The Center for Grassroots Oversight

This page can be viewed at

Context of 'After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001: Head of the FBI’s New York Office Calls FBI Director Mueller and Requests Fighters'

This is a scalable context timeline. It contains events related to the event After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001: Head of the FBI’s New York Office Calls FBI Director Mueller and Requests Fighters. 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.

David Kelley.David Kelley. [Source: New York Law School]Barry Mawn, director of the FBI’s New York office, sends specialized teams to the World Trade Center site after hearing Flight 11 crashing into the North Tower, even though he initially thinks the crash is an accident. Mawn is in his office on the 28th floor of 26 Federal Plaza in Lower Manhattan and has just heard the explosion when Flight 11 hit the WTC, at 8:46 a.m. (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). Kathy MacGowan, his secretary, shouted: “The World Trade! The World Trade!” Mawn now goes to her window, from where he can see smoke billowing from the North Tower. MacGowan says a commercial jet has crashed into the building. However, it supposedly does not occur to Mawn that the incident was a terrorist attack. (Kessler 2002, pp. 1-2; CNN 2/18/2002; Wright 2006, pp. 357) “At that point, I thought it was an accident,” he will later recall. (Thompson 10/20/2001) Mawn’s colleagues look to the director for guidance. “People were turning to me and asking, ‘What are we going to do next, boss?’” Mawn will recall. Mawn instructs MacGowan to call the FBI evidence response team. Despite thinking the crash is an accident, he adds, “Just in case, call the SWAT [the FBI special weapons and tactics team] and the Joint Terrorism Task Force,” which has exclusive jurisdiction over local terrorism investigations. He tells MacGowan to send the teams to Church and Vesey Streets, and says he will head that way himself. Before he leaves his office, though, he is called by David Kelley, chief of Manhattan US Attorney Mary Jo White’s terrorism unit. (Kessler 2002, pp. 2; Wright 2006, pp. 357; Edelstein 9/10/2016) White has instructed Kelley to go to the WTC site. (Darlington 7/2006) Mawn agrees to meet him and then goes and joins him outside his building. The two men make their way toward the WTC, which is eight blocks away from the FBI office. They stop at the corner of Church and Vesey Streets, at the northeast corner of the WTC site. There, they join Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and other law enforcement officials. (Thompson 10/20/2001; Kessler 2002, pp. 2) Mawn and Kelley will be at the WTC site when Flight 175 crashes into the South Tower, at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), and Mawn will then realize that the US is under attack (see After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Calderone 10/1/2001; CNN 2/18/2002; Darlington 7/2006)

Michael Rolince.Michael Rolince. [Source: US Army]FBI Director Robert Mueller is alerted to the crash at the World Trade Center during his daily briefing with his senior staff, but he does not initially realize the incident is a terrorist attack. Every morning since Mueller took over as FBI director, just one week ago (see September 4, 2001), the bureau’s leaders have gathered to bring him up to date on their most important investigations. (New Yorker 9/24/2001; Graff 2011, pp. 314-315) The briefing today is taking place in the Strategic Information and Operations Center (SIOC), on the fifth floor of the FBI’s headquarters in Washington, DC. (9/11 Commission 1/21/2004 pdf file) All of the bureau’s assistant directors are in attendance. (New Yorker 9/24/2001) This morning, the counterterrorism team, headed by Michael Rolince, is giving a presentation on the investigation of the bombing of the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen, in October 2000 (see October 12, 2000). (Graff 2011, pp. 314-315) Meanwhile, FBI Deputy Director Thomas Pickard, who is in his office at the headquarters, is alerted to what happened in New York by his secretary, who comes in and tells him a plane has just hit the WTC. He turns on the television and sees the coverage of the incident. He then calls Mueller’s secretary and instructs them to get the director out of the SIOC so Mueller can join him in his office. (9/11 Commission 1/21/2004 pdf file) Someone, presumably the secretary, therefore interrupts the briefing in the SIOC and tells its participants about the crash in New York. Mueller apparently does not initially realize a terrorist attack has occurred. “How could a plane not see the tower? It’s so clear out today,” he says. (Graff 2011, pp. 315) He heads to Pickard’s office and enters it at around 9:00 a.m. (9/11 Commission 1/21/2004 pdf file) Some of the other officials at the briefing will subsequently also head to Pickard’s office and they will see the second crash on television there (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (New Yorker 9/24/2001; Graff 2011, pp. 315)

Flight 175 hits the WTC South Tower. The picture was taken from a traffic helicopter.Flight 175 hits the WTC South Tower. The picture was taken from a traffic helicopter. [Source: WABC 7/ Salient Stills]Flight 175 hits the South Tower of the World Trade Center (Tower Two). Seismic records pinpoint the time at six seconds before 9:03 a.m. (rounded to 9:03 a.m.). Hijackers Marwan Alshehhi, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, Mohand Alshehri, Hamza Alghamdi, and Ahmed Alghamdi presumably are killed instantly, and many more in the tower will die over the next few hours. (New York Times 9/12/2001; CNN 9/12/2001; CNN 9/17/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/18/2001; Cauchon 12/20/2001; Federal Emergency Management Agency 5/1/2002, pp. 1-10; Dwyer et al. 5/26/2002; Associated Press 8/21/2002; Moore and Cauchon 9/2/2002) According to the NIST report, the crash time is 9:02:59. (National Institute of Standards and Technology 9/2005, pp. 38) According to the 9/11 Commission Report, the crash time is 9:03:11. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 8) Millions watch the crash live on television. The plane strikes the 77th through 85th floors in the 110-story building. Approximately 100 people are killed or injured in the initial impact; 600 people in the tower eventually die. The death toll is far lower than in the North Tower because about two-thirds of the South Tower’s occupants have evacuated the building in the 17 minutes since the first tower was struck. (Cauchon 12/20/2001; National Institute of Standards and Technology 9/2005, pp. 5-9, 41) The combined death toll from the two towers is estimated at 2,819, not including the hijackers. (Associated Press 8/21/2002) The impact severs some columns on the south side of the South Tower. Each of the Twin Towers is designed as a “tube-in-tube” structure and the steel columns which support its weight are arranged around the perimeter and in the core. The plane, which is traveling at an estimated speed of around 500 mph (see October 2002-October 2005), severs 33 of the building’s 236 perimeter columns and damages another one. (National Institute of Standards and Technology 9/2005, pp. 39) The perimeter columns bear about half of the tower’s weight, so the damage to them reduces the tower’s ability to bear gravity loads by about 7.1 percent. (National Institute of Standards and Technology 9/2005, pp. 6) The actual damage to the 47 core columns is not known, as there are no photographs or videos of it, but there will be much speculation about this after 9/11. It will be suggested that some parts of the aircraft may be able to damage the core even after crashing through the exterior wall (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). (National Institute of Standards and Technology 9/2005, pp. 107) According to NIST’s base case model, five of the core columns are severed and another five suffer some damage. (National Institute of Standards & Technology 9/2005, pp. 235 pdf file) This may reduce the tower’s ability to bear loads by a further approximately 8 percent, meaning that the aircraft impact accounted for a loss of about 15 percent of the building’s strength. This damage will be cited as an event contributing to the building’s collapse after 9/11 (see October 23, 2002 and October 19, 2004). NIST’s base case estimate of damage to the North Tower’s core will be similar, even though the aircraft impact there was dissimilar (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). Flight 11 hit the North Tower’s core head on, whereas Flight 175 only hits the corner of the South Tower’s core. (National Institute of Standards and Technology 9/2005, pp. 20-23, 38-41) In addition, some of the fireproofing on the steel columns and trusses may be dislodged (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). (National Institute of Standards & Technology 9/2005, pp. xxxvi, 83 pdf file) Photographs and videos of the towers will not show the state of fireproofing inside the buildings, but the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will try to estimate the damage to fireproofing using a series of computer models. Its severe case model (see (October 2002-October 2005)) will predict that 39 of the 47 core columns are stripped of their fireproofing on one or more floors and that fireproofing is stripped from trusses covering 80,000 ft2 of floor area, the equivalent of about two floors. NIST will say that the loss of fireproofing is a major cause of the collapse (see April 5, 2005), but only performs 15 tests on fireproofing samples (see October 26, 2005). (National Institute of Standards and Technology 9/2005, pp. 41) According to NIST, less fireproofing is stripped from the North Tower (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001).

Barry Mawn, director of the FBI’s New York office, calls FBI Director Robert Mueller sometime after seeing Flight 175 crashing into the World Trade Center and says fighter jets are needed. Mawn was in his office at 26 Federal Plaza in Lower Manhattan when Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower and, in response to the incident, he promptly made his way to the WTC site (see Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). He was with other officials there when Flight 175 hit the South Tower, at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). While he supposedly thought the first crash was accidental, he realizes now that this is terrorism. (Kessler 2002, pp. 1-2) “At that moment, I think we all knew we were under attack—these are no accidents—that potentially we’re at war here,” he will later comment. (CNN 2/18/2002) Furthermore, he determines that al-Qaeda is to blame. “At that point I knew it was al-Qaeda,” he will recall. (Saltzman 9/15/2011; Defiebre 2/18/2013) This conclusion is presumably based on the expertise in terrorism he has acquired in his three decades with the FBI, during which he has been involved in several high-profile terrorism cases. (Thompson 10/20/2001; CNN 2/18/2002) In the 18 months he has spent at the FBI’s New York office, he will say, he and his colleagues have “told everyone… that the biggest threat to the US was al-Qaeda and [Osama] bin Laden.” (Saltzman 9/15/2011) Following the second attack, hundreds of FBI agents converge on the WTC site and Mawn instructs some of them to set up a command post. He also tries calling Mueller, who is at the FBI’s headquarters in Washington, DC (see Shortly After 8:48 a.m. September 11, 2001), using his cell phone. His initial attempts are unsuccessful, but he eventually gets through. He tells the FBI director that “the phones [are] down and they needed Air Force jets,” according to journalist and author Ronald Kessler. (Kessler 2002, pp. 2) It is unclear whether Mueller takes any action in response to this request. Fighters will arrive over Manhattan at 9:25 a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission Report (see 9:25 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 24) However, numerous witnesses on the ground will recall only noticing fighters overhead after 10:00 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.-10:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

According to the 9/11 Commission, the two fighters launched from Otis Air Force Base (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001) arrive over Manhattan at this time, after exiting their holding pattern off the Long Island coast at 9:13 a.m. They then establish a combat air patrol (CAP) over New York. The commission bases this conclusion on its analysis of FAA radar data and interviews with the two Otis pilots. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 24 and 460; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 26 and 92) However, numerous eyewitnesses on the ground will report first noticing fighters over New York significantly later, more than an hour after the 9/11 Commission claims according to some accounts (see (9:45 a.m.-10:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

According to the accounts of numerous witnesses on the ground near the World Trade Center, military fighter jets are first noticed flying over Manhattan either shortly before or soon after the second collapse, at 10:28 a.m. Some witnesses recall fighters arriving just before this collapse:
bullet Emergency medical technicians Dulce McCorvey and Michael D’Angelo hear fighters flying over Manhattan at unspecified times after the first tower’s collapse. (McCorvey 10/3/2001; D'Angelo 10/24/2001)
bullet Fire Lieutenant Sean O’Malley and firefighters Pete Giudetti and Dan Potter notice jet fighters flying overhead soon before the second collapse. (Guidetti 10/12/2001; O'Malley 12/6/2001; Smith 2002, pp. 49-50)
Other witnesses say the fighters arrive soon after this collapse:
bullet Deputy Fire Chief Robert Browne, police officer Peter Moog, and emergency medical technicians Richard Zarrillo and Jason Katz notice fighters overhead immediately after, or fairly soon after, the second tower’s collapse. (Browne 10/24/2001; Zarrillo 10/25/2001; Katz 12/20/2001; Fink and Mathias 2002, pp. 79-80)
bullet Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, and Office of Emergency Management Director Richard Sheirer are heading north together after leaving their temporary command post on Barclay Street (see (9:50 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). In some accounts, all three of them recollect hearing the first military jets overhead soon after the second tower’s collapse. (Kerik 2001, pp. 339-340; Giuliani 2002, pp. 14; 9/11 Commission 5/18/2004 pdf file) However, according to another account, Giuliani hears the first jet slightly earlier, at around 10:20 a.m. And, in his private testimony before the 9/11 Commission, Kerik claims to have heard a fighter jet coming when he was heading to the temporary command post on Barclay Street, i.e. shortly before 9:50 a.m. (Barrett and Collins 2006, pp. 348-349)
A few witnesses claim the fighters arrive earlier on, before the first collapse at 9:59 a.m.:
bullet Emergency medical technician Frank Puma and Port Authority Freedom of Information Administrator Cathy Pavelec say they see fighter jets overhead at unspecified times before the first collapse. (Puma 12/12/2001; Fink and Mathias 2002, pp. 68)
The fighter(s) are presumably the F-15s launched from Otis Air Force Base at 8:46 a.m. (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). However, the 9/11 Commission will claim that these arrived over Manhattan at 9:25 a.m. (see 9:25 a.m. September 11, 2001), which is significantly earlier than most of the witnesses on the ground recall.

Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike