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Context of '(9:50 a.m. and After) September 11, 2001: Cleveland Airport and City Buildings Evacuated due to Possibly Hijacked Aircraft Coming in to Land'

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

Stacia Rountree.Stacia Rountree. [Source: Vanity Fair]Colin Scoggins, the military liaison at the FAA’s Boston Center, contacts NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) and incorrectly notifies it that another aircraft, Delta Air Lines Flight 1989, is a possible hijacking. (9/11 Commission 2004; Bronner 8/1/2006) Boston Center previously called NEADS at 9:27 and said that Delta 1989 was missing (see 9:27 a.m. September 11, 2001). (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission 5/23/2003)
NEADS Technicians Respond - At NEADS, Stacia Rountree, the ID technician who takes Scoggins’s call, announces to her colleagues: “Delta ‘89, that’s the hijack. They think it’s possible hijack.… South of Cleveland.” The plane’s transponder is still on, and she adds, “We have a code on him now.” Rountree’s team leader, Master Sergeant Maureen Dooley, instructs: “Pick it up! Find it!” The NEADS technicians quickly locate Delta 1989 on their radar screens, just south of Toledo, Ohio, and start alerting other FAA centers to it. (Bronner 8/1/2006; Spencer 2008, pp. 177) NEADS mission crew commander Major Kevin Nasypany will be notified by his staff of the suspected hijacking at about 9:41 or 9:42 a.m. (9/11 Commission 1/22/2004 pdf file) NEADS never loses track of Delta 1989. It will follow it on radar as it reverses course over Toledo, heads east, and then lands in Cleveland (see (10:18 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 28) It will order Air National Guard fighter jets from Selfridge and Toledo to intercept the flight (see (9:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 10:01 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Spencer 2008, pp. 178-179) But it will soon learn that Delta 1989 is not in fact hijacked. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 28)
Cleveland Center, Not Boston, Handling Delta 1989 - Although Boston Center notifies NEADS of the suspected hijacking, Delta 1989 is in fact being handled by the FAA’s Cleveland Center. (Adams, Levin, and Morrison 8/13/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 10-12) Cleveland Center air traffic controllers suspected that Delta 1989 had been hijacked at around 9:30 a.m. (see (9:28 a.m.-9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001), but apparently only informed the FAA’s Command Center, and not NEADS, of this. (Adams, Levin, and Morrison 8/13/2002) To explain why Boston Center alerts NEADS to the flight, the 9/11 Commission will later comment that, “Remembering the ‘we have some planes’ remark” (see 8:24 a.m. September 11, 2001), the Boston Center simply “guessed that Delta 1989 might also be hijacked.”
Similar to First Two Hijacked Planes - Like Flights 11 and 175, the two aircraft that have crashed into the World Trade Center (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), Delta 1989 took off from Boston’s Logan Airport. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 27-28) According to the New York Times, it left there at about the same time as Flights 11 and 175 did, meaning around 8:00 to 8:15 a.m. (Wald and van Natta 10/18/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 32) Like those two aircraft, it is a Boeing 767. (Adams, Levin, and Morrison 8/13/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 27-28) But, unlike those flights, its transponder has not been turned off, and so it is still transmitting a beacon code. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 28; Bronner 8/1/2006) It is unclear what Delta 1989’s intended destination is. According to some accounts, like Flights 11 and 175 were, it is bound for Los Angeles. (Singer 9/11/2001; Wald and van Natta 10/18/2001; Adams, Levin, and Morrison 8/13/2002; Velez 9/24/2007; Spencer 2008, pp. 167) Other accounts will say that its destination is Las Vegas. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 28; Bronner 8/1/2006) Personnel at NEADS are apparently informed that Las Vegas is the intended destination. Around this time, one member of staff there tells her colleagues that the flight is “supposed to go to Vegas.” (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001)
One of Numerous Incorrect Reports - The 9/11 Commission will comment: “During the course of the morning, there were multiple erroneous reports of hijacked aircraft (see (9:09 a.m. and After) September 11, 2001). The report of American 11 heading south was the first (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001); Delta 1989 was the second.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 28)

The Delta Air Lines operations control center in Atlanta, Georgia.The Delta Air Lines operations control center in Atlanta, Georgia. [Source: Public domain]Delta Air Lines instructs one of its aircraft, Flight 1989, to land at Cleveland Hopkins Airport, but the FAA’s Cleveland Center, which is handling the aircraft, is not notified of this. (Adams, Levin, and Morrison 8/13/2002; Kropko 8/15/2002)
Pilots Instructed to Land - The pilots of Delta 1989 receive an ACARS text message from their airline’s dispatch office in Atlanta, Georgia, instructing them to “Land immediately in Cleveland.” (Spencer 2008, pp. 167) According to USA Today, “Since early reports that a bomb, then hijackers, might be aboard” Delta 1989, Delta Air Lines’ headquarters in Atlanta has been tracking the flight, and receiving reports on it every five minutes. (Adams, Levin, and Morrison 8/13/2002) The plane’s pilot, Captain Paul Werner, quickly types a response to the message, “ok.” But, a couple of minutes later, he receives another ACARS message from the airline. It says: “Confirm landing in Cleveland. Use correct phraseology.” Werner and First Officer David Dunlap are puzzled. According to author Lynn Spencer: “There’s such a thing as correct phraseology on the radio, but there is no such thing when typing back and forth with dispatch on ACARS. Those messages are usually casual.” Werner carefully types a response: “Roger. Affirmative. Delta 1989 is diverting to Cleveland.” He calls the Cleveland Center at 9:44 a.m. and requests a diversion to Cleveland Airport. (Spencer 2008, pp. 167-168; Levin 9/11/2008)
Cleveland Center Not Informed - About 15 minutes earlier, Cleveland Center heard the sounds from Flight 93 as it was being hijacked, but initially thought these came from Delta 1989, and mistakenly believed the Delta flight was being taken over (see (9:28 a.m.-9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Adams, Levin, and Morrison 8/13/2002) But the Delta pilots’ normal responses to radio transmissions soon led air traffic controller John Werth, who is handling Delta 1989, to conclude that this aircraft was fine. (Levin 9/11/2008) However, controllers at the Cleveland Center are unaware that Delta Air Lines has instructed Flight 1989 to land, and so Werner’s request for a change of course will make them suspicious of it again (see (Shortly After 9:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Adams, Levin, and Morrison 8/13/2002)

Having earlier concluded that it was not hijacked, air traffic controllers at the FAA’s Cleveland Center again become suspicious of Delta Air Lines Flight 1989, after its pilot requests a change of course and then fails to respond to a message.
Pilot Requests Diversion - Cleveland Center controllers initially thought the sounds from Flight 93 as it was being hijacked had come from Delta 1989, but soon decided they had come from Flight 93 (see (9:28 a.m.-9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Adams, Levin, and Morrison 8/13/2002) However, without notifying the Cleveland Center, Delta Air Lines has just instructed Delta 1989 to land at Cleveland Hopkins Airport (see (9:42 a.m.) September 11, 2001). After the plane’s pilot, Captain Paul Werner, calls the Cleveland Center at 9:44 a.m., requesting an immediate diversion, controllers there become suspicious. (Spencer 2008, pp. 167-168; Levin 9/11/2008)
Supervisor Reports Concerns over Teleconference - USA Today will later describe: “The Delta flight wants to land in Cleveland? And the captain’s request comes before he can know that the FAA wants every flight down. On this day, the fact that the pilot requests to be rerouted before he is ordered to land seems suspicious. Why the urgency? Controllers don’t know that Delta officials, also concerned about the flight, have ordered Werner to land in Cleveland.” After Delta 1989 makes an abrupt 30-degree turn back toward Cleveland Airport, a supervisor at the Cleveland Center announces the apparently suspicious development on an FAA teleconference.
Coded Message Confirms No Hijacking - As Delta 1989 begins its descent toward Cleveland, a Cleveland Center controller radios Werner with a coded message to check whether his plane has been hijacked. The controller says, “Delta 1989, I hear you’re ‘late’ today.” (The controller is using the code word for a hijack, which has been replaced with the word ‘late’ in subsequent accounts of this incident, for security reasons. Pilots can use this code word to alert controllers to their situation if they are unable to do so openly because hijackers are in the cockpit.) Werner reassures the controller that all is okay, saying: “Negative. Delta 1989 is not a ‘late.’”
Lack of Response Causes More Suspicion - Then, as the plane descends, it receives another message from the Cleveland Center. But Werner, who is busy, fails to respond to it. This arouses further suspicion. According to USA Today: “On the ground, controllers in Cleveland Center grow alarmed. Why didn’t he respond? Have both jets—the United [Flight 93] and the Delta flights—been hijacked?” (Adams, Levin, and Morrison 8/13/2002; Spencer 2008, pp. 168-169)

Michael White.Michael White. [Source: Publicity photo]Cleveland Hopkins Airport and numerous buildings in the city of Cleveland are evacuated, following the decision to land Delta Air Lines Flight 1989—which is wrongly thought to be hijacked and with a bomb on board—at the Cleveland airport. (Singer 9/11/2001; O'Mara 9/11/2006; Spencer 2008, pp. 191-192)
Airport Concerned about Delta 1989 - Delta Air Lines was concerned about Flight 1989, and instructed it to land as soon as possible in Cleveland (see (9:42 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Spencer 2008, pp. 167; Levin 9/11/2008) FAA and military personnel have mistakenly suspected that this aircraft has been hijacked (see (9:28 a.m.-9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001, 9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001, and (Shortly After 9:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and their concerns have reached personnel at Cleveland Airport. Fred Szabo, the airport commissioner, will later recall: “There was an indication that this might be a terrorist plane. We didn’t know if there were bombs on board, or if it was a hijacked plane.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 27-28; O'Mara 9/11/2006; Spencer 2008, pp. 167-168)
Airport Evacuated as Plane Approaches - As Delta 1989 heads in to land, air traffic controllers instruct it to follow a long path that initially takes it far past the airport. According to author Lynn Spencer, the “controllers are giving themselves time to evacuate the airport since [Delta 1989] has been confirmed hijacked and since they believe it contains a bomb intended to detonate when the aircraft crashes into the terminal.” Even FAA personnel at the airport evacuate their building and make their way to a huge NASA hangar next door. (Spencer 2008, pp. 191-192) After Delta 1989 lands, police block off all entrances to the airport terminal, and bomb-sniffing dogs are brought to baggage pickup areas. (Singer 9/11/2001)
City Buildings Evacuated - Furthermore, for the first time in his administration, Cleveland Mayor Michael White orders the evacuation of all federal and city buildings. (WCPN 9/20/2001) Schools are closed and a parking ban is issued downtown. (WCPN 9/12/2001) White also asks owners of large commercial high-rises to evacuate. (Singer 9/11/2001) These evacuation efforts presumably benefit from the fact that Cleveland is one of six major Ohio cities that has, for a number of years, been part of a federal program to help defend against domestic terrorism. (WCPN 9/20/2001)
NASA Facility Evacuated - Even the 3,500 employees at the NASA Glenn Research Center, which is located adjacent to the Cleveland airport, are ordered to evacuate their facility. Directors there had in fact met and decided to evacuate the center after seeing the television coverage of the second attack on the World Trade Center. It takes about an hour and a half to get everyone out of the building. (Renner 9/6/2006)

An aircraft at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.An aircraft at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. [Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer]Delta Air Lines Flight 1989, a Boeing 767 out of Boston that is wrongly suspected of being hijacked (see 9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (Shortly After 9:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001), lands at Cleveland Hopkins Airport in Ohio, and is directed to a remote area of the airport. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/16/2001; Adams, Levin, and Morrison 8/13/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 27-28; O'Mara 9/11/2006)
Plane Flies Long Path toward Airport - Delta Air Lines had been concerned about Flight 1989, and ordered it to land as soon as possible in Cleveland (see (9:42 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Spencer 2008, pp. 167; Levin 9/11/2008) As it was heading in to land, air traffic controllers instructed Delta 1989 to follow a trajectory that initially took it far past Cleveland Airport. Unknown to the plane’s pilots, the controllers incorrectly believe the flight has been hijacked and contains a bomb, and they were therefore making time to evacuate the airport before the plane landed (see (9:50 a.m. and After) September 11, 2001). (Spencer 2008, pp. 191)
Plane Directed to Remote Area - Once Delta 1989 is on the ground, the Cleveland Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) informs the FAA’s Cleveland Center that Delta 1989 is “on the ground at 1418,” where “1418” means 10:18 a.m. Cleveland Center asks, “Very safely too, I hope?” The TRACON responds that the plane is being taken to the bomb area to check. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/16/2001) Delta 1989 is directed to “taxi left onto taxiway Bravo and wait there.” This taxiway leads to a remote part of the airport that is far away from the terminal. The pilot does as instructed. (Spencer 2008, pp. 229)
Passengers Not Allowed Off - The pilots radio the airport’s air traffic control tower and say: “Just to make sure we don’t have any misunderstandings here, our flaps are up, we are landing only as a precaution at the company’s request. You understand that?” They ask if they are going to get to their gate soon, but the controller responds that city authorities are in charge and he believes people will be coming to search the aircraft. The controller advises that city authorities have said to keep the plane’s passengers on the aircraft for now. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/16/2001) The passengers and crew will have to remain on board for perhaps a couple of hours, until FBI agents allow them off (see 11:28 a.m.-12:23 p.m. September 11, 2001). (O'Mara 9/11/2006; Spencer 2008, pp. 270-271)
Conflicting Reports of Landing Time - Subsequent accounts will give conflicting times for when Delta 1989 lands at Cleveland Airport. According to a detailed timeline provided by the airport’s control tower, the aircraft is “on the ground” at 10:18 a.m. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/16/2001) Several accounts will give similar landing times of between 10:05 a.m. and 10:10 a.m. (Federal Aviation Administration 1/2/2002; Adams, Levin, and Morrison 8/13/2002) But a NORAD official will tell the 9/11 Commission that Delta 1989 landed at 9:47 a.m. (9/11 Commission 5/23/2003) Other accounts will say it lands at between 10:33 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. (Singer 9/11/2001; Singer 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 pdf file)


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