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Context of '(8:54 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Flight 77 Veers Off Course'

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According to a statement by two high-level FAA officials, “Within minutes after the first aircraft hit the World Trade Center, the FAA immediately established several phone bridges [i.e., telephone conference calls] that included FAA field facilities, the FAA command center, FAA headquarters, [Defense Department], the Secret Service, and other government agencies.” The FAA shares “real-time information on the phone bridges about the unfolding events, including information about loss of communication with aircraft, loss of transponder signals, unauthorized changes in course, and other actions being taken by all the flights of interest, including Flight 77. Other parties on the phone bridges in turn shared information about actions they were taken.” The statement says, “The US Air Force liaison to the FAA immediately joined the FAA headquarters phone bridge and established contact with NORAD on a separate line.” [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003] Another account says the phone bridges are “quickly established” by the Air Traffic Services Cell (ATSC). This is a small office at the FAA’s Herndon Command Center, which is staffed by three military officers at the time of the attacks (see (Between 9:04 a.m. and 9:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001). It serves as the center’s liaison with the military. According to Aviation Week and Space Technology, the phone bridges link “key players, such as NORAD’s command center, area defense sectors, key FAA personnel, airline operations, and the NMCC.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/10/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] According to an FAA transcript of employee conversations on 9/11, one of the phone bridges, between the FAA Command Center, the operations center at FAA headquarters, and air traffic control centers in Boston and New York, begins before Flight 11 hits the World Trade Center at 8:46 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 10/14/2003, pp. 3-10 pdf file] If these accounts are correct, it means someone at NORAD should learn about Flight 77 when it deviates from its course (see (8:54 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, the 9/11 Commission will later claim that the FAA teleconference is established about 30 minutes later (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The Air Force liaison to the FAA will claim she only joins it after the Pentagon is hit (see (Shortly After 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: US Secret Service, Federal Aviation Administration, Air Traffic Services Cell, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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 (9:20 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.” [Journal News (Westchester), 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. [Washington Post, 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.” [Washington Post, 12/8/2001]

Entity Tags: Hani Hanjour, John W. Warner, Charles Burlingame

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Flight 77 from Washington begins to go off course over southern Ohio, turning to the southwest. [Washington Post, 9/12/2001; Newsday, 9/23/2001; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

An air traffic controller at the FAA’s Indianapolis Center contacts the American Airlines dispatch office in Texas, and informs dispatcher Jim McDonnell that the center is unable to make contact with Flight 77 and does not know the location of this aircraft. The same controller called American Airlines and spoke with McDonnell four minutes earlier, reporting that radio contact had been lost with Flight 77 (see 8:58 a.m. September 11, 2001). McDonnell now says he has tried contacting Flight 77 but did not get a reply back. The controller then tells him: “We, uh, we lost track control of the guy. He’s in coast track but we haven’t, we don’t [know] where his target is and we can’t get a hold of him. Um, you guys tried him and no response?” McDonnell confirms, “No response.” The controller continues: “Yeah, we have no radar contact and, uh, no communications with him. So if you guys could try again.” McDonnell replies, “We’re doing it.” [New York Times, 10/16/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 30] Flight 77 made its last radio communication with controllers at 8:51 (see 8:51 a.m. September 11, 2001), and deviated from its assigned course at 8:54 (see (8:54 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 8-9]

Entity Tags: American Airlines, Indianapolis Air Route Traffic Control Center, Jim McDonnell

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

According to CIA Director George Tenet, “Only minutes” after the South Tower is hit, the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (CTC) receives a report that at least one other commercial passenger jet plane is unaccounted for. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 163] The CTC is based at the CIA headquarters in Langley, and is run by the agency’s operations division. It gathers intelligence and runs covert operations abroad. It employs hundreds of analysts, and includes experts assigned from Defense Department intelligence agencies, the Pentagon’s Central Command, the FBI, the National Security Agency, the Federal Aviation Administration, and other government agencies. According to the Los Angeles Times, “It serves as the nerve center for the CIA’s effort to disrupt and deter terrorist groups and their state sponsors.” [St. Petersburg Times, 10/2/2001; Los Angeles Times, 10/12/2001] Further details of the unaccounted-for plane, and where the CTC learns of it from, are unclear. The plane is presumably Flight 77, which veered off course at 8:54 (see (8:54 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and was evidently lost by 8:56 (see 8:56 a.m. September 11, 2001). [New York Times, 10/16/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 9] The FAA will later claim it had established several phone bridges at around 8:50 a.m., which included various government agencies, on which it shared “real-time information… about the unfolding events, including information about loss of communication with aircraft, loss of transponder signals, unauthorized changes in course, and other actions being taken by all the flights of interest, including Flight 77” (see (8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003] So the CTC may have learned of the errant plane by this means. Yet the 9/11 Commission will claim the FAA’s phone bridges were not established until about 9:20 (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 36] And NORAD is supposedly only alerted to Flight 77 at 9:24, according to some accounts (see (9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001), or 9:34, according to others (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Counterterrorist Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

General John Keane, vice chief of staff of the Army, talks on the phone with Major General Peter Chiarelli, the Army’s director of operations, readiness, and mobilization, about a suspicious plane that is approaching Washington, DC, and the two men discuss evacuating buildings in the capital, including the Pentagon. Keane called Chiarelli from his office at the Pentagon after he learned a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center and instructed him to bring the Army Operations Center (AOC) at the Pentagon up to full manning (see (Between 8:49 a.m. and 9:02 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Officer Is Monitoring FAA Communications - Sometime after the second hijacked plane crashed into the WTC (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), Chiarelli, who is now in the AOC himself, calls Keane to confirm that the operations center is fully manned. He also says he is monitoring FAA communications and all planes are being grounded, Keane will later recall. [Fordham News, 9/10/2016; Weekly Standard, 9/11/2016] (However, the FAA will only order its facilities to instruct aircraft to land at the nearest airport at around 9:45 a.m., which is later than this conversation occurs (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure, 9/21/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 29] )
Officer Was Told about an Aircraft Approaching Washington - Before Chiarelli left his office and went to the AOC, an intelligence analyst told him additional aircraft had been hijacked and one of them was thought to be heading toward Washington. An intelligence officer told him about this aircraft again after he reached the AOC (see (Shortly Before 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [US Army Center of Military History, 2/5/2002; Rossow, 2003, pp. 65-66] Presumably based, at least partly, on what these intelligence officers said, Chiarelli tells Keane about the suspicious aircraft, apparently Flight 77, which is now in the vicinity of Washington. [Fox News, 9/12/2011]
Officers Discuss Evacuating Buildings in Washington - He says, “There’s an airplane that has come up from I-95 south towards Washington, DC, and it turned east and went back down, and they’re tracking it.” He adds: “I think this airplane was out in Ohio someplace and it turned around (see (8:54 a.m.) September 11, 2001). It’s probably where they [i.e. hijackers] took charge of it and [air traffic controllers] haven’t been able to get a hold of it.” The two men conclude that the suspicious aircraft is heading for a building in the capital. Keane asks Chiarelli, “Well, what’s the plan to evacuate buildings in Washington?” Chiarelli replies, “I’ve already asked that question.” Keane then asks: “Well, what’s the plan to evacuate this building [i.e. the Pentagon]? Why isn’t it being evacuated?” What, if anything, Chiarelli says in response is unstated. [Weekly Standard, 9/11/2016] Keane and Chiarelli will still be holding this conversation at 9:37 a.m., when the Pentagon is hit (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001), and will continue it after the attack occurs (see (Shortly After 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Fordham News, 9/10/2016]

Entity Tags: John Keane, Peter W. Chiarelli

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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