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Context of '(10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001: DC Air National Guard Permitted to Shoot Down Threatening Planes over Washington'

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The commander of the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) at Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, finally heads across the base to the headquarters of the 121st Fighter Squadron, which is part of the DCANG, and joins his officers in responding to the terrorist attacks. [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; Vogel, 2007, pp. 445-446]
Squadron Leaders Not yet Gone 'Into Action' - Brigadier General David Wherley, the commander of the 113th Wing of the DC Air National Guard, is in his office at Andrews. He has already given his officers the go-ahead to use the unit’s missiles, so they can be unloaded from storage and put onto fighter jets (see (Shortly After 9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 156-157, 184] However, according to Captain Brandon Rasmussen, one of the DCANG pilots, it is only after the Pentagon is hit that “the squadron leadership went into action.” [Rasmussen, 9/18/2003]
Wherley Runs across Base - The Washington Post will report that Wherley’s “first inkling that the attacks would go beyond New York was when one of his officers, whose husband worked at the Pentagon, saw on television that the building had been hit and began shrieking.” After briefly comforting the woman, Wherley dashes from his office and runs several hundred yards across the base to the headquarters of the 121st Fighter Squadron.
Wherley Doesn't Want Jets Launched Yet - Unlike other Air National Guard units, the DCANG reports to the president, rather than a state governor. [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; Vogel, 2007, pp. 445] Furthermore, since the Secret Service provides protection to the president, who is the commander in chief of the US military, it has some authority over the military, including the DCANG. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 123] DCANG squadron officers have already heard from their Secret Service contacts, who have asked them about getting fighters launched (see (Shortly After 9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 78] But after arriving at the 121st FS headquarters, Wherley says he wants more explicit authorization before launching aircraft. He tells the squadron officers: “We have to get instructions. We can’t just fly off half-cocked.” [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; Vogel, 2007, pp. 445-446]
Takes over Call from White House - At the operations desk, Major Daniel Caine has recently been called by a Secret Service agent at the White House Joint Operations Center, who is requesting armed fighter jets over Washington. After Wherley has arrived at the 121st FS headquarters, Caine passes the phone to him, telling the caller, “Here’s my boss.” Caine then says, “I’m going to fly.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 78; 9/11 Commission, 3/8/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 pdf file] Despite his responsibilities as the unit’s supervisor of flying, Caine has decided to get airborne himself, and heads off to join the other pilots preparing to take off from Andrews. [Filson, 2003, pp. 76; Spencer, 2008, pp. 184] Wherley will talk over the phone with the Secret Service, and try to obtain instructions for the launching of his fighter jets (see (Shortly After 9:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001, (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001, (10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001, and (Between 10:16 a.m. and 10:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/28/2003; Spencer, 2008, pp. 184-185, 218]

Entity Tags: David Wherley, Daniel Caine, District of Columbia Air National Guard, Brandon Rasmussen, 121st Fighter Squadron

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Brigadier General David Wherley, the commander of the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) at Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, calls the Secret Service at the White House, seeking instructions from someone senior—preferably a military person—to launch his fighter jets, but the only people available are Secret Service agents. [Filson, 2003, pp. 79; Spencer, 2008, pp. 184-185]
Wherley Calls Joint Operations Center - Wherley has just spoken over the phone with a Secret Service agent. After he asked to talk to “someone higher in the chain of command, preferably in the military,” the agent gave him a number at the White House to call (see (Shortly After 9:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 184] Wherley now calls the Secret Service’s White House Joint Operations Center. He will later recall making this call “while watching TV footage of employees evacuating the White House complex.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 79; 9/11 Commission, 8/28/2003] This would mean he makes it at around 9:45 a.m., when people start running from the White House, or shortly after (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/11/2001; CNN, 9/12/2001]
Delay before Call Answered - It takes some time before anyone answers the call. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 184] According to Wherley, “the phone rings about eight times before somebody picks up.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 79] The Secret Service agent that answers is Kenneth Beauchamp. Wherley knows Beauchamp from other routine work with the DC Air National Guard. [9/11 Commission, 8/28/2003] Beauchamp had spoken to DCANG officer Major Daniel Caine earlier on and told him the Secret Service did not require help from his unit (see (Between 9:05 a.m. and 9:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 3/8/2004 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 124]
Beauchamp Requests Fighters - But now Beauchamp asks Wherley to launch aircraft to protect Washington. He implores: “We want you to put a CAP [combat air patrol] up over the city. We need some fighters now.” However, Wherley is reportedly “not very comfortable taking orders from a Secret Service agent. That’s just not how things are done.” He wants to “speak to someone a little higher up the food chain,” and asks, “Is there anybody else there from the military available to talk?” [9/11 Commission, 8/28/2003; Spencer, 2008, pp. 185] But, as Wherley will later comment, “[T]hey have nobody in uniform, it was all Secret Service people and a team communicating with the president.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 79] Wherley therefore decides he will accept orders from the Secret Service, and says to Beauchamp: “Okay, then. What exactly do they want me to do?” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 185]
Wherley Wants Precise Instructions - Wherley wants specific instructions about setting up a CAP over Washington, and Secret Service agents at the White House will work hard to get these for him. He will wait until senior agent Becky Ediger comes on the line and gives him the information he needs (see (10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 79; 9/11 Commission, 8/28/2003; Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2004 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 218] Wherley will reportedly receive the instructions for his pilots “within a half-hour.” [Washington Post, 4/8/2002]

Entity Tags: US Secret Service, Kenneth Beauchamp, District of Columbia Air National Guard, David Wherley

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

David Wherley.David Wherley. [Source: US Air Force]Brigadier General David Wherley, the commander of the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG), finally receives specific instructions from the Secret Service for his fighter jets to follow when they launch over Washington, and is told they can use “whatever force is necessary” to prevent another aircraft hitting a building. [9/11 Commission, 8/28/2003; Vogel, 2007, pp. 446; Spencer, 2008, pp. 218]
Instructions Received within 'Half-Hour' of Request - Wherley phoned the Secret Service’s White House Joint Operations Center after arriving at the headquarters of the DCANG’s 121st Fighter Squadron at Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington (see (Shortly After 9:39 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The agent he talked to requested that DCANG fighters be sent up over the capital, but Wherley asked for more specific instructions (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Secret Service agents at the White House have been working hard to get these. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 184-185, 218] According to the Washington Post, “within a half-hour,” Wherley receives “oral instructions from the White House giving the pilots extraordinary discretion to shoot down any threatening aircraft.” [Washington Post, 4/8/2002]
Jets May Use 'Whatever Force Is Necessary' - Wherley had been talking to Secret Service agent Kenneth Beauchamp, but these instructions are given to him by Becky Ediger, the deputy special agent in charge of the Presidential Protective Division, who now comes on the line. Ediger says the instructions have come directly from Vice President Dick Cheney. She tells Wherley: “We want you to intercept and turn away any airplane that attempts to fly within 20 miles of the Washington area. If you are not able to turn them away, use whatever force is necessary to keep them from hitting any buildings downtown.”
Wherley Wants to Talk to Military - Wherley asks if there is anybody in a uniform—i.e. from the military—with Ediger that he could talk to. Ediger alludes to a Navy captain who is busy with other things, but says no one from the military is available. Although the instructions he has been given are not in military terms, Wherley feels they are understandable enough. [Peabody Gazette-Bulletin, 2/12/2003; 9/11 Commission, 8/28/2003; Spencer, 2008, pp. 218] According to the 9/11 Commission, Wherley translates Ediger’s instructions in military terms to flying “weapons free,” meaning “the decision to shoot rests in the cockpit, or in this case in the cockpit of the lead pilot.” He will pass these instructions to the DCANG pilots that take off at 10:42 a.m. and after (see 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 44]
Instructions Coming from Cheney - Wherley will later say that Ediger is “standing next to the vice president” during their call. [Filson, 2003, pp. 79] However, the 9/11 Commission will apparently state differently, saying a “Secret Service agent” (presumably Ediger) has “a phone in each ear, one connected to Wherley and the other to a fellow agent at the White House, relaying instructions that the White House agent said he was getting from the vice president.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 44]
White House Denies Cheney Involvement - In 2004, Secret Service officials will confirm that its agents’ actions relating to the DCANG on September 11 are ordered by Cheney. The agency will issue a statement, clarifying, “The Secret Service is not authorized to, nor did it, direct the activation or launch of Department of Defense aviation assets.” But two unnamed White House officials that are involved in the emergency response to the attacks will say the Secret Service acts on its own. An official speaking on behalf of Cheney will say he doesn’t know whether the vice president directed Secret Service agents to call the DCANG, and he would not be able to find out. [Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2004 pdf file] The 9/11 Commission will state that both Cheney and President Bush “indicated to us they had not been aware that fighters had been scrambled out of Andrews, at the request of the Secret Service and outside the military chain of command.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 44]
Wherley Wants More Information - Wherley still has questions about the rules of engagement for his fighter jets, which will subsequently be answered by a Secret Service agent at the White House, possibly Ediger (see (Between 10:16 a.m. and 10:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/28/2003]

Entity Tags: District of Columbia Air National Guard, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Becky Ediger, David Wherley, US Secret Service

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Brigadier General David Wherley, the commander of the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG), talks to a Secret Service agent at the White House regarding some questions he has about the rules of engagement for his fighter jets. [9/11 Commission, 8/28/2003] Wherley, who is at the headquarters of the DCANG’s 121st Fighter Squadron at Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, has been talking over the phone with Becky Ediger, a senior Secret Service agent at the White House, and told his fighters can use “whatever force is necessary” to prevent an aircraft crashing into a building in the capital (see (10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2004 pdf file; Vogel, 2007, pp. 445-446; Spencer, 2008, pp. 218]
Wherley Concerned about Rules of Engagement - As Wherley will later tell the 9/11 Commission, he still has “some questions about rules of engagement” that his jets are supposed to follow. He “finally” speaks with a Secret Service agent who answers his concerns. (From the account Wherley gives to the 9/11 Commission, it is unclear if this agent is Ediger, or someone else.) The agent confirms that DCANG fighters are free to engage aircraft if they cannot successfully be diverted. This seems clear enough to Wherley, and, like the previous instructions he received, he interprets it as flying “weapons free,” meaning the decision whether his jets shoot down a threatening aircraft rests with the lead pilot.
Agent Possibly Standing next to Cheney - Wherley will tell the 9/11 Commission that the agent he talks to at this time is “standing next to the vice president.” [9/11 Commission, 8/28/2003; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 44] If correct, this would mean they are in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, where Vice President Dick Cheney was evacuated to earlier on (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [ABC News, 9/14/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 39-40]

Entity Tags: David Wherley, District of Columbia Air National Guard, Becky Ediger, US Secret Service

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A Secret Service agent at the White House calls the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) at Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, and asks it to launch fighter jets immediately. According to author Lynn Spencer, a report has been received at the White House from the FAA “that there are three planes unaccounted for,” and the Secret Service has therefore determined “it needs fighters up now.” It calls the DCANG to request these jets. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 236] Apparently around the same time, the DCANG receives a call from someone else at the White House—presumably another Secret Service agent—declaring the Washington area “a free-fire zone.” Lieutenant Colonel Marc Sasseville, one of the DCANG pilots, will later comment, “That meant we were given authority to use force, if the situation required it, in defense of the nation’s capital, its property, and people.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002] Between 10:38 a.m. and 11:11 a.m., five DCANG fighter jets will take off from Andrews to defend Washington (see (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001, 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001, and 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; Vogel, 2007, pp. 446] The Secret Service contacted the DCANG several times earlier on, requesting that it launch fighters (see (Shortly After 9:04 a.m.) September 11, 2001, (Shortly After 9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001, and (Shortly After 9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 78; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 465] Brigadier General David Wherley, the commander of the DC Air National Guard, has been on the phone with Secret Service agents at the White House, who have told him his jets should “turn away any airplane that attempts to fly within 20 miles of the Washington area,” and the pilots can use “whatever force is necessary” to prevent another aircraft hitting a building (see (10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Between 10:16 a.m. and 10:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/28/2003; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 44; Spencer, 2008, pp. 218]

Entity Tags: Marc Sasseville, District of Columbia Air National Guard, US Secret Service

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Heather Penney Garcia.Heather Penney Garcia. [Source: Johnathon Orrell]Two F-16 fighter jets belonging to the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) take off from Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, but they have no missiles and only training bullets for their guns. The pilots are Lieutenant Colonel Marc Sasseville and Lieutenant Heather Penney Garcia. [Filson, 2003, pp. 82; 9/11 Commission, 2004; Vogel, 2007, pp. 446]
Possibly Given Shootdown Authorization - Before they headed to their jets, Sasseville and Penney Garcia were given a short briefing by Brigadier General David Wherley, the commander of the DC Air National Guard. Wherley will later recall telling Sasseville that he has “weapons free flight-lead control,” meaning he is responsible for deciding whether to fire on hostile aircraft (see (Between 9:40 a.m. and 10:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 82; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 44; Vogel, 2007, pp. 446] But Sasseville will say he does not recall receiving any such rules of engagement until after he has taken off. [9/11 Commission, 3/8/2004 pdf file]
Jets Only Have Training Ammunition - The two pilots run out to their jets and climb into the cockpits. But their F-16s are armed only with “hot” guns and 511 rounds of non-explosive training practice (TP) ammunition. According to Sasseville: “They had two airplanes ready to go, and were putting missiles on numbers three and four. Maintenance wanted us to take the ones with missiles, but we didn’t have time to wait on those.”
Rookie Pilot 'Never Scrambled Before' - Penney Garcia, who is a rookie pilot, will later say: “I’d never scrambled before, I’d never done this. I was screaming to the maintainers to pull the chocks, and the guys were pulling the pins to arm the guns. We were going without INS [inertial navigation system].” Sasseville and Penney Garcia are airborne about six minutes after reaching their jets. They are unaware that fighters launched from Langley Air Force Base are also flying over Washington, at around 20,000 feet (see (Between 9:49 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 82]
Told to Look for Hijacked Plane - Over their radios, Sasseville and Penney Garcia receive instructions from their squadron to look for a hijacked aircraft approaching from the northwest and heading toward Georgetown (see (10:30 a.m.-10:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). But, Sasseville will later recall, “We didn’t know what we were looking for—how high he was coming, or low, or where he was going.” [Vogel, 2007, pp. 446] He will say, “I don’t have the whole picture, but have word from Washington National Approach that something is coming.”
Pilot 'Making Things Up on the Fly' - The two jets will fly over Washington at low altitudes, around 5,000 or 6,000 feet. Sasseville will later say, “I didn’t want to get too low for a good radar angle, and not too high, so we could get somewhere fast.” He will admit that he is “making things up on the fly,” as he has no precedent to draw upon. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 82] Another DCANG pilot, Billy Hutchison, launched from Andrews four minutes before Sasseville and Penney Garcia take off, but he is airborne for less than 10 minutes (see (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 10:47 a.m. September 11, 2001). The next DCANG jets to take off, which will be armed with missiles, launch at 11:11 a.m. (see 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; Vogel, 2007, pp. 446]

Entity Tags: Heather Penney Garcia, David Wherley, District of Columbia Air National Guard, Andrews Air Force Base, 121st Fighter Squadron, Marc Sasseville

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Weapons load crew members from the District of Columbia Air National Guard arming an F-16 on September 11.Weapons load crew members from the District of Columbia Air National Guard arming an F-16 on September 11. [Source: Corensa Brooks / District of Columbia Air National Guard] (click image to enlarge)Two District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) fighter jets take off from Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, to defend the capital, the first DCANG planes to launch armed with missiles as well as bullets. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; 9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 pdf file] The two F-16s are piloted by Captain Brandon Rasmussen and Major Daniel Caine. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002] Although Caine was his unit’s supervisor of flying (SOF) this morning, he decided earlier on that he was going to get airborne, and so Lieutenant Colonel Phil Thompson has taken his place as SOF (see (Shortly After 9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 76; Spencer, 2008, pp. 184]
Commander Supposedly Gave Shootdown Authority - As Caine and Rasmussen were passing the SOF area on the way to their fighters, they were quickly briefed by Brigadier General David Wherley, the commander of the DC Air National Guard. Wherley had by then received instructions from the Secret Service for his fighter jets to follow (see (10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Between 10:16 a.m. and 10:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). According to author Lynn Spencer, he told the two pilots: “You need to establish a CAP [combat air patrol] over Washington. Intercept any incoming aircraft 60 miles out and use whatever force necessary to keep it from targeting buildings downtown.” Wherley said, “You will be weapons free,” which means the decision whether to fire on a hostile aircraft rests with the lead pilot, and added, “Just be careful.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 44; Spencer, 2008, pp. 238] However, Rasmussen will contradict this account, saying that once he is airborne, “we still haven’t been told, ‘You are clear to engage anybody.’ They just said, ‘Get airborne as quick as you can.’” But while the two pilots were getting suited up ready to fly, Caine, who will be the flight lead, had reassured Rasmussen that he would take responsibility for firing on any hostile planes. He’d said: “Whatever you do, don’t be the first one to shoot.… Let me be the first one to shoot, if it comes to that, and then do what I do.” [Rasmussen, 9/18/2003]
Fighters Loaded with Missiles - Three DCANG jets took off from Andrews earlier on, but none of them were armed with missiles (see (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Vogel, 2007, pp. 446] Missiles were loaded onto Caine and Rasmussen’s F-16s while they were sitting in the cockpits. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002] Rasmussen will later recall that “we were probably 20 to 30 minutes behind” the previous two jets to launch, “because they were loading heat-seeking missiles on the aircraft.… Once they armed us up, we just rolled right down the runway and blasted off.” The jets take off with hot guns and two AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles each. According to Rasmussen, this is the first time he has flown with live missiles. He will say, “I had never flown with real missiles and had never so much as seen them on the jet.”
Communicate with FAA Controllers - After taking off, Caine and Rasmussen communicate with the FAA’s Washington Center, “primarily to control us and give us an idea of the air picture,” according to Rasmussen. The Washington Center normally controls all of the air traffic in the area. However, its controllers are not trained as weapons controllers. Rasmussen will say: “[W]e’re used to working with AWACS [Airborne Warning and Control System] weapons controllers or GCI [ground control intercept].” GCI is “a ground-based radar facility with weapons controllers who will give you the tactical air picture; control and coordinate who is targeting what aircraft; and run the air war that way.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 84; Rasmussen, 9/18/2003]
Airborne for 3-4 Hours - DCANG pilot Marc Sasseville, who took off at 10:42 a.m., was initially the CAP commander, but Caine takes over this responsibility from him once he is in the air. [9/11 Commission, 3/8/2004 pdf file; Vogel, 2007, pp. 446] Caine and Rasmussen will remain airborne for three or four hours, which is at least twice as long as the usual maximum duration for an air-to-ground sortie, of about an hour and a half. [Rasmussen, 9/18/2003]

Entity Tags: 121st Fighter Squadron, Daniel Caine, Washington Air Route Traffic Control Center, District of Columbia Air National Guard, David Wherley, Brandon Rasmussen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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