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Context of '(9:04 a.m.-9:11 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Air Traffic Control Managers Ban Aircraft around New York and Washington'

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American Airlines orders all its aircraft in the Northeast United States that have not yet taken off to remain on the ground, and then, minutes later, extends this order nationwide. (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 30-31) At the American Airlines System Operations Control (SOC) center in Fort Worth, Texas, managers have learned that communications have been lost with a second one of their aircraft, Flight 77 (see 8:58 a.m. September 11, 2001). Therefore, at around 9:00, Gerard Arpey, the airline’s executive vice president for operations, orders a “ground stop” of all American Airlines and American Eagle flights in the Northeast US. This means aircraft that have not yet taken off must remain on the ground. Minutes later, American learns that United Airlines has lost contact with one of its flights. So, some time between 9:05 and 9:10, it extends its ground stop order to apply to all American Airlines and American Eagle aircraft across the entire US. (9/11 Commission 1/27/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 9-10) United Airlines will also prevent any further takeoffs of its flights at 9:20 (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Mccartney and Carey 10/15/2001) And the FAA will give out a similar order to all its facilities, initiating a “national ground stop,” at around 9:25 a.m. (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Donnelly 9/14/2001) At around 9:15, American Airlines will order all its airborne flights to land (see (9:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 31)

In a series of stages, air traffic control managers ban aircraft from flying near the cities targeted by the hijackers. All takeoffs and landings in New York City are halted within two minutes of the Flight 175 crash (see 9:05 a.m. September 11, 2001). Mike McCormick, the air traffic control manager at the FAA’s New York Center, makes the decision. The FAA’s Boston Center follows suit in the next few minutes. Around 9:08 a.m.-9:11 a.m., departures nationwide heading to or through the New York and Boston regions’ airspace are canceled. (LeBlanc 8/12/2002; Levin, Adams, and Morrison 8/12/2002; Associated Press 8/21/2002; Adcock 9/10/2002) In addition, “a few minutes” after 9:03 a.m., all takeoffs from Washington Reagan National Airport are stopped. (Levin 8/11/2002)

Bruce Barrett.Bruce Barrett. [Source: H. Darr Beiser / USA Today]The FAA’s New York Center declares “air traffic control zero” (“ATC zero”), which means that all air traffic is prevented from departing from, arriving at, or traveling through the center’s airspace until further notice. (Levin, Adams, and Morrison 8/12/2002; Freni 2003, pp. 18; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 24) According to author Lynn Spencer: “ATC zero is designed for situations in which an air traffic facility is completely incapable of handling aircraft due to a massive computer failure, power outage, or even a large enough weather system. The declaration pushes all their aircraft onto neighboring sectors, and any new airplanes from adjacent sectors are turned back, at the sector boundaries if necessary.” (Spencer 2008, pp. 68) The decision to declare ATC zero is made after the second plane hits the World Trade Center, confirming that the US is under terrorist attack. There are currently hundreds of aircraft in the skies around New York and the western Atlantic that the New York Center is responsible for. (Associated Press 8/12/2002) Bruce Barrett, a senior manager at the New York Center, announces, “We’re declaring ATC zero,” and Mike McCormick, the center’s air traffic control manager, approves the order. Several of the managers there then start informing air traffic controllers of the decision.
Unprecedented Order - USA Today will report that this decision is unprecedented: “Controllers had gone to ‘air traffic control zero’ before, but only when their radar shut down or their radio transmitters went silent. The planes kept flying then, and controllers in other centers guided them. This time, ATC zero means something far more drastic. It means emptying the skies—something that has never been attempted. And not just the skies over Manhattan. Controllers must clear the air from southern New England to Maryland, from Long Island to central Pennsylvania—every mile of the region they control.… Controllers from Cleveland to Corpus Christi must reroute jets headed to the region and put some in holding patterns.”
Accounts Conflict over Whether Center Seeks Permission - According to USA Today, McCormick and Barrett declare ATC zero without first seeking permission from higher-ups, because a “call to Washington could take minutes, and they aren’t sure they have that long.” (Levin, Adams, and Morrison 8/12/2002) But according to Lynn Spencer, a New York Center supervisor has already requested ATC zero in a call to the FAA’s Herndon Command Center. Ben Sliney, the Command Center’s national operations manager, assured the supervisor, “You take care of matters in your center and we will provide all the assistance necessary by stopping any further aircraft from entering your airspace.” (Spencer 2008, pp. 68)

At the FAA’s Herndon Command Center, national operations manager Ben Sliney responds to the second plane hitting the World Trade Center and orders a “first-tier ground stop” to prevent aircraft from departing, arriving at, or flying through the airspace of the FAA’s New York Center. Like many others at the Command Center, Sliney has just seen Flight 175 crashing into the South Tower of the WTC live on CNN. A manager at the center then reports to him the news just received over the Command Center’s teleconference, about the sinister radio transmissions that have been deciphered by the Boston Center, stating “We have some planes” (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). According to author Lynn Spencer, “The words take on a sickening significance” to Sliney “after what he has just observed.”
Sliney Orders 'First-Tier Ground Stop' - Sliney orders across the room, “Give me a first-tier ground stop!” According to Spencer, “The order stops all aircraft departing, arriving, or flying through New York Center’s airspace, effectively closing down the nation’s busiest skies.” At 9:06 a.m., an advisory is sent out to every air traffic control facility in the nation, and the skies above New York are now officially closed. Numerous flights that are in the air or preparing to take off are given “holding instructions.” Meanwhile, the large screen at the front of the room in the Command Center displays the footage of Flight 175 hitting the WTC as it is shown repeatedly on CNN. According to Spencer: “[I]t becomes sickeningly obvious to all watching that the plane was a large commercial airliner. And it was no accident.” (Marsh 11/2001; Spencer 2008, pp. 80-81) Around this same time, the FAA’s New York Center takes action similar to that of the Command Center, declaring “air traffic control zero,” which prevents all air traffic from departing, arriving at, or traveling through its airspace (see 9:05 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 24) And at around 9:25 a.m., the Command Center will order a “nationwide ground stop,” which prevents any aircraft from taking off in the entire United States (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 33)
Sliney Expands Teleconference - Also in response to the second WTC crash, Sliney decides that he needs to expand the Command Center’s teleconference (see (Between 8:48 a.m. and 9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001) so as to include the secretary of transportation. (Spencer 2008, pp. 81) It is expanded to include the secretary of transportation’s office, FAA headquarters, and other agencies. (Bond 12/17/2001) It is unclear whether Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta participates himself, as he is told to go to the White House around this time, and subsequently heads there (see (9:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 5/23/2003)
Military Liaison Unable to Help - Sliney also seeks out the military liaison at the Command Center to get more information about what is going on. (Spencer 2008, pp. 81) Presumably this officer is one of the three members of the Air Traffic Services Cell (ATSC) there (see (Between 9:04 a.m. and 9:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Bond 12/17/2001; Scott 6/10/2002) But, according to Spencer, it is “clear that the lieutenant colonel’s job has nothing to do with NORAD or the air defense interceptors. He is military, but his job duties at the Command Center are focused on military airspace usage. He has no place in the military chain of command that is relevant this morning.” Sliney therefore “can only assume that people much higher up than both of them are dealing with the military response. The fighters must be on their way.” (Spencer 2008, pp. 81)

United Airlines flight dispatcher Ed Ballinger begins sending text messages to United’s transcontinental flights that have not yet taken off, notifying them that a ground stop, preventing any further takeoffs, has been ordered for commercial aircraft in the New York area. (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 37) FAA air traffic managers prohibited flights into or out of New York after the second plane hit the World Trade Center (see (9:04 a.m.-9:11 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Levin, Adams, and Morrison 8/12/2002) Ballinger, who is working at the United Airlines System Operations Control center just outside Chicago, is responsible for monitoring United’s aircraft that are flying from the East Coast to the West Coast. (Mccartney and Carey 10/15/2001; Davis 4/14/2004; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 23)


FAA Administrator Jane Garvey.
FAA Administrator Jane Garvey. [Source: FAA]Time magazine later reports that Jane Garvey, head of the FAA, “almost certainly after getting an okay from the White House, initiate[s] a national ground stop, which forbids takeoffs and requires planes in the air to get down as soon as is reasonable. The order, which has never been implemented since flying was invented in 1903, applie[s] to virtually every single kind of machine that can takeoff—civilian, military, or law enforcement.” Military and law enforcement flights are allowed to resume at 10:31 a.m. (see 10:31 a.m. September 11, 2001) A limited number of military flights—the FAA will not reveal details—are allowed to fly during this ban. (Donnelly 9/14/2001) Garvey later calls it “a national ground stop… that prevented any aircraft from taking off.” (US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure 9/21/2001) Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta later says he was the one to give the order: “As soon as I was aware of the nature and scale of the attack, I called from the White House to order the air traffic system to land all aircraft, immediately and without exception.” (US Congress. Senate. Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation 9/20/2001) According to Mineta, “At approximately 9:45… I gave the FAA the final order for all civil aircraft to land at the nearest airport as soon as possible.” (9/11 Commission 5/23/2003) At the time, 4,452 planes are flying in the continental US. A later account states that Ben Sliney, the FAA’s National Operations Manager, makes the decision without consulting his superiors, like Jane Garvey, first. It would be remarkable if Sliney was the one to make the decision, because 9/11 is Sliney’s first day on the job as National Operations Manager, “the chess master of the air traffic system.” (Levin, Adams, and Morrison 8/12/2002) When he accepted the job a couple of months earlier, he had asked, “What is the limit of my authority?” The man who had promoted him replied, “Unlimited.” (Adams, Levin, and Morrison 8/13/2002) Yet another account, by Linda Schuessler, manager of tactical operations at the FAA Command Center where Sliney was located, says, “… it was done collaboratively… All these decisions were corporate decisions. It wasn’t one person who said, ‘Yes, this has got to get done.’” (Bond 12/17/2001) About 500 planes land in the next 20 minutes, and then much more urgent orders to land are issued at 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Donnelly 9/14/2001; US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure 9/21/2001; Adcock, Donovan, and Gordon 9/23/2001; Scott 6/3/2002; Levin, Adams, and Morrison 8/12/2002; Levin, Adams, and Morrison 8/12/2002; Associated Press 8/21/2002; Adcock 9/10/2002)

The Marriott Residence Inn in Arlington, Virginia.The Marriott Residence Inn in Arlington, Virginia. [Source: Marriott International]An American Airlines plane takes off from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, flying toward the Pentagon, just before the Pentagon attack occurs, according to a witness who says he sees the plane out the window of his hotel room.
Plane Takes Off toward Pentagon - Jeffrey Mark Parsons, an assistant chief patrol agent with the United States Border Patrol, is staying on the 17th floor of the Marriott Residence Inn in Arlington, Virginia. When later interviewed by Navy historian John Darrell Sherwood about his experiences of the 9/11 attacks, Parsons will recall: “I was looking out my window. I have a perfect view of Reagan National Airport. An American Airlines plane had just taken off, I mean, not 30 seconds before this plane [Flight 77] hit the Pentagon.” Parsons will add that the American Airlines plane is “taking off to the north, to the, different than the normal way. In other words, they were taking off toward the Pentagon.” (Parsons 12/13/2001; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 258) Reagan National Airport is less than a mile from the Pentagon. (Adair and Garza 10/3/2001) Parsons will continue, “Well, this American Airlines plane had just taken off, I mean it couldn’t have been a minute, 30 seconds before this plane [Flight 77] hit the Pentagon.” (Parsons 12/13/2001) Flight 77 hits the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001) and, like the plane Parsons sees, is an American Airlines aircraft. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 10)
American Airlines and Reagan Airport Planes Supposedly Grounded - And yet Chris Stephenson, the supervisor in the Reagan National Airport control tower, reportedly stopped takeoffs from Reagan Airport in the minutes after 9:03 a.m., when Flight 175 hit the World Trade Center (see (9:04 a.m.-9:11 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Levin 8/11/2002) And at 9:00 a.m., American Airlines ordered all its aircraft in the Northeast United States that had not yet taken off to remain on the ground (see Between 9:00 a.m. and 9:10 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 30) Furthermore, the FAA ordered a nationwide ground stop at around 9:26 a.m., which was supposed to prevent any aircraft taking off across the US (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure 9/21/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 25) Parsons will ask Sherwood if anyone has interviewed the pilot of the American Airlines plane he saw taking off, since that pilot must have witnessed the attack on the Pentagon. Sherwood will answer no, but add, “[T]hat’s another good lead for either myself or one of the other people to follow up on.” Whether the pilot is ever identified or interviewed is unknown. (Parsons 12/13/2001)

The Pentagon explodes. 
The Pentagon explodes. [Source: Donley/ Sipa]Flight 77 crashes into the Pentagon. All 64 people on the plane are killed. A hundred-and-twenty-four people working in the building are killed, and a further victim will die in hospital several days later. Hijackers Hani Hanjour, Khalid Almihdhar, Majed Moqed, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi presumably are killed instantly. (Typically, they are not included in the death counts.) (CNN 9/17/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/18/2001; Ellison 10/17/2001; Vogel 11/21/2001; Levin, Adams, and Morrison 8/12/2002; Associated Press 8/21/2002; MSNBC 9/3/2002; ABC News 9/11/2002; CBS 9/11/2002) Flight 77 hits the first floor of the Pentagon’s west wall. The impact and the resulting explosion heavily damage the building’s three outer rings. The path of destruction cuts through Army accounting offices on the outer E Ring, the Navy Command Center on the D Ring, and the Defense Intelligence Agency’s comptroller’s office on the C Ring. (Vogel 2007, pp. 431 and 449) Flight 77 strikes the only side of the Pentagon that had recently been renovated—it was “within days of being totally [renovated].” (US Department of Defense 9/15/2001) “It was the only area of the Pentagon with a sprinkler system, and it had been reconstructed with a web of steel columns and bars to withstand bomb blasts. The area struck by the plane also had blast-resistant windows—two inches thick and 2,500 pounds each—that stayed intact during the crash and fire. While perhaps, 4,500 people normally would have been working in the hardest-hit areas, because of the renovation work only about 800 were there.” More than 25,000 people work at the Pentagon. (Schrader 9/16/2001) Furthermore, the plane hits an area that has no basement. As journalist Steve Vogel later points out, “If there had been one under the first floor, its occupants could easily have been trapped by fire and killed when the upper floors collapsed.” (Vogel 2007, pp. 450)

Managers at the FAA’s Boston Center declare “air traffic control zero” (“ATC zero”), which completely shuts down the center’s airspace, after a report is received of a possible airborne threat to their facility. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/20/2001; Spencer 2008, pp. 243) The Boston Center in Nashua, New Hampshire, has received a call from the FAA’s New England regional office, informing it that an unidentified aircraft is heading its way. In response, the center’s managers immediately order the evacuation of the facility (see (Shortly After 10:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). At the same time, they make the declaration of ATC zero. (Spencer 2008, pp. 243) The declaration of ATC zero means aircraft are not permitted to depart from, arrive at, or travel through the center’s airspace until further notice. (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 24) According to author Lynn Spencer, ATC zero means all the aircraft a center is handling are pushed “onto neighboring sectors, and any new airplanes from adjacent sectors are turned back, at the sector boundaries if necessary.” (Spencer 2008, pp. 68) Although the exact time the managers declare ATC zero at is unclear, the Boston Center notifies the FAA’s Herndon Command Center of the declaration at 10:35 a.m. At 11:41 a.m., the ATC zero alert at the Boston Center is canceled. (Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002 pdf file) The FAA’s New York Center declared ATC zero at 9:05 a.m. (see 9:05 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 24)


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