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(Between 10:31 a.m. and 11:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001: White House Counselor Hughes Is Unable to Reach President Bush on Air Force One

Karen Hughes.Karen Hughes. [Source: Iowa State University]White House counselor Karen Hughes tries calling President Bush on Air Force One but an operator says he is unable to connect her to the plane. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002; White House, 8/22/2002; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/10/2006] Hughes was, unusually, at her home in Northwest Washington, DC, when the terrorist attacks began this morning. She stayed in the capital instead of going to Florida with Bush on September 10 since that day was her wedding anniversary. And she stayed home this morning instead of going to the regular senior staff meeting at the White House because she was due to attend an event in her neighborhood and planned to go straight to it from her home.
Hughes Wants to Give a Statement to the Media - Sometime after 10:00 a.m., she was called by Josh Bolten, the deputy White House chief of staff, who told her that Vice President Dick Cheney wanted her to work on a statement that the president can deliver when he lands at Barksdale Air Force Base (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). Hughes has since then decided she should give a statement to the media, to reassure the public that the government is functioning, but she wants to call Bush to get his permission before doing this. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002; MSNBC, 9/11/2002; Hughes, 2004, pp. 232-233, 236-237, 239; Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016]
Operator Says He Cannot Reach Air Force One - Hughes therefore now tries to contact Bush while she is being driven to the White House. [Fox News, 9/9/2011] She calls the military switchboard and tells the operator, “I need to talk with the president.” The operator puts her on hold while he tries connecting her to Bush. However, he is unable to contact the president’s plane. He comes back on the line and, with a shaky voice, says: “Ma’am, I’m sorry. We cannot reach Air Force One.” This is “one of the most chilling moments of the day for me,” Hughes will later comment. [White House, 8/22/2002; MSNBC, 9/11/2002; Hughes, 2004, pp. 239; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/10/2006] “I’d never had that happen before, where they literally couldn’t reach [the president],” she will say. [CNN, 4/25/2013]
Hughes Is Worried due to the Threat against Air Force One - She is apparently surprised because she knows the president’s plane has advanced communications capabilities. “I had seen the elaborate communications equipment on Air Force One, and had watched the president make and receive calls from all over the world” while on the plane, she will say. Furthermore, she has been told that a threat has been made against the president’s plane. [Hughes, 2004, pp. 239; NBC, 4/4/2004; Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016] (Officials at the White House learned of this threat at around 10:30 a.m. (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Woodward, 2002, pp. 18; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 554] ) She is concerned, therefore, that something bad may have happened to the plane and those on board. She thinks, “Surely something hasn’t happened to them?” [CNN, 4/25/2013] “I remember saying a prayer that nothing had happened to the president,” she will say. [NBC, 4/4/2004]
Problems Are Supposedly due to the Plane's Altitude - Hughes will claim that her inability to reach Air Force One at this time is a result of the plane flying at “very high altitudes.” She will say she learned that the plane’s high altitude “affected the communications system for a moment.” [MSNBC, 9/11/2002] However, Bush and his staff have problems making and receiving calls for much of the time that they are on Air Force One today (see (9:54 a.m.-2:50 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Northwest Indiana Times, 9/22/2002; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/10/2006] Hughes will subsequently arrive at the White House and be escorted to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center, below the East Wing. [CBS News, 9/11/2002; Hughes, 2004, pp. 240] She will eventually speak to Bush early in the afternoon, while he is at Barksdale Air Force Base (see (12:11 p.m.-1:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Associated Press, 10/2/2001; MSNBC, 9/11/2002; Hughes, 2004, pp. 241-242; American History, 10/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Karen Hughes, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline


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