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(10:31 a.m.-10:47 a.m.) September 11, 2001: NEADS Concerned about Convoy of Military Aircraft Approaching US

Personnel at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) are concerned about a group of US military aircraft that are approaching the United States across the Atlantic Ocean, which repeatedly fail to respond to their radio communications. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 246-247]
Staffer Says Aircraft Are 'Friendly' - At 10:31 a.m., a female member of staff at NEADS tells a caller—apparently someone in Canada—that the aircraft are “crossing your border right now.” She calls the aircraft “Gold 99,” referring to the call sign of one of the planes. She says, “We can’t get an aircraft type, but supposedly there’s four of them crossing your border, four aircraft,” and adds that the aircraft “are friendly.” She then tells the caller that the FAA’s New York Center “knows about it and everything,” and says the group of aircraft “has a mode 2,” which would mean they are military aircraft. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001] (“Mode 2” is a transponder mode of operation that is for military use only. [US Navy, 1993, pp. 3-3 pdf file] ) The NEADS staff member then tells a colleague that the person at the New York Center that NEADS talked to about the suspect aircraft “said there is a mission,” but that person had been “very, very brief, because he had to go.” He had said of the aircraft, “All I can tell you right now, they’re okay, they know that they’re coming.”
Other Staff Member Says Aircraft Not Confirmed as 'Friendly' - Minutes later, at 10:34 a.m., another female member of the NEADS staff discusses Gold 99 with a male colleague and disputes whether the aircraft are indeed “friendly.” She says: “Wait a minute. That’s not confirmed, that they’re friendly.” She adds, “New York [Center] doesn’t know who it is.” Her colleague says, “Well, they’re the ones that told them that it’s Gold 99.” But the female staffer replies, “They were not told.” She adds, “I talked to New York [Center].” Another female member of staff then gives the instruction, “Don’t confirm them friendly yet.” About a minute later, that staff member continues: “All [the New York Center] had was [that] the Gold 99 is the mission flight, four ships.… No type aircraft.” The other female says, “They don’t know who it is right now.” Someone else says the New York Center “said they were too busy. They hung up.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001]
FAA's New York Center Says Aircraft Are Military Planes - Around this time, a female member of staff at NEADS contacts the New York Center to inquire further about the suspicious aircraft. She says to the person there that she is “trying to get some amplifying data” on the aircraft. The New York Center employee replies, “Gold 99 is one KC-10”—a military tanker aircraft—“accompanied by six A-10s,” which are military jet aircraft. He says the aircraft originated in “LEMO,” apparently referring to MorĂ³n Air Base in southern Spain by its International Civil Aviation Organization airport code. He also says the aircraft are on their way to Bangor International Airport in Maine. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; International Civil Aviation Organization, 1/12/2006 pdf file]
NEADS Begins 'Unknown Rider' Procedure - At 10:36 a.m., one of the female NEADS staff members decides, “Let’s try unknown rider” on the group of aircraft. NEADS personnel then begin what appears to be a specific procedure. Another female staff member tries making radio contact with the aircraft over the “guard” frequency, which can be heard by all aircraft, no matter what other frequency they are on. She calls out: “Unknown rider, unknown rider at position 4123 north, 06532 west, this is Huntress [‘Huntress’ is the call sign for NEADS] on guard. Authenticate 283, south, kilo.”
Modified Communication Also Unsuccessful - She repeats this attempted communication with the aircraft, but receives no reply. She then tries a slightly different communication. At 10:39 a.m., she calls out: “Unknown rider, unknown rider at position 4120 north, 06551 west, this is Huntress on guard. Authenticate 8880506, alpha, alpha, alpha.” Several minutes later, at 10:44 a.m., this female staff member again calls out to the aircraft, asking the “unknown rider” to “authenticate.” Again, no response is received.
Aircraft Should Be in Radio Range - A male member of staff points out that the suspicious aircraft are only 174 miles away and therefore, he says, “They should be hearing us” over the radio. A female staff member agrees. One of the NEADS ID technicians therefore phones someone, possibly a colleague at NEADS. She asks him: “As far as authentication goes, how far out, this four-ship that’s coming in from this Canada East, how far out should they be able to hear us? Because nobody is coming back with an authentication and we’re trying to find out the range. Maybe they can’t hear us.” The person who answers the call replies: “They should be able to hear you out about as far as the radar coverage itself goes. If there was radar coverage, they should be able to hear you.” The ID technician says the aircraft are “within that, so, okay, copy.” But still the aircraft fail to reply when NEADS tries calling them. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001]
Fighters Intercept Suspect Aircraft - Two F-15 fighter jets scrambled from Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts will be directed to intercept the suspicious aircraft, reportedly shortly after 11:00 a.m. (see (11:04 a.m.) September 11, 2001). “Gold 99” will turn out to be a KC-10 tanker, as the New York Center stated. The aircraft with it are four A-10 jets, with the call signs “Mazda 41,” “Mazda 42,” “Mazda 43,” and “Mazda 44.” According to some accounts, the five aircraft are returning to the US from the Azores, off Portugal. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 2004; Spencer, 2008, pp. 246-247; Richard, 2010, pp. 21]

Entity Tags: New York Air Route Traffic Control Center, Northeast Air Defense Sector

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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