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(8:48 a.m.) September 11, 2001: NORAD Operations Center Personnel See Television Coverage of First Crash, but Unaware of Details

Major General Rick Findley.Major General Rick Findley. [Source: NORAD]Personnel in the NORAD operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, learn of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center from television coverage of the attack, but do not realize the crash involved the hijacked aircraft they have just been notified of. [Calgary Herald, 10/1/2001; Ottawa Citizen, 9/11/2002; Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System, 9/8/2011] Jeff Ford, an Air Force lieutenant colonel working in the Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center (CMOC), will later recall, “[W]e started seeing the TV inputs from CNN on the aircraft, the first aircraft that had hit the Twin Towers.” [Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System, 9/8/2011] Major General Rick Findley, NORAD’s director of operations, has just learned that the FAA has requested NORAD assistance with a hijacking (see (8.46 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 3/1/2004 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 38-39] He now enters the battle cab at the operations center. Someone there tells him, “Sir, you might want to look at that.” Findley will later recall: “I looked up and there was the CNN image of the World Trade Center. There was a hole in the side of one of the buildings.”
CMOC Personnel Think Small Plane Hit WTC - Findley asks, “What’s that from?” and is told, “Well, they’re saying it’s a commuter aircraft.” Findley says, “That’s too big a hole for a commuter aircraft.” He asks if the crash was caused by the hijacked aircraft he has been informed of. “I was scratching my head, wondering if it was another aircraft altogether,” he will recall. [Calgary Herald, 10/1/2001; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/11/2002] Others in the CMOC are unaware that the crash was the result of a terrorist attack and involved a large commercial aircraft. Lieutenant Colonel Steven Armstrong, NORAD’s chief of plans and forces, will recall, “[W]e didn’t really know that it was anything other than perhaps a general aviation aircraft because those were the first indications that we had was it was just… reported like a small, maybe a general aviation aircraft that had hit one of the buildings.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/9/2011] According to Lieutenant Colonel William Glover, the commander of NORAD’s Air Warning Center: “[W]e weren’t sure whether it was a mistake… was this intentional? Was there a problem? The weather was good, you know, that type of thing. So we really didn’t know what the reason was that this aircraft struck the tower.” [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/8/2011] Ford will recall: “[W]e knew something was wrong because there really wasn’t any reason for any navigational problems for that aircraft. There might have been a malfunction or something on the aircraft that had taken place, but we really didn’t have any indications of what was going on yet.” [Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System, 9/8/2011]
CMOC Personnel Unaware that Crash Was Deliberate - The CMOC is “the nerve centre of North America’s air defense,” according to the BBC. [BBC, 9/1/2002] Its role, according to the Toronto Star, is “to fuse every critical piece of information NORAD has into a concise and crystalline snapshot.” [Toronto Star, 12/9/2001] But it is only after personnel there see the television coverage of the second plane hitting the WTC at 9:03 a.m. that they realize “we had something much more sinister than just an accident, a really coordinated and deliberate action,” according to Findley. [Ottawa Citizen, 9/11/2002] Armstrong will recall: “[W]hen we saw the video [of the second crash], we said: ‘Wait a second. Those are commercial-size airplanes. Those aren’t general aviation aircraft.’ That obviously changed the situation significantly.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/9/2011] According to Glover, after the second crash, “We knew then that the first one was not a mistake and we knew that this was intentional.” [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/8/2011]

Entity Tags: Jeff Ford, William Glover, Eric A. “Rick” Findley, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Steven Armstrong

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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