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Context of 'Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001: FBI Calls FAA’s Cleveland Center, Warns It to Watch Delta 1989'

This is a scalable context timeline. It contains events related to the event Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001: FBI Calls FAA’s Cleveland Center, Warns It to Watch Delta 1989. You can narrow or broaden the context of this timeline by adjusting the zoom level. The lower the scale, the more relevant the items on average will be, while the higher the scale, the less relevant the items, on average, will be.

CNN will report that, while Flight 11 is heading toward the World Trade Center, “[S]ources say there were bomb threats called in to air traffic control centers adding to the chaos.” One center receiving such threats is the FAA’s Boston Center, which handles air traffic over New England and monitors flights 11 and 175. The FAA’s Cleveland Center, which will monitor Flight 93, receives similar threats (see 10:07 a.m.-10:21 a.m. September 11, 2001). Whether other centers are threatened is unstated. According to Newsweek, “Officials suspect that the bomb threats were intended to add to the chaos, distracting controllers from tracking the hijacked planes.” [Newsweek, 9/22/2001; CNN, 9/30/2001] Yet, just weeks after 9/11, the Washington Post will claim: “Federal aviation officials no longer believe that accomplices of the hijackers made phony bomb threats to confuse air traffic controllers on September 11. Sources said reports of multiple threats were apparently the result of confusion during the early hours of the investigation and miscommunication in the Federal Aviation Administration.” [Washington Post, 9/27/2001]

Entity Tags: Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center, Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Shortly after the second attack on the World Trade Center, FBI agents call the FAA’s Cleveland Center and warn air traffic controllers there to keep an eye on Delta Air Lines Flight 1989. According to USA Today, controllers at the Cleveland Center, which is tracking Delta 1989, have already been watching this flight, and, like the FBI, suspect “that terrorists plan to hijack [it] next.” Although Delta 1989 is not showing any signs of being hijacked, the reason for their suspicion is that it has many similarities to the two aircraft that hit the World Trade Center: it is also a Boeing 767, heavy with fuel, and had taken off from Boston’s Logan Airport around the same time as they did. [USA Today, 8/13/2002] At 9:27 a.m., the FAA’s Boston Center will—apparently mistakenly—report that Delta 1989 is missing (see 9:27 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003] And at around 9:30 a.m., Cleveland Center controllers will mistakenly conclude that it has been hijacked (see (9:28 a.m.-9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 8/13/2002]

Entity Tags: Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A Delta Air Lines Boeing 767, the same kind of aircraft as Delta 1989.A Delta Air Lines Boeing 767, the same kind of aircraft as Delta 1989. [Source: Public domain]The FAA’s Cleveland Center incorrectly concludes that Delta Air Lines Flight 1989 has been hijacked, but accounts will conflict over how it comes to this conclusion. [USA Today, 8/13/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 167] Delta 1989, a Boeing 767, is currently in the sector of airspace being monitored by Cleveland Center air traffic controller John Werth. [9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003 pdf file; USA Today, 9/11/2008] It is flying west over Pennsylvania, approaching the Ohio border, and is about 25 miles behind Flight 93. FBI agents suspected Delta 1989 might be the next plane to be hijacked and called the Cleveland Center after the second attack on the World Trade Center, with the warning to watch this flight (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 8/13/2002] A supervisor at the center told Werth to keep an eye on the flight because, as Werth will later recall, “he was a suspected hijacking because he had taken off from Boston at approximately the same time as” the first two hijacked aircraft, Flights 11 and 175. [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 pdf file; USA Today, 9/11/2008]
Controllers Hear Suspicious Communications - When, at 9:28, Werth hears the sound of screaming (subsequently determined to have come from Flight 93) over the radio (see (9:28 a.m.) September 11, 2001), he is unsure which of seven or eight possible aircraft it is coming from. The radio frequency is put on the speaker so other controllers can hear it, and they subsequently make out the words, “get out of here.” [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 11, 28]
Controllers Think Delta 1989 Is Hijacked - According to USA Today, when Cleveland Center controllers then hear a voice with a heavy accent over the radio, saying “Ladies and gentlemen: Here the captain.… We have a bomb on board” (see (9:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001), they mistakenly think it is coming from Delta 1989, not Flight 93. They suspect the flight has been hijacked, and start informing their chain of command. “Officials at Cleveland Center rush word to Washington: Hijackers have another flight. At the Federal Aviation Administration’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, Delta Flight 1989 joins a growing list of suspicious jets.” [USA Today, 8/13/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 12]
Werth Decides Hijacked Aircraft Is Flight 93 - Werth then calls all of the aircraft in his sector, and Flight 93 is the only one that does not respond. He also sees Flight 93 go into a quick descent and then come back up again. Werth therefore concludes that it is Flight 93, not Delta 1989, that has been hijacked, and instructs his supervisor to “tell Washington” of this. [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003 pdf file] However, events in the following minutes will cause Cleveland Center controllers to remain suspicious of Delta 1989 (see (Shortly After 9:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 9:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 8/13/2002; 9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 168; USA Today, 9/11/2008]
Book Gives Alternative Account - In a book published in 2008, author Lynn Spencer will give a different explanation for why Cleveland Center becomes suspicious of Delta 1989. According to her account, after hearing a later radio transmission where a hijacker again says “There is a bomb on board” (see (9:39 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Werth begins to hand off his flights to other controllers so he can devote his full attention to Flight 93. “In the distraction of the emergency, the crew of Delta 1989 misses the hand-off to the new frequency. The new sector controller for Delta 1989 calls out to the plane several times and gets no response.” As a result, “News travels fast,” and “Soon, word on the FAA’s open teleconference call is that a fifth aircraft is out of radio contact: Delta 1989… is added to the list of suspect aircraft.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 167] At 9:39 a.m., even though it is not responsible for handling Delta 1989, the FAA’s Boston Center will call NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) and incorrectly tell it that Delta 1989 is another possible hijack (see 9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 2004; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]

Entity Tags: John Werth, Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center, Federal Aviation Administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A manager at the FAA’s New York Center begins forwarding evidence relating to the 9/11 attacks to the FBI, but he does not pass on, or reveal the existence of, a tape recording of some of the center’s air traffic controllers recalling their interactions with the hijacked aircraft. [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file] Shortly after the attacks occurred, Kevin Delaney, the New York Center’s quality assurance manager, was instructed to make a tape recording of six controllers at the center who had been involved in handling or tracking two of the hijacked aircraft, giving their personal accounts of what happened (see 11:40 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 pdf file; Washington Post, 5/6/2004; Air Safety Week, 5/17/2004]
Tape Not Provided to FBI - In response to verbal requests from the FBI, the FAA’s liaison to the bureau provides it with evidential material relating to the 9/11 attacks. Beginning on September 12, Delaney forwards evidence materials, as they become available, to the FBI through this liaison. But, although the tape of the controllers’ statements was logged into the New York Center’s record of evidence, neither Delaney nor Mike McCormick, the center’s manager, passes it to the FBI. Furthermore, neither of the two managers even discloses the existence of the tape to the FBI or the FAA liaison. Nor do they provide the center’s evidence log, which references the tape, to the FBI. Yet McCormick will later claim that one of his reasons for having requested the tape be made on September 11 was that he wanted a recording of the controllers’ statements that would be immediately available for law enforcement efforts. [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file; Air Safety Week, 5/17/2004] He had also reassured the six controllers that the tape with their recorded statements on would be strictly for use only by law enforcement personnel (see (Shortly Before 11:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 pdf file]
Tape Could Have Been Provided on Following Day - By September 13, the FAA liaison will have provided the FBI with air traffic control voice and radar data, which the bureau is most interested in receiving, as well as several written statements that have already been obtained from controllers at the FAA’s Boston and Cleveland Centers, and from personnel at Washington’s Dulles Airport. Had McCormick or Delaney notified the liaison of the tape’s existence, he could have forwarded it to the FBI along with these statements. The tape will be deliberately destroyed several months later (see Between December 2001 and February 2002), and is never made available to the FBI for its investigation. [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file; Air Safety Week, 5/17/2004]

Entity Tags: Mike McCormick, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Kevin Delaney

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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