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October 25, 2001: NORAD Commander Gives Inaccurate Account of Military’s Response to the 9/11 Attacks during Hearing

Wayne Allard.Wayne Allard. [Source: Publicity photo]General Ralph Eberhart, the commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee and gives NORAD’s account of the events of September 11 and the military’s response to the terrorist attacks that day, but the 9/11 Commission will later find that some of the information he provides is incorrect. [US Congress. Senate, 10/25/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/29/2004; Farmer, 2009, pp. 248] Eberhart was at NORAD headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, and then went to NORAD’s operations center in Cheyenne Mountain when the 9/11 attacks were taking place. [9/11 Commission, 3/1/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 3/1/2004] NORAD released a timeline of its response to the hijackings on September 18 (see September 18, 2001) and Eberhart’s testimony is consistent with that account. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001]
Eberhart Says Fighters Were Scrambled in Response to First Hijacking - During the hearing, Eberhart tells Senator Wayne Allard (R-CO) that after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) alerted NORAD to the first hijacking, of Flight 11 (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001), NORAD ordered two F-15 fighter jets to take off from Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), “almost simultaneously to the first crash” at the World Trade Center (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). Eberhart says that after he learned a plane had hit the WTC, he was initially unsure if that plane was Flight 11. “I’m sitting there hoping that someone has made a mistake; there has been an accident; that this isn’t the hijacked airplane [that hit the WTC], because there is confusion,” he recalls. He says he was informed that “it was a light commuter airplane” that hit the WTC, although, he says, it “didn’t look like that was caused by a light commuter airplane.”
Fighters Didn't Have Enough Time to Stop Second Crash - Eberhart says the FAA notified NORAD that there was “a second hijacked plane”—referring to Flight 175—“somewhere in there,” but although the Otis fighters were “flying toward New York” after being scrambled, they were still eight minutes away from the city when Flight 175 crashed into the WTC at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). “Tragically, there was just too much distance between Otis and New York City to get there in time,” Eberhart comments.
Eberhart Says NORAD Learned Flight 77 Was Hijacked before It Crashed - Eberhart says the first documented instance NORAD has of the FAA notifying it about Flight 77, the third aircraft to be hijacked, was at 9:24 a.m. After the hearing, in responses submitted for the record, Eberhart adds that the FAA notified NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) that Flight 77 “was headed towards Washington, DC.” NEADS, he states, “then passed this information to NORAD’s Air Warning Center and Command Center in Cheyenne Mountain, and to the Continental US NORAD Region’s Regional Air Operations Center.”
Fighters Were Scrambled Too Late to Prevent the Pentagon Attack - Eberhart says NORAD launched two F-16 fighters from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia “as soon as” the FAA alerted it to the hijacking of Flight 77 (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001). However, he says, these fighters were still “approximately 13 minutes away from Washington, DC, when that tragic crash [at the Pentagon] occurred.”
Eberhart Is Unaware of Reason for FAA's Delay in Contacting NORAD - Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) tells Eberhart: “The timeline that we’ve been given is that at 8:55 on September 11, American Airlines Flight 77 began turning east, away from its intended course. And at 9:10, Flight 77 was detected by the FAA radar over West Virginia heading east. That was after the two planes had struck the World Trade Center towers. Then 15 minutes later, at 9:25, the FAA notified NORAD that Flight 77 was headed toward Washington.” In light of this, he asks, “[D]o you know why it took 15 minutes for the FAA to notify NORAD?” Eberhart replies: “I do not know, sir, why it took that amount of time for FAA. I hate to say it, but you’ll have to ask FAA.” Senator John Warner (R-VA), who has an extensive military background, tells Eberhart he is “a little bit stunned that you don’t know why that delay occurred.” He continues, saying, “I would have thought by now all of you in this chain would have gone back, rehearsed these things, figured out what happened, what went wrong, so that we ensure it won’t happen again.” In his responses submitted for the record, Eberhart suggests possible reasons for the delay, stating that after the FAA lost radar contact with Flight 77, it “began to receive calls from outside agencies with reports of a possible downed aircraft. Additionally, the loss of radio contact with the aircraft added to the confusion.” Consequently, he states, “I believe the FAA was faced with conflicting information, which hindered them from making an accurate assessment of the actual location of the aircraft.”
Eberhart Says NORAD Was Following Flight 93 before It Crashed - Eberhart says NORAD was aware of the problems with Flight 93, the fourth hijacked plane, before it crashed in Pennsylvania (see (10:03 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). He tells Allard that the FAA “knew before it deviated its flight pattern” that Flight 93 “was hijacked.” He says NORAD had been “trying to decide, initially, if that flight was going to continue west and if there was some other target for that flight. Was it Chicago? Was it St. Louis? And what might we do to launch an aircraft to intercept it.” But he says that after the FAA reacquired Flight 93 on radar, NORAD thought the plane “was headed probably for Washington, DC, but maybe New York.” He says NORAD decided at that time to keep the Otis and Langley fighters in place over New York and Washington. If another suspicious plane was approaching, he says, “our intent was to go out and meet that aircraft and destroy it if we needed to, if it entered either Washington, DC, or New York City airspace.” However, in his responses submitted for the record, Eberhart states that the “data/log entries received by NORAD from the FAA [after September 11] do not show a time or entry indicating the FAA specifically notified the Pentagon that United Airlines Flight 93 was hijacked.” He also states that NORAD “did not notify” the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon that Flight 93 had been hijacked.
9/11 Commission Disputes Some of Eberhart's Claims - Several claims Eberhart makes in the hearing will be contradicted by evidence uncovered by the 9/11 Commission during its investigation of the terrorist attacks. Whereas Eberhart says the military was first notified about the hijacking of Flight 77 at 9:24 a.m. and implies that this notification prompted the scrambling of fighters from Langley Air Force Base, according to John Farmer, the senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission, “[T]he first notification regarding American 77 occurred at 9:34, when it was reported ‘lost’” (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). [US Congress. Senate, 10/25/2001; Farmer, 2009, pp. 248-254] The notice NEADS received at 9:24 a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission Report, was the incorrect claim that Flight 11 “had not hit the World Trade Center and was heading for Washington, DC” (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 34] Consequently, Farmer will write, “the scramble of the Langley fighters did occur as an immediate reaction to a notification about hijacking, but that notification was not, as [Eberhart’s] testimony implies, a report that American 77 was hijacked, but the report that American 11 was still airborne and heading for Washington.” And while Eberhart claims the FAA told NEADS that Flight 77 was heading toward Washington, according to Farmer: “The FAA never notified NEADS that American 77 was heading for Washington, DC. There is no such notification recorded on any tape or in any log maintained at NEADS or at NORAD.” Furthermore, while Eberhart claims the military was following Flight 93 on radar before it crashed and was in position to shoot it down if it approached Washington, Farmer will write that “in fact, NEADS never located United 93 on radar, because the plane had already crashed by the time NEADS was notified.” [Farmer, 2009, pp. 251, 254-255]

Entity Tags: John W. Warner, Carl Levin, Ralph Eberhart, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Senate Armed Services Committee, Wayne Allard

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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