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Context of '(After 6:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001: Suspicious Aircraft Spotted Flying toward Air Force One'

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NASA’s KC-135 in parabolic flight.NASA’s KC-135 in parabolic flight. [Source: NASA]A special aircraft operated by NASA is in the air over western New York State at the time of the terrorist attacks and, at one point, a large aircraft, which those on board later learn is the hijacked Flight 93, flies less than 1,000 feet below it. [Space Center Roundup, 9/2002 pdf file] The plane, NASA 931, is a modified KC-135—a four-engine military aircraft similar to the Boeing 707. [National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 10/2000, pp. 28; National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 10/29/2004] It is used by NASA for reduced gravity research, and is known as the “Weightless Wonder” or sometimes the “Vomit Comet.” The aircraft creates weightless conditions for brief periods by flying up and down in large parabolic arcs. [NASAexplores, 1/30/2003] It is regularly operated from NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, next to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, and usually flies four days a week. [National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 10/2000, pp. 140; National Journal's Technology Daily, 11/27/2002; National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 10/29/2004] A typical flight lasts two to three hours and consists of the plane flying 40 to 60 parabolas. [NASAexplores, 1/30/2003]
Scientists from Houston Conducting Microgravity Experiments - A team of scientists from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, has flown to Cleveland to conduct microgravity experiments on the KC-135. [Cleveland Free Times, 9/6/2006] Dominic Del Rosso, the test director on the plane, will later recall that the team is flying over western New York State when the terrorist attacks occur. During the routine mission, the KC-135 cruises back and forth along the New York shore of Lake Ontario, climbing and descending to create a freefall condition to simulate microgravity. Del Rosso will comment, “To think that this type of maneuver might ever seem threatening never crossed my mind until [September 11].” The plane’s crew members are notified at some point that a large plane is intersecting their flight path less than 1,000 feet below them, instead of the usual 2,000-foot minimum distance. They will later learn that this aircraft is the hijacked Flight 93, which crashes in Pennsylvania (see (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Del Rosso will recall, “After the unwanted flyby, we landed having no idea why or what was going on.” [Space Center Roundup, 9/2002 pdf file] The scientists are unable to return to Houston on this day, as scheduled, after the FAA orders all planes to land (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and so have to be put up in a hotel in Cleveland. [Cleveland Free Times, 9/6/2006]

Entity Tags: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Dominic Del Rosso

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Doug Lute.Doug Lute. [Source: Joint Chiefs of Staff]General Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, learns of the terrorist attacks in New York and at the Pentagon while flying to Europe, but his plane is then initially denied permission to return to the US. Shelton’s plane took off from Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, DC, at 7:15 a.m. to transport the chairman to Hungary for a NATO conference (see 7:15 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. G-1 pdf file; Giesemann, 2008, pp. 20, 22-23; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 430-432]
Shelton Learns of First Crash - About an hour and a half into the flight, while the plane is over the Atlantic Ocean, a member of the flight crew approaches Colonel Doug Lute, Shelton’s executive assistant, and tells him a small aircraft has crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. Lute says, “That doesn’t sound good.” He goes to the chairman’s cabin at the rear of the aircraft and tells Shelton, “Sir, just to advise you, the pilot has received word that a civilian aircraft has just struck the World Trade Center.” Shelton is reminded of a speech he recently gave, in which he warned of the possibility of a terrorist attack on US soil (see (Shortly Before September 11, 2001)), and says to his wife, Carolyn, who is with him in the cabin, “I sure hope that is not a terrorist attack.” He will later recall, “This had the potential to play out exactly as I had warned.”
Shelton Learns of Second Crash - About 10 minutes after Lute returns to his seat, the member of the flight crew comes out again and reports that a second plane has crashed into the WTC. Lieutenant Commander Suzanne Giesemann, one of Shelton’s aides, says to Lute, “That can’t be an accident.” Lute goes again to Shelton’s cabin and tells the chairman, “Sir, it’s a second plane and it’s hit the other tower of the World Trade Center.” Shelton exclaims: “Doug, that’s no coincidence. Have them turn us around, we’re going back. Then I want General Myers on the line.” (General Richard Myers is the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.) After Lute returns to his seat, he and Giesemann put on headsets and make calls to the Pentagon. Giesemann talks to Kris Cicio, Shelton’s personal assistant, who tells her that the WTC towers were hit not by small planes, but by jetliners full of innocent passengers. Giesemann then loses her connection with Cicio, and so listens instead to BBC news reports through her headset and passes on what she learns to the other members of Shelton’s staff on the flight. Lute talks with someone in the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon. After the call, he heads to Shelton’s cabin. [Giesemann, 2008, pp. 22-23; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 431]
Controllers Deny Request to Enter US Airspace - Having learned of the attack on the Pentagon (which takes place at 9:37 a.m.), Lute tells Shelton that there has been “some type of big explosion at the Pentagon.” He also tells the chairman that air traffic controllers have refused their request to fly into Washington. Lute says: “[W]e’ve been denied permission to return. All US airspace has been shut down” (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). But Shelton retorts: “Doug, tell the pilot we’ll ask for forgiveness instead of permission, so have him turn us around. We’re going home.” Shelton will later recall, “I knew there was no way they were going to shoot down a 707 with UNITED STATES AIR FORCE emblazoned along the side.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. G-1 pdf file; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 432]
Shelton's Plane Supposedly Cleared to Fly into Washington - After Lute returns from Shelton’s cabin, he nods to Giesemann and says, “We’re going back.” Giesemann will recall that she then heads into the cockpit and orders the pilot, “Major, take us back to Andrews.” The pilot replies, “Yes, ma’am.” [Giesemann, 2008, pp. 23] According to an FAA report, “minutes” after the initial denial of permission to return to the US, Shelton’s plane is granted clearance. [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. G-1 pdf file] The pilot turns the plane around and heads back toward Washington, according to Shelton. [Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 432] But according to Captain Rob Pedersen, the flight navigator on Shelton’s plane, it is several hours before the plane is cleared to enter the US airspace (see (After 9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 pdf file] The plane will consequently only land at Andrews Air Force Base at 4:40 p.m. (see 4:40 p.m. September 11, 2001) and Shelton will only arrive at the NMCC an hour after that (see 5:40 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001 pdf file; Myers, 2009, pp. 159]

Entity Tags: Douglas E. Lute, Carolyn Shelton, Kris Cicio, Suzanne Giesemann, Henry Hugh Shelton, Rob Pedersen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A KC-135 tanker plane from Bangor, Maine, is flying south for a training mission at the time the terrorist attacks begin. The aircraft, which has the call sign “Maine 92,” is one of the eight KC-135s that are attached to the 101st Air Refueling Wing, based at Bangor International Airport. It is “heading south and was off the coast of North Carolina on the morning of 9/11,” the Bangor Daily News will later report. Details of the training mission it is involved with are unknown. The KC-135 will have already turned toward home and be heading north back to Bangor when the FAA “began shutting down all of the country’s airports and ordering planes to land,” according to the Bangor Daily News. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; Portland Press Herald, 9/13/2001; Bangor Daily News, 9/9/2011] (This is presumably a reference to the FAA’s 9:45 a.m. order that all airborne aircraft must land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure, 9/21/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 29] ) The KC-135’s crew members will contact NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) and offer their assistance. The aircraft, which is carrying about 22,000 gallons of fuel, will then be sent to New Jersey to refuel a KC-10 tanker plane that is providing fuel to fighter jets patrolling the Eastern Seaboard. Another of the 101st Air Refueling Wing’s KC-135s, with the call sign “Maine 85,” is also airborne at the time of the terrorist attacks, on its way to a training mission off the coast of Long Island, New York (see 9:04 a.m.-9:06 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Bangor Daily News, 9/9/2011]

Entity Tags: 101st Air Refueling Wing

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Brian Meenan.Brian Meenan. [Source: US Air Force]The Air Traffic Services Cell (ATSC)—a small office at the FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, manned by military reservists—is activated.
Officers Learn of Attacks - Three officers are currently on duty in the ATSC: Colonel John Czabaranek, Lieutenant Colonel Michael-Anne Cherry, and Major Kevin Bridges. Colonel Brian Meenan, the director of the cell, is not in the ATSC at this time, and so Czabaranek, his deputy, is currently in charge. Czabaranek, Cherry, and Bridges learned of the first attack in New York at around 8:55 a.m. when another employee at the Command Center told them to turn on CNN, because an aircraft had crashed into the World Trade Center. The three officers initially thought the crash was an accident, but realized it was not when they saw the second aircraft hitting the WTC at 9:03 a.m. They then established contact with the Air Force Ops Center.
Cell Activated, Though Timing Unclear - The ATSC is activated, although the exact time this happens at is unclear. According to Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine, the cell “quickly became a key communications node during the military’s response to [the] terrorist attacks.” [US Air Force, 9/11/2001; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/10/2002] Jeff Griffith, the FAA’s deputy director of air traffic control, will tell the 9/11 Commission that “the military officers assigned to the Air Traffic Services Cell became immediately involved in coordinating FAA… Command Center actions with military elements.” [9/11 Commission, 6/9/2004 pdf file] According to a chronology of the ATSC’s actions on this day, calls to activate the cell are apparently made at unspecified times following the second attack in New York and before the FAA’s ground stop (at 9:26 a.m.). These calls are made by a Lieutenant Colonel Mahoney and a Colonel Litzenberger from the Air Force Ops Center. Apparently shortly after the calls are made, Czabaranek contacts NORAD to let it know that the ATSC is “up and running.” [US Air Force, 9/11/2001]
Military Cell Aided by Recently-Installed Hardware - The ATSC’s response to the terrorist attacks benefits from the fact that, six weeks earlier, the cell had a secure terminal to access the SIPRNET—the military’s classified version of the Internet—installed, along with other hardware, which significantly enhances the movement of vital information. According to Meenan, because the cell has the SIPRNET terminal, “we could immediately look at NORAD and [Defense Department] plans as they evolved; filter, package, and format them, then walk out to the [FAA] national operations manager—who had control of the entire national airspace system—and give him current visibility into… fighter, tanker, and support aircraft activities. It cut down our response time tremendously.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/10/2002]
ATSC Is a Bridge between FAA and Military - The ATSC is a “part-time military outfit, staffed by part-time Air Force Reserve members” who “provide a bridge between the civilian and military worlds when air traffic issues arise,” according to the Air Force Times. For example, “During a crisis, the armed forces suddenly may need to inject a large number of military airplanes into a sky that typically handles only a few hundred.” [Air Force Times, 2000] However, Czabaranek will tell the 9/11 Commission that the ATSC is “not part of [the] FAA/NORAD hijack notification process.” [9/11 Commission, 4/14/2004]
Presence of ATSC Officers a 'Fluke' - According to Aviation Week and Space Technology, the presence of the three ATSC officers at the FAA Command Center this morning is a “fluke,” since the Pentagon staffs the military cell “only three days per month for refresher training, but September 11 happened to be one of those days.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 12/17/2001]
Cell Handles Aircraft after Airspace Shut Down - Later in the day, after the national airspace has been shut down (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001), the ATSC personnel will coordinate actions relating to military and other special flights that are permitted to fly. [9/11 Commission, 2003] They will be responsible for validating the requests they receive for the movement of aircraft, and issuing permissions in response to those requests. [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Air Traffic Services Cell, US Department of the Air Force, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Federal Aviation Administration, Kevin Bridges, Jeff Griffith, Michael-Anne Cherry, Brian Meenan, John Czabaranek

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

American Airlines orders all of its airborne flights to land at the nearest airport. [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 31] Managers at the American Airlines System Operations Control (SOC) center in Fort Worth, Texas have learned of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center. Initially, they mistakenly believed this second plane was American Airlines Flight 77 (see 9:08 a.m. September 11, 2001). Gerard Arpey, the airline’s executive vice president for operations, conferred with other operational managers, and they all agreed that the airline needed to land its aircraft immediately. American Airlines’ president Don Carty then arrives at the SOC and also agrees, telling Arpey, “Do it.” So, at about 9:15, the airline orders all its planes to land at the nearest suitable airport. [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001; 9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004] This is the first time an airline has ever ordered all its planes to land. [USA Today, 8/13/2002] The FAA will give out a similar order to all its facilities about 30 minutes later (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 29] Around that time, United Airlines will also order its aircraft to land (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004] American Airlines ordered a ground stop earlier on that prevented any new takeoffs of its aircraft (see Between 9:00 a.m. and 9:10 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 30-31] Most of its domestic flights will have landed by about 11:50 a.m., though it will take longer to ground its international and trans-Pacific flights. [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004]

Entity Tags: Gerard Arpey, American Airlines, Don Carty

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Managers from American Airlines and United Airlines are added by the FAA to a teleconference, but they receive no guidance from top government officials on what to do. According to author Lynn Spencer, at some point after the second aircraft hit the World Trade Center, the executives from the two airlines are “quickly on the phone to FAA headquarters and the FAA Command Center.” They are brought into “a conference call that has now been set up with Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta and Vice President Dick Cheney at the White House. The airline executives inform the secretary that they are each dealing with additional aircraft that they are unable to contact. They seek guidance, but there is none.… The nation is under attack, but there is no plan in place, and no guidance is forthcoming from the top as the crisis escalates.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 109] The time when the airline executives join the teleconference is unclear. In Spencer’s account, she places it after United Airlines dispatchers have warned their aircraft to secure their cockpits (see (Shortly After 9:21 a.m.) September 11, 2001), which would mean some time after 9:21. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 37; Spencer, 2008, pp. 109] But Spencer also says that, when the executives join the conference, the “president is still reading to children in a Florida school room” (see (9:08 a.m.-9:13 a.m.) September 11, 2001), which would be roughly between 9:05 and 9:15. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 38-39; Spencer, 2008, pp. 109] If Norman Mineta is already participating in the teleconference when the airline executives join it, the time would have to be after around 9:20, which is when Mineta later says he arrived at the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House (see (Between 9:20 a.m. and 9:27 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003] And Cheney, who Spencer also says is participating in the teleconference when the executives join it, arrives at the PEOC as late as 9:58, according to the 9/11 Commission, although other accounts indicate he arrives there much earlier than this (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [ABC News, 9/14/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 40] According to the Wall Street Journal, American Airlines president Don Carty and United Airlines CEO Jim Goodwin are talking on the phone with Mineta (presumably over the conference call) about five minutes before the FAA shuts down all US airspace (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001), which would mean they are participating in the teleconference by around 9:40 a.m. [US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure, 9/21/2001; Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001]

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration, Don Carty, United Airlines, Norman Mineta, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, American Airlines, Jim Goodwin

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline


FAA Administrator Jane Garvey.
FAA Administrator Jane Garvey. [Source: FAA]Time magazine later reports that Jane Garvey, head of the FAA, “almost certainly after getting an okay from the White House, initiate[s] a national ground stop, which forbids takeoffs and requires planes in the air to get down as soon as is reasonable. The order, which has never been implemented since flying was invented in 1903, applie[s] to virtually every single kind of machine that can takeoff—civilian, military, or law enforcement.” Military and law enforcement flights are allowed to resume at 10:31 a.m. (see 10:31 a.m. September 11, 2001) A limited number of military flights—the FAA will not reveal details—are allowed to fly during this ban. [Time, 9/14/2001] Garvey later calls it “a national ground stop… that prevented any aircraft from taking off.” [US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure, 9/21/2001] Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta later says he was the one to give the order: “As soon as I was aware of the nature and scale of the attack, I called from the White House to order the air traffic system to land all aircraft, immediately and without exception.” [US Congress. Senate. Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, 9/20/2001] According to Mineta, “At approximately 9:45… I gave the FAA the final order for all civil aircraft to land at the nearest airport as soon as possible.” [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003] At the time, 4,452 planes are flying in the continental US. A later account states that Ben Sliney, the FAA’s National Operations Manager, makes the decision without consulting his superiors, like Jane Garvey, first. It would be remarkable if Sliney was the one to make the decision, because 9/11 is Sliney’s first day on the job as National Operations Manager, “the chess master of the air traffic system.” [USA Today, 8/13/2002] When he accepted the job a couple of months earlier, he had asked, “What is the limit of my authority?” The man who had promoted him replied, “Unlimited.” [USA Today, 8/13/2002] Yet another account, by Linda Schuessler, manager of tactical operations at the FAA Command Center where Sliney was located, says, “… it was done collaboratively… All these decisions were corporate decisions. It wasn’t one person who said, ‘Yes, this has got to get done.’” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 12/17/2001] About 500 planes land in the next 20 minutes, and then much more urgent orders to land are issued at 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Time, 9/14/2001; US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure, 9/21/2001; Newsday, 9/23/2001; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; USA Today, 8/13/2002; USA Today, 8/13/2002; Associated Press, 8/21/2002; Newsday, 9/10/2002]

Entity Tags: Jane Garvey, Ben Sliney, Norman Mineta, Federal Aviation Administration, Linda Schuessler

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Michael Miller.Michael Miller. [Source: US Navy]A number of White House staffers who are visiting New York make their way back to Washington, DC, following the attack on the Pentagon. About 15 members of the White House staff, including Joseph Hagin, the deputy chief of staff for operations, and Captain Michael Miller, the deputy director of the White House Military Office, are in New York conducting the “survey trip” for President Bush’s appearance at the United Nations General Assembly later in the month (see September 10, 2001).
Staffers Learn of Crashes while Visiting US Mission to the UN - Earlier this morning, they went to the US Mission to the United Nations for some preliminary meetings with the mission staff about the president’s forthcoming visit. In a conference room there, shortly after Flight 11 hit the World Trade Center (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), Miller informed Hagin of the crash. After seeing the early coverage of the incident on television, Hagin called the military aide who is with the president in Sarasota, Florida, to check if he was aware of what had happened. The military aide told him, “We’re on it.”
Staffers Taken to Police Station - After the White House staffers watched the second plane hitting the WTC live on TV, a State Department security officer told Hagin: “Sir, you need to get out of here as quickly as possible. There are reports of other planes inbound into the city.” The White House staffers were then taken by the Secret Service to a police station in Midtown Manhattan, where it was thought they would be safe. From there, Hagin called Josh Bolten, the deputy White House chief of staff for policy, who is at the White House. As the attacks were considered to be “just a New York incident” at that time, Hagin will later recall, Bolten and his colleagues decided that Hagin “should go down and be with the mayor, and… be the federal face in New York for the time being.”
Some Staffers Fly toward Nebraska to Meet President - The New York City police and the Secret Service had been trying to work out how to get Hagin to Ground Zero. But when the Pentagon is attacked at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001), they decide that the White House staffers should return to Washington. The staffers are driven to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. There, they are split up. Eight of them, including Hagin, get on a military plane and head toward Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska to meet the president, who has been taken to the base (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001). However, as they are flying over Missouri, they learn that Bush has decided to come back to Washington (see (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001 and (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001). Therefore, their plane turns around and heads to the capital.
Hagin and Other Staffers Return to White House - After they land at Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, the staffers are driven to the White House. The time when they arrive there is unstated, but it is presumably around late afternoon or early evening. At the White House, Hagin goes to work immediately. [National Journal, 8/31/2002; Cincinnati Enquirer, 1/20/2003] As the deputy chief of staff for operations, he is a key member of the White House staff. He is responsible for the management and administrative functions of the White House, plans all of the president’s travel, and oversees the president’s schedule. [Cincinnati Enquirer, 10/10/2002; Washington Post, 7/4/2008] Hagin will recall that, after reaching the White House, he is “very involved in the continuity of government and just how, operationally, we were going to deal with this.” He will remain at the White House for the next two days. [National Journal, 8/31/2002; Cincinnati Enquirer, 1/20/2003]

Entity Tags: Joseph W. Hagin, Michael H. Miller, New York City Police Department, US Secret Service, Joshua Bolten

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

FAA National Operations Manager Ben Sliney.FAA National Operations Manager Ben Sliney. [Source: Publicity photo]Ben Sliney, FAA’s National Operations Manager, orders the entire nationwide air traffic system shut down. All flights at US airports are stopped. Around 3,950 flights are still in the air. Sliney makes the decision without consulting FAA head Jane Garvey, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, or other bosses, but they quickly approve his actions. It’s Sliney’s first day on the job. [CNN, 9/12/2001; New York Times, 9/12/2001; Washington Post, 9/12/2001; MSNBC, 9/22/2001; Associated Press, 8/12/2002; USA Today, 8/13/2002; USA Today, 8/13/2002; USA Today, 8/13/2002; Associated Press, 8/21/2002; Newsday, 9/10/2002] Seventy-five percent of the planes land within one hour of the order. [USA Today, 8/12/2002] The 9/11 Commission will later remark that this “was an unprecedented order” that the “air traffic control system handled… with great skill.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 29] The Washington Post has reported that Mineta told Monte Belger at the FAA: “Monte, bring all the planes down,” even adding, “[Expletive] pilot discretion.” [Washington Post, 1/27/2002] However, it is later reported by a different Post reporter that Mineta did not even know of the order until 15 minutes later. This reporter “says FAA officials had begged him to maintain the fiction.” [Slate, 4/2/2002]

Entity Tags: Ben Sliney, Federal Aviation Administration, Jane Garvey, Monte Belger, Norman Mineta

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The plane that has been flying General Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, over the Atlantic Ocean has to spend two hours in a “holding pattern” near Greenland and then more time in a holding pattern over Canada before it is cleared to fly back into the United States. [Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 pdf file] Shelton was flying toward Europe for a NATO conference (see 7:15 a.m. September 11, 2001), but, after he learned of the attacks on the World Trade Center, ordered that his plane turn around and return to the US (see (8:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, air traffic controllers have denied the request to do so because US airspace has been shut down (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. G-1 pdf file; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 430-432]
Plane Has to Fly in a Holding Pattern near Greenland - Therefore, although Shelton’s plane, nicknamed “Speckled Trout,” does turn around, it doesn’t initially fly back to the United States. For a couple of hours, since its crew doesn’t have clearance to return to the US and it doesn’t have a destination, the plane goes into a “holding pattern” near Greenland. Captain Rob Pedersen, the flight navigator, comes up with a list of alternative landing sites, which include Thule Air Base in Greenland and Naval Air Station Keflavik in Iceland. Although the crew decides to head back to the US, Pedersen will later recall, it is still difficult to get a security clearance, even for such a high-profile passenger as Shelton.
Plane Goes into Another Holding Pattern over Canada - Speckled Trout eventually reaches Canada, but the plane is still refused entry into US airspace and so it goes into a holding pattern again. “In the beginning we had a few problems convincing [the air traffic controller] to allow us back into the country, [even though] we were ordered at a significantly high level to come back,” Pedersen will recall. “You can’t say over the radio who you are carrying because they don’t have secure communications at the FAA.… We had to tell them over an open line that we had a DV Code 2, which is a ranking that a lot of DVs [distinguished visitors] fall under.” Eventually, the crew receives permission to fly into the US, although the time when this occurs is unstated. “It took a little bit of time, and I’m sure there were a lot of phone calls made, before they let us back in,” Pedersen will say. [Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 pdf file] Shelton, however, will contradict this account and claim his plane is cleared to enter US airspace significantly earlier. He will recall that those on the plane are told they have permission to enter US airspace 10 minutes after he talks on the phone with General Richard Myers, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (see (Shortly After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001), which would mean they receive clearance possibly as early as around 10:15 a.m. [Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 432-433]
Myers Takes Shelton's Place as Chairman While Shelton Is outside the US - After flying over New York, Speckled Trout will land at Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, DC, at 4:40 p.m. (see 4:40 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001 pdf file; UNC-TV, 1/27/2013] While the plane is being denied permission to enter US airspace, Myers remains as the acting chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Shelton’s place. This is “how the law reads whenever the chairman is out of the country,” Shelton will write. “Until I crossed back into United States airspace, all the decisions would be Dick’s to make, in conjunction with Secretary [of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld and the president.” [Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 432]

Entity Tags: Rob Pedersen, Henry Hugh Shelton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

FAA radar displays begin showing that a growing number of international flights approaching America are transmitting warning codes from their transponders. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 196-197]
Airspace Shut Down - At around 9:45 a.m., the FAA shut down US airspace and ordered all aircraft to land (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Shortly afterwards, Canada took similar action. However, international flights that are over the oceans and approaching America are getting low on fuel. As their crews establish radio contact with air traffic controllers, they are told that American airspace is closed. Many of the worried pilots dial emergency codes into their transponders. [US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure, 9/21/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 29; Spencer, 2008, pp. 196]
Radar Screens Highlight Numerous Flights - A plane’s transponder is a device that sends that aircraft’s identifying information, speed, and altitude to radar screens. [Washington Post, 9/16/2001] There are three specific codes that pilots can dial into their transponder to signal an emergency: “7500” signifies a hijacking, “7600” signifies a loss of radio, and “7700” signifies other emergencies. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 25-26] Amid the current crisis, FAA radar screens begin highlighting a growing number of flights over the oceans that are transmitting warning codes. According to author Lynn Spencer, “One foreign crew dials in the four-digit code for ‘hijack,’ just to let the authorities know they are aware of what is taking place.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 196-197] In response to a request from the FAA, Canada will agree to open its airspace to all international flights that are diverted away from the United States, allowing those flights to land at Canadian airports (see 10:21 a.m. September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/12/2001; Time, 9/14/2001; NAV Canada, 7/22/2005]

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A US Park Police helicopter flying above the burning Pentagon.A US Park Police helicopter flying above the burning Pentagon. [Source: Mark D. Faram / US Navy]A US Park Police helicopter that recently arrived over the Pentagon is contacted by an air traffic controller at Washington’s Reagan National Airport and given responsibility for controlling the airspace over Washington, DC, since the control tower at Reagan Airport is being evacuated. [US Naval Historical Center, 11/20/2001; US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A-48 pdf file; McDonnell, 2004, pp. 21 pdf file] The Park Police Aviation Unit’s two helicopters arrived at the Pentagon within minutes of the attack there (see Shortly After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Rotor and Wing, 11/2001] While one of the helicopters landed to conduct medical evacuations, the other, which has the call sign “Eagle I,” circled overhead. [US Naval Historical Center, 11/20/2001; McDonnell, 2004, pp. 20-21 pdf file]
Airport Tower Being Evacuated - Eagle I has made three or four orbits around the Pentagon when a controller in the Reagan Airport tower radios its pilot, Sergeant Ronald Galey. The controller says the tower is currently evacuating. [US Naval Historical Center, 11/20/2001; National Park Service, 1/17/2002] According to some accounts, the tower is being evacuated due to reports of more hijacked aircraft heading in its direction (see (9:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [NBC 4, 9/11/2003; Spencer, 2008, pp. 215-216] But according to other accounts, the controller tells Galey the tower is evacuating because it is being affected by smoke that is drifting across from the burning Pentagon. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A-48 pdf file; McDonnell, 2004, pp. 21 pdf file; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 162] Galey will recall the controller saying: “Eagle I, we can’t see anything outside the tower. [The smoke is] getting in our ventilation system. We’re abandoning the tower.” Therefore, the controller gives Galey control of the airspace for the entire Washington area, telling him, “You’ve got the airspace.” [US Naval Historical Center, 11/20/2001; McDonnell, 2004, pp. 21 pdf file]
Pilot Alarmed at Being Given Control of Airspace - The control tower at Reagan Airport is “normally the ‘nerve center’ for directing any response to this type of incident,” according to a National Park Service news article. [National Park Service, 9/21/2002] Galey is initially alarmed. He will recall thinking, “Exactly what I need right now is I’ve got control of the airspace.” [US Naval Historical Center, 11/20/2001] However, he is unaware that the FAA has ordered that all airborne aircraft must land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001), which will make his task easier. [US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure, 9/21/2001; McDonnell, 2004, pp. 21 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 29]
NORAD Advises Pilot on Controlling Airspace - The controller gives Galey the radio frequency for NORAD, and tells him to contact NORAD. [National Park Service, 1/17/2002; McDonnell, 2004, pp. 21-22 pdf file] The person Galey then talks to at NORAD informs him: “Look, you have no [air] traffic in DC, except for the traffic that you’re calling. The aircraft that you’re calling in, we’re going to allow to come in. Other than that, there should be no one besides the military, and we’ll call you out the military traffic.” Galey will later reflect: “So that helped tremendously. That function alone was not very taxing.” [US Naval Historical Center, 11/20/2001] The person at NORAD also tells Galey there is “an unauthorized aircraft inbound from the Pennsylvania area, with the estimated time of arrival approximately 20 minutes into DC.” Galey will recall that he and the rest of his crew discuss what they should do, and decide that “we’d take our chances and stay there [at the Pentagon], and do what we came there to do.” [National Park Service, 1/17/2002]
Airspace Control Passed on to Metropolitan Police Helicopter - Eagle I becomes “the air traffic control function for the area, flying a slow racetrack pattern over the site and clearing aircraft in and out,” according to Lieutenant Philip Cholak, the Park Police Aviation Unit commander. [Aviation International News, 10/1/2001] But after a time Galey asks his paramedic to request that a Metropolitan Police helicopter be launched to take over the command and control of the Washington airspace. He tells the paramedic: “You know we’re going to have to do a medevac mission here. We’re going to have to relinquish the command/control function to somebody else.” A Metropolitan Police helicopter subsequently arrives and relieves Eagle I of its command and control function. [US Naval Historical Center, 11/20/2001; McDonnell, 2004, pp. 22 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia, United States Park Police, Philip W. Cholak, Ronald A. Galey, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, North American Aerospace Defense Command

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The pilots that took off from Langley Air Force Base (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001) hear a warning over radio that errant aircraft will be shot down, and receive an instruction from the Secret Service to protect the White House. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 222-223]
Pilots Learn of FAA Order - The three Langley fighter jets have now reached the Baltimore-Washington area. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 222] The pilots hear over their radios that the FAA has ordered all civilian aircraft to land. [New York Times, 10/16/2001] (The FAA issued this instruction at around 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure, 9/21/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 29] )
Borgstrom Hears Shootdown Warning - The three pilots are all on different radio frequencies, but are able to communicate between themselves on their auxiliary frequency. According to author Lynn Spencer, one of them, Captain Craig Borgstrom, hears a message over the emergency radio frequency that is in response to the FAA’s recent order: “Attention all aircraft! Attention all aircraft! You are ordered to land at the nearest suitable airport. All aircraft must land immediately. Violators will be shot down.” The source of this message is unstated. [Filson, 2003, pp. 66; Spencer, 2008, pp. 222-223] (Author Leslie Filson will describe the Langley pilots hearing what is apparently a separate but similar message later on, some time after 10:42 a.m. (see 10:05 a.m.-11:05 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 82] )
Instructed to Protect the White House - Around the time Borgstrom hears this, Major Dean Eckmann, the lead Langley pilot, is on the radio with the FAA’s Washington Center. A Secret Service agent has arrived there and wants to talk to him. [Filson, 2003, pp. 68; Spencer, 2008, pp. 222-223] Eckmann then receives a garbled message over his radio, which is difficult to make out. [New York Times, 11/15/2001] The message is, “Protect the house.” Eckmann will later recall, “I took it to mean protect the White House.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 68] He notifies the two other pilots—Borgstrom and Major Brad Derrig—of this message. He tells them, “I think I just talked to the Secret Service, but I’m not sure.” [New York Times, 11/15/2001]
Possible Shootdown Order? - According to Spencer, this message means that “Unknown to NEADS” (NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector), Eckmann has been “given shootdown authority directly from the Secret Service, bypassing the military chain of command.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 223] But Borgstrom and Derrig will later say they “never received explicit orders to fire on incoming planes perceived to be hostile.” [New York Times, 11/15/2001] Borgstrom radios NEADS weapons director Steve Citino and asks for specific instructions about what to do (see 10:07 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 223] According to the 9/11 Commission, NEADS will only learn that NORAD has been given clearance to shoot down threatening aircraft at 10:31 a.m., and even then it does not pass this order along to the fighter pilots under its command (see 10:31 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 42-43]

Entity Tags: Brad Derrig, Washington Air Route Traffic Control Center, Craig Borgstrom, Dean Eckmann, US Secret Service

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Air traffic controllers at the FAA’s Cleveland Center.Air traffic controllers at the FAA’s Cleveland Center. [Source: Paul M. Walsh]Most members of staff at the FAA’s Cleveland Center are evacuated from the facility, due to a report of a small aircraft flying erratically above the center. [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. S-19 pdf file; Newsnet5, 8/12/2002; Associated Press, 8/15/2002] The Cleveland Center, in Oberlin, Ohio, had the last contact with Flight 93 before it crashed. [Associated Press, 6/15/2002] The center’s air traffic controllers have been working on clearing the skies over the US after FAA facilities were ordered to instruct all aircraft to land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Newsnet5, 8/12/2002; Lake County News-Herald, 9/10/2011]
Operations Manager Orders Evacuation - The police in Oberlin now contact the Cleveland Center and warn it about a small plane that is still airborne and circling above the facility. As a result, the decision is made to evacuate the center. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001, pp. 9 pdf file; Associated Press, 8/15/2002; Cleveland Plain Dealer, 7/3/2011] The order to evacuate is apparently given by Leo Wolbers, the center’s operations manager. Wolbers will later recall, “[W]e made the decision to evacuate all non-essential personnel and get as many controllers out as possible.” He will say that he gathers together the supervisors at the center “to make sure they all knew to tell their controllers to get the planes down as quickly and safely as possible, and then leave the center.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/19/2001, pp. 6-7 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003 pdf file] Non-essential personnel are sent home, while essential personnel who leave the building go to the parking lot. By 10:30 a.m., the facility will be running on a skeleton crew of eight controllers and eight supervisors.
Center Considered a Possible Terrorist Target - The Cleveland Center is evacuated “because someone feared the facility could be targeted for a terrorist attack,” according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/12/2001, pp. 70 pdf file; Cleveland Plain Dealer, 7/3/2011] But Bill Keaton, a controller at the center, thinks to himself that “the evacuation [is] a little silly.” He will comment: “Though Cleveland Center might be a great strategic target, it was an awful terrorist target. Most people have no idea what goes on at a [air traffic control] center, and the terrorists were striking symbolic targets… the World Trade Center, the Pentagon.” [Lorain Morning Journal, 9/11/2011]
Center Is Searched - Around the time it is being evacuated, the Cleveland Center is receiving a number of bomb threats (see 10:07 a.m.-10:21 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. S-17, S-19 pdf file] Possibly in response to these, the building is searched, apparently during the period when many of its employees are outside in the parking lot. Wolbers will recall, “After we got all of our aircraft on the ground, we went to one person in each area until the building was searched and found to be secure.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/19/2001, pp. 6-7 pdf file] Around two hours after the evacuation, employees who left the building but have not gone home will go back inside and return to their posts. By then, though, the airspace will be empty, apart from some military aircraft, and so the controllers will have little to do. [Cleveland Plain Dealer, 7/3/2011]
Identity of Plane Unknown - The suspicious aircraft that prompted the evacuation is not identified. Rick Kettell, the manager of the Cleveland Center, will recall that it “flew off to the north and we lost radar on it.” Eleven months after 9/11, the FAA will reportedly still be investigating what the plane was and what it was doing. [Newsnet5, 8/12/2002]

Entity Tags: Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center, Bill Keaton, Rick Kettell, Leo E. Wolbers

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Patrick Madigan, the commander of the Somerset Barracks of the Pennsylvania State Police, arrives at the Flight 93 crash scene around 10:20 a.m. [Department of the Army and the Air Force National Guard Bureau, 2002 pdf file] He says that at some point later in the day (he does not specify a time), a “strange incident” occurs: “We were there at the site and an airplane started circling. It was a jetliner circling the crash site very low. No one knew what to expect because we knew that all of the planes were supposedly grounded.” (The FAA had, at about 9:45 a.m., ordered that all aircraft be instructed to land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001).) After a few minutes of uncertainty, it is announced that the plane is carrying United Airlines executives, who are circling the site to view it before they land in nearby Johnstown. [Kashurba, 2002, pp. 63] Another low-flying jet plane was witnessed over the site earlier on, around the time Flight 93 went down (see (Before and After 10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Patrick Madigan, United Airlines

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

James K. Will.James K. Will. [Source: WTAE-TV]After hearing a plane has crashed in his area, a farmer flies over the Flight 93 crash site to take photos of the wreckage. James K. Will, who is an aerial photographer as well as a farmer, had just landed his Cessna on a private airstrip at his farm in Berlin, Pennsylvania, after visiting nearby Altoona. His mother rushed out and told him there were reports of a plane having crashed near Shanksville. He’d grabbed his camera and set off in his plane for the site, to take photos of the wreckage. He later recalls that he circles the Flight 93 crash scene around 45 minutes after the crash occurred. He says, “I thought it was just an accident.” He is then intercepted by a state police helicopter, which escorts him to the Johnstown airport. He will be questioned and briefly detained there before being released. His plane will be searched and then released. [Pittsburgh Channel, 9/15/2001; Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 9/15/2001] At around 9:45 a.m., all FAA facilities had been ordered to instruct every aircraft to land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). About 20 minutes earlier, the FAA had initiated a nationwide ground stop, which prohibited takeoffs and required planes in the air to land as soon as reasonable (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Time, 9/14/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 25 and 29]

Entity Tags: James K. Will

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Laura Bush, the president’s wife, and her entourage arrive at the Secret Service headquarters in Washington, DC, where they will remain for much of the rest of the day, and where they make phone calls to their relatives and watch television coverage of the terrorist attacks. [Woodward, 2002, pp. 17; National Journal, 8/31/2002; Bush, 2010, pp. 201-203] Bush and her staff have been brought to the headquarters for their own security by members of the Secret Service. The building, located a few blocks from the White House, is strengthened to survive a large-scale blast. Bush and those accompanying her were driven there from the Russell Senate Office Building, on Capitol Hill (see (10:10 a.m.-10:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Associated Press, 9/11/2001; Kessler, 2006, pp. 136; Bush, 2010, pp. 200-201] They are initially taken to the office of Brian Stafford, the Secret Service director, which is on an upper floor of the building. [Draper, 2007, pp. 143; Bush, 2010, pp. 201]
First Lady and Staff Call Their Families - Bush tells her staffers to call their families. Noelia Rodriguez, the first lady’s press secretary, will later recall, “Mrs. Bush told us, ‘Find phones, get hold of your families, and let them know you are okay.’” Bush calls her daughters, Jenna and Barbara, and her mother (see (Between 11:00 a.m. and 11:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [National Journal, 8/31/2002; Bush, 2010, pp. 202] She will also talk with President Bush while at the headquarters (see (Shortly Before 11:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Bush, 2010, pp. 132; Bush, 2010, pp. 202-203]
First Lady Moved to Basement - After a time, the first lady and her staff are moved from the director’s office to the basement of the headquarters, apparently after they have made their phone calls. Ashleigh Adams, the first lady’s deputy press secretary, will recall, “[W]e took turns using the telephone and then we went to another floor where there was a large-screen TV.” Journalist and author Robert Draper will note that Bush’s Secret Service agents move the first lady after realizing that, in light of the day’s attacks, having her on an upper floor is “perhaps not such a hot idea.” [National Journal, 8/31/2002; Draper, 2007, pp. 143; Bush, 2010, pp. 201] In the basement, Bush and her staff go to the William Wood Conference Room. [Woodward, 2002, pp. 17] The windowless room has a large display screen across one wall, showing a constant TV feed. “For a while,” she will recall, Bush sits “in a small area off the conference room, silently watching the images on television.” According to Adams, “Mrs. Bush didn’t want the volume up, so we just sat there watching the TV like a silent movie.”
First Lady and Staff Lack a 'True Sense' of What Is Happening - Bush will describe the “chaos” regarding the attacks that she and those with her experience, writing: “It got so that we were living in five-minute increments, wondering if a new plane would emerge from the sky and hit a target. All of us in that basement conference room and many more in the Secret Service building were relying on rumors and on whatever news came from the announcers on television. When there were reports of more errant planes or other targets, it was almost impossible not to believe them.” According to Adams, “Because the TV was on, but we didn’t have volume, it was hard to have a true sense of what was going on.” Bush and her staff will remain in the conference room for several hours. [National Journal, 8/31/2002; Bush, 2010, pp. 201-203]

Entity Tags: Noelia Rodriguez, US Secret Service, Ashleigh Adams, Laura Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

At the NORAD operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, NORAD commander in chief, General Ralph Eberhart, orders a limited version of a little known plan to clear the skies and give the military control over US airspace. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] The plan, Security Control of Air Traffic and Navigation Aids (SCATANA), was developed in the 1960s as a way to clear airspace above the US and off the US coast in the event of a confirmed warning of a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union. Once it is activated a wartime air traffic priority list is established, allowing essential aircraft and personnel to use the airspace. Among others, this list includes the US president, essential national security staff, aircraft involved in continental defense missions, and airborne command posts. [Schwartz, 1998]
Eberhart Suggests Limited Version of Plan - Eberhart and his staff suggest implementing the limited version of SCATANA over the air threat conference call. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta immediately concurs. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 73] Unlike a full SCATANA, this modified version allows ground navigation aids to stay on, for the benefit of aircraft that are still airborne. Under the plan, for about the next three days all flights other than military, law enforcement, fire fighters, and medevac, will require approval from the national Defense Department/FAA Air Traffic Services Cell, located within the FAA’s Herndon Command Center. [Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 11/2001; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/10/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Notice is sent out to all civil and military air traffic control facilities, informing them that the skies now officially belong to NORAD. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 269]
Order Supposedly Made Late Due to Safety Concerns - The SCATANA order is issued over an hour after the FAA ordered all planes down (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and after at least three-quarters of them have already landed. [USA Today, 8/13/2002] Eberhart will later say the delay is due to safety concerns, because NORAD would have been unable to control US airspace—with over 4,000 planes airborne at the time of the attacks—with its radar capabilities. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Defense Week magazine will suggest SCATANA is not implemented until even later, at around 2:00 p.m. It says NORAD issues a “notice to airmen” implementing the modified version of SCATANA about five hours after Flight 11 hit the World Trade Center. [Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 11/2001]

Entity Tags: North American Aerospace Defense Command, Ralph Eberhart, Norman Mineta

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, sends out an advisory that suspends operations in the national airspace system, requiring all aircraft to land and prohibiting aircraft from taking off from all airports. [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002 pdf file; Federal Aviation Administration, 4/15/2002] At 9:26 a.m., the FAA ordered a national ground stop that prevented any aircraft from taking off (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and at 9:45 a.m. it instructed all airborne aircraft to land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure, 9/21/2001] According to a 2002 FAA report, “With this advisory, the shutdown of the air traffic system en masse had officially begun.” The advisory states: “Due to extraordinary circumstances and for reasons of safety. Attention all aircraft operators. By order of the Federal Aviation Command Center all airports/airdromes are not authorized for landing and takeoff. All traffic including airborne aircraft are encouraged to land shortly, including all helicopter traffic. Aircraft involved in firefighting in the Northwest US are excluded. Please read this notice over the emergency frequencies, and VOR [VHF omnidirectional range] voice.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The plane carrying Attorney General John Ashcroft, which is heading toward Washington, DC, is threatened with being shot down by the military if it does not land, and is diverted to Richmond, Virginia. [Washington Post, 9/28/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 258] Even though the FAA had issued a national ground stop preventing aircraft from taking off (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Ashcroft insisted that his plane take off and fly back to Washington after it landed in Milwaukee to refuel (see After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). And though the FAA has been instructing all aircraft to land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Ashcroft told his pilot to ignore an order to land near Detroit, and instead continue toward Washington (see 10:40 a.m. September 11, 2001). [US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure, 9/21/2001; Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 117; Spencer, 2008, pp. 257-258]
Fighters Intercept Ashcroft's Plane - When Ben Sliney, the national operations manager at the FAA’s Herndon Command Center, hears that Ashcroft’s pilot is refusing to land, he notifies NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS). As a result, two F-16 fighter jets from a nearby Air National Guard base intercept Ashcroft’s plane, but they remain out of sight and undetected by its pilot. The F-16s’ pilots report to NEADS that the errant plane is a private corporate jet without any markings, which is heading for Washington and does not seem to have any intention of landing.
Sliney Wants Plane 'out of My Sky' - Ashcroft’s pilot, David Clemmer, has started broadcasting a message “in the blind,” meaning it is not intended for any specific air traffic controller, stating that the attorney general is on the plane and they are returning to Washington. The F-16 pilots notify NEADS of this, but when a NEADS officer then tells Sliney about the message, Sliney asks, “Can you guarantee me that it is indeed John Ashcroft on that plane?” The officer replies, “No sir, we cannot,” and so Sliney demands, “Then get him out of my sky!” NEADS issues the order to the two F-16 pilots that if the plane will not land voluntarily, then they must take it down. The F-16 flight lead calls the FAA’s Washington Center and arranges for one of its controllers to call the plane’s pilot and tell him that if he does not divert and land, his plane will be shot down. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 258]
Pilot Warned Plane Could Be Shot Down - The Washington Center controller tells Clemmer, “Land your plane immediately, or risk getting shot down by the US Air Force.” [Newsweek, 9/24/2001] Clemmer relays this warning to Ashcroft, telling him: “Sir, there’s a shootdown order. If we get any closer to Washington, they might blow us out of the sky.” [Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 118] Clemmer also turns to an FBI agent who has been assigned to guard Ashcroft, and says, “Well, Larry, we’re in deep kimchi here, and basically, all the rules you and I know are out the window.” He tells air traffic controllers that he is carrying the attorney general, but is worried that this information won’t get through to military commanders who control the airspace around Washington. [Newsweek, 9/24/2001] Clemmer will later recall: “We didn’t want to do anything that would jeopardize our safety or the safety of the [attorney general]. I know I didn’t want to get shot down either.”
Plane Diverted to Richmond - According to some accounts, Ashcroft finally relents, and, at the insistence of the FAA, his plane is diverted to Richmond. Ashcroft will later recall, “It was a real negotiation [with the FAA].” [Washington Post, 9/28/2001; Newsweek, 3/10/2003; Spencer, 2008, pp. 258] However, according to a 2002 FAA report, Ashcroft’s plane is diverted to Richmond “due to air traffic requests for the release of medevac aircraft in the Washington, DC, area.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002 pdf file] As the plane flies toward Richmond, Clemmer negotiates getting a fighter escort for it. Ashcroft will persist in his desire to reach Washington, and his plane will eventually be cleared to land in the capital (see 11:27 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 9/28/2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 272]

Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, Northeast Air Defense Sector, David Clemmer, Washington Air Route Traffic Control Center, Ben Sliney

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

While President Bush is at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, officials there receive reports of unidentified aircraft heading toward the base. [American History, 10/2006 pdf file] The FAA ordered that all airborne aircraft must land at the nearest airport at 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and by about 12:15 p.m., US airspace is clear of all civilian air traffic, with the exception of a small number of law enforcement and emergency operations aircraft (see 12:16 p.m. September 11, 2001). [US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure, 9/21/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 4/15/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 29] But for the entire time Bush is at Barksdale Air Force Base, Lieutenant General Thomas Keck, the commander of the 8th Air Force at Barksdale, and White House aides traveling with the president are receiving reports of unidentified aircraft flying toward the base. According to American History magazine, “Under Threatcon Delta, and what Keck’s staff already knew of the day’s shocking events, there was a low threshold for declaring any incoming plane or object a threat.” Therefore, Keck “made sure his staff kept him closely apprised of each questionable target.… If necessary, the commander was ready to give the order to fire on any plane that threatened the base.” Whether the suspicious aircraft are identified, and the reasons they are flying toward Barksdale ever discovered, is unstated. Barksdale Air Force Base is “already a prime target because of its key fleet of B-52s,” according to American History magazine. “Attack on the base by a hijacked airliner was never among the anticipated scenarios, however, so the base’s air security was light.” [American History, 10/2006 pdf file] Administration officials will later tell the New York Times that around this time, there are two reports of international flights that are unaccounted for, and two domestic flights are seen as possible threats. [New York Times, 9/16/2001] Also while Bush is at Barksdale, a report is received that a high-speed object is heading for his ranch in Crawford, Texas, but this turns out to be a false alarm (see 1:05 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 117; Draper, 2007, pp. 142-143]

Entity Tags: Barksdale Air Force Base, Thomas Keck

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

US airspace is clear of all civilian air traffic, with the exception of a small number of law enforcement and emergency operations aircraft. Otherwise, only military aircraft are airborne. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/18/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 4/15/2002; USA Today, 8/12/2002] The FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, announces that the airspace has been successfully shut down. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 269] At 9:26 a.m., the Command Center ordered a national ground stop that prevented any aircraft from taking off (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and at 9:45 a.m. it ordered FAA facilities to instruct all aircraft to land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Since then, about 4,500 commercial and general aviation aircraft have landed without incident. This is the first time ever that all civilian aircraft in the United States have been grounded. [US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure, 9/21/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 29] Author Pamela Freni will later comment that this clearing of the skies was “a tremendous feat accomplished by a huge team that had never even practiced this part of the game before.” Frank Hatfield, the air traffic division manager for the FAA’s eastern region, will comment: “What we did on September 11 was done amazingly well. It was almost like World War II, the way the airplanes were handled.” [Freni, 2003, pp. 69] At 12:30 p.m., the FAA will report that there are 50 flights in US airspace, but none of them are reporting any problems. [CNN, 9/12/2001]

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration, Frank Hatfield

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

President Bush and Laura Bush with their dogs, Barney and Spot.President Bush and Laura Bush with their dogs, Barney and Spot. [Source: White House]Laura Bush, the president’s wife, is told by her Secret Service agents to be prepared to leave Washington, DC, for several days, and members of her staff then go to the White House to fetch some of her belongings. [National Journal, 8/31/2002; Bush, 2010, pp. 203] Bush is at the Secret Service headquarters in Washington, where she was brought for her own safety (see (10:10 a.m.-10:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (10:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Kessler, 2006, pp. 136] At the headquarters, there is “a debate over what to do with [President Bush] and what to do with me,” the first lady will later recall. Her Secret Service agents tell her “to be prepared to leave Washington for several days at least.” To help her prepare, several members of her staff briefly return to the White House and collect some of her belongings. They are escorted there at about 1:30 p.m., according to Noelia Rodriguez, Bush’s press secretary. Sarah Moss, Bush’s assistant, collects some of the first lady’s clothes. John Meyers, Bush’s advance man, collects the Bush family dogs, Spot and Barney, and the family cat, India. While they are at the White House, the first lady’s staffers also collect their own purses and keys. The Secret Service agent with them instructs them: “Be fast. Run. Get your things.” The staffers then return to the Secret Service headquarters. However, Bush and those with her at the headquarters subsequently learn that the president will be returning to Washington today (see (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001 and (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001). It will therefore be decided that the first lady can stay in the capital. She will be taken to the White House at 6:30 p.m. (see 6:30 p.m. September 11, 2001). [National Journal, 8/31/2002; Bush, 2010, pp. 203]

Entity Tags: Laura Bush, Noelia Rodriguez, John Meyers, Sarah Moss, US Secret Service

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

President Bush takes part in a video teleconference at Offutt Air Force Base. Chief of Staff Andrew Card sits on his left, and Admiral Richard Mies sits on his left.
President Bush takes part in a video teleconference at Offutt Air Force Base. Chief of Staff Andrew Card sits on his left, and Admiral Richard Mies sits on his left. [Source: White House]At Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, President Bush convenes the first meeting of the National Security Council since the attacks occurred. [Woodward, 2002, pp. 26] He begins the video conference call from a bunker beneath the base. He and Chief of Staff Andrew Card visually communicate directly with Vice President Cheney, National Security Adviser Rice, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, CIA Director Tenet, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, and others. [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001; ABC News, 9/11/2002; Washington Times, 10/8/2002] According to Clarke, Bush begins the meeting by saying, “I’m coming back to the White House as soon as the plane is fueled. No discussion.” But according to Condoleezza Rice, he begins with the words, “We’re at war.” Clarke leads a quick review of what has already occurred, and issues that need to be quickly addressed. Bush asks CIA Director Tenet who he thinks is responsible for the day’s attacks. Tenet later recalls, “I told him the same thing I had told the vice president several hours earlier: al-Qaeda. The whole operation looked, smelled, and tasted like bin Laden.” Tenet tells Bush that passenger manifests show that three known al-Qaeda operatives had been on Flight 77. According to Tenet, when he tells the president in particular about Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar (two of the alleged Flight 77 hijackers), Bush gives Mike Morell, his CIA briefer, “one of those ‘I thought I was supposed to be the first to know’ looks.” (Other evidence indicates the third al-Qaeda operative whose name is on the passenger manifest would be Salem Alhazmi (see 9:53 p.m. September 11, 2001).) Tenet tells the meeting that al-Qaeda is “the only terrorist organization capable of such spectacular, well-coordinated attacks,” and that “Intelligence monitoring had overheard a number of known bin Laden operatives congratulating each other after the attacks. Information collected days earlier but only now being translated indicated that various known operatives around the world anticipated a big event. None specified the day, time, place or method of attack.” Richard Clarke later corroborates that Tenet had at this time told the president he was certain that al-Qaeda was to blame. Yet only six weeks later, in an October 24, 2001 interview, Rice will claim differently. She will say, “In the first video conference, the assumption that everybody kind of shared was that it was global terrorists.… I don’t believe anybody said this is likely al-Qaeda. I don’t think so.” Tenet also relays a warning the CIA has received from French intelligence, saying another group of terrorists is within US borders and is preparing a second wave of attacks. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld briefs on the status of US forces, and states that about 120 fighters are now above US cities. [Woodward, 2002, pp. 26-27; Clarke, 2004, pp. 21-22; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 326 and 554; Tenet, 2007, pp. 169] The meeting reportedly ends around 4:00-4:15 p.m. [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001; Washington Times, 10/8/2002]

Entity Tags: Norman Mineta, Osama bin Laden, Richard Armitage, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard A. Clarke, National Security Council, George W. Bush, George J. Tenet, Donald Rumsfeld, Andrew Card, Al-Qaeda, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A US Airways airliner.A US Airways airliner. [Source: Public domain]A US Airways plane that is flying to the United States from Madrid, Spain, is incorrectly suspected of being hijacked. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; White House, 10/24/2001] It is stated over an FAA teleconference that the White House has reported this suspicious aircraft, which is heading to Philadelphia International Airport, and the military is scrambling fighter jets in response to it. [Federal Aviation Administration, 1/2/2002 pdf file] NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) was alerted to the plane by US Customs and the FBI, according to a NORAD representative on the Pentagon’s air threat conference call (see 9:37 a.m.-9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). NORAD has been unable to locate the aircraft on radar, according to the NORAD representative. [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001] Accounts conflict over whether the plane is US Airways Flight 930 or Flight 937. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 1/2/2002 pdf file]
Plane Is Reportedly Transmitting the Hijack Signal - Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, who is in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, will later recall that when those in the PEOC learn of the suspect flight, “we got word that it was only 30 minutes or so outside of US airspace.” According to Libby, the plane’s transponder is transmitting the code for a hijacking: He will say it is reported that the flight has been “showing hijacking through some electronic signal.” [White House, 11/14/2001] However, according to the NORAD representative on the air threat conference call, the plane’s transponder has not been “squawking” the code for a hijacking. “We do not have squawk indication at this point,” he has said.
Plane Is Reportedly Diverted to Pittsburgh - An FAA representative on the air threat conference call apparently says an e-mail has been sent from the suspicious aircraft, stating that the plane is being diverted to Pittsburgh, although the FAA representative’s communications are distorted and therefore unclear. [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001]
President Says Fighters Can Shoot Down the Plane - President Bush discusses the suspicious US Airways flight with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld over the air threat conference call after landing at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001) and Major General Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental United States NORAD Region (CONR), listens in. [Filson, 2003, pp. 87-88] Rumsfeld wants Bush to confirm that fighters are authorized to shoot down the plane if it is considered a threat to a city in the US. “The reason I called… was just to verify that your authorization for the use of force would apply as well in this situation,” he says. Bush replies, “It does, but let us make sure that the fighters and you on the ground get all the facts.” [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001]
Plane Is on the Ground in Spain - After a time, it will be found that the plane is not a threat and is on the ground in Spain. Arnold will be called by Colonel Robert Marr, the battle commander at NEADS, and told, “We just talked to the airline and that aircraft is back on the ground in Madrid.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 88] According to Libby, “It turned out that, I think, it was only 35 minutes out of Spanish airspace, not out of our airspace.” [White House, 11/14/2001] Reggie Settles, the FAA representative at NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center in Colorado, will be informed by US Airways that Flight 937 in fact never existed. However, he will be told, there is a US Airways Flight 911, which “took off from Madrid,” but “has turned back and returned to Madrid,” and “is not en route to the United States.” [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001]
President Decides to Leave Offutt after the Concerns Are Resolved - After he learns that the suspicious plane is back in Spain, Arnold will pick up the hot line and tell Bush: “Mr. President, this is the CONR commander.… No problem with Madrid.” According to Arnold, Bush will reply, “Okay, then I’m getting airborne.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 88] Bush will take off from Offutt aboard Air Force One at around 4:30 p.m. (see (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/12/2001] Numerous aircraft are incorrectly suspected of being hijacked on this day (see (9:09 a.m. and After) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 28; Newhouse News Service, 3/31/2005] The US Airways flight from Madrid is the last of these, according to Arnold. [Code One Magazine, 1/2002]

Entity Tags: Larry Arnold, Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, North American Aerospace Defense Command, US Airways, Robert Marr, Reggie Settles, White House, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Northeast Air Defense Sector, US Customs Service

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Robert J. Darling.Robert J. Darling. [Source: Robert J. Darling]Government and military officials in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House learn that the FBI’s crisis response team wants to be flown from California back to Washington, DC, and, because of the team’s crucial role in responding to terrorism, they arrange a flight for it as a matter of priority. [Darling, 2010, pp. 73-75] The FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG) arrived in California the previous day for a week of field training (see September 10, 2001) and was therefore stranded away from Washington when the terrorist attacks occurred this morning (see 10:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [NBC 4, 9/11/2001; Darling, 2010, pp. 75]
FBI San Francisco Office Arranges to Get Team to Washington - Two agents belonging to the CIRG learned of the attacks when the FBI’s San Francisco field office phoned them just before 9:00 a.m. (Eastern time) and alerted them to the events in New York. The agents quickly went to the field office, where Bruce Gebhardt, the special agent in charge, gave them the details of what had happened, and told them to get their team together and head to the San Francisco airport. Gebhardt said that although US airspace was closed to all commercial air traffic (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001), he would do what he could to get the CIRG transported back to Washington as soon as possible. The team members therefore packed their gear and went to the airport. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 8/18/2004; Darling, 2010, pp. 75-76]
Transporting Unit Home Becomes 'Priority' at White House - In the PEOC, Colonel Michael Irwin, the director of operations for the White House Military Office, is called by a senior member of the FBI, who requests airlift support for the CIRG. The request is quickly passed to Joe Hagin, the White House deputy chief of staff. Hagin hands it back to Irwin and says: “I want you to get these folks back to DC immediately! Let the military know this is a White House priority.” The task of getting the CIRG back to Washington is then passed to Major Robert Darling, the White House Military Office airlift operations liaison officer, who is also in the PEOC. It becomes his “number-one mission priority.” The CIRG is the unit that coordinates the FBI’s rapid response to crisis incidents, including terrorist attacks. Therefore, “It made perfect sense,” Darling will later comment, “that the president would want them home and at the ready, given the day’s events.”
United Airlines Offers to Provide Aircraft - After learning that the FBI has essential personnel trying to return to Washington, United Airlines quickly offers its services. If the White House can authorize an aircraft to fly under the Special Assignment Air Mission designator, the airline says, it will provide the required aircraft and crew immediately. With the approval of Hagin and a phone call to NORAD, United Airlines Flight 8811 is authorized to transport the CIRG back to Washington. “Within the hour” of this authorization being given, according to Darling, the CIRG members will take off from San Francisco and head back to Washington (see Late Afternoon September 11, 2001). [Darling, 2010, pp. 73-76]

Entity Tags: Critical Incident Response Group, Bruce Gebhardt, Federal Bureau of Investigation, United Airlines, Michael Irwin, Robert J. Darling, Joseph W. Hagin, North American Aerospace Defense Command

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Brian Stafford.Brian Stafford. [Source: Publicity photo]President Bush reportedly had begun his video conference call with the National Security Council (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001) by announcing, “I’m coming back to the White House as soon as the plane is fueled. No discussion.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 21] Toward the end of this meeting, around 4 p.m., Secret Service Director Brian Stafford tells Bush, “Our position is stay where you are. It’s not safe.” The Secret Service reportedly wants to keep the president where he is, at Offutt Air Force Base, overnight, and—according to some later accounts—indefinitely. To Stafford’s surprise, Bush ignores his advice and tells him, “I’m coming back.” Leaving the meeting, Bush tells his staff, “We’re going home.” [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001; Sammon, 2002, pp. 123; Woodward, 2002, pp. 28] Bush adviser Karl Rove later claims that, around this time, there are concerns that several planes still remain unaccounted for (see (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Brian L. Stafford, US Secret Service

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Bush speaking to Cheney shortly after leaving Offutt.
Bush speaking to Cheney shortly after leaving Offutt. [Source: White House]Air Force One, with President Bush on board, takes off from Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska and heads for Washington, DC. [CNN, 9/12/2001; Sammon, 2002, pp. 123; Draper, 2007, pp. 143] The president’s plane landed at Offutt at 2:50 p.m. While he was at the base, Bush conducted a meeting of the National Security Council in a secure video teleconference (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Bamford, 2004, pp. 89, 91; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 326] Against objections from the Secret Service, he has announced that he will be returning to Washington (see (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Woodward, 2002, pp. 28; Washington Times, 10/8/2002; Bush, 2010, pp. 135]
Bush Thanks Personnel at Offutt - Bush waved to personnel at the base as he was making his way out to his plane. “We were working at our desks and all of a sudden, there was the president striding down the hallway,” Julie Ziegenhorn, a public affairs officer, will later describe, adding, “He walked right out the front door, waving to us.” He shouted to the personnel, “Thanks for all you’re doing!”
Pilot Was Surprised that Bush Is Leaving - Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot of Air Force One, was incredulous when he was told the president was getting ready to leave, since he’d expected Bush to stay at Offutt for a much longer time. He had been in an office at the base when a young airman ran up to him and said, “It looks like the president is heading back to the plane.” He dismissed the airman, saying, “It probably wasn’t the guy,” but the airman replied, “No, I’m pretty sure I just saw him drive by.” Tillman then raced back to Air Force One and found the president waiting for him at the top of the stairs by the cockpit. Bush told him: “Tillman, we got to get back home. Let’s get back home.”
Reporters Are Allowed to Say What Bush Is Doing - Reporters who have been traveling with Bush are finally permitted to describe the president’s movements on the record. “I called my bureau and told them that the president was heading back to Washington and would address the nation from the Oval Office,” Ann Compton of ABC Radio will recall. [US Air Force, 2/29/2012 pdf file; Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016]
Bush Tells His Wife, 'See You at the White House' - As Air Force One is taking off, Bush calls his wife, Laura, who is at the Secret Service headquarters in Washington (see (10:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001), to let her know he is returning to the capital. He tells her: “I’m coming home. See you at the White House. I love you. Go on home.” After talking to her, he feels comfortable enough to make a joke. “If I’m in the White House and there’s a plane coming my way, all I can say is I hope I read my Bible that day,” he says to his aides. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 123; Woodward, 2002, pp. 17, 28; Washington Times, 10/8/2002]

Entity Tags: Laura Bush, Julie Ziegenhorn, Ann Compton, Mark Tillman, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Richard Tubb.Richard Tubb. [Source: US Air Force]Dr. Richard Tubb, the White House physician, gives everyone on Air Force One a week’s worth of Cipro, a drug used to treat anthrax. [Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016] Air Force One, with President Bush on board, took off from Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska at around 4:33 p.m. (see (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/12/2001; Draper, 2007, pp. 143]
Doctor Is Concerned about a Possible Biological Attack - Tubb will later recall that as the plane is then flying toward Washington, DC, “The thing at that moment I was most worried about was a biologic [attack].” In order to protect the White House staffers on the plane in the “unlikely but high-risk scenario” of such an attack occurring, he decides there is “little harm” in giving them antibiotics. He therefore gives everyone on the plane—presumably including the president—a week’s worth of Cipro. [Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016] Cipro is an antibiotic that is commonly used to treat anthrax. [Forbes, 10/17/2001]
Passengers Are Given an Envelope Containing Cipro - Brian Montgomery, the White House’s director of advance, notices Tubb giving the drug to the passengers on Air Force One. He sees the doctor leaning over each person, whispering to them, patting them on the shoulder, and giving them a small envelope containing Cipro. When Tubb reaches Montgomery, he asks him, “How do you feel?” Montgomery says he feels fine. “You don’t feel disoriented?” Tubb asks and Montgomery says no. Tubb asks, “Have you ever heard of Cipro?” and comments, “We don’t know what might’ve been in that school”—referring to the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, which Bush visited this morning (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001)—“so we’re just being careful.” Montgomery asks what the drug is used for and Tubb replies, “In case it’s anthrax.” [Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016]
Doctor Will Later Be Pleased at His Actions - Letters containing anthrax spores will be sent to media organizations and US government offices later this month and in October, leading to five people dying and a further 17 people becoming ill but surviving (see October 5-November 21, 2001). [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 12/8/2001; BBC, 9/25/2006; CNN, 2/19/2010; National Public Radio, 2/15/2011] Commenting on this, Tubb will reflect, “It was scary later realizing later that fall [that] anthrax wasn’t as unimaginable as we’d thought.” “I was suddenly real pleased with how we’d reacted on the plane,” he will say. [Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016] Tubb is director of the White House Medical Unit and physician to the White House. He oversees all healthcare services within the White House and Camp David, and aboard executive aircraft. [US Air Force, 7/2006] Later today, staffers accompanying Vice President Dick Cheney to Camp David (see Shortly After 10:00 p.m. September 11, 2001) will also be given Cipro, supposedly as “a precaution” (see Evening, September 11, 2001). [Associated Press, 10/23/2001]

Entity Tags: Richard Tubb, Brian Montgomery

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The plane with General Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on board lands at Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, DC, after repeatedly being denied permission to enter US airspace. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001 pdf file; Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 pdf file] At the time of the attacks on the World Trade Center, Shelton was flying toward Europe to attend a NATO conference. After he learned of the second attack, he ordered that his plane turn around and head back to the US (see (8:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 430-431] However, for a number of hours, the plane, nicknamed “Speckled Trout,” was refused clearance to return because the nation’s airspace had been shut down (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). After flying in a “holding pattern” near Greenland and later flying in another holding pattern over Canada, the plane was finally cleared to fly back into the United States (see (After 9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 pdf file] It was escorted by F-16 fighter jets as it flew into the US airspace. [Sanger Herald, 10/17/2013] After flying over New York, Speckled Trout lands at Andrews Air Force Base. [Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 pdf file] It is recorded as having landed at 4:40 p.m. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001 pdf file] “We landed to find the normally bustling Air Force base like a ghost town,” Shelton will later recall. “Like so many government institutions, parts of the base bad been evacuated.” At the base, Shelton is “met by an entourage of three District of Columbia patrol cars and about a dozen motorcycle cops,” which will escort his car, “lights flashing and sirens blaring,” to the Pentagon. [Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 433-434; UNC-TV, 1/27/2013] He will join other senior officials in the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon at 5:40 p.m. (see 5:40 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Myers, 2009, pp. 159]

Entity Tags: Henry Hugh Shelton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Mike Morell, President Bush’s CIA briefer, passes on to Bush all the information the CIA currently has relating to today’s terrorist attacks, which includes a warning the agency received about the possibility that a group of al-Qaeda terrorists is in the United States, preparing for a second wave of attacks. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 169; Bush, 2010, pp. 136; Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016] While he was at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, Bush conducted a meeting of the National Security Council in a secure video teleconference (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001). During the meeting, CIA Director George Tenet said the CIA had information linking al-Qaeda to today’s attacks. [Woodward, 2002, pp. 26-27; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 326; Priess, 2016, pp. 243] Before the meeting ended, Morell slipped out to phone Ted Gistaro, Tenet’s executive assistant, at the CIA’s operations center and asked to have the information Tenet provided to Bush sent to Air Force One. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 169; Morell and Harlow, 2015, pp. 57]
Fax Includes All of the CIA's Information on the Attacks - A few minutes after Air Force One took off from Offutt, heading for Washington, DC (see (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001), Morell received a six-page fax that included all the intelligence the CIA had relating to the attacks. It included the talking points Tenet used to brief Bush during the teleconference, along with a lot of information Tenet was unable to cover in the meeting. Morell read through the material several times and highlighted several passages.
Briefer Goes Over the CIA's Information with Bush - Now, about 30 minutes later, Andrew Card, Bush’s chief of staff, comes to the staff cabin and tells Morell that Bush will see him to go through the information. Morell therefore accompanies Card to the conference room on the plane and the two men meet with Bush there. Morell goes over the material he has been sent with the president, allowing Bush to read as much of it as he wants. [Studies in Intelligence, 9/2006 pdf file; Morell and Harlow, 2015, pp. 57; Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016]
Briefer Reports the Possibility of a Second Wave of Attacks - The material includes information provided by French intelligence, explaining that it has detected signs that al-Qaeda has “sleeper cells” in the US that are planning a second wave of attacks. Bush is concerned when he learns this. He will later describe receiving the information as “one of the darkest moments of the day.” “I believed America could overcome the September 11 attacks without further panic,” he will write. “But,” he will add, “a follow-on strike would be very difficult to bear.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 169; Bush, 2010, pp. 136; Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016] After Morell has finished briefing the president, Bush thanks him and he returns to his seat in the staff cabin. This meeting apparently takes place at around 5:20 p.m., since Morell will comment that Building 7 of the World Trade Center collapses while he is briefing the president and this incident occurs at 5:20 p.m. (see (5:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Studies in Intelligence, 9/2006 pdf file; National Institute of Standards and Technology, 11/2008, pp. 15]

Entity Tags: Andrew Card, Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, George W. Bush, Michael J. Morell

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

An unidentified fast-moving aircraft is noticed flying toward Air Force One as it is bringing President Bush back to Washington, DC, but the aircraft turns out to be just a Learjet, reportedly “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 88] Bush announced he would be returning to Washington while he was at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska (see (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001), and his plane left the base and headed for the capital shortly after 4:30 p.m. (see (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 123; Bush, 2010, pp. 135] As Air Force One is approaching Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, fighter jets belonging to the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) and the 119th Fighter Wing are flying combat air patrols over the capital. They have been joined by a number of other fighters from across the northeast US.
Pilots Told They Will Be Escorting Air Force One - Among the pilots flying over Washington are Lieutenant Colonel Marc Sasseville and Lieutenant Heather Penney of the DCANG, who are flying their second mission of the day. Sasseville and Penney are instructed to contact an Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) plane in their area and “expect special tasking.” When they make contact with the AWACS plane, its controller directs them to fly about 160 miles to the west and says they are going to “escort Air Force One.” Two of the 119th Fighter Wing’s jets offer to accompany Sasseville and Penney, and Sasseville accepts.
Unidentified Aircraft Seen Flying toward Air Force One - A short time later, an AWACS controller reports that a fast-moving unidentified aircraft is flying toward Air Force One. The aircraft is currently about 70 miles southwest of the president’s plane, but is on a “cutoff vector” to Air Force One. The controller reports that the suspicious plane is flying above 40,000 feet, whereas Air Force One is “in the 20,000 feet range.” All the same, Sasseville directs the 119th Fighter Wing’s jets to intercept the aircraft and they quickly do so.
Aircraft Is Not a Threat - The suspicious aircraft turns out to be just a Learjet “that hadn’t yet landed after aircraft nationwide had been ordered out of the air,” according to Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 88] However, the FAA ordered that all airborne aircraft must land at the nearest airport many hours earlier, at around 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure, 9/21/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 25] The plane is simply “in the wrong place at the wrong time,” according to author Leslie Filson. [Filson, 2003, pp. 88] “There was a Learjet vectored on Air Force One,” Sasseville will tell the 9/11 Commission, “but it was nothing.” [9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 pdf file] The two DCANG fighters and the two 119th Fighter Wing jets will subsequently accompany Air Force One as it flies into Andrews Air Force Base. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002]

Entity Tags: Heather Penney Garcia, Marc Sasseville, District of Columbia Air National Guard, 119th Fighter Wing

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England will later claim that President Bush makes an unpublicized visit to the Pentagon at this time. In 2007, England will recall in a speech, “Then that night, on 9/11, we had a meeting in the Pentagon—and I remember this well, because the president came to the Pentagon that evening, at 6:15 in the evening… And the president came and met in the conference room right next to Secretary Rumsfeld’s office. And he came and he said, ‘Get ready.’ He said,‘Get ready.’ He said, ‘This is going to be a long war.’” [US Department of Defense, 1/22/2007] If this account is true, then Air Force One must have flown very quickly from Nebraska (if reports are true Bush left at 4:33 (see (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001), the plane would have travelled at about 700 mph, faster than its official top speed of 600 mph), and Bush must have stayed at the Pentagon briefly before arriving live on camera at the White House around 6:45 (see (6:54 p.m.) September 11, 2001). If Bush did go to the Pentagon, is it not exactly clear why or why no account would mention it until 2007.

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Gordon England

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Laura Bush, the president’s wife, is driven, by members of the Secret Service, to the White House from the Secret Service headquarters in Washington, DC, and is then escorted down to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House. [Bush, 2010, pp. 203-204] Bush was brought to the Secret Service headquarters this morning for her own safety (see (10:10 a.m.-10:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (10:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Woodward, 2002, pp. 17; Kessler, 2006, pp. 136]
First Lady Reassured that No More Attacks Will Occur - There, she spent much of the afternoon “like most other Americans, glued to the television,” according to Us Weekly magazine. Bush was, however, “perhaps more at ease than the average American because her [Secret Service] agents were receiving news before it was reported on television.” Bush will later recall: “[A]fter some time, we started hearing from our agents that most of the planes [in US airspace] had been accounted for, fairly early in the day, I think, before they really started announcing it on television. So at some point we started feeling reassured that [a terrorist attack] wasn’t going to happen again that day.” After Bush and those with her learned that the president would be returning to Washington today (see (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001 and (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001), Bush’s Secret Service agents decided that the first lady could go back to the White House.
First Lady Arrives at White House - At 6.30 p.m., she will recall, Bush gets into a Secret Service motorcade and is driven to the White House by Dave Saunders, one of her agents. [CNN, 9/11/2001; Us Weekly, 10/15/2001; Kessler, 2006, pp. 136; Bush, 2010, pp. 203] It is a short journey, as the Secret Service headquarters is just a few blocks from the White House. [Washington Post, 8/23/2009] Bush is driven along the deserted streets and then her vehicle goes at full throttle through the gate of the White House. She notices “[h]eavily armed men in black” swarming over the White House grounds. She then gets out of the vehicle, preceded by her Secret Service agents.
First Lady Taken to Underground Conference Room - Bush is “hustled inside” the White House, she will recall, and taken “downstairs through a pair of big steel doors that closed behind me with a loud hiss, forming an airtight seal.” She then walks along the hallway below the White House to the PEOC, and is taken into the conference room adjacent to the PEOC’s “nerve center.” Those already in the room include National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, White House counselor Karen Hughes, and deputy White House chief of staff Josh Bolten. Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne Cheney, are also there. Lynne Cheney comes over and hugs the first lady. She then whispers into the first lady’s ear, “The plane that hit the Pentagon circled the White House first” (see 9:34 a.m.- 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). This information, Bush will comment, causes a “shiver” to “vibrate down [her] spine.” [Bush, 2010, pp. 203-204] President Bush will join the first lady in the PEOC at 7:10 p.m., after he arrives at the White House (see 7:10 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Bush, 2010, pp. 137-138; Bush, 2010, pp. 204-205] Staffers who were with the first lady at the Secret Service headquarters went to the White House and then headed home at around 4:30 p.m. (see (4:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [National Journal, 8/31/2002]

Entity Tags: Joshua Bolten, Dave Saunders, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Secret Service, Condoleezza Rice, Laura Bush, Karen Hughes, Lynne Cheney

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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