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Context of 'Soon after 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001: FBI Arrives at Boston Air Traffic Control Center'

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In the event of a hijacking, all airline pilots are trained to key an emergency four-digit code into their plane’s transponder. This would surreptitiously alert air traffic controllers, causing the letters “HJCK” to appear on their screens. (CNN 9/13/2001; Adcock 9/13/2001; Missing 8/3/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 17-18) The action, which pilots should take the moment a hijack situation is known, only takes seconds to perform. (Grier 9/12/2001; CNN 9/12/2001) Yet during the hijackings of flights 11, 175, 77, and 93, none of the pilots do this. (CNN 9/11/2001)

John Ogonowski.John Ogonowski. [Source: Associated Press]At some unknown point after the hijacking begins, Flight 11’s talkback button is activated, which enables Boston flight controllers to hear what is being said in the cockpit. It is unclear whether John Ogonowski, the pilot, activates the talkback button, or whether a hijacker accidentally does so when he takes over the cockpit. A controller later says, “The button [is] being pushed intermittently most of the way to New York.” An article later notes that “his ability to do so also indicates that he [is] in the driver’s seat much of the way” to the WTC. Such transmissions continue until about 8:38 a.m. (Clayton 9/13/2001; MSNBC 9/15/2001) However, Ogonowski fails to punch a four-digit emergency code into the plane’s transponder, which pilots are taught to do the moment a hijack situation is known (see (8:13 a.m.-9:28 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Grier 9/12/2001; CNN 9/13/2001; Johnson 11/23/2001)

The FBI arrives at the FAA’s Boston Center, in Nashua, New Hampshire, “minutes after Flight 11 crashed into the World Trade Center,” and seizes tape recordings of radio transmissions from the hijacked plane. Boston Center handled Flight 11, and recorded intermittent radio transmissions from its cockpit (see (After 8:14 a.m.-8:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Clayton 9/13/2001) According to FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown, the FAA has to turn over all its records from 9/11 to the FBI immediately afterwards. She says it is not unusual for the FAA to turn over its records after a major disaster, but normally this is to the National Transportation Safety Board, not the FBI. (Griffin 2004, pp. 185)

Jon Treacy.Jon Treacy. [Source: US Air Force]Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, receives the order from NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) to launch all its available fighter jets.
Commander Briefs Pilots - A number of Otis pilots that were recalled from a training mission about an hour earlier (see (9:25 a.m.-9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and other pilots that have recently come to the base from their homes are gathered in front of the operations desk. Squadron commander Lieutenant Colonel Jon Treacy tells them: “This is what we know. This is clearly a national emergency. Two aircraft have been hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center. The Pentagon has been attacked. We need to get all our jets ready to go because we’re not sure where this is heading. We have information that there are more coming.” He instructs the pilots: “You must be prepared to meet any surprise.… You may be taking out an airliner. You must engage. You cannot fail. Our nation is relying on us.” He gives them their assignments, saying whether they are required to fly now or whether they will be needed later on, to take over when other pilots have landed.
Launch Order Received - Just after Treacy finishes giving his briefing, someone comes into the room yelling out that NEADS has called the base with important orders. The person says, “We have to get everything we have airborne now!” (Spencer 2008, pp. 244-245) NEADS started contacting Air National Guard bases around the Northeast US by about 10:00 a.m., with the instruction to get their fighters airborne (see (Between 9:50 a.m. and 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sallah and Mahr 12/9/2001; Spencer 2008, pp. 180)
Pilots Head Out, but Most Jets Not Yet Armed - Treacy yells at his men, “Go, go, go!” and then the pilots run out to their aircraft. But, according to author Lynn Spencer, since the time the group of pilots returned from their training mission, “there has not been time to do much more than fuel their jets.” Most of the base’s fighters “are still unarmed. Despite the furious pace of the weapons handlers, only a handful of jets have been uploaded with some armament.” The first two F-15s that take off from Otis Air Base in response to the NEADS order will both be unarmed (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Spencer 2008, pp. 245-246) Another two F-15s will take off shortly after them with their guns loaded, but one of them will have only one missile loaded instead of two (see (Shortly After 10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Lehmert 9/11/2006; Richard 2010, pp. 15-16, 18) Two F-15s that are kept on alert at Otis Air Base took off at 8:46 a.m. in response to the hijacking of Flight 11 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 20)

The FAA’s Boston Center is evacuated after it receives a report that an unidentified aircraft is heading its way. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/20/2001; Levin 8/11/2002; Cousineau 9/11/2006; Spencer 2008, pp. 243) The Boston Center, located in Nashua, New Hampshire, manages air traffic above New England, and monitored Flight 11 and Flight 175 earlier on. (Levin 8/11/2002; LeBlanc 8/12/2002) Employees there are already concerned because a large tractor-trailer has parked directly in front of their facility, on New Hampshire’s Route 3. State police have been called to get it away from there.
Possible Airborne Threat Leads to Evacuation - The FAA’s New England regional office in Burlington, Massachusetts, now calls the Boston Center and reports that an unidentified aircraft is heading for the facility. In response to this potential threat, managers at the center immediately order the closure and evacuation of their building. They also declare “ATC zero,” which shuts down the Boston Center’s airspace (see (Shortly After 10:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Employees run from the building while managers try to decide which, if any, personnel should remain in the facility. According to Colin Scoggins, the center’s military liaison, “at this time we honestly felt that we were targeted and an impact was imminent.”
Bomb Threat to Childcare Facility - Making matters worse, a bomb scare phone call is received at the center’s childcare facility, which is the employees’ usual evacuation point. Center managers therefore decide that everyone must leave the building. Employees are advised to go to either 11 Murphy Drive—an FAA administrative facility—or a nearby Holiday Inn. According to Scoggins, three or four Flight Service Data Processing System personnel remain in the basement of the Boston Center when it is evacuated, apparently because there is no paging system in their office on which they can receive the evacuation order.
Evacuation Time Unclear - The time the evacuation takes place at is unclear. According to the account of author Lynn Spencer, it occurs some time shortly after 10:20 a.m. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/20/2001; Levin 8/11/2002; Spencer 2008, pp. 242-243) At 10:34 a.m., John White, a manager at the FAA’s Command Center, reports that the Boston Center “has received a threat,” and is “going down to skeleton staffing.” (9/11 Commission 11/4/2003) A 10:52 a.m. entry in the log of the FAA headquarters’ teleconference will state that the Boston Center is “evacuating the building.” (Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002 pdf file) USA Today will report that the center is evacuated at “about 11 a.m.”
Few Employees Return to Building - About 30 minutes to an hour after the building is evacuated, some of the center’s personnel will return to work. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/20/2001; Levin 8/11/2002) By 12:16 p.m., the center is back in operation, but with only a skeleton staff. (Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002 pdf file)
Suspicious Aircraft Only a Coast Guard Plane - As it turns out, the approaching aircraft that prompts the evacuation is just a Coast Guard plane. According to Scoggins, “We had already identified it.” (Federal Aviation Administration 9/20/2001) The aircraft was noted in a 10:18 a.m. entry in the log of the FAA headquarters’ teleconference, which stated: “Aircraft 160 miles east of Nantucket is headed westbound toward Boston at a high rate of speed.” But a log entry five minutes later, at 10:23 a.m., noted that the aircraft “is identified as a Coast Guard flight from Nantucket.” (Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002 pdf file) Shortly before the Boston Center is alerted to this aircraft, Scoggins had been tracking what is apparently another unidentified target on his radar screen: a slow-moving large aircraft that is also flying toward the Boston Center from the east (see (10:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Spencer 2008, pp. 242-243) The identity of that aircraft is unclear.

The Moncton Area Control Center.The Moncton Area Control Center. [Source: Nav Canada]Colin Scoggins, the military liaison at the FAA’s Boston Center, contacts NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) and a Canadian air traffic control facility, to let them know that the Boston Center is shutting down its airspace and being evacuated, due to a possible airborne threat.
Scoggins Does Not Immediately Evacuate - The Boston Center in Nashua, New Hampshire, has just received a call from the FAA’s New England regional office, alerting it to an unidentified aircraft heading its way. In response, the center’s managers ordered the evacuation of the facility (see (Shortly After 10:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and declared “ATC zero,” which completely shuts down the center’s airspace (see (Shortly After 10:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). But while others leave the building, Scoggins stays behind to make two phone calls.
Scoggins Calls Canadian Facility and NEADS - His first call is to the Moncton Center, which is the Canadian air traffic control facility that handles flights arriving from over the Atlantic. He tells a supervisor there, “We’re going to ATC zero and evacuating.” Scoggins then calls NEADS with the same information. He says: “I wanted to let you know, Boston Center has declared ATC zero and we are evacuating due to an airborne threat. It’s approaching Martha’s Vineyard and it’s coming our way.” Before hanging up, he gives NEADS the speed and coordinates of the approaching aircraft. Scoggins then heads out of the building. According to the account of author Lynn Spencer, Scoggins’s call prompts NEADS to immediately call Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and order it: “Get everything you’ve got in the air! Now!” (see (10:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
FBI and SWAT Teams Surround Center - By the time Scoggins is outside the Boston Center, FBI and SWAT teams are surrounding the facility. Scoggins will later recall that he sees the “Nashua SWAT team in the parking lot with automatic weapons, [and] the FBI running with the audio tapes with Bob Jones [a quality assurance specialist at the Boston Center] by their side.” (Federal Aviation Administration 9/20/2001; Spencer 2008, pp. 243-245) (The FBI reportedly arrived at the Boston Center “minutes after Flight 11 crashed into the World Trade Center,” and seized tape recordings of radio transmissions from the hijacked plane (see Soon after 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Clayton 9/13/2001) )
Scoggins Tracking Other Unidentified Plane - Before the Boston Center received the call from the FAA regional office about the approaching aircraft, Scoggins was tracking another unidentified target on his radar screen: a slow-moving aircraft also flying toward the center from the east (see (10:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Whether he alerts NEADS to that aircraft when he calls it is unclear. (Spencer 2008, pp. 242-243)


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