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Context of '(8:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Boston Realizes with Certainty that Flight 11 Has Been Hijacked'

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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 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Pete Zalewski

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

FAA’s Boston CenterFAA’s Boston Center [Source: ABC News]According to some reports, Boston flight control decides that Flight 11 has probably been hijacked, but apparently, it does not notify other flight control centers for another five minutes, and does not notify NORAD for approximately 20 minutes. [New York Times, 9/15/2001; Newsday, 9/23/2001] ABC News will later say, “There doesn’t seem to have been alarm bells going off, [flight] controllers getting on with law enforcement or the military. There’s a gap there that will have to be investigated.” [ABC News, 9/14/2001] (Note the conflicting account at 8:21 a.m. (see (8:21 a.m.) September 11, 2001)

Entity Tags: Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Tom Roberts.Tom Roberts. [Source: NBC News]Boston flight controller Pete Zalewski, handling Flight 11, sees that the flight is off course and that the plane has turned off both transponder and radio. Zalewski later claims he turns to his supervisor and says, “Would you please come over here? I think something is seriously wrong with this plane. I don’t know what. It’s either mechanical, electrical, I think, but I’m not sure.” When asked if he suspected a hijacking at this point, he replies, “Absolutely not. No way.” According to the 9/11 Commission, “the supervisor instructed the controller [presumably Zalewski] to follow standard operating procedures for handling a ‘no radio’ aircraft once the controller told the supervisor the transponder had been turned off.” Another flight controller, Tom Roberts, has another nearby American Airlines Flight try to contact Flight 11. There is still no response. The flight is now “drastically off course” but NORAD is still not notified. [MSNBC, 9/11/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Note that this response contradicts flight control manager Glenn Michael’s assertion that Flight 11 was considered a possible hijacking as soon as the transponder was discovered turned off.

Entity Tags: Pete Zalewski, Tom Roberts, Glenn Michael, North American Aerospace Defense Command

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

According to Terry Biggio, the operations manager at the FAA’s Boston Center, the center initially thought Flight 11 “was a catastrophic electrical failure and… was diverting to New York” (see (8:21 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 10/19/2002] However, at about 8:24 a.m., controllers heard two radio transmissions from it, with the voice of a hijacker declaring, “We have some planes” (see 8:24 a.m. September 11, 2001). Pete Zalewski, who is handling Flight 11, says that after the second of these: “I immediately knew something was very wrong. And I knew it was a hijack.” He alerts his supervisor. Lino Martins, another Boston air traffic controller, says, “the supervisor came over, and that’s when we realized something was serious.” [Christian Science Monitor, 9/13/2001; MSNBC, 9/11/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] However, two senior FAA officials—Bill Peacock and David Canoles—later say that the hijacker transmissions were not attributed to a flight, so controllers didn’t know their origin. [Washington Times, 9/11/2002] An early FAA report will similarly refer to them as having come “from an unknown origin.” But right away, the center begins notifying the chain of command that a suspected hijacking is taking place (see 8:25 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file] However, some reports claim that controllers decided Flight 11 was probably hijacked earlier than this, by about 8:20 a.m. (see (8:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Pete Zalewski, Lino Martins

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

John Hartling.John Hartling. [Source: NBC News]By 8:34 a.m., Flight 11 has entered airspace managed by Boston Center air traffic controller John Hartling. [MSNBC, 9/11/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 19] Although Boston controller Pete Zalewski, who was managing Flight 11, concluded the plane was hijacked almost ten minutes earlier (see (8:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001), at the time the blip for Flight 11 appears on Hartling’s radar screen, Hartling is unaware that a hijacking is taking place. According to author Lynn Spencer, the reason is that “The concentration required for the job is so intense that controllers operate on a need-to-know basis. They don’t need to know what’s happening in other controllers’ sectors unless it might affect their own airspace, and distractions are rigorously kept to a minimum.” Tom Roberts, another Boston Center controller, has just been relieved from duty for a scheduled coffee break, and comes over to Hartling’s desk. Referring to Flight 11’s radar track, he tells Hartling, “This—this aircraft, we believe, is hijacked, and he’s last reported at 29,000 feet.” However, Hartling is incredulous. He will later recall that when Roberts says the plane is hijacked, “I didn’t believe him.” This is because “I didn’t think that that stuff would happen anymore, especially in this country.” Hartling continues tracking Flight 11 as it heads toward New York. Although its transponder has been turned off (see (Between 8:13 a.m. and 8:21 a.m.) September 11, 2001), he can tell that, at almost 600 mph, it is flying far faster than the 450 mph it should be moving at. [MSNBC, 9/11/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 22-24]

Entity Tags: Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center, John Hartling, Tom Roberts

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Powell.Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Powell. [Source: Scott A. Gwilt/ Rome Sentinel]The FAA’s Boston Center calls NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) in Rome, NY, to alert it to the suspected hijacking of Flight 11. According to the 9/11 Commission, this is “the first notification received by the military—at any level—that American 11 had been hijacked.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 13 pdf file] The call is made by Joseph Cooper, an air traffic controller at the Boston Center, and answered by Jeremy Powell, a technical sergeant on the NEADS operations floor. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 25] Beginning the call, Cooper says: “Hi. Boston Center TMU [traffic management unit], we have a problem here. We have a hijacked aircraft headed towards New York, and we need you guys to, we need someone to scramble some F-16s or something up there, help us out.” Powell replies, “Is this real-world or exercise?” Cooper answers, “No, this is not an exercise, not a test.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20] Shortly into the call, Powell passes the phone on to Lieutenant Colonel Dawne Deskins (see (8:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Deskins identifies herself to Cooper, and he tells her, “We have a hijacked aircraft and I need you to get some sort of fighters out here to help us out.” [Newhouse News Service, 1/25/2002; ABC News, 9/11/2002; Bamford, 2004, pp. 8; Spencer, 2008, pp. 26]
Military Claims Call Goes against Procedure - The 1st Air Force’s official history of the response to the 9/11 attacks will later suggest that Boston Center is not following normal procedures when it makes this call to NEADS. It states: “If normal procedures had taken place… Powell probably wouldn’t have taken that phone call. Normally, the FAA would have contacted officials at the Pentagon’s National Military Command Center who would have contacted the North American Aerospace Defense Command. The secretary of defense would have had to approve the use of military assets to assist in a hijacking, always considered a law enforcement issue.” The only explanation it gives for this departure from protocol is that “nothing was normal on Sept. 11, 2001, and many say the traditional chain of command went by the wayside to get the job done.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 51]
Accounts Conflict over Time of Call - There will be some conflict between different accounts, as to when this vital call from Boston Center to NEADS occurs. An ABC News documentary will indicate it is made as early as 8:31 a.m. [ABC News, 9/11/2002] Another ABC News report will state, “Shortly after 8:30 a.m., behind the scenes, word of a possible hijacking [reaches] various stations of NORAD.” [ABC News, 9/14/2002] NEADS logs indicate the call occurs at 8:40 a.m., and NORAD will report this as the time of the call in a press release on September 18, 2001. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001] The 8:40 time will be widely reported in the media prior to the 9/11 Commission’s 2004 report. [Associated Press, 8/21/2002; BBC, 9/1/2002; Newsday, 9/10/2002; CNN, 9/11/2002] But tape recordings of the NEADS operations floor that are referred to in the 9/11 Commission Report place the call at 8:37 and 52 seconds. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] If the 8:37 a.m. time is correct, this would mean that air traffic controllers have failed to successfully notify the military until approximately 12 minutes after they became certain that Flight 11 had been hijacked (see (8:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001), 16 minutes after Flight 11’s transponder signal was lost (see (Between 8:13 a.m. and 8:21 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and 24 minutes after the plane’s pilots made their last radio contact (see 8:13 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] At 8:34, the Boston Center tried contacting the military through the FAA’s Cape Cod facility, which is located on Otis Air National Guard Base, but was told that it needed to call NEADS (see 8:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20; Spencer, 2008, pp. 22]

Entity Tags: Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center, Dawne Deskins, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Joseph Cooper, Northeast Air Defense Sector, Jeremy Powell

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A typical F-15.A typical F-15. [Source: US Air Force]Radar data will show that the two F-15s scrambled from Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, are airborne by this time. [Washington Post, 9/15/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20] It is now eight minutes since the mission crew commander at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) ordered that the jets be launched (see 8:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] It is 40 minutes since air traffic controllers had their last communication with Flight 11 (see 8:13 a.m. September 11, 2001), and 28 minutes since they became certain that the aircraft was hijacked (see (8:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Flight 11 crashed into the World Trade Center seven minutes ago (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 7, 19 and 459]
Commander Wants Fighters Sent to New York - In Rome, New York, NEADS has just received news of the plane hitting the WTC (see 8:51 a.m. September 11, 2001). Major Kevin Nasypany, the facility’s mission crew commander, is asked what to do with the Otis fighters. He responds: “Send ‘em to New York City still. Continue! Go! This is what I got. Possible news that a 737 just hit the World Trade Center. This is a real-world.… Continue taking the fighters down to the New York City area, JFK [International Airport] area, if you can. Make sure that the FAA clears it—your route all the way through.… Let’s press with this.” [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] Yet there will be conflicting reports of the fighters’ destination (see (8:53 a.m.-9:05 a.m.) September 11, 2001), with some accounts saying they are directed toward military-controlled airspace off the Long Island coast. [Filson, 2003, pp. 56-59; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]

Entity Tags: Northeast Air Defense Sector, Robert Marr, Kevin Nasypany, Otis Air National Guard Base

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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