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(11:04 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Unarmed Fighters Intercept US Military Aircraft Returning from Europe

A KC-10 air tanker.A KC-10 air tanker. [Source: Jerry Morrison / US Air Force]Two unarmed fighter jets intercept a suspicious target flying toward the United States from the east, which turns out to be some US military aircraft returning from Europe that are unaware of the terrorist attacks in America. [9/11 Commission, 2004; Spencer, 2008, pp. 246-247] The two F-15 fighters belong to the 102nd Fighter Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, and are piloted by Dennis Doonan and Joe McGrady. They were the first fighters to take off from Otis Air National Guard Base, Massachusetts, after NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) ordered the base to launch all of its available aircraft (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, the two fighters had not yet been armed.
Fighters Directed toward Target - The weapons controller the two pilots are communicating with instructs them, “Fly 090 for 100 to intercept,” meaning they are to fly east for 100 miles. Knowing his plane is unarmed, McGrady is concerned that he might have to take out their target by crashing into it. To his relief, when he gets near it, he discovers the target is a convoy of five US military aircraft: a KC-10 tanker plane and four A-10 jets. Those onboard the planes, which are returning to the US from Europe, are unaware of the catastrophic events taking place in America.
Fighters Sent toward Boston - Doonan and McGrady radio the A-10 flight lead with diversion instructions. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 245-247] The A-10s are directed to land at Barnes Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts. [Richard, 2010, pp. 22] Doonan and McGrady are then instructed to fly to Boston to establish a combat air patrol over the city. Doonan decides that the KC-10 in the convoy can assist them with refueling once they are over Boston, and radios its pilot with instructions to accompany him. The pilot asks, “What’s going on?” Doonan gives no details, only replying, “It’s serious sh_t and you’re coming with us.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 247]
Aircraft Returning from Europe - The KC-10 has the call sign “Gold 99,” while the four A-10s have the call signs “Mazda 41,” “Mazda 42,” “Mazda 43,” and “Mazda 44.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 2004; Richard, 2010, pp. 21] The five aircraft had been on their way to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, according to author Lynn Spencer. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 247] But the FAA’s New York Center told NEADS that their planned destination was Bangor International Airport in Maine. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001] According to Spencer, and also to a report written by the 102nd Fighter Wing’s historian, the aircraft have been flying to the US from the Azores, off Portugal. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 247] But the New York Center indicated to NEADS that they came from MorĂ³n Air Base in southern Spain. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; International Civil Aviation Organization, 1/12/2006 pdf file] Such journeys from Europe to the US are “common flights between the continents,” according to 102nd Fighter Wing pilot Martin Richard. [Richard, 2010, pp. 21]
Aircraft Not Answering Radio Communications - NEADS personnel were concerned because it had not been confirmed that the five aircraft were “friendly” and because the aircraft repeatedly failed to respond to NEADS’s radio communications (see (10:31 a.m.-10:47 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001] According to Spencer, the aircraft were “out of radio range.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 247] However, NEADS personnel established that, as the aircraft had only been 174 miles away, they should have been hearing the radio communications. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001]

Entity Tags: Dennis Doonan, Joe McGrady

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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