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(10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Suspected Hijacked Aircraft Is Reportedly Heading for NORAD’s Operations Center in Colorado

Michael Gould.Michael Gould. [Source: US Air Force]Officials in NORAD’s operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, are notified that an aircraft out of San Diego, California, may be hijacked and could be targeting Cheyenne Mountain. [BBC, 9/1/2002; Grant, 2004, pp. 26] The FBI warns NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center (CMOC) “that a flight originating in San Diego might be hijacked and headed for a target in Colorado,” according to Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002] According to an official Air Force report on the war on terrorism, the CMOC is told that the flight is “headed to Denver,” and Brigadier General Michael Gould, the commander of the CMOC, then realizes there are “plenty” of targets near Denver, “from the Air Force bases around Colorado Springs to downtown Denver or even Cheyenne Mountain.” [Grant, 2004, pp. 26]
Cheyenne Mountain Is the Plane's Target - According to other accounts, Cheyenne Mountain specifically is believed to be the plane’s intended target. [Washington Post, 7/29/2006] Brigadier General Jim Hunter, the vice commander of the CMOC, will later recall that the operations center receives intelligence that “there might be another airliner airborne from a city in the United States,” which has reportedly “been hijacked near San Diego,” and the plane’s target is “specifically Cheyenne Mountain.”
Threat Reportedly Leads to the Blast Doors Being Shut - The Regina Leader-Post will point out, “Protected by 2,600 feet of granite, the NORAD command center and hundreds of personnel in their green flight suits were actually in the safest place in North America.” Hunter will comment, “They could have driven airliners into that mountain all day.” [BBC, 9/1/2002; Regina Leader-Post, 9/12/2011] But, according to some accounts, the concern about the suspicious plane is what leads to the 25-ton blast doors to the CMOC being closed for the first time ever in a real-world, non-exercise event (see (10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Toronto Star, 12/9/2001; BBC, 9/1/2002; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/9/2011]
Suspicious Flight Is a False Alarm - The suspect aircraft eventually identifies itself and lands uneventfully. But, Gould will recall, NORAD starts “expanding our focus away from just the northeast corridor” of the US and also begins “considering other critical infrastructure, [such as] nuclear power plants.” Gould will add, “We’re just thinking, ‘What kind of damage could an airliner full of fuel do?’” [Grant, 2004, pp. 26] Later on today, CMOC personnel will be informed that a truck, or a number of trucks, carrying Arab-looking men is heading their way, but the apparent threat will turn out to be a false alarm (see (Shortly After 1:05 p.m.) September 11, 2001). “We were receiving all kinds of input from everybody,” Lieutenant Colonel William Glover, the commander of NORAD’s Air Warning Center, will comment. Every rumor is treated as a potential threat. “It didn’t make sense, but those phone calls were happening,” Glover will say. [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; BBC, 9/1/2002]

Entity Tags: Jim Hunter, Michael Gould, William Glover, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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