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Profile: Tom Roberts
Tom Roberts was a participant or observer in the following events:
Tom Roberts. [Source: NBC News]Boston flight controller Pete Zalewski, handling Flight 11, sees that the flight is off course and that the plane has turned off both transponder and radio. Zalewski later claims he turns to his supervisor and says, “Would you please come over here? I think something is seriously wrong with this plane. I don’t know what. It’s either mechanical, electrical, I think, but I’m not sure.” When asked if he suspected a hijacking at this point, he replies, “Absolutely not. No way.” According to the 9/11 Commission, “the supervisor instructed the controller [presumably Zalewski] to follow standard operating procedures for handling a ‘no radio’ aircraft once the controller told the supervisor the transponder had been turned off.” Another flight controller, Tom Roberts, has another nearby American Airlines Flight try to contact Flight 11. There is still no response. The flight is now “drastically off course” but NORAD is still not notified. [MSNBC, 9/11/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Note that this response contradicts flight control manager Glenn Michael’s assertion that Flight 11 was considered a possible hijacking as soon as the transponder was discovered turned off.
John Hartling. [Source: NBC News]By 8:34 a.m., Flight 11 has entered airspace managed by Boston Center air traffic controller John Hartling. [MSNBC, 9/11/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 19] Although Boston controller Pete Zalewski, who was managing Flight 11, concluded the plane was hijacked almost ten minutes earlier (see (8:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001), at the time the blip for Flight 11 appears on Hartling’s radar screen, Hartling is unaware that a hijacking is taking place. According to author Lynn Spencer, the reason is that “The concentration required for the job is so intense that controllers operate on a need-to-know basis. They don’t need to know what’s happening in other controllers’ sectors unless it might affect their own airspace, and distractions are rigorously kept to a minimum.” Tom Roberts, another Boston Center controller, has just been relieved from duty for a scheduled coffee break, and comes over to Hartling’s desk. Referring to Flight 11’s radar track, he tells Hartling, “This—this aircraft, we believe, is hijacked, and he’s last reported at 29,000 feet.” However, Hartling is incredulous. He will later recall that when Roberts says the plane is hijacked, “I didn’t believe him.” This is because “I didn’t think that that stuff would happen anymore, especially in this country.” Hartling continues tracking Flight 11 as it heads toward New York. Although its transponder has been turned off (see (Between 8:13 a.m. and 8:21 a.m.) September 11, 2001), he can tell that, at almost 600 mph, it is flying far faster than the 450 mph it should be moving at. [MSNBC, 9/11/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 22-24]
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