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Context of '8:51 a.m.-8:54 a.m. September 11, 2001: Hijackers Take Over Flight 77'

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Charles Burlingame.Charles Burlingame. [Source: Family photo / Associated Press]The 9/11 Commission says the hijacking of Flight 77 takes place between 8:51 a.m., when the plane transmits its last routine radio communication (see 8:51 a.m. September 11, 2001), and 8:54 a.m., when it deviates from its assigned course (see (8:54 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Based on phone calls made from the plane by flight attendant Renee May (see (9:12 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and passenger Barbara Olson (see (Between 9:15 a.m. and 9:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001), the commission concludes that the hijackers “initiated and sustained their command of the aircraft using knives and box cutters… and moved all of the passengers (and possibly crew) to the rear of the aircraft.” It adds, “Neither of the firsthand accounts to come from Flight 77… mentioned any actual use of violence (e.g., stabbings) or the threat or use of either a bomb or Mace.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 8-9; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 29) People who knew Charles Burlingame, the pilot of Flight 77, will later contend that it would have required a difficult struggle for the hijackers to gain control of the plane from him. (Washington Post 9/11/2002) Burlingame was a military man who’d flown Navy jets for eight years, served several tours at the Navy’s elite Top Gun school, and been in the Naval Reserve for 17 years. (Associated Press 12/6/2001) His sister, Debra Burlingame, says, “This was a guy that’s been through SERE [Survival Evasion Resistance Escape] school in the Navy and had very tough psychological and physical preparation.” (Cohen 12/30/2003) Admiral Timothy Keating, who was a classmate of Burlingame’s from the Navy and a flight school friend, says, “I was in a plebe summer boxing match with Chick, and he pounded me.… Chick was really tough, and the terrorists had to perform some inhumane act to get him out of that cockpit, I guarantee you.” (CNN 5/16/2006) Yet the five alleged hijackers do not appear to have been the kinds of people that would be a particularly dangerous opponent. Pilot Hani Hanjour was skinny and barely over 5 feet tall. (Goldstein, Sun, and Lardner 10/15/2001) And according to the 9/11 Commission, the “so-called muscle hijackers actually were not physically imposing,” with the majority of them being between 5 feet 5 and 5 feet 7 in height, “and slender in build.” (9/11 Commission 6/16/2004) Senator John Warner (R-VA) later says “the examination of his remains… indicated Captain Burlingame was in a struggle and died before the crash, doing his best to save lives on the aircraft and on the ground.” (White 12/8/2001)

Flight 77 from Washington begins to go off course over southern Ohio, turning to the southwest. (Washington Post 9/12/2001; Adcock, Donovan, and Gordon 9/23/2001; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004)

Lori Keyton, a secretary in the office of Solicitor General Ted Olson at the Department of Justice, receives a number of unsuccessful calls, which presumably are made by Barbara Olson, the wife of the solicitor general, who is a passenger on Flight 77. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 94) Flight 77 was hijacked between around 8:51 a.m. and 8:54 a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission Report (see 8:51 a.m.-8:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 8) At about 9:00 a.m., Keyton receives a series of around six to eight collect calls. Her phone has no caller identification feature, so the caller is unknown. All of the calls are automated and, in them, a recorded voice advises of the collect call and requests that Keyton hold for an operator. A short time later, another recording states that all operators are busy and so the person should please hang up and try their call later. After the last of these automated calls occurs, Keyton will answer a call from a live operator, connecting Barbara Olson to her husband’s office (see (Between 9:15 a.m. and 9:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001). She will answer a second call from Barbara Olson that is made directly to the office a few minutes later (see (Between 9:20 a.m. and 9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Keyton will immediately put Barbara Olson through to her husband after answering both of these calls. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 94) A list compiled by the Department of Justice supposedly showing all of the calls made today from Flight 77 will apparently make no mention of the failed calls that Keyton answers. It will mention four calls from an unknown number, which are believed to include the two successful calls made by Barbara Olson. It will also include one call—not six to eight—that is described as being made by Barbara Olson to Ted Olson’s office, which failed to connect, but this is made just before 9:19 a.m. rather than around 9:00 a.m., when the failed calls received by Keyton reportedly occur (see 9:15 a.m.-9:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 5/20/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 455)

Renee May.
Renee May. [Source: Family photo]Renee May, a flight attendant on Flight 77, calls her parents in Las Vegas and reports her plane has been hijacked. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 9; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006) According to author Tom Murphy, May previously tried calling the American Airlines flight services office at Washington’s Reagan National Airport, but all the lines there were busy. (Murphy 2006, pp. 56-57) However, a summary of the phone calls made from the four hijacked planes that is presented at the 2006 Zacarias Moussaoui trial will make no mention of this earlier call. May’s first attempt at calling her parents, at 9:11 a.m., had not connected, but her second attempt a minute later is successful, and the call lasts for two-and-a-half minutes. (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 31; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006) According to reports shortly after 9/11 in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, May makes her call using a cell phone. (Patton 9/13/2001; Patton 9/15/2001) But at the Moussaoui trial it will be claimed she uses an Airfone. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006, pp. 7 pdf file) According to most accounts, including that of the 9/11 Commission, she speaks to her mother, Nancy May. (Patton 9/13/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 9; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006, pp. 7 pdf file) But according to Murphy, she speaks with her father, Ronald May. (Murphy 2006, pp. 57) Renee reports that her plane is being hijacked. (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 31) Although it will be officially claimed that there are five hijackers on Flight 77, she says six individuals have taken over the plane (see Between 9:12 a.m. and 9:15 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/27/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 2-3 and 9) Renee says the hijackers have moved people to the rear of the aircraft, though it is unclear whether she is referring to all of the passengers or just the flight’s crew. She tells her parent (either her mother or father, depending on the account) to call American Airlines and inform it of the hijacking. She gives three numbers in Northern Virginia to call. Before the time Flight 77 crashes, Renee May’s mother (or her father, according to Murphy) is able to contact an American Airlines employee at Reagan National Airport and pass on what their daughter has reported (see (Between 9:15 a.m. and 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 31; Murphy 2006, pp. 57)

Barbara Olson.Barbara Olson. [Source: Richard Eillis / Getty Images]Barbara Olson, a passenger on Flight 77, talks over the phone with her husband, Ted Olson, the solicitor general of the United States, and gives details of the hijacking of her plane, but the call is cut off after about a minute. (9/11 Commission 5/20/2004; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 32) Flight 77 was hijacked between around 8:51 a.m. and 8:54 a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission Report (see 8:51 a.m.-8:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 8) Sometime later, Barbara Olson tries calling her husband from the plane. The call initially reaches Mercy Lorenzo, an operator for AT&T, and after a short conversation, Lorenzo connects her to Ted Olson’s office at the Department of Justice in Washington, DC (see (Between 9:15 a.m. and 9:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/11/2001; Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/11/2001)
Secretary Answers the Call - There, the call is answered by Lori Keyton, a secretary. Lorenzo says there is an emergency collect call from Barbara Olson for Ted Olson. Keyton says she will accept it. Barbara Olson is then put through. She starts asking, “Can you tell Ted…” but Keyton cuts her off and says, “I’ll put him on the line.” (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/11/2001) Keyton then notifies Helen Voss, Ted Olson’s special assistant, about the call. She says Barbara Olson is on the line and in a panic. The call is then passed on to Ted Olson. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/11/2001) Voss rushes up to him and says, “Barbara is on the phone.” Ted Olson has been watching the coverage of the crashes at the World Trade Center on television and was concerned that his wife might have been on one of the planes involved. He is therefore initially relieved at this news. However, when he gets on the phone with her, he learns about the crisis on Flight 77. (CNN 9/14/2001; Isikoff 9/28/2001; Olson and Boies 6/18/2014)
Barbara Olson Provides Details of the Hijacking - Barbara Olson tells her husband that her plane has been hijacked. She gives no information describing the hijackers. She says they were armed with knives and box cutters, but makes no mention of any of the crew members or passengers being stabbed or slashed by them. She says they moved all the passengers to the back of the plane and are unaware that she is making a phone call. After the couple have been talking for about a minute, the call is cut off. Ted Olson will then try to call Attorney General John Ashcroft on a direct line he has to Ashcroft but receive no answer. After that, he will call the Department of Justice command center and ask for someone there to come to his office (see (Between 9:17 a.m. and 9:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Barbara Olson will reach her husband again and provide more details about the hijacking a short time later (see (Between 9:20 a.m. and 9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/11/2001; Isikoff 9/28/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 9; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 32)
Barbara Olson Is 'Incredibly Calm' - Accounts will later conflict over how composed Barbara Olson sounds during the call. She “did not seem panicked,” according to Ted Olson. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/11/2001) “She sounded very, very calm… in retrospect, enormously, remarkably, incredibly calm,” he will say. (CNN 9/14/2001) But Keyton will say that when she answered the call, Barbara Olson “sounded hysterical.” (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/11/2001) Ted Olson will add that he did not hear any noises on the plane other than his wife’s voice. (CNN 9/14/2001)
Accounts Will Conflict over What Kind of Phone Is Used - Accounts will also be contradictory over whether Barbara Olson’s call is made using a cell phone or an Airfone. Keyton will say there is no caller identification feature on her phone and so she was unable to determine what kind of phone Barbara Olson used. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/11/2001) Ted Olson will tell the FBI that he “doesn’t know if the calls [from his wife] were made from her cell phone or [an Airfone].” He will mention, though, that she “always has her cell phone with her.” (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/11/2001) He will similarly tell Fox News that he is unsure whether his wife used her cell phone or an Airfone. He will say he initially assumed the call must have been made on an Airfone and she called collect because “she somehow didn’t have access to her credit cards.” (Fox News 9/14/2001) But he will tell CNN that she “called him twice on a cell phone.” (CNN 9/12/2001) And in a public appearance in 2014, he will imply that she called him on her cell phone, saying, “I don’t know how Barbara managed to make her cell phone work” while she was in the air. (Olson and Boies 6/18/2014) Furthermore, a spokesman for Ted Olson will say that during the call, Barbara Olson said she was locked in the toilet. If correct, this would mean she must be using her cell phone. (Gardham 9/12/2001; Arkell and France 9/12/2001) But in 2002, Ted Olson will tell the London Telegraph that his wife called him on an Airfone and add, “I guess she didn’t have her purse, because she was calling collect.” (Harnden 3/5/2002) And based on a study of all Airfone records, an examination of the cell phone records of all of the passengers who owned cell phones, and interviews with the people who received calls from the plane, the Department of Justice will determine that all of the calls from Flight 77 were made using Airfones.
Call Will Be Listed as Being Made to an 'Unknown' Number - A list compiled by the Department of Justice supposedly showing all of the calls made today from Flight 77 will include four “connected calls to unknown numbers” (see 9:15 a.m.-9:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). The 9/11 Commission Report will determine that these include the two calls made by Barbara Olson to her husband. According to the information in the list, her first call must occur at 9:15 a.m., 9:20 a.m., or 9:25 a.m. However, the FBI and the Department of Justice will conclude that all four “connected calls to unknown numbers” were communications between Barbara Olson and her husband’s office. (9/11 Commission 5/20/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 455)
Barbara Olson Originally Planned to Fly Out a Day Earlier - Barbara Olson is a former federal prosecutor who is now a well-known political commentator on television. (McCarthy 9/13/2001; Lewis 9/13/2001) She was flying to Los Angeles to attend a major media business conference and to appear on Bill Maher’s television show, Politically Incorrect, this evening. (CNN 9/14/2001; Olson and Boies 6/18/2014) She was originally scheduled to be on Flight 77 on September 10, but delayed her departure because today is Ted Olson’s birthday, and she wanted to be with him on the night before and have breakfast with him this morning. (CNN 9/12/2001; Scotsman 9/13/2001; Olson and Boies 6/18/2014) At around 9:00 a.m., Keyton received a series of about six to eight collect calls from an unknown caller that failed to go through (see (9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Presumably these were made by Barbara Olson. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 94) In an interview with the FBI on September 13, Ted Olson will mention some messages on his voicemail at his old law firm. Presumably, he will be suggesting that these were also from Barbara Olson (see (Between 8:55 a.m. and 9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/13/2001)

The telephone Ted Olson used when he spoke to his wife, who called him from Flight 77.The telephone Ted Olson used when he spoke to his wife, who called him from Flight 77. [Source: US Department of Justice]Barbara Olson, a passenger on Flight 77, talks over the phone with her husband, Ted Olson, the solicitor general of the United States, for a second time and is able to give him additional details of the hijacking of her plane before the call gets cut off. She has just called him at his office at the Department of Justice in Washington, DC, and was able to say her plane had been hijacked and give him details of the hijacking before the call got disconnected (see (Between 9:15 a.m. and 9:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (CNN 9/14/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 9) Since then, Ted Olson has called the Department of Justice command center and passed on the information she provided (see (Between 9:17 a.m. and 9:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 32)
Secretary Answers the Call - Shortly after making her first call to him, Barbara Olson calls Ted Olson again. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 9) The call is initially answered by Lori Keyton, a secretary in Ted Olson’s office. When Keyton picks up the phone, Barbara Olson says, “It’s Barbara.” Keyton says she will put her through to her husband. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/11/2001) Ted Olson is told his wife is on the phone again and the call is put through to him.
Barbara Olson Says Her Plane Has Been Circling Around - Barbara Olson then gives her husband additional information about the hijacking of Flight 77. She says the pilot announced that the plane had been hijacked. Ted Olson asks if she has any idea of her plane’s location. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/11/2001; CNN 9/14/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 9; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 32) She says the plane was hijacked shortly after takeoff and has been circling around for a while. (CNN 9/14/2001; Fox News 9/14/2001) (However, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, Flight 77 was hijacked between around 8:51 a.m. and 8:54 a.m. (see 8:51 a.m.-8:54 a.m. September 11, 2001), more than 30 minutes after it took off (see (8:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 8) ) She says it is currently flying over some houses. After consulting another person on the plane, she says she thinks they are heading northeast.
Barbara Olson Asks What She Should Tell the Pilot - Ted Olson says two aircraft, besides Flight 77, were hijacked this morning and these planes subsequently crashed into the World Trade Center. Barbara Olson “absorbed the information,” the solicitor general will later recall. The couple then try to reassure each other. Ted Olson says, “It’s going to come out okay” and Barbara Olson tells him the same thing. She then says, “I love you.” Before the call ends, the couple “segued back and forth between expressions of feeling for one another and this effort to exchange information,” Ted Olson will recall. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/11/2001; CNN 9/14/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 9; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 32) “We exchanged the feelings that a husband and wife who are extraordinarily close—as we are—those kind of sentiments,” he will say. (Fox News 9/14/2001) The last thing Barbara Olson says is: “What shall I tell the pilot? What can I tell the pilot to do?” This implies that either the plane’s pilot or the co-pilot is at the back of the plane, where the hijackers moved the passengers, Ted Olson will note. (Fisher and Phillips 9/12/2001; CNN 9/14/2001)
Call Is Abruptly Cut Off - The call then ends abruptly, with the line suddenly going dead. It has lasted “two or three or four minutes,” Ted Olson will estimate. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/11/2001; CNN 9/14/2001; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 32) Ted Olson will then return to watching the coverage of the attacks at the WTC on television. When he sees the reports about an attack at the Pentagon, he will immediately think his wife’s plane crashed there (see (Shortly After 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/11/2001; Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/11/2001; Fox News 9/14/2001)
Call Is Made Sometime between 9:20 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. - The exact time of Barbara Olson’s second call to her husband is unclear. A list compiled by the Department of Justice supposedly showing all of the calls made today from Flight 77 will include four “connected calls to unknown numbers” (see 9:15 a.m.-9:30 a.m. September 11, 2001) and the 9/11 Commission Report will determine that these include the two calls made by Barbara Olson. According to the information in the list, her second call must occur at 9:20 a.m., 9:25 a.m., or 9:30 a.m. and last for 4 minutes 34 seconds, 2 minutes 39 seconds, or 4 minutes 20 seconds. (9/11 Commission 5/20/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 455; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 94)
Call Is Made Directly to Ted Olson's Office - It is also unclear whether Barbara Olson makes this call using a cell phone or an Airfone. Keyton’s phone has no caller identification feature and so she is unable to determine what kind of phone Barbara Olson uses. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/11/2001) But the Department of Justice will determine that all of the calls from Flight 77 were made using Airfones. (9/11 Commission 5/20/2004) Barbara Olson makes the call by dialing “0,” apparently in an attempt to reach an operator, according to an FBI report. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/20/2001) But Keyton will say that, unlike the first call, Barbara Olson’s second call to her husband is made directly to his office, rather than reaching it via an operator. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/11/2001) And Mercy Lorenzo, the operator who connected Barbara Olson’s first call to Ted Olson’s office (see (Between 9:15 a.m. and 9:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001), will apparently mention dealing with only one call, not two, from Barbara Olson when she is interviewed by the FBI. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/11/2001)

The conservative lobbying and advocacy group Citizens United (CU) releases a documentary intended as a refutation of the popular documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11 (see June 25, 2004), a film by liberal documentarian Michael Moore that savaged the Bush administration’s handling of the 9/11 attacks. The CU film is entitled Celsius 41.11—The Temperature at Which the Brain Begins to Die. CU spent six weeks making the film, and is releasing it in small venues around the nation after the Federal Election Commission (FEC) denied the organization permission to broadcast it on television (see September 8, 2004). (In August, the FEC dismissed a complaint against Moore over Fahrenheit 9/11 filed by CU—see August 6, 2004.) The slogan for the movie is “The Truth Behind the Lies of Fahrenheit 9/11!” The movie was written and produced by Lionel Chetwynd, who has written and produced a number of Hollywood feature films and documentaries. Chetwynd, a vocal conservative, produced the September 2003 “docudrama” 9/11: Time of Crisis, which portrayed President Bush as a near-action hero during and after the 9/11 attacks, and took significant liberties with the actual events (see September 7, 2003). Of this film, Chetwynd says: “We could have gone wall to wall with red meat on this, but we purposely didn’t. The cheap shots may be entertaining in Moore’s film, but we wanted to make the intellectual case and go beyond lecturing to the converted.” New York Times reporter John Tierney describes the movie as overtly intellectual, sometimes appearing more as a PowerPoint presentation than a film made to appeal to a wider audience. It features a point-by-point defense of Bush’s actions during the 9/11 attacks, and features “politicians, journalists, and scholars discoursing on the legality of the Florida recount in 2000, the Clinton administration’s record on fighting terrorism, and the theory of American exceptionalism.” There are a few “red meat” moments, Tierney notes, including the juxtaposition of the Twin Towers burning as Moore says in a voiceover, “There is no terrorist threat.” It also includes a few slaps against Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA), mostly in the form of a country song where the singer Larry Gatlin sings, “John boy, please tell us which way the wind’s blowing,” a reference to the Bush campaign’s attempt to portray Kerry as a “flip-flopper” who goes back and forth in his views on various issues. The Georgetown premiere of the movie attracts some 300 viewers, almost all Republicans, according to Tierney. The audience, according to Tierney, views the film as more “thoughtful and accurate” than Moore’s film, and unlikely to make anywhere near the profits the earlier film garnered. Chetwynd says he resisted the temptation to launch an all-out assault on Kerry “the way that Moore did with Bush.” Filmgoer Jerome Corsi, who has written a bestselling book attacking Kerry’s Vietnam record, praises the film, as does Debra Burlingame, whose brother was the pilot of the airplane that was flown into the Pentagon on the morning of September 11, 2001 (see 8:51 a.m.-8:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). Burlingame, a founder of a group of 9/11 victim relatives that supports Bush, says: “Michael Moore actually used footage of the Pentagon in flames as a sight gag. It was really hard to sit there in the theater listening to people laugh at that scene knowing my brother was on that plane. I wish more people would see this film instead.” (Tierney 9/30/2004) In October, the Washington Post’s Philip Kennicott will dismiss the film as “generat[ing] heat but no new light,” calling it “sad in a sad sort of way… dull, lazy, and inconsistent,” and suffused with an “unabashed idolatry of the Great Leader (in this case, George W. Bush)” in the same way that Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl made her documentaries (he wonders, “Has the conservative worldview really been reduced to a slavish worship of authority?”). Kennicott will ask if the film is an attempt to refute Moore’s documentary or an “overlong attack ad on John Kerry,” and concludes that the film is little more than a combination of “dreadful political advertisements and dreadful political talk shows.” (Kennicott 10/22/2004) TV Guide’s Maitland McDonagh will call the film a “shrill, repetitive screed” obviously released just in time to influence the 2004 presidential election, and bearing “all the hallmarks of having been thrown together in a heated rush.” (McDonagh 10/2004)


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