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Profile: John Werth

John Werth was a participant or observer in the following events:

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

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

Jason Dahl.Jason Dahl. [Source: Publicity photo]According to the 9/11 Commission, less than a minute after Flight 93 acknowledged a routine radio transmission from the FAA’s Cleveland Center (see 9:27 a.m. September 11, 2001), John Werth—the controller handling the flight—and pilots of other aircraft in the vicinity of Flight 93 hear “a radio transmission of unintelligible sounds of possible screaming or a struggle from an unknown origin.” (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004; Hirschkorn 9/10/2006) Someone, presumably Flight 93’s pilot Jason Dahl, is overheard by controllers as he shouts, “Mayday!” (Wald 7/22/2004) Seconds later, the controller responds, “Somebody call Cleveland?” Then there are more sounds of screaming and someone yelling, “Get out of here, get out of here.” (Mandel 9/16/2001; Breslau 9/22/2001; Vulliamy 12/2/2001; MSNBC 7/30/2002; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) Then the voices of the hijackers can be heard talking in Arabic. The words are later translated to show they are talking to each other, saying, “Everything is fine.” (Breslau, Clift, and Thomas 12/3/2001) Later, passenger phone calls will describe two dead or injured bodies just outside the cockpit; presumably these are the two pilots. (Wald 7/22/2004)

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

John Werth.John Werth. [Source: CBS]Shortly after hearing strange noises from the cockpit of Flight 93, Cleveland air traffic controllers notice the plane has descended about 700 feet. John Werth, the controller who is handling the plane, tells the supervisor nearest to him, “I think we have another one [i.e., another hijacking].” He will repeatedly radio the cockpit over the next four minutes, asking the pilot to confirm the hijacking, but receive no response. At 9:30 a.m., Werth begins asking other nearby flights on his frequency if they’ve heard screaming; several say that they have. (Gregor 12/21/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 28; Hirschkorn 9/10/2006) The Cleveland Center immediately notifies United Airlines’ headquarters of the loss of communication with Flight 93 (see (9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, the FAA chain of command is apparently not also immediately informed. And the Cleveland Center will not contact NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) about Flight 93 until 10:07 a.m. (see 10:05 a.m.-10:08 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 28 and 30)

John Werth, the air traffic controller at the FAA’s Cleveland Center who is monitoring the now-hijacked Flight 93, has to move Delta Air Lines Flight 1989 and several other aircraft, in order to get them out of Flight 93’s path and avoid a midair collision. (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 39; Levin 9/11/2008)
Controller Begins Moving Aircraft - At 9:30 a.m., Werth begins moving other aircraft away from Flight 93 due to the hijacked flight’s failure to acknowledge his radio transmissions. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 pdf file) Furthermore, as USA Today will describe, Flight 93 “became erratic. It sped up and started gaining on another United [Airlines] flight. Werth commanded the second jet to turn right. Seconds later, Flight 93 turned to the right, too.” (Levin 9/11/2008)
Controller Worried about Possible Collision - Then, between 9:34 a.m. and 9:38 a.m., Flight 93 climbs from 35,000 feet up to 41,000 feet (see (9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and during this period it reverses course and heads back east (see (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (National Transportation Safety Board 2/19/2002 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 39, 41) Werth becomes concerned about the possibility of a midair collision. (9/11 Commission 10/1/2003 pdf file)
Delta 1989 Turns Several Times - As Flight 93 climbs, Werth instructs Delta 1989, which is also in the airspace he is monitoring, to turn right, so as to get away from the hijacked jet. As Flight 93 continues its turn back toward the east, Werth has to move Delta 1989 out of its path. In all, he has to turn the Delta flight several times. (Levin 9/11/2008) Minutes earlier, Cleveland Center concluded incorrectly that Delta 1989, not Flight 93, was the aircraft being hijacked (see (9:28 a.m.-9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Adams, Levin, and Morrison 8/13/2002) The Delta pilots’ normal responses to his instructions reassure Werth that it is a “safe bet that the Delta flight hadn’t been hijacked.” (Levin 9/11/2008)
Other Aircraft Moved out of Path - According to the 9/11 Commission, while Flight 93 is ascending to 41,000 feet, Werth has to move “several aircraft out of its way,” acting “decisively to clear the other flights in his sector from Flight 93’s path.” (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 39)

FAA’€™s Cleveland Center.FAA’€™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.” (Hirschkorn 9/10/2006)

The FAA’s Cleveland Center receives a call from NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), incorrectly notifying it that Delta Air Lines Flight 1989 is a confirmed hijacking. A supervisor then rushes around the center, informing all the controllers and managers of this. (9/11 Commission 10/2/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 10/2/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 2004)
Cleveland Realized Delta 1989 Not Hijacked - At around 9:30 a.m., Cleveland Center air traffic controllers heard the sounds from Flight 93 as it was being hijacked, but initially thought these came from Delta 1989 (see (9:28 a.m.-9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Adams, Levin, and Morrison 8/13/2002) Due to the Delta pilots’ normal responses to subsequent radio transmissions, John Werth—the controller monitoring both flights—concluded that the hijacked aircraft was in fact Flight 93. (9/11 Commission 10/1/2003 pdf file; Levin 9/11/2008) However, at around 9:39, the FAA’s Boston Center guessed that Delta 1989 might be hijacked and called NEADS to report the plane as a possible hijacking (see 9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 28) NEADS then begins alerting FAA centers of this. (Bronner 8/1/2006)
NEADS Calls Cleveland Center - Greg Dukeman, the military operations specialist in the traffic management unit at Cleveland Center, receives a call from a female member of staff at NEADS, one of its ID technicians. He passes the call on to supervisor Kim Wernica. The caller says Delta 1989 is “a confirmed hijack.” Wernica then goes “running back and forth” around the center, informing controllers and managers of what she has been told. (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission 10/2/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 10/2/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 2004)
Controller Disputes NEADS's Information - Wernica rushes up to John Werth and tells him, “It’s the Delta, it’s the Delta!” She says a military liaison on the phone has confirmed that the Delta jet has been hijacked. Werth responds that he is pretty sure that Flight 93, not Delta 1989, has been hijacked. When Wernica returns a few moments later, Werth tells her that Delta 1989 is “fine—at least for now.” Wernica consults again on the phone and then comes back, saying, “They said it’s a confirmed hijack and a bomb threat.” Werth thinks to himself that the bomb threats had come from Flight 93 (see (9:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (9:39 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and is therefore convinced the caller must be confusing the two flights. He tells Wernica, “Tell them they’re full of it!” (9/11 Commission 10/1/2003 pdf file; Levin 9/11/2008)

An air traffic controller at the FAA’s Cleveland Center enters a new flight plan for Flight 93 into the FAA computer system, giving a new destination of Reagan National Airport in Washington, DC. Flight 93 is currently flying in the airspace covered by the Cleveland Center’s Imperial Sector radar position, which is being managed by controller Linda Justice. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001; Ballingrud 9/12/2001; 9/11 Commission 10/2/2003 pdf file; Lynn Spencer 2008)
Controller Enters New Flight Plan for Flight 93 - Justice changes the flight’s destination code from “SFO,” the code for San Francisco International Airport, to “DCA,” the code for Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. (Ballingrud 9/12/2001) An FAA chronology will specify that she changes the flight plan “direct HGR [the code for Hagerstown Regional Airport in Maryland] to DCA.” (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001) Another FAA chronology will similarly state that Justice reroutes Flight 93 “direct to Hagerstown direct to Washington National.” (Federal Aviation Administration 12/6/2001) Flight 93’s tag therefore now reads, “Hagerstown—National,” according to Justice. (9/11 Commission 10/2/2003 pdf file)
New Flight Plan Not Due to Communication with Pilot - The reason Justice enters a new flight plan for Flight 93 is unclear. A minute earlier, the hijacker pilot on Flight 93 reprogrammed the plane’s navigational system for the new destination of Reagan Airport (see 9:55 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Longman 2002, pp. 182; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 457) And according to the St. Petersburg Times, controllers typically only change a plane’s destination when this is requested by the pilots. (Ballingrud 9/12/2001) But one of the FAA chronologies will state that Justice’s change to the flight plan is “not a result of any communication with the pilot.” (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001)
Flight Plan Changed to Aid Handoff to Washington Controllers - Justice will later explain why she changes the flight plan. She will state that Flight 93 appears to be heading toward the airspace of the FAA’s Washington Center, and so, in “an attempt to expedite the situation,” she enters the change of routing to reflect Hagerstown Airport to Reagan Airport. She will say she does this “only to forward [the] information [about Flight 93] to the sectors the aircraft appeared to be tracking toward.” (Federal Aviation Administration 9/12/2001 pdf file) Justice will tell the 9/11 Commission that she changes the routing when she sees Flight 93 is heading eastbound. She will say, “The easiest way to do a handoff is to change the flight plan,” and also say she changes the flight plan “to show that Washington Center was the recipient.” According to Justice, the “controversial step” she takes is “putting in Hagerstown, because the misconception was that she had communicated with the plane and cleared it through.” (9/11 Commission 10/2/2003 pdf file) John Werth, another controller at the Cleveland Center, will tell the 9/11 Commission that Justice enters the new destination for Flight 93 “because she knew it would be easier to track the primary [radar track for the aircraft] when the computer has a flight plan to work with.” (9/11 Commission 10/1/2003 pdf file) After changing the flight plan, Justice calls the Potomac Sector radar position at the Washington Center and tells the controller there to “pull up the data block” for Flight 93. Justice will say it is clear to the Washington Center controller that she has created the new destination in order to make it easier to locate the plane. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/12/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 10/2/2003 pdf file)
New Flight Plan Causes False Reports of Plane Approaching Washington - According to author Lynn Spencer, the new flight plan creates a “coast track” of Flight 93 on the traffic situation displays at air traffic control facilities. “A coast track,” Spencer will write, “differs from a radar track in that it is not supported by radar returns but rather by a computer-generated, projected course for the flight. Although this track did not appear on controller radar screens, its presence on their [traffic situation displays] allowed Washington controllers to monitor the flight’s progression toward Washington.” According to Spencer, the presence of this coast track leads to incorrect reports of an aircraft approaching Washington in the minutes after Flight 93 crashes. She will write, “A controller in Washington, unaware that the flight had crashed, was calling position reports for the coast track of United 93 to the White House (see (Between 10:10 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001)… as well as the FBI at the Pentagon (where firefighters were evacuated and the firefight suspended in anticipation of a second impact)” (see (10:15 a.m.-10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Lynn Spencer 2008)

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