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Context of '(11:16 a.m.) September 11, 2001: United Airlines Maintenance Officer in London Receives Suspicious Call from Unidentified Plane'

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Jim Goodwin.Jim Goodwin. [Source: Chicago Tribune]Rich Miles, the manager at the United Airlines System Operations Control (SOC) center just outside Chicago, receives a call from a supervisor at United’s maintenance office in San Francisco, informing him that Flight 175 has been reported as hijacked. [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 22] The maintenance office received a call minutes earlier from a flight attendant on United 175, who said their plane had been hijacked (see 8:52 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 7-8] When the supervisor tells Miles about this, he initially responds, “No, the information we’re getting is that it was an American 757.” (The FAA has just informed United Airlines that the plane that hit the World Trade Center was a hijacked American Airlines 757 (see (Shortly After 8:48 a.m.) September 11, 2001).) But the supervisor insists, “No, we got a call from a flight attendant on 175.” [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001] Miles notifies his boss Bill Roy, the SOC director, about this information. Roy then contacts United’s CEO Jim Goodwin and its chief operating officer Andy Studdert, who are in a meeting at the airline’s headquarters, located next to the SOC. Roy then begins the process of activating the crisis center at the United headquarters, which will take about 30 minutes to complete. [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001; 9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 22]

Entity Tags: Andrew P. Studdert, Jim Goodwin, Rich Miles, United Airlines, Bill Roy

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Richard Belme.Richard Belme. [Source: CNN]A United Airlines aircraft maintenance officer working at a maintenance facility in London, England, receives a suspicious satellite phone call from an unknown aircraft, apparently made by the plane’s pilot, who sounds distraught, possibly as if he is being choked.
Caller Sounds Strange, Makes No Sense - The call lasts for about seven or eight sentences, but the maintenance officer is unable to make sense of what it is about. He will later recall that the caller sounds strange, and tell the 9/11 Commission that this is the “only phone call that he’d ever received of that nature in the 10 years he’s been on the job for United.” The maintenance officer presumes that the caller is the plane’s pilot, because this specific type of satellite phone call can only be made from the flight deck of a commercial airliner. However, the caller’s manner of talking is not professional. The number for the London facility would not have been programmed into the phone, so the caller would have needed to type it in.
Caller Possibly Being Choked - The maintenance officer subsequently contacts the United Airlines System Aircraft Maintenance Control (SAMC) at San Francisco International Airport to report the strange call. The FBI is already at the SAMC and is made aware of his report. It is informed that the maintenance officer has said the caller from the plane “sounded as if they were being choked.” However, when he is interviewed by the 9/11 Commission in November 2003, the maintenance officer will state that “it is difficult to say whether or not the pilot was getting choked.” He will say he “doesn’t believe this to be the case and doesn’t recall reporting this,” although he will indicate that it is “possible he previously told someone that it sounded like the person was being choked.”
Origin of Call Unknown - The suspicious call comes up as “registration number unknown.” However, the maintenance officer recognizes it as coming from what he will call a “Sat 7 phone,” because, he will say, “the background noise was characteristic of that type of satellite call.” Typically, Boeing 767s and 777s have the equipment to make “Sat 7” calls, although the maintenance officer believes the call is most likely from a 777. The United Airlines legal department will subsequently tell the maintenance officer that “it would be possible to find the station that placed the call, because United must have a record of the phone call.” Satellite phone communication is expensive and each call is itemized when paid for. However, a 9/11 Commission memorandum in November 2003 will state that, at that time, the origin of the call “is still unknown.”
Call Unrelated to Two United Airlines Hijackings - According to the maintenance officer, the call is not tape recorded. But according to Richard Belme, a manager at the SAMC, the call is recorded but then only stored for a short time, maybe three months. The maintenance officer’s notes from this day will subsequently be shredded. The 9/11 Commission will conclude that the suspicious call could not have come from either of the two hijacked United Airlines flights because it does not coincide with the timeframe of those flights. Furthermore, United Airlines Flight 93 was a Boeing 757 and so would not have been equipped with the type of phone necessary to make the call. In mid-2003, the aircraft maintenance officer will be told that “this issue [is] over.” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 11/21/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 11/21/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Richard Belme, United Airlines, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Airphone from Flight 93 wreckage.Airphone from Flight 93 wreckage. [Source: National Museum of American History]The first FBI agents arrive at the Flight 93 crash scene soon after it goes down. [Kashurba, 2002, pp. 60] Due to the criminal nature of the crash, the FBI becomes lead authority for the investigation of the site. Attempts are made to have the area declared a federal disaster, but these are unsuccessful. [DMORT National News, 1/2002] For about two weeks, the FBI’s evidence recovery team of about 150 agents goes over the site with sifters, filtering evidence from the soil. It recovers about 510 pounds of human remains. [Longman, 2002, pp. 259; Age (Melbourne), 9/9/2002] Despite the lack of wreckage reported by those first at the crash scene (see (After 10:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001), the FBI claims that it recovers 95 percent of the plane. The largest piece found, it says, is a seven-foot-long piece of the fuselage skin, including four windows. With the exception of the two black boxes, all wreckage is passed on to United Airlines. Asked what United will do with this, a spokeswoman says, “I don’t think a decision has been made… but we’re not commenting.” [CNN, 9/24/2001; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/25/2001] While conducting its investigation of the crash site, the FBI overrules a plan to carefully map the area and mark the positions of debris so as to determine exactly how Flight 93 crashed, claiming this would be too time-consuming (see September 16, 2001). [Longman, 2002, pp. 262] After it completes its work, the site becomes the responsibility of the county coroner, who continues the search for remains. [Longman, 2002, pp. 258-259]

Entity Tags: United Airlines, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline


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