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(Shortly After 10:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Boston Air Traffic Control Center Evacuated following Report of Airborne Threat

The FAA’s Boston Center is evacuated after it receives a report that an unidentified aircraft is heading its way. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/20/2001; USA Today, 8/11/2002; New Hampshire Union Leader, 9/11/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 243] The Boston Center, located in Nashua, New Hampshire, manages air traffic above New England, and monitored Flight 11 and Flight 175 earlier on. [USA Today, 8/11/2002; Associated Press, 8/12/2002] Employees there are already concerned because a large tractor-trailer has parked directly in front of their facility, on New Hampshire’s Route 3. State police have been called to get it away from there.
Possible Airborne Threat Leads to Evacuation - The FAA’s New England regional office in Burlington, Massachusetts, now calls the Boston Center and reports that an unidentified aircraft is heading for the facility. In response to this potential threat, managers at the center immediately order the closure and evacuation of their building. They also declare “ATC zero,” which shuts down the Boston Center’s airspace (see (Shortly After 10:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Employees run from the building while managers try to decide which, if any, personnel should remain in the facility. According to Colin Scoggins, the center’s military liaison, “at this time we honestly felt that we were targeted and an impact was imminent.”
Bomb Threat to Childcare Facility - Making matters worse, a bomb scare phone call is received at the center’s childcare facility, which is the employees’ usual evacuation point. Center managers therefore decide that everyone must leave the building. Employees are advised to go to either 11 Murphy Drive—an FAA administrative facility—or a nearby Holiday Inn. According to Scoggins, three or four Flight Service Data Processing System personnel remain in the basement of the Boston Center when it is evacuated, apparently because there is no paging system in their office on which they can receive the evacuation order.
Evacuation Time Unclear - The time the evacuation takes place at is unclear. According to the account of author Lynn Spencer, it occurs some time shortly after 10:20 a.m. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/20/2001; USA Today, 8/11/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 242-243] At 10:34 a.m., John White, a manager at the FAA’s Command Center, reports that the Boston Center “has received a threat,” and is “going down to skeleton staffing.” [9/11 Commission, 11/4/2003] A 10:52 a.m. entry in the log of the FAA headquarters’ teleconference will state that the Boston Center is “evacuating the building.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002] USA Today will report that the center is evacuated at “about 11 a.m.”
Few Employees Return to Building - About 30 minutes to an hour after the building is evacuated, some of the center’s personnel will return to work. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/20/2001; USA Today, 8/11/2002] By 12:16 p.m., the center is back in operation, but with only a skeleton staff. [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002]
Suspicious Aircraft Only a Coast Guard Plane - As it turns out, the approaching aircraft that prompts the evacuation is just a Coast Guard plane. According to Scoggins, “We had already identified it.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/20/2001] The aircraft was noted in a 10:18 a.m. entry in the log of the FAA headquarters’ teleconference, which stated: “Aircraft 160 miles east of Nantucket is headed westbound toward Boston at a high rate of speed.” But a log entry five minutes later, at 10:23 a.m., noted that the aircraft “is identified as a Coast Guard flight from Nantucket.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002] Shortly before the Boston Center is alerted to this aircraft, Scoggins had been tracking what is apparently another unidentified target on his radar screen: a slow-moving large aircraft that is also flying toward the Boston Center from the east (see (10:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 242-243] The identity of that aircraft is unclear.

Entity Tags: Colin Scoggins, Federal Aviation Administration, Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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