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Context of 'September 13, 2001: Series of Unusual Circumstances Said to Make Hijacked Passenger Cell Phone Calls Possible'

This is a scalable context timeline. It contains events related to the event September 13, 2001: Series of Unusual Circumstances Said to Make Hijacked Passenger Cell Phone Calls Possible. You can narrow or broaden the context of this timeline by adjusting the zoom level. The lower the scale, the more relevant the items on average will be, while the higher the scale, the less relevant the items, on average, will be.

Tom Burnett.
Tom Burnett. [Source: Family photo]Tom Burnett, a passenger on Flight 93, calls his wife Deena Burnett at their home in San Ramon, California. [Longman, 2002, pp. 106-107] She looks at the caller ID and recognizes the number as being that of his cell phone. She asks him if he is OK, and he replies: “No, I’m not. I’m on an airplane that’s been hijacked.” He says, “They just knifed a guy,” and adds that this person was a passenger. [Burnett and Giombetti, 2006, pp. 61] (According to journalist and author Jere Longman, this would likely have been Mark Rothenberg in seat 5B; Burnett was assigned seat 4B. Rothenberg is the only first class passenger who does not make a call from the flight. [Longman, 2002, pp. 107] ) Deena asks, “Are you in the air?” She later recalls, “I didn’t understand how he could be calling me on his cell phone from the air.” According to Deena Burnett, Tom continues: “Yes, yes, just listen. Our airplane has been hijacked. It’s United Flight 93 from Newark to San Francisco. We are in the air. The hijackers have already knifed a guy. One of them has a gun. They’re telling us there’s a bomb on board. Please call the authorities.” [Burnett and Giombetti, 2006, pp. 61] (However, the 9/11 Commission will later conclude that the hijackers did not possess a gun, as Tom Burnett apparently claims here (see 9:27 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 13] ) At the end of the call, which lasts just seconds, Tom says he will call back and then hangs up. [Burnett and Giombetti, 2006, pp. 62] Deena does not have time to tell him about the planes crashing into the World Trade Center. [Sacramento Bee, 9/11/2002] But she writes down everything he tells her. [Burnett and Giombetti, 2006, pp. 62] She notes the call having occurred at 9:27 a.m. [Longman, 2002, pp. 107] Yet, the 9/11 Commission will later conclude that the hijacker takeover of Flight 93 does not occur until a minute later, at 9:28 (see (9:28 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 38 pdf file] Deena later wonders if her husband made this call before the hijackers took control of the cockpit, as he’d spoken quietly and quickly, as if he were being watched. He has an ear bud and a mouthpiece attached to a cord that hangs over his shoulder, which may have enabled him to use his phone surreptitiously. [Longman, 2002, pp. 107] According to Deena Burnett’s account, this is the first of four calls Tom makes to her from Flight 93, all or most of which he makes using his cell phone. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001 pdf file; Associated Press, 9/13/2001; Burnett and Giombetti, 2006, pp. 75] However, a summary of passenger phone calls presented at the 2006 Zacarias Moussoui trial will state that Burnett makes only three calls from the plane; uses an Airfone, not his cell phone; and makes his frst call at 9:30, not 9:27 (see 9:30 a.m.-9:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 9-10 pdf file] This is the first of over 30 phone calls made by passengers from Flight 93. [MSNBC, 7/30/2002]

Entity Tags: Mark Rothenberg, Deena Burnett, Tom Burnett

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Marion Britton.Marion Britton. [Source: US Census Bureau]Flight 93 passenger Marion Britton calls her longtime friend Fred Fiumano at his auto repair shop in New York City, and talks to him for just under four minutes. According to the Chicago Tribune, she is using a cell phone. [Chicago Tribune, 9/30/2001; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006] Journalist and author Jere Longman writes that, because her own cell phone is not working, Britton is using a borrowed phone (i.e. a cell phone). She gives Fiumano the phone number belonging to another passenger and tells him to write it down. [Longman, 2002, pp. 162 and 166] However, during the 2006 Zacarias Moussaoui trial, the prosecution claims that Britton, who had been assigned a seat in row 12 of the plane, makes her call from a phone in row 33, presumably meaning a seatback phone rather than a cell phone. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 12 pdf file] Britton is crying. She tells Fiumano her plane has been hijacked and has made a U-turn. When he tells her that the World Trade Center is on fire, she replies, “I know, and we’re going to go down.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/22/2001; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/28/2001] Britton says, “They’re gonna kill us, you know, we’re gonna die.” [MSNBC, 9/11/2006] Fiumano tries to reassure her, but she responds, “Two passengers have had their throats cut.” [New York Times, 4/13/2006] (In passenger Todd Beamer’s call from Flight 93 (see 9:45 a.m.-9:58 a.m. September 11, 2001), a flight attendant is reportedly heard in the background saying that two men lying on the floor in first class, possibly dead, are the plane’s pilot and co-pilot. It is unclear if these are the two people that Britton refers to as having had their throats cut, and she’d simply mistaken them for passengers. [Longman, 2002, pp. 199] ) Fiumano hears a lot of yelling and screaming, and then the line goes dead. He tries calling Britton back but is unable to get through. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/22/2001]

Entity Tags: Marion Britton, Fred Fiumano

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

It is reported that the many phone calls made by passengers from the hijacked flights are normally technically impossible to make. A major cell phone carrier spokeswoman claims, “Those were a series of circumstances that made those calls go through, which would not be repeated under normal circumstances.” Supposedly, the calls worked because they were made when the planes were close to the ground and they were kept short. [Wired News, 9/13/2001] However, many of the cell phone calls were made from high cruising altitudes and lasted ten minutes or more. The New York Times later reports, “According to industry experts, it is possible to use cell phones with varying success during the ascent and descent of commercial airline flights, although the difficulty of maintaining a signal appears to increase as planes gain altitude. Some older phones, which have stronger transmitters and operate on analog networks, can be used at a maximum altitude of ten miles, while phones on newer digital systems can work at altitudes of five to six miles. A typical airline cruising altitude would be 35,000 feet, or about 6.6 miles.” [Slate, 9/14/2001] A spokesperson for the AT&T phone company notes that cell phone networks are not designed for calls from high altitudes. She suggests that “it was almost a fluke that the calls reached their destinations.” [Wireless Review, 11/1/2001]

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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