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Profile: Cleveland Terminal Radar Approach Control
Cleveland Terminal Radar Approach Control was a participant or observer in the following events:
Air traffic controllers at the Cleveland Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) remain suspicious of Delta Air Lines Flight 1989 as it is coming in to land at Cleveland Hopkins Airport, due to the pilot’s failure to use an important standard term in his communications with them. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/16/2001] A TRACON is an FAA facility that guides aircraft approaching or departing an airport. Flights coming in to land will subsequently be passed on to the airport’s air traffic control tower once they are within five miles of the airport and below 2,500 feet. [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/24/2006] The Cleveland TRACON is in contact with Delta 1989 as it descends from 9,000 feet down to 3,000 feet. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/16/2001] Delta 1989, a Boeing 767 out of Boston, is mistakenly suspected of being hijacked (see 9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (Shortly After 9:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and has been instructed to land as soon as possible in Cleveland (see (9:42 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 8/13/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 27-28; Spencer, 2008, pp. 167-168; USA Today, 9/11/2008]
Pilot Does Not Use Term 'Heavy' - A detailed timeline provided by the Cleveland Airport control tower shortly after 9/11 will describe, “One anomaly that perpetuated concern by approach controllers in the face of constant information that there was nothing going on with [Delta 1989] was that the pilot never used the HEAVY designator in his communications.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/16/2001] The term “heavy” alerts controllers to provide extra spacing behind very large aircraft, which are above a certain weight, because these aircraft generate significant wake turbulence. [USA Today, 6/1/2005; USA Today, 5/22/2006]
Controllers Skeptical of Delta 1989's Security - While the TRACON controllers use the “heavy” designator, “the pilot [of Delta 1989] did not respond with it.” The control tower’s timeline will state that, while this detail “may seem minor,” it “should not be overlooked. The use of HEAVY in the terminal environment is of the highest importance. Increased separation standards are required, and misapplication of separation standards can be disastrous. For pilots, not referring to a heavy aircraft as HEAVY is tantamount to calling a doctor ‘Mister.’” As a result, “This omission, along with all of the other information flying around, kept everyone alert and skeptical of the security of the flight.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/16/2001]
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; USA Today, 8/13/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 27-28; WKYC, 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; USA Today, 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). [WKYC, 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; USA Today, 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. [Associated Press, 9/11/2001; Associated Press, 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 ]
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