!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News

Context of '8:30 a.m.-8:40 a.m. September 11, 2001: Managers at FAA Command Center Learn of Flight 11 Hijacking, but Continue with Staff Meeting'

This is a scalable context timeline. It contains events related to the event 8:30 a.m.-8:40 a.m. September 11, 2001: Managers at FAA Command Center Learn of Flight 11 Hijacking, but Continue with Staff Meeting. You can narrow or broaden the context of this timeline by adjusting the zoom level. The lower the scale, the more relevant the items on average will be, while the higher the scale, the less relevant the items, on average, will be.

Shortly after air traffic controllers ask Flight 11 to climb to 35,000 feet, its transponder stops transmitting. A transponder is an electronic device that identifies a plane on a controller’s screen and gives its exact location and altitude. Among other vital functions, it is also used to transmit a four-digit emergency hijack code. Flight control manager Glenn Michael later says, “We considered it at that time to be a possible hijacking.” [Christian Science Monitor, 9/13/2001; MSNBC, 9/15/2001; Associated Press, 8/12/2002] Initial stories after 9/11 suggest the transponder is turned off around 8:13 a.m., but Pete Zalewski, the air traffic controller handling the flight, later says the transponder is turned off at 8:20 a.m. [MSNBC, 9/11/2002] The 9/11 Commission places it at 8:21 a.m. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Colonel Robert Marr, head of NEADS, claims the transponder is turned off some time after 8:30 a.m. where the Flight 11 hijack was first detected a.m. [ABC News, 9/11/2002]

Entity Tags: Pete Zalewski, Glenn Michael, Robert Marr

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Betty Ong.Betty Ong. [Source: The Eagle-Tribune]Betty Ong, a flight attendant on Flight 11, begins relaying information about the trouble on her plane to employees at the American Airlines Southeastern Reservations Office in Cary, North Carolina. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 5] Ong has just called the reservations office to report the hijacking of Flight 11, and is on the line with two employees there: Vanessa Minter and Winston Sadler (see 8:18 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/12/2001, pp. 38-41; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 453]
Ong Describes Hijacking but Gives Wrong Flight Number - Ong tells Minter and Sadler: “The cockpit’s not answering, somebody’s stabbed in business class, and I think there’s Mace, that we can’t breathe.… I think we’re getting hijacked.” Sadler asks Ong what flight she is on and Ong replies, incorrectly, “Flight 12.” She says her plane just left Boston and is supposed to go to Los Angeles, and the pilots are not answering the phone in the cockpit. She says she is in the jump seat, 3R, which is at the back of the plane, behind the coach section. [American Airlines, 9/11/2001, pp. 3-6; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 6, 8] However, Amy Sweeney, another flight attendant who makes a call from Flight 11, is in the next-to-last row of passenger seats in the coach section of the plane, and she will say that Ong is sitting next to her (see (8:32 a.m.-8:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [New York Observer, 2/15/2004; New York Observer, 6/20/2004; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 11]
Ong Says Two Flight Attendants Stabbed - Sadler asks Ong her name and she replies: “My name is Betty Ong. I’m number three [flight attendant] on Flight 11.” She says the number one flight attendant and the number five flight attendant have been stabbed. [American Airlines, 9/11/2001, pp. 3-6] These two attendants are Barbara Arestegui and Karen Martin. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 6] Ong says, “Nobody knows who stabbed who and we can’t even get up to business class right now, ‘cause nobody can breathe.” She also says: “We can’t get into the cockpit. The door won’t open.” [American Airlines, 9/11/2001, pp. 3-6] Sadler takes notes of the call, using his computer “scratch pad.” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/12/2001, pp. 42-44] He notifies Ong of this, saying, “I’m taking it down, all the information.” He tells Ong, “We’re also, you know, of course, recording this.” [American Airlines, 9/11/2001, pp. 3-6]
Ong Receiving Details of Hijacking from Colleague - During the entire conversation, Sadler will later recall, Ong seems to be talking to someone in the background and receiving information from them. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/12/2001, pp. 42-44] This person is presumably Sara Low, another of the flight attendants, who was assigned to the front of the plane and so would have witnessed the hijacking when it happened. [Associated Press, 3/5/2009; New York Daily News, 3/6/2009; Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 9/11/2011] Ong will keep repeating herself during the call, Minter will recall, such as repeatedly mentioning the stabbings on her plane. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/12/2001, pp. 38-41] Nydia Gonzalez, a supervisor at the reservations office, has been alerted to the call and will soon join it (see 8:21 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 11/19/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 453]

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

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Boston flight control begins notifying the chain of command that a suspected hijacking of Flight 11 is in progress. Those notified include the center’s own facility manager, the FAA’s New England Regional Operations Center (ROC) in Burlington, Massachusetts, and the FAA Command Center in Herndon, Virginia (see 8:28 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 11] According to the 9/11 Commission, this is consistent with FAA protocol: “From interviews of controllers at various FAA centers, we learned that an air traffic controller’s first response to an aircraft incident is to notify a supervisor, who then notifies the traffic management unit and the operations manager in charge. The FAA center next notifies the appropriate regional operations center (ROC), which in turn contacts FAA headquarters.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 458] But according to Ben Sliney, the national operations manager at the FAA’s Command Center, “the protocol was in place that the center that reported the hijacking would notify the military.… I go back to 1964, where I began my air traffic career, and they have always followed the same protocol.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Yet Boston Center supposedly will not contact NORAD about Flight 11 until about 12 minutes later (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Already about ten minutes have passed since controllers first noticed a loss of contact with Flight 11 (see (8:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Boston reportedly also contacts several other air traffic control centers about the suspected hijacking at this time (see 8:25 a.m. September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center, Federal Aviation Administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The FAA Command Center, the center of daily management of the US air traffic system. On 9/11 it is managed by Ben Sliney (not pictured here).The FAA Command Center, the center of daily management of the US air traffic system. On 9/11 it is managed by Ben Sliney (not pictured here). [Source: CNN]The FAA’s Boston Center calls the FAA Command Center and says it believes Flight 11 has been hijacked and is heading toward the New York Center’s airspace. The Command Center immediately establishes a teleconference between the Boston, New York, and Cleveland air traffic control centers, so Boston can help the other centers understand what is happening, in case Flight 11 should enter their airspace. Minutes later, in line with the standard hijacking protocol, the Command Center will pass on word of the suspected hijacking to the FAA’s Washington headquarters (see 8:32 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 19; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 11; Spencer, 2008, pp. 21]
National Operations Manager Learns of Hijacking - A supervisor at the Command Center promptly passes on the news of the possible hijacking to Ben Sliney, who is on his first day as the national operations manager there. The supervisor says the plane in question is “American Flight 11—a 767 out of Boston for Los Angeles.” According to author Lynn Spencer, “Sliney flashes back to the routine for dealing with hijackings from the days when they were more common.” The procedure is to “[k]eep other aircraft away from the errant plane. Give the pilots what they need. The plane will land somewhere, passengers will be traded for fuel, and difficult negotiations with authorities will begin. The incident should resolve itself peacefully, although the ones in the Middle East, he recalls, often had a more violent outcome.” Apparently not expecting anything worse to happen, Sliney continues to the conference room for the daily 8:30 staff meeting there (see 8:30 a.m.-8:40 a.m. September 11, 2001).
Command Center a 'Communications Powerhouse' - The FAA Command Center is located in Herndon, Virginia, 25 miles from Washington, DC. According to Spencer, it “is a communications powerhouse, modeled after NASA’s Mission Control. The operations floor is 50 feet wide and 120 feet long, packed with tiered rows of computer stations, and at the front, seven enormous display screens show flight trajectories and weather patterns.” The center has nearly 50 specialists working around the clock, planning and monitoring the flow of air traffic over the United States. These specialists work with airlines and air traffic control facilities to fix congestion problems and deal with weather systems. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 1 and 19-20]

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration, Ben Sliney, New York Air Route Traffic Control Center, Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center, Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Managers at the FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, learn of the apparent hijacking of Flight 11, but continue with a meeting they are in for several minutes, until being notified that one of the plane’s flight attendants may have been stabbed. The daily staff meeting among all the department heads at the Command Center begins at 8:30 a.m. Ben Sliney, who is on his first day as national operations manager there, has just been informed of the suspected hijacking of Flight 11 (see 8:28 a.m. September 11, 2001). He begins the meeting by announcing news of the hijacking to the other managers, but then continues with his normal briefing, about the outlook for the coming day’s operations. Sliney is interrupted, apparently at around 8:40 a.m., when a supervisor enters the conference room and whispers to him that the situation with the hijacking has deteriorated: American Airlines has just called, reporting that a flight attendant on the plane may have been stabbed. Deciding he should be on the center’s operations floor rather than in the meeting, Sliney announces to the other managers: “Look, this hijack situation has seriously escalated and I need to get back to the floor. There is an unconfirmed report indicating that a flight attendant may have been stabbed.” He then excuses himself. The meeting is quickly broken up before the first World Trade Center crash occurs at 8:46 a.m. The managers then head to their posts. Despite the “intuitive nature of this group of people,” none of them will initially consider the first WTC crash to be connected to the hijacking they have been informed of. According to Linda Schuessler, the deputy director of system operations at the Command Center, “something that seemed so bizarre as flying a hijacked plane full of people into a skyscraper didn’t seem possible.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 12/17/2001; Freni, 2003, pp. 63; Spencer, 2008, pp. 1 and 19-21]

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration, Linda Schuessler, Ben Sliney

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

FAA headquarters in Washington, DC.FAA headquarters in Washington, DC. [Source: FAA]Four minutes after it is informed of the suspected hijacking of Flight 11 (see 8:28 a.m. September 11, 2001), the FAA Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, passes on word of the hijacking to the operations center at FAA headquarters in Washington, DC. The headquarters is apparently already aware of the hijacking, as the duty officer who speaks with the Command Center responds that security personnel at the headquarters have just been discussing it on a conference call with the FAA’s New England regional office. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 19; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 11] According to the 9/11 Commission, “FAA headquarters is ultimately responsible for the management of the national airspace system,” and the operations center there “receives notifications of incidents, including accidents and hijackings.” FAA headquarters has a hijack coordinator, who is “the director of the FAA Office of Civil Aviation Security or his or her designate.” Procedures require that, if a hijacking is confirmed, the hijack coordinator on duty is “to contact the Pentagon’s National Military Command Center (NMCC) and to ask for a military escort aircraft to follow the flight, report anything unusual, and aid search and rescue in the event of an emergency.” Yet, the Commission will state, although “FAA headquarters began to follow the hijack protocol,” it does “not contact the NMCC to request a fighter escort.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 16-19] Mike Canavan, who would normally be the FAA’s hijack coordinator, is away in Puerto Rico this morning, and it is unclear who—if anyone—is standing in for him in this critical role (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 17]

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

At the FAA’s Herndon Command Center, the national operations manager, Ben Sliney, learns more details of the hijacking of Flight 11, and becomes involved with the emergency response to it. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 21] A supervisor at the Command Center informed Sliney of the suspected hijacking at just before 8:30 (see 8:28 a.m. September 11, 2001). Soon after, the supervisor interrupted a meeting Sliney was in, to tell him American Airlines had called to report the deteriorating situation on Flight 11 (see 8:30 a.m.-8:40 a.m. September 11, 2001).
Sliney Receives More Details - Sliney heads to the center’s operations floor, where the supervisor gives him further details of the call from American Airlines, including information about flight attendant Betty Ong’s phone call from Flight 11 (see 8:19 a.m. September 11, 2001). The supervisor says the plane’s transponder has been switched off (see (Between 8:13 a.m. and 8:21 a.m.) September 11, 2001), which means no flight data is showing on the screens of air traffic controllers, and the latest information from the FAA’s Boston Center is that Flight 11 has turned south, and is now 35 miles north of New York City. On one of the large screens at the front of the Command Center that shows flight trajectories, Sliney can see that the track for Flight 11 is in “ghost.” This means that, because no transponder data is being received, the computer is displaying track information based on previously stored track data.
Sliney Seeks Information, Requests Teleconference - Sliney instructs his staff to contact facilities along the path the flight appears to be on, to find if anyone is in contact with it or tracking it. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 1 and 19-21] He will later recall, “I figured we’d try to get the people on the ground, the towers in the area, the police departments, anyone we could get to give us information on where this flight was.” [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/10/2006] Sliney then requests a teleconference between the FAA’s Boston Center, New York Center, and FAA headquarters in Washington, so they can share information about the flight in real time. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 21] The Command Center has already initiated a teleconference between the Boston, New York, and Cleveland Centers, immediately after it was notified of the suspected Flight 11 hijacking. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 11] However, Sliney apparently does not request military assistance. According to author Lynn Spencer, “The higher echelons at headquarters in Washington will make the determination as to the necessity of military assistance in dealing with the hijacking.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 21]

Entity Tags: Ben Sliney, Federal Aviation Administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon, personnel apparently become aware of the first attack on the World Trade Center from watching the reports on television. According to Steve Hahn, an operations officer there, “We monitor the television networks in the center, and along with the rest of America we saw the smoke pouring from the tower.” Dan Mangino, who is also an operations officer at the NMCC, says, “At first, we thought it was a terrible accident.” [American Forces Press Service, 9/7/2006] The 9/11 Commission later says, “Most federal agencies learned about the crash in New York from CNN.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 35] Whether the NMCC was already aware that a hijacking was underway is unclear. According to military instructions, the NMCC is “the focal point within Department of Defense for providing assistance” in response to hijackings in US airspace, and is supposed to be “notified by the most expeditious means by the FAA.” [US Department of Defense, 6/1/2001 pdf file] Boston Air Traffic Control Center started notifying the chain of command of the suspected hijacking of Flight 11 more than 20 minutes earlier (see 8:25 a.m. September 11, 2001). And at 8:32, the FAA’s Command Center in Herndon informed FAA headquarters of the possible hijacking (see 8:28 a.m. September 11, 2001). Yet, according to the 9/11 Commission, although the “FAA headquarters began to follow the hijack protocol,” it “did not contact the NMCC to request a fighter escort.” Supposedly, the first that the military learned of the hijacking was when Boston Air Traffic Control Center contacted NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) about it, at around 8:37 a.m. (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The earliest time mentioned by the 9/11 Commission that the NMCC learns of the Flight 11 hijacking is 9 a.m. (see 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 19-20 and 35]

Entity Tags: Steve Hahn, Dan Mangino, National Military Command Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

According to the 9/11 Commission, NEADS is contacted by the FAA’s Boston Center. Colin Scoggins, Boston Center’s military liaison, tells it: “I just had a report that American 11 is still in the air, and it’s on its way towards—heading towards Washington.… That was another—it was evidently another aircraft that hit the tower. That’s the latest report we have.… I’m going to try to confirm an ID for you, but I would assume he’s somewhere over, uh, either New Jersey or somewhere further south.” The NEADS official asks: “He—American 11 is a hijack?… And he’s heading into Washington?” Scoggins answers yes both times and adds, “This could be a third aircraft.” Somehow Boston Center has been told by FAA headquarters that Flight 11 is still airborne, but the 9/11 Commission will say it hasn’t been able to find where this mistaken information came from.
Scoggins Makes Error - Vanity Fair magazine will later add, “In Boston, it is Colin Scoggins who has made the mistaken call.” Scoggins will explain why he believes he made this error: “With American Airlines, we could never confirm if [Flight 11] was down or not, so that left doubt in our minds.” He says he was monitoring a conference call between FAA centers (see 8:28 a.m. September 11, 2001), “when the word came across—from whom or where isn’t clear—that American 11 was thought to be headed for Washington.” However, Boston Center was never tracking Flight 11 on radar after losing sight of it near Manhattan: “The plane’s course, had it continued south past New York in the direction it was flying before it dipped below radar coverage, would have had it headed on a straight course toward DC. This was all controllers were going on.” Scoggins says, “After talking to a supervisor, I made the call and said [American 11] is still in the air.” [Northeast Air Defense Sector, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]
Myers Refers to Mistaken Report - In the hours following the attacks, acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers will apparently refer to this erroneous report that Flight 11 is still airborne and heading toward Washington, telling the Associated Press that “prior to the crash into the Pentagon, military officials had been notified that another hijacked plane had been heading from the New York area to Washington.” Myers will say “he assumed that hijacked plane was the one that hit the Pentagon, though he couldn’t be sure.” [Associated Press, 9/11/2001]

Entity Tags: Richard B. Myers, Northeast Air Defense Sector, Federal Aviation Administration, Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center, Colin Scoggins

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Ordering 

Time period


Email Updates

Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database

 
Donate

Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
Donate Now

Volunteer

If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.
Contact Us

Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike