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Context of '(After 8:46 a.m.) September 11, 2001: United Airlines Control Center Experiences Communication Problems for Two Hours'

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Ed Soliday.Ed Soliday. [Source: Ed Soliday]Those at United Airlines’ System Operations Control (SOC) center, near Chicago, have serious problems communicating with others outside their building, particularly using e-mail, for a period of about two hours. This is according to Ed Soliday, United Airlines’ vice president of safety and security, who is involved with the airline’s response to the terrorist attacks after arriving at the SOC at around 9:35 a.m. Soliday will tell the 9/11 Commission that, on this day, United Airlines “lost e-mail capability and some of their phone and cell service.” This, he will say, is “because everyone was on the phone trying to ‘call their best friend’ to talk about what was happening,” presumably meaning that the national telecommunications infrastructure has become overloaded due to increased traffic. Soliday will add, “For a couple of hours, trying to communicate out of the [SOC] building was impossible.” [9/11 Commission, 11/21/2003 pdf file] Soliday apparently does not state the particular time period over which United Airlines experiences these communication problems. However, it appears they may begin around the time of the first attack, since, according to the 9/11 Commission, shortly before 9:00 a.m., a United dispatch manager is unable to reach top company officials because the airline’s pager system “was not working” (see (Shortly After 8:48 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 21-22 pdf file]

Entity Tags: United Airlines, Ed Soliday

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

CNN is the first major network to show the footage of the crash site. It breaks into a commercial and anchor Carol Lin says, “This just in. You are looking at… obviously a very disturbing live shot there—that is the World Trade Center, and we have unconfirmed reports this morning that a plane has crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center.” CNN then switches to Sean Murtagh, the network’s vice president of finance, who says in a live telephone interview, “I just witnessed a plane that appeared to be cruising at a slightly lower than normal altitude over New York City. And it appears to have crashed into—I don’t know which tower it is—but it hit directly in the middle of one of the World Trade Center towers. It was a jet, maybe a two-engine jet, maybe a 737… a large passenger commercial jet… It was teetering back and forth, wing-tip to wing-tip, and it looks like it has crashed into—probably, twenty stories from the top of the World Trade Center—maybe the eightieth to eighty-fifth floor. There is smoke billowing out of the World Trade Center.” [CNN, 9/11/2001; Bamford, 2004, pp. 16-17] Many reports do not come until a few minutes later. For instance, ABC first breaks into regular programming with the story at 8:52 a.m. [ABC News, 9/14/2002] Incredibly, a NORAD timeline presented to the 9/11 Commission in 2003 claims that CNN doesn’t begin its coverage of the attacks until 8:57. [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003]

Entity Tags: Carol Lin, Sean Murtagh, World Trade Center, CNN

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Bill Roy.Bill Roy. [Source: Publicity photo]Apparently, managers at United Airlines’ System Operations Control (SOC) center, just outside Chicago, are unaware of any unfolding emergency until they see CNN reporting the burning World Trade Center (see 8:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). “Within minutes,” the air traffic control coordinator at United Airlines’ headquarters, located next to the SOC, calls an official at the FAA’s Herndon Command Center to confirm that the plane that just hit the WTC was not one of United’s aircraft. The FAA official tells him the plane had been a hijacked American Airlines 757. Soon afterwards, the air traffic control coordinator briefs Bill Roy and Mike Barber—the director and the dispatch manager at United’s SOC—on this information from the FAA. Barber then tries notifying United’s top corporate officials about it. However, he is unable to because the airline’s pager system is not working. [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 21-22 pdf file]

Entity Tags: United Airlines, Federal Aviation Administration, Mike Barber, Bill Roy

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A Longboat Key resident has a strange encounter with some Middle Eastern men. He is standing on the Sarasota bay front, waiting for President Bush’s motorcade to go by on its way to the Booker Elementary School. He sees a dilapidated van passing by, with two Middle Eastern men “screaming out the windows, ‘Down with Bush’ and raising their fists in the air.” This would be around the time when reports of the first WTC crash are first being broadcast (see 8:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). The man will later report this incident to the police and then be questioned by the FBI about it. Several hours earlier, some Middle Eastern men had pulled up in a van at the resort where Bush was staying, falsely claiming to have an interview with him (see (Before 6:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). It is unknown whether these were the same men as were seen on the Sarasota bay front. [Longboat Observer, 9/26/2001]

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Robert Fangman.
Robert Fangman. [Source: Family photo]A flight attendant on Flight 175 calls the United Airlines maintenance office in San Francisco and speaks with Marc Policastro, an employee there. The attendant reports that Flight 175 has been hijacked, both of its pilots have been killed, a flight attendant has been stabbed, and the hijackers are probably flying the plane. The line then goes dead. [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 7-8; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 21 pdf file] The call, which lasts 75 seconds, is made using an Airfone in row 31 at the back of the plane. Flight crews on United aircraft are able to contact the maintenance office simply by dialing *349 on an Airfone. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 90-91 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006] The identity of the attendant making the call is unclear. According to the Wall Street Journal, the caller is “a female flight attendant.” [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001] The 9/11 Commission Report, however, refers to them as “a male flight attendant,” and one of the Commission’s earlier staff statements will specifically name Robert Fangman, who is one of the attendants on Flight 175. [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 7; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 18 pdf file] A summary of the phone calls made from the four hijacked planes presented at the 2006 Zacarias Moussaoui trial will refer to the caller simply as a “flight attendant,” with a question mark signifying their name. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006] After the call ends, Policastro and also another employee at the maintenance office try contacting Flight 175 using ACARS (an e-mail system that enables personnel on the ground to rapidly communicate with those in the cockpit of an aircraft), but they receive no response to these and subsequent attempts at reaching the flight. According to GTE Airfone records, another successful call will be made from Flight 175 to the maintenance office four minutes after this first one (see 8:56 a.m. September 11, 2001). However, other evidence indicates only one call is made. Shortly before 9:00 a.m., a supervisor at the maintenance office will call the United Airlines System Operations Control center, just outside Chicago, and inform a manager there of the reported hijacking of Flight 175 (see Shortly Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001). The supervisor also calls the airline’s security chief. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 21-22 and 90 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Marc Policastro, Robert Fangman

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Jim Goodwin.Jim Goodwin. [Source: Chicago Tribune]Rich Miles, the manager at the United Airlines System Operations Control (SOC) center just outside Chicago, receives a call from a supervisor at United’s maintenance office in San Francisco, informing him that Flight 175 has been reported as hijacked. [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 22 pdf file] The maintenance office received a call minutes earlier from a flight attendant on United 175, who said their plane had been hijacked (see 8:52 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 7-8] When the supervisor tells Miles about this, he initially responds, “No, the information we’re getting is that it was an American 757.” (The FAA has just informed United Airlines that the plane that hit the World Trade Center was a hijacked American Airlines 757 (see (Shortly After 8:48 a.m.) September 11, 2001).) But the supervisor insists, “No, we got a call from a flight attendant on 175.” [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001] Miles notifies his boss Bill Roy, the SOC director, about this information. Roy then contacts United’s CEO Jim Goodwin and its chief operating officer Andy Studdert, who are in a meeting at the airline’s headquarters, located next to the SOC. Roy then begins the process of activating the crisis center at the United headquarters, which will take about 30 minutes to complete. [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001; 9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 22 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Andrew P. Studdert, Jim Goodwin, Rich Miles, United Airlines, Bill Roy

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Ed Ballinger.Ed Ballinger. [Source: CNN]At the United Airlines System Operations Control (SOC) center outside Chicago, flight dispatcher Ed Ballinger learns that Flight 175 is suspected as being hijacked, and then sends text messages to try and make contact with it. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 23-24 pdf file] The SOC center has just been contacted by the United Airlines maintenance office in San Francisco, about a call it received from an attendant on Flight 175, who had reported that their plane had been hijacked (see Shortly Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001] Subsequently, around 9:01 or 9:02, a dispatch manager at the SOC goes to Ballinger’s desk and informs him of the details of this call. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 23 pdf file] Ballinger is the flight dispatcher responsible for United’s aircraft flying from the East Coast to the West Coast, which include Flight 175 (and also Flight 93). [Chicago Daily Herald, 4/14/2004] At 9:03, he sends an ACARS message to Flight 175: “How is the ride. Anything dispatch can do for you.” (ACARS is an e-mail system that enables personnel on the ground to rapidly communicate with those in the cockpit of an aircraft.) At the same time, the United Airlines air traffic control coordinator also sends an ACARS message to the flight: “NY approach lookin for ya on [frequency] 127.4.” Just after 9:03, unaware it has now crashed into the World Trade Center, Ballinger and the air traffic control coordinator re-send these ACARS messages to Flight 175. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 9 and 23-24 pdf file] Twenty minutes later, Ballinger will remain unaware that Flight 175 has crashed and still be trying to contact it by ACARS (see 9:23 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 26 pdf file] All airlines have a staff of dispatchers like Ballinger who, under FAA rules, are responsible for monitoring aircraft in flight. They follow each flight’s progress, relay safety information, and handle any problems that arise. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 14 and 35] United Airlines dispatchers typically monitor up to two dozen flights at once. [Longman, 2002, pp. 68] Ballinger has 16 transcontinental flights taking off early this morning that he is responsible for. [New York Observer, 6/20/2004]

Entity Tags: Ed Ballinger

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Shortly after he learns a second plane has hit the World Trade Center, United Airlines flight dispatcher Ed Ballinger takes the initiative to begin sending a warning message to the flights he is monitoring, including Flight 93 and Flight 175 (although this aircraft has already crashed). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 11; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 26 and 37 pdf file] Ballinger is responsible for monitoring United’s aircraft flying from the East Coast to the West Coast. He has 16 such flights he is in charge of. [Chicago Daily Herald, 4/14/2004] He sends out a text message to his airborne flights: “Beware any cockpit intrusion… Two aircraft in NY hit [World] Trade Center builds.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 11; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 26 pdf file] Although United Airlines has suspected Flight 175 as being hijacked since around 9:00 a.m. (see Shortly Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001), Ballinger is still responsible for multiple flights. (In contrast to United, American Airlines has a policy that flight dispatchers should only manage the hijacked flight, and be relieved of responsibility for their other flights.) [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 455-456] Ballinger’s warning is therefore sent out to his aircraft in groups, and will not be sent to Flight 93 until 9:23 a.m. (see 9:23 a.m.-9:26 a.m. September 11, 2001). Unaware that it was the second plane that hit the WTC, Ballinger will also send the message to Flight 175 (see 9:23 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 26 and 37 pdf file] Ballinger begins sending out these warnings two minutes before United Airlines instructs its dispatchers to warn their flights to secure their cockpit doors (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 455] According to the 9/11 Commission, his text message represents “the first occasion on 9/11 when either American or United sent out such a warning to their airborne aircraft.” [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 37 pdf file] Ballinger will later recall: “As soon as I had a grasp of what was going on… I sent [the warning] out immediately. It was before [Transportation Secretary Norman] Mineta, and even before the airlines told us to alert the crews.” [Chicago Daily Herald, 4/14/2004]

Entity Tags: Ed Ballinger

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

According to the 9/11 Commission, the FAA’s Indianapolis Center, which was monitoring Flight 77 when it disappeared from radar (see 8:56 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (8:56 a.m.-9:05 a.m.) September 11, 2001), has learned by 9:20 a.m. that there are “other hijacked aircraft,” and begins “to doubt its initial assumption that American 77 had crashed.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 24] In fact, a transcript of air traffic controller communications will show that the Indianapolis Center was informed of the Flight 11 hijacking, and that two planes had hit the World Trade Center, at 9:09 a.m. (see 9:09 a.m. September 11, 2001); five minutes later, it received confirmation of the Flight 11 hijacking (see 9:14 a.m. September 11, 2001). [New York Times, 10/16/2001] And television networks have been covering the crashes in New York since as early as 8:48 a.m. (see 8:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Bamford, 2004, pp. 16-17]
Other Facilities Notified - The manager at the Indianapolis Center now discusses the concern that Flight 77 may not have crashed with the FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia. This discussion prompts the Command Center to notify some FAA field facilities that Flight 77 is lost. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 32 pdf file] Also at around 9:20, the Indianapolis Center operations manager contacts the FAA’s Chicago Center. He advises its operations manager of his concern that Flight 77 may have been hijacked, and says to be on the lookout, based on the events that have occurred in New York. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file] By 9:21, according to the 9/11 Commission, the FAA “Command Center, some FAA field facilities, and American Airlines had started to search for American 77. They feared it had been hijacked.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 24-25]

Entity Tags: Chicago flight control, Federal Aviation Administration, Indianapolis Air Route Traffic Control Center, American Airlines

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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