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Context of '(After 10:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Jet Plane Allegedly Carrying United Airlines Executives Circles Flight 93 Crash Site'

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NASA’s KC-135 in parabolic flight.NASA’s KC-135 in parabolic flight. [Source: NASA]A special aircraft operated by NASA is in the air over western New York State at the time of the terrorist attacks and, at one point, a large aircraft, which those on board later learn is the hijacked Flight 93, flies less than 1,000 feet below it. [Space Center Roundup, 9/2002 pdf file] The plane, NASA 931, is a modified KC-135—a four-engine military aircraft similar to the Boeing 707. [National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 10/2000, pp. 28; National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 10/29/2004] It is used by NASA for reduced gravity research, and is known as the “Weightless Wonder” or sometimes the “Vomit Comet.” The aircraft creates weightless conditions for brief periods by flying up and down in large parabolic arcs. [NASAexplores, 1/30/2003] It is regularly operated from NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, next to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, and usually flies four days a week. [National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 10/2000, pp. 140; National Journal's Technology Daily, 11/27/2002; National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 10/29/2004] A typical flight lasts two to three hours and consists of the plane flying 40 to 60 parabolas. [NASAexplores, 1/30/2003]
Scientists from Houston Conducting Microgravity Experiments - A team of scientists from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, has flown to Cleveland to conduct microgravity experiments on the KC-135. [Cleveland Free Times, 9/6/2006] Dominic Del Rosso, the test director on the plane, will later recall that the team is flying over western New York State when the terrorist attacks occur. During the routine mission, the KC-135 cruises back and forth along the New York shore of Lake Ontario, climbing and descending to create a freefall condition to simulate microgravity. Del Rosso will comment, “To think that this type of maneuver might ever seem threatening never crossed my mind until [September 11].” The plane’s crew members are notified at some point that a large plane is intersecting their flight path less than 1,000 feet below them, instead of the usual 2,000-foot minimum distance. They will later learn that this aircraft is the hijacked Flight 93, which crashes in Pennsylvania (see (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Del Rosso will recall, “After the unwanted flyby, we landed having no idea why or what was going on.” [Space Center Roundup, 9/2002 pdf file] The scientists are unable to return to Houston on this day, as scheduled, after the FAA orders all planes to land (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and so have to be put up in a hotel in Cleveland. [Cleveland Free Times, 9/6/2006]

Entity Tags: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Dominic Del Rosso

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Doug Lute.Doug Lute. [Source: Joint Chiefs of Staff]General Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, learns of the terrorist attacks in New York and at the Pentagon while flying to Europe, but his plane is then initially denied permission to return to the US. Shelton’s plane took off from Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, DC, at 7:15 a.m. to transport the chairman to Hungary for a NATO conference (see 7:15 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. G-1 pdf file; Giesemann, 2008, pp. 20, 22-23; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 430-432]
Shelton Learns of First Crash - About an hour and a half into the flight, while the plane is over the Atlantic Ocean, a member of the flight crew approaches Colonel Doug Lute, Shelton’s executive assistant, and tells him a small aircraft has crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. Lute says, “That doesn’t sound good.” He goes to the chairman’s cabin at the rear of the aircraft and tells Shelton, “Sir, just to advise you, the pilot has received word that a civilian aircraft has just struck the World Trade Center.” Shelton is reminded of a speech he recently gave, in which he warned of the possibility of a terrorist attack on US soil (see (Shortly Before September 11, 2001)), and says to his wife, Carolyn, who is with him in the cabin, “I sure hope that is not a terrorist attack.” He will later recall, “This had the potential to play out exactly as I had warned.”
Shelton Learns of Second Crash - About 10 minutes after Lute returns to his seat, the member of the flight crew comes out again and reports that a second plane has crashed into the WTC. Lieutenant Commander Suzanne Giesemann, one of Shelton’s aides, says to Lute, “That can’t be an accident.” Lute goes again to Shelton’s cabin and tells the chairman, “Sir, it’s a second plane and it’s hit the other tower of the World Trade Center.” Shelton exclaims: “Doug, that’s no coincidence. Have them turn us around, we’re going back. Then I want General Myers on the line.” (General Richard Myers is the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.) After Lute returns to his seat, he and Giesemann put on headsets and make calls to the Pentagon. Giesemann talks to Kris Cicio, Shelton’s personal assistant, who tells her that the WTC towers were hit not by small planes, but by jetliners full of innocent passengers. Giesemann then loses her connection with Cicio, and so listens instead to BBC news reports through her headset and passes on what she learns to the other members of Shelton’s staff on the flight. Lute talks with someone in the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon. After the call, he heads to Shelton’s cabin. [Giesemann, 2008, pp. 22-23; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 431]
Controllers Deny Request to Enter US Airspace - Having learned of the attack on the Pentagon (which takes place at 9:37 a.m.), Lute tells Shelton that there has been “some type of big explosion at the Pentagon.” He also tells the chairman that air traffic controllers have refused their request to fly into Washington. Lute says: “[W]e’ve been denied permission to return. All US airspace has been shut down” (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). But Shelton retorts: “Doug, tell the pilot we’ll ask for forgiveness instead of permission, so have him turn us around. We’re going home.” Shelton will later recall, “I knew there was no way they were going to shoot down a 707 with UNITED STATES AIR FORCE emblazoned along the side.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. G-1 pdf file; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 432]
Shelton's Plane Cleared to Fly into Washington - After Lute returns from Shelton’s cabin, he nods to Giesemann and says, “We’re going back.” Giesemann then heads into the cockpit and orders the pilot, “Major, take us back to Andrews.” The pilot replies, “Yes, ma’am.” [Giesemann, 2008, pp. 23] According to an FAA report, “minutes” after the initial denial of permission to return to the US, Shelton’s plane is granted clearance. [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. G-1 pdf file] The pilot turns the plane around and heads back toward Washington. [Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 432] However, the time when the plane lands at Andrews Air Force Base is unstated. Shelton will only arrive at the NMCC very late in the afternoon (see 5:40 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Myers, 2009, pp. 159]

Entity Tags: Douglas E. Lute, Henry Hugh Shelton, Kris Cicio, Suzanne Giesemann, Carolyn Shelton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A KC-135 tanker plane from Bangor, Maine, is flying south for a training mission at the time the terrorist attacks begin. The aircraft, which has the call sign “Maine 92,” is one of the eight KC-135s that are attached to the 101st Air Refueling Wing, based at Bangor International Airport. It is “heading south and was off the coast of North Carolina on the morning of 9/11,” the Bangor Daily News will later report. Details of the training mission it is involved with are unknown. The KC-135 will have already turned toward home and be heading north back to Bangor when the FAA “began shutting down all of the country’s airports and ordering planes to land,” according to the Bangor Daily News. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; Portland Press Herald, 9/13/2001; Bangor Daily News, 9/9/2011] (This is presumably a reference to the FAA’s 9:45 a.m. order that all airborne aircraft must land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure, 9/21/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 29] ) The KC-135’s crew members will contact NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) and offer their assistance. The aircraft, which is carrying about 22,000 gallons of fuel, will then be sent to New Jersey to refuel a KC-10 tanker plane that is providing fuel to fighter jets patrolling the Eastern Seaboard. Another of the 101st Air Refueling Wing’s KC-135s, with the call sign “Maine 85,” is also airborne at the time of the terrorist attacks, on its way to a training mission off the coast of Long Island, New York (see 9:04 a.m.-9:06 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Bangor Daily News, 9/9/2011]

Entity Tags: 101st Air Refueling Wing

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

American Airlines orders all of its airborne flights to land at the nearest airport. [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 31 pdf file] Managers at the American Airlines System Operations Control (SOC) center in Fort Worth, Texas have learned of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center. Initially, they mistakenly believed this second plane was American Airlines Flight 77 (see 9:08 a.m. September 11, 2001). Gerard Arpey, the airline’s executive vice president for operations, conferred with other operational managers, and they all agreed that the airline needed to land its aircraft immediately. American Airlines’ president Don Carty then arrives at the SOC and also agrees, telling Arpey, “Do it.” So, at about 9:15, the airline orders all its planes to land at the nearest suitable airport. [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001; 9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004] This is the first time an airline has ever ordered all its planes to land. [USA Today, 8/13/2002] The FAA will give out a similar order to all its facilities about 30 minutes later (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 29] Around that time, United Airlines will also order its aircraft to land (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004] American Airlines ordered a ground stop earlier on that prevented any new takeoffs of its aircraft (see Between 9:00 a.m. and 9:10 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 30-31 pdf file] Most of its domestic flights will have landed by about 11:50 a.m., though it will take longer to ground its international and trans-Pacific flights. [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004]

Entity Tags: Gerard Arpey, American Airlines, Don Carty

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Managers from American Airlines and United Airlines are added by the FAA to a teleconference, but they receive no guidance from top government officials on what to do. According to author Lynn Spencer, at some point after the second aircraft hit the World Trade Center, the executives from the two airlines are “quickly on the phone to FAA headquarters and the FAA Command Center.” They are brought into “a conference call that has now been set up with Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta and Vice President Dick Cheney at the White House. The airline executives inform the secretary that they are each dealing with additional aircraft that they are unable to contact. They seek guidance, but there is none.… The nation is under attack, but there is no plan in place, and no guidance is forthcoming from the top as the crisis escalates.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 109] The time when the airline executives join the teleconference is unclear. In Spencer’s account, she places it after United Airlines dispatchers have warned their aircraft to secure their cockpits (see (Shortly After 9:21 a.m.) September 11, 2001), which would mean some time after 9:21. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 37 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 109] But Spencer also says that, when the executives join the conference, the “president is still reading to children in a Florida school room” (see (9:06 a.m.-9:16 a.m.) September 11, 2001), which would be roughly between 9:05 and 9:15. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 38-39; Spencer, 2008, pp. 109] If Norman Mineta is already participating in the teleconference when the airline executives join it, the time would have to be after around 9:20, which is when Mineta later says he arrived at the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House (see (Between 9:20 a.m. and 9:27 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003] And Cheney, who Spencer also says is participating in the teleconference when the executives join it, arrives at the PEOC as late as 9:58, according to the 9/11 Commission, although other accounts indicate he arrives there much earlier than this (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [ABC News, 9/14/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 40] According to the Wall Street Journal, American Airlines president Don Carty and United Airlines CEO Jim Goodwin are talking on the phone with Mineta (presumably over the conference call) about five minutes before the FAA shuts down all US airspace (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001), which would mean they are participating in the teleconference by around 9:40 a.m. [US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure, 9/21/2001; Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001]

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration, Don Carty, United Airlines, Norman Mineta, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, American Airlines, Jim Goodwin

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline


FAA Administrator Jane Garvey.
FAA Administrator Jane Garvey. [Source: FAA]Time magazine later reports that Jane Garvey, head of the FAA, “almost certainly after getting an okay from the White House, initiate[s] a national ground stop, which forbids takeoffs and requires planes in the air to get down as soon as is reasonable. The order, which has never been implemented since flying was invented in 1903, applie[s] to virtually every single kind of machine that can takeoff—civilian, military, or law enforcement.” Military and law enforcement flights are allowed to resume at 10:31 a.m. (see 10:31 a.m. September 11, 2001) A limited number of military flights—the FAA will not reveal details—are allowed to fly during this ban. [Time, 9/14/2001] Garvey later calls it “a national ground stop… that prevented any aircraft from taking off.” [US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure, 9/21/2001] Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta later says he was the one to give the order: “As soon as I was aware of the nature and scale of the attack, I called from the White House to order the air traffic system to land all aircraft, immediately and without exception.” [US Congress. Senate. Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, 9/20/2001] According to Mineta, “At approximately 9:45… I gave the FAA the final order for all civil aircraft to land at the nearest airport as soon as possible.” [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003] At the time, 4,452 planes are flying in the continental US. A later account states that Ben Sliney, the FAA’s National Operations Manager, makes the decision without consulting his superiors, like Jane Garvey, first. It would be remarkable if Sliney was the one to make the decision, because 9/11 is Sliney’s first day on the job as National Operations Manager, “the chess master of the air traffic system.” [USA Today, 8/13/2002] When he accepted the job a couple of months earlier, he had asked, “What is the limit of my authority?” The man who had promoted him replied, “Unlimited.” [USA Today, 8/13/2002] Yet another account, by Linda Schuessler, manager of tactical operations at the FAA Command Center where Sliney was located, says, “… it was done collaboratively… All these decisions were corporate decisions. It wasn’t one person who said, ‘Yes, this has got to get done.’” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 12/17/2001] About 500 planes land in the next 20 minutes, and then much more urgent orders to land are issued at 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Time, 9/14/2001; US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure, 9/21/2001; Newsday, 9/23/2001; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; USA Today, 8/13/2002; USA Today, 8/13/2002; Associated Press, 8/21/2002; Newsday, 9/10/2002]

Entity Tags: Jane Garvey, Ben Sliney, Norman Mineta, Federal Aviation Administration, Linda Schuessler

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A typical C-130.A typical C-130. [Source: US Air Force Reserve Command]Washington’s Reagan National Airport air traffic control instructs a military C-130 cargo plane that has just departed Andrews Air Force Base to intercept Flight 77 and identify it. [New York Times, 10/16/2001; Guardian, 10/17/2001] Remarkably, this C-130 is the same C-130 that will be 17 miles from Flight 93 when it later crashes into the Pennsylvania countryside (see 10:08 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Pittsburgh Channel, 9/15/2001; Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 9/11/2002] The pilot, Lt. Col. Steve O’Brien, will claim that he took off around 9:30 a.m., planning to return to Minnesota after dropping supplies off in the Caribbean. He will describe his close encounter: “When air traffic control asked me if we had him [Flight 77] in sight, I told him that was an understatement—by then, he had pretty much filled our windscreen. Then he made a pretty aggressive turn so he was moving right in front of us, a mile and a half, two miles away. I said we had him in sight, then the controller asked me what kind of plane it was. That caught us up, because normally they have all that information. The controller didn’t seem to know anything.” O’Brien reports that the plane is either a 757 or 767 and its silver fuselage means it is probably an American Airlines plane. “They told us to turn and follow that aircraft—in 20 plus years of flying, I’ve never been asked to do something like that.” [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 9/11/2002] O’Brien and his crew, Maj. Robert Schumacher and flight engineer Master Sgt. Jeffrey Rosenthal, are unaware of the attacks in New York. Schumacher will say that, after being directed to follow Flight 77, he first thought that the plane was having technical difficulties, “that the pilots were really just trying to fly the airplane, and get it on the ground safely.” After the impact, O’Brien tunes in to a news broadcast, but is surprised to hear about a second crash in New York, not at the Pentagon. He will recall: “The first thing we heard on there was ‘We’re now hearing about a second airplane hitting the World Trade Center.’ That was not what we were expecting to hear. We were expecting to hear about an airplane impacting the Pentagon… and the light goes on, and it’s like, ‘Oh my God, the nation’s under attack!’” [Minnesota Public Radio, 5/31/2004] The 9/11 Commission will report that O’Brien specifically identifies the hijacked plane as a Boeing 757. Seconds after impact, he reports to the Washington tower, “Looks like that aircraft crashed into the Pentagon, sir.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]

Entity Tags: Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Robert Schumacher, Pentagon, Steve O’Brien, Jeffrey Rosenthal

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

FAA National Operations Manager Ben Sliney.FAA National Operations Manager Ben Sliney. [Source: Publicity photo]Ben Sliney, FAA’s National Operations Manager, orders the entire nationwide air traffic system shut down. All flights at US airports are stopped. Around 3,950 flights are still in the air. Sliney makes the decision without consulting FAA head Jane Garvey, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, or other bosses, but they quickly approve his actions. It’s Sliney’s first day on the job. [CNN, 9/12/2001; New York Times, 9/12/2001; Washington Post, 9/12/2001; MSNBC, 9/22/2001; Associated Press, 8/12/2002; USA Today, 8/13/2002; USA Today, 8/13/2002; USA Today, 8/13/2002; Associated Press, 8/21/2002; Newsday, 9/10/2002] Seventy-five percent of the planes land within one hour of the order. [USA Today, 8/12/2002] The 9/11 Commission will later remark that this “was an unprecedented order” that the “air traffic control system handled… with great skill.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 29] The Washington Post has reported that Mineta told Monte Belger at the FAA: “Monte, bring all the planes down,” even adding, “[Expletive] pilot discretion.” [Washington Post, 1/27/2002] However, it is later reported by a different Post reporter that Mineta did not even know of the order until 15 minutes later. This reporter “says FAA officials had begged him to maintain the fiction.” [Slate, 4/2/2002]

Entity Tags: Ben Sliney, Federal Aviation Administration, Jane Garvey, Monte Belger, Norman Mineta

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

FAA radar displays begin showing that a growing number of international flights approaching America are transmitting warning codes from their transponders. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 196-197]
Airspace Shut Down - At around 9:45 a.m., the FAA shut down US airspace and ordered all aircraft to land (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Shortly afterwards, Canada took similar action. However, international flights that are over the oceans and approaching America are getting low on fuel. As their crews establish radio contact with air traffic controllers, they are told that American airspace is closed. Many of the worried pilots dial emergency codes into their transponders. [US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure, 9/21/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 29; Spencer, 2008, pp. 196]
Radar Screens Highlight Numerous Flights - A plane’s transponder is a device that sends that aircraft’s identifying information, speed, and altitude to radar screens. [Washington Post, 9/16/2001] There are three specific codes that pilots can dial into their transponder to signal an emergency: “7500” signifies a hijacking, “7600” signifies a loss of radio, and “7700” signifies other emergencies. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 25-26] Amid the current crisis, FAA radar screens begin highlighting a growing number of flights over the oceans that are transmitting warning codes. According to author Lynn Spencer, “One foreign crew dials in the four-digit code for ‘hijack,’ just to let the authorities know they are aware of what is taking place.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 196-197] In response to a request from the FAA, Canada will agree to open its airspace to all international flights that are diverted away from the United States, allowing those flights to land at Canadian airports (see 10:21 a.m. September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/12/2001; Time, 9/14/2001; NAV Canada, 7/22/2005]

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A US Park Police helicopter flying above the burning Pentagon.A US Park Police helicopter flying above the burning Pentagon. [Source: Mark D. Faram / US Navy]A US Park Police helicopter that recently arrived over the Pentagon is contacted by an air traffic controller at Washington’s Reagan National Airport and given responsibility for controlling the airspace over Washington, DC, since the control tower at Reagan Airport is being evacuated. [US Naval Historical Center, 11/20/2001; US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A-48; McDonnell, 2004, pp. 21 pdf file] The Park Police Aviation Unit’s two helicopters arrived at the Pentagon within minutes of the attack there (see Shortly After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Rotor and Wing, 11/2001] While one of the helicopters landed to conduct medical evacuations, the other, which has the call sign “Eagle I,” circled overhead. [US Naval Historical Center, 11/20/2001; McDonnell, 2004, pp. 20-21 pdf file]
Airport Tower Being Evacuated - Eagle I has made three or four orbits around the Pentagon when a controller in the Reagan Airport tower radios its pilot, Sergeant Ronald Galey. The controller says the tower is currently evacuating. [US Naval Historical Center, 11/20/2001; National Park Service, 1/17/2002] According to some accounts, the tower is being evacuated due to reports of more hijacked aircraft heading in its direction (see (9:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [NBC 4, 9/11/2003; Spencer, 2008, pp. 215-216] But according to other accounts, the controller tells Galey the tower is evacuating because it is being affected by smoke that is drifting across from the burning Pentagon. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A-48; McDonnell, 2004, pp. 21 pdf file; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 162] Galey will recall the controller saying: “Eagle I, we can’t see anything outside the tower. [The smoke is] getting in our ventilation system. We’re abandoning the tower.” Therefore, the controller gives Galey control of the airspace for the entire Washington area, telling him, “You’ve got the airspace.” [US Naval Historical Center, 11/20/2001; McDonnell, 2004, pp. 21 pdf file]
Pilot Alarmed at Being Given Control of Airspace - The control tower at Reagan Airport is “normally the ‘nerve center’ for directing any response to this type of incident,” according to a National Park Service news article. [National Park Service, 9/21/2002] Galey is initially alarmed. He will recall thinking, “Exactly what I need right now is I’ve got control of the airspace.” [US Naval Historical Center, 11/20/2001] However, he is unaware that the FAA has ordered that all airborne aircraft must land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001), which will make his task easier. [US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure, 9/21/2001; McDonnell, 2004, pp. 21 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 29]
NORAD Advises Pilot on Controlling Airspace - The controller gives Galey the radio frequency for NORAD, and tells him to contact NORAD. [National Park Service, 1/17/2002; McDonnell, 2004, pp. 21-22 pdf file] The person Galey then talks to at NORAD informs him: “Look, you have no [air] traffic in DC, except for the traffic that you’re calling. The aircraft that you’re calling in, we’re going to allow to come in. Other than that, there should be no one besides the military, and we’ll call you out the military traffic.” Galey will later reflect: “So that helped tremendously. That function alone was not very taxing.” [US Naval Historical Center, 11/20/2001] The person at NORAD also tells Galey there is “an unauthorized aircraft inbound from the Pennsylvania area, with the estimated time of arrival approximately 20 minutes into DC.” Galey will recall that he and the rest of his crew discuss what they should do, and decide that “we’d take our chances and stay there [at the Pentagon], and do what we came there to do.” [National Park Service, 1/17/2002]
Airspace Control Passed on to Metropolitan Police Helicopter - Eagle I becomes “the air traffic control function for the area, flying a slow racetrack pattern over the site and clearing aircraft in and out,” according to Lieutenant Philip Cholak, the Park Police Aviation Unit commander. [Aviation International News, 10/1/2001] But after a time Galey asks his paramedic to request that a Metropolitan Police helicopter be launched to take over the command and control of the Washington airspace. He tells the paramedic: “You know we’re going to have to do a medevac mission here. We’re going to have to relinquish the command/control function to somebody else.” A Metropolitan Police helicopter subsequently arrives and relieves Eagle I of its command and control function. [US Naval Historical Center, 11/20/2001; McDonnell, 2004, pp. 22 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia, United States Park Police, Philip W. Cholak, Ronald A. Galey, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, North American Aerospace Defense Command

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The pilots that took off from Langley Air Force Base (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001) hear a warning over radio that errant aircraft will be shot down, and receive an instruction from the Secret Service to protect the White House. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 222-223]
Pilots Learn of FAA Order - The three Langley fighter jets have now reached the Baltimore-Washington area. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 222] The pilots hear over their radios that the FAA has ordered all civilian aircraft to land. [New York Times, 10/16/2001] (The FAA issued this instruction at around 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure, 9/21/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 29] )
Borgstrom Hears Shootdown Warning - The three pilots are all on different radio frequencies, but are able to communicate between themselves on their auxiliary frequency. According to author Lynn Spencer, one of them, Captain Craig Borgstrom, hears a message over the emergency radio frequency that is in response to the FAA’s recent order: “Attention all aircraft! Attention all aircraft! You are ordered to land at the nearest suitable airport. All aircraft must land immediately. Violators will be shot down.” The source of this message is unstated. [Filson, 2003, pp. 66; Spencer, 2008, pp. 222-223] (Author Leslie Filson will describe the Langley pilots hearing what is apparently a separate but similar message later on, some time after 10:42 a.m. (see 10:05 a.m.-11:05 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 82] )
Instructed to Protect the White House - Around the time Borgstrom hears this, Major Dean Eckmann, the lead Langley pilot, is on the radio with the FAA’s Washington Center. A Secret Service agent has arrived there and wants to talk to him. [Filson, 2003, pp. 68; Spencer, 2008, pp. 222-223] Eckmann then receives a garbled message over his radio, which is difficult to make out. [New York Times, 11/15/2001] The message is, “Protect the house.” Eckmann will later recall, “I took it to mean protect the White House.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 68] He notifies the two other pilots—Borgstrom and Major Brad Derrig—of this message. He tells them, “I think I just talked to the Secret Service, but I’m not sure.” [New York Times, 11/15/2001]
Possible Shootdown Order? - According to Spencer, this message means that “Unknown to NEADS” (NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector), Eckmann has been “given shootdown authority directly from the Secret Service, bypassing the military chain of command.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 223] But Borgstrom and Derrig will later say they “never received explicit orders to fire on incoming planes perceived to be hostile.” [New York Times, 11/15/2001] Borgstrom radios NEADS weapons director Steve Citino and asks for specific instructions about what to do (see 10:07 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 223] According to the 9/11 Commission, NEADS will only learn that NORAD has been given clearance to shoot down threatening aircraft at 10:31 a.m., and even then it does not pass this order along to the fighter pilots under its command (see 10:31 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 42-43]

Entity Tags: Brad Derrig, Washington Air Route Traffic Control Center, Craig Borgstrom, Dean Eckmann, US Secret Service

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Several local people believe they hear a missile overhead just before Flight 93 goes down. Barry Lichty, a US Navy veteran and mayor of Indian Lake Borough (just to the east of where Flight 93 crashes), is watching television with his wife. He says he hears “a loud roar above the house that sounded like a missile.… Shortly thereafter, we heard an explosion and a tremor. My first reaction, as a former utility employee, was that maybe someone shot a missile into the substation.” He says Flight 93 “did not come over my house. I don’t know what we heard.” [Kashurba, 2002, pp. 158-159] Joe Wilt, who lives a quarter-mile from the crash site, hears a “whistling like a missile, then a loud boom.” He says, “The first thing I thought it was, was a missile.” [Boston Globe, 9/12/2001; Washington Post, 9/12/2001] And Ernie Stuhl, the mayor of Shanksville, later says, “I know of two people - I will not mention names - that heard a missile. They both live very close, within a couple of hundred yards.… This one fellow’s served in Vietnam and he says he’s heard them, and he heard one that day.” [Philadelphia Daily News, 11/18/2001] Officials will emphatically deny that Flight 93 was shot down, as some people later suggest (see September 14, 2001). [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 9/14/2001; Longman, 2002, pp. 264] However, a number of witnesses report seeing a small, white jet plane near the crash site, around the time Flight 93 reportedly goes down (see (Before and After 10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Barry Lichty, Joe Wilt

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Looking straight down onto the Flight 93 crash site. North is to the top. Note the impact point north of the road, and the burned trees to the south of it.Looking straight down onto the Flight 93 crash site. North is to the top. Note the impact point north of the road, and the burned trees to the south of it. [Source: FBI]A second plane, described “as a small, white jet with rear engines and no discernible markings,” is seen by at least ten witnesses flying low and in erratic patterns, not much above treetop level, over the crash site within minutes of United Flight 93 crashing. [Independent, 8/13/2002]
bullet Lee Purbaugh: “I didn’t get a good look but it was white and it circled the area about twice and then it flew off over the horizon.” [Mirror, 9/12/2002]
bullet Susan Mcelwain: Less than a minute before the Flight 93 crash rocked the countryside, she sees a small white jet with rear engines and no discernible markings swoop low over her minivan near an intersection and disappear over a hilltop, nearly clipping the tops of trees lining the ridge. [Bergen Record, 9/14/2001] She later adds, “There’s no way I imagined this plane—it was so low it was virtually on top of me. It was white with no markings but it was definitely military, it just had that look. It had two rear engines, a big fin on the back like a spoiler on the back of a car and with two upright fins at the side. I haven’t found one like it on the Internet. It definitely wasn’t one of those executive jets. The FBI came and talked to me and said there was no plane around.… But I saw it and it was there before the crash and it was 40 feet above my head. They did not want my story—nobody here did.” [Mirror, 9/12/2002]
bullet John Fleegle and two work colleagues arrive at the crash site “before any fireman or paramedics or anybody.” According to Fleegle, “When we got there, there was a plane flying up above and he was smart, he flew straight for the sun so you couldn’t look at it and see exactly what type of plane, if it was a fighter or what it was.” However, Fleegle claims the plane “was decent sized. It wasn’t just a little private jet or something like that, from what we could see.” [Lappe and Marshall, 2004, pp. 35-36]
bullet Dennis Decker and/or Rick Chaney, say: “As soon as we looked up [after hearing the Flight 93 crash], we saw a midsized jet flying low and fast. It appeared to make a loop or part of a circle, and then it turned fast and headed out.” Decker and Chaney described the plane as a Learjet type, with engines mounted near the tail and painted white with no identifying markings. “It was a jet plane, and it had to be flying real close when that 757 went down. If I was the FBI, I’d find out who was driving that plane.” [Bergen Record, 9/14/2001]
bullet Kathy Blades, who is staying about quarter of a mile from the impact site, runs outside after the crash and sees a jet, “with sleek back wings and an angled cockpit,” race overhead. [Philadelphia Daily News, 11/18/2001]
bullet Anna Ruth Fisher says, “After the crash, another jet went near over to look.” Her mother, Anna B. Fisher, adds, “We were looking at the smoke cloud when we saw the jets circling up there.” [Kashurba, 2002, pp. 27]
bullet Jim Brandt sees a small plane with no markings stay about one or two minutes over the crash site before leaving. [Pittsburgh Channel, 9/12/2001]
bullet Bob Page sees a large plane circling the crash site for about two or three minutes, before climbing almost vertically into the sky. He cannot see what kind of plane it is or if there are any markings on it, but says, “It sure wasn’t no puddle jumper.” [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 9/12/2001]
bullet Tom Spinelli: “I saw the white plane. It was flying around all over the place like it was looking for something. I saw it before and after the crash.” [Mirror, 9/12/2002]
The FBI later claims this was a Fairchild Falcon 20 business jet, directed after the crash to fly from 37,000 feet to 5,000 feet and obtain the coordinates for the crash site to help rescuers (see 10:07 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Pittsburgh Channel, 9/15/2001; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/16/2001] The FBI also says there was a C-130 military cargo aircraft flying at 24,000 feet about 17 miles away (see 10:08 a.m. September 11, 2001), but that plane wasn’t armed and had no role in the crash. [Pittsburgh Channel, 9/15/2001; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/16/2001] Note that this is the same C-130 that flies very close to Flight 77 right as that planes crashes into the Pentagon (see 9.36 a.m. September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Anna B Fisher, Dennis Decker, Anna Ruth Fisher, Bob Page, Susan Mcelwain, Kathy Blades, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Fleegle, Tom Spinelli, Lee Purbaugh, Jim Brandt, Rick Chaney

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Falcon 20 business jet.Falcon 20 business jet. [Source: Portuguese Air Force]According to some accounts, following a request from the FAA’s Cleveland Center, a Fairchild Falcon 20 business jet reports seeing puffs of smoke in the area of Flight 93’s last known position. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/16/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file] The FBI later says the business jet was within 20 miles of Flight 93 when it crashed, at an altitude of 37,000 feet, and on its way to Johnstown. It was asked to descend to 5,000 feet to help locate the crash site for the benefit of the responding emergency crews. [Pittsburgh Channel, 9/15/2001] Stacey Taylor appears to be the Cleveland Center controller who made the request. She later recalls: “I had another airplane [other than Flight 93] that I was working. And I told him, I said, ‘Sir,’ I said, ‘I think we have an aircraft down.’ I said, ‘This is entirely up to you, but if you’d be willing to fly over the last place that we spotted this airplane—and see if you can see anything.‘… So he flew over and at first he didn’t see anything and then he said, ‘We see a great big plume or a cloud of smoke.’” [MSNBC, 9/9/2006] The business jet belongs to VF Corp, a Greensboro, North Carolina clothing firm. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/16/2001] According to David Newell, VF Corp’s director of aviation and travel, Cleveland Center contacted the plane’s copilot Yates Gladwell when it was at an altitude “in the neighborhood of 3,000 to 4,000 ft,” rather than 37,000 feet, as claimed by the FBI. He will add: “They got down within 1,500 ft. of the ground when they circled. They saw a hole in the ground with smoke coming out of it. They pinpointed the location and then continued on.” [Popular Mechanics, 3/2005] This incident occurs around 40 minutes after the FAA initiated a nationwide ground stop, which required planes in the air to land as soon as reasonable (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Time, 9/14/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 25] The FBI will claim the VF Corp business jet is probably the plane some witnesses on the ground see up above, shortly after the crash of Flight 93 (see (Before and After 10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Pittsburgh Channel, 9/15/2001] However, at least two witnesses say they saw a plane overhead even before the time of the Flight 93 crash, and one of them describes it as “definitely military,” rather than a business jet. Also, some will describe it as flying much lower than the Falcon 20 was—just “40 feet above my head,” according to one witness. [Bergen Record, 9/14/2001; Mirror, 9/12/2002]

Entity Tags: Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Stacey Taylor, Yates Gladwell

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Lt. Col. Steve O’Brien standing in front of a C-130.Lt. Col. Steve O’Brien standing in front of a C-130. [Source: CBC]Cleveland Center air traffic controller Stacey Taylor has asked a nearby C-130 pilot to look at Flight 93’s last position and see if he can find anything. Remarkably, this C-130 pilot, Lt. Col. Steve O’Brien, is the same pilot who was asked by air traffic control to observe Flight 77 as it crashed into the Pentagon earlier on (see 9.36 a.m. September 11, 2001). O’Brien tells Taylor that he saw smoke from the crash shortly after the hijacked plane went down. [Guardian, 10/17/2001; MSNBC, 9/11/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] An article in the London Independent will later suggest that Flight 93 might have been brought down by the US military using “electronic warfare applications” that can disrupt the mechanisms of an airplane (See August 13, 2002); it will refer to this C-130, since “in 1995 the Air Force installed ‘electronic suites’ in at least 28 of its C-130s—capable, among other things, of emitting lethal jamming signals.” [Independent, 8/13/2002]

Entity Tags: Stacey Taylor, Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center, Steve O’Brien

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Air traffic controllers at the FAA’s Cleveland Center.Air traffic controllers at the FAA’s Cleveland Center. [Source: Paul M. Walsh]Most members of staff at the FAA’s Cleveland Center are evacuated from the facility, due to a report of a small aircraft flying erratically above the center. [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. S-19 pdf file; Newsnet5, 8/12/2002; Associated Press, 8/15/2002] The Cleveland Center, in Oberlin, Ohio, had the last contact with Flight 93 before it crashed. [Associated Press, 6/15/2002] The center’s air traffic controllers have been working on clearing the skies over the US after FAA facilities were ordered to instruct all aircraft to land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Newsnet5, 8/12/2002; Lake County News-Herald, 9/10/2011]
Operations Manager Orders Evacuation - The police in Oberlin now contact the Cleveland Center and warn it about a small plane that is still airborne and circling above the facility. As a result, the decision is made to evacuate the center. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001, pp. 9 pdf file; Associated Press, 8/15/2002; Cleveland Plain Dealer, 7/3/2011] The order to evacuate is apparently given by Leo Wolbers, the center’s operations manager. Wolbers will later recall, “[W]e made the decision to evacuate all non-essential personnel and get as many controllers out as possible.” He will say that he gathers together the supervisors at the center “to make sure they all knew to tell their controllers to get the planes down as quickly and safely as possible, and then leave the center.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/19/2001, pp. 6-7 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003 pdf file] Non-essential personnel are sent home, while essential personnel who leave the building go to the parking lot. By 10:30 a.m., the facility will be running on a skeleton crew of eight controllers and eight supervisors.
Center Considered a Possible Terrorist Target - The Cleveland Center is evacuated “because someone feared the facility could be targeted for a terrorist attack,” according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/12/2001, pp. 70 pdf file; Cleveland Plain Dealer, 7/3/2011] But Bill Keaton, a controller at the center, thinks to himself that “the evacuation [is] a little silly.” He will comment: “Though Cleveland Center might be a great strategic target, it was an awful terrorist target. Most people have no idea what goes on at a [air traffic control] center, and the terrorists were striking symbolic targets… the World Trade Center, the Pentagon.” [Lorain Morning Journal, 9/11/2011]
Center Is Searched - Around the time it is being evacuated, the Cleveland Center is receiving a number of bomb threats (see 10:07 a.m.-10:21 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. S-17, S-19 pdf file] Possibly in response to these, the building is searched, apparently during the period when many of its employees are outside in the parking lot. Wolbers will recall, “After we got all of our aircraft on the ground, we went to one person in each area until the building was searched and found to be secure.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/19/2001, pp. 6-7 pdf file] Around two hours after the evacuation, employees who left the building but have not gone home will go back inside and return to their posts. By then, though, the airspace will be empty, apart from some military aircraft, and so the controllers will have little to do. [Cleveland Plain Dealer, 7/3/2011]
Identity of Plane Unknown - The suspicious aircraft that prompted the evacuation is not identified. Rick Kettell, the manager of the Cleveland Center, will recall that it “flew off to the north and we lost radar on it.” Eleven months after 9/11, the FAA will reportedly still be investigating what the plane was and what it was doing. [Newsnet5, 8/12/2002]

Entity Tags: Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center, Bill Keaton, Rick Kettell, Leo E. Wolbers

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Patrick Madigan, the commander of the Somerset Barracks of the Pennsylvania State Police, arrives at the Flight 93 crash scene around 10:20 a.m. [Department of the Army and the Air Force National Guard Bureau, 2002 pdf file] He says that at some point later in the day (he does not specify a time), a “strange incident” occurs: “We were there at the site and an airplane started circling. It was a jetliner circling the crash site very low. No one knew what to expect because we knew that all of the planes were supposedly grounded.” (The FAA had, at about 9:45 a.m., ordered that all aircraft be instructed to land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001).) After a few minutes of uncertainty, it is announced that the plane is carrying United Airlines executives, who are circling the site to view it before they land in nearby Johnstown. [Kashurba, 2002, pp. 63] Another low-flying jet plane was witnessed over the site earlier on, around the time Flight 93 went down (see (Before and After 10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Patrick Madigan, United Airlines

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

James K. Will.James K. Will. [Source: WTAE-TV]After hearing a plane has crashed in his area, a farmer flies over the Flight 93 crash site to take photos of the wreckage. James K. Will, who is an aerial photographer as well as a farmer, had just landed his Cessna on a private airstrip at his farm in Berlin, Pennsylvania, after visiting nearby Altoona. His mother rushed out and told him there were reports of a plane having crashed near Shanksville. He’d grabbed his camera and set off in his plane for the site, to take photos of the wreckage. He later recalls that he circles the Flight 93 crash scene around 45 minutes after the crash occurred. He says, “I thought it was just an accident.” He is then intercepted by a state police helicopter, which escorts him to the Johnstown airport. He will be questioned and briefly detained there before being released. His plane will be searched and then released. [Pittsburgh Channel, 9/15/2001; Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 9/15/2001] At around 9:45 a.m., all FAA facilities had been ordered to instruct every aircraft to land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). About 20 minutes earlier, the FAA had initiated a nationwide ground stop, which prohibited takeoffs and required planes in the air to land as soon as reasonable (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Time, 9/14/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 25 and 29]

Entity Tags: James K. Will

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

At the NORAD operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, NORAD commander in chief, General Ralph Eberhart, orders a limited version of a little known plan to clear the skies and give the military control over US airspace. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] The plan, Security Control of Air Traffic and Navigation Aids (SCATANA), was developed in the 1960s as a way to clear airspace above the US and off the US coast in the event of a confirmed warning of a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union. Once it is activated a wartime air traffic priority list is established, allowing essential aircraft and personnel to use the airspace. Among others, this list includes the US president, essential national security staff, aircraft involved in continental defense missions, and airborne command posts. [Schwartz, 1998]
Eberhart Suggests Limited Version of Plan - Eberhart and his staff suggest implementing the limited version of SCATANA over the air threat conference call. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta immediately concurs. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 73] Unlike a full SCATANA, this modified version allows ground navigation aids to stay on, for the benefit of aircraft that are still airborne. Under the plan, for about the next three days all flights other than military, law enforcement, fire fighters, and medevac, will require approval from the national Defense Department/FAA Air Traffic Services Cell, located within the FAA’s Herndon Command Center. [Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 11/2001; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/10/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Notice is sent out to all civil and military air traffic control facilities, informing them that the skies now officially belong to NORAD. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 269]
Order Supposedly Made Late Due to Safety Concerns - The SCATANA order is issued over an hour after the FAA ordered all planes down (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and after at least three-quarters of them have already landed. [USA Today, 8/13/2002] Eberhart will later say the delay is due to safety concerns, because NORAD would have been unable to control US airspace—with over 4,000 planes airborne at the time of the attacks—with its radar capabilities. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Defense Week magazine will suggest SCATANA is not implemented until even later, at around 2:00 p.m. It says NORAD issues a “notice to airmen” implementing the modified version of SCATANA about five hours after Flight 11 hit the World Trade Center. [Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 11/2001]

Entity Tags: North American Aerospace Defense Command, Ralph Eberhart, Norman Mineta

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, sends out an advisory that suspends operations in the national airspace system, requiring all aircraft to land and prohibiting aircraft from taking off from all airports. [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002 pdf file; Federal Aviation Administration, 4/15/2002] At 9:26 a.m., the FAA ordered a national ground stop that prevented any aircraft from taking off (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and at 9:45 a.m. it instructed all airborne aircraft to land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure, 9/21/2001] According to a 2002 FAA report, “With this advisory, the shutdown of the air traffic system en masse had officially begun.” The advisory states: “Due to extraordinary circumstances and for reasons of safety. Attention all aircraft operators. By order of the Federal Aviation Command Center all airports/airdromes are not authorized for landing and takeoff. All traffic including airborne aircraft are encouraged to land shortly, including all helicopter traffic. Aircraft involved in firefighting in the Northwest US are excluded. Please read this notice over the emergency frequencies, and VOR [VHF omnidirectional range] voice.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The plane carrying Attorney General John Ashcroft, which is heading toward Washington, DC, is threatened with being shot down by the military if it does not land, and is diverted to Richmond, Virginia. [Washington Post, 9/28/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 258] Even though the FAA had issued a national ground stop preventing aircraft from taking off (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Ashcroft insisted that his plane take off and fly back to Washington after it landed in Milwaukee to refuel (see After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). And though the FAA has been instructing all aircraft to land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Ashcroft told his pilot to ignore an order to land near Detroit, and instead continue toward Washington (see 10:40 a.m. September 11, 2001). [US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure, 9/21/2001; Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 117; Spencer, 2008, pp. 257-258]
Fighters Intercept Ashcroft's Plane - When Ben Sliney, the national operations manager at the FAA’s Herndon Command Center, hears that Ashcroft’s pilot is refusing to land, he notifies NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS). As a result, two F-16 fighter jets from a nearby Air National Guard base intercept Ashcroft’s plane, but they remain out of sight and undetected by its pilot. The F-16s’ pilots report to NEADS that the errant plane is a private corporate jet without any markings, which is heading for Washington and does not seem to have any intention of landing.
Sliney Wants Plane 'out of My Sky' - Ashcroft’s pilot, David Clemmer, has started broadcasting a message “in the blind,” meaning it is not intended for any specific air traffic controller, stating that the attorney general is on the plane and they are returning to Washington. The F-16 pilots notify NEADS of this, but when a NEADS officer then tells Sliney about the message, Sliney asks, “Can you guarantee me that it is indeed John Ashcroft on that plane?” The officer replies, “No sir, we cannot,” and so Sliney demands, “Then get him out of my sky!” NEADS issues the order to the two F-16 pilots that if the plane will not land voluntarily, then they must take it down. The F-16 flight lead calls the FAA’s Washington Center and arranges for one of its controllers to call the plane’s pilot and tell him that if he does not divert and land, his plane will be shot down. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 258]
Pilot Warned Plane Could Be Shot Down - The Washington Center controller tells Clemmer, “Land your plane immediately, or risk getting shot down by the US Air Force.” [Newsweek, 9/24/2001] Clemmer relays this warning to Ashcroft, telling him: “Sir, there’s a shootdown order. If we get any closer to Washington, they might blow us out of the sky.” [Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 118] Clemmer also turns to an FBI agent who has been assigned to guard Ashcroft, and says, “Well, Larry, we’re in deep kimchi here, and basically, all the rules you and I know are out the window.” He tells air traffic controllers that he is carrying the attorney general, but is worried that this information won’t get through to military commanders who control the airspace around Washington. [Newsweek, 9/24/2001] Clemmer will later recall: “We didn’t want to do anything that would jeopardize our safety or the safety of the [attorney general]. I know I didn’t want to get shot down either.”
Plane Diverted to Richmond - According to some accounts, Ashcroft finally relents, and, at the insistence of the FAA, his plane is diverted to Richmond. Ashcroft will later recall, “It was a real negotiation [with the FAA].” [Washington Post, 9/28/2001; Newsweek, 3/10/2003; Spencer, 2008, pp. 258] However, according to a 2002 FAA report, Ashcroft’s plane is diverted to Richmond “due to air traffic requests for the release of medevac aircraft in the Washington, DC, area.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002 pdf file] As the plane flies toward Richmond, Clemmer negotiates getting a fighter escort for it. Ashcroft will persist in his desire to reach Washington, and his plane will eventually be cleared to land in the capital (see 11:27 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 9/28/2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 272]

Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, Northeast Air Defense Sector, David Clemmer, Washington Air Route Traffic Control Center, Ben Sliney

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

While President Bush is at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, officials there receive reports of unidentified aircraft heading toward the base. [American History, 10/2006 pdf file] The FAA ordered that all airborne aircraft must land at the nearest airport at 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and by about 12:15 p.m., US airspace is clear of all civilian air traffic, with the exception of a small number of law enforcement and emergency operations aircraft (see 12:16 p.m. September 11, 2001). [US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure, 9/21/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 4/15/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 29] But for the entire time Bush is at Barksdale Air Force Base, Lieutenant General Thomas Keck, the commander of the 8th Air Force at Barksdale, and White House aides traveling with the president are receiving reports of unidentified aircraft flying toward the base. According to American History magazine, “Under Threatcon Delta, and what Keck’s staff already knew of the day’s shocking events, there was a low threshold for declaring any incoming plane or object a threat.” Therefore, Keck “made sure his staff kept him closely apprised of each questionable target.… If necessary, the commander was ready to give the order to fire on any plane that threatened the base.” Whether the suspicious aircraft are identified, and the reasons they are flying toward Barksdale ever discovered, is unstated. Barksdale Air Force Base is “already a prime target because of its key fleet of B-52s,” according to American History magazine. “Attack on the base by a hijacked airliner was never among the anticipated scenarios, however, so the base’s air security was light.” [American History, 10/2006 pdf file] Administration officials will later tell the New York Times that around this time, there are two reports of international flights that are unaccounted for, and two domestic flights are seen as possible threats. [New York Times, 9/16/2001] Also while Bush is at Barksdale, a report is received that a high-speed object is heading for his ranch in Crawford, Texas, but this turns out to be a false alarm (see 1:05 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 117; Draper, 2007, pp. 142-143]

Entity Tags: Barksdale Air Force Base, Thomas Keck

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

US airspace is clear of all civilian air traffic, with the exception of a small number of law enforcement and emergency operations aircraft. Otherwise, only military aircraft are airborne. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/18/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 4/15/2002; USA Today, 8/12/2002] The FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, announces that the airspace has been successfully shut down. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 269] At 9:26 a.m., the Command Center ordered a national ground stop that prevented any aircraft from taking off (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and at 9:45 a.m. it ordered FAA facilities to instruct all aircraft to land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Since then, about 4,500 commercial and general aviation aircraft have landed without incident. This is the first time ever that all civilian aircraft in the United States have been grounded. [US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure, 9/21/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 29] Author Pamela Freni will later comment that this clearing of the skies was “a tremendous feat accomplished by a huge team that had never even practiced this part of the game before.” Frank Hatfield, the air traffic division manager for the FAA’s eastern region, will comment: “What we did on September 11 was done amazingly well. It was almost like World War II, the way the airplanes were handled.” [Freni, 2003, pp. 69] At 12:30 p.m., the FAA will report that there are 50 flights in US airspace, but none of them are reporting any problems. [CNN, 9/12/2001]

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration, Frank Hatfield

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Robert J. Darling.Robert J. Darling. [Source: Robert J. Darling]Government and military officials in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House learn that the FBI’s crisis response team wants to be flown from California back to Washington, DC, and, because of the team’s crucial role in responding to terrorism, they arrange a flight for it as a matter of priority. [Darling, 2010, pp. 73-75] The FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG) arrived in California the previous day for a week of field training (see September 10, 2001) and was therefore stranded away from Washington when the terrorist attacks occurred this morning (see 10:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [NBC 4, 9/11/2001; Darling, 2010, pp. 75]
FBI San Francisco Office Arranges to Get Team to Washington - Two agents belonging to the CIRG learned of the attacks when the FBI’s San Francisco field office phoned them just before 9:00 a.m. (Eastern time) and alerted them to the events in New York. The agents quickly went to the field office, where Bruce Gebhardt, the special agent in charge, gave them the details of what had happened, and told them to get their team together and head to the San Francisco airport. Gebhardt said that although US airspace was closed to all commercial air traffic (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001), he would do what he could to get the CIRG transported back to Washington as soon as possible. The team members therefore packed their gear and went to the airport. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 8/18/2004; Darling, 2010, pp. 75-76]
Transporting Unit Home Becomes 'Priority' at White House - In the PEOC, Colonel Michael Irwin, the director of operations for the White House Military Office, is called by a senior member of the FBI, who requests airlift support for the CIRG. The request is quickly passed to Joe Hagin, the White House deputy chief of staff. Hagin hands it back to Irwin and says: “I want you to get these folks back to DC immediately! Let the military know this is a White House priority.” The task of getting the CIRG back to Washington is then passed to Major Robert Darling, the White House Military Office airlift operations liaison officer, who is also in the PEOC. It becomes his “number-one mission priority.” The CIRG is the unit that coordinates the FBI’s rapid response to crisis incidents, including terrorist attacks. Therefore, “It made perfect sense,” Darling will later comment, “that the president would want them home and at the ready, given the day’s events.”
United Airlines Offers to Provide Aircraft - After learning that the FBI has essential personnel trying to return to Washington, United Airlines quickly offers its services. If the White House can authorize an aircraft to fly under the Special Assignment Air Mission designator, the airline says, it will provide the required aircraft and crew immediately. With the approval of Hagin and a phone call to NORAD, United Airlines Flight 8811 is authorized to transport the CIRG back to Washington. “Within the hour” of this authorization being given, according to Darling, the CIRG members will take off from San Francisco and head back to Washington (see Late Afternoon September 11, 2001). [Darling, 2010, pp. 73-76]

Entity Tags: Critical Incident Response Group, Bruce Gebhardt, Federal Bureau of Investigation, United Airlines, Michael Irwin, Robert J. Darling, Joseph W. Hagin, North American Aerospace Defense Command

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Van Harp.Van Harp. [Source: US Department of Defense]Van Harp, the head of the FBI’s Washington, DC, field office, is away from the capital in South Carolina for his summer vacation, and has to be flown back to Washington in an FBI plane to help respond to the terrorist attacks. [Washington Post, 3/4/2002; US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. C45, C47; 9/11 Commission, 12/15/2003 pdf file] Harp took command of the Washington field office (WFO) as its new assistant director in charge in July this year. [Washington Post, 4/18/2003; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2010] But on this day he is in Hilton Head, South Carolina, on vacation with his wife, children, and grandchildren. He learned of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center when his secretary, Donna Cummings, paged him shortly after the attack occurred. Harp then called Cummings and she told him what had happened. He switched on the television in time to see the second plane crashing into the WTC, and had known then that he needed to return to Washington.
FBI Granted Permission to Send Plane to Collect Harp - Because all planes have been grounded across the US (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001), the FBI initially arranged for state troopers in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia to drive Harp back to Washington. But the bureau was then able to get special permission from the FAA to send an aircraft to fly Harp home. [Kessler, 2002, pp. 424; Washington Post, 3/4/2002; US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. C47] The FBI therefore sent one of its aircraft to collect Harp from Hilton Head Airport. The small, single-engine plane received clearance to take off from Manassas Regional Airport, 30 miles west of Washington, at around 2:30 p.m. The time when it lands in Hilton Head is unstated, as is the time when it lands back at the Manassas airport. From the Manassas airport, Harp drives to an FBI command post at Washington Dulles International Airport and then arrives at the WFO sometime later in the afternoon. He will stay at the field office until 2:20 a.m. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; Kessler, 2002, pp. 424; Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. G-2, S-41 pdf file]
Three of Office's Four Leaders Absent - The WFO is the second largest of the FBI’s 56 field offices in terms of staffing. It comprises 657 agents and 650 professional support staff. Serving under Harp, three special agents in charge (SACs) direct the office’s administrative and technical, criminal investigations, and national security divisions. However, of the WFO’s four senior leaders, only SAC Arthur Eberhart, the head of the administrative and technical division, was present at the office when the terrorist attacks took place. SAC Ellen Knowlton, who headed the criminal investigative division, was recently reassigned to FBI headquarters, and so her position is currently vacant. SAC Timothy Bereznay was only recently appointed to head the national security division, and so he has not yet reported to the WFO. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. C3, C45; 9/11 Commission, 12/15/2003 pdf file; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 4/6/2006] The WFO will be one of the key FBI offices involved in the fight against terrorism following the 9/11 attacks. [Washington Post, 4/18/2003]

Entity Tags: FBI Washington Field Office, Arthur Eberhart, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Donna Cummings, Timothy Bereznay, Van Harp, Ellen Knowlton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Susan Mcelwain, who lives two miles from the Flight 93 crash site, had seen a small jet plane flying very low overhead as she was driving home. She later recalls that it had been “heading right to the point where Flight 93 crashed and must have been there at the very moment it came down.” But it was only later in the afternoon, after returning home and turning on the TV, that she’d realized what she’d seen was connected to the attacks in New York and Washington. While she was confused that a Boeing 757—not a small jet plane—was being reported as having gone down near where she’d been, she’d then realized that the small plane was flying in a different direction to that being described for Flight 93. So she got her husband to tell the police about what she’d witnessed. Consequently, late in the evening, the FBI turns up to talk to her about it. Yet, as Mcelwain later recalls, “They did not want my story.” They keep asking her how big the plane she’d seen was. When she tells them it was small, not much bigger than her van, one of the agents tells her, “You don’t know what a 757 looks like.” She retorts, “Don’t be condescending towards me. If you don’t want to believe me, that’s fine, but I thought I should report what I saw. You ought to know there was something else in the air at the same time this was going on. We want to make sure it was ours and not somebody else’s.” After this, she will recall, the agent “did seem to get a little nicer. Told me that it was a white Learjet. Somebody was taking pictures. And I said, ‘Before the crash?’ and he says, ‘Well, we’ve got to go,’ and that was the end of it.” [Bergen Record, 9/14/2001; Mirror, 9/12/2002; Lappe and Marshall, 2004, pp. 38-40] Numerous other witnesses also saw a small jet plane flying above the crash site around the time Flight 93 reportedly went down (see (Before and After 10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Susan Mcelwain, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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