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Context of '(Shortly After 10:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001: FAA’s Boston Center Declares ‘ATC Zero’'

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The FBI arrives at the FAA’s Boston Center, in Nashua, New Hampshire, “minutes after Flight 11 crashed into the World Trade Center,” and seizes tape recordings of radio transmissions from the hijacked plane. Boston Center handled Flight 11, and recorded intermittent radio transmissions from its cockpit (see (After 8:14 a.m.-8:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Christian Science Monitor, 9/13/2001] According to FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown, the FAA has to turn over all its records from 9/11 to the FBI immediately afterwards. She says it is not unusual for the FAA to turn over its records after a major disaster, but normally this is to the National Transportation Safety Board, not the FBI. [Griffin, 2004, pp. 185]

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration, Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center, Laura Brown, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In a series of stages, air traffic control managers ban aircraft from flying near the cities targeted by the hijackers. All takeoffs and landings in New York City are halted within two minutes of the Flight 175 crash (see 9:05 a.m. September 11, 2001). Mike McCormick, the air traffic control manager at the FAA’s New York Center, makes the decision. The FAA’s Boston Center follows suit in the next few minutes. Around 9:08 a.m.-9:11 a.m., departures nationwide heading to or through the New York and Boston regions’ airspace are canceled. [Associated Press, 8/12/2002; USA Today, 8/12/2002; Associated Press, 8/21/2002; Newsday, 9/10/2002] In addition, “a few minutes” after 9:03 a.m., all takeoffs from Washington Reagan National Airport are stopped. [USA Today, 8/11/2002]

Entity Tags: Mike McCormick, New York Air Route Traffic Control Center, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Bruce Barrett.Bruce Barrett. [Source: H. Darr Beiser / USA Today]The FAA’s New York Center declares “air traffic control zero” (“ATC zero”), which means that all air traffic is prevented from departing from, arriving at, or traveling through the center’s airspace until further notice. [USA Today, 8/12/2002; Freni, 2003, pp. 18; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 24] According to author Lynn Spencer: “ATC zero is designed for situations in which an air traffic facility is completely incapable of handling aircraft due to a massive computer failure, power outage, or even a large enough weather system. The declaration pushes all their aircraft onto neighboring sectors, and any new airplanes from adjacent sectors are turned back, at the sector boundaries if necessary.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 68] The decision to declare ATC zero is made after the second plane hits the World Trade Center, confirming that the US is under terrorist attack. There are currently hundreds of aircraft in the skies around New York and the western Atlantic that the New York Center is responsible for. [Associated Press, 8/12/2002] Bruce Barrett, a senior manager at the New York Center, announces, “We’re declaring ATC zero,” and Mike McCormick, the center’s air traffic control manager, approves the order. Several of the managers there then start informing air traffic controllers of the decision.
Unprecedented Order - USA Today will report that this decision is unprecedented: “Controllers had gone to ‘air traffic control zero’ before, but only when their radar shut down or their radio transmitters went silent. The planes kept flying then, and controllers in other centers guided them. This time, ATC zero means something far more drastic. It means emptying the skies—something that has never been attempted. And not just the skies over Manhattan. Controllers must clear the air from southern New England to Maryland, from Long Island to central Pennsylvania—every mile of the region they control.… Controllers from Cleveland to Corpus Christi must reroute jets headed to the region and put some in holding patterns.”
Accounts Conflict over Whether Center Seeks Permission - According to USA Today, McCormick and Barrett declare ATC zero without first seeking permission from higher-ups, because a “call to Washington could take minutes, and they aren’t sure they have that long.” [USA Today, 8/12/2002] But according to Lynn Spencer, a New York Center supervisor has already requested ATC zero in a call to the FAA’s Herndon Command Center. Ben Sliney, the Command Center’s national operations manager, assured the supervisor, “You take care of matters in your center and we will provide all the assistance necessary by stopping any further aircraft from entering your airspace.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 68]

Entity Tags: Ben Sliney, New York Air Route Traffic Control Center, Lynn Spencer, Bruce Barrett, Mike McCormick

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

At the FAA’s Herndon Command Center, national operations manager Ben Sliney responds to the second plane hitting the World Trade Center and orders a “first-tier ground stop” to prevent aircraft from departing, arriving at, or flying through the airspace of the FAA’s New York Center. Like many others at the Command Center, Sliney has just seen Flight 175 crashing into the South Tower of the WTC live on CNN. A manager at the center then reports to him the news just received over the Command Center’s teleconference, about the sinister radio transmissions that have been deciphered by the Boston Center, stating “We have some planes” (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). According to author Lynn Spencer, “The words take on a sickening significance” to Sliney “after what he has just observed.”
Sliney Orders 'First-Tier Ground Stop' - Sliney orders across the room, “Give me a first-tier ground stop!” According to Spencer, “The order stops all aircraft departing, arriving, or flying through New York Center’s airspace, effectively closing down the nation’s busiest skies.” At 9:06 a.m., an advisory is sent out to every air traffic control facility in the nation, and the skies above New York are now officially closed. Numerous flights that are in the air or preparing to take off are given “holding instructions.” Meanwhile, the large screen at the front of the room in the Command Center displays the footage of Flight 175 hitting the WTC as it is shown repeatedly on CNN. According to Spencer: “[I]t becomes sickeningly obvious to all watching that the plane was a large commercial airliner. And it was no accident.” [AOPA Pilot, 11/2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 80-81] Around this same time, the FAA’s New York Center takes action similar to that of the Command Center, declaring “air traffic control zero,” which prevents all air traffic from departing, arriving at, or traveling through its airspace (see 9:05 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 24] And at around 9:25 a.m., the Command Center will order a “nationwide ground stop,” which prevents any aircraft from taking off in the entire United States (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 33]
Sliney Expands Teleconference - Also in response to the second WTC crash, Sliney decides that he needs to expand the Command Center’s teleconference (see (Between 8:48 a.m. and 9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001) so as to include the secretary of transportation. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 81] It is expanded to include the secretary of transportation’s office, FAA headquarters, and other agencies. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 12/17/2001] It is unclear whether Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta participates himself, as he is told to go to the White House around this time, and subsequently heads there (see (9:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003]
Military Liaison Unable to Help - Sliney also seeks out the military liaison at the Command Center to get more information about what is going on. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 81] Presumably this officer is one of the three members of the Air Traffic Services Cell (ATSC) there (see (Between 9:04 a.m. and 9:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 12/17/2001; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/10/2002] But, according to Spencer, it is “clear that the lieutenant colonel’s job has nothing to do with NORAD or the air defense interceptors. He is military, but his job duties at the Command Center are focused on military airspace usage. He has no place in the military chain of command that is relevant this morning.” Sliney therefore “can only assume that people much higher up than both of them are dealing with the military response. The fighters must be on their way.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 81]

Entity Tags: Ben Sliney, Norman Mineta, Federal Aviation Administration, Air Traffic Services Cell

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Jon Treacy.Jon Treacy. [Source: US Air Force]Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, receives the order from NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) to launch all its available fighter jets.
Commander Briefs Pilots - A number of Otis pilots that were recalled from a training mission about an hour earlier (see (9:25 a.m.-9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and other pilots that have recently come to the base from their homes are gathered in front of the operations desk. Squadron commander Lieutenant Colonel Jon Treacy tells them: “This is what we know. This is clearly a national emergency. Two aircraft have been hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center. The Pentagon has been attacked. We need to get all our jets ready to go because we’re not sure where this is heading. We have information that there are more coming.” He instructs the pilots: “You must be prepared to meet any surprise.… You may be taking out an airliner. You must engage. You cannot fail. Our nation is relying on us.” He gives them their assignments, saying whether they are required to fly now or whether they will be needed later on, to take over when other pilots have landed.
Launch Order Received - Just after Treacy finishes giving his briefing, someone comes into the room yelling out that NEADS has called the base with important orders. The person says, “We have to get everything we have airborne now!” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 244-245] NEADS started contacting Air National Guard bases around the Northeast US by about 10:00 a.m., with the instruction to get their fighters airborne (see (Between 9:50 a.m. and 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Toledo Blade, 12/9/2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 180]
Pilots Head Out, but Most Jets Not Yet Armed - Treacy yells at his men, “Go, go, go!” and then the pilots run out to their aircraft. But, according to author Lynn Spencer, since the time the group of pilots returned from their training mission, “there has not been time to do much more than fuel their jets.” Most of the base’s fighters “are still unarmed. Despite the furious pace of the weapons handlers, only a handful of jets have been uploaded with some armament.” The first two F-15s that take off from Otis Air Base in response to the NEADS order will both be unarmed (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 245-246] Another two F-15s will take off shortly after them with their guns loaded, but one of them will have only one missile loaded instead of two (see (Shortly After 10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Cape Cod Times, 9/11/2006; Richard, 2010, pp. 15-16, 18] Two F-15s that are kept on alert at Otis Air Base took off at 8:46 a.m. in response to the hijacking of Flight 11 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20]

Entity Tags: Northeast Air Defense Sector, Jonathan T. Treacy, Otis Air National Guard Base

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Managers at the FAA’s Boston Center declare “air traffic control zero” (“ATC zero”), which completely shuts down the center’s airspace, after a report is received of a possible airborne threat to their facility. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/20/2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 243] The Boston Center in Nashua, New Hampshire, has received a call from the FAA’s New England regional office, informing it that an unidentified aircraft is heading its way. In response, the center’s managers immediately order the evacuation of the facility (see (Shortly After 10:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). At the same time, they make the declaration of ATC zero. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 243] The declaration of ATC zero means aircraft are not permitted to depart from, arrive at, or travel through the center’s airspace until further notice. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 24] According to author Lynn Spencer, ATC zero means all the aircraft a center is handling are pushed “onto neighboring sectors, and any new airplanes from adjacent sectors are turned back, at the sector boundaries if necessary.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 68] Although the exact time the managers declare ATC zero at is unclear, the Boston Center notifies the FAA’s Herndon Command Center of the declaration at 10:35 a.m. At 11:41 a.m., the ATC zero alert at the Boston Center is canceled. [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002 pdf file] The FAA’s New York Center declared ATC zero at 9:05 a.m. (see 9:05 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 24]

Entity Tags: Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The Moncton Area Control Center.The Moncton Area Control Center. [Source: Nav Canada]Colin Scoggins, the military liaison at the FAA’s Boston Center, contacts NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) and a Canadian air traffic control facility, to let them know that the Boston Center is shutting down its airspace and being evacuated, due to a possible airborne threat.
Scoggins Does Not Immediately Evacuate - The Boston Center in Nashua, New Hampshire, has just received a call from the FAA’s New England regional office, alerting it to an unidentified aircraft heading its way. In response, the center’s managers ordered the evacuation of the facility (see (Shortly After 10:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and declared “ATC zero,” which completely shuts down the center’s airspace (see (Shortly After 10:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). But while others leave the building, Scoggins stays behind to make two phone calls.
Scoggins Calls Canadian Facility and NEADS - His first call is to the Moncton Center, which is the Canadian air traffic control facility that handles flights arriving from over the Atlantic. He tells a supervisor there, “We’re going to ATC zero and evacuating.” Scoggins then calls NEADS with the same information. He says: “I wanted to let you know, Boston Center has declared ATC zero and we are evacuating due to an airborne threat. It’s approaching Martha’s Vineyard and it’s coming our way.” Before hanging up, he gives NEADS the speed and coordinates of the approaching aircraft. Scoggins then heads out of the building. According to the account of author Lynn Spencer, Scoggins’s call prompts NEADS to immediately call Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and order it: “Get everything you’ve got in the air! Now!” (see (10:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
FBI and SWAT Teams Surround Center - By the time Scoggins is outside the Boston Center, FBI and SWAT teams are surrounding the facility. Scoggins will later recall that he sees the “Nashua SWAT team in the parking lot with automatic weapons, [and] the FBI running with the audio tapes with Bob Jones [a quality assurance specialist at the Boston Center] by their side.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/20/2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 243-245] (The FBI reportedly arrived at the Boston Center “minutes after Flight 11 crashed into the World Trade Center,” and seized tape recordings of radio transmissions from the hijacked plane (see Soon after 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Christian Science Monitor, 9/13/2001] )
Scoggins Tracking Other Unidentified Plane - Before the Boston Center received the call from the FAA regional office about the approaching aircraft, Scoggins was tracking another unidentified target on his radar screen: a slow-moving aircraft also flying toward the center from the east (see (10:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Whether he alerts NEADS to that aircraft when he calls it is unclear. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 242-243]

Entity Tags: Moncton Area Control Center, Colin Scoggins, Northeast Air Defense Sector

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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