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Context of '9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001: United Flights Are Told to Bar Cockpit Entry'

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Personnel at United Airlines’ headquarters, near Chicago, are subjected to a surprise training exercise in which they are led to believe that one of their planes has crashed, and their experience with this exercise allegedly means they will be better able to respond to the 9/11 attacks. [USA Today, 8/12/2002; 9/11 Commission, 11/20/2003 pdf file; Studdert, 5/26/2015 pdf file; Dubuque Telegraph Herald, 11/12/2015]
Manager Is Concerned that the Airline Is Unprepared for an Accident - Andy Studdert, United Airlines’ chief operating officer, has been concerned that, since it hasn’t suffered a real accident in over 15 years, United Airlines is unprepared to respond properly should one occur now. “I was worried we’d become cocky,” he will later comment. “We thought it couldn’t happen to us.” Around March this year, therefore, he told the airline’s other managers, “One of these days, I’m gonna come in here and I’m gonna do a no-notice drill.” [Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 3/15/2012; Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 4/26/2012] A “no-notice” drill is an exercise that is conducted without its participants being given any formal advance notice of when it will occur. [US Department of Justice, 5/21/2000; Inglesby, Grossman, and O'Toole, 2/1/2001; Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, 10/15/2011]
Pilot Is Told to Pretend His Plane Is Experiencing an Emergency - Today, Studdert holds this no-notice exercise. Only a few people know about it in advance. Studdert tells a United Airlines employee who he will refer to as his “safety guy” to contact the pilot of a flight to Australia and give them some instructions. The pilot is therefore told he needs to call in during his flight and report an emergency. He should say there is an “uncontained number three engine failure, rapid descent, decompression,” but stop talking halfway through the word “decompression” and then go silent. He should also turn off the plane’s transponder. [Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 3/15/2012; Dubuque Telegraph Herald, 11/12/2015] (A transponder is a device that sends an aircraft’s identifying information, speed, and altitude to air traffic controllers’ radar screens. [Washington Post, 9/16/2001] )
Airline Personnel Think One of Their Planes Has Crashed - The simulated emergency takes places this afternoon. At around 2 o’clock, Studdert is interrupted by his secretary, Maryann Irving, who rushes into his office and tells him a Boeing 747 has lost contact while flying over the Pacific Ocean. In response, he runs to the airline’s operations center. [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001; Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 3/15/2012] Airline employees believe the apparently troubled aircraft has crashed. Some of them are upset and some become physically ill. [Dubuque Telegraph Herald, 11/12/2015] “There are people throwing up in the hall; there are people crying; there are people just staring out the windows,” Studdert will describe.
Personnel Think the Crisis Is Real for 30 Minutes - Since no one in the operations center is able to contact the apparently troubled aircraft, Studdert opens the airline’s crisis center. [Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 3/15/2012] The crisis center, according to journalist and author Jere Longman, is “a terraced, theater-like room that resembled NASA’s Mission Control.” [Longman, 2002, pp. 77] Opening it, according to Studdert, is a significant course of action. When this happens, everyone working for the airline becomes responsible either for running the airline or acting to support the management of the emergency. This means that “3,000 people are put on an immediate activation.” [Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 4/23/2012] United Airlines employees believe one of their planes has crashed for about 30 minutes and then Studdert reveals that the apparent catastrophe is just an exercise scenario. [USA Today, 8/12/2002] He gets on the crisis center’s communications link, which, he will say, “has got 170 stations and people all over the country, all over the world,” and announces, “This has been a no-notice drill; there is no event; everything’s fine.”
Employees Are Furious about the Exercise - The reaction to the exercise in the days after it takes place will be particularly bitter and Studdert will face severe criticism for running it. “I had the board members calling; I had the unions demanding I be fired; I had people telling me I’m the most evil person in the world,” he will recall. [Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 3/15/2012; Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 4/26/2012] Some employees “wanted to kill me,” he will say.
Exercise Has Similarities to the Situation Experienced on September 11 - It is unclear whether Studdert’s exercise has a beneficial or a detrimental effect on the ability of United Airlines to respond to the hijackings 12 days later, on September 11. Studdert will claim that it prepares employees to manage the events of September 11 and reveals weaknesses, such as outdated phone numbers, which are quickly corrected. [Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 4/26/2012; Dubuque Telegraph Herald, 11/12/2015] “It’s amazing, after 9/11… how many people came up to me and thanked me [for running the exercise], because we were ready,” he will say. [Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 3/15/2012] It is possible, however, that it will cause some United Airlines employees to initially think the reports about the terrorist attacks on September 11 are part of another exercise, although accounts are contradictory (see (8:50 a.m.-9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 8/12/2002; Chicago Tribune, 7/16/2003] The scenario of Studdert’s exercise in fact has some similarities with the situation that operations center personnel have to deal with on September 11. On that day, communication with Flight 175—the first of the two United Airlines planes that are hijacked—will be lost (see 8:51 a.m.-8:53 a.m. September 11, 2001) and the plane will have its transponder code changed, although the transponder will not be turned off (see 8:46 a.m.-8:47 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 20-21] Communication will subsequently be lost with Flight 93—the second United Airlines plane to be hijacked (see 9:27 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (9:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001)—and that plane’s transponder will be turned off (see (9:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 38-39, 43]
Crisis Center Holds Quarterly Exercises - The United Airlines crisis center usually runs exercises four times a year. Most of these deal with safety issues, but security scenarios are also rehearsed, according to Ed Soliday, the airline’s vice president of safety and security. Typically, the 9/11 Commission will be told, these exercises “are scripted” and based around an act of bioterrorism or an international incident. United Airlines has also practiced hijacking scenarios, according to Soliday, although none of these dealt with the threat of an aircraft being used as a weapon. [9/11 Commission, 11/20/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 11/21/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Andrew P. Studdert, Maryann Irving, United Airlines, Ed Soliday

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Jim Goodwin.Jim Goodwin. [Source: Chicago Tribune]Rich Miles, the manager at the United Airlines System Operations Control (SOC) center just outside Chicago, receives a call from a supervisor at United’s maintenance office in San Francisco, informing him that Flight 175 has been reported as hijacked. [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 22] The maintenance office received a call minutes earlier from a flight attendant on United 175, who said their plane had been hijacked (see 8:52 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 7-8] When the supervisor tells Miles about this, he initially responds, “No, the information we’re getting is that it was an American 757.” (The FAA has just informed United Airlines that the plane that hit the World Trade Center was a hijacked American Airlines 757 (see (Shortly After 8:48 a.m.) September 11, 2001).) But the supervisor insists, “No, we got a call from a flight attendant on 175.” [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001] Miles notifies his boss Bill Roy, the SOC director, about this information. Roy then contacts United’s CEO Jim Goodwin and its chief operating officer Andy Studdert, who are in a meeting at the airline’s headquarters, located next to the SOC. Roy then begins the process of activating the crisis center at the United headquarters, which will take about 30 minutes to complete. [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001; 9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 22]

Entity Tags: Andrew P. Studdert, Jim Goodwin, Rich Miles, United Airlines, Bill Roy

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Beginning at 9:03, a number of United Airlines flight dispatchers send text messages to several United aircraft, indicating to the pilots that planes have flown into the World Trade Center. But, according to the 9/11 Commission, “These messages provided no details or warnings.” [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 36] It is not until 9:21 that United dispatchers are told to warn their flights to secure cockpit doors (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004] The dispatcher responsible for Flight 175 and Flight 93—Ed Ballinger—begins sending warning messages to the flights he is monitoring at 9:19 a.m., informing them that two aircraft have hit the WTC (see 9:19 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 37] Airline dispatchers have an important part to play in managing aircraft in flight. According to commercial pilot and author Lynn Spencer, under FAA rules, dispatchers “take guardianship of each company aircraft in the sky. They are assigned to a certain number of aircraft and know all there is to know about each: who is flying, who is working the cabin, how many pounds of fuel are onboard, the flight plan, the alternate plan, and anything at all relevant to that flight. If there is a glitch in the system, the pilot talks to the dispatcher, and together they formulate a plan of action.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 35 and 72] United Airlines dispatchers are each responsible for monitoring from ten to 30 flights during a shift, and monitor anything up to two dozen flights at a time. [Longman, 2002, pp. 68]

Entity Tags: United Airlines, Ed Ballinger

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Terry Biggio, the operations manager at the FAA’s Boston Center, instructs the air traffic controllers at his center to contact all aircraft in the center’s airspace by radio and inform them of the events taking place in New York. He tells the controllers to also advise the aircraft to heighten their cockpit security in light of these events. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 23; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 25] According to author Lynn Spencer, previously “No transmission of that kind has ever been made on air traffic control frequencies.” Controller Jim Ekins is the first to act. He announces over all the radio frequencies in the sector: “All aircraft! Due to recent events that have unfolded in the Boston sector, you are advised to increase cockpit security. Allow no entry to your cockpit!” According to Spencer, other controllers nearby overhear and realize: “Yes! That’s exactly what we need to tell them!” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 98] The Boston Center air traffic controllers then immediately execute Biggio’s order, and give the warning to their aircraft. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 25] However, Spencer will write: “Communications with controllers are [usually] as dry as they come, and to many pilots this announcement is so out of their realm of understanding, training, and experience that it simply doesn’t make sense. It actually agitates some, who cannot help but view it as some new kind of ‘FAA bureaucratic bullsh_t.’” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 99] Boston Center will subsequently ask the FAA’s Herndon Command Center to issue a similar cockpit security alert nationwide, but the Command Center apparently will not act on this request (see (9:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 23] United Airlines will issue a company-wide order at 9:21 for its dispatchers to warn their flights to secure their cockpits (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 455]

Entity Tags: Terry Biggio, Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center, Jim Ekins

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Melodie Homer.Melodie Homer. [Source: Jim Varhegyi]The United Airlines Operations Center at JFK Airport in New York sends a text message to LeRoy Homer, the co-pilot of Flight 93, but receives no response from him. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 37] At 9:10, Melodie Homer, the wife of LeRoy Homer, contacts the operations center after seeing the second plane hitting the World Trade Center on television. Knowing her husband is flying, she requests that a message be sent to him, stating, “Your wife just wants to make sure you’re okay.” [Pittsburgh Channel, 9/19/2001; Longman, 2002, pp. 78; New York Observer, 2/15/2004; Discovery Channel, 2005] Melodie is told, “If you want to hang on, we’ll get a message back in a couple of minutes.” According to journalist and author Jere Longman, after no response is received, a second text message is sent. Although Melodie Homer’s message is later determined to have been received by the flight, there is still no reply. [Longman, 2002, pp. 81-82] However, the 9/11 Commission will only describe one message—not two—being sent to Homer, which it says happens at 9:22. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 456; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 37] The hijacking of Flight 93 is believed to take place at 9:28 (see (9:28 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 11] A text message sent by an airline dispatcher to Flight 93’s pilot Jason Dahl shortly before the hijacking will receive a response from him three minutes later (see 9:23 a.m.-9:26 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 37-38]

Entity Tags: United Airlines, Melodie Homer, LeRoy Homer

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Shortly after he learns a second plane has hit the World Trade Center, United Airlines flight dispatcher Ed Ballinger takes the initiative to begin sending a warning message to the flights he is monitoring, including Flight 93 and Flight 175 (although this aircraft has already crashed). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 11; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 26 and 37] Ballinger is responsible for monitoring United’s aircraft flying from the East Coast to the West Coast. He has 16 such flights he is in charge of. [Chicago Daily Herald, 4/14/2004] He sends out a text message to his airborne flights: “Beware any cockpit intrusion… Two aircraft in NY hit [World] Trade Center builds.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 11; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 26] Although United Airlines has suspected Flight 175 as being hijacked since around 9:00 a.m. (see Shortly Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001), Ballinger is still responsible for multiple flights. (In contrast to United, American Airlines has a policy that flight dispatchers should only manage the hijacked flight, and be relieved of responsibility for their other flights.) [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 455-456] Ballinger’s warning is therefore sent out to his aircraft in groups, and will not be sent to Flight 93 until 9:23 a.m. (see 9:23 a.m.-9:26 a.m. September 11, 2001). Unaware that it was the second plane that hit the WTC, Ballinger will also send the message to Flight 175 (see 9:23 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 26 and 37] Ballinger begins sending out these warnings two minutes before United Airlines instructs its dispatchers to warn their flights to secure their cockpit doors (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 455] According to the 9/11 Commission, his text message represents “the first occasion on 9/11 when either American or United sent out such a warning to their airborne aircraft.” [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 37] Ballinger will later recall: “As soon as I had a grasp of what was going on… I sent [the warning] out immediately. It was before [Transportation Secretary Norman] Mineta, and even before the airlines told us to alert the crews.” [Chicago Daily Herald, 4/14/2004]

Entity Tags: Ed Ballinger

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

United Airlines Flight 23, a Boeing 767 bound from JFK International Airport in New York to Los Angeles, cancels its takeoff and may thus avoid becoming the morning’s fifth hijacked plane. It was scheduled to depart at 8:30 a.m., but was late in pushing back from the gate and is still waiting in line to take off. [Associated Press, 9/13/2001; New York Times, 10/20/2001] The plane’s pilots, Tom Mannello and Carol Timmons, have heard a report over their radio that a plane has flown into the World Trade Center. They then receive a text message from United Airlines dispatcher Ed Ballinger, which reportedly states: “We have gone to heightened security. Do not open cockpit doors. Secure the cockpit.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 102-103] This is presumably the message Ballinger sent out at 9:19 (see 9:19 a.m. September 11, 2001), though it seems to be more like a description of the message he sends out at 9:32 (see 9:32 a.m.-9:33 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 37 and 39]
Pilots Alarmed at Warning - Having never received a warning like this before, the pilots are alarmed. Timmons starts barricading the cockpit door with their suitcases while Mannello grabs the crash ax for protection. Mannello calls the plane’s lead flight attendant to inform her of the threat, and tells her not to open the cockpit door under any circumstances. Soon afterwards, she calls back and informs him: “We [the plane’s flight attendants] just think you should know this because we think it is unusual. We have four young Arab men sitting in first class this morning.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 103] (Other accounts will claim there are three or even six suspicious passengers on the flight. [Associated Press, 9/13/2001; Chicago Daily Herald, 4/14/2004] ) Mannello hasn’t been told what the reported threat is about or if it relates to Arabs, so simply thanks the attendant for the information. Minutes later, the pilots receive a radio message from ground control, announcing, “All aircraft, be advised that the airport is now closed.” A subsequent message announces the airport is being evacuated. Mannello decides to move his aircraft back to the terminal. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 103-104]
Arab Passengers Become Aggressive - After the passengers are told their flight has been canceled, the Arab men become upset. They stand up and start urgently consulting with each other, and then refuse to return to their seats. [Associated Press, 9/13/2001; New York Times, 10/20/2001] One official will later describe: “These guys got belligerent, and said something like, ‘We’ve got to be on this plane.’ They expressed a desire to remain on the plane and resisted getting off.” [New York Times, 9/14/2001] According to the Associated Press, “The argument with a member of the flight crew became so heated that the crew member called airport security. But before security arrived, the men had vanished.” [Associated Press, 9/13/2001]
Evidence Indicates Plans for Hijacking Plane - Authorities will later check the men’s unclaimed baggage and find box-cutters, copies of the Koran, and al-Qaeda instruction sheets. [Chicago Daily Herald, 4/14/2004; Spencer, 2008, pp. 105] In 2002, apparently referring to this incident, Lieutenant General Ken Pennie, the deputy commander of NORAD, will state, “We suspect there might have been more than just the four aircraft involved” as targets for the 9/11 attacks. [Globe and Mail, 6/13/2002] The FBI will investigate this incident and go through the flight manifest to determine the names of the Arab men, who are believed to have had ticketed reservations. [Associated Press, 9/13/2001; New York Times, 9/14/2001] Investigators will interview the plane’s crew nearly half a dozen times. But no information about the suspicious Arab passengers is ever released to the public. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 105] On September 14, it is reported that investigators believe at least one of these passengers was among a number of individuals taken into custody at JFK and La Guardia Airports the previous day (see September 13-14, 2001). [New York Times, 9/14/2001] However, these detained individuals are soon cleared of any connection with the events of 9/11 and are released. [Associated Press, 9/14/2001] In 2004, Representative Mark Kirk (R-IL) will say the suspicious Flight 23 passengers were never found and are likely still at large. [Chicago Daily Herald, 4/14/2004]

Entity Tags: Tom Mannello, Kenneth Pennie, Carol Timmons, Ed Ballinger, Mark Steven Kirk

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

United Airlines issues a companywide order for its flight dispatchers to warn their flights to secure their cockpit doors. [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 455] The airline’s air traffic control coordinator sends a message to all of the airline’s dispatchers, telling them: “There may be addnl [additional] hijackings in progress. You may want to advise your flts [flights] to stay on alert and shut down all cockpit access inflt [in flight]. Sandy per Mgmt.” United Airlines dispatchers began notifying their aircraft that planes had crashed into the World Trade Center at 9:03 (see 9:03 a.m. and After September 11, 2001). However, with the exception of one dispatcher (see 9:19 a.m. September 11, 2001), the airline has so far not sent any warnings to its aircraft. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 36-37] United Airlines did not initially realize the second plane to hit the WTC was one of its own (see Between 9:10 a.m. and 9:20 a.m. September 11, 2001), and it is not until 9:22 that it notifies its dispatchers that UAL Flight 175 has been involved in “an accident” in New York (see 9:22 a.m. September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: United Airlines

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Rich Miles, the manager of United Airlines’ System Operations Control center, located outside Chicago, issues an advisory to all United Airlines facilities, including the flight dispatchers. This advisory, which is issued under the name of UAL Chief Operating Officer Andy Studdert, states that Flight 175 has been involved in an accident in New York City, and that the airline’s crisis center has been activated. [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 26] This appears to be United Airlines’ first proper confirmation that Flight 175 has crashed. However, it will not issue a press release confirming the crash until 11:53 a.m. (see 11:53 a.m. September 11, 2001). [United Airlines, 9/11/2001]

Entity Tags: Rich Miles, United Airlines, Andrew P. Studdert

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Ed Ballinger, the United Airlines flight dispatcher monitoring Flight 93, sends a warning message to this flight, telling the pilots to beware of any cockpit intrusion. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 11] At 9:21, United Airlines instructed its dispatchers to warn their flights to secure their cockpit doors (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001), but Ballinger had already taken the initiative two minutes earlier to begin warning the 16 flights he is monitoring (see 9:19 a.m. September 11, 2001). His text message reads: “Beware any cockpit intrusion… Two aircraft in NY hit [World] Trade Center builds.” Because this message is sent out to Ballinger’s 16 aircraft in groups, it is not until 9:23 a.m. that it is transmitted to Flight 93. [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 26 and 37] The warning is received in the plane’s cockpit one minute later. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 11] Then, at 9:26, Flight 93 pilot Jason Dahl responds with the text message, “Ed confirm latest mssg plz [message please]—Jason.” Apart from a routine radio contact with the FAA’s Cleveland Center a minute later (see 9:27 a.m. September 11, 2001), this is the last normal communication made from Flight 93’s cockpit before the hijacking occurs. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 38] Ballinger will later complain: “One of the things that upset me was that they knew 45 minutes before that American Airlines [Flight 11] had a problem. I put the story together myself [from news accounts]. Perhaps if I had the information sooner, I might have gotten the message to [Flight] 93 to bar the door.” [Chicago Daily Herald, 4/14/2004]

Entity Tags: Jason Dahl, Ed Ballinger

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The FAA’s Cleveland Center.The FAA’s Cleveland Center. [Source: FAA]Having entered the center’s airspace, Flight 93 establishes radio contact with the FAA’s Cleveland Center, a regional air traffic control center that guides long-range, high altitude flights. The pilot reports simply that his flight is experiencing intermittent light choppy air, and does not indicate there being any problems on board, saying, “Good morning Cleveland, United 93 with you at three-five-oh [35,000 feet], intermittent light chop.” The controller, John Werth, is busy with other flights, so does not initially respond. A minute later, Flight 93 radios again, “United 93 checking in three-five-oh.” Werth replies, “United 93, three-five-zero, roger.” [Gregor, 12/21/2001 pdf file; Longman, 2002, pp. 69; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 37; CBS News, 9/10/2006] Two minutes later, Flight 93 will make its final radio communication before the hijacker takeover occurs (see 9:27 a.m. September 11, 2001).

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

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Flight 93 makes its last normal communication with air traffic control before being hijacked, acknowledging a routine radio transmission from the FAA’s Cleveland Center. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 28] Flight 93 checked in with the Cleveland Center a couple of minutes earlier (see 9:24 a.m.-9:25 a.m. September 11, 2001). At 9:27, the Cleveland controller, John Werth, alerts it to another aircraft 12 miles away and to its right, at 37,000 feet: “United 93, that traffic for you is one o’clock, 12 miles east, bound three-seven-zero.” Seconds later, Flight 93 responds, “Negative contact, we’re looking, United 93.” Less than a minute after this, the hijackers appear to enter Flight 93’s cockpit (see (9:28 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Gregor, 12/21/2001 pdf file; Longman, 2002, pp. 69; CBS News, 9/10/2006]

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

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The 9/11 Commission will later conclude that the four hijackers take over Flight 93 at 9:28 a.m., one minute after the plane’s crew made their last communication with the FAA’s Cleveland Center (see 9:27 a.m. September 11, 2001). According to the Commission, the hijackers “wielded knives (reported by at least five callers); engaged in violence, including stabbing (reported by at least four callers and indicated by the sounds of the cockpit struggle transmitted over the radio); relocated the passengers to the back of the plane (reported by at least two callers); threatened use of a bomb, either real or fake (reported by at least three callers); and engaged in deception about their intentions (as indicated by the hijacker’s radio transmission received by FAA air traffic control).” Flight 93 suddenly drops 685 feet in the space of just 30 seconds, and the Cleveland Center hears two suspicious radio transmissions from its cockpit (see (9:28 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, the 9/11 Commission will add, “While this appears to show the exact time that the hijackers invaded the cockpit, we have found no conclusive evidence to indicate precisely when the terrorists took over the main cabin or moved passengers seated in the first-class cabin back to coach.” The four hijackers waited about 46 minutes after takeoff before beginning their takeover of Flight 93. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 38-39] Yet, the Commission claims, when alleged hijacker ringleader Mohamed Atta met with fellow Hamburg cell member Ramzi bin al-Shibh in Spain about two months earlier (see July 8-19, 2001), he’d said that the “best time [for the hijackers] to storm the cockpit would be about 10-15 minutes after takeoff, when the cockpit doors typically were opened for the first time.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 245] The Commission will state, “We were unable to determine why [the Flight 93 hijackers] waited so long.” [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 39] The long wait is particularly notable, considering that Flight 93 had already been significantly delayed before taking off from Newark Airport (see 8:01 a.m. September 11, 2001). In fact, in an early timeline, Pentagon officials will state the hijacking occurred significantly earlier, at around 9:16, and in 2003, NORAD officials repeat this claim (see 9:16 a.m. September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/17/2001; 9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003]

Entity Tags: 9/11 Commission

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The FAA’s Cleveland Center notifies United Airlines’ headquarters, near Chicago, that Flight 93 is not responding to attempted radio contacts. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 39] Cleveland Center made its last normal communication with Flight 93 at 9:27 (see 9:27 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 28] After the hijacking began at around 9:28, the controller handling Flight 93, John Werth, tried unsuccessfully to re-establish contact with it. [Gregor, 12/21/2001 pdf file; CBS News, 9/10/2006] The lack of response from Flight 93, combined with the plane’s turning to the east (see (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001), will lead United to believe, by 9:36 a.m., that it has been hijacked. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 456]

Entity Tags: United Airlines, Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

After United Airlines learns that Flight 93 is not responding to air traffic controllers, it notifies its flight dispatchers of this, and two of its employees try to contact the flight. At about 9:30, the FAA’s Cleveland Center informed the United Airlines headquarters, near Chicago, that Flight 93 was not responding to attempted radio contacts (see (9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). At 9:31, officials at the headquarters inform the airline’s dispatchers—who are responsible for monitoring aircraft in flight—that there is a potential problem with Flight 93. Over the next minute, United’s air traffic control coordinator and another of its employees each send a text message to Flight 93, stating, “ATC looking for you on 133.37.” Flight 93 does not respond to these or any subsequent text messages. [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 39]

Entity Tags: United Airlines

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

United Airlines flight dispatcher Ed Ballinger sends a warning message to the flights he is monitoring, which include Flight 93. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 39] Ballinger is responsible for monitoring 16 transcontinental flights. [Chicago Daily Herald, 4/14/2004] Beginning at 9:32, he sends out a text message to these flights: “High security alert. Secure cockpit.” He presumably sends this in response to United Airlines’ notification a minute earlier that there is a potential problem with Flight 93 (see 9:31 a.m.-9:32 a.m. September 11, 2001). Ballinger’s message is transmitted to Flight 93 at 9:33, but the plane does not respond. Ballinger apparently informs his colleagues of this lack of response: United Airlines Chief Operating Officer Andy Studdert will later tell the 9/11 Commission that at “approximately 9:30, a United dispatcher reports that we cannot reach Flight 93.” [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 39] Ballinger previously sent out a message at 9:19, warning his flights to “Beware any cockpit intrusion” (see 9:19 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 11]

Entity Tags: Ed Ballinger, Andrew P. Studdert

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Captain Jim Hosking, piloting United Flight 890 from Japan to Los Angeles, is sent a warning message to his cockpit printer. It reads, “There has been a terrorist attack against United Airlines and American Airlines aircraft. We are advised there may be additional hijackings in progress. Shut down all access to the flight deck. Unable to elaborate further.” He tells his first officer, “Get out the crash axe.” Other pilots are receiving similar messages around this time. [USA Today, 8/12/2002]

Entity Tags: Jim Hosking

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

United Airlines flight dispatcher Ed Ballinger sends two messages to Flight 93, which he is monitoring, warning its pilots (who in fact are no longer in control of the plane) to secure the cockpit. At 9:40, he sends the text message to Flight 93: “High security alert. Secure cockpit. Two airliner hit NY Trade Center. And 1 aircraft in IAD missing. And one in EWR missing… too. UAL 175/93 missing.” A minute later, he again sends this message to Flight 93, but with “UAL 175/93 found” added at the end. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 43] “IAD” is the code for Washington’s Dulles International Airport, from where Flight 77 took off, while “EWR” is the code for Newark Airport, from where Flight 93 took off, so presumably it is these missing aircraft that Ballinger is referring to. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file] Ballinger sent previous warning messages to Flight 93 earlier on, telling it to “Beware any cockpit intrusion” at 9:23 (see 9:23 a.m.-9:26 a.m. September 11, 2001), and to “Secure cockpit” at 9:33 (see 9:32 a.m.-9:33 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 37 and 39]

Entity Tags: Ed Ballinger

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Barry Mawn.Barry Mawn. [Source: Associated Press]On September 13, New York authorities take into custody ten people of Middle Eastern descent at JFK International and La Guardia Airports, reportedly fearing they intend to hijack aircraft and commit another suicidal terrorist attack on a US target. This leads to all three major New York-area airports—JFK, La Guardia, and Newark—being abruptly shut down, just hours after they reopened for the first time since the 9/11 attacks took place. [Associated Press, 9/14/2001; Dallas Morning News, 9/14/2001; New York Times, 9/14/2001; Washington Post, 9/14/2001]
Armed and Carrying False ID - According to the Washington Post, the detained individuals are carrying knives and false identification. [Washington Post, 9/14/2001] Four of them are reportedly arrested as they try to board a flight from JFK Airport to Los Angeles, and a woman is held on suspicion of assisting these four. Some of the four are reported as having pilots’ certificates from Flight Safety International in Vero Beach, Florida, where some of the alleged 9/11 hijackers are currently believed to have taken flying lessons. Later on, the other five men are arrested at La Guardia Airport “under similar circumstances.” [Dallas Morning News, 9/14/2001] According to the New York Times, “Law enforcement officials said one of those held was carrying a false pilot’s identification.” Furthermore, several of the detained men “showed up at the airport with tickets for flights canceled on Tuesday [September 11] and tried to use them.” Investigators say they believe one of the men had been among a group of passengers that behaved suspiciously and became aggressive after their aircraft—United Airlines Flight 23—had its takeoff canceled on the morning of 9/11 (see (After 9:19 a.m.) September 11, 2001). New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik says one of the men arrested at JFK Airport “attempted to clear security and he was stopped.” [New York Times, 9/14/2001]
Men Released, No Connections Found to 9/11 Attacks - However, the following morning the FBI announces that none of the detainees had any connection to the 9/11 attacks, and all but one of them have been released. Barry Mawn, the head of the New York FBI office, says: “The reporting that has been going on all night, I can definitively tell you, is inaccurate.… [W]e did talk to approximately a dozen individuals. We have only one individual left who is still being questioned by the task force. All other ten have been released.” [CNN, 9/14/2001; PBS, 9/14/2001] Justice Department spokeswoman Mindy Tucker says that no knives, box cutters, guns, or other weapons were found on the individuals. [Washington Post, 9/15/2001] After talking to the directors of the FBI and CIA, Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE) tells CNN that the detained men had “no connection whatsoever to what happened at the World Trade towers or the Pentagon, or this organizational network.” He explains: “One guy, an actual pilot, got on the plane, coincidentally had his brother’s identification as well. His brother happened to live in the apartment complex that was one in Boston where some of [the alleged hijackers] had actually been.” Biden adds: “Ten other people were going to a Boeing conference. They had stickers on their bags.… The folks at the airport thought, hey, wait a minute, are they impersonating crew? And they weren’t.” Biden says the one man who has not yet been released “was a screwball who was acting out, you know, acting out and saying and demanding.… Making problems, and they arrested him.” By 11:20 a.m. on September 14, the three New York-area airports are reopened. [Associated Press, 9/14/2001; CNN, 9/14/2001]

Entity Tags: John F. Kennedy International Airport, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bernard Kerik, Mindy Tucker, Newark International Airport, Joseph Biden, Barry Mawn, La Guardia Airport

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The FBI claims on this day that there were six hijacking teams on the morning of 9/11. [New York Times, 9/19/2001; Guardian, 10/13/2001] A different report claims investigators are privately saying eight. [Independent, 9/25/2001] However, the reports below suggest there may have been as many as nine aborted flights, leading to a potential total of 13 hijackings:
bullet Knives of the same type used in the successful hijackings were found taped to the backs of fold-down trays on a Continental Airlines flight from Newark. [Guardian, 9/19/2001]
bullet The FBI is investigating American Airlines Flight 43, which was scheduled to leave Boston about 8:10 a.m. bound for Los Angeles but was canceled minutes before takeoff due to a mechanical problem. [BBC, 9/18/2001; Chicago Tribune, 9/18/2001; Guardian, 9/19/2001] Another version claims the flight left from Newark and made it as far as Cincinnati before being grounded in the nationwide air ban. [New York Times, 9/19/2001]
bullet Knives and box cutters were found on two separate canceled Delta Airlines planes later that day, one leaving Atlanta for Brussels and the other leaving from Boston. [Time, 9/22/2001; Independent, 9/25/2001]
bullet On September 14, two knives were found on an Air Canada flight that would have flown to New York on 9/11 if not for the air ban. [CNN, 10/15/2001]
bullet Two men arrested on 9/11 may have lost their nerve on American Airlines Flight 1729 from Newark to San Antonio via Dallas that was scheduled to depart at 8:50 a.m., and was later forced to land in St. Louis. Alternately, they may have been planning an attack for September 15, 2001. Their names are Mohammed Azmath and Ayub Ali Khan, whose real name according to later reports is Syed Gul Mohammad Shah. [New York Times, 9/19/2001]
bullet There may have been an attempt to hijack United Airlines Flight 23 flying from JFK Airport, New York to Los Angeles around 9:00 a.m. Shortly after 9:00 a.m., United Airlines flight dispatcher Ed Ballinger sent out a warning about the first WTC crash to the flights he was handling (see 9:19 a.m. September 11, 2001). Because of this warning, the crew of Flight 23 told the passengers it had a mechanical problem and immediately returned to the gate. Ballinger was later told by authorities that six men initially wouldn’t get off the plane. When the men finally disembarked, they disappeared into the crowd and never returned. Later, authorities checked their luggage and found copies of the Koran and al-Qaeda instruction sheets. [Associated Press, 9/14/2001; Chicago Daily Herald, 4/14/2004] In mid-2002, a NORAD deputy commander says “we don’t know for sure” if Flight 23 was to have been hijacked. [Globe and Mail, 6/13/2002]
bullet According to anonymous FAA officials, a plane bound for Chicago, home of the Sears Tower, could have been another target for hijacking. The plane landed unexpectedly at the Cleveland airport after the FAA initiated a national ground stop. Four Middle Eastern men had deplaned and left the airport before officials could detain them for questioning. [Freni, 2003, pp. 81]
bullet A box cutter knife was found under a seat cushion on American Airlines Flight 160, a 767 that would have flown from San Diego to New York on the morning of 9/11 but for the air ban. [Chicago Tribune, 9/23/2001]
The FBI is said to be seeking a number of passengers who failed to board the same, rescheduled flights when the grounding order on commercial planes in the US was lifted. [BBC, 9/18/2001] The Independent points out suspicions have been fueled “that staff at US airports may have played an active role in the conspiracy and helped the hijackers to circumvent airport security.” They also note, “It is possible that at least some of the flights that have come under scrutiny were used as decoys, or as fallback targets.” [Independent, 9/25/2001]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mohammed Azmath, Syed Gul Mohammad Shah

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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