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Context of '(10:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001: First Fighter Seen Arriving over the Pentagon'

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An F-16 launched from Langley Air Force Base is directed toward two unidentified aircraft and then asked to inspect and report on the damage to the Pentagon. Major Dean Eckmann, one of the three F-16 pilots who took off from Langley at 9:30 (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001), is reportedly flying in the Washington area. He will later recall, “I set up a combat air patrol with air traffic controllers,” and then, at around 9:45, “they come back to me and say there are a couple [of] unknowns heading north on the Potomac River toward the White House.” He is flying above 20,000 feet but heads straight down and reaches his target in “no time,” he says. The unknowns turn out to be a military helicopter and a law enforcement helicopter apparently heading towards the Pentagon to assist there. Eckmann flies over the Capitol and Mall area, he recalls, “to clear the area and make sure nothing else was coming in.”
Instructions to Inspect the Pentagon - Then Captain Craig Borgstrom, one of the other two Langley pilots, calls him and says that NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) wants to know the extent of the damage at the Pentagon. Eckmann flies over it and reports that the two outer rings have been damaged. NEADS wants to know if he can tell what has happened. He guesses it was “a big fuel tanker truck because of the amount of smoke and flames coming up and nobody indicated anything about an airplane. And there was no airplane wreckage off to the side.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 66] But he will give a different account to the 9/11 Commission, telling it: “I reverted to the Russian threat.… I’m thinking cruise missile threat from the sea. You know you look down and see the Pentagon burning and I thought the bastards snuck one by us.… [N]o one told us anything.” According to the Commission, the Langley pilots have not been briefed about why they were scrambled. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 45 and 465] Eckmann will in fact say, “[W]e didn’t actually find out it was an airliner [that hit the Pentagon] until the next day.” [Associated Press, 8/19/2002]
Conflicting Times - Eckmann’s F-16 is presumably the first fighter to arrive over the Pentagon following the attack there. When precisely this occurs is unclear (see (Between 9:49 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, according to numerous witnesses on the ground, the first fighter does not fly over the Pentagon until significantly later than Eckmann describes, at around 10:40 a.m. (see (10:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 130-131] And according to some accounts, this is not Eckmann’s plane, but an F-16 from Andrews Air Force Base, piloted by Major Billy Hutchison. [Filson, 2003, pp. 81-82; Spencer, 2008, pp. 235-236]

Entity Tags: Dean Eckmann, Craig Borgstrom

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Having taken off after returning from a training mission, a pilot with the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) flies two loops up the Potomac River, reversing course near Georgetown and the Pentagon, but is unable to locate a suspicious approaching aircraft, and heads back to base less than 10 minutes after launching. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 219-221]
No Rules of Engagement - Major Billy Hutchison, a pilot with the 121st Fighter Squadron of the DCANG, had landed back at Andrews Air Force Base, 10 miles from Washington, but was ordered to take off again immediately (see (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002] His plane has no missiles, and only training ammunition, and he has been given no specific rules of engagement other than being told to identify an aircraft that is coming down the river. [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; 9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 pdf file; Vogel, 2007, pp. 446] Because the DCANG is not in the communication and command loops of NORAD or its Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), Hutchison is unaware that three fighter jets NEADS ordered into the air from Langley Air Force Base (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001) are also flying over Washington, albeit at a much higher altitude than he is. [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; 9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004]
Controller Directs Hutchison - Hutchison calls the Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) at Washington’s Reagan National Airport. He says, “Bully 1 [his call sign] is looking for a contact.” Victor Padgett, the operations supervisor at the TRACON, replies, “We have an intercept for you northwest of here and coming down the Potomac.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 219] Hutchison knows he is meant to be searching for a civilian aircraft, and will later recall that he is told it is coming from Pennsylvania. [9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004] In order to conserve fuel and gain airspeed, he flies low over the White House and Georgetown, reportedly staying between 500 and 1,000 feet above ground level. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 219] After Padgett gives him details of the approaching aircraft’s location, Hutchison spots it on his jet’s radar screen, but it quickly disappears. The aircraft reappears a minute later, but then both Hutchison and Padgett lose sight of it.
Aircraft Claimed to Be Flight 93 - Some accounts will suggest the approaching aircraft is thought to be Flight 93 (see (10:30 a.m.-10:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001), even though that plane has already crashed (see (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 219-221] Hutchison will later recall that the TRACON at Reagan Airport is “frantic with what they seem to think are aircraft coming their way.… There is another aircraft, and it’s United Flight 93. They… apparently have been given information that it’s coming their way.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 81] Major David McNulty, the senior intelligence officer of the DCANG, will recall, “[I]t wasn’t until later that they realized the plane [coming down the river] might be UAL 93.” [9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 pdf file] However, John Farmer, John Azzarello, and Miles Kara, who are all staff members of the 9/11 Commission, subsequently rebut this claim. They will write: “[R]adar records of the day [of 9/11] indicate that Major Hutchison did not take off until more than a half-hour after United 93 had crashed near Shanksville, PA, and a good 20 minutes after the wreckage had been located. He could not have seen United 93 on his scope, and could not have intercepted it.” [New York Times, 9/13/2008]
Told to Investigate Other Aircraft - After the aircraft disappears off Hutchison’s radar screen, Dan Creedon, an air traffic controller at the TRACON at Reagan Airport, is concerned about planes and helicopters that are taking off and landing across Washington, and tells Hutchison, “We have more contacts!” Hutchison confirms that he will investigate the targets Creedon alerts him to, but he keeps losing them among the ground clutter on his radar screen. According to author Lynn Spencer, “The flights are too close to the surface and, from what he can see, appear to be mostly helicopters flying medevac from the Pentagon.”
Flies over the Pentagon - Hutchison, who’d noticed the burning Pentagon before he landed at Andrews Air Force Base (see (9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001), then decides he should investigate it. He descends and flies a steep turn over the Pentagon. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 234-235] He will later recall: “I circled at a couple of hundred feet at the most just to, one, investigate, and two, give the people on the ground some semblance of security of an American fighter coming by. And apparently it changed the mood for a lot of people when they saw that” (see (10:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Running out of Fuel - By now, Hutchison is almost out of fuel. He will recall, “After that point, I’m emergency fuel, the lowest I’ve ever been in an F-16, and tell [the FAA’s] Washington Center I must leave, and they say I’m cleared to return to base and that two more aircraft are coming out of Andrews.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 81-82] Hutchison will land at Andrews at 10:47 a.m. (see 10:47 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004]

Entity Tags: Victor Padgett, Dan Creedon, Billy Hutchison, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Pentagon, 121st Fighter Squadron, John Farmer, Miles Kara, David McNulty, John Azzarello, District of Columbia Air National Guard

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Mike Walter.Mike Walter. [Source: CNN]According to a number of witnesses on the ground, a US Air Force F-16 flies low over the Pentagon at this time; apparently becoming the first fighter to arrive over the scene of the third attack. [American Forces Press Service, 10/11/2001; Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 130-131] Firefighters and other emergency responders at the Pentagon recently evacuated away from the crash site, due to reports of another supposedly hijacked aircraft flying toward Washington (see (10:15 a.m.-10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A30 pdf file]
bullet Steve Carter, the assistant building manager, is in the Pentagon’s center courtyard, expecting this plane to hit the building. He then sees an F-16 zoom “low and fast over the courtyard.” [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 130]
bullet On Washington Boulevard, where many fire and rescue personnel relocated during the evacuation, cheers go up when the F-16 flies over. Firefighter Mike Smith shouts out: “Thank God that guy’s there! Where has he been?” [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 130-131]
bullet Lieutenant Commander Dale Rielage will recall that an “arriving combat air patrol F-16 thundered overhead” after the alleged second hijacked plane was said to be approaching the Pentagon. [Fire Engineering, 11/1/2002]
bullet John Jester, the chief of the Defense Protective Service, which guards the Pentagon, says that, following the evacuation, “It wasn’t until an F-15 fighter jet crossed in the sky that we realized the danger had passed.” [Murphy, 2002, pp. 246-247]
bullet USA Today reporter Mike Walter, who has been at the Pentagon since the attack there, recalls that, after the evacuation, an “F-16 came screaming by the Pentagon, and people cheered.” [People, 9/24/2001]
bullet Staff Sergeant Edwin Rotger Jr. will also describe seeing fighters arriving over the Pentagon at this time. However, he says there are two of them, not one. [Office of Medical History, 9/2004, pp. 49]
bullet According to the New York Times, “witnesses, including a reporter for the New York Times who was headed toward the building, did not see any [fighter jets over the Pentagon] until closer to 11 [o’clock].” [New York Times, 9/16/2001]
According to some accounts, the fighter that flies over the Pentagon at this time is Major Billy Hutchison’s F-16 from Andrews Air Force Base (see (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 235] Hutchison will recall, “I circled at a couple of hundred feet at the most just to, one, investigate, and two, give the people on the ground some semblance of security of an American fighter coming by” (see 10:39 a.m.-10:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 81-82] However, some accounts contradict this. Major Dean Eckmann, from Langley Air Force Base, suggests his F-16 is the first to fly over the Pentagon, and this was at some time shortly after 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). He will say: “I heard stories that people went back in [the Pentagon] after seeing me fly over to help others out.… Now they knew they were safe.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 66] Other accounts similarly suggest that the first fighter jet (or jets) arrived over the Pentagon significantly earlier than is described by the witnesses on the ground, between 9:49 and 10:00 a.m. (see (Between 9:49 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/17/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 34]

Entity Tags: Edwin Rotger Jr., Dale Rielage, Dean Eckmann, John Jester, Mike Walter, Steve Carter, Billy Hutchison, Mike Smith

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline


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