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(Shortly Before 6:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001: Fighters over New York Told to Inspect ‘Unknown’ Aircraft that Is Their Own Refueling Plane

Two F-15 fighter jets that have been patrolling the airspace above New York are instructed to investigate a supposedly suspicious aircraft, but upon inspection find it to be the tanker plane that has been providing them with fuel. [Richard, 2010, pp. 130-131] The two fighters, which belong to the 102nd Fighter Wing at Otis Air National Guard Base, Massachusetts, are piloted by Major Martin Richard and Major Robert Martyn. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001] They arrived over New York at around 11:00 a.m., after being instructed to set up a combat air patrol over the city (see (11:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 10/14/2003 pdf file; Richard, 2010, pp. 24]
NEADS Reports Suspect Aircraft over Long Island - After patrolling the New York airspace for several hours, the two pilots are preparing to fly back to Otis Air Base. Suddenly, a controller at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) calls and alerts them to a suspicious aircraft in the area. The controller says, “We have a report of a light aircraft flying erratically, 15 west of your position over Long Island.” After Martyn acknowledges the message, the two fighters bank hard to the left and descend. Richard reaches an altitude of about 500 feet, but, as his plane’s radar sweeps, he looks around and sees nothing there. He calls out, “Picture clear,” and then reports back to NEADS. The NEADS controller then tells Richard to “skip it,” and says the suspect aircraft is now “20 northeast of your position, at 30,000 feet.” He asks if the two fighters have enough fuel to investigate it and Richard responds, “Affirmative.” Richard and Martyn then reform and increase their power. However, Richard will later write, “It didn’t make any sense that a large aircraft would make it from the city, head northeast, and climb to 30,000 feet undetected.”
Pilot Inspects Aircraft, Finds It Is Tanker Plane - Martyn asks the NEADS controller, “Are you sure that’s not the tanker we just used over Ground Zero?” but the controller retorts, “Unknown.” Martyn says to Richard over the radio, “That’s the tanker we just were refueling with,” and asks him if he has enough fuel left to go and identify the target. Richard says he has and then flies above Martyn. He closes in to within about three miles of the aircraft NEADS identified, and can see the engines and the boom, revealing it to indeed be the tanker that has been providing them with fuel. He thinks to himself, “How could [NEADS] have screwed this up?” He will later reflect, “It was incredible to me that they didn’t know this was the tanker we had just left!” Richard calls NEADS and tells the controller there, “It’s the tanker.” Sheepishly, the controller confirms the message. [Richard, 2010, pp. 130-131] Richard and Martyn then return to Otis Air Base at around 6:00 p.m. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001]

Entity Tags: Robert Martyn, Martin Richard, Northeast Air Defense Sector

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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