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Profile: Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was a participant or observer in the following events:
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.” [AOPA Pilot, 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. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 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). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 12/17/2001; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 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]
According to a book about the Federal Aviation Administration’s response on 9/11, the FAA Command Center sends a message to all the nation’s air traffic facilities at this time, announcing the first hijacking. [Freni, 2003, pp. 59] This would be two minutes after it had been informed that the Flight 11 hijackers had announced, “we have [some] planes” (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). Yet according to the 9/11 Commission, Indianapolis Center, which handles Flight 77, only learns that there are other hijacked aircraft “By 9:20” (see (9:20 a.m.-9:21 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 23-24]
After conferring with the FAA’s New England regional office and contacting representatives of the Air Transport Association, the FAA’s Boston Center decides to issue a Notice to Airmen, warning pilots to heighten cockpit security. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 24-25] Following the second attack on the World Trade Center, Terry Biggio, the operations manager at the Boston Center, is concerned that there may be additional attacks. He therefore asks a manager at the FAA’s New England regional office if warnings could be sent to airborne aircraft via “ACARS or something,” advising them to increase their cockpit security. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 24] (ACARS is an e-mail system that allows personnel on the ground to rapidly communicate with those in the cockpit of an aircraft. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 9] ) Biggio is particularly concerned about the need to warn airborne international flights that are scheduled to arrive at New York’s JFK International Airport. On the advice of a New England Region representative, Boston Center decides to contact Air Transport Association representatives through the FAA’s Herndon Command Center and ask them to formally request that airlines warn their aircraft to heighten cockpit security. According to the 9/11 Commission, though, Biggio is “[n]ot content to rely on the airlines to warn their aircraft,” and so decides that the Boston Center will issue a Notice to Airmen (“NOTAM”) to heighten cockpit security in light of the attacks in New York. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 24-25] The NOTAM system is the communication method used to define the rules of the day for air traffic controllers and pilots. With the status of equipment, airports, and rules changing frequently, the NOTAM system is used to distribute any changes to all pilots and controllers. [Freni, 2003, pp. 86] Two or three minutes later, controllers at the Boston Center will contact all the aircraft in their airspace by radio and advise them to increase cockpit security (see 9:09 a.m.-9:10 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 25]
The air traffic control tower at Reagan National Airport. [Source: Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority]Air traffic controllers at Washington’s Reagan National Airport are instructed to start securing the airspace around Washington, DC. In the tower at Reagan Airport, the controllers heard about the two aircraft hitting the World Trade Center. They then received the ground stop order for all flights going to or through New York. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 145] (This order was issued at 9:06 a.m.—see 9:06 a.m. and After September 11, 2001. [AOPA Pilot, 11/2001] ) Shortly afterwards, they receive the instruction to start securing the airspace around the capital. They are told to turn away all non-airliner aircraft, such as private planes, as these are considered high risk. Who it is that issues this instruction is unstated, but presumably, like the New York airspace ground stop, it comes from the FAA’s Herndon Command Center. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 145]
The two F-15 fighter jets launched from Otis Air National Guard Base in response to Flight 11 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001) have been directed to “Whiskey 105,” a military airspace training area over the Atlantic Ocean, just south of Long Island. According to the 9/11 Commission, “To avoid New York area air traffic and uncertain about what to do, the fighters were brought down to military airspace to ‘hold as needed.’ From 9:09 to 9:13, the Otis fighters stayed in this holding pattern.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20; Spencer, 2008, pp. 85] Otis pilot Major Daniel Nash will later comment, “Neither the civilian controller or the military controller knew what they wanted us to do.” [Cape Cod Times, 8/21/2002]
'Pushback' from FAA Controllers - By 9:08 a.m., Major Kevin Nasypany, the NEADS mission crew commander, had learned of the second World Trade Center crash and wanted to send the Otis fighters to New York City. However, according to Vanity Fair, the NEADS “weapons techs get ‘pushback’ from civilian FAA controllers, who have final authority over the fighters as long as they are in civilian airspace. The FAA controllers are afraid of fast-moving fighters colliding with a passenger plane, of which there are hundreds in the area, still flying normal routes.” [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 25; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] Author Lynn Spencer will add: “[L]ocal FAA controllers are busy shutting down New York’s airspace and are less than eager to grant the fighters access to the civilian airspace. They’re afraid of fast-moving fighters colliding with the hundreds of airliners that are still in the area. Many of those flights are doing unpredictable things just now, such as canceling their flight plans and changing course, and controllers are not convinced that they can provide adequate separation if fast-moving fighters are added to the mix. They just need a few more minutes, they keep saying.”
New York Center Not Answering Phone - Nasypany tries contacting the military liaison at the FAA’s New York Center, but no one is answering the phone. According to Spencer, “He wants the Otis fighters over New York, not in military airspace 100 miles off the coast, but he has little choice. Without permission from the FAA to penetrate the civil airspace over New York, NEADS must advise the Otis F-15 pilots… to continue to remain clear of the city.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 111-112]
Director Wants Jets 'Closer In' - At 9:10 a.m., the senior director on the NEADS operations floor tells the weapons director, “I want those fighters closer in.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 459] NEADS weapons controller Major Steve Hedrick asks Major James Fox, the weapons team leader, “Can we give [the fighters] a mission?” Fox replies, “Right now their mission is to hold.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 111] Then, at around 9:11 a.m., either the senior weapons director at NEADS or his technician instructs the Otis fighters to “remain at current position [holding pattern] until FAA requests assistance.”
Fighters Exit Holding Pattern for New York - Just before 9:13 a.m., the Otis pilots tell their controller at the FAA’s Boston Center that they need to establish a combat air patrol over New York. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 459] According to the 9/11 Commission, “Radar data show that at 9:13, when the Otis fighters were about 115 miles away from the city, the fighters exited their holding pattern and set a course direct for Manhattan” (see 9:13 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 24]
NEADS commander Robert Marr. [Source: Dick Blume]Numerous reports incorrectly claiming that aircraft have been hijacked are received while the terrorist attacks are taking place and into the afternoon. [Code One Magazine, 1/2002; Newhouse News Service, 3/31/2005; Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016] There are “multiple erroneous reports of hijacked aircraft” during the morning, according to the 9/11 Commission Report. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 28] At around 9:09 a.m., the FAA Command Center reports that 11 aircraft are either not communicating with FAA facilities or flying unexpected routes. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002] Major General Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental United States NORAD Region, will later claim that during the “four-hour ordeal” of the attacks, a total of 21 planes are identified as possible hijackings. [Filson, 2002; Code One Magazine, 1/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 71] Colonel Robert Marr, the battle commander at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), will say, “At one time I was told that across the nation there were some 29 different reports of hijackings.” [Newhouse News Service, 3/31/2005] Secret Service agent Dave Wilkinson, who travels with President Bush on Air Force One after it leaves Sarasota, Florida (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001), will recall that by the time the plane reaches Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, at 2:50 p.m. (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001), “there were like 15 to 20 planes still unaccounted for” nationwide. “For everything we knew, they were all hijacked,” he will say. [Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016] Officials will claim that these false reports cause considerable confusion. Arnold will recall that particularly during the time between the Pentagon being hit at, 9:37 a.m., and Flight 93 going down, at around 10:03 a.m., “a number of aircraft are being called possibly hijacked.… There was a lot of confusion, as you can imagine.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 71-73] He will say: “We were receiving many reports of hijacked aircraft. When we received those calls, we might not know from where the aircraft had departed. We also didn’t know the location of the airplane.” [Code One Magazine, 1/2002] Marr will comment: “There were a number of false reports out there. What was valid? What was a guess? We just didn’t know.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 73] Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Victoria Clarke, who is in the Pentagon during the attacks and for most of the rest of the day, will recall: “There were lots of false signals out there. There were false hijack squawks, and a great part of the challenge was sorting through what was a legitimate threat and what wasn’t.” [CNN, 6/17/2004; Clarke, 2006, pp. 215-231]
The FAA Command Center in Herndon, Virginia. [Source: Federal Aviation Administration]Ben Sliney, the national operations manager at the FAA’s Herndon Command Center, puts the word out that he wants all air traffic control facilities around the US to inform him of anything unusual that occurs with the flights they are handling. In response, news of suspicious activity quickly starts coming in to the Command Center. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 125-126]
Command Center Calls Field Facilities - Sliney wants air traffic control facilities to notify him of anything out of the ordinary, such as a radar target disappearing from the radar scope, loss of communication with an aircraft, or an aircraft making an unauthorized change of course. He also wants to know immediately of any glitches that occur, even if these are common, everyday problems, such as a flight deviating from its course, missing a frequency change, overlooking a radio call, or getting a transponder code wrong. The center’s controllers at each regional desk therefore start calling their field facilities, and ask them to report any unusual occurrences. [9/11 Commission, 7/22/2003 ; Spencer, 2008, pp. 125] The Command Center has telecommunications lines to all the major air traffic control facilities in the US, which enables it to reach out to those facilities and establish the big picture about aircraft activity. [Freni, 2003, pp. 64]
'More and More' Responses Received - Following the call for information, numerous reports of suspicious activity are received from the air traffic control facilities. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 125-126] Linda Schuessler, the deputy director of system operations at the Command Center, will later recall, “[W]e started getting more and more calls about bomb threats, about aircraft that we had lost communication or radar identification with.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 12/17/2001]
Center Lists Suspect Aircraft - Sliney wants a list compiled of the reportedly suspicious aircraft. A dry-erase board is set up in the middle of the room. On it a manager keeps track of the reports that are coming in, writing down where each suspect aircraft was last seen, who was working it, where the flight originated, and where it is going. Another person contacts the field facilities to follow up on the reports. [9/11 Commission, 7/22/2003 ; Spencer, 2008, pp. 126]
Two Dozen Suspicious Flights - Author Pamela Freni will later describe, “[F]or the next several hours the call signs and status” of every suspicious aircraft will be recorded. Command Center personnel call “airline operations centers, trying to determine any crises on each flight. Only when each plane landed or was found safe did its identification information disappear from the board. Upward to two dozen were listed at one time, but ultimately the number was whittled to 11 highly suspicious cases” (see (9:09 a.m. and After) September 11, 2001). “Nine of those airplanes would land safely. Two of them—AA 77 and UA 93—would not.” [Freni, 2003, pp. 64-65]
Washington flight control notices a new eastbound plane entering its radar with no radio contact and no transponder identification. They do not realize it is Flight 77. They are aware of the hijackings and crashes of Flights 11 and 175, yet they apparently fail to notify anyone about the unidentified plane. [Newsday, 9/23/2001; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Another report says they never notice it, and it is only noticed when it enters radar coverage of Washington’s Dulles International Airport at 9:24 a.m. (see (9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 11/3/2001]
NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) declares “AFIO” (Authorization for Interceptor Operations) for New York airspace, which gives the military authority over the FAA for that airspace, and will enable the fighter jets launched from Otis Air National Guard Base in response to Flight 11 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001) to head toward the city. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 113] For the last few minutes, the two Otis fighters have been kept in a “holding pattern” in military airspace over the Atlantic Ocean (see 9:09 a.m.-9:13 a.m. September 11, 2001), and NEADS has been unable to get permission from the FAA for them to enter the civilian airspace over New York. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 111-112]
Marr Wants AFIO - According to author Lynn Spencer, Colonel Robert Marr, the NEADS battle commander, now “decides that he is done waiting for FAA approval for his fighters to enter New York airspace.… He will play his ace card. There is one method for the military to override the FAA’s authority over the airspace, and it is called AFIO.” The declaration of AFIO will give the military “emergency authority to enter FAA-controlled airspace without permission.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 113] According to an FAA document, “Upon declaring ‘AFIO,’ NORAD assumes responsibility for [interceptor fighter jets] seeing and avoiding all known aircraft and ensuring safe intercept conduct.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 2/19/2004, pp. 4-12-1 - 4-12-2]
Nasypany Directed to Declare AFIO - Marr, who is in the NEADS battle cab, speaks over a direct phone line to Major Kevin Nasypany, the NEADS mission crew commander, who is on the operations floor there. He orders him to declare AFIO for New York airspace and to immediately move the Otis fighters over the city. Nasypany then calls out across the operations floor to the weapons team, “Okay, we’re declaring AFIO at this time.” The directive is relayed immediately to the two Otis pilots, who will then leave their holding pattern and head toward Manhattan (see 9:13 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 113]
A Port Authority police officer calls a flight controller at La Guardia Airport in New York City. The officer asks, “They are inquiring whether or not you can call Kennedy’s tower, because they can’t get through, and inquire whether or not they had any contact with these aircrafts.” The flight controller responds, “At this time, we do not think that anyone in the FAA had any contact with them.” [New York Times, 12/30/2003] “Kennedy” is a reference to John F. Kennedy Airport, another major airport in New York City. Port Authority police, who patrol both the WTC and the airports, seek information from the controllers about the hijackers. However, the controllers are unable to offer any news. [New York Times, 12/30/2003]
Daniel Bueno. [Source: Discovery Channel]At “approximately 9:15 a.m.,” according to the 9/11 Commission, Daniel Bueno, a supervisor at the FAA’s Boston Center, asks the FAA’s Herndon Command Center to contact all the FAA centers nationwide and instruct them to issue an alert, informing all airborne aircraft of the events unfolding in New York and advising them to heighten their cockpit security. Boston Center air traffic controllers have recently issued a similar alert to all aircraft in their airspace (see 9:09 a.m.-9:10 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 25-26] However, the 9/11 Commission will conclude, “We have found no evidence to suggest that the Command Center acted on this request or issued any type of cockpit security alert.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 23] According to author Lynn Spencer, “The request never makes it to Ben Sliney,” the national operations manager at the Command Center. “Tragically, it is lost in the confusion and never gets past the staff person monitoring Sliney’s desk as events rapidly spiral out of control.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 99] But Ellen King, a Command Center manager, offers a different explanation. She will tell the 9/11 Commission that the FAA culture and mindset on 9/11 are such that the FAA “would never have relayed this message directly to all pilots.… [T]he FAA would pass situational awareness to the airline company representatives who, in turn, would determine if such action was necessary.” [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 26 and 92]
Bill Halleck, an American Airlines air traffic control specialist at the airline’s System Operations Control (SOC) in Fort Worth, Texas, phones an official at the FAA’s Herndon Command Center, to ask about the status of New York City air traffic. During their two-and-a-half minute conversation, Halleck says American thinks Flight 11 crashed into the WTC, and says that Flight 77 is “missing.” Presently, he receives an update from someone else at SOC, indicating that Flight 77 may also have crashed into the WTC (see 9:08 a.m. September 11, 2001). He wonders how it could have gotten to New York, but updates the FAA official on this news. The FAA official replies that the second WTC crash may not have been Flight 77 because “we have another call sign” for that incident. The FAA Command Center is currently uncertain of the identity of either of the planes that hit the Twin Towers, and provides no further information. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 31 and 94]
According to an early timeline laid out to CNN by unnamed but “informed defense officials,” the FAA informs NORAD at this time that Flight 93 may have been hijacked. [CNN, 9/17/2001] In public testimony before the 9/11 Commission in 2003, NORAD officials will similarly claim that the FAA first reports the possible hijacking of Flight 93 at this time. [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003] Yet this is 12 minutes before the hijacking is meant to have occurred (see (9:28 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 38] One explanation is put forward that could possibly help explain the discrepancy: There are media reports that “investigators had determined from the cockpit voice recorder from United Airlines Flight 93… that one of the four hijackers had been invited into the cockpit area before the flight took off from Newark, New Jersey.” Cockpit voice recordings indicate that the pilots believed their guest was a colleague “and was thereby extended the typical airline courtesy of allowing any pilot from any airline to join a flight by sitting in the jumpseat, the folded over extra seat located inside the cockpit.” [Fox News, 9/24/2001; Herald Sun (Melbourne), 9/25/2001] This would be consistent with passenger phone calls from the plane, describing only three hijackers on Flight 93 (see (9:27 a.m.-10:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Longman, 2002, pp. 120] However, the reports will not be confirmed. The 9/11 Commission Report will dismiss the claim that NORAD was alerted at 9:16, stating, “In public testimony before this Commission in May 2003, NORAD officials stated that at 9:16, NEADS received hijack notification of United 93 from the FAA. This statement was incorrect. There was no hijack to report at 9:16. United 93 was proceeding normally at that time.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 34] No further explanations will be offered for the incorrect timelines. NORAD’s own initial timeline, released on September 18, 2001, will not give a time for when the FAA alerted it to Flight 93. It will only say that the FAA and its Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) “established a line of open communication discussing AA Flt 77 and UA Flt 93.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001]
Norman Seip. [Source: US Air Force]A National Operations and Intelligence Watch Officer Network (NOIWON) conference call is established to allow government agencies in the Washington, DC, area to quickly share information regarding the ongoing events, but the call reportedly contributes little of value to the emergency response to the terrorist attacks. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/13/2004; Government Executive, 6/1/2009] The NOIWON call is convened by the CIA sometime between 9:16 a.m. and 9:25 a.m., according to FAA chronologies. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 ] According to an officer at the Pentagon, the White House Situation Room is taking the lead at the time he answers the NOIWON call. [9/11 Commission, 5/5/2004]
FAA Participates in Call - At the FAA headquarters in Washington, the NOIWON call is answered by Bart Merkley, one of two officers on duty in the ACI Watch—a small, 24-hour intelligence facility located on the building’s third floor. [9/11 Commission, 7/13/2004] Merkley stays on the call for its entire duration. He passes onto it information he has learned from the Tactical Net—a teleconference established by the operations center at FAA headquarters at 8:50 a.m. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 ; 9/11 Commission, 5/19/2004]
NMCC Participates in Call - At the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon, the initial call on the NOIWON line is answered by Commander Pat Gardner, the assistant deputy director for operations. [9/11 Commission, 5/5/2004] Subsequently, Brigadier General Norman Seip will take over the line and remain on it for most of the day. According to a 9/11 Commission memorandum, this is because the “White House Situation Room insisted on having a flag officer on an open line” with it. [9/11 Commission, 7/21/2003 ]
NOIWON Call of Little Use - The NOIWON call apparently contributes little of value to the emergency response to the terrorist attacks. Darrel Smith, who is working alongside Merkley in the ACI Watch at FAA headquarters, will tell the 9/11 Commission that he “does not remember any useful or significant information coming as a result of the NOIWON call.” [9/11 Commission, 7/13/2004] Captain Charles Leidig, the acting deputy director for operations in the NMCC throughout the attacks, will tell the Commission that he “recalled no situational awareness that came from the NOIWON call.” [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 ] Gardner will say he “doesn’t remember specifically what was discussed” on the call. [9/11 Commission, 5/5/2004] FAA records will state, “It is believed that the [Department of Defense] received information” concerning the attacks over the NOIWON call, but the FAA “holds no records of that communication.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001]
Call Delays Establishing of NMCC's Conference - Furthermore, the NOIWON call delays the Pentagon’s response to the attacks. The NMCC’s usual first action in response to a crisis is to establish a “significant event conference” in order to gather and disseminate information from government agencies, and discuss what actions should be taken. However, the NOIWON call reportedly intervenes with the preparations for such a conference call. According to a 9/11 Commission memorandum, “The NMCC abandoned its attempt to convene a [significant event conference] so its watch officers could participate in the NOIWON conference.” [9/11 Commission, 7/21/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] The significant event conference will therefore only commence at 9:29 a.m. (see 9:29 a.m.-9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37]
No Recording of Call - The NOIWON is described as “a dedicated secure telephone system with a conferencing capability for the rapid exchange and sharing of high interest and time-sensitive information between Washington-area operations centers.” [Government Executive, 6/1/2009] During breaking crises it is used by the major national security watch centers around Washington, including the NMCC and the National Military Joint Intelligence Center at the Pentagon, the State Department Operations Center, the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, the CIA’s operations center, the NSA’s operations center, and the White House Situation Room. [Radi, 3/1997 ] The 9/11 Commission will later request a transcript of the NOIWON call conducted on this day, but despite “multiple searches,” no recording of it will be found. [9/11 Commission, 8/22/2003; Stephen A. Cambone, 10/14/2003; 9/11 Commission, 4/16/2004]
The Federal Aviation Administration closes down New York Metro area airports. [CNN, 9/12/2001]
The FAA’s New England regional office calls the FAA’s Herndon Command Center, and asks it to tell Cleveland Center to contact Delta Air Lines Flight 1989 and advise it to use extra cockpit security. The reason the New England regional office makes this request is unclear. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 10] As the 9/11 Commission will describe, apparently in response to the request, “[A]t 9:19 the FAA… Command Center in Herndon ordered controllers to send a cockpit warning to Delta 1989 because, like American 11 and United 175, it was a transcontinental flight departing Boston’s Logan Airport.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 455] Minutes earlier, the FAA’s Boston Center asked the Command Center to contact the nation’s FAA centers and instruct them to tell all airborne aircraft to increase their cockpit security (see (9:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The Command Center’s instruction to air traffic controllers about Delta 1989 is apparently an exception, as the 9/11 Commission will say it found “no evidence to suggest that the Command Center acted on this request.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 23; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 25-26] Delta 1989 will subsequently be mistakenly reported as having been hijacked (see (9:28 a.m.-9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 8/13/2002; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]
The FAA sets up a hijacking teleconference with several agencies, including the Defense Department. This is almost one hour after the FAA’s Boston flight control began notifying the chain of command (see 8:25 a.m. September 11, 2001) and notified other flight control centers about the first hijacking at 8:25 a.m. (see 8:25 a.m. September 11, 2001). According to the Acting FAA Deputy Administrator Monte Belger, this teleconference (called the “hijack net”) is “the fundamental primary source of information between the FAA, [Defense Department], FBI, Secret Service, and… other agencies.” Yet even after the delay in setting it up, FAA and Defense Department participants later claim it plays no role in coordinating the response to the hijackings. The 9/11 Commission says, “The NMCC [National Military Command Center inside the Pentagon] officer who participated told us that the call was monitored only periodically because the information was sporadic, it was of little value, and there were other important tasks. The FAA manager of the teleconference also remembered that the military participated only briefly before the Pentagon was hit.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 36] According to a statement provided by the FAA to the 9/11 Commission in 2003, this teleconference began significantly earlier—“[w]ithin minutes after the first aircraft hit the World Trade Center” (see (8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003]
According to the 9/11 Commission, the FAA’s Indianapolis Center, which was monitoring Flight 77 when it disappeared from radar (see 8:56 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (8:56 a.m.-9:05 a.m.) September 11, 2001), has learned by 9:20 a.m. that there are “other hijacked aircraft,” and begins “to doubt its initial assumption that American 77 had crashed.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 24] In fact, a transcript of air traffic controller communications will show that the Indianapolis Center was informed of the Flight 11 hijacking, and that two planes had hit the World Trade Center, at 9:09 a.m. (see 9:09 a.m. September 11, 2001); five minutes later, it received confirmation of the Flight 11 hijacking (see 9:14 a.m. September 11, 2001). [New York Times, 10/16/2001] And television networks have been covering the crashes in New York since as early as 8:48 a.m. (see 8:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Bamford, 2004, pp. 16-17]
Other Facilities Notified - The manager at the Indianapolis Center now discusses the concern that Flight 77 may not have crashed with the FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia. This discussion prompts the Command Center to notify some FAA field facilities that Flight 77 is lost. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 32] Also at around 9:20, the Indianapolis Center operations manager contacts the FAA’s Chicago Center. He advises its operations manager of his concern that Flight 77 may have been hijacked, and says to be on the lookout, based on the events that have occurred in New York. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 ] By 9:21, according to the 9/11 Commission, the FAA “Command Center, some FAA field facilities, and American Airlines had started to search for American 77. They feared it had been hijacked.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 24-25]
Janet Riffe. [Source: FAA]Janet Riffe, the FAA’s principal security inspector for American Airlines, reportedly talks over the phone with Suzanne Clark, a manager of corporate security at American Airlines, and is told that a passenger on Flight 11 was shot dead by another passenger. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; General Accounting Office, 8/30/2002; 9/11 Commission, 2003] Riffe went to the aviation command center at FAA headquarters in Washington, DC, after being alerted to the hijacking of Flight 11 by a colleague sometime between 8:30 a.m. and 9:00 a.m., she will later recall. Since then, she has been making notes about the calls she has received providing information about the hijacking. [9/11 Commission, 9/11/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 2/26/2004 ; 9/11 Commission, 2/26/2004]
Airline Manager Says a Hijacker Shot a Passenger - She now calls the American Airlines headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas, for a status update and talks to Clark. [General Accounting Office, 8/30/2002] Clark is not her usual point of contact at the headquarters. She usually talks to Chris Bidwell, another manager of corporate security, but he is currently out of his office. After Riffe tries unsuccessfully to reach him, her call is passed on to Clark. [9/11 Commission, 9/11/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 11/18/2003 ] During the call, Clark tells her about the alleged shooting on Flight 11. She says one of the plane’s flight attendants contacted the American Airlines System Operations Control center and reported that the passenger in seat 9B had been shot and killed by the passenger in seat 10B. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001] 9B is the seat of Daniel Lewin, a 31-year-old Internet entrepreneur, and 10B is the seat of alleged hijacker Satam Al Suqami. [Tablet, 9/11/2013; Slate, 9/11/2015] Just one bullet was fired, Clark says. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001] She also says the plane is heading back to JFK International Airport in New York. This is the only conversation between the two women today, according to Riffe. [9/11 Commission, 9/11/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 2/26/2004 ; 9/11 Commission, 2/26/2004]
Alleged Shooting Will Be Mentioned in an FAA Memo - After the call ends, Riffe will fill out an event sheet, describing what was said. The event sheet will subsequently be seen by Riffe’s manager, Fran Lozito, who in turn will show it to Lee Longmire, the director of civil aviation security operations at the FAA. The details in it will later be entered into a log and the information in the log will be included in a memo that the FAA prepares this evening (see 5:13 p.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 9/11/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 5/11/2004]
Airline Manager Will Claim the Call Likely Never Occurred - Riffe will confirm to the 9/11 Commission that a conversation in which Clark told her about a shooting on Flight 11 took place. [9/11 Commission, 2003; 9/11 Commission, 9/11/2003 ] Clark, though, will dispute this, claiming that the conversation probably never occurred. She will tell the 9/11 Commission that she “doesn’t remember talking to Janet Riffe” today. But “if the conversation ever took place,” she will comment, “[i]t was brief” and she “can’t remember what she said.” Furthermore, she will claim she only learned the names and seat numbers of the Flight 11 hijackers on the day after 9/11, and she doesn’t recall receiving any information about the weapons or tactics used on the hijacked flights, thereby implying she would have been unable to provide the information she was supposed to have given to Riffe. [9/11 Commission, 11/18/2003 ] But Steve Jenkins, the FAA’s principal security inspector for United Airlines who is with Riffe in the aviation command center today, will corroborate Riffe’s account. He will tell the 9/11 Commission that he recalls Riffe commenting “on a report she said she received from American’s corporate offices about a gun being used on Flight 11, just after she received the report.” [9/11 Commission, 2/24/2004 ]
Officials Will Dismiss the Claim of a Shooting - Other people besides Riffe have been told about a shooting on Flight 11. At 8:44 a.m., the operations center at FAA headquarters was told that a passenger on the plane had been shot over a conference call with the FAA’s New England Regional Operations Center (see 8:44 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/2001; General Accounting Office, 8/30/2002] However, FAA and FBI officials will say the report of a gun on Flight 11 was a mistake, and the 9/11 Commission will determine that a shooting on Flight 11 was unlikely to have occurred. Officials will say Lewin was probably killed with a knife. [Washington Post, 3/2/2002; 9/11 Commission, 2003; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 452-453] Most evidence will indicate he had his throat slashed by Al Suqami, apparently at around 8:14 a.m. when the hijackers took over Flight 11 (see (8:14 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 16-17; Raskin, 2013, pp. 218]
Arthur Eberhart. [Source: Spc. Edgar R. Gonzalez]In a government report analyzing the effectiveness of rescue worker response to the Pentagon crash, it is mentioned that, “At about 9:20 a.m., the WFO [FBI Washington Field Office] Command Center [is] notified that American Airlines Flight 77 had been hijacked shortly after takeoff from Washington Dulles International Airport. [Special Agent in Charge Arthur] Eberhart dispatche[s] a team of 50 agents to investigate the Dulles hijacking and provide additional security to prevent another. He sen[ds] a second team to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport as a precautionary step. At the WFO Command Center, Supervisory Special Agent (SSA) Jim Rice [is] on the telephone with the Pentagon when Flight 77 crashe[s] into the building.” [US Department of Health & Human Services, 7/2002, pp. C-55] Yet according to the 9/11 Commission, NORAD is not told that Flight 77 had been hijacked at this time or any time before it crashes. However, the FAA has claimed they officially warned NORAD at 9:24 a.m. (see (9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and informally warned them even earlier (see (9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
According to the 9/11 Commission, NEADS is contacted by the FAA’s Boston Center. Colin Scoggins, Boston Center’s military liaison, tells it: “I just had a report that American 11 is still in the air, and it’s on its way towards—heading towards Washington.… That was another—it was evidently another aircraft that hit the tower. That’s the latest report we have.… I’m going to try to confirm an ID for you, but I would assume he’s somewhere over, uh, either New Jersey or somewhere further south.” The NEADS official asks: “He—American 11 is a hijack?… And he’s heading into Washington?” Scoggins answers yes both times and adds, “This could be a third aircraft.” Somehow Boston Center has been told by FAA headquarters that Flight 11 is still airborne, but the 9/11 Commission will say it hasn’t been able to find where this mistaken information came from.
Scoggins Makes Error - Vanity Fair magazine will later add, “In Boston, it is Colin Scoggins who has made the mistaken call.” Scoggins will explain why he believes he made this error: “With American Airlines, we could never confirm if [Flight 11] was down or not, so that left doubt in our minds.” He says he was monitoring a conference call between FAA centers (see 8:28 a.m. September 11, 2001), “when the word came across—from whom or where isn’t clear—that American 11 was thought to be headed for Washington.” However, Boston Center was never tracking Flight 11 on radar after losing sight of it near Manhattan: “The plane’s course, had it continued south past New York in the direction it was flying before it dipped below radar coverage, would have had it headed on a straight course toward DC. This was all controllers were going on.” Scoggins says, “After talking to a supervisor, I made the call and said [American 11] is still in the air.” [Northeast Air Defense Sector, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]
Myers Refers to Mistaken Report - In the hours following the attacks, acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers will apparently refer to this erroneous report that Flight 11 is still airborne and heading toward Washington, telling the Associated Press that “prior to the crash into the Pentagon, military officials had been notified that another hijacked plane had been heading from the New York area to Washington.” Myers will say “he assumed that hijacked plane was the one that hit the Pentagon, though he couldn’t be sure.” [Associated Press, 9/11/2001]
The air traffic control tower at Dulles International Airport. [Source: Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority]The FAA’s Herndon Command Center informs a supervisor at the Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) at Washington Dulles International Airport that the FAA has lost contact with American Airlines Flight 77 and is trying to locate it. The Dulles TRACON then informs its air traffic controllers that a commercial aircraft is missing, and instructs them to look for primary targets on their radar screens. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 25; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 32] (A primary target is a radar track that provides an aircraft’s position and speed, but not its altitude, and which can still be viewed when the plane’s transponder has been turned off. [Washington Post, 9/11/2001; Salon, 9/10/2004] ) Dulles Airport is located 26 miles west of Washington, DC, and 22 miles from the Pentagon. [New York Times, 6/19/1994; USA Today, 9/13/2001] According to the 9/11 Commission, controllers at its TRACON will locate an unidentified aircraft on their radar screens at 9:32 (see 9:32 a.m. September 11, 2001), although other accounts will suggest they locate the target slightly earlier (see (Between 9:25 a.m. and 9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 ; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 33]
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; Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001]
Shortly after 9/11, NORAD reported that the FAA notified them at this time that Flight 77 “may” have been hijacked and that it appears headed toward Washington. [Washington Post, 9/12/2001; CNN, 9/17/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; Guardian, 10/17/2001; Associated Press, 8/21/2002] Apparently, flight controllers at Dulles International Airport discover a plane heading at high speed toward Washington; an alert is sounded within moments that the plane appears to be headed toward the White House. [Washington Post, 11/3/2001] In 2003, the FAA supported this account, but claimed that they had informally notified NORAD earlier. “NORAD logs indicate that the FAA made formal notification about American Flight 77 at 9:24 a.m. (see (9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001), but information about the flight was conveyed continuously during the phone bridges before the formal notification.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 5/22/2003] Yet in 2004, the 9/11 Commission claims that both NORAD and the FAA are wrong. The 9/11 Commission explains that the notification NEADS received at 9:24 a.m. was the incorrect information that Flight 11 had not hit the WTC and was headed south for Washington, D.C. Thus, according to the 9/11 Commission, NORAD is never notified by the FAA about the hijacking of Flight 77, but accidentally learns about it at 9:34 a.m. (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]
According to his own account, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, started a video teleconference from the White House’s Secure Video Conferencing Center, next to the Situation Room, at around 9:10 a.m.(see (9:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, the 9/11 Commission says that logs indicate this conference beginning 15 minutes later than this. Included in the conference are the FBI, the CIA, the FAA, the departments of State, Justice, and Defense, and the White House shelter. The FAA and CIA join at 9:40 a.m. The 9/11 Commission says, “It is not clear to us that the video teleconference was fully under way before 9:37, when the Pentagon was struck.” Furthermore, it states: “We do not know who from Defense participated, but we know that in the first hour none of the personnel involved in managing the crisis did. And none of the information conveyed in the White House video teleconference, at least in the first hour, was being passed to the NMCC [in the Pentagon].” Clarke’s video teleconference is not connected into the area of the NMCC from where the crisis is being managed. Consequently, “the director of the operations team-who was on the phone with NORAD-did not have the benefit of information being shared on the video teleconference.” And, “when the Secretary [of Defense Rumsfeld] and Vice Chairman [of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Myers] later participated in the White House video teleconference, they were necessarily absent from the NMCC and unable to provide guidance to the operations team.” Clarke, however, gives a specific recollection of Myers speaking over video at 9:28, which is seemingly at odds with the 9/11 Commission’s account (see 9:28 a.m. September 11, 2001). One witness later recalls: “[It] was almost like there were parallel decision-making processes going on; one was a voice conference orchestrated by the NMCC… and then there was the [White House video teleconference].… [I]n my mind they were competing venues for command and control and decision-making.”
[9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004]
According to the 9/11 Commission, the FAA Command Center advises FAA headquarters that American 77 is lost in Indianapolis flight control’s airspace, that Indianapolis has no primary radar track, and is looking for the aircraft. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] When exactly the Command Center first learned that Flight 77 was lost is unclear. The earliest time reported by the 9/11 Commission is when an American Airlines employee mentioned it when calling the center at 9:16 a.m. (see 9:16 a.m.-9:18 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 24] American Airlines headquarters was notified of the loss of contact with Flight 77 before 9:00 a.m. (see 8:58 a.m. September 11, 2001), but had mistakenly thought this was the aircraft that hit the second WTC tower minutes later (see 9:08 a.m. September 11, 2001).
According to an FAA report, between 9:25 a.m. and 9:30 a.m., air traffic controllers at the Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) at Washington Dulles International Airport notice an unidentified blip, later identified to be Flight 77, on their radar screens. This is several minutes earlier than the 9/11 Commission will claim they notice it. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 9]
Plane Flying East at High Speed - The TRACON at Dulles Airport, which is about 22 miles west of the Pentagon, learned several minutes earlier that the FAA had lost contact with Flight 77. It then advised its controllers to look out for “primary targets” (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 9/13/2001; Navy Times, 9/22/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 32] These are radar tracks that can still be viewed when a plane’s transponder has been turned off. [Salon, 9/10/2004] Several of the facility’s controllers now observe a primary radar target heading eastbound toward Washington at high speed, almost 500 miles per hour. Although the aircraft has no transponder signal to identify it, it is later determined to be Flight 77. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 ; USA Today, 8/12/2002]
Conflicting Times - According to the 9/11 Commission Report, the Dulles TRACON controllers only notice this aircraft at 9:32 a.m. (see 9:32 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 9] The FAA report, which is published less than a week after 9/11, will state that its time of between 9:25 and 9:30 is “approximate, based on personnel statements from Dulles Terminal Radar Approach Control.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 ] But this earlier time will receive some corroboration from a report in USA Today, which states that the FAA’s Command Center is notified by a Dulles controller of the unidentified aircraft at “just before 9:30 a.m.” [USA Today, 8/12/2002] Furthermore, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, who is currently at the White House, will tell the 9/11 Commission that at “about 9:25 or 9:26” he overhears someone warning Vice President Dick Cheney of an aircraft approaching Washington (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003] Radar evidence obtained by CBS News will show that “at 9:30 a.m.… radar tracked the plane as it closed to within 30 miles of Washington.” [CBS News, 9/21/2001]
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. [Time, 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.”
[USA Today, 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.”
[USA Today, 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.’”
[Aviation Week and Space Technology, 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). [Time, 9/14/2001; US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure, 9/21/2001; Newsday, 9/23/2001; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; USA Today, 8/12/2002; USA Today, 8/12/2002; Associated Press, 8/21/2002; Newsday, 9/10/2002]
A Delta Air Lines Boeing 767, the same kind of aircraft as Delta 1989. [Source: Public domain]The FAA’s Cleveland Center incorrectly concludes that Delta Air Lines Flight 1989 has been hijacked, but accounts will conflict over how it comes to this conclusion. [USA Today, 8/13/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 167] Delta 1989, a Boeing 767, is currently in the sector of airspace being monitored by Cleveland Center air traffic controller John Werth. [9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003 ; USA Today, 9/11/2008] It is flying west over Pennsylvania, approaching the Ohio border, and is about 25 miles behind Flight 93. FBI agents suspected Delta 1989 might be the next plane to be hijacked and called the Cleveland Center after the second attack on the World Trade Center, with the warning to watch this flight (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 8/13/2002] A supervisor at the center told Werth to keep an eye on the flight because, as Werth will later recall, “he was a suspected hijacking because he had taken off from Boston at approximately the same time as” the first two hijacked aircraft, Flights 11 and 175. [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 ; USA Today, 9/11/2008]
Controllers Hear Suspicious Communications - When, at 9:28, Werth hears the sound of screaming (subsequently determined to have come from Flight 93) over the radio (see (9:28 a.m.) September 11, 2001), he is unsure which of seven or eight possible aircraft it is coming from. The radio frequency is put on the speaker so other controllers can hear it, and they subsequently make out the words, “get out of here.” [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 11, 28]
Controllers Think Delta 1989 Is Hijacked - According to USA Today, when Cleveland Center controllers then hear a voice with a heavy accent over the radio, saying “Ladies and gentlemen: Here the captain.… We have a bomb on board” (see (9:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001), they mistakenly think it is coming from Delta 1989, not Flight 93. They suspect the flight has been hijacked, and start informing their chain of command. “Officials at Cleveland Center rush word to Washington: Hijackers have another flight. At the Federal Aviation Administration’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, Delta Flight 1989 joins a growing list of suspicious jets.” [USA Today, 8/13/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 12]
Werth Decides Hijacked Aircraft Is Flight 93 - Werth then calls all of the aircraft in his sector, and Flight 93 is the only one that does not respond. He also sees Flight 93 go into a quick descent and then come back up again. Werth therefore concludes that it is Flight 93, not Delta 1989, that has been hijacked, and instructs his supervisor to “tell Washington” of this. [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003 ] However, events in the following minutes will cause Cleveland Center controllers to remain suspicious of Delta 1989 (see (Shortly After 9:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 9:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 8/13/2002; 9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003 ; Spencer, 2008, pp. 168; USA Today, 9/11/2008]
Book Gives Alternative Account - In a book published in 2008, author Lynn Spencer will give a different explanation for why Cleveland Center becomes suspicious of Delta 1989. According to her account, after hearing a later radio transmission where a hijacker again says “There is a bomb on board” (see (9:39 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Werth begins to hand off his flights to other controllers so he can devote his full attention to Flight 93. “In the distraction of the emergency, the crew of Delta 1989 misses the hand-off to the new frequency. The new sector controller for Delta 1989 calls out to the plane several times and gets no response.” As a result, “News travels fast,” and “Soon, word on the FAA’s open teleconference call is that a fifth aircraft is out of radio contact: Delta 1989… is added to the list of suspect aircraft.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 167] At 9:39 a.m., even though it is not responsible for handling Delta 1989, the FAA’s Boston Center will call NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) and incorrectly tell it that Delta 1989 is another possible hijack (see 9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 2004; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]
Officers at the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon have serious problems trying to connect the FAA to the conference calls they convene in response to the terrorist attacks. [US Department of Defense, 9/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/21/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] The NMCC commences a “significant event conference” at 9:29 a.m., to gather and disseminate information relating to the crisis from government agencies (see 9:29 a.m.-9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). Minutes later, this is upgraded to an “air threat conference” (see 9:37 a.m.-9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). According to the 9/11 Commission Report, operators at the NMCC work “feverishly to include the FAA” in the conference, but they have “equipment problems and difficulty finding secure phone numbers.” [9/11 Commission, 7/21/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37]
NMCC Unable to Connect to FAA - The FAA is not on the NMCC’s established checklist of parties to call for either a significant event conference or an air threat conference. Captain Charles Leidig, the acting deputy director for operations (DDO) in the NMCC during the attacks, therefore has to ask Staff Sergeant Val Harrison to add the FAA to the air threat conference. Harrison tries contacting the operations center at FAA headquarters in Washington, DC, but has difficulty getting through. She finally asks the White House switchboard to help her connect the call to the FAA, but even after a line has been established it is repeatedly lost. [US Department of Defense, 9/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/21/2003 ] According to Leidig, the FAA is only “intermittently in,” and “[m]ost of the time they were not in the conference.”
NMCC Establishes Non-Secure Line with FAA - Commander Pat Gardner, the assistant DDO, has to set up an unclassified line with the FAA, because the agency’s only STU-III secure phone is tied up. This unclassified line is separate to the conference call, which is on a special, classified phone circuit. [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 ; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] According to Major Charles Chambers, who is currently on duty in the NMCC, because it isn’t in the NMCC’s conference, the FAA “couldn’t go secure and so we couldn’t get first-hand information from them.” [US Department of Defense, 9/2001]
Connection Problems 'Hampered Information Flow' - Leidig is frustrated at being unable to keep the FAA in the conference. Sometimes questions are asked of the agency, but it is no longer on the line and so the NMCC has to redial it. [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 ] Leidig will tell the 9/11 Commission that the connection problems, which occur “throughout the morning… hampered information flow to some degree,” because the NMCC is “getting information in a more roundabout way from FAA. Sometimes it would come from a local commander to NORAD back to us, or sometimes it would come on an open line” with the FAA operations center, rather than over the conference. Leidig will add that if the FAA “had been in the same conference that was being directed by the National Military Command Center, the information flow would have went directly to NORAD because [NORAD was] in that conference.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]
FAA Employee Joins Conference - According to Harrison, the NMCC is not presently aware of the existence of the FAA Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, and also does not realize that there is a military liaison at the FAA operations center. [9/11 Commission, 7/21/2003 ] However, at 10:17 a.m., FAA representative Rayford Brooks, who is at the agency’s Command Center, finally joins the air threat conference (see 10:17 a.m. September 11, 2001), although accounts indicate there are problems keeping him connected after that time. [9/11 Commission, 4/15/2004; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37, 463]
'Compatibility Issues' Supposedly Cause Connection Problems - The FAA keeps getting cut off the NMCC conference because of “technical problems,” according to a 9/11 Commission memorandum. [9/11 Commission, 7/21/2003 ] Leidig will tell the Commission it is his understanding that there were some “compatibility issues” between the FAA’s secure phone and the secure phones in the NMCC, and these caused the FAA to keep dropping out of the conference, although he is unaware of the technical aspects of the problem. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]
The National Miilitary Command Center, inside the Pentagon. [Source: US Department of Defense]The National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon finally commences and runs a “significant event conference” in response to the ongoing crisis, 26 minutes after the second plane hit the World Trade Center and officers in the NMCC realized the US was under terrorist attack. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37; American Forces Press Service, 9/7/2006]
NMCC Directors Decided to Establish Conference - After those in the NMCC saw Flight 175 hitting the WTC live on television at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), Captain Charles Leidig, the acting deputy director for operations (DDO) in the center throughout the attacks, and Commander Pat Gardner, the assistant DDO, talked about the need to convene a significant event conference so there could be a discussion of what actions were to be taken in response. The DDO and the assistant DDO are the two officers responsible for deciding what type of conference the NMCC should convene, and when it should do so. Because there is no specific procedure for dealing with terrorist attacks, Leidig and Gardner decided a significant event conference would most suit their needs, because it would have the flexibility of allowing more people to be added in as required. They also discussed who would need to be on this conference. [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 ] But Major Charles Chambers, who is currently on duty in the NMCC, will give a slightly different account. According to Chambers, Staff Sergeant Val Harrison had a phone in her hand and said NORAD was asking for a significant event conference. Leidig had agreed, and so Harrison started establishing the conference.
Conference Begins with Recap of Situation - According to Chambers, “The computer does a mass dialing to connect to those command centers that are always included” in an NMCC conference call, but Harrison also had to manually call the civilian agencies that were going to be included in the conference, such as the FAA, the FBI, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). [US Department of Defense, 9/2001] The conference then begins at 9:29 a.m. with a brief recap: Two aircraft have hit the WTC, there is a confirmed hijacking of Flight 11, and fighter jets have been scrambled from Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). The FAA is asked to provide an update, but its line is silent as the agency has not yet been added to the call (see (9:29 a.m.-12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). A minute later, Leidig states that it has just been confirmed that Flight 11 is still airborne and is heading toward Washington, DC. (This incorrect information apparently arose minutes earlier during a conference call between FAA centers (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001).) [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37] NMCC conference calls are moderated by the DDO. [9/11 Commission, 7/21/2003 ] Leidig will tell the 9/11 Commission that they are conducted over “a special phone circuit, and it’s classified to be able to pass information, relay information between very senior leadership all the way over to the White House.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]
NMCC Struggled to Convene Conference - Some officers currently on duty in the NMCC will later complain about circumstances that delayed the establishing of the significant event conference. Chambers will recall that the conference took “much longer than expected to bring up.” [US Department of Defense, 9/2001] Gardner will tell the 9/11 Commission that the NMCC had been “struggling to build the conference,” which “didn’t get off as quickly as hoped.” [9/11 Commission, 5/5/2004] He will describe his “frustration that it wasn’t brought up more quickly.” [9/11 Commission, 5/12/2004]
Other Conference and Connection Problems Delayed Call - Preparations for the conference were disrupted as a result of the CIA convening a National Operations and Intelligence Watch Officer Network (NOIWON) conference call between government agencies in the Washington area, reportedly at sometime between 9:16 a.m. and 9:25 a.m. (see (Between 9:16 a.m. and 9:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001). According to a 9/11 Commission memorandum, the NMCC had “abandoned its attempt to convene a [significant event conference] so its watch officers could participate in the NOIWON conference.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/21/2003 ] Another factor that slowed attempts to convene the significant event conference was a problem with connecting some agencies to it. According to Chambers, “A couple of the civil agencies couldn’t be reached and others kept dropping off moments after connecting.” He will recall, “We finally decided to proceed without those agencies that were having phone problems.” [US Department of Defense, 9/2001] Leidig had announced that the NMCC would have to start without those agencies and add them to the conference later on. [9/11 Commission, 5/12/2004]
Call Ends after Five Minutes - The significant event conference ends after only a few minutes, following a recommendation by NORAD that it be reconvened as an “air threat conference.” It is brought to an end at around 9:34 a.m., and will resume as an air threat conference at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m.-9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37]
Chris Stephenson, head flight controller at Washington’s Reagan National Airport tower, says that he is called by the Secret Service around this time. He is told an unidentified aircraft is speeding toward Washington. Stephenson looks at the radarscope and sees Flight 77 about five miles to the west. He looks out the tower window and sees the plane turning to the right and descending. He follows it until it disappears behind a building in nearby Crystal City, Virginia. [USA Today, 8/11/2002] However, according to another account, just before 9:30 a.m., a controller in the same tower has an unidentified plane on radar, “heading toward Washington and without a transponder signal to identify it. It’s flying fast, she says: almost 500 mph. And it’s heading straight for the heart of the city. Could it be American Flight 77? The FAA warns the Secret Service.”
[USA Today, 8/12/2002] In short, it is unclear whether the Secret Service warns the FAA, or vice versa.
The FAA’s Emergency Operations Center gets up and running, five minutes after the FAA issues an order grounding all civilian, military, and law enforcement aircraft. [Time, 9/14/2001] This center’s role in the crisis response remains unclear.
At the FAA’s Cleveland Center, an air traffic controller hears a transmission, presumably made by Flight 93 hijacker-pilot Ziad Jarrah, stating: “Ladies and gentlemen: Here the captain, please sit down, keep remaining sitting. We have a bomb on board. So, sit.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 12; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 39] As the 9/11 Commission later notes, “Like [Mohamed] Atta on Flight 11, Jarrah apparently did not know how to operate the communication radios; thus his attempts to communicate with the passengers were broadcast on the [air traffic control] channel.” [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 98] While this communication is assumed to have come from Flight 93, an early FAA report states that it came “from an unknown origin.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 ] According to Newsweek, just prior to the communication, Cleveland Center controllers heard the sound of screaming from the flight. [Newsweek, 9/22/2001] The 9/11 Commission states that, around the time of the transmission, the plane’s cockpit voice recording indicates “that a woman, most likely a flight attendant, was being held captive in the cockpit. She struggled with one of the hijackers who killed or otherwise silenced her.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 12; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 39] Though the Cleveland air traffic controller understands the hijacker’s communication, he responds to it: “Calling Cleveland Center, you’re unreadable. Say again, slowly.” He also notifies his supervisor who passes the information up the chain of command, and the FAA’s Command Center is subsequently informed, “United 93 may have a bomb on board.” At 9:34 the Command Center will relay this information to FAA headquarters (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 28]
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. [St. Petersburg Times, 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). [USA Today, 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]
According to the 9/11 Commission, word of Flight 93’s hijacking reaches FAA headquarters. By this time, headquarters has established an open line of communication with the FAA Command Center at Herndon, Virginia. It had instructed the center to poll all flight control centers about suspect aircraft. So, at this time, the Command Center passes on Cleveland’s message: “United 93 may have a bomb on board.” The FAA headquarters apparently does not forward this information to the military, despite having the responsibility for doing so. Ben Sliney, the FAA’s national operations manager at its Herndon Command Center, will later recount, “I do know that all the information was being relayed to headquarters and, at least as far as we were concerned, it should have been. We thought it had been given to the military at each juncture.” The Command Center continually updates FAA headquarters on Flight 93 until it crashes. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004; CBC, 9/12/2006]
According to the 9/11 Commission, NEADS contacts Washington flight control to ask about Flight 11. A manager there happens to mention, “We’re looking—we also lost American 77.” The commission claims, “This was the first notice to the military that American 77 was missing, and it had come by chance.… No one at FAA Command Center or headquarters ever asked for military assistance with American 77.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Yet, 38 minutes earlier, flight controllers determined Flight 77 was off course, out of radio contact, and had no transponder signal (see 8:56 a.m. September 11, 2001). They’d warned American Airlines headquarters within minutes. By some accounts, this is the first time NORAD is told about Flight 77, but other accounts have them warned around 9:25 a.m.
David Canoles. [Source: C-SPAN]Officials at FAA headquarters in Washington, DC, follow an unidentified aircraft—presumably Flight 77—that is approaching the capital as its progress is reported over a teleconference. [USA Today, 8/12/2002; Freni, 2003, pp. 34] Air traffic controllers at the Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) at Washington Dulles International Airport noticed the track of an aircraft flying rapidly east toward Washington on their radar screens at 9:32 a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission Report (see 9:32 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 25] Since then, the operations supervisor at the TRACON has been providing continuous updates over an FAA teleconference. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 ] At FAA headquarters, David Canoles, the FAA’s manager of air traffic evaluations and investigations, is participating in the teleconference and listens as the operations supervisor reports a “fast-moving target moving towards Washington.” The operations supervisor keeps describing the location of the aircraft. “Six miles from the White House,” they say, followed by, “Five miles from the White House.” Canoles realizes the aircraft is virtually on top of FAA headquarters and wonders if his building is its target. He instructs his colleague, Jeffrey Loague, to see if he can spot the aircraft out the window of the adjacent office. Canoles hears the operations supervisor reporting, “The aircraft is circling; it’s turning away from the White House” (see 9:34 a.m.- 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001), followed by, “It’s gone,” when the aircraft disappears from radar. Meanwhile, Loague notices the aircraft out of the window as it descends toward the Pentagon, according to author Pamela Freni. “I see something!” he yells. He describes the plane’s progress as it loses altitude and then disappears behind the buildings that surround the Pentagon. “Oh, my God!” he utters, when he then sees smoke rising into the air. [USA Today, 8/12/2002; Freni, 2003, pp. 34-35; 9/11 Commission, 3/25/2004] However, according to other accounts, Logue apparently does not report seeing the aircraft descending. Instead, he returns to the room after it crashes and tells Canoles only that he has seen smoke coming from the Pentagon. [ABC News, 8/12/2002; 9/11 Commission, 3/25/2004]
FAA’Â€Â™s Cleveland Center. [Source: ABC News]According to the 9/11 Commission, at about this time Cleveland flight control specifically asks the FAA Command Center whether someone has requested the military to launch fighters toward Flight 93. Cleveland offers to contact a nearby military base. The Command Center replies that FAA personnel well above them in the chain of command have to make that decision and are working on the issue. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Cleveland overheard a hijacker say there was a “bomb on board” at 9:32 a.m. and passed the message to FAA higher ups (see (9:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001). According to John Werth, the Cleveland controller handling Flight 93, “Within three or four minutes, probably, of when [the hijacking] happened, I asked if the military was advised yet. Had anybody called the military? They said, ‘don’t worry. That’s been taken care of,’ which I think to them, meant they had called the command center in Washington.” [CBS News, 9/10/2006]
Government buildings in Washington, DC, are not evacuated prior to the attack on the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. As CNN will later describe, even after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the FAA’s warning to the military of a hijacked aircraft apparently heading toward Washington (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001), “the federal government failed to make any move to evacuate the White House, Capitol, State Department, or the Pentagon.” [CNN, 9/16/2001] Although a slow evacuation of the White House begins at around 9:20 a.m. (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001), it is not until 9:45 a.m. that the Secret Service orders people to run from there (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/11/2001; CNN, 9/12/2001; ABC News, 9/11/2002] Other government buildings, including the Capitol (see 9:48 a.m. September 11, 2001), the Justice Department, the State Department, and the Supreme Court (see 10:15 a.m. September 11, 2001), will not be evacuated until between 9:45 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. [US News and World Report, 9/14/2001; US Department of State, 8/15/2002] Robert Bonner, who was recently nominated as Commissioner of Customs, will estimate that he was evacuated from the Treasury Department at “about 9:35 a.m.” [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004; US Department of Homeland Security, 9/20/2004] But other accounts will say the Treasury Department was not evacuated until after the Pentagon attack. [Associated Press, 9/11/2001; Reuters, 9/11/2001; US Department of State, 9/11/2002] Furthermore, journalist and author Robert Draper will describe, even after the State and Treasury Departments have been evacuated, “no agents thought to take charge of the Commerce Department, which housed 5,000 employees.” [Draper, 2007, pp. 143] According to CNN, prior to the Pentagon attack: “[N]either the FAA, NORAD, nor any other federal government organ made any effort to evacuate the buildings in Washington. Officials at the Pentagon said that no mechanism existed within the US government to notify various departments and agencies under such circumstances [as occur today].” [CNN, 9/16/2001]
Entity Tags: US Capitol building, Pentagon, Robert Bonner, US Department of Commerce, US Department of Justice, Federal Aviation Administration, US Supreme Court, US Department of the Treasury, White House, US Department of State
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
The National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon commences an “air threat conference” at 9:37 a.m. in response to the terrorist attacks, which will last for more than eight hours and have numerous high-level government and military officials participating at various times.
NORAD Reports Two More Hijackings - Captain Charles Leidig opens the call at 9:39 a.m. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37-38] As the acting deputy director for operations (DDO) in the NMCC during the attacks, Leidig is responsible for moderating the air threat conference and generating a military response to the crisis. [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 ] He begins the call saying: “An air attack against North America may be in progress. NORAD, what’s the situation?” NORAD says it has conflicting reports, and its latest information is of “a possible hijacked aircraft taking off out of JFK [International Airport in New York], en route to Washington, DC.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 38] NORAD says the FAA has also passed it information about a second additional hijacking. Major Charles Chambers, who is currently on duty in the NMCC, will later recall, “This was probably a communications mix-up, but we all thought for a while that there were a total of five hijackings.” [US Department of Defense, 9/2001]
NMCC Reports Pentagon Attack - The NMCC reports that there has been a crash into the mall side of the Pentagon and requests that the secretary of defense be added to the conference. (However, despite being in the Pentagon when it is hit, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will not enter the NMCC and join the air threat conference until around 10:30 a.m. (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001).) [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 38] The air threat conference is broadcast over a loudspeaker inside the NMCC. [US News and World Report, 8/31/2003] According to Chambers, “Questions were flying left and right on the conference, and trying to keep things straight was very difficult.” [US Department of Defense, 9/2001]
NORAD Recommended Air Threat Conference - Leidig and Commander Pat Gardner, the assistant DDO, had earlier on decided to convene an all-purpose “significant event conference” in response to the attacks on the World Trade Center. That call commenced at 9:29 a.m. (see 9:29 a.m.-9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). NORAD had recommended that it be reconvened as an air threat conference. [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37] According to Chambers, an air threat conference is used when aircraft are considered to be hostile and involves many more people than are in a significant event conference, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the secretary of defense, and officials from the White House. [US Department of Defense, 9/2001] However, Leidig thought a significant event conference was the correct kind of call for the situation. He will tell the 9/11 Commission that an air threat conference “had Cold War implications and brought a different group of people to a conference.” [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 ] Gardner will say that threat conferences are intended for dealing with external threats. [9/11 Commission, 5/12/2004]
Deputy Director Ordered Upgrading of Conference - All the same, Leidig gave the order to transition to an air threat conference. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37] He will tell the 9/11 Commission that, in retrospect, the reason he thinks he did so “was because he perceived an air threat at that time.” [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 ] Therefore, the significant event conference was brought to an end at around 9:34 a.m., and resumes as an air threat conference three minutes later. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37] Staff Sergeant Val Harrison could have established the air threat conference either by leaving all of those participating in the significant event conference on the line and then adding new participants one at a time, or by simply hanging up on everyone in the significant event conference and then having the computer do a mass dialing. Harrison recommended the second option. Leidig had agreed, and directed her to disconnect the conference call and start over.
Problem with Connecting Some Agencies - As happened with the significant event conference, there are problems connecting several agencies to the air threat conference. [US Department of Defense, 9/2001] Despite repeated attempts, operators struggle to get the FAA connected (see (9:29 a.m.-12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001), and it will take until 10:17 a.m. for an FAA representative to finally join the call (see 10:17 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/21/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37] Other agencies had not understood what Leidig meant about convening the new conference, and so did not hang up their phones when the NMCC disconnected the previous conference call. As a result, all the NMCC got from them was a busy signal over the line. Chambers will recall, “As with the [significant event conference], it took longer than expected to convene the [air threat conference].” [US Department of Defense, 9/2001]
Top Officials Participate - Throughout the more than eight hours the air threat conference is running for, numerous key officials will participate in it at various times, including President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers, military personnel from the Presidential Emergency Operations Center below the White House, and the president’s military aide on Air Force One. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37] Brigadier General Montague Winfield, the original DDO, who had Leidig take his place so he could attend a pre-scheduled meeting (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001), will later recall, “All of the governmental agencies… that were involved in any activity that was going on in the United States… were in that conference.” [ABC News, 9/11/2002]
Winfield Runs Conference after Returning to Post - Winfield will take over the running of the air threat conference from Leidig after returning to his post at around 10:30 a.m. (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/4/2002; 9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 ; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] But although NMCC conference calls are moderated by the DDO, Rumsfeld will use the DDO’s phone to participate in the air threat conference, meaning that Winfield is unable to moderate the conference when the defense secretary is participating. [9/11 Commission, 7/21/2003 ]
The USS George Washington. [Source: Summer Anderson / Department of Defense]After the attack on the Pentagon, Navy ships and aircraft squadrons that are stationed, or at sea, along the coast of the United States are, reportedly, “rapidly pressed into action” to defend the country. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Vern Clark is evacuated from his office in the Pentagon after the building is hit, and soon relocates to the Navy’s Antiterrorist Alert Center in southeast Washington, DC, where a backup Navy command center is being established (see After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). Clark later explains, “We had carriers at sea. I talked to Admiral Natter [Adm. Robert J. Natter, commander in chief, US Atlantic Fleet] and Admiral Fargo [Adm. Thomas B. Fargo, commander in chief, US Pacific Fleet] about immediate loadouts [of weapons and armed aircraft] and the positioning of our air defense cruisers. Fundamentally, those pieces were in place almost immediately and integrated into the interagency process and with the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration].” The aircraft carrier USS George Washington is currently at sea conducting training exercises. It is dispatched to New York, “following the recovery of armed F-14 Tomcats and F/A-18 Hornets from Naval Air Station Oceana,” in Virginia Beach, Virginia. According to Sea Power magazine, another aircraft carrier—the USS John F. Kennedy—that is departing Mayport, Florida, is ordered to patrol the waters off Hampton Roads, Virginia, “to protect the Navy’s vast shore complex in Norfolk.” [Associated Press, 9/12/2001; Sea Power, 1/2002; Notre Dame Magazine, 4/2007] The John F. Kennedy has nearly a full air wing of 75 fighter, attack, and reconnaissance planes aboard it, while the George Washington has only a limited number of aircraft on board. [Virginian-Pilot, 9/12/2001] Admiral Natter orders two amphibious ships—the USS Bataan and the USS Shreveport—to proceed to North Carolina, to pick up Marines from Camp Lejeune, in case additional support is needed in New York. “Within three hours, an undisclosed number of Aegis guided-missile cruisers and destroyers also were underway, their magazines loaded with Standard 2 surface-to-air missiles. Positioned off New York and Norfolk, and along the Gulf Coast, they provided robust early-warning and air-defense capabilities to help ensure against follow-on terrorist attacks.” Vern Clark later recalls that, after the Pentagon attack, “We were thinking about the immediate protection of the United States of America.” [Sea Power, 1/2002] Yet, according to CNN, it is not until 1:44 p.m. that the Pentagon announces that five warships and two aircraft carriers—the USS George Washington and the USS John F. Kennedy—are to depart the Naval Station in Norfolk, Virginia, so as to protect the East Coast (see 1:44 p.m. September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/12/2001] And, according to some reports, the Navy only dispatches missile destroyers toward New York and Washington at 2:51 p.m. [Washington Post, 9/12/2001; Fox News, 9/13/2001; Associated Press, 9/11/2006]
General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. [Source: VisitingDC.com]Attorney General John Ashcroft insists that the plane he is traveling on take off from Milwaukee and head to Washington, DC, even though he has been discouraged from getting airborne due to the possibility of further attacks, and his pilot has been told by air traffic control that he will not be allowed to take off. [Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 117; Spencer, 2008, pp. 257-258] Ashcroft was flying from Washington to Milwaukee in a Cessna Citation V jet when he learned of the attacks in New York in a phone call with the Justice Department command center. He’d wanted to immediately head back to Washington, but his pilot, David Clemmer, said they would first need to land in Milwaukee to refuel (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). Their aircraft then landed, presumably at Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport.
SWAT Team Surrounds Plane - After the plane touched down, Ashcroft and the others on board were met by a SWAT team, brandishing weapons, which surrounded the plane. Then, while Clemmer took care of refueling, Ashcroft and his fellow passengers—some colleagues of his from the Justice Department—went into the airport’s evacuated terminal and found a television on which they could watch the news coverage from New York. Soon after, they learned that the Pentagon had been hit.
Ashcroft Discouraged from Taking Off - While at the airport, Ashcroft spends much of his time speaking over the phone to the Justice Department command center in Washington. He will later recall, “Some people were discouraging us from getting back on the plane until we knew whether there was going to be another attack.” But Ashcroft “didn’t want to wait that long,” so as soon as Clemmer has finished refueling the plane, Ashcroft gives him the order to take off. [Washington Post, 9/28/2001; Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 115-117]
Ashcroft Overrules Order Not to Take Off - However, the FAA has ordered a nationwide ground stop to prevent aircraft from taking off (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and air traffic control has informed Clemmer that his plane will not be allowed to leave Milwaukee for Washington. [US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure, 9/21/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 25; Spencer, 2008, pp. 257-258] Clemmer therefore tells Ashcroft: “I’m sorry, sir. We can’t take off. I just received orders that we are not supposed to be flying.” But Ashcroft responds: “No, we’re going. Let’s get back in the air.” Ashcroft and his fellow passengers then board the plane. [Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 117] They are joined by another Justice Department aide and another FBI agent in addition to the one who’d been on the plane when it landed in Milwaukee. [Washington Post, 9/28/2001]
Pilot Convinces Controller to Let Him Take Off - Clemmer is eventually able to convince air traffic control to allow him to leave Milwaukee. He then takes off and heads toward Washington. However, when Ben Sliney, the national operations manager at the FAA’s Command Center, hears about this, he will reportedly be “livid,” and Ashcroft’s plane will be ordered to land (see 10:40 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 117; Spencer, 2008, pp. 258]
Harry Brosofsky. [Source: Syracuse University]General John Jumper, the Air Force chief of staff, and James Roche, the secretary of the Air Force, as well as other senior Air Force officials, arrive at the Air Force Operations Center in the basement of the Pentagon’s C Ring, where they assist the Air Force’s response to the terrorist attacks. [CNN, 10/10/2001; Lompoc Record, 9/11/2003; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 136]
Operations Center Personnel Did Not Realize a Plane Had Hit the Pentagon - Jumper and Roche were in Roche’s office on the fourth floor of the Pentagon when the Pentagon was hit, at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001), and were then promptly escorted down to the Operations Center (see Shortly After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Air Force Print News, 9/11/2003; Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 ] They were unclear what had happened when the Pentagon was attacked, but when they arrive at the Operations Center, they find out that an aircraft hit the building. [CNN, 10/10/2001; Midland Reporter-Telegram, 4/2/2002] Those in the Operations Center had not initially realized a plane had hit the Pentagon either. The center is deep underground on the opposite site of the building to where it was hit and so they did not feel the impact when the attack occurred. But, according to the Dover Post, “Suddenly, sirens started to go off,” and “[r]eports from the television news and from outside the building confirmed the worst.” [Dover Post, 9/19/2001; Prospectus, 9/2006, pp. 3-6 ]
Operations Center Is Quickly Going from 'Zero to Crisis Mode' - When Roche and Jumper arrive at the Operations Center, they find Air Force personnel there are “already starting to try to get the intel picture together; they were trying to get the air picture up on the walls,” according to Colonel Philip Breedlove, Roche’s senior military assistant, who has come down to the center with the two men. The center is “going from zero to crisis mode very quickly and very smoothly,” Breedlove will add. [Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 ] Personnel in the center have been answering calls coming in on multiple lines. “We didn’t know who was still out there or what their hostile intention might be,” Major Harry Brosofsky, who arrived at the center shortly after the Pentagon was hit, will later recall. However, Brosofsky will say, “at times we had information overload and had to decide quickly what to do with all the information that was pouring in.” But the atmosphere is still noticeably professional, according to Major Donna Nicholas, who arrived at the center before the Pentagon was hit. “I was amazed at the calm,” she will comment.
Crisis Team Is at Work in Operations Center - Furthermore, the Air Force’s Crisis Action Team (CAT), which, according to the Dover Post, “coordinates Air Force reaction to anything that might be a threat to the United States,” was activated earlier on and is now carrying out its activities in the Operations Center (see (9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Dover Post, 9/19/2001; Syracuse University Magazine, 12/2001] Members of the CAT have also begun to assemble in the center for a 10:00 a.m. briefing, due to the fact that one of their responsibilities is to work with the Army to provide assistance to civil authorities in New York, in response to the attacks on the World Trade Center. [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 136]
Roche and Jumper Try to Contact NORAD - The first thing Roche and Jumper do when they reach the Operations Center is try and locate Air Force personnel, to make sure they are safe, and safely out of the Pentagon. [CNN, 10/10/2001] CAT members work to obtain a head count of Air Force personnel who have evacuated from the building. [Syracuse University Magazine, 12/2001] Roche and Jumper then try to contact NORAD. [CNN, 10/10/2001] The Air Force leaders are “not the command authority” at the moment, according to Air Force Magazine, and, instead, NORAD is primarily responsible for operational control of the situation. Air Force officials, however, still need to “do what they could to inform and support the operational units.” [Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 ] The CAT also coordinates with NORAD to put fighter jets on alert in Alaska and Hawaii. [Syracuse University Magazine, 12/2001] Roche will recall that after contacting NORAD, he and Jumper “stand by and start to think of how we, the Air Force, could support any casualties or any other things that might develop during the day.” [CNN, 10/10/2001] The CAT also works with the FAA to monitor flight activity over the continental United States. [Syracuse University Magazine, 12/2001] And CAT members activate a team to focus on “continuity of operations,” which is the effort to ensure that the Air Force is able to continue its essential functions in an emergency. [US Department of Defense, 5/26/1995; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 136; US Air Force, 10/16/2013 ]
Air Force Personnel Affected by Communication Problems - The ability of those in the Operations Center to respond to the crisis, however, is impaired when, at some point after Jumper and Roche arrive, communications go down. “There was a short period where literally the only [communications] we had was the BlackBerry device, because it communicates differently across the lines,” Breedlove will recall. The reason for the problem, according to Air Force Magazine, is that networks have become overloaded by people at the Pentagon and around Washington, DC, all trying to call their relatives to let them know they are okay. As the morning goes on, Air Force officials also begin experiencing problems with smoke from the burning building coming into the center. The decision will therefore be made to establish a temporary Air Force Operations Center at Bolling Air Force Base, just across the Potomac River from the Pentagon. At 12:20 p.m., Air Force leaders and assistants will be flown by helicopter to the base. The new Operations Center there will be up and functioning by 1:00 p.m. (see 1:00 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Prospectus, 9/2006, pp. 3-6 ; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 136; Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 ]
Washington’s Dulles International Airport, from where Flight 77 departed earlier this morning (see (8:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001), is locked down on the orders of the FAA. Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001) and within two hours, the FBI, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and other authorities lock down Dulles Airport. This means no one is allowed to enter or leave, according to investigative journalists Joseph Trento and Susan Trento. [Trento and Trento, 2006, pp. 36; Priska Neely, 10/21/2010] However, the airport’s terminals are evacuated at around 10:00 a.m., according to Edward Cox, the airport security coordinator. The evacuation is coordinated by the FAA and airport operations. [9/11 Commission, 10/16/2003 ] The goal within the system is to get passengers out of the terminals as quickly as possible, according to Frank Dunn, deputy chief of police with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. Once the terminals have been evacuated, they are closed. [9/11 Commission, 9/29/2003 ]
The Flight 93 hijackers (probably inadvertently) transmit over the radio: “Hi, this is the captain. We’d like you all to remain seated. There is a bomb on board. And we are going to turn back to the airport. And they had our demands, so please remain quiet.”
[Boston Globe, 11/23/2001; Longman, 2002, pp. 209; MSNBC, 9/3/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] The controller responds, “United 93, understand you have a bomb on board. Go ahead,” but there is no response. There was a very similar “bomb on board” warning from the same flight at 9:32 a.m. (see (9:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The 9/11 Commission indicates that these are separate incidents. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Cleveland flight control apparently continues to wait for FAA superiors to notify NORAD. Earlier in the morning, Boston flight control directly contacted NORAD (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and local air force bases when they determined Flight 11 was hijacked.
Newark, New Jersey, air traffic controller Bob Varcadipane is talking on the phone with the FAA Command Center. He is told that the Command Center is still suspicious of at least ten planes for one reason or another, all possible hijackings. [MSNBC, 9/11/2002]
The FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, provides updates to FAA headquarters in Washington, DC, about the problems with Flight 93. At 9:41 a.m., John White, a manager at the Command Center, is talking to Doug Davis, the special assistant for technical operations in air traffic services at FAA headquarters. White says that Flight 93 has reversed course from its intended flight path (see (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001), its transponder signal has been lost (see (9:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and it is now descending and heading east. From 9:42 a.m., one of the Command Center managers (exactly who is unstated) gives the headquarters several updates on Flight 93’s progress and location. At 9:46 a.m., White tells Jeff Griffith, the FAA’s deputy director of air traffic, that Flight 93 is “29 minutes out of Washington, DC, and tracking toward us.” Two minutes later, in another conversation with Griffith, White confirms that Flight 93 has reversed course and is heading toward Washington. [Federal Aviation Administration, 10/21/2002; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 43-44]
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; USA Today, 8/12/2002; Associated Press, 8/12/2002; USA Today, 8/12/2002; USA Today, 8/13/2002; Associated Press, 8/21/2002; Newsday, 9/10/2002] Seventy-five percent of the planes land within one hour of the order. [USA Today, 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.” [Washington Post, 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.” [Slate, 4/2/2002]
Doug Davis. [Source: Federal Aviation Administration]John White, a manager at the FAA’s Command Center, suggests to Doug Davis, the special assistant for technical operations in air traffic services at FAA headquarters, that fighter jets should be launched in response to Flight 93. However, FAA headquarters is apparently unable to act on this suggestion. [Federal Aviation Administration, 10/21/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 29; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/10/2006] In the last few minutes, the Command Center has warned headquarters that Flight 93 is “29 minutes out of Washington” and approaching the city (see 9:41 a.m.-9:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 44]
Command Center Asks about Launching Fighters - Davis now tells White, “They’re pulling Jeff [Griffith, the FAA’s deputy director of air traffic] away to go talk about United 93.” White asks, “Uh, do we want to think, uh, about scrambling aircraft?” Davis replies, “Oh, God, I don’t know.” White says, “Uh, that’s a decision somebody’s gonna have to make probably in the next 10 minutes.” However, Davis only responds, “Uh, ya know everybody just left the room.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 10/21/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 29] This conversation takes place 13 minutes after the FAA’s Cleveland Center asked the Command Center whether anyone had asked the military to launch fighter jets to intercept Flight 93 (see (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 40]
Person Who Could Request Fighters Is Unavailable - Apparently there is only one person at FAA headquarters who is authorized to request military assistance, and Ben Sliney, the Command Center’s national operations manager, is told that no one can find him. Sliney will later recount: “I said something like, ‘That’s incredible. There’s only one person. There must be someone designated or someone who will assume the responsibility of issuing an order, you know.’ We were becoming frustrated in our attempts to get some information. What was the military response?” [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/10/2006] This lack of response to Flight 93 contrasts with the FAA’s earlier reaction to Flight 11, when Boston Center air traffic controllers contacted NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) themselves (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and even called military bases directly (see 8:34 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (8:34 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20]
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. [Associated Press, 9/11/2001; WKYC, 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; USA Today, 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; WKYC, 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. [Associated Press, 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. [Associated Press, 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. [Cleveland Free Times, 9/6/2006]
According to the 9/11 Commission, FAA headquarters informs the FAA Command Center that the deputy director for air traffic services is talking to Deputy Administrator Monte Belger about scrambling aircraft after Flight 93. Yet in interviews with the commission, neither Belger nor the deputy director recall this discussion, and Belger subsequently e-mails the commission saying he does not believe the conversation took place. However, tape recordings reveal a staff person from headquarters at this time telling the Command Center, “Peter’s talking to Monte now about scrambling.” FAA headquarters is also informed that the flight is 20 miles northwest of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 461] When questioned about this, Belger will point out that there are military people on duty at the FAA Command Center and in a situation room at the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization, and that they are participating in what is going on. In addition, Belger will later tell the commission that he thought the NMCC was on the hijack net and would therefore have received notification on this channel at the same time as all other agencies. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Incredibly, FAA headquarters has known since 9:34 A.M. about hijackers talking about a bomb on board the flight, and more evidence has since been passed on confirming a hijacking in progress. Still, reportedly, no one tells NORAD anything about the plane.
FAA radar displays begin showing that a growing number of international flights approaching America are transmitting warning codes from their transponders. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 196-197]
Airspace Shut Down - At around 9:45 a.m., the FAA shut down US airspace and ordered all aircraft to land (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Shortly afterwards, Canada took similar action. However, international flights that are over the oceans and approaching America are getting low on fuel. As their crews establish radio contact with air traffic controllers, they are told that American airspace is closed. Many of the worried pilots dial emergency codes into their transponders. [US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure, 9/21/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 29; Spencer, 2008, pp. 196]
Radar Screens Highlight Numerous Flights - A plane’s transponder is a device that sends that aircraft’s identifying information, speed, and altitude to radar screens. [Washington Post, 9/16/2001] There are three specific codes that pilots can dial into their transponder to signal an emergency: “7500” signifies a hijacking, “7600” signifies a loss of radio, and “7700” signifies other emergencies. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 25-26] Amid the current crisis, FAA radar screens begin highlighting a growing number of flights over the oceans that are transmitting warning codes. According to author Lynn Spencer, “One foreign crew dials in the four-digit code for ‘hijack,’ just to let the authorities know they are aware of what is taking place.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 196-197] In response to a request from the FAA, Canada will agree to open its airspace to all international flights that are diverted away from the United States, allowing those flights to land at Canadian airports (see 10:21 a.m. September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/12/2001; Time, 9/14/2001; NAV Canada, 7/22/2005]
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 ] )
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]
Bill Wright. [Source: WTAE-TV]Bill Wright is piloting a small plane when an air traffic controller asks him to look around outside his window, according to his later claims. Wright sees Flight 93 three miles away—close enough that he can see the United Airlines colors. Air traffic control asks him the plane’s altitude, and then commands him to get away from the plane and land immediately. Wright sees the plane rock back and forth three or four times before he flies from the area. He will later say, “That’s one of the first things that went through my mind when they told us to get as far away from it as fast as we could—that either they were expecting it to blow up or they were going to shoot it down, but that’s pure speculation.” [Pittsburgh Channel, 9/19/2001] According to the 9/11 Commission, the FAA Command Center tells FAA headquarters that a nearby plane has seen Flight 93 “waving his wings.” The Commission will say, “The aircraft had witnessed the radical gyrations in what we believe was the hijackers’ effort to defeat the passenger assault.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] This presumably is a reference to Wright.
United Airlines official Sandy Rogers calls Ellen King at the FAA’s Command Center to discuss Flight 93. The timing of the call is not known specifically, although it appears to be after the Pentagon was hit and could not be long after Flight 93 is thought to have crashed, which is shortly after 10:00 a.m. (see (10:03 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Rogers tells King that Flight 93 has been hijacked, and King responds, “Oh God… thank you,” indicating she was previously unaware of the hijacking. However, the FAA had been aware of the situation since a few minutes after the hijacking took place (see (9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). Rogers also says: “It’s over Hagerstown now and you’re not aware of it. It’s heading toward Washington, DC, and we are under a threat of a hijacking on board and this flight is out of our control now heading toward Washington, DC.” Rogers states that United Airlines is “advising the military” about the plane and King also says that the FAA will do the same. [Federal Aviation Administration, 10/14/2003, pp. 37-39 ] However, there are no other reports of Flight 93 ever being over Hagerstown, which is in Maryland. Flight 93 is said to crash in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and is thought never to reach Maryland. There will be some—apparently mistaken—reports that the plane is still airborne after it is thought to have crashed (see (Between 10:10 a.m. and 10:18 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 10:10 a.m.-10:11 a.m. September 11, 2001), and this may be another such report.
Vice President Cheney and other leaders now in the White House bunker begin receiving reports from the Secret Service of a presumably hijacked aircraft heading toward Washington. The Secret Service is getting this information about Flight 93 through links to the FAA. However, they are looking at a projected path, not an actual radar return, so they do not realize that the plane crashes minutes later. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]
According to the 9/11 Commission, the NMCC learns about the Flight 93 hijacking at this time. Since the FAA has not yet been patched in to the NMCC’s conference call, the news comes from the White House. The White House learned about it from the Secret Service, and the Secret Service learned about it from the FAA. NORAD apparently is still unaware. Four minutes later, a NORAD representative on the conference call states, “NORAD has no indication of a hijack heading to Washington, D.C., at this time.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]
Smoke rising, minutes after Flight 93 crashes in Pennsylvania. [Source: CNN]Exactly when Flight 93 crashes is unclear. According to NORAD, Flight 93 crashes at 10:03 a.m. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001] The 9/11 Commission gives an exact time of 11 seconds after 10:03 a.m. It will claim this “time is supported by evidence from the staff’s radar analysis, the flight data recorder, NTSB [National Transportation Safety Board] analysis, and infrared satellite data.” It does note that “[t]he precise crash time has been the subject of some dispute.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] However, a seismic study authorized by the US Army and drafted by scientists Won-Young Kim and Gerald Baum to determine when the plane crashed will conclude that the crash happened at 10:06:05 a.m. [Kim and Baum, 2002 ; San Francisco Chronicle, 12/9/2002] The discrepancy is so puzzling that the Philadelphia Daily News will publish an article on the issue, titled “Three-Minute Discrepancy in Tape.” This notes that leading seismologists agree on the 10:06 a.m. time, give or take a couple of seconds. [Philadelphia Daily News, 9/16/2002] The New York Observer will note that, in addition to the seismology study, “The FAA gives a crash time of 10:07 a.m. In addition, the New York Times, drawing on flight controllers in more than one FAA facility, put the time at 10:10 a.m. Up to a seven-minute discrepancy? In terms of an air disaster, seven minutes is close to an eternity. The way our nation has historically treated any airline tragedy is to pair up recordings from the cockpit and air traffic control and parse the timeline down to the hundredths of a second. However, as [former Inspector General of the Transportation Department] Mary Schiavo points out, ‘We don’t have an NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) investigation here, and they ordinarily dissect the timeline to the thousandth of a second.’” [New York Observer, 2/15/2004]
The FAA’s Cleveland Center, which had the last contact with Flight 93 before it crashed, suggests that no distress signal indicating a plane crash has occurred was picked up at the time Flight 93 went down. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001] Flight 93 reportedly crashed in rural Pennsylvania at 10:03 a.m. (see (10:03 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [National Transportation Safety Board, 2/19/2002 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 30; USA Today, 9/11/2008] An air traffic controller at the Cleveland Center now says, apparently over an FAA teleconference, that someone has reported seeing black smoke in the vicinity of Flight 93’s last known position, near Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The controller then says, “We’re trying to see if we can get an ELT check.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001] An “ELT” is an emergency locator transmitter, a device carried on most general aviation aircraft in the US that is designed to automatically start transmitting a distress signal if a plane should crash, so as to help search and rescue efforts in locating the downed aircraft. [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/23/1990; Federal Aviation Administration, 7/12/2001; Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, 1/22/2009] The Cleveland Center controller’s information, as an FAA timeline will later state, therefore indicates that “[n]o ELT” signal has been picked up in the area where Flight 93 apparently crashed “at this time.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001] Someone at the FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, acknowledges the controller’s communication, responding, “Copy that, Command Center.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001] Whether anyone will subsequently report picking up an ELT signal in the area where Flight 93 apparently crashed is unclear. Major Allan Knox, who works at the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, which is “the contact for credible” ELT signals, will tell the 9/11 Commission that he “does not recall an ELT detection being brought to his attention” today. [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 10/6/2003 ] However, an ELT signal was picked up in the New York area by the pilot of an aircraft minutes before Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center (see 8:44 a.m. September 11, 2001) and another ELT signal was picked up in the New York area by the same pilot minutes before Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower (see 8:58 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001 ; New York Times, 10/16/2001]
According to the 9/11 Commission, the FAA Command Center reports to FAA headquarters at this time that Flight 93 has crashed in the Pennsylvania countryside. “It hit the ground. That’s what they’re speculating, that’s speculation only.” The Command Center confirms that Flight 93 crashed at 10:17 a.m. [Guardian, 10/17/2001; MSNBC, 9/11/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]
Dutchess County Airport. [Source: Phillip Capper]Tom White, a New York air traffic controller, incorrectly reports over an FAA teleconference that the first aircraft to hit the World Trade Center appears to have been a Sikorsky helicopter. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 1/2/2002; 9/11 Commission, 5/21/2004] White is an operations manager at the FAA’s New York Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) in Westbury, Long Island. [9/11 Commission, 12/15/2003 ] He says over the FAA teleconference that the Sikorsky helicopter had been heading south from Poughkeepsie, New York, and appeared to hit the WTC at 8:27 a.m. (see 8:27 a.m. September 11, 2001)—nearly 20 minutes before the first crash there actually took place (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001).
TRACON Previously Said Small Plane Hit the WTC - About 20 minutes earlier, someone from the TRACON—presumably White—suggested over the teleconference that the first aircraft to hit the WTC was a small twin-engine plane. At around 9:55 a.m. they said: “I think we’ve identified the location of a departure point for aircraft number one [presumably a reference to the plane that hit the North Tower]. At approximately 12:03 Zulu time [i.e. 8:03 a.m. Eastern time], aircraft number one appears to have departed Poughkeepsie airport and established a southerly heading at a speed of about 160 knots [i.e. 184 miles per hour]. The profile looks like it might be a light twin.” Asked if they had any more information, the TRACON employee replied: “I tried to get in touch with Poughkeepsie tower. However, the phone lines are overloaded and the circuits are busy.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001] The “Poughkeepsie airport” the helicopter took off from is presumably Dutchess County Airport. Sikorsky bases a fleet of its S-76 helicopters at Dutchess County Airport, which it dispatches to the New York metro areas as needed. [Site Selection, 5/2000; Aviation International News, 8/1/2003] Poughkeepsie is about 70 miles north of New York City. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2/3/2008]
Radar Information Suggests Helicopter Hit WTC - White now gives an update over the FAA teleconference, and suggests the first aircraft to hit the WTC was in fact a helicopter. He says: “We tracked a Sikorsky helicopter… from Poughkeepsie to the Trade Center. It appeared to fly into the Trade Center at 12:27 [Zulu time, or 8:27 a.m. Eastern time]. That is preliminary information.” White then clarifies that this conclusion has been reached partly through replaying radar data. He says: “[T]he only target that we saw in the vicinity of the Trade Center at 12:27, to fly into the Trade Center, we, we played the radar and tracked it up through Westchester and Stewart. We had a departure off a Poughkeepsie at 12:03. The tower says the only thing they had southbound at that time was a Sikorsky helicopter, which is consistent with the speed that we followed it down.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001]
Long Delay before False Information Is Corrected - The New York TRACON’s reports about a helicopter or small plane hitting the WTC are subsequently confirmed to be mistaken. However it apparently takes several hours before the erroneous information is corrected. David LaCates, the deputy operations manager at the FAA’s New York Center, will tell the 9/11 Commission that “he did hear rumors that the aircraft that struck the WTC was in fact a small airplane from Poughkeepsie,” and he “believes this rumor persisted for over an hour.” [9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003 ] According to one FAA chronology of this day’s events, it is only at 1:00 p.m. that the “Sikorsky helicopter” is “now believed not to have hit the WTC.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 1/2/2002] Another FAA chronology will state that at 1:04 p.m. it is reported that the Sikorsky helicopter “landed 20 minutes early, normal GE run at 12:28Z [i.e. 8:28 a.m. Eastern time] to WTC.” (It is unclear what is meant by “normal GE run.”) [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001]
A representative of the FAA finally joins an emergency teleconference being conducted by the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon, after NMCC personnel have repeatedly been unable to connect the FAA to the conference. In response to the terrorist attacks, the NMCC began a “significant event conference” at 9:29 a.m., to gather and disseminate information from government agencies (see 9:29 a.m.-9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001), and eight minutes later upgraded this to an “air threat conference” (see 9:37 a.m.-9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). However, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, because of “equipment problems and difficulty finding secure phone numbers,” operators at the NMCC have been unable to connect the FAA to the conference (see (9:29 a.m.-12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/21/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37]
FAA Representative Has 'No Situational Awareness' - The air threat conference is now joined by FAA employee Rayford Brooks. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 463] Brooks is on duty in the Central Altitude Reservation Function (CARF) at the FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia. This office is responsible for processing and separating altitude reservations, and coordinates military requests for priority airspace activity with FAA facilities and international agencies. [9/11 Commission, 4/5/2004; 9/11 Commission, 4/15/2004] However, Brooks has “no familiarity with or responsibility for hijackings, no access to decisionmakers, and none of the information available to senior FAA officials,” according to the 9/11 Commission Report. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37] Brooks will later recall having had “no situational awareness” of the current crisis. He only arrived at the Command Center at around 9:30 a.m. and had not been listening to the radio while driving to work. Those on the Command Center floor have not given him any instructions regarding the NMCC conference or other operational matters.
Brooks on Conference instead of Military Cell Officer - Brooks will tell the 9/11 Commission that the Air Traffic Services Cell (ATSC)—a small office located next to the CARF at the Command Center, manned by military reservists (see (Between 9:04 a.m. and 9:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001)—has asked the CARF to monitor the NMCC’s air threat conference on its behalf for three or four hours, because the ATSC does not have a working STU-III secure phone. [9/11 Commission, 4/15/2004] (A chronology of the ATSC’s actions on this day will state that the keys for the ATSC’s secure phones are recalibrated at some point, and these phones then “worked fine.” [US Air Force, 9/11/2001] )
NORAD and FAA Leaders out of Contact - Three times before 10:03 a.m., when the last hijacked plane reportedly crashed (see (10:03 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001), NORAD asked for confirmation of the FAA’s presence on the NMCC’s conference, so the FAA could provide an update on the hijackings, but the FAA had not been connected at those times. As a result of the FAA’s absence from the conference, the leaders of NORAD and the FAA have effectively been out of contact with each other. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37-38]
FAA's Absence Caused Confusion over Identities of Hijacked Planes - General Richard Myers, the acting chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will later write that the lack of communication between the NMCC and the FAA has contributed to confusion at the NMCC over the flight numbers of the aircraft that were hijacked. However, according to Myers, the NMCC could not contact the FAA over ordinary phone lines because “[t]errorists who could hijack aircraft so readily could probably also eavesdrop on unsecured phone lines.” [Myers, 2009, pp. 153]
The FAA’s Boston Center is evacuated after it receives a report that an unidentified aircraft is heading its way. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/20/2001; USA Today, 8/11/2002; New Hampshire Union Leader, 9/11/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 243] The Boston Center, located in Nashua, New Hampshire, manages air traffic above New England, and monitored Flight 11 and Flight 175 earlier on. [USA Today, 8/11/2002; Associated Press, 8/12/2002] Employees there are already concerned because a large tractor-trailer has parked directly in front of their facility, on New Hampshire’s Route 3. State police have been called to get it away from there.
Possible Airborne Threat Leads to Evacuation - The FAA’s New England regional office in Burlington, Massachusetts, now calls the Boston Center and reports that an unidentified aircraft is heading for the facility. In response to this potential threat, managers at the center immediately order the closure and evacuation of their building. They also declare “ATC zero,” which shuts down the Boston Center’s airspace (see (Shortly After 10:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Employees run from the building while managers try to decide which, if any, personnel should remain in the facility. According to Colin Scoggins, the center’s military liaison, “at this time we honestly felt that we were targeted and an impact was imminent.”
Bomb Threat to Childcare Facility - Making matters worse, a bomb scare phone call is received at the center’s childcare facility, which is the employees’ usual evacuation point. Center managers therefore decide that everyone must leave the building. Employees are advised to go to either 11 Murphy Drive—an FAA administrative facility—or a nearby Holiday Inn. According to Scoggins, three or four Flight Service Data Processing System personnel remain in the basement of the Boston Center when it is evacuated, apparently because there is no paging system in their office on which they can receive the evacuation order.
Evacuation Time Unclear - The time the evacuation takes place at is unclear. According to the account of author Lynn Spencer, it occurs some time shortly after 10:20 a.m. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/20/2001; USA Today, 8/11/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 242-243] At 10:34 a.m., John White, a manager at the FAA’s Command Center, reports that the Boston Center “has received a threat,” and is “going down to skeleton staffing.” [9/11 Commission, 11/4/2003] A 10:52 a.m. entry in the log of the FAA headquarters’ teleconference will state that the Boston Center is “evacuating the building.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002] USA Today will report that the center is evacuated at “about 11 a.m.”
Few Employees Return to Building - About 30 minutes to an hour after the building is evacuated, some of the center’s personnel will return to work. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/20/2001; USA Today, 8/11/2002] By 12:16 p.m., the center is back in operation, but with only a skeleton staff. [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002]
Suspicious Aircraft Only a Coast Guard Plane - As it turns out, the approaching aircraft that prompts the evacuation is just a Coast Guard plane. According to Scoggins, “We had already identified it.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/20/2001] The aircraft was noted in a 10:18 a.m. entry in the log of the FAA headquarters’ teleconference, which stated: “Aircraft 160 miles east of Nantucket is headed westbound toward Boston at a high rate of speed.” But a log entry five minutes later, at 10:23 a.m., noted that the aircraft “is identified as a Coast Guard flight from Nantucket.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002] Shortly before the Boston Center is alerted to this aircraft, Scoggins had been tracking what is apparently another unidentified target on his radar screen: a slow-moving large aircraft that is also flying toward the Boston Center from the east (see (10:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 242-243] The identity of that aircraft is unclear.
Brigadier General David Wherley, the commander of the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) at Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, wants his fighter jets to intercept a suspicious aircraft coming down the Potomac River toward the capital, which is apparently thought to be Flight 93, although that plane has already crashed (see (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 79-81; 9/11 Commission, 8/28/2003]
Numerous Suspicious Aircraft - According to the Washington Post, the DCANG has learned there are “about a half-dozen suspicious aircraft in the air across the country, among them hijacked United Airlines Flight 93, on a path toward Washington.” Wherley will add: “Nobody knew it had crashed. We just knew there was an airplane out there that could be coming to Washington. We knew the threat was real.”
Fighters Launched due to False Report - The first three DCANG fighters to take off in response to the attacks are ordered to go after this alleged inbound aircraft. [Washington Post, 4/8/2002] Lieutenant Colonel Phil Thompson, the chief of safety for the DC Air National Guard, will later recall: “We had something coming down the Potomac at low altitude. Brigadier General Wherley is standing here, and we’ve got the tower with the Secret Service agent, and they want us to launch anything we’ve got. And the general said, ‘Do it.’” [Filson, 2003, pp. 81] DCANG pilot Billy Hutchison, who takes off at 10:38 a.m. (see (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001), will describe, “There was an aircraft coming down the Potomac that they needed me in the air for” that had to “be prevented from reaching the DC area.” He is told this aircraft is “coming from Pennsylvania.” [9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004] And pilot Marc Sasseville, who, along with Heather Penney Garcia, takes off at 10:42 a.m. (see 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001), later says: “We all realized we were looking for an airliner—a big airplane. That was Flight 93; the track looked like it was headed toward DC at that time.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; Vogel, 2007, pp. 446]
Incorrect Report Comes from Secret Service - According to Major David McNulty, the senior intelligence officer of the DCANG, his understanding is that “the information about the plane coming down the river” came from the Secret Service’s White House Joint Operations Center. [9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 ] FAA personnel are also receiving similar information from the Secret Service. At 10:32, an FAA employee tells John White, a manager at the FAA’s Herndon Command Center, “Secret Service is reporting one unknown eight miles out, flying inbound.” Two minutes later, this employee says they are “[t]rying to tell [the] Secret Service about [Flight] 93,” because the Secret Service is “a little bit behind, still getting reports.” They then tell White, “Secret Service is saying the aircraft they are talking is coming up the Potomac right now.” [9/11 Commission, 11/4/2003] Fire and rescue workers are evacuated away from the Pentagon site around this time, in response to a report from the FBI of a hijacked aircraft flying toward Washington (see (10:15 a.m.-10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). This may be the same alleged plane that the DCANG and FAA learn of. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A30 ; Fire Engineering, 11/2002]
Aircraft Supposedly a Helicopter - The incoming aircraft is apparently a false alarm. [9/11 Commission, 8/28/2003] After searching for it, Hutchison will be instructed to fly back toward Washington because, he will say, “the plane had been lost.” [9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004] According to a 9/11 Commission memorandum, “FAA tapes and transcripts” reveal the aircraft to be “an Army National Guard helicopter based out of Davison Field, Fort Belvoir, Virginia, which had become isolated in Maryland as events unfolded and which wanted to return to its home field.” [9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 ]
Secret Service Thinks Plane Crashed at Camp David - However, at 10:36, the FAA employee relays that the “Secret Service is saying they believe United 93 hit Camp David.” Seconds later, they add that the Secret Service is “confirming that UA 93 did go into Camp David.” [9/11 Commission, 11/4/2003] Even President Bush is given an incorrect report of a plane going down near Camp David around this time (see (10:37 a.m.-11:09 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 108] So this erroneous information may be what leads to Hutchison being informed that the aircraft he was sent after has been lost. [9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004]
Entity Tags: US Secret Service, David Wherley, Billy Hutchison, Phil Thompson, David McNulty, John White, Marc Sasseville, District of Columbia Air National Guard, Heather Penney Garcia, Federal Aviation Administration
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
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. [Time, 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.
Personnel in the White House Situation Room learn of a plane supposedly flying toward the United States from Europe that appears to be hijacked, but it is subsequently determined that the alleged flight does not exist. Those in the Situation Room receive word confirming that a suspicious Northwest Airlines flight from Portugal to Philadelphia is heading toward Washington, DC. The plane is not responding to radio calls and its transponder is squawking the code for a hijacking. White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke gives orders for someone to find out more about the flight and what assets the US military has available to intercept it at the coast. Meanwhile, the FAA searches its data for information about the flight and officials try to contact Northwest Airlines to find out more. Those participating in Clarke’s video teleconference (see (9:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 9:25 a.m. September 11, 2001) grow increasingly anxious, since no action can be taken until more details about the flight are found. Then Timothy Flanigan, the deputy White House counsel, who is in the Situation Room, has an idea. He leaves the room and finds an unsecure computer. On this, he searches travel websites for details of the suspicious flight, but finds nothing. He then checks on the Northwest Airlines website and again finds no reference to the flight. He quickly jots down everything he can find about Northwest Airlines flights from Europe and then goes to pass on his findings. After taking a seat at the conference table, he addresses Clarke, who is still searching for information about the plane. “I’ve checked and there’s no such flight,” he says. Astonished at this news, Clarke asks, “How did you check?” “I looked on their website,” Flanigan replies. Clarke then passes on the news to the other participants in the video teleconference. “I have information that there is no such flight,” he says and adds, “Check that again.” [Eichenwald, 2012, pp. 36-37] The 9/11 Commission Report will later note that there are “multiple erroneous reports of hijacked aircraft” this morning (see (9:09 a.m. and After) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 28]
The press incorrectly reports that an airliner has crashed on or near Camp David. [Daily Record (Baltimore), 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; Associated Press, 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.” [Broadcasting and Cable, 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.” [Forbes, 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.” [Northwestern Chronicle, 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.” [Daily Record (Baltimore), 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. [Vanity Fair, 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. [Forbes, 9/11/2001; Village Voice, 9/11/2001; Daily Record (Baltimore), 9/12/2001] WCBS reports, “[T]here is speculation that perhaps, perhaps, this may be in retaliation for those accords.” [Broadcasting and Cable, 8/26/2002]
Around this time (roughly), the FAA tells the White House that it still cannot account for three planes in addition to the four that have crashed. It takes the FAA another hour and a half to account for these three aircraft. [Time, 9/14/2001] Vice President Cheney later says, “That’s what we started working off of, that list of six, and we could account for two of them in New York. The third one we didn’t know what had happened to. It turned out it had hit the Pentagon, but the first reports on the Pentagon attack suggested a helicopter and then later a private jet.”
[Los Angeles Times, 9/17/2001] Amongst false rumors during the day are reports of a bomb aboard a United Airlines jet that just landed in Rockford, Illinois. “Another plane disappears from radar and might have crashed in Kentucky. The reports are so serious that [FAA head Jane] Garvey notifies the White House that there has been another crash. Only later does she learn the reports are erroneous.”
[USA Today, 8/13/2002]
The Secret Service reports that a United Airlines aircraft, Flight 182, is missing. Doug Davis, the special assistant for technical operations in air traffic services at FAA headquarters is talking over the phone with John White, a manager at the FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia. At 10:47 a.m., Davis informs White, “[United Airlines] 182, Secret Service is saying is missing.” Davis asks White to “find out for me” whether this is indeed the case. He adds that the flight is going from “Boston to Seattle.” [9/11 Commission, 11/4/2003] According to some accounts, Flight 182 is reported as missing at a later time. A Secret Service timeline of the morning’s events records the flight as being “unaccounted for” at 10:55 a.m. [Secret Service, 9/11/2001] And according to an FAA chronology, the plane is reported as being “unaccounted for” over an FAA teleconference at 11:40 a.m. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001] Presumably Flight 182 is located at some later time, although further details of this missing aircraft are unstated.
The FAA Command Center is told that all the flights over the United States are accounted for and pilots are complying with controllers. There are 923 planes still in the air over the US. Every commercial flight in US airspace—about a quarter of the planes still in the air—is within 40 miles of its destination. Others are still over the oceans, and many are heading toward Canada. [USA Today, 8/13/2002]
Additional measures are taken to increase the level of security at the FAA Command Center in Herndon, Virginia. [Freni, 2003, pp. 65] After the second attack on the World Trade Center, the Command Center’s doors were locked, and all non-FAA personnel were ordered to leave the premises immediately (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Freni, 2003, pp. 64; Spencer, 2008, pp. 81] Linda Schuessler, the deputy director of system operations, is still concerned about the security of the center, and calls the building owner to request additional protection. Soon, armed guards are stationed at all entrances and roaming the floor there. The exact time when this happens is unstated. [Freni, 2003, pp. 65] It is unclear whether the increase in security is a general precaution, or is in response to specific threats against the Command Center.
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 US Coast Guard reports having received distress signals from three aircraft that are over the Atlantic Ocean, but these signals are soon determined to be false alarms, and one of the supposedly distressed aircraft is reported as not even flying on this day. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. S-26, S-29]
Three Planes Issued Distress Signals - At 11:18 a.m., it is reported on an FAA teleconference that the Coast Guard in Norfolk, Virginia, has received distress signals from United Airlines Flight 947, Continental Airlines Flight 57, and Air Canada Flight 65. [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. S-26]
Command Center Told to Notify Military - Fifteen minutes later, at 11:33 a.m., Jeff Griffith, the deputy director of air traffic at the FAA’s Washington, DC, headquarters, passes on the news about the three planes in a phone call with John White, a manager at the FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia. Griffith confirms that the distress signals received by the Coast Guard were from planes “in the Atlantic,” and instructs White, “Would you please make sure that NORAD is aware [of the three aircraft], and also the Services Cell,” meaning the Air Traffic Services Cell, a small office at the Command Center that is manned by military reservists (see (Between 9:04 a.m. and 9:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001). White replies, “I’ll do it.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001]
Flight Heading to Canada - Around the same time, according to a 2002 FAA report, it is reported on the FAA teleconference that United 947 is now heading toward Gander, in Canada, and is being managed by the Gander Area Control Center, which is the Canadian facility responsible for transatlantic flights. [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. S-28; MSNBC, 3/12/2010] However, a transcript of FAA communications on this day indicates that it is in fact the Continental Airlines flight that is heading toward Gander. According to that transcript, beginning around 11:40 a.m., White discusses the three suspicious flights over the phone with Doug Davis, the special assistant for technical operations in air traffic services at FAA headquarters. White says Continental 57 was originally destined for Newark, New Jersey, and air traffic controllers “have a track on the target” for this flight, which indicates that it is now heading to Gander. However, White says, controllers are “still looking” for the other two aircraft reported by the Coast Guard. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001]
Planes Found to Be Safe - At 11:46 a.m., it is reported over the FAA teleconference that “[a]ll three aircraft that the US Coast Guard reported hearing distress calls [from] are accounted for,” and all of them are fine. [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. S-29] A couple of minutes later, White updates Davis on what is now known. White says one of the aircraft that was reportedly transmitting a distress signal, Air Canada Flight 65, was never even airborne. He says it “landed last night and was scheduled to depart today, but the flight’s canceled.” He adds that another of the flights, United 947, has “returned to Amsterdam,” in the Netherlands. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001] Finally, at 12:27 p.m., it is reported over the FAA teleconference that Continental 57 has “landed in Gander.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. S-33]
The FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, is informed that a Korean Airlines plane is a possible hijacking, although the aircraft is in fact fine. [CNN, 8/14/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 256-257] Korean Airlines Flight 85, a Boeing 747 with 215 people on board, is on its way from Seoul, South Korea, to New York. It is heading for a refueling stop in Anchorage, Alaska, and is currently several hundred miles west of Alaska, over the North Pacific.
Pilots Sent Message Signifying Hijacking - The alarm has been raised by ARINC, a Maryland company that airlines pay to transmit text messages to and from their planes. In response to the morning’s terrorist attacks, the company had begun scanning every communication it had transmitted on this day, in a search for other hijacked aircraft. It found a message sent by the pilots of Flight 85 to the Korean Airlines headquarters at 11:08 a.m. that included the letters “HJK,” which is the code signaling a hijacking. ARINC officials are concerned the message was a coded plea for help, and so alert the FAA to it. In response to this notification, the FAA informs air traffic controllers in Anchorage of the suspicious flight, and alerts NORAD to it (see (12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 8/12/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 257]
Reason for Message Unclear - The reason the Flight 85 pilots used the code for a hijacking in their ARINC message when their plane is not hijacked is unclear. Korean Airlines administrator Michael Lim will suggest the “HJK” code was intended as a question rather than a warning, but this was unclear in the message because pilots are unable to type question marks into ARINC messages. [Anchorage Daily News, 9/8/2002] David Greenberg, the Korean Airlines operations chief, will say the pilots’ message was “innocent, part of a routine discussion on where to divert the flight after airspace in the United States had been closed.” He will add that the pilots used the hijack code “to refer to the hijackings that day.” [USA Today, 8/12/2002] Author Lynn Spencer will similarly suggest that the crew of Flight 85 had “simply been trying to relay to controllers their awareness of the hijackings on the East Coast.” She will add: “It was an odd idea for the pilots to have, and contrary to their training. But for whatever reason—perhaps because of some language or communication barrier, or some training failure—they made a very dangerous bad call.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 279]
Flight 85 Redirected to Canada - At 1:24 p.m., the pilots of Flight 85 will set their plane’s transponder to indicate that the flight has been hijacked (see 1:24 p.m. September 11, 2001). The plane will be directed away from Anchorage (see (Shortly After 1:24 p.m.) September 11, 2001) and escorted by fighter jets to Whitehorse Airport in Canada, where it lands at 2:54 p.m. (see 2:54 p.m. September 11, 2001). Only then will officials be able to confirm that the aircraft has not been hijacked (see September 12, 2001). [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/12/2001; Yukon Government, 11/13/2001, pp. 16, 18 ; USA Today, 8/12/2002]
An assessment is published, apparently by the FAA, which states that if an aircraft hijacking took place within the United States, it would be part of a suicide attack. This is according to John Hawley, who works for the FAA’s intelligence division as a liaison to the State Department. Hawley will tell the 9/11 Commission that on this day, a “strategic assessment” is published, which says that “if they”—presumably meaning terrorists—“conduct a hijacking domestically, it will be a suicide hijack.” It is unclear who publishes this assessment, but presumably it was produced by the FAA. Hawley will apparently provide no further details about the assessment. He “didn’t elaborate on this point,” the 9/11 Commission will state. [9/11 Commission, 10/8/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 3/17/2004]
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) sends a fax to the White House Situation Room, giving positive identification of the four hijacked aircraft involved in the morning’s attacks. However, two of the four flight numbers it provides are wrong. [Draper, 2007, pp. 143] Yet, by late morning, American Airlines and United Airlines had already issued press releases confirming that the four planes that crashed were flights 11, 175, 77, and 93 (see 11:17 a.m. September 11, 2001, (11:18 a.m.) September 11, 2001, and 11:53 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Associated Press, 9/11/2001; United Airlines, 9/11/2001; United Airlines, 9/11/2001] Journalist and author Robert Draper will later comment that, while there is much heroism on September 11, the FAA’s erroneous fax is an example of how the day is also “marred by appalling haplessness.” [Draper, 2007, pp. 143]
At FAA headquarters in Washington, DC, David Canoles, the FAA’s manager of air traffic evaluations and investigations, and his staff begin coordinating the collection of forensic evidence that might clarify how the morning’s attacks unfolded. They coordinate the capture and copying of radar track data showing the paths of the four hijacked planes, and obtain air traffic control voice tapes from every facility that had spoken with these planes. FAA Assistant Investigations Manager Tony Mello and other employees will work for most of the afternoon, all night, and part of the following day, gathering data and coordinating with the FBI, Secret Service, Defense Department, White House, and National Transportation Safety Board, making sure these other agencies receive as much evidence as is available. Radar tracks are crudely plotted, showing the flight paths of the four jets, and voice tapes are transcribed. Having been stuck in Chicago when the attacks occurred, (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001), Tony Ferrante, the manager of FAA investigations, will finally arrive at FAA headquarters at 5:00 a.m. on September 12. His first priority is “to ensure that the radar data and voice tapes from every location involved in the attack [are] put under lock and key as soon as possible,” presumably to be kept safe for any investigations. He looks at and listens to the relevant controller tapes, and begins constructing a detailed timeline of the four hijacked aircraft. Along with Tony Mello and others of his staff, Ferrante will spend several days working out the movements of the four planes. FAA radar experts Dan Diggins and Doug Gould will also spend days interpreting the radar tracks of the four planes, piecing together a detailed timeline of their actions from takeoff to crash. [Freni, 2003, pp. 74 and 76-77] The FAA will publish a fairly comprehensive chronology of the hijackings on September 17, though this will not be made public until September 2005. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 ; National Security Archive, 9/9/2005] Presently, it refers any media requests for flight patterns to Flight Explorer, a software company that makes charts of plane routes using information from the FAA’s radar system (see After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 9/13/2001] The US military has also started doing its own reconstructions of the radar data for the hijacked aircraft (see (11:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
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; USA Today, 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]
Anchorage Air Route Traffic Control Center. [Source: FAA]The pilots of a Korean Airlines passenger jet that is due to land in the US and is considered a possible hijacking, switch their plane’s transponder to transmit the code signaling a hijacking, even though the plane has not been hijacked. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 277-278] Korean Airlines Flight 85 is a Boeing 747 bound from Seoul, South Korea, to New York, and which is currently heading for a refueling stop in Anchorage, Alaska. For reasons that are unclear, the plane’s pilots included the code signaling a hijacking in a text message they sent to their airline at 11:08 a.m. The FAA was notified of this and alerted controllers at its Anchorage Center to the suspicious flight (see (Shortly Before 12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). The FAA also alerted NORAD, which launched fighter jets to follow the aircraft (see (12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Anchorage Daily News, 9/29/2001; USA Today, 8/12/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 257]
Pilots Send Signal Indicating a Hijacking - Flight 85 entered the Anchorage Center’s airspace at around 1:00 p.m. The air traffic controller there who is handling the flight queried the pilots to determine whether their plane had been hijacked. He used a code word when speaking to them, as a way of covertly asking if the plane was hijacked, in case the crew was unable to speak openly over the radio. However the pilots offered no reassurance that their plane was secure. Instead, at 1:24 p.m., they switch the plane’s transponder (a device that sends information about an aircraft to controllers’ radar screens) to “7500”: the universal code that means a plane has been hijacked. This action sets off “a frenzy of activity,” according to USA Today. Within minutes, Alaska’s governor orders the evacuation of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, as well as the evacuation of federal buildings and all large hotels in Anchorage.
FAA Wants Flight to Remain on Current Course - However, officials at the FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, are unconvinced that Flight 85 has been hijacked, and advise the Anchorage Center controllers not to redirect it. The Command Center is in contact with Korean Airlines headquarters, which is emphatically stating it has received no indication that Flight 85 is in trouble. Ben Sliney, the national operations manager at the Command Center, urges the Anchorage Center controllers to keep seeking clarification from Flight 85’s pilots about the status of their aircraft. [USA Today, 8/12/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 277-278] But NORAD will instruct the controllers to direct the plane away from Anchorage (see (Shortly After 1:24 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Anchorage Daily News, 9/8/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 278] Flight 85 will continue transmitting the hijack code from its transponder until it lands in Canada at 2:54 p.m. (see 2:54 p.m. September 11, 2001). Only then will officials be able to confirm that the flight has not been hijacked (see September 12, 2001).
Reason for False Alarm Unclear - No clear explanation will be given as to why the pilots of Flight 85 switch their transponder to the hijacking code. In August 2002, USA Today will state: “To this day, no one is certain why the pilots issued the alert.… The Korean pilots may have misinterpreted the controller’s comments as an order to reset the transponder.” [USA Today, 8/12/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 278-279] Korean Airlines officials will say the pilot of Flight 85 believed that controllers at the Anchorage Center were directing him to send out the hijack signal. Administrator Michael Lim will say: “Our captain was following their instruction. They even told the captain to transmit code 7500, hijack code. Our captain, who realized how serious it is, they were just following instructions.” However, the airline will refuse to make available a tape recording of conversations between the pilot and its officials on the ground in Anchorage. [Anchorage Daily News, 9/29/2001]
The commander of the Alaskan NORAD Region (ANR) orders air traffic controllers to redirect a Korean Airlines passenger jet that is mistakenly suspected of being hijacked, and warns that he will have the aircraft shot down if it refuses to change course. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 278]
Korean Jet Indicating Hijacking - Korean Airlines Flight 85 is a Boeing 747 heading to New York, and which is currently due to land in Anchorage, Alaska, for a refueling stop. Although Flight 85 has not been hijacked, its pilots have given indications that the plane has been hijacked (see (Shortly Before 12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001 and 1:24 p.m. September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 8/12/2002] NORAD has been alerted, and Lieutenant General Norton Schwartz, the ANR commander, has ordered fighter jets to take off and follow the aircraft (see (12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Anchorage Daily News, 9/29/2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 257]
Commander Threatens Shootdown - While the FAA wants Flight 85 to remain on its current course, ANR wants it redirected. Controllers at the FAA’s Anchorage Center repeatedly query the pilots, yet they give no reassurance that their plane has not been hijacked. Therefore, Schwartz decides he has had enough. He orders the Anchorage Center controllers to turn the aircraft, and says that if it refuses to divert and remains on its current course, he will have it shot down. [USA Today, 8/12/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 278] At some point, presumably around this time, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien is contacted and gives his authorization for Flight 85 to be shot down if necessary (see (Shortly After 1:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Globe and Mail, 9/12/2002]
Plane Redirected to Remote Airport - Following Schwartz’s order, a controller instructs Flight 85 to head about 100 miles north of Anchorage, fly east, and then turn southeast for Yakutat, a fairly remote airport with a runway long enough to land the 747. As requested, the plane changes course, which shows those on the ground that its pilot is still in control.
NORAD Decides to Land Plane in Canada - However, weather conditions in Yakutat are deteriorating, and it is unclear whether that airport’s navigational aids and on-board maps are adequate to guide the plane over the risky mountainous terrain. Furthermore, FAA controllers discover that Flight 85 has less than an hour’s worth of fuel remaining. ANR personnel brainstorm over what to do, and decide to have the plane land at Whitehorse Airport in Canada’s Yukon Territory. Schwartz contacts the Canadian authorities and they agree to this. [Alaska Legislature. Joint Senate and House Armed Services Committee, 2/5/2002; Anchorage Daily News, 9/8/2002] Escorted by the fighter jets, Flight 85 will head to Whitehorse Airport and land there at 2:54 p.m. (see 2:54 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 278]
The FAA announces that there will be no commercial air traffic in the United States for at least a day. According to CNN, the FAA says this operating status will remain until noon on September 12, “at the earliest.” [CNN, 9/12/2001; CBS News, 2002, pp. 15]
A US Airways airliner. [Source: Public domain]A US Airways plane that is flying to the United States from Madrid, Spain, is incorrectly suspected of being hijacked. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; White House, 10/24/2001] It is stated over an FAA teleconference that the White House has reported this suspicious aircraft, which is heading to Philadelphia International Airport, and the military is scrambling fighter jets in response to it. [Federal Aviation Administration, 1/2/2002] NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) was alerted to the plane by US Customs and the FBI, according to a NORAD representative on the Pentagon’s air threat conference call (see 9:37 a.m.-9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). NORAD has been unable to locate the aircraft on radar, according to the NORAD representative. [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001] Accounts conflict over whether the plane is US Airways Flight 930 or Flight 937. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 1/2/2002]
Plane Is Reportedly Transmitting the Hijack Signal - Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, who is in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, will later recall that when those in the PEOC learn of the suspect flight, “we got word that it was only 30 minutes or so outside of US airspace.” According to Libby, the plane’s transponder is transmitting the code for a hijacking: He will say it is reported that the flight has been “showing hijacking through some electronic signal.” [White House, 11/14/2001] However, according to the NORAD representative on the air threat conference call, the plane’s transponder has not been “squawking” the code for a hijacking. “We do not have squawk indication at this point,” he has said.
Plane Is Reportedly Diverted to Pittsburgh - An FAA representative on the air threat conference call apparently says an e-mail has been sent from the suspicious aircraft, stating that the plane is being diverted to Pittsburgh, although the FAA representative’s communications are distorted and therefore unclear. [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001]
President Says Fighters Can Shoot Down the Plane - President Bush discusses the suspicious US Airways flight with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld over the air threat conference call after landing at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001) and Major General Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental United States NORAD Region (CONR), listens in. [Filson, 2003, pp. 87-88] Rumsfeld wants Bush to confirm that fighters are authorized to shoot down the plane if it is considered a threat to a city in the US. “The reason I called… was just to verify that your authorization for the use of force would apply as well in this situation,” he says. Bush replies, “It does, but let us make sure that the fighters and you on the ground get all the facts.” [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001]
Plane Is on the Ground in Spain - After a time, it will be found that the plane is not a threat and is on the ground in Spain. Arnold will be called by Colonel Robert Marr, the battle commander at NEADS, and told, “We just talked to the airline and that aircraft is back on the ground in Madrid.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 88] According to Libby, “It turned out that, I think, it was only 35 minutes out of Spanish airspace, not out of our airspace.” [White House, 11/14/2001] Reggie Settles, the FAA representative at NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center in Colorado, will be informed by US Airways that Flight 937 in fact never existed. However, he will be told, there is a US Airways Flight 911, which “took off from Madrid,” but “has turned back and returned to Madrid,” and “is not en route to the United States.” [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001]
President Decides to Leave Offutt after the Concerns Are Resolved - After he learns that the suspicious plane is back in Spain, Arnold will pick up the hot line and tell Bush: “Mr. President, this is the CONR commander.… No problem with Madrid.” According to Arnold, Bush will reply, “Okay, then I’m getting airborne.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 88] Bush will take off from Offutt aboard Air Force One at around 4:30 p.m. (see (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/12/2001] Numerous aircraft are incorrectly suspected of being hijacked on this day (see (9:09 a.m. and After) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 28; Newhouse News Service, 3/31/2005] The US Airways flight from Madrid is the last of these, according to Arnold. [Code One Magazine, 1/2002]
Entity Tags: Larry Arnold, Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, North American Aerospace Defense Command, US Airways, Robert Marr, Reggie Settles, White House, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Northeast Air Defense Sector, US Customs Service
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
While President Bush is conducting a video conference with his principal advisers from a bunker beneath Offutt Air Force Base (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001), most of the people accompanying him are waiting in a conference room across the hallway. Among this group is Bush’s senior adviser Karl Rove. Rove later claims that, around this time, there are rumors that more planes remain unaccounted for. He says that, while “they’ve accounted for all four [hijacked] planes,” there are still concerns that “they’ve got another, I think, three or four or five planes still outstanding.” [New Yorker, 9/25/2001] However, according to the FAA, there are no such reports, and the White House and Pentagon had been quickly informed when US skies were completely cleared at 12:16 p.m. White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett later says he does not know from where Rove got the information about the additional unaccounted-for planes. [Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2004 ] But according to tapes of the operations floor at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector later obtained by Vanity Fair, “False reports of hijackings, and real responses, continue well into the afternoon, though civilian air-traffic controllers had managed to clear the skies of all commercial and private aircraft by just after 12 p.m.” (See 10:15 a.m. and After September 11, 2001). [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] Despite the Secret Service’s advice that he should remain at Offutt, the president announces around this time that he is returning to Washington (see (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001).
An internal FAA memorandum is written, which mentions that Daniel Lewin, a passenger on Flight 11, was shot dead by hijacker Satam Al Suqami, but various agencies and investigations will later determine that the alleged shooting never happened. [Washington Post, 3/2/2002; General Accounting Office, 8/30/2002; 9/11 Commission, 2003; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 16-17] The memo, titled “Executive Summary,” is prepared by civil aviation security personnel officials in the aviation command center at FAA headquarters in Washington, DC, and intended for distribution to the office of FAA Administrator Jane Garvey. It is based on information received in the command center from numerous sources throughout the day that was recorded in an official log. [USA Today, 2/27/2002; 9/11 Commission, 2003; 9/11 Commission, 9/11/2003 ] The details of the alleged shooting on Flight 11 come from information entered into the log based on notes made by Janet Riffe, the FAA’s principal security inspector for American Airlines, in which she described a phone conversation she had this morning with Suzanne Clark, a manager of corporate security at American Airlines (see 9:20 a.m. September 11, 2001). [General Accounting Office, 8/30/2002; 9/11 Commission, 9/11/2003 ]
Memo States that a Flight Attendant Reported a Shooting - The memo states that it is “a summary of the events which have occurred” today and includes brief descriptions of the four hijackings that took place this morning. In its description of the hijacking of Flight 11, it states that at 9:20 a.m., Riffe “was notified by Suzanne Clark of American Airlines corporate headquarters that an onboard flight attendant contacted American Airlines operations center and informed that a passenger located in seat 10B shot and killed a passenger in seat 9B.” The memo names Lewin as the passenger who was killed and Al Suqami as the passenger who shot him. Just one bullet was reported to have been fired, it states. It also states incorrectly that Flight 11 crashed into one of the towers at the World Trade Center at 9:25 a.m. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001] (Flight 11 actually crashed into the North Tower of the WTC at 8:46 a.m. (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 7] )
Agencies Will Dismiss the Allegation of a Shooting - Various agencies and investigations will determine that the reported shooting on Flight 11 never occurred. After the memo is leaked to the press in 2002, FAA and FBI officials will say the report of a gun on the plane was a mistake. The FAA will say the memo is just a “first draft” and the final draft omits any claim of a gun being fired. FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown will say the mistaken information was due to “a miscommunication” and add that the memo “was corrected that very evening.” [USA Today, 2/27/2002; Washington Post, 3/2/2002; United Press International, 3/6/2002]
GAO Will Find No Corroboration for the Allegation - The General Accounting Office (GAO) will conduct a comprehensive investigation of the alleged shooting in which it interviews FAA personnel and senior managers, and American Airlines personnel. Based on these interviews, it will subsequently state, “American Airlines personnel deny ever reporting a shooting on any of the hijacked flights on September 11, 2001.” The GAO will conclude that “there is no information to corroborate a shooting on American Airlines Flight 11.” [General Accounting Office, 8/30/2002]
Accounts of Calls from Flight 11 Will Not Support the Allegation - The 9/11 Commission will subsequently also investigate whether there was a shooting on Flight 11 and determine, “The evidence derived from eyewitness accounts of the events that unfolded on [Flight 11] does not support a conclusion that a shooting on the flight is likely to have occurred.” [9/11 Commission, 2003] In explaining how it reached its conclusion, the Commission will point out that “authoritative information about whether a shooting occurred on Flight 11 could have come only from individuals on the aircraft who were reporting events to contacts on the ground.” It will note that two flight attendants on Flight 11—Betty Ong and Amy Sweeney—“placed calls to ground contacts to report what was happening on the aircraft.” But, it will state, in none of the tape recordings of these calls and accounts of witnesses to them “is the presence of a gun or the occurrence of a shooting reported.” In contrast, witnesses to the calls stated that the two flight attendants were “quite specific about the presence of knives, and the stabbing or slashing of two crew members and a passenger.” Furthermore, the victim of the alleged shooting is said in the memo to have been in seat 9B, which was the same seat that “according to several of the witness accounts from the aircraft, was assigned to the passenger who was stabbed.” [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 16-17] (9B was Lewin’s seat. [Tablet, 9/11/2013] )
FAA and the FBI Will Find No Evidence of a Gun on Flight 11 - Additionally, the Commission will state that the “FAA has no information which confirms the presence of a gun on… Flight 11” and the FBI has similarly advised that it has “no evidence of a gun being used onboard the aircraft.” [9/11 Commission, 2003] The Commission will point out that “while investigators have uncovered evidence of numerous knife purchases by the 19 hijackers leading up to September 11, 2001, there was no evidence that they purchased or possessed firearms.” Furthermore, while the four hijacking teams generally used similar tactics, “No evidence has been uncovered to suggest that the hijackers on any of the other flights [besides Flight 11] used firearms.” The Commission will comment that it “seems unlikely that one of the teams would depart from the tactical discipline of the plotters’ mutual strategy.” [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 17]
American Airlines Manager Will Deny that a Shooting Occurred - The Commission will state that in interviews it conducted, while Riffe said the information in the memo was accurate, Clark denied having reported a shooting. The Commission will also mention that around the time the memo was written, someone in the aviation command center contacted American Airlines to verify the account of a shooting and was informed that it was incorrect. American Airlines “reported that it had no information about anyone being shot,” the Commission will state. [9/11 Commission, 2003; 9/11 Commission, 9/11/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 11/18/2003 ] Most evidence will indicate that, rather than being shot, Lewin had his throat slashed by Al Suqami (see (8:14 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 16-17; Raskin, 2013, pp. 218] However, one other incident supports the allegation in the memo of a shooting on Flight 11. At 8:44 a.m., the operations center at FAA headquarters was told that a passenger on the plane had been shot over a conference call with the FAA’s New England Regional Operations Center (see 8:44 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/2001; General Accounting Office, 8/30/2002]
Entity Tags: Daniel Lewin, American Airlines, 9/11 Commission, Satam Al Suqami, Suzanne Clark, Janet Riffe, Federal Bureau of Investigation, General Accounting Office, Laura Brown, Federal Aviation Administration
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
On the evening of September 11, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the military decline to comment on whether fighter jets were launched to intercept any of the hijacked aircraft earlier in the day. Laura Brown, an FAA spokeswoman, refuses to say whether the agency requested military intercepts. Major Barry Venable, a spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), similarly says he does not know whether the FAA asked NORAD to send up jets to intercept the errant aircraft. Lt. Col. Margaret Quenneville, a spokeswoman for the 102nd Fighter Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, which operates from Otis Air National Guard Base at Cape Cod, refuses to comment on whether the fighter wing was requested to intercept the hijacked airliners. [Cape Cod Times, 9/12/2001; Cape Cod Times, 9/12/2001] Several days later, it will be revealed that two F-15s were indeed launched from Otis around the time the first WTC tower was hit, and three F-16s were launched from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia shortly before the time the Pentagon was hit (see September 14, 2001). [CBS News, 9/14/2001; Cape Cod Times, 9/16/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001] But as late as September 15, the New York Times is reporting, “The Federal Aviation Administration has officially refused to discuss its procedures or the sequence of events on Tuesday morning, saying these are part of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s inquiry.” [New York Times, 9/15/2001]
As Air Force One is approaching Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, with the president on board, the FAA reports an aircraft racing towards it. Fighters quickly intercept the aircraft, which turns out to be a Lear business jet, “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 88]
A JBECC unit. [Source: Air Force]The US Air Force turns to a new type of device to improve NORAD’s air surveillance capabilities for the East Coast. The new system, called the Joint Based Expeditionary Connectivity Center, or JBECC, is a sophisticated mobile radar command center. It is housed inside a Humvee. Once the vehicle is parked, a tent can be expanded to allow additional screens and communication equipment to be laid out and used. Brown International, the Alabama-based company behind it, received an urgent call from an Air Force commander on the evening of 9/11, requesting the new system. A cargo plane was sent to pick it up immediately. [Associated Press, 11/29/2004] On September 12, the JBECC prototype is deployed to Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia. It links the CONR (NORAD’s Continental US Region) Air Operations Center into AWACS and other East Coast radars. [Filson, 2003, pp. 143] The principal innovation of the JBECC is that it allows the merging of military and civilian radar data on one screen. Now, the military can see civilian radar returns and transponder information without having to call the FAA. Reportedly, during the 9/11 attacks, the military’s inability to see the FAA’s data hampered its response to the hijackings. Terry Beane, the president of Brown International, will later explain: “A military radar will see there is something there but doesn’t know what it is. On 9/11, they were having to literally talk on the phone to each other. The problem was they didn’t know which planes were OK and which ones weren’t because they didn’t have all that integrated.” [Associated Press, 11/29/2004] The JBECC is also superior at tracking low-level aircraft like cruise missiles, something that has always been difficult for ground-based radar because of the earth’s curvature. It was successfully tested prior to 9/11 during the Amalgam Virgo 01 air defense exercise in June 2001 (see June 1-2, 2001). [Jane's Defense Weekly, 5/4/2001; GlobalSecurity (.org), 4/27/2005] The JBECC will later be deployed during important national security events such as the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics and the 2004 G8 summit in Sea Island, Georgia. [Associated Press, 11/29/2004]
FAA personnel are too busy after 9/11 to complete an after-action report on the agency’s response to the terrorist attacks. Mike Morse, an FAA national security coordination staffer, will later tell the 9/11 Commission: “No comprehensive after-action report was ever completed by the FAA. Everyone was working day and night on emergency measures. The potential for other attacks was real.” The official initially tasked with writing the report is Larry Bruno, the FAA’s security regulatory manager. But, according to Morse, Bruno finds it “impossible because people could not make time to cooperate.” Willie Gripper, the deputy director of civil aviation security operations at FAA headquarters, then tasks Morse with the assignment, but Morse says that accomplishing the task will require that higher level officials make it a priority. An attempt is made to complete a report around March or April 2002, but the creation of the Transportation Security Administration is underway at the time, and so it is “increasingly difficult to get all of the [FAA] principals in one place to discuss what happened and generate ‘lessons learned,’” according to Morse. [9/11 Commission, 9/15/2003, pp. 10 ; 9/11 Commission, 5/5/2004, pp. 5-6 ]
Mike McCormick. [Source: CNN]Managers at the FAA’s New York Center fail to inform their higher-ups of an audio tape that was made on September 11, on which several air traffic controllers recalled their experiences with two of the hijacked aircraft. [New York Times, 5/6/2004; Washington Post, 5/6/2004] New York Center manager Mike McCormick had directed Kevin Delaney, the quality assurance manager, to record statements from the six controllers at the center that had been involved in handling or tracking Flights 11 and 175 (see 11:40 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 ; US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 ; Air Safety Week, 5/17/2004 ]
FAA Superiors Not Informed - However, neither of the two managers subsequently notifies authorities at the FAA’s regional office or Washington headquarters of the existence of the tape with the recorded statements on. Among others, Delaney and McCormick fail to notify the air traffic evaluations and investigations staff at headquarters, which is the FAA’s policy authority on aircraft accident and incident investigations. They also fail to inform FAA authorities of agreements they made with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association to destroy the tape at a future date (see (Shortly Before 11:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and October 2001-February 2002). Additionally, they do not inform the FBI of the tape’s existence (see September 12, 2001).
Investigations Staff Could Have Prevented Tape's Destruction - Delaney deliberately destroys the tape of the controllers’ statements at some point between December 2001 and February 2002 (see Between December 2001 and February 2002). But had he or McCormick consulted with the FAA’s air traffic evaluations and investigations staff, they would have been “instructed that the tape—as an original record—be retained, for five years, in accordance with agency retention requirements,” according to a 2004 report by the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General (see May 6, 2004).
Tape Learned of in Late 2003 - This report will also state, “When we interviewed officials from outside of New York Center, including the then-FAA administrator, deputy administrator, and director of air traffic services, they told us they were unaware that controller statements had been taped until the issue arose following the 9/11 Commission interviews of center personnel in September and October 2003.” [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 ]
Steven Stefanakos. [Source: New York City Police Department.]Recovery workers at Ground Zero search for one of the black boxes from Flight 11 or Flight 175—the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center on 9/11—in locations where a signal from the device has reportedly been picked up, but it is unclear if they find a black box. [Appel, 2009, pp. 281-282] The two “black boxes” carried by all commercial aircraft—the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder—can provide valuable information about why a plane crashed. [CBS News, 2/25/2002; PBS, 2/17/2004] In the week after the 9/11 attacks occur, investigators identify a signal being emitted by one of the black boxes in the WTC debris, according to a report published by the New York State Emergency Management Office (see September 18, 2001). [New York State Emergency Management Office, 9/18/2001, pp. 1 ] The signal is detected by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), according to author Anthea Appel. However, while FAA personnel are able to hear the signal, they are unable to pinpoint exactly where it is coming from.
FAA Suggests Two Possible Locations for the Black Box - The FAA initially says it thinks the signal is coming from the corner of Liberty and Church Streets, which border the south and east edges of the WTC site, respectively, and so recovery workers are sent to dig at this location. However, after a few days, it changes its mind and, on September 21, says the signal is coming from Building 5 of the WTC. [Appel, 2009, pp. 281] This nine-story building is located in the northeast corner of the WTC site. [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 5/1/2002, pp. 4-1] The signal is coming from inside or directly under its roof, the FAA says.
Police Officers See No Sign of the Black Box - Lieutenant Delia Mannix of the New York Police Department’s Emergency Service Unit (ESU), who is in charge of the operation to recover the black box, decides the only way to search the roof of Building 5 is to send a team up in a small, waist-high cage known as a “bucket.” Steven Stefanakos and two other ESU officers, who are selected for the task, get into a bucket and a crane lifts them onto the roof of Building 5. Knowing the black box is supposed to be under or embedded in the roof, Stefanakos and the two other officers look around, trying to spot a hole or a dent where the black box could have punctured the roof after being catapulted out of the plane when it crashed into the WTC. The roof, however, appears to be intact.
FAA Staffer Responsible for Locating the Black Box Has Gone Home - Unsure where to search, Stefanakos tries contacting the FAA staffer who is responsible for locating the black box. He tries to reach them three times over his radio but gets no response. Finally, a voice comes over his radio, telling him: “The FAA aren’t here. They went home for the weekend.” Noting that it is only about five o’clock in the afternoon, Stefanakos and his two colleagues are incredulous. As they are being carried down to the ground in the bucket, they comment to each other: “We’ve been workin’ every day for 16 or 17 hours straight with no days off. And here we are, inches away from the black box, and the FAA just get up and leave in the middle of a recovery just because they don’t wanna screw up their weekend!” [Appel, 2009, pp. 281-282] Whether a black box is subsequently retrieved from the roof of Building 5 is unstated. The 9/11 Commission Report will state that the black boxes from the planes that crashed into the WTC “were not found.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 456] Furthermore, a report published by the New York City Office of Emergency Management on September 25 will claim that the FAA has in fact been “[u]nable to detect any ‘pinging’ from either ‘black box’” at Ground Zero. [New York City Office of Emergency Management, 9/25/2001, pp. 17-18 ] However, firefighter Nicholas DeMasi, who works extensively in the wreckage of the WTC, will say he helped federal agents recover three black boxes at Ground Zero (see October 2001). [Swanson, 2003, pp. 108; Philadelphia Daily News, 10/28/2004]
After a complete air flight ban in the US began during the 9/11 attacks, some commercial flights begin resuming this day. However, all private flights are still banned from flying. Nonetheless, at least one private flight carrying Saudi royalty takes place on this day. And in subsequent days, other flights carry royalty and bin Laden family members. These flights take place even as fighters escort down three other private planes attempting to fly. Most of the Saudi royals and bin Ladens in the US at the time are high school or college students and young professionals. [New York Times, 9/30/2001; Vanity Fair, 10/2003] The first flight is a Lear Jet that leaves from a private Raytheon hangar in Tampa, Florida, and takes three Saudis to Lexington, Kentucky. [Tampa Tribune, 10/5/2001] This flight apparently takes place several hours after a private meeting between President Bush and Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to the US. Some think the idea of the flights were approved at that meeting (see September 13, 2001). For two years, this violation of the air ban is denied by the FAA, FBI, and White House, and decried as an urban legend except for one article detailing them in a Tampa newspaper. [Tampa Tribune, 10/5/2001] Finally, in 2003, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke confirms the existence of these flights, and Secretary of State Powell confirms them as well. [MSNBC, 9/7/2003; Vanity Fair, 10/2003] However, the White House remains silent on the matter. [New York Times, 9/4/2003] Officials at the Tampa International Airport finally confirm this first flight in 2004. But whether the flight violated the air ban or not rests on some technicalities that remain unresolved. [Lexington Herald-Leader, 6/10/2004] The Saudis are evacuated to Saudi Arabia over the next several days (see September 14-19, 2001).
The FAA’s New York Center receives an e-mail, directing it to retain all data and records for September 11, yet one of the center’s managers will later ignore this directive and deliberately destroy a tape on which six of the center’s air traffic controllers recalled their interactions with two of the hijacked aircraft. [New York Times, 5/6/2004; Washington Post, 5/6/2004; Air Safety Week, 5/17/2004 ]
Directive Intended to Preserve Records - The directive has been issued by the air traffic evaluations and investigations staff at the FAA’s headquarters in Washington, DC. This staff is the FAA’s policy authority on aircraft accident and incident investigations. According to its manager, the intent of the directive is to preserve all voice communications, radar data, and facility records that would have been returned to service after the normal 15-day retention period.
E-mail Says Retain All Records - The directive is communicated to the New York Center in an e-mail from the FAA’s eastern region quality assurance manager. The e-mail states: “Retain and secure until further notice ALL administrative/operational data and records.… If a question arises whether or not you should retain the data, RETAIN IT.” It includes a phone number to call, should the recipients have any questions. [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 ]
Manager Disregards Directive - Both Mike McCormick, the New York Center manager, and Kevin Delaney, the center’s quality assurance manager, who was instructed to tape-record the controllers’ witness accounts on September 11 (see 11:40 a.m. September 11, 2001), receive this e-mail. Yet Delaney does not follow the directive, as he will subsequently destroy the tape with the controllers’ statements on (see Between December 2001 and February 2002). [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 ; US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 ; Air Safety Week, 5/17/2004 ]
Two Reasons for Ignoring Directive - Delaney will later give Department of Transportation investigators two reasons why he ignores the directive. Firstly, he will say he did not consider it to apply to the tape of the controllers’ statements, “because he felt the tape had been created in violation of FAA air traffic policy.” Secondly, he will claim the directive “could not have been intended to apply to the tape-recorded statements, since the region and FAA headquarters did not know of the tape’s existence” (see September 12, 2001-October 2003). [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 ] However, Air Safety Week will state that, according to “experienced criminal investigators,” “[w]hether higher authorities were aware or not, [and] whether the tape was a temporary or permanent record, is immaterial.” [Air Safety Week, 5/17/2004 ]
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) produces a chronology of the events of September 11, which it uses when it briefs the White House today, but the document fails to mention when NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) was alerted to two of the hijacked planes. The FAA’s chronology, titled “Summary of Air Traffic Hijack Events,” incorporates “information contained in the NEADS logs, which had been forwarded, and on transcripts obtained from the FAA’s Cleveland Center, among others,” according to John Farmer, the senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission.
Document Includes Notification Times for First Two Hijacked Flights - The chronology refers “accurately to the times shown in NEADS logs for the initial notifications from FAA about the hijacking of American 11 and the possible hijacking of United 175,” according to the 9/11 Commission. It gives 8:40 a.m. as the time at which the FAA alerted NEADS to Flight 11, the first plane to be hijacked (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and 9:05 a.m. as the time when the FAA alerted NEADS to Flight 175, the second plane to be hijacked (see (9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, it makes no mention of when the FAA alerted NEADS to Flight 77 and Flight 93, the third and fourth planes to be hijacked. The FAA’s omission of these two notification times is “suspicious,” according to the 9/11 Commission, “because these are the two flights where FAA’s notification to NEADS was significantly delayed.”
Document Omits Notification Times for Flights 77 and 93 - The chronology, as Farmer will later point out, “makes no mention… of the notification to NEADS at 9:33 that American 77 was ‘lost’ (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001) or of the notification to NEADS at 9:34 of an unidentified large plane six miles southwest of the White House (see 9:36 a.m. September 11, 2001), both of which are in the NEADS logs that the FAA reviewed” when it was putting together the timeline. It also fails to mention the call made by the FAA’s Cleveland Center to NEADS in which, at 10:07 a.m., the caller alerted NEADS to Flight 93 and said there was a “bomb on board” the plane (see 10:05 a.m.-10:08 a.m. September 11, 2001), even though this information was also “duly noted in the NEADS logs” that the FAA has reviewed.
Chronology Omits Other Key Information - The chronology, Farmer will write, reflects “a time at which the FAA was notified that the Otis [Air National Guard Base] fighters were scrambled” in response to the hijacking of Flight 11 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), but it gives “no account of the scramble of the fighters from Langley Air Force Base” (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001). It also fails to mention the report that NEADS received after Flight 11 crashed, in which it was incorrectly told the plane was still airborne and heading toward Washington, DC (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001). Despite lacking information about the times when the FAA alerted NEADS to Flights 77 and 93, the FAA’s chronology is one of the documents used to brief the White House about the 9/11 attacks today (see September 17, 2001).
Investigators Were Told to Determine Exact Notification Times - The chronology is the product of investigations that began promptly in response to the 9/11 attacks. According to senior FAA officials, FAA Administrator Jane Garvey and Deputy Administrator Monte Belger “instructed a group of FAA employees (an ‘after-action group’) to reconstruct the events of 9/11.” This group, according to the 9/11 Commission, “began its work immediately after 9/11 and reviewed tape recordings, transcripts, handwritten notes, logs, and other documents in an effort to create an FAA chronology of events.” The group, according to one witness, “was specifically asked to determine exactly when the FAA notified the military that each of the four planes had been hijacked,” and “[s]everal people worked on determining correct times for FAA notifications to the military.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/29/2004; Farmer, 2009, pp. 245-247] NORAD will release a timeline of the events of September 11 and its response to the attacks a day after the FAA chronology is published (see September 18, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/29/2004]
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