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Context of '8:20 a.m. September 11, 2001: American Airlines Flight Notifies Dispatcher of Problem with Contacting Flight 11'

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Peggy Houck, a flight dispatcher at the American Airlines System Operations Control (SOC) center in Fort Worth, Texas, is contacted by an American Airlines flight and told that air traffic control has asked the aircraft to try to contact Flight 11. Houck is working at the desk for American Airlines’ transcontinental flights and is therefore the dispatcher responsible for Flight 11. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001, pp. 5-7; 9/11 Commission, 1/8/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 9 pdf file] Under FAA rules, dispatchers licensed by the agency are responsible for following aircraft in flight. Once a plane is in the air, a dispatcher must monitor its progress, relay safety information to the captain, and handle any problems. American Airlines assigns a dispatcher to each of its flights. [Dallas Morning News, 6/13/2002; Sydney Morning Herald, 6/14/2002; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 86 pdf file] Houck will later tell the FBI that the flight that calls her has sent a message to Flight 11 stating something along the lines of, “Good morning, ATC [air traffic control] wants you on [a certain radio frequency] and requests an acknowledgment,” but received no reply. Houck has, until now, had no direct contact with Flight 11 and the communication she receives from this other aircraft is the first indication she has of any problem on Flight 11. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001, pp. 5-7; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 9 pdf file] Details of the aircraft that calls Houck are unclear. Houck will tell the 9/11 Commission, in 2004, that it is a “Seattle-Boston” flight. [9/11 Commission, 1/8/2004 pdf file] However, interviewed by the FBI later today, she will refer to it as “another Boston flight,” suggesting that—like Flight 11—it had taken off from Logan International Airport in Boston. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001, pp. 5-7] Houck, or another dispatcher at the SOC, will subsequently send an ACARS text message to Flight 11, but receive no response to it (see 8:23 a.m.-8:25 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 9 pdf file]

Entity Tags: American Airlines, Peggy Houck

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Nydia Gonzalez.Nydia Gonzalez. [Source: 9/11 Commission]Nydia Gonzalez, a supervisor at the American Airlines Southeastern Reservations Office in Cary, North Carolina, joins a phone call between two employees at her office and Betty Ong, a flight attendant on the hijacked Flight 11. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 8-9 pdf file] Ong called the reservations office at 8:18 a.m. to report the hijacking (see 8:18 a.m. September 11, 2001), and has since then been talking to two employees there: Vanessa Minter and Winston Sadler. Sadler pushed the emergency button on his phone to alert personnel in the operations area of the reservations office, so that one of them could pick up the call from Ong. A colleague of Gonzalez’s initially picked up the call, but Gonzalez quickly takes over from them. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/12/2001, pp. 38-41; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 453; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006] Gonzalez, Minter, and Sadler are in different areas of the reservations office, but all three of them are able to monitor Ong’s call. [9/11 Commission, 11/19/2003 pdf file]
Supervisor Told of Stabbings on Flight 11 - The first thing Gonzalez says when she joins the call is: “This is operations. What flight number are we talking about?” Ong earlier told Minter and Sadler, incorrectly, that she was on “Flight 12,” not Flight 11 (see 8:19 a.m. September 11, 2001). Sadler therefore tells Gonzalez, “Flight 12.” Ong quickly corrects him, saying: “We’re on Flight 11 right now. This is Flight 11.… Boston to Los Angeles.” She also repeats information she previously gave to Minter and Sadler, saying, “Our number one [flight attendant] has been stabbed and our [number] five [flight attendant] has been stabbed.” [American Airlines, 9/11/2001, pp. 3-6]
Supervisor Notifies Airline's Operations Center - Gonzalez is an operations specialist, and her responsibilities include monitoring any emergency situations with American Airlines flights and forwarding information to the American Airlines System Operations Control (SOC) center in Fort Worth, Texas. [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 17] She immediately realizes the seriousness of the situation on Flight 11 and therefore, while remaining connected to Ong’s call, phones the SOC on a separate line to notify it of the problem (see (8:21 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 11/19/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 9 pdf file] Gonzalez will later recall that she finds Ong to be “calm, professional, and in control throughout the call.” [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004 pdf file] She will also say that during the time she is monitoring Ong’s call, she does not hear much commotion in the background. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/12/2001, pp. 69-71]

Entity Tags: Betty Ong, Nydia Gonzalez, Winston Sadler, Vanessa Minter, American Airlines

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The American Airlines System Operations Control center in Fort Worth, Texas.The American Airlines System Operations Control center in Fort Worth, Texas. [Source: American Airlines]Employees at the American Airlines System Operations Control (SOC) center in Fort Worth, Texas, send ACARS text messages to the pilots of the hijacked Flight 11, but receive no response. At 8:23 a.m., a flight dispatcher at the SOC sends an ACARS message to Flight 11. ACARS, meaning Aircraft Communications and Reporting System, is an e-mail system enabling company personnel on the ground to rapidly communicate with those in the cockpit of an in-flight aircraft. The message says: “Good morning.… ATC [air traffic control] looking for you on [radio frequency] 135.32.” No response is received from Flight 11. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 9-10 pdf file] It is unclear which dispatcher sends this ACARS message. Peggy Houck, the dispatcher responsible for Flight 11, will tell the 9/11 Commission, in 2004, that she tries to reach the flight “via the ACARS system” shortly after 8:20 a.m. [9/11 Commission, 1/8/2004 pdf file] However, when she is interviewed by the FBI later today, Houck will say that “another” American Airlines dispatcher, besides herself, “sent an ACARS message to Flight 11… based upon ATC’s attempts to contact Flight 11.” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001, pp. 5-7] At 8:25 a.m., Bob Marino, an American Airlines air traffic control specialist at the SOC, sends another ACARS message to Flight 11. This says: “Plz contact Boston Center ASAP.… They have lost radio contact and your transponder signal.” Again, no response is received from the plane. Subsequent ACARS messages sent to Flight 11 will also receive no reply. [9/11 Commission, 3/25/2004, pp. 14; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 10 pdf file]

Entity Tags: American Airlines, Bob Marino, Peggy Houck

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The ARINC San Francisco Communications Center.The ARINC San Francisco Communications Center. [Source: ARINC]ARINC, a company that provides a backup communications capability for airborne flights, tries unsuccessfully to contact the hijacked Flight 11. [American Airlines, 9/11/2001, pp. 26-27; 9/11 Commission, 1/8/2004 pdf file] Peggy Houck, a flight dispatcher at the American Airlines System Operations Control center in Fort Worth, Texas, calls ARINC in San Francisco and says she needs “to get a hold of” Flight 11. Houck says Flight 11 is “ACARS-equipped” but not responding to ACARS messages (see 8:23 a.m.-8:25 a.m. September 11, 2001). [American Airlines, 9/11/2001, pp. 24-25; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001, pp. 5-7] (ACARS is a text messaging system that enables airline personnel to communicate with the pilots of an in-flight aircraft. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001, pp. 14-17; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 9 pdf file] ) The ARINC employee Houck talks to says they will try to contact Flight 11 using ACARS, and then “SELCAL him.” [American Airlines, 9/11/2001, pp. 24-25] (“SELCAL,” short for “selective calling,” is a technique that, by causing a chime to sound in the cockpit of an aircraft, lets the crew know that a ground radio operator wants to communicate with them. [International Virtual Aviation Organisation, 4/2/2006; Aviation Spectrum Resources, Inc., 9/14/2011, pp. 2-1, 4-1 pdf file] ) However, ARINC’s attempts at contacting Flight 11 are unsuccessful. ARINC calls Houck back to let her know this. The ARINC employee says ARINC has “SELCALd” Flight 11 and sent ACARS messages to the plane, but without getting any response. The employee also says that ARINC called the FAA’s Boston Center, which has been handling Flight 11, and asked if it could relay a message to Flight 11, but the Boston Center replied that it “couldn’t at this time.” After Houck says she would like ARINC to keep trying to contact Flight 11, the employee ends the call, telling her, “I’ll advise the operators to keep on trying.” Houck will later recall that by this time, she has received “no messages or other communications from Flight 11, and had received nothing from the crew to indicate any trouble on board.” [American Airlines, 9/11/2001, pp. 26-27; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001, pp. 5-7]

Entity Tags: Peggy Houck, Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center, ARINC

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

American Airlines’ System Operations Command Center.American Airlines’ System Operations Command Center. [Source: American Airlines]American Airlines managers activate the System Operations Command Center (SOCC) in order to manage the company’s response to the terrorist attacks. [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 12 pdf file] The SOCC is a dedicated crisis response facility located on the floor above, and overlooking, the American Airlines System Operations Control (SOC) center in Fort Worth, Texas. [9/11 Commission, 11/19/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004] Activating the command center allows the airline to isolate an event and gather together the people needed to manage it. [9/11 Commission, 1/7/2004 pdf file] The SOCC is activated in emergencies, such as major accidents and hijackings, during which the airline’s top operations officials assemble there. Craig Parfitt, the managing director of dispatch operations, and Joseph Bertapelle, the manager of SOC operations coordination/air traffic systems, will serve as its directors today. [USA Today, 8/13/2002; 9/11 Commission, 11/19/2003 pdf file]
Accounts Unclear over When SOCC Is Activated - The exact time when the SOCC is activated is unclear. Gerard Arpey, American Airlines’ executive vice president of operations, will tell the 9/11 Commission that when he arrives at the SOC, between around 8:35 a.m. and 8:40 a.m. (see (8:30 a.m.-8:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001), he sees that Parfitt, Bertapelle, and Kyle Phelps, the manager of administration for the SOC, are setting up the SOCC. By around 8:45 a.m. or 8:50 a.m., according to Arpey, the command center is filling up with people. [9/11 Commission, 1/8/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004] But Parfitt will indicate that the SOCC is activated slightly later. He will tell the 9/11 Commission that it is being set up after the airline’s 8:45 a.m. conference call (see 8:45 a.m. September 11, 2001) and that senior managers, including himself, arrive there at around 8:55 a.m. Craig Marquis, the manager on duty at the SOC, will say that at about 8:50 a.m., he looks up and notices activity in the SOCC. [9/11 Commission, 11/19/2003 pdf file] The SOC manager is the individual responsible for activating the SOCC, according to a 9/11 Commission memorandum. However, it is unclear whether Marquis makes the decision to activate the command center on this occasion. [9/11 Commission, 11/19/2003 pdf file]
Airline's Key Decisions Made in the SOCC - The SOCC will be primarily responsible for dealing with the crisis. [9/11 Commission, 4/26/2004 pdf file] The key decisions on the airline’s immediate response to the hijackings will be made there. American Airlines employees in the command center will provide assistance to the FBI and other law enforcement agencies involved in investigating the attacks. The SOCC will remain open 24 hours a day for the next two weeks. [9/11 Commission, 11/19/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004]

Entity Tags: American Airlines, Joseph Bertapelle, Gerard Arpey, Craig Marquis, Craig Parfitt, Kyle Phelps

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Larry Wansley.Larry Wansley. [Source: Publicity photo]At 8:45 a.m., Larry Wansley learns of the hijacking of Flight 11. Wansley is the managing director of corporate security for American Airlines, and is at the company’s headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas. He is informed of the hijacking in an urgent phone call from the airline’s Command Center, located on the floor above its System Operations Control (SOC), about a mile away from headquarters (see (Between 8:40 a.m. and 8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The SOC learned there was some kind of problem with Flight 11 at 8:20 a.m. (see 8:20 a.m. September 11, 2001). Since as early as 8:21, details of Flight 11 attendant Betty Ong’s emergency call have been constantly relayed to Craig Marquis, a manager at the SOC (see 8:21 a.m. September 11, 2001). Yet the 8:45 call is apparently Wansley’s first notification of the hijacking. He calls Danny Defenbaugh, the special agent in charge of the Dallas FBI office. Wansley is himself a former undercover FBI agent, and Defenbaugh is a longtime friend of his. This call is “the first step in the well-researched, secret hijack-response plan all commercial airlines have in place.” As Wansley is relaying information, he hears screaming from an adjacent conference room, as several employees watch the aftermath of the first WTC crash on television. The TV in Defenbaugh’s office has been turned on, but reportedly neither of the two men connects the images of the burning tower with the hijacking they are trying to deal with. As they continue discussing their response plans, television shows the second plane hitting the South Tower. No doubt realizing this is a terrorist attack, Defenbaugh says, “The ball game just changed.” Around this time, Wansley learns that the first plane to hit the WTC was the hijacked American Airlines flight. He will subsequently make a hurried drive to the nearby Command Center, where the FBI will already be setting up its own command post (see Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Dallas Observer, 11/21/2002; 9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 14 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Larry Wansley, Federal Bureau of Investigation, American Airlines, Danny Defenbaugh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Shortly before 9/11, American Airlines revised its crisis plan for dealing with situations including “plane crashes and 1978-style hijackings” (see Late Summer 2001). However, on this day, “American abandoned its freshly minted crisis communications plan almost immediately, not because putting the CEO out front isn’t the best plan of action in a crisis, but because the FBI rushed to American’s Command Center and made it clear who was in charge.” [PR Week, 11/5/2001] Larry Wansley, the American Airlines director of security, is at the company’s headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas. He had contacted the Dallas FBI about the hijacking of Flight 11 at around 8:45 a.m. (see (8:45 a.m.-9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). After learning of the two planes hitting the World Trade Center, he makes a hurried drive to the airline’s Command Center, about a mile from the headquarters, on the floor above its System Operations Control (SOC). Already, by the time he arrives, the FBI is setting up its own command post there, reviewing the Flight 11 passenger manifest, and replaying the recording of flight attendant Betty Ong’s emergency phone call. [Dallas Observer, 11/21/2002; 9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004] Tim Doke, the American Airlines vice president for corporate communications, later recounts that the “FBI essentially gagged us from any meaningful media interaction immediately following the terrorist attacks.” [Jack O'Dwyer's Newsletter, 12/4/2002] American Airlines’ first press release, issued within a few hours of the attacks, will refer all questions to the FBI. [PR Week, 11/5/2001]

Entity Tags: Larry Wansley, Federal Bureau of Investigation, American Airlines

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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