, there should be no one besides the military, and we’ll call you out the military traffic.” Galey will later reflect: “So that helped tremendously. That function alone was not very taxing.” (Galey 11/20/2001) The person at NORAD also tells Galey there is “an unauthorized aircraft inbound from the Pennsylvania area, with the estimated time of arrival approximately 20 minutes into DC.” Galey will recall that he and the rest of his crew discuss what they should do, and decide that “we’d take our chances and stay there [at the Pentagon], and do what we came there to do.” (Galey 1/17/2002)
Airspace Control Passed on to Metropolitan Police Helicopter - Eagle I becomes “the air traffic control function for the area, flying a slow racetrack pattern over the site and clearing aircraft in and out,” according to Lieutenant Philip Cholak, the Park Police Aviation Unit commander. (Wagstaff 10/1/2001) But after a time Galey asks his paramedic to request that a Metropolitan Police helicopter be launched to take over the command and control of the Washington airspace. He tells the paramedic: “You know we’re going to have to do a medevac mission here. We’re going to have to relinquish the command/control function to somebody else.” A Metropolitan Police helicopter subsequently arrives and relieves Eagle I of its command and control function. (Galey 11/20/2001; McDonnell 2004, pp. 22 pdf file)

A Maryland State Police helicopter.A Maryland State Police helicopter. [Source: Maryland State Police]Sergeant Ronald Galey, the pilot of a US Park Police helicopter responding to the attack on the Pentagon, asks the Maryland State Police to send medical evacuation (medevac) helicopters to help out at the crash scene, but is told, “No, we can’t respond,” apparently because the airspace has been shut down. (Forror 11/2001; Galey 11/20/2001) Galey is flying one of the two Park Police Aviation Unit helicopters that arrived at the Pentagon within minutes of the attack there (see Shortly After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). His helicopter has been circling overhead while the other Park Police helicopter landed to conduct medical evacuations. They are currently the only helicopters to have arrived on the scene.
Pilot Wants More Helicopters to Assist at the Pentagon - Realizing that his helicopter cannot provide its current command and control function and conduct medical evacuations at the same time, Galey requests assistance from other departments that have helicopters equipped to transport injured patients. The first department he calls is the Maryland State Police. (Galey 11/20/2001; McDonnell 2004, pp. 20-22 pdf file) The Maryland State Police Aviation Command owns 12 helicopters and most of its work involves medical transport, with its helicopters carrying injured patients to hospital. (Maryland State Police 2/16/2003; Desmon 3/7/2006) According to Galey, the unit has “the most resources for aircraft, medevac aircraft, that we knew were manned and ready to go.” However, Galey will later recall, in response to his request, “they came back and said, ‘No, we can’t respond.’”
Maryland Police Think They Cannot Launch Helicopters - When Galey is told that the unit cannot respond, he and the rest of his crew are “very shocked,” and, Galey will say, “[T]hat’s when we were starting to suspect there was something more to it.” According to later accounts, the unit cannot respond because the airspace has been shut down. (Forror 11/2001; Galey 11/20/2001) (The FAA has issued a nationwide “ground stop” that prevents any aircraft from taking off (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and has also ordered that all airborne aircraft must land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure 9/21/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 25, 29) Galey is currently unaware that the airspace has been shut down. However, the Maryland State Police helicopters should be able to respond all the same, because NORAD has told him, “The aircraft that you’re calling in, we’re going to allow to come in” (see (Shortly After 9:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). According to Galey, the Maryland State Police “just didn’t know [that] if we requested them they could come.”
Other Departments Send Helicopters - Galey then contacts MedStar at the Washington Hospital Center and AirCare at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Virginia. Each of them dispatches helicopters to the Pentagon. Galey will recall that these two departments “hadn’t gotten the word that the airspace was shut down, and since I’m the one who requested the aircraft and informed NORAD, NORAD allowed them to come in.” (Forror 11/2001; Galey 11/20/2001) It is unclear exactly when Galey contacts the different departments. But according to the Arlington County After-Action Report, the helicopter that MedStar launches arrives at the Pentagon at around 10:18 a.m. Inova Fairfax Hospital launches one helicopter at “approximately 10:00 a.m.” and then sends a second helicopter to the Pentagon at around 10:40 a.m. (US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002, pp. A-45 pdf file)

Falcon 20 business jet.Falcon 20 business jet. [Source: Portuguese Air Force]According to some accounts, following a request from the FAA’s Cleveland Center, a Fairchild Falcon 20 business jet reports seeing puffs of smoke in the area of Flight 93’s last known position. (Heltzel and Gibb 9/16/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 pdf file) The FBI later says the business jet was within 20 miles of Flight 93 when it crashed, at an altitude of 37,000 feet, and on its way to Johnstown. It was asked to descend to 5,000 feet to help locate the crash site for the benefit of the responding emergency crews. (Pittsburgh Channel 9/15/2001) Stacey Taylor appears to be the Cleveland Center controller who made the request. She later recalls: “I had another airplane [other than Flight 93] that I was working. And I told him, I said, ‘Sir,’ I said, ‘I think we have an aircraft down.’ I said, ‘This is entirely up to you, but if you’d be willing to fly over the last place that we spotted this airplane—and see if you can see anything.‘… So he flew over and at first he didn’t see anything and then he said, ‘We see a great big plume or a cloud of smoke.’” (MSNBC 9/9/2006) The business jet belongs to VF Corp, a Greensboro, North Carolina clothing firm. (Heltzel and Gibb 9/16/2001) According to David Newell, VF Corp’s director of aviation and travel, Cleveland Center contacted the plane’s copilot Yates Gladwell when it was at an altitude “in the neighborhood of 3,000 to 4,000 ft,” rather than 37,000 feet, as claimed by the FBI. He will add: “They got down within 1,500 ft. of the ground when they circled. They saw a hole in the ground with smoke coming out of it. They pinpointed the location and then continued on.” (Chertoff et al. 3/2005) This incident occurs around 40 minutes after the FAA initiated a nationwide ground stop, which required planes in the air to land as soon as reasonable (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Donnelly 9/14/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 25) The FBI will claim the VF Corp business jet is probably the plane some witnesses on the ground see up above, shortly after the crash of Flight 93 (see (Before and After 10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Pittsburgh Channel 9/15/2001) However, at least two witnesses say they saw a plane overhead even before the time of the Flight 93 crash, and one of them describes it as “definitely military,” rather than a business jet. Also, some will describe it as flying much lower than the Falcon 20 was—just “40 feet above my head,” according to one witness. (Pillets 9/14/2001; Wallace 9/12/2002)

Air traffic controllers at the FAA’s Cleveland Center.Air traffic controllers at the FAA’s Cleveland Center. [Source: Paul M. Walsh]Most members of staff at the FAA’s Cleveland Center are evacuated from the facility, due to a report of a small aircraft flying erratically above the center. (Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002, pp. S-19; Newsnet5 8/12/2002; Kropko 8/15/2002) The Cleveland Center, in Oberlin, Ohio, had the last contact with Flight 93 before it crashed. (Kropko 6/15/2002) The center’s air traffic controllers have been working on clearing the skies over the US after FAA facilities were ordered to instruct all aircraft to land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Newsnet5 8/12/2002; Payerchin 9/10/2011)
Operations Manager Orders Evacuation - The police in Oberlin now contact the Cleveland Center and warn it about a small plane that is still airborne and circling above the facility. As a result, the decision is made to evacuate the center. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001, pp. 9 pdf file; Kropko 8/15/2002; Sangiacomo 7/3/2011) The order to evacuate is apparently given by Leo Wolbers, the center’s operations manager. Wolbers will later recall, “[W]e made the decision to evacuate all non-essential personnel and get as many controllers out as possible.” He will say that he gathers together the supervisors at the center “to make sure they all knew to tell their controllers to get the planes down as quickly and safely as possible, and then leave the center.” (Federal Aviation Administration 9/19/2001, pp. 6-7 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 10/2/2003 pdf file) Non-essential personnel are sent home, while essential personnel who leave the building go to the parking lot. By 10:30 a.m., the facility will be running on a skeleton crew of eight controllers and eight supervisors.
Center Considered a Possible Terrorist Target - The Cleveland Center is evacuated “because someone feared the facility could be targeted for a terrorist attack,” according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/12/2001, pp. 70 pdf file; Sangiacomo 7/3/2011) But Bill Keaton, a controller at the center, thinks to himself that “the evacuation [is] a little silly.” He will comment: “Though Cleveland Center might be a great strategic target, it was an awful terrorist target. Most people have no idea what goes on at a [air traffic control] center, and the terrorists were striking symbolic targets… the World Trade Center, the Pentagon.” (Keaton 9/11/2011)
Center Is Searched - Around the time it is being evacuated, the Cleveland Center is receiving a number of bomb threats (see 10:07 a.m.-10:21 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002, pp. S-17, S-19) Possibly in response to these, the building is searched, apparently during the period when many of its employees are outside in the parking lot. Wolbers will recall, “After we got all of our aircraft on the ground, we went to one person in each area until the building was searched and found to be secure.” (Federal Aviation Administration 9/19/2001, pp. 6-7 pdf file) Around two hours after the evacuation, employees who left the building but have not gone home will go back inside and return to their posts. By then, though, the airspace will be empty, apart from some military aircraft, and so the controllers will have little to do. (Sangiacomo 7/3/2011)
Identity of Plane Unknown - The suspicious aircraft that prompted the evacuation is not identified. Rick Kettell, the manager of the Cleveland Center, will recall that it “flew off to the north and we lost radar on it.” Eleven months after 9/11, the FAA will reportedly still be investigating what the plane was and what it was doing. (Newsnet5 8/12/2002)

Patrick Madigan, the commander of the Somerset Barracks of the Pennsylvania State Police, arrives at the Flight 93 crash scene around 10:20 a.m. (Department of the Army and the Air Force National Guard Bureau 2002 pdf file) He says that at some point later in the day (he does not specify a time), a “strange incident” occurs: “We were there at the site and an airplane started circling. It was a jetliner circling the crash site very low. No one knew what to expect because we knew that all of the planes were supposedly grounded.” (The FAA had, at about 9:45 a.m., ordered that all aircraft be instructed to land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001).) After a few minutes of uncertainty, it is announced that the plane is carrying United Airlines executives, who are circling the site to view it before they land in nearby Johnstown. (Kashurba 2002, pp. 63) Another low-flying jet plane was witnessed over the site earlier on, around the time Flight 93 went down (see (Before and After 10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

A US Park Police helicopter that has been assisting in the response to the Pentagon attack has to respond to a sudden influx of reports of emergencies that are in fact false alarms. (Bohn 11/19/2001; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 164) The helicopter, with the call sign “Eagle II,” is one of two Park Police Aviation Unit helicopters that arrived at the Pentagon shortly after the attack there (see Shortly After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (NBC 4 9/11/2003; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 161-162) After transporting two patients from the Pentagon to the Washington Hospital Center, Eagle II returned to the aviation unit’s hangar in Anacostia Park to pick up a Secret Service agent. (McDonnell 2004, pp. 22 pdf file) Sergeant Keith Bohn, the pilot of Eagle II, will later recall: “The Secret Service had some requests for us to check. Things like the White House perimeter, the downtown areas, the rooftops. There were a lot of things coming up.” Suddenly, the helicopter has to respond to a mass of reports of additional emergencies. According to Bohn, “All of a sudden, everything was just unbelievable—to check bridges for abandoned cars, which were believed to be packed with explosives.” Eagle II is then “running from one report of things to another report.” These reported emergencies turn out to be false alarms. According to Bohn, “Actually, in the city [of Washington, DC], nothing else, in essence, happened that day, but… lots of fear was running rampant.” Bohn will add, “We were chasing our tail and everyone else’s all around town from Memorial Bridge, 14th Street Bridge, the White House; the Capitol was involved in wanting some perimeter checks, doing all that.” (Bohn 11/19/2001; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 164) Numerous emergencies in the Washington area are being incorrectly reported around this time (see (Between 9:50-10:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Miller 8/26/2002)

The FAA allows “military and law enforcement flights to resume (and some flights that the FAA can’t reveal that were already airborne).” All civilian, military, and law enforcement flights were ordered at 9:26 a.m. to land as soon as reasonably possible. (Donnelly 9/14/2001) Civilian flights remain banned until September 13. Note that the C-130 cargo plane that witnessed the Flight 77 crash (see 9.36 a.m. September 11, 2001) and which came upon the Flight 93 crash site (see 10:08 a.m. September 11, 2001) right after it had crashed was apparently not subject to the grounding order issued about an hour earlier.

The press incorrectly reports that an airliner has crashed on or near Camp David. (Geier 9/12/2001; US Department of Transportation 3/2002) Camp David is the presidential retreat, located about 70 miles north of Washington, DC, in the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland. (Federation of American Scientists 10/2/2000; Feller 7/30/2007) On Air Force One, at 10:37, White House chief of staff Andrew Card relays to the president the incorrect report of the crash. (Sammon 2002, pp. 108) At around 11:09, CBS News reports that “a plane apparently has crashed at or near Camp David.” (Miller 8/26/2002) An early article by Forbes states, “There are reports of a fourth airliner [having] been brought down near Camp David… by US military fighters.” (Dukcevich 9/11/2001) And an early report by the Northwestern Chronicle similarly states, “Air Force officials say an airliner has been forced down by F-16 fighter jets near Camp David.” (Hoes 9/11/2001) Theresa Hahn, the catering manager for a restaurant in the Camp David area, hears the erroneous report. She subsequently describes, “Lots of fire trucks were on the road and no one can get up there.” But J. Mel Poole, the Catoctin Mountain Park superintendent, states there has been “no crash at Camp David.” (Geier 9/12/2001) At some point, the FAA calls the military to confirm the crash, and is reassured that no crash occurred at Camp David. (Freni 2003, pp. 42) The actual Flight 93 crash site is about 85 miles northwest of Camp David. (PBS 9/11/2001) The Secret Service reportedly tells the White House that Flight 93 may have been on a course for Camp David. (Pittsburgh Channel 9/11/2001) And, following a military briefing, Representative James Moran (D-VA) tells reporters that Flight 93 was apparently heading for Camp David. (Associated Press 9/11/2001; Wall Street Journal 9/12/2001) (However, the 9/11 Commission will later state that its intended target was either the White House or the Capitol building. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 14) ) The source of the incorrect report of the Camp David crash is unclear. However, when the FAA’s Washington Center first informed NEADS that Flight 93 had crashed, at 10:15, it simply reported that it had gone down “somewhere up northeast of Camp David” (see 10:15 a.m. September 11, 2001), so this may have created some of the confusion. (Bronner 8/1/2006) There are also numerous false reports of terrorist attacks having taken place in Washington, DC around this time (see (Between 9:50-10:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Some commentators make the connection that the 9/11 attacks come 23 years after the signing of the Camp David accords—a peace agreement between Israel and Egypt—on September 17, 1978. (Dukcevich 9/11/2001; Ridgeway 9/11/2001; Geier 9/12/2001) WCBS reports, “[T]here is speculation that perhaps, perhaps, this may be in retaliation for those accords.” (Miller 8/26/2002)

James K. Will.James K. Will. [Source: WTAE-TV]After hearing a plane has crashed in his area, a farmer flies over the Flight 93 crash site to take photos of the wreckage. James K. Will, who is an aerial photographer as well as a farmer, had just landed his Cessna on a private airstrip at his farm in Berlin, Pennsylvania, after visiting nearby Altoona. His mother rushed out and told him there were reports of a plane having crashed near Shanksville. He’d grabbed his camera and set off in his plane for the site, to take photos of the wreckage. He later recalls that he circles the Flight 93 crash scene around 45 minutes after the crash occurred. He says, “I thought it was just an accident.” He is then intercepted by a state police helicopter, which escorts him to the Johnstown airport. He will be questioned and briefly detained there before being released. His plane will be searched and then released. (Pittsburgh Channel 9/15/2001; Erdley 9/15/2001) At around 9:45 a.m., all FAA facilities had been ordered to instruct every aircraft to land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). About 20 minutes earlier, the FAA had initiated a nationwide ground stop, which prohibited takeoffs and required planes in the air to land as soon as reasonable (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Donnelly 9/14/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 25 and 29)

At the NORAD operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, NORAD commander in chief, General Ralph Eberhart, orders a limited version of a little known plan to clear the skies and give the military control over US airspace. (Scott 6/3/2002; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) The plan, Security Control of Air Traffic and Navigation Aids (SCATANA), was developed in the 1960s as a way to clear airspace above the US and off the US coast in the event of a confirmed warning of a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union. Once it is activated a wartime air traffic priority list is established, allowing essential aircraft and personnel to use the airspace. Among others, this list includes the US president, essential national security staff, aircraft involved in continental defense missions, and airborne command posts. (Schwartz 1998)
Eberhart Suggests Limited Version of Plan - Eberhart and his staff suggest implementing the limited version of SCATANA over the air threat conference call. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta immediately concurs. (Scott 6/3/2002; Filson 2003, pp. 73) Unlike a full SCATANA, this modified version allows ground navigation aids to stay on, for the benefit of aircraft that are still airborne. Under the plan, for about the next three days all flights other than military, law enforcement, fire fighters, and medevac, will require approval from the national Defense Department/FAA Air Traffic Services Cell, located within the FAA’s Herndon Command Center. (Schwartz 11/2001; Scott 6/10/2002; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) Notice is sent out to all civil and military air traffic control facilities, informing them that the skies now officially belong to NORAD. (Spencer 2008, pp. 269)
Order Supposedly Made Late Due to Safety Concerns - The SCATANA order is issued over an hour after the FAA ordered all planes down (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and after at least three-quarters of them have already landed. (Adams, Levin, and Morrison 8/13/2002) Eberhart will later say the delay is due to safety concerns, because NORAD would have been unable to control US airspace—with over 4,000 planes airborne at the time of the attacks—with its radar capabilities. (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) Defense Week magazine will suggest SCATANA is not implemented until even later, at around 2:00 p.m. It says NORAD issues a “notice to airmen” implementing the modified version of SCATANA about five hours after Flight 11 hit the World Trade Center. (Schwartz 11/2001)

The FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, sends out an advisory that suspends operations in the national airspace system, requiring all aircraft to land and prohibiting aircraft from taking off from all airports. (Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002; Federal Aviation Administration 4/15/2002) At 9:26 a.m., the FAA ordered a national ground stop that prevented any aircraft from taking off (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and at 9:45 a.m. it instructed all airborne aircraft to land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure 9/21/2001) According to a 2002 FAA report, “With this advisory, the shutdown of the air traffic system en masse had officially begun.” The advisory states: “Due to extraordinary circumstances and for reasons of safety. Attention all aircraft operators. By order of the Federal Aviation Command Center all airports/airdromes are not authorized for landing and takeoff. All traffic including airborne aircraft are encouraged to land shortly, including all helicopter traffic. Aircraft involved in firefighting in the Northwest US are excluded. Please read this notice over the emergency frequencies, and VOR [VHF omnidirectional range] voice.” (Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002)

The plane carrying Attorney General John Ashcroft, which is heading toward Washington, DC, is threatened with being shot down by the military if it does not land, and is diverted to Richmond, Virginia. (Eggen 9/28/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002; Spencer 2008, pp. 258) Even though the FAA had issued a national ground stop preventing aircraft from taking off (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Ashcroft insisted that his plane take off and fly back to Washington after it landed in Milwaukee to refuel (see After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). And though the FAA has been instructing all aircraft to land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Ashcroft told his pilot to ignore an order to land near Detroit, and instead continue toward Washington (see 10:40 a.m. September 11, 2001). (US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure 9/21/2001; Ashcroft 2006, pp. 117; Spencer 2008, pp. 257-258)
Fighters Intercept Ashcroft's Plane - When Ben Sliney, the national operations manager at the FAA’s Herndon Command Center, hears that Ashcroft’s pilot is refusing to land, he notifies NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS). As a result, two F-16 fighter jets from a nearby Air National Guard base intercept Ashcroft’s plane, but they remain out of sight and undetected by its pilot. The F-16s’ pilots report to NEADS that the errant plane is a private corporate jet without any markings, which is heading for Washington and does not seem to have any intention of landing.
Sliney Wants Plane 'out of My Sky' - Ashcroft’s pilot, David Clemmer, has started broadcasting a message “in the blind,” meaning it is not intended for any specific air traffic controller, stating that the attorney general is on the plane and they are returning to Washington. The F-16 pilots notify NEADS of this, but when a NEADS officer then tells Sliney about the message, Sliney asks, “Can you guarantee me that it is indeed John Ashcroft on that plane?” The officer replies, “No sir, we cannot,” and so Sliney demands, “Then get him out of my sky!” NEADS issues the order to the two F-16 pilots that if the plane will not land voluntarily, then they must take it down. The F-16 flight lead calls the FAA’s Washington Center and arranges for one of its controllers to call the plane’s pilot and tell him that if he does not divert and land, his plane will be shot down. (Spencer 2008, pp. 258)
Pilot Warned Plane Could Be Shot Down - The Washington Center controller tells Clemmer, “Land your plane immediately, or risk getting shot down by the US Air Force.” (Thomas and Hosenball 9/24/2001) Clemmer relays this warning to Ashcroft, telling him: “Sir, there’s a shootdown order. If we get any closer to Washington, they might blow us out of the sky.” (Ashcroft 2006, pp. 118) Clemmer also turns to an FBI agent who has been assigned to guard Ashcroft, and says, “Well, Larry, we’re in deep kimchi here, and basically, all the rules you and I know are out the window.” He tells air traffic controllers that he is carrying the attorney general, but is worried that this information won’t get through to military commanders who control the airspace around Washington. (Thomas and Hosenball 9/24/2001) Clemmer will later recall: “We didn’t want to do anything that would jeopardize our safety or the safety of the [attorney general]. I know I didn’t want to get shot down either.”
Plane Diverted to Richmond - According to some accounts, Ashcroft finally relents, and, at the insistence of the FAA, his plane is diverted to Richmond. Ashcroft will later recall, “It was a real negotiation [with the FAA].” (Eggen 9/28/2001; Brill 3/10/2003; Spencer 2008, pp. 258) However, according to a 2002 FAA report, Ashcroft’s plane is diverted to Richmond “due to air traffic requests for the release of medevac aircraft in the Washington, DC, area.” (Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002) As the plane flies toward Richmond, Clemmer negotiates getting a fighter escort for it. Ashcroft will persist in his desire to reach Washington, and his plane will eventually be cleared to land in the capital (see 11:27 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Eggen 9/28/2001; Spencer 2008, pp. 272)

Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot of Air Force One, is informed that an unidentified aircraft is heading toward his plane, and one of the fighter jets that is escorting Air Force One then goes and intercepts this suspicious aircraft. (Tillman 7/19/2012; KFDI 12/11/2012) Air Force One is flying toward Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana and has now been joined by two F-16 fighters belonging to the 147th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Rosenfeld and Gross 2007, pp. 40; Cenciotti 9/9/2011)
Pilot Says Aircraft Will Be Shot Down if It Is Hostile - The pilot of one of the fighters calls Tillman and tells him, “There’s a guy coming off New Orleans, looks like New Orleans, and he’s coming off and he’s climbing right at us, he’s coming right up at us.” He says he has instructed the pilot of the other fighter to head out to locate and identify the aircraft, and, he says, if the aircraft is “not a friendly, he’s gonna go ahead and splash him.” Tillman asks the pilot, “Who has got shootdown authority here?” and is told, “You have shootdown authority.” He then phones the president’s office, downstairs on Air Force One, and says to the person who answers, “Let the president know: the fighters on the wing say that I have shootdown authority.” Tillman then hears “a little chuckle in the background,” which, he will later say, is the “president and everybody laughing ‘cause Tillman thinks he has shootdown authority.”
Aircraft Is Just a Learjet Flown by a Civilian - The suspicious aircraft is intercepted by the fighter that went to locate and identify it. It turns out to be a Learjet piloted by a civilian, according to Tillman, which has just taken off from Lakefront Airport in New Orleans. “My angle coming in [toward Barksdale Air Force Base] was coming right over New Orleans and he’s taking off, coming right at me,” Tillman will say. (Tillman 2/29/2012 pdf file; Tillman 7/19/2012; KFDI 12/11/2012) If this is correct, it is unclear why the aircraft was permitted to take off, since the FAA ordered a nationwide ground stop at around 9:26 a.m., which was supposed to prevent any aircraft taking off across the US (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure 9/21/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 25) “It’s the only guy in the country that didn’t get the word we’re not flying today,” Tillman will comment. Finally, according to Tillman, the FAA’s Houston Center gets the Learjet back on the ground. (KFDI 12/11/2012) Air Force One then heads on to Barksdale Air Force Base, where it will land at 11:45 a.m. (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Kohn 9/11/2002)

While President Bush is at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, officials there receive reports of unidentified aircraft heading toward the base. (Freeman 10/2006 pdf file) The FAA ordered that all airborne aircraft must land at the nearest airport at 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and by about 12:15 p.m., US airspace is clear of all civilian air traffic, with the exception of a small number of law enforcement and emergency operations aircraft (see 12:16 p.m. September 11, 2001). (US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure 9/21/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 4/15/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 29) But for the entire time Bush is at Barksdale Air Force Base, Lieutenant General Thomas Keck, the commander of the 8th Air Force at Barksdale, and White House aides traveling with the president are receiving reports of unidentified aircraft flying toward the base. According to American History magazine, “Under Threatcon Delta, and what Keck’s staff already knew of the day’s shocking events, there was a low threshold for declaring any incoming plane or object a threat.” Therefore, Keck “made sure his staff kept him closely apprised of each questionable target.… If necessary, the commander was ready to give the order to fire on any plane that threatened the base.” Whether the suspicious aircraft are identified, and the reasons they are flying toward Barksdale ever discovered, is unstated. Barksdale Air Force Base is “already a prime target because of its key fleet of B-52s,” according to American History magazine. “Attack on the base by a hijacked airliner was never among the anticipated scenarios, however, so the base’s air security was light.” (Freeman 10/2006 pdf file) Administration officials will later tell the New York Times that around this time, there are two reports of international flights that are unaccounted for, and two domestic flights are seen as possible threats. (Sanger and van Natta 9/16/2001) Also while Bush is at Barksdale, a report is received that a high-speed object is heading for his ranch in Crawford, Texas, but this turns out to be a false alarm (see 1:05 p.m. September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 117; Draper 2007, pp. 142-143)

Several of the hijackers have tickets to continue from the destinations of their 9/11 flights. However, they do not take the flights, as all air traffic has been grounded in the US (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and they are presumed to have died in the 9/11 attacks. Flight 77 hijackers Nawaf and Salem Alhazmi, and Flight 175 hijackers Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, Mohand Alshehri, and Hamza Alghamdi are to fly from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Flight 93 hijacker Ahmed Alhaznawi is to continue from San Francisco to San Diego, whereas Ziad Jarrah is to continue to Las Vegas. Alghamdi also has tickets for flights later in September (see September 20-29, 2001). (Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/2001, pp. 233, 238, 242 246, 288 pdf file)

US airspace is clear of all civilian air traffic, with the exception of a small number of law enforcement and emergency operations aircraft. Otherwise, only military aircraft are airborne. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/18/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 4/15/2002; Levin 8/12/2002) The FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, announces that the airspace has been successfully shut down. (Spencer 2008, pp. 269) At 9:26 a.m., the Command Center ordered a national ground stop that prevented any aircraft from taking off (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and at 9:45 a.m. it ordered FAA facilities to instruct all aircraft to land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Since then, about 4,500 commercial and general aviation aircraft have landed without incident. This is the first time ever that all civilian aircraft in the United States have been grounded. (US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure 9/21/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 29) Author Pamela Freni will later comment that this clearing of the skies was “a tremendous feat accomplished by a huge team that had never even practiced this part of the game before.” Frank Hatfield, the air traffic division manager for the FAA’s eastern region, will comment: “What we did on September 11 was done amazingly well. It was almost like World War II, the way the airplanes were handled.” (Freni 2003, pp. 69) At 12:30 p.m., the FAA will report that there are 50 flights in US airspace, but none of them are reporting any problems. (CNN 9/12/2001)

Alberto Gonzales.Alberto Gonzales. [Source: George W. Bush Presidential Center]White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and Timothy Flanigan, the deputy White House counsel, meet at the White House, joined by phone by John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel, and discuss how the US government can respond to today’s terrorist attacks. (Eichenwald 2012, pp. 47-48) Gonzales was in Norfolk, Virginia, giving a speech around the time the attacks on the World Trade Center took place. He wanted to return to Washington, DC, as quickly as possible but was delayed due to the FAA grounding all aircraft (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Fortunately, he ran into a naval officer who drove him to Norfolk Naval Station, where senior officers arranged for a helicopter to fly him to the capital. The helicopter took off sometime after midday and, once back in Washington, he joined Vice President Dick Cheney and other senior administration officials in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center below the White House. (National Public Radio 9/8/2011; Gonzales 2016, pp. 1-9)
Lawyers Set Out the 'Legal Framework' for the War on Terror - With little for him to do there and feeling there are legal matters that need to be addressed, Gonzales calls Flanigan, who is in the White House Situation Room, and the two men arrange to go to Gonzales’s office on the second floor of the West Wing. Once there, they start discussing two key legal issues: Was the current situation a war and how could America respond to it? They decide they need the input of someone with more expertise and therefore call Yoo, who is at the Strategic Information and Operations Center at FBI headquarters, and ask for his assistance. Yoo then participates in the discussion over the phone. Over the next 45 minutes, the three lawyers lay out “the legal framework for policies that would govern the coming war on terror,” journalist and author Kurt Eichenwald will later describe.
Lawyer Says the President Can Take 'Any Action He Wished' - They begin by discussing the need for President Bush to declare a state of emergency and Gonzales instructs Flanigan to arrange this. They subsequently consider the issue of how much power the president has in the current circumstances. According to Eichenwald, Yoo tells his two colleagues: “In a time of military conflict, the president’s authority [is] sweeping. In fact, Bush could take just about any action he wished. A war was certain and legal.” The men agree that, unlike in a typical confrontation, the enemy combatants in the new conflict are “renegades” who do not belong to any particular country and “not soldiers whose rights [are] dictated by the rules of war under the Geneva Conventions.” The combatants’ rights, Yoo says, will be “far more limited than those of a soldier fighting on behalf of an established government.”
Suggestion Is Made to Send Terrorists to Guantanamo Bay - The men consider whether the president can block captured terrorists from the courts, thereby suspending habeas corpus. Yoo says that “if the United States declared the terrorist operation an act of war, the president should have that authority.” The men determine, however, that captured terrorists cannot be put in American prisons under the authority of the courts and then told they have no rights. They agree that these terrorists will need to be held somewhere beyond the reach of the judicial system. After they consider several locations, one of them suggests that the terrorists could be taken to Guantanamo Bay, the US naval base in Cuba. (Eichenwald 2012, pp. 47-48)

The Embassy Suites Hotel in Brookfield, Wisconsin.The Embassy Suites Hotel in Brookfield, Wisconsin. [Source: ICE Portal]President Bush talks briefly on the phone with his parents, former President George H. W. Bush and former First Lady Barbara Bush, who are at a hotel in Wisconsin. (White House 9/11/2001; Bush 2010, pp. 136) George H. W. Bush and Barbara Bush flew out from Washington, DC, early this morning after spending last night at the White House (see (8:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001), heading for St. Paul, Minnesota, where they were both scheduled to give speeches. However, their plane was instructed to land at the nearest airport after the decision was made to ground all aircraft (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). It therefore landed at Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. From there, the couple was driven to the town of Brookfield, just outside Milwaukee, where they checked in at the Embassy Suites Hotel. (CNN 10/25/2003; Bush 10/27/2003; Phelps and Jones 9/10/2016)
Couple Is Informed that the President Is Safe - At the hotel, George H. W. Bush and Barbara Bush spent time following events on television. George H. W. Bush was concerned about the president’s safety. “I had full confidence in his security, but given the coordination of the attacks I did not feel comfortable,” he will later recall. Fortunately, Secret Service agents with the couple have told them what they know about what is transpiring, regarding the terrorist attacks. The agents said that President Bush, First Lady Laura Bush, and their daughters were safe. George H. W. Bush will comment that he felt “pleased that proper security procedures were being followed,” since, “Who knew what might be planned by [the terrorists] as a follow-on attack?”
President Calls His Parents - While they are at the hotel, George H. W. Bush and Barbara Bush are able to speak to several of their children over the phone. (Bush 10/27/2003; Bush 11/6/2014) At 2:44 p.m., according to the president’s official daily diary, they are called by President Bush. (White House 9/11/2001; CNN 10/25/2003) Air Force One with the president on board took off from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana at 1:37 p.m. (see 1:37 p.m. September 11, 2001) and is now approaching Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. (Federal Aviation Administration 4/15/2002; Fox News 9/11/2003; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 325-326)
President Is Told It Is Best if He Returns to Washington Soon - The president talks first with his father. George H. W. Bush tells his son he is concerned about the stress he must be feeling. The president tries to put his father’s mind at ease, saying, “I’m just fine.” (Bush 2010, pp. 136) George H. W. Bush also tells his son that “the sooner he got back to Washington, the better.” The president agrees with this assessment. (Bush 11/6/2014) Barbara Bush then speaks with her son. “Where are you?” he asks her. “We’re at a motel in Brookfield, Wisconsin,” she replies. “What in the world are you doing there?” he asks and she retorts, “You grounded our plane!” (Bush 2010, pp. 136) The call lasts two minutes. (White House 9/11/2001) Barbara Bush thinks the president “sounded worried” but “he didn’t sound frantic” during it. He “sounded fine,” she will recall. (CNN 10/25/2003) George H. W. Bush and Barbara Bush will subsequently leave their hotel and George H. W. Bush will spend time playing a relaxed game of golf on a nearby course (see (5:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Bush 10/27/2003; Ryman 12/5/2018)

Robert J. Darling.Robert J. Darling. [Source: Robert J. Darling]Government and military officials in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House learn that the FBI’s crisis response team wants to be flown from California back to Washington, DC, and, because of the team’s crucial role in responding to terrorism, they arrange a flight for it as a matter of priority. (Darling 2010, pp. 73-75) The FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG) arrived in California the previous day for a week of field training (see September 10, 2001) and was therefore stranded away from Washington when the terrorist attacks occurred this morning (see 10:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). (NBC 4 9/11/2001; Darling 2010, pp. 75)
FBI San Francisco Office Arranges to Get Team to Washington - Two agents belonging to the CIRG learned of the attacks when the FBI’s San Francisco field office phoned them just before 9:00 a.m. (Eastern time) and alerted them to the events in New York. The agents quickly went to the field office, where Bruce Gebhardt, the special agent in charge, gave them the details of what had happened, and told them to get their team together and head to the San Francisco airport. Gebhardt said that although US airspace was closed to all commercial air traffic (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001), he would do what he could to get the CIRG transported back to Washington as soon as possible. The team members therefore packed their gear and went to the airport. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 8/18/2004; Darling 2010, pp. 75-76)
Transporting Unit Home Becomes 'Priority' at White House - In the PEOC, Colonel Michael Irwin, the director of operations for the White House Military Office, is called by a senior member of the FBI, who requests airlift support for the CIRG. The request is quickly passed to Joe Hagin, the White House deputy chief of staff. Hagin hands it back to Irwin and says: “I want you to get these folks back to DC immediately! Let the military know this is a White House priority.” The task of getting the CIRG back to Washington is then passed to Major Robert Darling, the White House Military Office airlift operations liaison officer, who is also in the PEOC. It becomes his “number-one mission priority.” The CIRG is the unit that coordinates the FBI’s rapid response to crisis incidents, including terrorist attacks. Therefore, “It made perfect sense,” Darling will later comment, “that the president would want them home and at the ready, given the day’s events.”
United Airlines Offers to Provide Aircraft - After learning that the FBI has essential personnel trying to return to Washington, United Airlines quickly offers its services. If the White House can authorize an aircraft to fly under the Special Assignment Air Mission designator, the airline says, it will provide the required aircraft and crew immediately. With the approval of Hagin and a phone call to NORAD, United Airlines Flight 8811 is authorized to transport the CIRG back to Washington. “Within the hour” of this authorization being given, according to Darling, the CIRG members will take off from San Francisco and head back to Washington (see Late Afternoon September 11, 2001). (Darling 2010, pp. 73-76)

Van Harp.Van Harp. [Source: US Department of Defense]Van Harp, the head of the FBI’s Washington, DC, field office, is away from the capital in South Carolina for his summer vacation, and has to be flown back to Washington in an FBI plane to help respond to the terrorist attacks. (Lengel 3/4/2002; US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002, pp. C45, C47 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 12/15/2003 pdf file) Harp took command of the Washington field office (WFO) as its new assistant director in charge in July this year. (Lengel 4/18/2003; Federal Bureau of Investigation 2010) But on this day he is in Hilton Head, South Carolina, on vacation with his wife, children, and grandchildren. He learned of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center when his secretary, Donna Cummings, paged him shortly after the attack occurred. Harp then called Cummings and she told him what had happened. He switched on the television in time to see the second plane crashing into the WTC, and had known then that he needed to return to Washington.
FBI Granted Permission to Send Plane to Collect Harp - Because all planes have been grounded across the US (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001), the FBI initially arranged for state troopers in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia to drive Harp back to Washington. But the bureau was then able to get special permission from the FAA to send an aircraft to fly Harp home. (Kessler 2002, pp. 424; Lengel 3/4/2002; US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002, pp. C47 pdf file) The FBI therefore sent one of its aircraft to collect Harp from Hilton Head Airport. The small, single-engine plane received clearance to take off from Manassas Regional Airport, 30 miles west of Washington, at around 2:30 p.m. The time when it lands in Hilton Head is unstated, as is the time when it lands back at the Manassas airport. From the Manassas airport, Harp drives to an FBI command post at Washington Dulles International Airport and then arrives at the WFO sometime later in the afternoon. He will stay at the field office until 2:20 a.m. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001; Kessler 2002, pp. 424; Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002, pp. G-2, S-41)
Three of Office's Four Leaders Absent - The WFO is the second largest of the FBI’s 56 field offices in terms of staffing. It comprises 657 agents and 650 professional support staff. Serving under Harp, three special agents in charge (SACs) direct the office’s administrative and technical, criminal investigations, and national security divisions. However, of the WFO’s four senior leaders, only SAC Arthur Eberhart, the head of the administrative and technical division, was present at the office when the terrorist attacks took place. SAC Ellen Knowlton, who headed the criminal investigative division, was recently reassigned to FBI headquarters, and so her position is currently vacant. SAC Timothy Bereznay was only recently appointed to head the national security division, and so he has not yet reported to the WFO. (US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002, pp. C3, C45 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 12/15/2003 pdf file; Federal Bureau of Investigation 4/6/2006) The WFO will be one of the key FBI offices involved in the fight against terrorism following the 9/11 attacks. (Lengel 4/18/2003)

The plane with General Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on board lands at Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, DC, after repeatedly being denied permission to enter US airspace. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001 pdf file; McCullough 9/2011 pdf file) At the time of the attacks on the World Trade Center, Shelton was flying toward Europe to attend a NATO conference. After he learned of the second attack, he ordered that his plane turn around and head back to the US (see (8:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell 2010, pp. 430-431) However, for a number of hours, the plane, nicknamed “Speckled Trout,” was refused clearance to return because the nation’s airspace had been shut down (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). After flying in a “holding pattern” near Greenland and later flying in another holding pattern over Canada, the plane was finally cleared to fly back into the United States (see (After 9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (McCullough 9/2011 pdf file) It was escorted by F-16 fighter jets as it flew into the US airspace. (Sasaki 10/17/2013) After flying over New York, Speckled Trout lands at Andrews Air Force Base. (McCullough 9/2011 pdf file) It is recorded as having landed at 4:40 p.m. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001 pdf file) “We landed to find the normally bustling Air Force base like a ghost town,” Shelton will later recall. “Like so many government institutions, parts of the base bad been evacuated.” At the base, Shelton is “met by an entourage of three District of Columbia patrol cars and about a dozen motorcycle cops,” which will escort his car, “lights flashing and sirens blaring,” to the Pentagon. (Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell 2010, pp. 433-434; UNC-TV 1/27/2013) He will join other senior officials in the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon at 5:40 p.m. (see 5:40 p.m. September 11, 2001). (Myers 2009, pp. 159)

An unidentified fast-moving aircraft is noticed flying toward Air Force One as it is bringing President Bush back to Washington, DC, but the aircraft turns out to be just a Learjet, reportedly “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” (Scott 9/9/2002; Filson 2003, pp. 88) Bush announced he would be returning to Washington while he was at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska (see (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001), and his plane left the base and headed for the capital shortly after 4:30 p.m. (see (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 123; Bush 2010, pp. 135) As Air Force One is approaching Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, fighter jets belonging to the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) and the 119th Fighter Wing are flying combat air patrols over the capital. They have been joined by a number of other fighters from across the northeast US.
Pilots Told They Will Be Escorting Air Force One - Among the pilots flying over Washington are Lieutenant Colonel Marc Sasseville and Lieutenant Heather Penney of the DCANG, who are flying their second mission of the day. Sasseville and Penney are instructed to contact an Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) plane in their area and “expect special tasking.” When they make contact with the AWACS plane, its controller directs them to fly about 160 miles to the west and says they are going to “escort Air Force One.” Two of the 119th Fighter Wing’s jets offer to accompany Sasseville and Penney, and Sasseville accepts.
Unidentified Aircraft Seen Flying toward Air Force One - A short time later, an AWACS controller reports that a fast-moving unidentified aircraft is flying toward Air Force One. The aircraft is currently about 70 miles southwest of the president’s plane, but is on a “cutoff vector” to Air Force One. The controller reports that the suspicious plane is flying above 40,000 feet, whereas Air Force One is “in the 20,000 feet range.” All the same, Sasseville directs the 119th Fighter Wing’s jets to intercept the aircraft and they quickly do so.
Aircraft Is Not a Threat - The suspicious aircraft turns out to be just a Learjet “that hadn’t yet landed after aircraft nationwide had been ordered out of the air,” according to Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine. (Scott 9/9/2002; Filson 2003, pp. 88) However, the FAA ordered that all airborne aircraft must land at the nearest airport many hours earlier, at around 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure 9/21/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 25) The plane is simply “in the wrong place at the wrong time,” according to author Leslie Filson. (Filson 2003, pp. 88) “There was a Learjet vectored on Air Force One,” Sasseville will tell the 9/11 Commission, “but it was nothing.” (9/11 Commission 3/11/2004 pdf file) The two DCANG fighters and the two 119th Fighter Wing jets will subsequently accompany Air Force One as it flies into Andrews Air Force Base. (Scott 9/9/2002)


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