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Context of 'Shortly Before September 11, 2001: Pilot on Flight 77 Only Signs Up for Flight Shortly before 9/11'

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One of the pilots on American Airlines Flight 77—the third plane to be hijacked on 9/11—is not originally booked to be on that flight, and only accepts it shortly before September 11. American Airlines pilot Bill Cheng is originally due to fly Flight 77 on 9/11. But in late August he applies for that day off, so he can go camping. “When another pilot signed up for the slot, Mr. Cheng’s application was accepted.” Whether his replacement is Charles Burlingame, the plane’s captain, or David Charlebois, its first officer, is unstated. (Sciolino and Cushman 9/13/2001) Pilots on two of the other aircraft hijacked on 9/11 are also not originally scheduled to fly that day, but are booked onto those planes shortly before September 11 (see September 10, 2001, Shortly Before September 11, 2001, and Shortly Before September 11, 2001).

The air traffic control tower at Reagan National Airport.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. (Marsh 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)

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