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Profile: Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport was a participant or observer in the following events:
Marvin Bush. [Source: Eric Draper / White House]A security company called Stratesec acquires an $8.3 million contract to help provide security at the World Trade Center. It is one of numerous contractors hired in the upgrade of security at the WTC following the 1993 bombing. Stratesec, which was formerly called Securacom, is responsible for installing the “security-description plan”—the layout of the electronic security system—at the World Trade Center. It has a “completion contract” to provide some of the center’s security “up to the day the buildings fell down,” according to Barry McDaniel, its CEO.
Involved with Airport Security - Another of Stratesec’s biggest security contracts, between 1995 and 1998, is with the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority, providing electronic security for Reagan National Airport and Dulles International Airport. Its work includes maintaining the airfield access systems, the CCTV (closed circuit television) systems, and the electronic badging systems. American Airlines Flight 77—one of the planes hijacked on 9/11—takes off from Dulles.
Directors Include Bush Family Member - Marvin P. Bush, the youngest brother of future President George W. Bush, is a director at Stratesec from 1993 to June 2000, when most of its work on these big projects is done. Wirt D. Walker III, a distant relative of George W. Bush, is chairman of the board at Stratesec from 1992, and its CEO from 1999 until January 2002. Another of Stratesec’s directors, from 1991 to 2001, is Mishal Yousef Saud Al Sabah, who is a member of the Kuwaiti royal family. Al Sabah is also chairman of an investment company called the Kuwait-American Corporation (KuwAm), which, between 1993 and 1999, holds a large, often controlling share of Stratesec. In 1996, it owns 90 percent of the company; by 1999 it owns 47 percent.
Other Interests - Walker and Al Sabah are also co-investors in two inter-related aviation companies: Aviation General and Commander Aircraft. According to a 2005 report by freelance journalist Margie Burns: “Aviation General boasted of its international clientele. A 1996 press release announced its sale of airplanes to the National Civil Aviation Training Organization (NCATO) of Giza, Egypt, ‘the sole civilian pilot training organization in Egypt.’ The announcement mentions Al Sabah as chairman of KuwAm and board member of Commander Aircraft Company.” NCATO also has contractual partnerships with several US flight schools, including Embry-Riddle University in Florida.
Connections with Foreign Company a Delicate Matter - According to Wayne Black, the head of a Florida-based security firm, it is delicate for a security company serving international facilities to be so interlinked with a foreign-owned company. He suggests, “Somebody knew somebody.” Black also points out that when a company has a security contract, “you know the inner workings of everything.” Furthermore, if another company is linked to the security company, then “what’s on your computer is on their computer.” After 9/11 Stratesec CEO Barry McDaniel will be asked whether FBI or other agents have questioned him or others at Stratesec about their security work related to 9/11. He answers, “No.” [American Reporter, 1/20/2003; Prince George's Journal, 2/4/2003; Progressive Populist, 3/1/2003; Progressive Populist, 4/15/2003; Washington Spectator, 2/15/2005] Other companies involved with the security overhaul during this time include Ensec Inc., which is in charge of creating a new parking access control system, E-J Electric Installation Co., and Electronic Systems Associates, a division of Syska Hennessy. [Access Control & Security Systems, 7/1/1997; CEE News, 1/1/2001; CEE News, 10/1/2001; Building Design and Construction, 7/1/2002]
Entity Tags: Mishal Yousef Saud Al Sabah, Kuwait-American Corporation (KuwAm), Marvin Bush, Stratesec, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, World Trade Center, Wirt D. Walker III, Washington Dulles International Airport, Ensec, Inc., Embry-Riddle University, National Civil Aviation Training Organization, E-J Electric Installation Co., Commander Aircraft, Aviation General, Electronic Systems Associates
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
In a series of stages, air traffic control managers ban aircraft from flying near the cities targeted by the hijackers. All takeoffs and landings in New York City are halted within two minutes of the Flight 175 crash (see 9:05 a.m. September 11, 2001). Mike McCormick, the air traffic control manager at the FAA’s New York Center, makes the decision. The FAA’s Boston Center follows suit in the next few minutes. Around 9:08 a.m.-9:11 a.m., departures nationwide heading to or through the New York and Boston regions’ airspace are canceled. [Associated Press, 8/12/2002; USA Today, 8/12/2002; Associated Press, 8/21/2002; Newsday, 9/10/2002] In addition, “a few minutes” after 9:03 a.m., all takeoffs from Washington Reagan National Airport are stopped. [USA Today, 8/11/2002]
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]
An air traffic controller at Washington’s Reagan National Airport struggles with an Arab-sounding private pilot who keeps veering into Washington airspace. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 144-145] Reagan National Airport is less than one mile from the Pentagon, and just a few miles from the White House and the Capitol building. [St. Petersburg Times, 10/3/2001] The airspace around it and much of Washington is designated class B airspace, which means no one is supposed to fly there without a working transponder and permission from an air traffic controller. [Washington Post, 9/12/2001] Eric Cole, a controller in Reagan Airport’s air traffic control tower, is continually being bothered by the pilot, who has an Arab accent and is flying a banner tow airplane. Cole repeatedly directs the pilot, “Go further south!” The pilot replies, “Okay, I’m going further south,” but does not do so. He keeps infringing the Washington airspace and asking to get closer to the city. Banner tow airplanes are almost unheard of in this area, and Cole cannot understand why the pilot is being so persistent, almost argumentative. Finally, Cole yells at him: “No, you’re not going further south! I can see that you’re not going further south!” Shortly after 9:06 a.m., the control tower receives the instruction to secure the airspace around Washington and turn away all non-airliner aircraft (see Shortly After 9:06 a.m. September 11, 2001). The controllers are then able to order the annoying banner tow pilot out of their airspace for good. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 144-145]
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).
Two unidentified military aircraft fly in the vicinity of the Pentagon at an altitude of over 20,000 feet, and are in the area during the minutes before the Pentagon is hit. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/20/2001 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/28/2003 ] Between at least 9:31 a.m. and 9:40 a.m., the two aircraft communicate with the air traffic control tower at Washington’s Reagan National Airport, which is less than a mile from the Pentagon. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/20/2001 ; St. Petersburg Times, 10/3/2001] Radar data will show that they fly “in trail” (in single file, with one aircraft directly behind the other) at 21,000 feet, and are overhead during the last few minutes that Flight 77 is airborne, before it hits the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/28/2003 ]
Launched from Delaware Base - The identities of the two aircraft are unclear. They have the call signs “Bobcat 14” and “Bobcat 17.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/20/2001 ] A 9/11 Commission memorandum will state that “flight strips and other information indicate that Bobcat 14 and Bobcat 17 originated out of Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.… It is possible, but not confirmed, that they were Air Force corporate passenger jets.”
Airport Managers Do Not Recall Planes - Two key officials will later be unable to specifically recall the aircraft when questioned by the 9/11 Commission. Bob Lazar, the acting operations manager at Reagan National Airport, will say he “did not remember any aircraft with the call sign ‘Bobcat’ that hung out over the National airspace” on this day. However, as well as two of the fighter jets that are inbound from Langley Air Force Base (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001), he will recall two aircraft “coming from the north, but he did not think that they entered National’s airspace.” Donny Simons, the airport manager at Baltimore-Washington International Airport in Linthicum, Maryland, will stress “that he did not remember the Bobcats specifically,” but he speculates that controllers at his airport “were working the two ‘Bobcats’ and needed vectors from National controllers.” [9/11 Commission, 7/28/2003 ]
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]
Reagan National Airport. [Source: Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority]Air traffic controllers at Washington’s Reagan National Airport are contacted by controllers at Washington Dulles International Airport, and informed of a fast-moving unidentified aircraft, later determined to be Flight 77, which is approaching the restricted airspace around the White House. [Washington Post, 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 ; 9/11 Commission, 6/4/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 33] Reagan Airport is less than a mile from the Pentagon and only a few miles from the White House. [St. Petersburg Times, 9/19/2001] During a shift, it has 10 or 11 controllers working in its Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) and seven or eight controllers working in its air traffic control tower. [9/11 Commission, 7/28/2003 ] Controllers at the Dulles TRACON have recently noticed the unidentified aircraft on their radar screens (see (Between 9:25 a.m. and 9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 9:32 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 9]
TRACON Told of Aircraft - A Dulles Airport controller now calls the TRACON at Reagan Airport, and says: “Hey! Untracked target 15 [miles] west of you. Primary target eastbound! Heading toward P-56!” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 145-146] (P-56, or Prohibited Area 56, is the restricted airspace above and near the White House. [Department of Transportation, 8/4/2005] ) Reagan Airport controller Dan Creedon checks his radar screen and sees the aircraft’s target about 10 miles west of the White House. The radar track is untagged, so he attaches a data box to it with the word “LOOK” in it. This will allow other controllers to quickly spot the aircraft. It also causes its ground speed to appear on the screen. According to author Lynn Spencer, the aircraft is shown to be flying at 290 miles per hour. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 146] But other accounts will claim it is flying at between 400 and 500 mph as it approaches Washington. [CBS News, 9/21/2001; ABC News, 10/24/2001; USA Today, 8/12/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/28/2003 ] Creedon then calls out to Victor Padgett, the operations supervisor in the TRACON, and tells him about the aircraft heading their way. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/14/2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 146]
Controllers Notify Others - After the Reagan Airport controllers learn of the approaching aircraft, they promptly contact other agencies about it. Padgett calls the Secret Service (see (9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/14/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 ] And another controller will issue traffic advisories on the aircraft to a C-130 military cargo plane that is flying in the area, and then instruct the C-130 to identify and follow the aircraft (see 9.36 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 ; New York Times, 10/16/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 33; Spencer, 2008, pp. 146-147] A controller in the TRACON will also call the Reagan Airport control tower, and alert it to the approaching aircraft (see (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 158]
Air traffic controllers at Washington’s Reagan National Airport fail to notify the Pentagon and a nearby Army airfield about an unidentified aircraft, later determined to be Flight 77, which they are tracking as it approaches the capital. [US Army Center for Military History, 11/14/2001 ; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 33]
Controllers Call Secret Service but Not Military - Controllers in the Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) at Reagan National Airport are aware of the unidentified, fast-moving aircraft that is approaching the White House from at least as early as 9:33 a.m. (see (9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 9, 39; Spencer, 2008, pp. 145-146] (However, those in the airport’s control tower possibly only learn of it slightly later (see (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 158] ) Although a supervisor at the TRACON promptly alerts the Secret Service at the White House to the aircraft (see (9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001), none of the Reagan Airport controllers contact the Pentagon or the nearby Davison Army Airfield about it. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 ; US Army Center for Military History, 11/14/2001 ]
Aviation Unit Located near Pentagon - Davison Army Airfield is located at Fort Belvoir, an Army base 12 miles south of the Pentagon. The airfield’s principal missions include maintaining “a readiness posture in support of contingency plans,” exercising “operational control” of the local airspace, and providing “aviation support for the White House, US government officials, Department of Defense, Department of the Army, and other government agencies.” The 12th Aviation Battalion, which is the aviation support unit for the Military District of Washington, is stationed at Davison Airfield. The battalion operates UH-1 “Huey” and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. [Pentagram, 5/7/1999; Military District of Washington, 8/2000] Its airfield operations unit—Davison Airfield Management—operates and maintains the heliport at the Pentagon. [Soldiers Magazine, 7/2006]
Tower Supervisor Unhappy - The supervisor of air traffic control currently working in the control tower at Davison Airfield will be unhappy about the failure of the Reagan Airport controllers to alert his unit or the Pentagon to the approaching aircraft. He will voice his complaints when he later talks to one of those controllers. The supervisor will later recall: “I was asking him, ‘Did you know that the aircraft was coming this way?’ And he said: ‘Yes. We were tracking him for so many miles.’”
Controller: 'It Never Occurred to Me' to Call Military - The supervisor will ask the controller: “Why you didn’t say anything to Davison? Why you didn’t say anything to the Pentagon? Because if you would have said something, my controller at the Pentagon would have called the DPS unit,” meaning the Defense Protective Service, which guards the Pentagon, “and it would have alerted them that there was something coming to Washington, DC, an aircraft with hostile intentions or something.” The controller will reply, “Well, you know what, it never occurred to me,” and say, “we didn’t know that he was going to hit the Pentagon.” [US Army Center for Military History, 11/14/2001 ]
A supervisor at Washington’s Reagan National Airport calls the Secret Service Joint Operations Center (JOC) and warns it about an unidentified aircraft that is heading toward the White House. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/14/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 9] Controllers at Reagan Airport have just been contacted by controllers at Washington Dulles International Airport, and notified of the unidentified aircraft, later determined to be Flight 77, approaching Washington (see (9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 33]
Supervisor Calls Secret Service - Immediately after he learns of this aircraft, Victor Padgett, the operations supervisor at the Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) at Reagan Airport, picks up a direct line to the White House and informs the Secret Service JOC there: “We have a target five [miles] west. He’s turning south but he’s still on our scope. We’re not talking to him. It’s definitely a suspicious aircraft.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/14/2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 146] According to the 9/11 Commission, this is “the first specific report to the Secret Service of a direct threat to the White House.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 39] Padgett provides the Secret Service with continuous updates on the aircraft’s actions. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/14/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 ] After traveling almost 10 miles south of Reagan Airport, the aircraft turns back toward Washington and again appears to be heading for the White House. Padgett tells the Secret Service: “What I’m telling you, buddy, if you’ve got people, you’d better get them out of there! And I mean right g_ddamned now!” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 158] (People will begin rapidly evacuating from the White House at about 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/11/2001; CNN, 9/12/2001]
Cheney Not Evacuated - According to the 9/11 Commission, when Padgett initially calls the JOC, “No move [is] made to evacuate the vice president” from his White House office. The officer who takes the call will explain, “[I was] about to push the alert button when the tower advised that the aircraft was turning south and approaching Reagan National Airport.” According to the Commission, Vice President Dick Cheney is not evacuated until “just before 9:36” (see (9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 39] (However, other accounts indicate he was evacuated earlier on, shortly after 9:00 a.m. (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [New York Times, 9/13/2001; ABC News, 9/14/2002] ) A supervisor at Dulles Airport also contacts the Secret Service around this time to notify it of the approaching aircraft (see (9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 ]
A typical C-130. [Source: US Air Force Reserve Command]Washington’s Reagan National Airport air traffic control instructs a military C-130 cargo plane that has just departed Andrews Air Force Base to intercept Flight 77 and identify it. [New York Times, 10/16/2001; Guardian, 10/17/2001] Remarkably, this C-130 is the same C-130 that will be 17 miles from Flight 93 when it later crashes into the Pennsylvania countryside (see 10:08 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Pittsburgh Channel, 9/15/2001; Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 9/11/2002] The pilot, Lt. Col. Steve O’Brien, will claim that he took off around 9:30 a.m., planning to return to Minnesota after dropping supplies off in the Caribbean. He will describe his close encounter: “When air traffic control asked me if we had him [Flight 77] in sight, I told him that was an understatement—by then, he had pretty much filled our windscreen. Then he made a pretty aggressive turn so he was moving right in front of us, a mile and a half, two miles away. I said we had him in sight, then the controller asked me what kind of plane it was. That caught us up, because normally they have all that information. The controller didn’t seem to know anything.” O’Brien reports that the plane is either a 757 or 767 and its silver fuselage means it is probably an American Airlines plane. “They told us to turn and follow that aircraft—in 20 plus years of flying, I’ve never been asked to do something like that.” [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 9/11/2002] O’Brien and his crew, Maj. Robert Schumacher and flight engineer Master Sgt. Jeffrey Rosenthal, are unaware of the attacks in New York. Schumacher will say that, after being directed to follow Flight 77, he first thought that the plane was having technical difficulties, “that the pilots were really just trying to fly the airplane, and get it on the ground safely.” After the impact, O’Brien tunes in to a news broadcast, but is surprised to hear about a second crash in New York, not at the Pentagon. He will recall: “The first thing we heard on there was ‘We’re now hearing about a second airplane hitting the World Trade Center.’ That was not what we were expecting to hear. We were expecting to hear about an airplane impacting the Pentagon… and the light goes on, and it’s like, ‘Oh my God, the nation’s under attack!’” [Minnesota Public Radio, 5/31/2004] The 9/11 Commission will report that O’Brien specifically identifies the hijacked plane as a Boeing 757. Seconds after impact, he reports to the Washington tower, “Looks like that aircraft crashed into the Pentagon, sir.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]
The air traffic control tower at an Army airfield near the Pentagon receives a call from someone at Washington’s Reagan National Airport—presumably an air traffic controller—who instructs it to recall all its aircraft. [US Army Center for Military History, 11/14/2001 ] Davison Army Airfield is at Fort Belvoir, 12 miles south of the Pentagon. The 12th Aviation Battalion, which is the Military District of Washington’s aviation support unit, is stationed there. This includes three helicopter companies that fly UH-1 “Huey” and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. [Military District of Washington, 8/2000]
Airfield Told to Land All Aircraft 'Very Quickly' - According to a supervisor of air traffic control at Davison Airfield who is currently in the airfield’s control tower, shortly before the time when the Pentagon is hit a controller at his facility receives the call from Reagan Airport telling them to recall all their air traffic. The supervisor, who will say that the caller is “going crazy,” takes over the call. The caller then tells him to “recall all your traffic. Just make sure that everybody lands.… [H]e was like, telling us, everybody that you got outside, bring them in and land them quickly, very quickly.” The supervisor tells him, “Give me a reason and I’ll do it,” but the caller responds, “I can’t tell you the reason, but you need to do this.” [US Army Center for Military History, 11/14/2001 ] (At around 9:32 a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission, Washington’s Dulles Airport notified Reagan Airport of a “radar target tracking eastbound at a high rate of speed” toward Washington (see 9:32 a.m. September 11, 2001), so it is plausible that this is what has prompted Reagan Airport to call the Davison control tower. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 33] )
Davison Airfield Recalls Its Aircraft - After the caller hangs up, the supervisor at Davison Airfield instructs the air traffic controller at his facility to “tell everybody to come in.” The controller then starts “recalling everybody that just departed,” and the supervisor approves “for them to make it straight in, the helicopters to land straight in without using the regular traffic pattern.” The control tower recalls its aircraft individually, rather than putting out a single broadcast telling all aircraft to return to the airfield. The supervisor will recall: “[E]verybody was coming in. And at that time when everybody was coming in… I was like thinking, why? Why do they want to recall everybody? That means that something is going on.” While the control tower is still recalling its aircraft, the supervisor looks out of a window to the northeast, and notices a large black cloud of smoke in the area of the Pentagon, the result of the attack there. [US Army Center for Military History, 11/14/2001 ] It is unclear what aircraft from Davison Airfield are airborne and recalled to base. But a 12th Aviation Battalion helicopter and its crew that are always on standby for “contingency” missions have been away this morning, conducting a traffic survey (see Early Morning September 11, 2001). They are presumably recalled at this time, if not beforehand. [Army Center of Military History, 11/14/2001 ]
An air traffic controller in the tower at Reagan National Airport. [Source: Rob Ballenger / NPR]An air traffic controller in the Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) at Washington’s Reagan National Airport calls the airport’s control tower and alerts it to an unidentified aircraft that is approaching and heading in the direction of the White House. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 145-146, 158] The TRACON was recently contacted by controllers at Washington Dulles International Airport and notified of this aircraft, which is later determined to be Flight 77 (see (9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 33] TRACON controllers have watched it on radar as it traveled almost 10 miles south of the airport, and then turned back toward Washington.
TRACON Calls Tower - A controller in the TRACON now phones Chris Stephenson, the supervisor in the Reagan Airport control tower, and says to him, “See in the sky, five miles west of you?” Stephenson thinks he has identified the target the controller is referring to on his radar screen, but it is the wrong one. The controller clarifies: “No! The ‘LOOK’ tag! See the ‘LOOK’ tag? It’s a 757! Do you see anything out there?” Stephenson then looks out of the window and can see the plane, now less than a mile away, coming in fast. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 158] He sees it turning to the right and descending. [USA Today, 8/11/2002] A tour group from FAA headquarters is currently looking around the tower, and Stephenson promptly orders its members to “get out” of there (see (9:32 a.m.-9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Time of First Notification Unclear - According to author Lynn Spencer, Stephenson was unaware of the approaching aircraft prior to this call from the TRACON. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 157-158] But USA Today will claim he received a call at “[a]bout 9:30” from the Secret Service, telling him an unidentified aircraft was speeding toward Washington (9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 8/11/2002] Furthermore, after the Reagan TRACON was alerted to the aircraft, departure controller Dan Creedon quickly attached a data box to its radar track with the word “LOOK” in it, which would allow other controllers—including those in the control tower—to quickly spot it and track it on their screens. Why Stephenson had not noticed this is unclear. [9/11 Commission, 7/28/2003 ; Spencer, 2008, pp. 145-146]
The Marriott Residence Inn in Arlington, Virginia. [Source: Marriott International]An American Airlines plane takes off from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, flying toward the Pentagon, just before the Pentagon attack occurs, according to a witness who says he sees the plane out the window of his hotel room.
Plane Takes Off toward Pentagon - Jeffrey Mark Parsons, an assistant chief patrol agent with the United States Border Patrol, is staying on the 17th floor of the Marriott Residence Inn in Arlington, Virginia. When later interviewed by Navy historian John Darrell Sherwood about his experiences of the 9/11 attacks, Parsons will recall: “I was looking out my window. I have a perfect view of Reagan National Airport. An American Airlines plane had just taken off, I mean, not 30 seconds before this plane [Flight 77] hit the Pentagon.” Parsons will add that the American Airlines plane is “taking off to the north, to the, different than the normal way. In other words, they were taking off toward the Pentagon.” [US Naval Historical Center, 12/13/2001; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 258] Reagan National Airport is less than a mile from the Pentagon. [St. Petersburg Times, 10/3/2001] Parsons will continue, “Well, this American Airlines plane had just taken off, I mean it couldn’t have been a minute, 30 seconds before this plane [Flight 77] hit the Pentagon.” [US Naval Historical Center, 12/13/2001] Flight 77 hits the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001) and, like the plane Parsons sees, is an American Airlines aircraft. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 10]
American Airlines and Reagan Airport Planes Supposedly Grounded - And yet Chris Stephenson, the supervisor in the Reagan National Airport control tower, reportedly stopped takeoffs from Reagan Airport in the minutes after 9:03 a.m., when Flight 175 hit the World Trade Center (see (9:04 a.m.-9:11 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 8/11/2002] And at 9:00 a.m., American Airlines ordered all its aircraft in the Northeast United States that had not yet taken off to remain on the ground (see Between 9:00 a.m. and 9:10 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 30] Furthermore, the FAA ordered a nationwide ground stop at around 9:26 a.m., which was supposed to prevent any aircraft taking off across the US (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure, 9/21/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 25] Parsons will ask Sherwood if anyone has interviewed the pilot of the American Airlines plane he saw taking off, since that pilot must have witnessed the attack on the Pentagon. Sherwood will answer no, but add, “[T]hat’s another good lead for either myself or one of the other people to follow up on.” Whether the pilot is ever identified or interviewed is unknown. [US Naval Historical Center, 12/13/2001]
After seeing the explosion from the attack on the Pentagon, air traffic controllers at Washington’s Reagan National Airport promptly alert others to the crash, with a supervisor reporting that the crashed aircraft was an American Airlines 757. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/18/2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 158-159] Reagan Airport is less than a mile from the Pentagon. [St. Petersburg Times, 9/19/2001] In its control tower, supervisor Chris Stephenson had looked out the window and seen Flight 77 approaching (see (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). He watched it flying a full circle and disappearing behind a building in nearby Crystal City, before crashing into the Pentagon. Stephenson sees the resulting fireball and a mass of paper debris that fills the air. He calls the airport’s Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) and reports: “It was an American 757! It hit the Pentagon. It was a 757 and it hit the Pentagon. American!” [USA Today, 8/11/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 158-159] Other controllers see the fireball from the crash. One of them, David Walsh, activates the crash phone, which instantly connects the control tower to airport operations, as well as fire and police departments. He yells down the line: “Aircraft down at the Pentagon! Aircraft down at the Pentagon!” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/18/2001; McDonnell, 2004, pp. 19-20 ; Spencer, 2008, pp. 158-159] Reagan Airport controllers contact controllers at Washington Dulles International Airport, who hear over the speakers in their room: “Dulles, hold all of our inbound traffic. The Pentagon’s been hit.” [ABC News, 10/24/2001]
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]
A US Park Police helicopter flying above the burning Pentagon. [Source: Mark D. Faram / US Navy]A US Park Police helicopter that recently arrived over the Pentagon is contacted by an air traffic controller at Washington’s Reagan National Airport and given responsibility for controlling the airspace over Washington, DC, since the control tower at Reagan Airport is being evacuated. [US Naval Historical Center, 11/20/2001; US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A-48 ; McDonnell, 2004, pp. 21 ] The Park Police Aviation Unit’s two helicopters arrived at the Pentagon within minutes of the attack there (see Shortly After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Rotor and Wing, 11/2001] While one of the helicopters landed to conduct medical evacuations, the other, which has the call sign “Eagle I,” circled overhead. [US Naval Historical Center, 11/20/2001; McDonnell, 2004, pp. 20-21 ]
Airport Tower Being Evacuated - Eagle I has made three or four orbits around the Pentagon when a controller in the Reagan Airport tower radios its pilot, Sergeant Ronald Galey. The controller says the tower is currently evacuating. [US Naval Historical Center, 11/20/2001; National Park Service, 1/17/2002] According to some accounts, the tower is being evacuated due to reports of more hijacked aircraft heading in its direction (see (9:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [NBC 4, 9/11/2003; Spencer, 2008, pp. 215-216] But according to other accounts, the controller tells Galey the tower is evacuating because it is being affected by smoke that is drifting across from the burning Pentagon. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A-48 ; McDonnell, 2004, pp. 21 ; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 162] Galey will recall the controller saying: “Eagle I, we can’t see anything outside the tower. [The smoke is] getting in our ventilation system. We’re abandoning the tower.” Therefore, the controller gives Galey control of the airspace for the entire Washington area, telling him, “You’ve got the airspace.” [US Naval Historical Center, 11/20/2001; McDonnell, 2004, pp. 21 ]
Pilot Alarmed at Being Given Control of Airspace - The control tower at Reagan Airport is “normally the ‘nerve center’ for directing any response to this type of incident,” according to a National Park Service news article. [National Park Service, 9/21/2002] Galey is initially alarmed. He will recall thinking, “Exactly what I need right now is I’ve got control of the airspace.” [US Naval Historical Center, 11/20/2001] However, he is unaware that the FAA has ordered that all airborne aircraft must land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001), which will make his task easier. [US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure, 9/21/2001; McDonnell, 2004, pp. 21 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 29]
NORAD Advises Pilot on Controlling Airspace - The controller gives Galey the radio frequency for NORAD, and tells him to contact NORAD. [National Park Service, 1/17/2002; McDonnell, 2004, pp. 21-22 ] The person Galey then talks to at NORAD informs him: “Look, you have no [air] traffic in DC, except for the traffic that you’re calling. The aircraft that you’re calling in, we’re going to allow to come in. Other than that, there should be no one besides the military, and we’ll call you out the military traffic.” Galey will later reflect: “So that helped tremendously. That function alone was not very taxing.” [US Naval Historical Center, 11/20/2001] The person at NORAD also tells Galey there is “an unauthorized aircraft inbound from the Pennsylvania area, with the estimated time of arrival approximately 20 minutes into DC.” Galey will recall that he and the rest of his crew discuss what they should do, and decide that “we’d take our chances and stay there [at the Pentagon], and do what we came there to do.” [National Park Service, 1/17/2002]
Airspace Control Passed on to Metropolitan Police Helicopter - Eagle I becomes “the air traffic control function for the area, flying a slow racetrack pattern over the site and clearing aircraft in and out,” according to Lieutenant Philip Cholak, the Park Police Aviation Unit commander. [Aviation International News, 10/1/2001] But after a time Galey asks his paramedic to request that a Metropolitan Police helicopter be launched to take over the command and control of the Washington airspace. He tells the paramedic: “You know we’re going to have to do a medevac mission here. We’re going to have to relinquish the command/control function to somebody else.” A Metropolitan Police helicopter subsequently arrives and relieves Eagle I of its command and control function. [US Naval Historical Center, 11/20/2001; McDonnell, 2004, pp. 22 ]
Having taken off after returning from a training mission, a pilot with the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) flies two loops up the Potomac River, reversing course near Georgetown and the Pentagon, but is unable to locate a suspicious approaching aircraft, and heads back to base less than 10 minutes after launching. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 ; Spencer, 2008, pp. 219-221]
No Rules of Engagement - Major Billy Hutchison, a pilot with the 121st Fighter Squadron of the DCANG, had landed back at Andrews Air Force Base, 10 miles from Washington, but was ordered to take off again immediately (see (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002] His plane has no missiles, and only training ammunition, and he has been given no specific rules of engagement other than being told to identify an aircraft that is coming down the river. [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; 9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 ; Vogel, 2007, pp. 446] Because the DCANG is not in the communication and command loops of NORAD or its Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), Hutchison is unaware that three fighter jets NEADS ordered into the air from Langley Air Force Base (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001) are also flying over Washington, albeit at a much higher altitude than he is. [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; 9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004]
Controller Directs Hutchison - Hutchison calls the Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) at Washington’s Reagan National Airport. He says, “Bully 1 [his call sign] is looking for a contact.” Victor Padgett, the operations supervisor at the TRACON, replies, “We have an intercept for you northwest of here and coming down the Potomac.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 219] Hutchison knows he is meant to be searching for a civilian aircraft, and will later recall that he is told it is coming from Pennsylvania. [9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004] In order to conserve fuel and gain airspeed, he flies low over the White House and Georgetown, reportedly staying between 500 and 1,000 feet above ground level. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 219] After Padgett gives him details of the approaching aircraft’s location, Hutchison spots it on his jet’s radar screen, but it quickly disappears. The aircraft reappears a minute later, but then both Hutchison and Padgett lose sight of it.
Aircraft Claimed to Be Flight 93 - Some accounts will suggest the approaching aircraft is thought to be Flight 93 (see (10:30 a.m.-10:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001), even though that plane has already crashed (see (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 219-221] Hutchison will later recall that the TRACON at Reagan Airport is “frantic with what they seem to think are aircraft coming their way.… There is another aircraft, and it’s United Flight 93. They… apparently have been given information that it’s coming their way.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 81] Major David McNulty, the senior intelligence officer of the DCANG, will recall, “[I]t wasn’t until later that they realized the plane [coming down the river] might be UAL 93.” [9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 ] However, John Farmer, John Azzarello, and Miles Kara, who are all staff members of the 9/11 Commission, subsequently rebut this claim. They will write: “[R]adar records of the day [of 9/11] indicate that Major Hutchison did not take off until more than a half-hour after United 93 had crashed near Shanksville, PA, and a good 20 minutes after the wreckage had been located. He could not have seen United 93 on his scope, and could not have intercepted it.” [New York Times, 9/13/2008]
Told to Investigate Other Aircraft - After the aircraft disappears off Hutchison’s radar screen, Dan Creedon, an air traffic controller at the TRACON at Reagan Airport, is concerned about planes and helicopters that are taking off and landing across Washington, and tells Hutchison, “We have more contacts!” Hutchison confirms that he will investigate the targets Creedon alerts him to, but he keeps losing them among the ground clutter on his radar screen. According to author Lynn Spencer, “The flights are too close to the surface and, from what he can see, appear to be mostly helicopters flying medevac from the Pentagon.”
Flies over the Pentagon - Hutchison, who’d noticed the burning Pentagon before he landed at Andrews Air Force Base (see (9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001), then decides he should investigate it. He descends and flies a steep turn over the Pentagon. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 234-235] He will later recall: “I circled at a couple of hundred feet at the most just to, one, investigate, and two, give the people on the ground some semblance of security of an American fighter coming by. And apparently it changed the mood for a lot of people when they saw that” (see (10:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Running out of Fuel - By now, Hutchison is almost out of fuel. He will recall, “After that point, I’m emergency fuel, the lowest I’ve ever been in an F-16, and tell [the FAA’s] Washington Center I must leave, and they say I’m cleared to return to base and that two more aircraft are coming out of Andrews.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 81-82] Hutchison will land at Andrews at 10:47 a.m. (see 10:47 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004]
Entity Tags: Victor Padgett, Dan Creedon, Billy Hutchison, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Pentagon, 121st Fighter Squadron, John Farmer, Miles Kara, David McNulty, John Azzarello, District of Columbia Air National Guard
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
One of the FAA’s Cessna Citation V jet planes. [Source: Unknown]Although it was recently redirected toward Richmond, Virginia, the plane carrying Attorney General John Ashcroft tries again to head to Washington, DC, and a military fighter jet arrives to escort it into the capital. [Washington Post, 9/28/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002; Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 118] Ashcroft’s plane, a small government Cessna jet, has been trying to return to Washington after an engagement in Milwaukee was aborted due to the terrorist attacks (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). Ashcroft has ignored requests to land, and so his plane has been threatened with being shot down by the military and diverted to Richmond (see 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Newsweek, 9/24/2001; Newsweek, 3/10/2003; Spencer, 2008, pp. 257-258]
Pilot Persuaded to Head toward Washington - However, Ashcroft still wants to reach Washington. He therefore calls the Justice Department command center for assistance. Then, according to author Lynn Spencer, “With some high-level coordination,” one of the protective agents on Ashcroft’s plane “convinced the pilot to try once again to enter the city.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 272] The pilot, David Clemmer, negotiates to have fighter jets escort the plane into Washington. [Newsweek, 9/24/2001; Washington Post, 9/28/2001]
Controller Requests Fighter Escort - The FAA’s Washington Center consequently calls the Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) at Washington’s Reagan National Airport. The Washington Center controller says: “Hey, we’ve got November 4 out here. He wants to land at [Reagan Airport]. There’s some concern and they want a fighter escort.” TRACON controller Dan Creedon recognizes the plane’s N-number (specifically, N4) as belonging to one of the FAA’s jet aircraft, and confirms, “Yeah, November 4 is based out of Washington.” He then calls District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) pilot Major Daniel Caine, who recently launched from Andrews Air Force Base to defend Washington (see 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001), and tells him of the plane requesting a fighter escort. When Caine asks who is on it, Creedon replies: “I don’t know. My assumption is FAA-1 or DOT-1,” meaning FAA Administrator Jane Garvey or Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta.
DCANG Pilot Gets Langley Jets to Provide Escort - Caine says the jets launched from Langley Air Force Base (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001) that are defending Washington (see (Between 9:49 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001) will handle this. He forwards Creedon’s request to Major Dean Eckmann, the lead pilot from Langley. Eckmann responds that the inbound plane “can have one” of his fighters. He then directs his wingman, Major Brad Derrig, to intercept it. [9/11 Commission, 12/1/2003; 9/11 Commission, 12/1/2003; Spencer, 2008, pp. 272-273] While Ashcroft’s plane is waiting for Derrig’s fighter to arrive, it is put in a holding pattern outside of Washington. [9/11 Commission, 12/17/2003 ] Ashcroft’s plane will be escorted to Reagan Airport, but the time it lands at is unclear (see (12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Newsweek, 9/24/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002; USA Today, 8/13/2002; Vogel, 2007, pp. 453]
James Schwartz. [Source: Arlington County, Virginia]Firefighting and other operations are severely disrupted when the Pentagon site is evacuated due to a report of an unidentified aircraft heading toward the Pentagon. Firefighters have to abandon their equipment and run several hundred yards to protected areas. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A16 and A30 ] Assistant Fire Chief James Schwartz orders the evacuation after the control tower at Washington’s Reagan National Airport notifies the Arlington County Emergency Communications Center (ECC) of an inbound aircraft that is not identifying itself and is heading up the Potomac River at a high rate of speed. It is not known if this is a hijacked plane, but no aircraft other than military jets are now supposed to be in the air. The ECC then notifies Schwartz at the Pentagon. By the time he orders the evacuation, the aircraft is reportedly just two minutes away. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A30 and A52 ; Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 187] At one point, the controllers at Reagan Airport are reporting that the plane has disappeared from radar, though they do not say why they think this is. [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 191]
Approaching Aircraft Is 'Friendly' - The unidentified aircraft is soon determined to be “friendly.” [Fire Engineering, 11/2002; Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 193] According to the Arlington County After-Action Report, it turns out to have been a government aircraft flying Attorney General John Ashcroft back to Washington. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A30 and C52 ; Vogel, 2007, pp. 453] However, a 2002 FAA report will state that Ashcroft’s plane landed in Washington “just before noon” (see (12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002] If that report is correct, then the identity of the approaching aircraft is unclear.
Emergency Operations Disrupted - The firefighters and other emergency responders return to the Pentagon and resume their activities, but the evacuation has significantly disrupted firefighting operations, giving fires in some areas 30 minutes to gain ground. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A16 ; Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 193-194] The FBI’s evidence recovery operation has also been disrupted. [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 191]
Evacuation Avoidable, Caused by Loss of FBI Presence - This evacuation is later determined to have been avoidable, and only necessary because of the loss of a senior FBI presence at the incident command post (ICP) at the Pentagon, which means there is no way for the ICP to verify whether the approaching aircraft is “friendly” or not. This loss is due to the FBI having relocated to the Virginia State Police Barracks shortly after midday (see (12:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001). The Arlington County After-Action Report will later conclude, “Friendly aircraft, carrying US government executives and escorted by fighter aircraft, should not have been cause for evacuation.” A previous evacuation of the Pentagon site due to reports of an approaching unidentified aircraft occurred around 10:15 a.m. (see (10:15 a.m.-10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and a third similar evacuation will occur on the morning of September 12 (see (10:00 a.m.) September 12, 2001). [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A30-A31 ; Fire Engineering, 11/2002]
Firefighting operations at the Pentagon are disrupted when the crash site there is evacuated in response to a report of an approaching unidentified plane. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A16 and A30 ; Fire Engineering, 11/2002] Air traffic controllers at Washington’s Reagan National Airport have noticed an aircraft on their radar scopes that is not identifying itself and is flying fast up the Potomac River. [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 333] They notify the Arlington County Emergency Communications Center, which passes the information on to Assistant Fire Chief James Schwartz, the incident commander at the Pentagon, and he orders the evacuation. Firefighters have to abandon their operations and run several hundred yards to protected areas. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A16 and C52 ] The unidentified aircraft is soon determined to be “friendly,” and firefighters then return to work. [Fire Engineering, 11/2002; Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 335] The plane was a government aircraft with FEMA Director Joseph Allbaugh on board. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A30 and C52 ] The Pentagon was similarly evacuated two times on September 11, due to false alarms over reports of unidentified aircraft heading for Washington (see (10:15 a.m.-10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (2:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Fire Engineering, 11/2002]
Mohamed Abdi, a 44-year-old Somali immigrant whose phone number was found in a car belonging to one the 9/11 hijackers, is detained without bail in Alexandria, Va. On September 12, 2001, FBI investigators discovered a car registered to 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi at Dulles Airport (see September 11-13, 2001). In the car, they found a Washington-area map with the name “Mohumad” and a Virginia phone number belonging to Mohamed Abdi. At the court hearing, an FBI investigator says that Abdi has not explained the finding and is suspected of being linked to the hijackers. FBI Special Agent Kevin W. Ashby also testifies that an article on Ahmed Ressam was found in Abdi’s clothing. Ressam was convicted of trying to bomb Los Angeles Airport in 2000 (see December 14, 1999). According to press reports, Abdi is not cooperating with police. He came to the United States in 1993 as a refugee. He later brought his wife and four children to the US and obtained US citizenship. Shortly after his arrival, Abdi worked for Caterair, a food service company at Reagan National Airport. At the time of his arrest, Abdi had been working as a low-paid security guard for Burns Security for seven years. Burns does not provide airport security services, however, a Burns subsidiary called Globe Aviation Services provides screening services at several US airports, including the American Airlines concourse at Boston’s Logan Airport, from which one of the hijacked flights took off (see October 10, 2001). Abdi, who has had financial difficulties for some time, is charged with check forgery. He is accused of forging his landlord’s signature to obtain a government housing subsidy. No terrorism charges are filed. [US District Court Eastern District of Virginia, 9/23/2001 ; Washington Post, 9/27/2001 ; Human Events, 10/15/2001; Human Events, 10/15/2001] In January 2002, Abdi will receive a four-month sentence for forgery. Any link he may have had with the hijackers will remain unclear. [Washington Post, 1/12/2002]
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