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Context of 'September 8, 2001: Suspicious Visitors Try to Enter Boston Airport Control Tower'

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The Hyatt Regency hotel in San Francisco.The Hyatt Regency hotel in San Francisco. [Source: Hyatt Hotels Corporation]A conference is held in San Francisco, California, to examine airport security, during which terrorism and hijackings are two of the main topics of discussion. The Airport Security Summit is held at the Hyatt Regency hotel, near San Francisco International Airport. [Security, 6/2001; Security Technology and Design, 10/2001] It is produced by World Research Group, a New York-based conference and training development company. [Security Technology and Design, 10/2001; World Research Group, 2011] Numerous top aviation and airport executives attend the three-day event, at which they discuss their security problems and successes. Participants include representatives from San Francisco International Airport, JFK International Airport in New York, Logan International Airport in Boston, United Airlines, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the US Department of Transportation, among others. [World Research Group, 6/19/2001; World Research Group, 6/19/2001; Airport Business, 9/2001] Aircraft hijackings and terrorism are two of the key agenda topics. [Security Technology and Design, 10/2001] The conference includes presentations with titles such as “It Can’t Happen Here: Anatomy of an Attempted Hijacking,” “Airport Safety and Security: Logan International Airport’s Approach,” and “Working Towards Better Partnerships to Combat Security Threats.” [World Research Group, 6/19/2001] The event is held “[i]n response to growing awareness that aviation security needed strengthening,” according to Security Technology and Design magazine. [Security Technology and Design, 10/2001]

Entity Tags: John F. Kennedy International Airport, Logan International Airport, World Research Group, Federal Aviation Administration, US Department of Transportation, United Airlines, San Francisco International Airport

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The air traffic control tower at Logan Airport.The air traffic control tower at Logan Airport. [Source: Public Domain]Several unidentified Middle Eastern men try unsuccessfully to get a tour of the air traffic control tower at Boston’s Logan Airport, while, later in the day, a Middle Eastern man is able to enter the tower and look around. In the first incident, around late morning or early afternoon, four or five Middle Eastern men approach an air traffic controller in the parking area while he is on a cigarette break. The controller will later describe two of the men as “approximately 38 to 42 years of age,” while the others are “approximately 30 to 34 years of age.” (Mohamed Atta, the oldest of the 9/11 hijackers, is 33 years old at the time of the attacks.) One of the older men has a mustache, and all of them are dressed casually. The men ask the controller to let them have a tour of the control tower, but he refuses. After a brief conversation, he gives the men a phone number to call if they want a tour. Later on this day, during the evening, a Middle Eastern man who introduces himself as a pilot is able to enter and tour the tower. The man is able to get to the tower’s 19th floor, even though access to that floor is restricted. Officials later surmise that he waited in one of the elevators until an employee on the 19th floor called for it, and then the employee went down after the Middle Eastern man got off. The man enters a room where some controllers are on break. When the controllers ask the man what he is doing, he says he is a pilot who wants a tour of the tower cab. An unnamed source will later describe: “He showed some ID, said he was a pilot, and because it was not a busy time, they said OK. It is not that unusual for a pilot to get a tour.” The man heads up the stairs to the tower cab where he spends about 15 minutes and engages the controllers there in conversation. He says he lives in Haverhill and has family in Afghanistan, and then leaves on his own. The two incidents on this day will be recalled as suspicious after the 9/11 attacks, but the identity of the Middle Eastern men will not be established. [Boston Globe, 9/16/2001; Boston Globe, 9/17/2001; 9/11 Commission, 2003]

Entity Tags: Logan International Airport

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Mike Hilliard.Mike Hilliard. [Source: Mary Schwalm / North Andover Eagle-Tribune]The air traffic control tower at Logan International Airport in Boston is called by the FAA’s Boston Center and told that communication with Flight 11 has been lost, but when the tower supervisor looks at the plane through his binoculars, he can see nothing outwardly wrong with it. [North Andover Eagle-Tribune, 9/6/2011; CNHI News Service, 9/9/2011] Flight 11 took off from Logan Airport at 7:59 a.m. (see (7:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001). It was in communication with the Logan control tower before being passed on to the FAA’s Boston Center. All communications between the Logan tower and Flight 11 were routine, and tower operators received no indication that anything was wrong with the flight. [Boston Globe, 9/12/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file; New York Times, 10/16/2001] But since the Boston Center instructed it to ascend to 35,000 feet, just before 8:14 a.m. (see 8:13 a.m. September 11, 2001), Flight 11 has failed to respond to all air traffic controller communications (see 8:14 a.m.-8:24 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file; New York Times, 10/16/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 7]
Tower Supervisor Sees Nothing Wrong with Flight 11 - The Boston Center now calls the Logan tower to alert it to the problem. “We got a call in the tower that communication with the plane had been lost,” Mike Hilliard, the tower supervisor, will later recall. Then, Hilliard will say, the radar room, which is on a level below the tower room, “called and asked if we could still see the plane.” Hilliard looks at the radar screen and can see Flight 11’s track. He then grabs his binoculars, looks out the window through them, and can see Flight 11, because the sun is reflecting off its aluminum fuselage. The aircraft is flying “at 15,000 feet, and he wasn’t trailing vapor or smoke,” Hilliard will recall. Hilliard therefore informs the radar room that he cannot see anything wrong with the plane.
Assistant Says, 'I Hope It's Not a Hijack' - One of Hilliard’s assistants then says to the supervisor, “I hope it’s not a hijack.” This gives Hilliard an uneasy feeling. He replies, “It better not be, because if they got the airplane that quick, it’s a team that took the airplane.” He says to his assistant that the problem with Flight 11 has “got to be mechanical,” and then adds, “Nobody can get a plane that quick.” [North Andover Eagle-Tribune, 9/6/2011; CNHI News Service, 9/9/2011] The 9/11 Commission will conclude that Flight 11 is hijacked at around 8:14 a.m. (see 8:14 a.m. September 11, 2001). Flight 175, the second plane to crash into the World Trade Center, takes off from Logan Airport at 8:14 a.m. (see 8:14 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 4, 7]

Entity Tags: Mike Hilliard, Logan International Airport, Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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