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Context of '8:45 a.m. September 11, 2001: NEADS Commanders Give Order to Launch Otis Jets'

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On the operations floor at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), Major Kevin Nasypany, the facility’s mission crew commander, instructs Major James Fox, the leader of the weapons team, to launch fighter jets from Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] Nasypany has just received this order—to launch the jets—from Colonel Robert Marr, the NEADS battle commander. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 15 and 88] Marr issued it after seeking permission to do so from Major General Larry Arnold, the commanding general of NORAD’s Continental Region (CONR) (see (8:42 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20] Marr will later claim, “My intent was to scramble Otis to military airspace while we found out what was going on.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 56] Nasypany gives Fox a coordinate for just north of New York City, and tells him, “Head ‘em in that direction.” [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] The jets will be scrambled from Otis a minute later (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), but there will be conflicting accounts of what their initial destination is (see (8:53 a.m.-9:05 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20] Interestingly, the 9/11 Commission will later state that, “Because of a technical issue, there are no NEADS recordings available of the NEADS senior weapons director and weapons director technician position responsible for controlling the Otis scramble.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 459]

Entity Tags: Kevin Nasypany, Northeast Air Defense Sector, Larry Arnold, Robert Marr, James Fox

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Because the two fighter jets launched from Otis Air National Guard Base in response to Flight 11 expended a large amount of fuel as they flew toward the New York area (see (8:53 a.m.-9:05 a.m.) September 11, 2001), there are now concerns about getting them refueled. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 24] The fighters are currently flying a “holding pattern” in “Whiskey 105,” which is military training airspace just south of Long Island, over the Atlantic Ocean (see 9:09 a.m.-9:13 a.m. September 11, 2001). Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Duffy, the lead Otis pilot, reports to NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) that the two fighters have only 30 minutes of fuel remaining. At NEADS, Major Kevin Nasypany, the facility’s mission crew commander, orders, “Find me a tanker!” Weapons controller Major Steve Hedrick quickly calls McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey to see if it has any of its KC-10 tankers airborne, but none are. Nasypany gets on the phone to Colonel Robert Marr, who is in the NEADS battle cab, and requests launching the two F-16s kept on alert at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, so as to provide backup for the Otis fighters. Marr then discusses this over the phone with Major General Larry Arnold who is at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, but neither thinks it is a good idea. According to author Lynn Spencer: “If the battle expands, they don’t want to have all their assets in one place. Nor can they have them running out of fuel at the same time.” Marr and Arnold agree that they will try to find fuel for the Otis fighters. The Langley jets are ordered to “battle stations only” (see 9:09 a.m. September 11, 2001) so they will be ready to launch if a refueling tanker cannot be found. Marr tells Nasypany that he will need to find fuel for the Otis fighters. NEADS technicians then begin searching for a tanker. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 460; Spencer, 2008, pp. 112-113] A member of staff at NEADS talked over the radio with a KC-135 tanker plane from Bangor, Maine, at around 9:05 a.m., and the plane’s crew agreed to provide support to the Otis fighters (see 9:04 a.m.-9:06 a.m. September 11, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001] But, according to Spencer’s account, NEADS is apparently unable to find a tanker to refuel the fighters until around 9:35 a.m., when one of the Otis pilots remembers that the KC-135 from Bangor should be available and in his area, and informs the other Otis pilot, who calls NEADS about this (see (Shortly After 9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 152-153]

Entity Tags: Robert Marr, Steve Hedrick, Northeast Air Defense Sector, Timothy Duffy, McGuire Air Force Base, Langley Air Force Base, Kevin Nasypany, Larry Arnold

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The mission crew commander at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) tells members of his staff that the fighter jets launched from Langley Air Force Base (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001) have “negative clearance to shoot” aircraft over Washington. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2003; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 226-227]
Marr Does Not Pass on Authorization - NEADS battle commander Colonel Robert Marr has just been talking on the phone with Major General Larry Arnold, the commander of NORAD’s Continental US Region, and the two men have discussed whether fighters should be authorized to shoot down hostile aircraft (see (10:08 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). According to author Lynn Spencer, Arnold told Marr that if a suspicious aircraft cannot be diverted, “then we’ll shoot it down.” However, this is not the instruction that Marr then passes on to Major Kevin Nasypany, the NEADS mission crew commander. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 225-227] Marr will later tell the 9/11 Commission that at this time, he “may have had the authority” to order a plane shot down, “but he never gave [Nasypany] clearance to fire.” Marr “does not believe at this point there was a clearance to ‘kill.’” [9/11 Commission, 1/23/2004 pdf file]
Order Issued: 'Negative Clearance to Fire' - Nasypany relays the instructions Marr gives him to those on the operations floor, saying: “Negative. Negative clearance to shoot.” He then adds: “ID. Type. Tail.” This means the orders are for fighter jets to identify aircraft by their type and tail number, and nothing more. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 46-47; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] About a minute later, Nasypany’s instructions will be passed to the Langley pilots (see 10:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2003]

Entity Tags: Northeast Air Defense Sector, Robert Marr, Kevin Nasypany

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Personnel on the operations floor at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) are confused over the nature and effect of an order they have received, which states that the military can shoot down aircraft that do not respond to its directions, and they do not pass this order on to fighter pilots under their command. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 42-43; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 47; Spencer, 2008, pp. 240-241; Farmer, 2009, pp. 228-229] NEADS has just received a message over the NORAD computer chat system from Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental United States NORAD Region (CONR), stating that Vice President Dick Cheney has authorized NORAD to shoot down suspicious aircraft (see 10:31 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 42]
Weapons Director Alerted to Order - Major Steve Ovens sees the chat message and alerts Major James Fox, the leader of the NEADS weapons team, to it. Ovens says: “We need to read this. Region commander has declared that we can shoot down tracks that do not respond to our direction. Okay?” Fox replies, “Okay,” but Ovens is unconvinced that he has understood Arnold’s message, so he says again, “The region commander has declared that we can shoot down aircraft that do not respond to our directions, okay?” Fox replies, “Copy that.”
NEADS Director Opposes Order - Ovens continues, “So if you’re trying to divert somebody and he won’t divert…” but Fox says, “DO [the director of operations] is saying no.” According to author Lynn Spencer, Fox means that Colonel Lanny McNeely, the NEADS director of operations, is indicating “no.” McNeely has “understood that the battle staff wanted to keep shootdown authority in the [NEADS] battle cab. The commanders were not prepared to pass such authorizations to airborne fighters.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 240-241] However, a 9/11 Commission memorandum will state that McNeely is away from NEADS on this day, in Texas, and no one is currently sitting in the director of operations position. [9/11 Commission, 10/30/2003 pdf file] According to John Farmer, the senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission, Fox is instead referring to Colonel Robert Marr, the NEADS battle commander, saying “no,” not McNeely. [Farmer, 2009, pp. 229]
Fox Agrees to Pass on Order to Commander - Ovens responds: “No? It came over the chat.… You got a conflict on that direction?” Fox replies, “Right now, no, but…” Showing Fox the chat message, Ovens says: “Okay. You read that from the vice president, right? Vice president has cleared…” Fox reads the message out loud, saying, “Vice president has cleared us to intercept traffic and shoot them down if they do not respond, per CONR CC.” Finally, he says, “Okay, I will pass it to MCC,” meaning Major Kevin Nasypany, the NEADS mission crew commander. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 241]
NEADS Does Not Pass on Order to Pilots - NEADS personnel will later express to the 9/11 Commission their “considerable confusion over the nature and effect” of this shootdown order, and explain why they fail to pass it on to the fighter jets from Otis Air National Guard Base (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001) and Langley Air Force Base (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001) that are under their command. Nasypany and Fox indicate to the Commission that “they did not pass the order to the fighters circling Washington and New York because they were unsure how the pilots would, or should, proceed with this guidance.” Consequently, “while leaders in Washington believed that the fighters above them had been instructed to ‘take out’ hostile aircraft, the only orders actually conveyed to the pilots were to ‘ID type and tail.’” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 43; Farmer, 2009, pp. 229]

Entity Tags: Lanny McNeely, James Fox, Northeast Air Defense Sector, Kevin Nasypany, Robert Marr, Steve Ovens

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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