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Context of '(8:22 a.m.-9:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001: American Airlines Has Problems Making Contact with FAA Command Center'

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After Flight 11 fails to respond to an instruction from air traffic control to climb to 35,000 feet (see 8:13 a.m. September 11, 2001), the controller handling it, Pete Zalewski, tries to regain contact with the aircraft. Over the following ten minutes, he makes numerous attempts but without success. (Zalewski says he makes 12 attempts; the 9/11 Commission says nine.) He tries reaching the pilot on the emergency frequency. Zalewski later recalls that initially, “I was just thinking that it was, you know, maybe they—pilots weren’t paying attention, or there’s something wrong with the frequency.… And at first it was pretty much, you know, ‘American 11,’ you know, ‘are you paying attention? Are you listening?’ And there was still no response.” He says, “I went back to the previous sector to see if the pilot had accidentally flipped the switch back over on the—on the radio.” But as Zalewski is repeatedly unable to get any response from Flight 11, he recalls, “I even began to get more concerned.” However, Zalewski claims, it is not until he sees the plane’s transponder go off at around 8:21 that he suspects something is “seriously wrong,” and calls his supervisor for assistance (see (8:21 a.m.) September 11, 2001). And it is not until about 8:25 that he realizes for sure that he is dealing with a hijacking (see (8:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001). It is only then that Boston Center starts notifying its chain of command that Flight 11 has been hijacked (see 8:25 a.m. September 11, 2001). [New York Times, 10/16/2001; MSNBC, 9/11/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 18; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 7 and 10-11]

Entity Tags: Pete Zalewski

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] 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] 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

American Airlines has problems contacting the FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, about the problems with its aircraft, according to four managers working at the airline’s System Operations Control (SOC) center in Fort Worth, Texas, on this day. Craig Marquis, Craig Parfitt, Joe Bertapelle, and Mike Mulcahy will later tell the 9/11 Commission that American Airlines has “a hard time on 9/11 in getting in touch with Herndon.” They will say that “[p]recious minutes were lost in building the communications bridge” between the SOC and the Command Center. The cause of these communication problems is unknown. [9/11 Commission, 11/19/2003 pdf file] The SOC has known that there are problems on Flight 11 since 8:21 a.m., when Marquis received a call from a supervisor at the airline’s Southeastern Reservations Office in North Carolina, alerting him to a call that had been received from one of the plane’s flight attendants about the emergency taking place (see 8:21 a.m. September 11, 2001). Presumably the SOC starts trying to contact the FAA Command Center soon after receiving this call. It is known that the SOC will make contact with the Command Center at 9:16 a.m., if not earlier (see 9:16 a.m.-9:18 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 9, 15] Bill Halleck, an air traffic control specialist at the SOC, is at least able to reach the FAA’s Boston Center regarding Flight 11 at 8:29 a.m. (see 8:29 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 5, 453] The four American Airlines managers will also tell the 9/11 Commission, “In the event that the [American Airlines] SOC was aware that it was the first to know about an incident [with an aircraft], the protocol would have been for the SOC manager on duty [i.e. Marquis] to have immediately autodialed to the Herndon manager on duty [i.e. Ben Sliney] with the information.” However, the FAA “knew what was going on because of the intercepted communications from the cockpit.” [9/11 Commission, 11/19/2003 pdf file] (FAA air traffic controllers have been aware of problems with Flight 11 since around 8:14 a.m., when they lost communication with the plane (see 8:14 a.m.-8:24 a.m. September 11, 2001), and they subsequently hear communications made by the hijackers on the plane, beginning at 8:24 a.m. (see 8:24 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 18-19] )

Entity Tags: American Airlines, Craig Marquis, Craig Parfitt, Bill Halleck, Joseph Bertapelle, Federal Aviation Administration, Mike Mulcahy

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Pete Zalewski.Pete Zalewski. [Source: NBC]Because the talkback button on Flight 11 has been activated, Boston Center air traffic controllers can hear a hijacker on board say to the passengers: “We have some planes. Just stay quiet and you’ll be OK. We are returning to the airport.” [Boston Globe, 11/23/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 19] Air traffic controller Pete Zalewski recognizes this as a foreign, Middle Eastern-sounding voice, but does not make out the specific words “we have some planes.” He responds, “Who’s trying to call me?” Seconds later, in the next transmission, the hijacker continues: “Nobody move. Everything will be OK. If you try to make any moves you’ll endanger yourself and the airplane. Just stay quiet.” [New York Times, 10/16/2001; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004; MSNBC, 9/9/2006] Bill Peacock, the FAA director of air traffic services, later claims, “We didn’t know where the transmission came from, what was said and who said it.” David Canoles, the FAA’s manager of air traffic evaluations and investigations, adds: “The broadcast wasn’t attributed to a flight. Nobody gave a flight number.” [Washington Times, 9/11/2002] Similarly, an early FAA report will state that both these transmissions came from “an unknown origin.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file] Zalewski asks for an assistant to help listen to the transmissions coming from the plane, and puts its frequency on speakers so others at Boston Center can hear. Because Zalewski didn’t understand the initial hijacker communication from Flight 11, the manager of Boston Center instructs the center’s quality assurance specialist to “pull the tape” of the transmission, listen to it carefully, and then report back. They do this, and by about 9:03 a.m. a Boston manager will report having deciphered what was said in the first hijacker transmission (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004; MSNBC, 9/9/2006] Fellow Boston controller Don Jeffroy also hears the tape of the hijacker transmissions, though he doesn’t state at what time. He says: “I heard exactly what Pete [Zalewski] heard. And we had to actually listen to it a couple of times just to make sure that we were hearing what we heard.” [MSNBC, 9/11/2002] At some point, Ben Sliney, the national operations manager at the FAA’s Herndon Command Center, gets word of the “We have some planes” message, and later says the phrase haunts him all morning. American Airlines Executive Vice President for Operations Gerard Arpey is also informed of the “strange transmissions from Flight 11” at some point prior to when it crashes at 8:46 a.m. [USA Today, 8/13/2002] Boston Center will receive a third transmission from Flight 11 about ten minutes later (see (8:34 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Bill Peacock, Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center, David Canoles, Pete Zalewski

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Bill Halleck, an air traffic control specialist at the American Airlines System Operations Control (SOC) center in Fort Worth, Texas, calls the FAA’s Boston Center to ask about the status of Flight 11 and is told that the plane has deviated from its flight path, air traffic controllers have lost communication with it and have lost its transponder signal, and they have heard a possible threat being made in the background over the radio. This call is American Airlines’ first contact with FAA controllers regarding Flight 11. [9/11 Commission, 3/25/2004, pp. 15; 9/11 Commission, 4/26/2004; 9/11 Commission, 4/26/2004 pdf file]
Manager Told Halleck to Call FAA - At 8:21 a.m., Craig Marquis, the manager on duty at the SOC, received a call from a supervisor at the American Airlines Southeastern Reservations Office in North Carolina, alerting him to a call the office had received from Betty Ong, a flight attendant on Flight 11, reporting the emergency on her plane (see 8:21 a.m. September 11, 2001). Marquis had replied that he would get in touch with air traffic control about this. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 9] He asked Halleck to contact the FAA’s Boston Center and find out what is happening with Flight 11. Immediately after receiving this request, Halleck calls the traffic management unit (TMU) at the Boston Center. [9/11 Commission, 1/8/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 4/26/2004 pdf file]
Boston Center Tells Halleck Details of Crisis - When the call is answered, Halleck introduces himself and then says, “[W]e’re trying to find out the status to what you know about our Flight 11.” The Boston Center controller replies that Flight 11’s last reported altitude was below 29,000 feet. He reports that the flight has altered course, saying, “He was heading west, but right now he’s pointed southwest of Albany.” Furthermore, he says, “we lost frequency with him,” meaning communication has been lost with the plane, and adds that the plane’s transponder has been turned off.
Controller Heard a 'Threat in the Background' on Flight 11 - The controller at the TMU also tells Halleck that the Boston Center controller dealing with Flight 11 “heard on the frequency a threat in the background, but that’s unconfirmed and we’re trying to pull the tape [recording of the radio communication] at this time.” Halleck asks for clarification that the controller handling Flight 11 “heard a background noise in the cockpit,” and is told: “Like a threat. Yes, sir.” The controller at the TMU adds that he has been told that it is believed the pilot’s microphone on Flight 11 was keyed, and so the controller handling the flight “heard in the background, like, yeah, ‘Return to an airport… or I’ll kill you,’ or something to that effect.” He also says the plane is not squawking any emergency transponder codes. Halleck says he is tracking Flight 11 on the aircraft situation display, and the controller replies that the Boston Center is currently tracking the plane with primary radar only. The controller ends by telling Halleck, “That is all we have.” [American Airlines, 9/11/2001, pp. 56-57; American Airlines, 9/11/2001, pp. 58; 9/11 Commission, 1/8/2004 pdf file]
Halleck Does Not Pass On Information from Flight Attendant - With this call, Halleck is the first person at American Airlines to speak to FAA air traffic control personnel about Flight 11. [9/11 Commission, 4/26/2004; 9/11 Commission, 4/26/2004 pdf file] During the call, he does not tell the Boston Center controller about the ongoing conversation between American Airlines and Ong, or what Marquis has learned from this conversation. [United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1/16/2009 pdf file] Halleck will promptly pass on the information from the Boston Center to Marquis, and this will lead American Airlines to suspect that Flight 11 has been hijacked (see 8:33 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 12]

Entity Tags: American Airlines, Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center, Federal Aviation Administration, Bill Halleck

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Bill Halleck, an American Airlines air traffic control specialist at the airline’s System Operations Control (SOC) in Fort Worth, Texas, phones an official at the FAA’s Herndon Command Center, to ask about the status of New York City air traffic. During their two-and-a-half minute conversation, Halleck says American thinks Flight 11 crashed into the WTC, and says that Flight 77 is “missing.” Presently, he receives an update from someone else at SOC, indicating that Flight 77 may also have crashed into the WTC (see 9:08 a.m. September 11, 2001). He wonders how it could have gotten to New York, but updates the FAA official on this news. The FAA official replies that the second WTC crash may not have been Flight 77 because “we have another call sign” for that incident. The FAA Command Center is currently uncertain of the identity of either of the planes that hit the Twin Towers, and provides no further information. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 31 and 94]

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration, Bill Halleck, American Airlines

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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