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Context of '(10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001: United Airlines Loses Contact with Three Flights'

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Andrew Studdert.Andrew Studdert. [Source: Rental Equipment Register]United Airlines receives numerous reports about threats and other emergencies, which turn out to be incorrect. This is according to Andrew Studdert, United Airlines’ chief operating officer, who spends much of the morning at the airline’s System Operations Control center, near Chicago. [9/11 Commission, 11/20/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004] Two of the flights hijacked in the terrorist attacks—Flight 175 and Flight 93—are United Airlines aircraft. [CNN, 9/12/2001] Studdert will tell the 9/11 Commission that, additionally, throughout the morning “there is a torrent of reported bomb threats” received by the airline. He will add that “explosions are reported at two airports, and there are reports of other threats and other hijackings.” Studdert will refer to “various rumors” the airline has to deal with. One of these is a “call from someone alleging to be the spouse of a flight attendant onboard an inbound flight from Europe, saying that it had been hijacked.” United Airlines “chased down and sweated these rumors until all the airplanes were grounded.” Studdert will say that these reports “turn out to be misunderstandings or hoaxes.” However, he will add, “the presumed threats cannot be dismissed in the high uncertainty of the moment.” [9/11 Commission, 11/20/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004] United Airlines also temporarily loses communication with several of its planes this morning (see (10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001); numerous other United Airlines aircraft are temporarily reported as missing (see 10:47 a.m.-11:40 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 10:55 a.m.-11:15 a.m. September 11, 2001); and one United Airlines plane reportedly transmits a distress signal while flying over the Atlantic Ocean (see 11:18 a.m.-12:27 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. S-26 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004]

Entity Tags: Andrew P. Studdert, United Airlines

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Brian Meenan.Brian Meenan. [Source: US Air Force]The Air Traffic Services Cell (ATSC)—a small office at the FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, manned by military reservists—is activated.
Officers Learn of Attacks - Three officers are currently on duty in the ATSC: Colonel John Czabaranek, Lieutenant Colonel Michael-Anne Cherry, and Major Kevin Bridges. Colonel Brian Meenan, the director of the cell, is not in the ATSC at this time, and so Czabaranek, his deputy, is currently in charge. Czabaranek, Cherry, and Bridges learned of the first attack in New York at around 8:55 a.m. when another employee at the Command Center told them to turn on CNN, because an aircraft had crashed into the World Trade Center. The three officers initially thought the crash was an accident, but realized it was not when they saw the second aircraft hitting the WTC at 9:03 a.m. They then established contact with the Air Force Ops Center.
Cell Activated, Though Timing Unclear - The ATSC is activated, although the exact time this happens at is unclear. According to Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine, the cell “quickly became a key communications node during the military’s response to [the] terrorist attacks.” [US Air Force, 9/11/2001; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/10/2002] Jeff Griffith, the FAA’s deputy director of air traffic control, will tell the 9/11 Commission that “the military officers assigned to the Air Traffic Services Cell became immediately involved in coordinating FAA… Command Center actions with military elements.” [9/11 Commission, 6/9/2004 pdf file] According to a chronology of the ATSC’s actions on this day, calls to activate the cell are apparently made at unspecified times following the second attack in New York and before the FAA’s ground stop (at 9:26 a.m.). These calls are made by a Lieutenant Colonel Mahoney and a Colonel Litzenberger from the Air Force Ops Center. Apparently shortly after the calls are made, Czabaranek contacts NORAD to let it know that the ATSC is “up and running.” [US Air Force, 9/11/2001]
Military Cell Aided by Recently-Installed Hardware - The ATSC’s response to the terrorist attacks benefits from the fact that, six weeks earlier, the cell had a secure terminal to access the SIPRNET—the military’s classified version of the Internet—installed, along with other hardware, which significantly enhances the movement of vital information. According to Meenan, because the cell has the SIPRNET terminal, “we could immediately look at NORAD and [Defense Department] plans as they evolved; filter, package, and format them, then walk out to the [FAA] national operations manager—who had control of the entire national airspace system—and give him current visibility into… fighter, tanker, and support aircraft activities. It cut down our response time tremendously.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/10/2002]
ATSC Is a Bridge between FAA and Military - The ATSC is a “part-time military outfit, staffed by part-time Air Force Reserve members” who “provide a bridge between the civilian and military worlds when air traffic issues arise,” according to the Air Force Times. For example, “During a crisis, the armed forces suddenly may need to inject a large number of military airplanes into a sky that typically handles only a few hundred.” [Air Force Times, 2000] However, Czabaranek will tell the 9/11 Commission that the ATSC is “not part of [the] FAA/NORAD hijack notification process.” [9/11 Commission, 4/14/2004]
Presence of ATSC Officers a 'Fluke' - According to Aviation Week and Space Technology, the presence of the three ATSC officers at the FAA Command Center this morning is a “fluke,” since the Pentagon staffs the military cell “only three days per month for refresher training, but September 11 happened to be one of those days.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 12/17/2001]
Cell Handles Aircraft after Airspace Shut Down - Later in the day, after the national airspace has been shut down (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001), the ATSC personnel will coordinate actions relating to military and other special flights that are permitted to fly. [9/11 Commission, 2003] They will be responsible for validating the requests they receive for the movement of aircraft, and issuing permissions in response to those requests. [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Air Traffic Services Cell, US Department of the Air Force, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Federal Aviation Administration, Kevin Bridges, Jeff Griffith, Michael-Anne Cherry, Brian Meenan, John Czabaranek

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

United Airlines temporarily loses communication with three of its aircraft. Andrew Studdert, United Airlines’ chief operating officer, will tell the 9/11 Commission that at around 10:00 a.m., the airline loses contact with Flight 399, Flight 415, and Flight 641. Persistent attempts to communicate with these “missing” aircraft are eventually successful. [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004] At 10:45 a.m., the FAA’s Cleveland Center will report that Flight 641 is on the ground at Detroit Metro Airport in Michigan. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001]

Entity Tags: Andrew P. Studdert, United Airlines

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The Secret Service reports that a United Airlines aircraft, Flight 182, is missing. Doug Davis, the special assistant for technical operations in air traffic services at FAA headquarters is talking over the phone with John White, a manager at the FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia. At 10:47 a.m., Davis informs White, “[United Airlines] 182, Secret Service is saying is missing.” Davis asks White to “find out for me” whether this is indeed the case. He adds that the flight is going from “Boston to Seattle.” [9/11 Commission, 11/4/2003] According to some accounts, Flight 182 is reported as missing at a later time. A Secret Service timeline of the morning’s events records the flight as being “unaccounted for” at 10:55 a.m. [Secret Service, 9/11/2001] And according to an FAA chronology, the plane is reported as being “unaccounted for” over an FAA teleconference at 11:40 a.m. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001] Presumably Flight 182 is located at some later time, although further details of this missing aircraft are unstated.

Entity Tags: John White, Federal Aviation Administration, Doug Davis, US Secret Service, United Airlines

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Nine United Airlines aircraft are reported missing. Andrew Studdert, United Airlines’ chief operating officer, will tell the 9/11 Commission that between 10:55 a.m. and 11:15 a.m., United Airlines Flights 57, 103, 634, 1211, 1695, 2101, 2102, 2256, and 2725 are reported as missing. All nine aircraft are eventually located at various airports. [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004] One of them, Flight 57, is later reported as having landed at Garden City Regional Airport in Kansas. [9/11 Commission, 2004]

Entity Tags: Andrew P. Studdert, United Airlines

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The US Coast Guard reports having received distress signals from three aircraft that are over the Atlantic Ocean, but these signals are soon determined to be false alarms, and one of the supposedly distressed aircraft is reported as not even flying on this day. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. S-26, S-29 pdf file]
Three Planes Issued Distress Signals - At 11:18 a.m., it is reported on an FAA teleconference that the Coast Guard in Norfolk, Virginia, has received distress signals from United Airlines Flight 947, Continental Airlines Flight 57, and Air Canada Flight 65. [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. S-26 pdf file]
Command Center Told to Notify Military - Fifteen minutes later, at 11:33 a.m., Jeff Griffith, the deputy director of air traffic at the FAA’s Washington, DC, headquarters, passes on the news about the three planes in a phone call with John White, a manager at the FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia. Griffith confirms that the distress signals received by the Coast Guard were from planes “in the Atlantic,” and instructs White, “Would you please make sure that NORAD is aware [of the three aircraft], and also the Services Cell,” meaning the Air Traffic Services Cell, a small office at the Command Center that is manned by military reservists (see (Between 9:04 a.m. and 9:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001). White replies, “I’ll do it.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001]
Flight Heading to Canada - Around the same time, according to a 2002 FAA report, it is reported on the FAA teleconference that United 947 is now heading toward Gander, in Canada, and is being managed by the Gander Area Control Center, which is the Canadian facility responsible for transatlantic flights. [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. S-28 pdf file; MSNBC, 3/12/2010] However, a transcript of FAA communications on this day indicates that it is in fact the Continental Airlines flight that is heading toward Gander. According to that transcript, beginning around 11:40 a.m., White discusses the three suspicious flights over the phone with Doug Davis, the special assistant for technical operations in air traffic services at FAA headquarters. White says Continental 57 was originally destined for Newark, New Jersey, and air traffic controllers “have a track on the target” for this flight, which indicates that it is now heading to Gander. However, White says, controllers are “still looking” for the other two aircraft reported by the Coast Guard. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001]
Planes Found to Be Safe - At 11:46 a.m., it is reported over the FAA teleconference that “[a]ll three aircraft that the US Coast Guard reported hearing distress calls [from] are accounted for,” and all of them are fine. [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. S-29 pdf file] A couple of minutes later, White updates Davis on what is now known. White says one of the aircraft that was reportedly transmitting a distress signal, Air Canada Flight 65, was never even airborne. He says it “landed last night and was scheduled to depart today, but the flight’s canceled.” He adds that another of the flights, United 947, has “returned to Amsterdam,” in the Netherlands. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001] Finally, at 12:27 p.m., it is reported over the FAA teleconference that Continental 57 has “landed in Gander.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. S-33 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration, US Coast Guard, Gander Area Control Center, Jeff Griffith, John White, Doug Davis

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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