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Context of '9:03 a.m. and After September 11, 2001: United Airlines Dispatchers Notify Flights of Aircraft Crashing into WTC, but Give No Warnings'

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Ed Ballinger.Ed Ballinger. [Source: CNN]At the United Airlines System Operations Control (SOC) center outside Chicago, flight dispatcher Ed Ballinger learns that Flight 175 is suspected as being hijacked, and then sends text messages to try and make contact with it. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 23-24] The SOC center has just been contacted by the United Airlines maintenance office in San Francisco, about a call it received from an attendant on Flight 175, who had reported that their plane had been hijacked (see Shortly Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001] Subsequently, around 9:01 or 9:02, a dispatch manager at the SOC goes to Ballinger’s desk and informs him of the details of this call. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 23] Ballinger is the flight dispatcher responsible for United’s aircraft flying from the East Coast to the West Coast, which include Flight 175 (and also Flight 93). [Chicago Daily Herald, 4/14/2004] At 9:03, he sends an ACARS message to Flight 175: “How is the ride. Anything dispatch can do for you.” (ACARS is an e-mail system that enables personnel on the ground to rapidly communicate with those in the cockpit of an aircraft.) At the same time, the United Airlines air traffic control coordinator also sends an ACARS message to the flight: “NY approach lookin for ya on [frequency] 127.4.” Just after 9:03, unaware it has now crashed into the World Trade Center, Ballinger and the air traffic control coordinator re-send these ACARS messages to Flight 175. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 9 and 23-24] Twenty minutes later, Ballinger will remain unaware that Flight 175 has crashed and still be trying to contact it by ACARS (see 9:23 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 26] All airlines have a staff of dispatchers like Ballinger who, under FAA rules, are responsible for monitoring aircraft in flight. They follow each flight’s progress, relay safety information, and handle any problems that arise. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 14 and 35] United Airlines dispatchers typically monitor up to two dozen flights at once. [Longman, 2002, pp. 68] Ballinger has 16 transcontinental flights taking off early this morning that he is responsible for. [New York Observer, 6/20/2004]

Entity Tags: Ed Ballinger

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Beginning at 9:03, a number of United Airlines flight dispatchers send text messages to several United aircraft, indicating to the pilots that planes have flown into the World Trade Center. But, according to the 9/11 Commission, “These messages provided no details or warnings.” [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 36] It is not until 9:21 that United dispatchers are told to warn their flights to secure cockpit doors (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004] The dispatcher responsible for Flight 175 and Flight 93—Ed Ballinger—begins sending warning messages to the flights he is monitoring at 9:19 a.m., informing them that two aircraft have hit the WTC (see 9:19 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 37] Airline dispatchers have an important part to play in managing aircraft in flight. According to commercial pilot and author Lynn Spencer, under FAA rules, dispatchers “take guardianship of each company aircraft in the sky. They are assigned to a certain number of aircraft and know all there is to know about each: who is flying, who is working the cabin, how many pounds of fuel are onboard, the flight plan, the alternate plan, and anything at all relevant to that flight. If there is a glitch in the system, the pilot talks to the dispatcher, and together they formulate a plan of action.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 35 and 72] United Airlines dispatchers are each responsible for monitoring from ten to 30 flights during a shift, and monitor anything up to two dozen flights at a time. [Longman, 2002, pp. 68]

Entity Tags: United Airlines, Ed Ballinger

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Shortly after he learns a second plane has hit the World Trade Center, United Airlines flight dispatcher Ed Ballinger takes the initiative to begin sending a warning message to the flights he is monitoring, including Flight 93 and Flight 175 (although this aircraft has already crashed). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 11; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 26 and 37] Ballinger is responsible for monitoring United’s aircraft flying from the East Coast to the West Coast. He has 16 such flights he is in charge of. [Chicago Daily Herald, 4/14/2004] He sends out a text message to his airborne flights: “Beware any cockpit intrusion… Two aircraft in NY hit [World] Trade Center builds.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 11; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 26] Although United Airlines has suspected Flight 175 as being hijacked since around 9:00 a.m. (see Shortly Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001), Ballinger is still responsible for multiple flights. (In contrast to United, American Airlines has a policy that flight dispatchers should only manage the hijacked flight, and be relieved of responsibility for their other flights.) [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 455-456] Ballinger’s warning is therefore sent out to his aircraft in groups, and will not be sent to Flight 93 until 9:23 a.m. (see 9:23 a.m.-9:26 a.m. September 11, 2001). Unaware that it was the second plane that hit the WTC, Ballinger will also send the message to Flight 175 (see 9:23 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 26 and 37] Ballinger begins sending out these warnings two minutes before United Airlines instructs its dispatchers to warn their flights to secure their cockpit doors (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 455] According to the 9/11 Commission, his text message represents “the first occasion on 9/11 when either American or United sent out such a warning to their airborne aircraft.” [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 37] Ballinger will later recall: “As soon as I had a grasp of what was going on… I sent [the warning] out immediately. It was before [Transportation Secretary Norman] Mineta, and even before the airlines told us to alert the crews.” [Chicago Daily Herald, 4/14/2004]

Entity Tags: Ed Ballinger

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Ed Ballinger, the United Airlines flight dispatcher monitoring Flight 93, sends a warning message to this flight, telling the pilots to beware of any cockpit intrusion. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 11] At 9:21, United Airlines instructed its dispatchers to warn their flights to secure their cockpit doors (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001), but Ballinger had already taken the initiative two minutes earlier to begin warning the 16 flights he is monitoring (see 9:19 a.m. September 11, 2001). His text message reads: “Beware any cockpit intrusion… Two aircraft in NY hit [World] Trade Center builds.” Because this message is sent out to Ballinger’s 16 aircraft in groups, it is not until 9:23 a.m. that it is transmitted to Flight 93. [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 26 and 37] The warning is received in the plane’s cockpit one minute later. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 11] Then, at 9:26, Flight 93 pilot Jason Dahl responds with the text message, “Ed confirm latest mssg plz [message please]—Jason.” Apart from a routine radio contact with the FAA’s Cleveland Center a minute later (see 9:27 a.m. September 11, 2001), this is the last normal communication made from Flight 93’s cockpit before the hijacking occurs. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 38] Ballinger will later complain: “One of the things that upset me was that they knew 45 minutes before that American Airlines [Flight 11] had a problem. I put the story together myself [from news accounts]. Perhaps if I had the information sooner, I might have gotten the message to [Flight] 93 to bar the door.” [Chicago Daily Herald, 4/14/2004]

Entity Tags: Jason Dahl, Ed Ballinger

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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