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Context of '8:40 a.m. September 11, 2001: Flight 175 Enters New York Center’s Airspace, Makes Radio Contact'

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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

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

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] 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] 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

Dave Bottiglia.Dave Bottiglia. [Source: ABC News]After Flight 11 appears on his radar screen, Dave Bottiglia, an air traffic controller at the FAA’s New York Center, is informed that this aircraft is suspected of having been hijacked. Flight 175 entered Bottiglia’s airspace not long before this (see 8:40 a.m. September 11, 2001). [MSNBC, 9/11/2002; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 20] Its pilot has just told Bottiglia about the “suspicious transmission” (presumably from Flight 11) he heard while departing Boston airport (see 8:41 a.m.-8:42 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Gregor, 12/21/2001 pdf file] Seconds later, Flight 11 also enters the area Bottiglia is monitoring and its target appears on his radar screen. The controller sitting next to Bottiglia gets up and points to the radar blip. He says: “You see this target here? This is American 11. Boston Center thinks it’s a hijack.” Bottiglia will later recall that his initial thought about Flight 11, based on this information, is that the hijackers “were probably going to Cuba.” As its transponder has been turned off (see (Between 8:13 a.m. and 8:21 a.m.) September 11, 2001), he has no altitude information for Flight 11, but can tell from the radar scope that it appears to be descending. According to author Lynn Spencer: “Even without a transponder, controller radars calculate ground speed for all radar targets, and when a plane is descending, the ground speed decreases. The flight had been ‘grounding’ 600 knots, and now it has decreased to 320.” Bottiglia follows Flight 11’s target on his radar screen until it disappears over New York City. [MSNBC, 9/11/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 37] Because he is focused on Flight 11, Bottiglia will not notice when Flight 175’s transponder code changes at 8:47 (see 8:46 a.m.-8:47 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 21; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 21] The New York Center was first notified of Flight 11’s hijacking at 8:25 a.m. (see 8:25 a.m. September 11, 2001), though this information was not passed on to Bottiglia. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 36-37]

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

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

After 9/11, NORAD and other sources will claim that NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) is notified at this time that Flight 175 has been hijacked. [Washington Post, 9/12/2001; CNN, 9/17/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; Associated Press, 8/19/2002; Newsday, 9/10/2002] However, the FAA’s New York Center, which is handling Flight 175, first alerts its military liaison about the hijacking at around 9:01 (see 9:01 a.m.-9:02 a.m. September 11, 2001). In addition, according to the 9/11 Commission, NEADS is not informed until two minutes later (see (9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] According to the Commission, the first “operational evidence” that there is something wrong on Flight 175 is not until 8:47, when its transponder code changes (see 8:46 a.m.-8:47 a.m. September 11, 2001), and it is not until 8:53 that the air traffic controller handling it concludes that Flight 175 may be hijacked (see 8:51 a.m.-8:53 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 7, 21-22]

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Northeast Air Defense Sector

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

An air traffic controller at the FAA’s Boston Center suggests that Flight 11 is going to crash into the World Trade Center. [The Learning Channel, 8/20/2006] Flight 11 is heading southbound toward New York, descending at about 3,200 feet per minute. [National Transportation Safety Board, 2/19/2002 pdf file] John Hartling, a controller at the Boston Center who has been monitoring it (see (8:34 a.m.) September 11, 2001), will later recall, “One of my fellow controllers on the other side of the room, I heard him say, ‘That airplane’s gonna hit the World Trade Center.’” [The Learning Channel, 8/20/2006] Flight 11 will crash into the WTC at 8:46 a.m. (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [National Transportation Safety Board, 2/19/2002 pdf file]

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

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Flight 175 stops transmitting its transponder signal. It is currently flying near the New Jersey-Pennsylvania border. [Guardian, 10/17/2001; Newsday, 9/10/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] However, the transponder is turned off for only about 30 seconds, and then comes back on as a signal that is not designated for any plane on this day. Then, within the space of a minute, it is changed to another new code. But New York Center air traffic computers do not correlate either of these new transponder codes with Flight 175. Consequently, according to an early FAA report, “the secondary radar return (transponder) indicating aircraft speed, altitude, and flight information began to coast and was no longer associated with the primary radar return.” Therefore, while controllers are able “to track the intruder easily… they couldn’t identify it.” However, Dave Bottiglia, the New York Center air traffic controller responsible for Flight 175, is currently trying to locate the already-crashed Flight 11, and therefore supposedly does not notice the transponder code changes on Flight 175 until 8:51 a.m. (see 8:51 a.m.-8:53 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file; Washington Post, 9/17/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 21] According to a “Flight Path Study” by the National Transportation Safety Board, the change of Flight 175’s transponder code is the “first indication of deviation from normal routine.” [National Transportation Safety Board, 2/19/2002 pdf file]

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Curt Applegate sitting next to his air traffic control terminal.Curt Applegate sitting next to his air traffic control terminal. [Source: NBC News]After being focused on Flight 11, Dave Bottiglia, an air traffic controller at the FAA’s New York Center, first notices problems with Flight 175. [MSNBC, 9/11/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 21] Both Flight 11 and Flight 175 have been in the airspace that Bottiglia is responsible for monitoring (see 8:40 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (8:42 a.m.-8:46 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Bottiglia has just watched Flight 11’s radar blip disappear, which means the plane has dipped below his radar’s coverage area, so is below 2,000 feet. But he does not yet realize it has crashed. He says aloud, “Well, we know he’s not high altitude anymore.” [MSNBC, 9/11/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 37] Around this time, Flight 175’s transponder changes twice in the space of a minute (see 8:46 a.m.-8:47 a.m. September 11, 2001).
Conflicting Accounts - According to MSNBC, “within seconds” of losing Flight 11’s blip, “Bottiglia has another unexpected problem.” While looking for Flight 11, he realizes that Flight 175 is also missing, and “instinctively… knows the two [planes] are somehow related.” He asks another controller to take over all of his other planes. [MSNBC, 9/11/2002] But according to the 9/11 Commission’s account, Bottiglia is still trying to locate Flight 11 after it crashes, and so it is not until 8:51 a.m. that he notices the problem with Flight 175 (see 8:51 a.m.-8:53 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 21]
'An Intruder over Allentown' - Around the time Flight 175 changes its transponder code, air traffic controller Curt Applegate, who is sitting at the radar bank next to Bottiglia’s, sees a blip that might be the missing Flight 11. He shouts out: “Look. There’s an intruder over Allentown.” According to the Washington Post, “In air traffic jargon, an ‘intruder’ is a plane with an operating transponder that has entered restricted airspace without permission.” In fact, it is the missing Flight 175. [Washington Post, 9/17/2001; MSNBC, 9/11/2002] However, these accounts make no mention of NORAD being notified about the problems with Flight 175 at this time. But according to a NORAD timeline released shortly after 9/11, NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) was alerted about Flight 175 by the FAA several minutes earlier, at 8:43 a.m. (see 8:43 a.m. September 11, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001]

Entity Tags: Dave Bottiglia, Curt Applegate, New York Air Route Traffic Control Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

According to the 9/11 Commission, Dave Bottiglia, the air traffic controller handling Flight 175, only notices now that this flight’s transponder signal has changed (see 8:46 a.m.-8:47 a.m. September 11, 2001). Bottiglia asks Flight 175 to return to its proper transponder code. There is no response. Beginning at 8:52 a.m., he makes repeated attempts to contact it, but there is still no response. Bottiglia contacts another controller at 8:53 a.m., and says: “We may have a hijack. We have some problems over here right now.… I can’t get a hold of UAL 175 at all right now and I don’t know where he went to.” [New York Times, 10/16/2001; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004; Spencer, 2008, pp. 48] This account apparently conflicts with earlier accounts that claim NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) was notified at 8:43 a.m. that Flight 175 had been hijacked (see 8:43 a.m. September 11, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001]

Entity Tags: Dave Bottiglia

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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