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Context of '8:37 a.m. September 11, 2001: Flight 175 Pilots Asked to Look for Flight 11'

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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

Flight controllers hear a hijacker on Flight 11 say to the passengers: “Nobody move, please, we are going back to the airport. Don’t try to make any stupid moves.” [New York Times, 10/16/2001; Guardian, 10/17/2001; Boston Globe, 11/23/2001; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] This is the third hijacker transmission from Flight 11 heard by Boston Center. Following the previous two transmissions, controller Pete Zalewski had put the plane’s frequency on speakers so that others at the center could hear (see 8:24 a.m. September 11, 2001). This is therefore the first time some of them hear the hijacker’s voice. One controller says out loud, “That is really scary.” [MSNBC, 9/11/2002]

Entity Tags: Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Flight controllers ask the United Airlines Flight 175 pilots to look for a lost American Airlines plane 10 miles to the south—a reference to Flight 11. They respond that they can see it. They are told to keep away from it. [Guardian, 10/17/2001; Boston Globe, 11/23/2001; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Apparently, Flight 175 is not told Flight 11 has been hijacked. Flight 175 itself is hijacked a few minutes later (see 8:41 a.m.-8:42 a.m. September 11, 2001).

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Flight 175 passes from the airspace of the FAA’s Boston Center to the airspace of the New York Center, which is in Ronkonkoma, New York. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 20 pdf file] New York Center air traffic controller Dave Bottiglia takes over monitoring the flight from Boston Center controller John Hartling (see (8:34 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Flight 175 waits nearly 45 seconds to check in with Bottiglia. According to author Lynn Spencer, this is “rather long, and Bottiglia is just about to call the plane.” But then Captain Victor Saracini, the pilot of Flight 175, makes radio contact, saying, “New York, United 175 heavy.” [Gregor, 12/21/2001 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 36]

Entity Tags: Dave Bottiglia, New York Air Route Traffic Control Center, Victor Saracini

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Victor Saracini.Victor Saracini. [Source: Family photo]Just after Flight 175 enters the airspace of the FAA’s New York Center (see 8:40 a.m. September 11, 2001), its pilot reports to the air traffic controller now managing the flight a suspicious transmission he had heard on departing Boston’s Logan Airport. The pilot, Captain Victor Saracini, tells the controller, Dave Bottiglia: “We figured we’d wait to go to your center. Ah, we heard a suspicious transmission on our departure out of Boston, ah, with someone, ah, it sounded like someone keyed the mikes and said, ah, ‘Everyone, ah, stay in your seats.’” [New York Times, 10/16/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 21; Spencer, 2008, pp. 36] Saracini is presumably referring to one of the three radio transmissions from Flight 11, where the voice of a hijacker could be heard (see 8:24 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (8:34 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, none of these had included the hijacker telling people to stay in their seats, as Saracini describes, although the second and third transmissions included the hijacker telling the passengers, “Nobody move.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 19] Bottiglia responds: “Oh, okay. I’ll pass that along.” Referring to the fact that this was the end of the transmission he heard, Saracini adds, “It cut out,” and then asks Bottiglia, “Did you copy that?” [Gregor, 12/21/2001 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 36-37] This is the last radio transmission from Flight 175. The 9/11 Commission will conclude that the plane is hijacked within the next four minutes (see (Between 8:42 a.m. and 8:46 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 20 pdf file] According to author Lynn Spencer, since controllers are only given information on a need-to-know basis, Bottiglia was unaware there were problems with Flight 11, which has not yet entered his airspace. He touches his computer screen to connect to the hotline for his sector controller, and then reports: “UAL 175 just came on my frequency and he said he heard a suspicious transmission when they were leaving Boston. ‘Everybody stay in your seats’—that’s what he heard… just to let you know.” [New York Times, 10/16/2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 36-37]

Entity Tags: New York Air Route Traffic Control Center, Victor Saracini, Dave Bottiglia

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

According to the 9/11 Commission, Flight 175 is hijacked some time between 8:42—when its flight crew make their last communication with the ground—and 8:46. The Commission describes that the hijackers “used knives (as reported by two passengers and a flight attendant), Mace (reported by one passenger), and the threat of a bomb (reported by the same passenger). They stabbed members of the flight crew (reported by a flight attendant and one passenger). Both pilots had been killed (reported by one flight attendant).” These witness accounts come from phone calls made from the rear of the plane, from passengers who’d been assigned seats in the front or middle of the cabin. According to the Commission, this is “a sign that passengers and perhaps crew [are] moved to the back of the aircraft.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 7; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 20 pdf file] An employee at the FAA’s Boston Center later says the hijacking occurs when Flight 175 is above Albany, NY, about 140 miles north of New York City. [Telegraph (Nashua), 9/12/2001; Associated Press, 9/13/2001] The first “operational evidence” that something is wrong is at 8:47, when Flight 175’s transponder code changes twice within a minute (see 8:46 a.m.-8:47 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 7]

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The 9/11 Commission will later conclude that the FAA’s New York Center tells NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) that Flight 175 has been hijacked at this time. The Commission will refer to this as “the first indication that the NORAD air defenders had of the second hijacked aircraft.” The notification is apparently received from the military liaison at the New York Center (see 9:01 a.m.-9:02 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]
NEADS Technician Announces 'Second Possible Hijack' - Tape recordings of the NEADS operations floor will reveal ID tech Stacia Rountree answering the call from the New York Center, and saying out loud, “They have a second possible hijack!” [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] Colonel Robert Marr, the NEADS battle commander, will claim he first learns that an aircraft other than Flight 11 has been hijacked when he sees Flight 175 crash into the World Trade Center on television. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002] Lieutenant Colonel Dawne Deskins will claim that when she sees Flight 175 hitting the South Tower on television, “we didn’t even know there was a second hijack.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 59]
Conflicting Accounts - However, these accounts contradict NORAD’s claim that it makes shortly after 9/11 that NEADS was first notified about Flight 175 at 8:43 a.m. (see 8:43 a.m. September 11, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001] Additionally, as Flight 175 crashes into the WTC, Canadian Captain Mike Jellinek, who is working at NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado operations center, is on the phone with NEADS. He sees the crash live on television and asks NEADS, “Was that the hijacked aircraft you were dealing with?” The reply is yes. (However, it is unclear whether Jellinek is referring to Flight 175 or to the smoke coming from the crash of Flight 11.) [Toronto Star, 12/9/2001] If the 9/11 Commission’s account is correct, several questions remain unanswered. Flight 175 lost radio contact at 8:42 a.m. (see 8:41 a.m.-8:42 a.m. September 11, 2001) and changed transponder signals at 8:47 a.m. (see 8:46 a.m.-8:47 a.m. September 11, 2001); an air traffic controller declared it possibly hijacked sometime between 8:46 a.m. and 8:53 a.m. (see (Shortly After 8:46 a.m.) September 11, 2001); and an air traffic control manager called it hijacked at 8:55 a.m.(see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The Commission will not explain why the New York Center waits 10 to 16 minutes before warning NEADS that Flight 175 is possibly hijacked. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]

Entity Tags: Stacia Rountree, Northeast Air Defense Sector, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Robert Marr, Michael H. Jellinek, New York Air Route Traffic Control Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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