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8:29 a.m. September 11, 2001: American Airlines Makes First Contact with FAA about Flight 11, Learns Details of Crisis

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

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