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(8:48 a.m.-8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001: FAA Manager Ben Sliney Learns of First WTC Crash, Doesn’t Realize It Is Flight 11

Ben Sliney, the national operations manager at the FAA’s Herndon Command Center, learns that a plane has hit the World Trade Center, but it does not occur to him that this might have been the hijacked Flight 11 that he has been tracking. As national operations manager, Sliney is in charge of supervising all activities on the Command Center’s operations floor and overseeing the entire air traffic control system for the United States. He is currently on the operations floor, trying to gather and disseminate whatever information he can about Flight 11. (Spencer 2008, pp. 2 and 45-46) At 8:48 a.m., a manager at the FAA’s New York Center provides a report on Flight 11 over a Command Center teleconference, saying: “We’re watching the airplane. I also had conversation with American Airlines, and they’ve told us that they believe that one of their stewardesses was stabbed and that there are people in the cockpit that have control of the aircraft, and that’s all the information they have right now.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 21) Although Flight 11 crashed two minutes earlier (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), this is all Sliney is currently hearing about the aircraft. The Command Center’s military liaison then approaches him. The liaison is a colonel who is responsible for handling military airspace reservations, but is not part of the NORAD chain of command. He tells Sliney to put CNN up on one of the center’s screens, because “They are reporting that a small plane has hit the World Trade Center.” Upon following this suggestion, Sliney and his colleagues see the television footage of the burning North Tower. Sliney is baffled, commenting aloud: “That’s a lot of smoke for a small plane. I’ve worked New York airspace. Why would you be right over the World Trade Center on a clear, bright day?” However, according to author Lynn Spencer, “The notion that it is actually American 11 that has hit the tower doesn’t cross his mind; the idea that the hijacking they’ve been tracking might have flown into that building, especially on such a clear day, is simply unfathomable.” (Spencer 2008, pp. 46)

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