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Context of '(9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Contradictions over Otis Fighter Mission and Whereabouts'

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Route of the Otis Air National Guard fighters to New York City.Route of the Otis Air National Guard fighters to New York City. [Source: Yvonne Vermillion/ MagicGraphix.com]The two F-15 fighter jets launched from Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod respond to the hijacking of Flight 11, but there will be conflicting accounts regarding their initial destination. The fighters were scrambled at 8:46 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), and are airborne by 8:53 (see 8:53 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20]
Flying toward New York City - News reports shortly after 9/11 will say that, after taking off, the Otis fighters begin “racing towards New York City.” [CBS News, 9/14/2001; CNN, 9/14/2001; Cape Cod Times, 9/15/2001] Other news reports similarly say they initially head toward New York City. [Washington Post, 9/12/2001; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; Fox News, 9/8/2002] Major General Larry Arnold, the commanding general of NORAD’s Continental Region, will say the fighters are “coming to New York.” [MSNBC, 9/23/2001; Slate, 1/16/2002] Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Duffy, the lead Otis pilot, tells the BBC, “When we took off we started climbing a 280-heading, basically towards New York City.” [BBC, 9/1/2002] In one account, Duffy recalls that, after launching, he calls for the location of his target and is told, “Your contact’s over Kennedy,” meaning New York’s JFK International Airport. Duffy will add, “[W]e started heading right down to Long Island, basically.” [ABC News, 9/11/2002; Bamford, 2004, pp. 15] In another account, he says that he and the other Otis pilot, Major Daniel Nash, “climbed up, [and] we were supersonic going down to Long Island.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 57]
Without a Target, Heading for Military Airspace - According to some accounts, however, the two Otis fighters do not initially head toward Manhattan. Major James Fox, the leader of the weapons team at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), will later recall: “We had no idea where [Flight 11] was. We just knew it was over land, so we scrambled [the Otis fighters] towards land.” [Newhouse News Service, 1/25/2002] The 9/11 Commission will conclude that, after taking off, because they are “Lacking a target,” the fighters are “vectored toward military-controlled airspace off the Long Island coast.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20] Colonel Robert Marr, the battle commander at NEADS, says that when the Otis fighters took off, his “intent was to scramble [them] to military airspace while we found out what was going on.” He says that, before 9:03 a.m. when the second World Trade Center tower is hit, the fighters are “heading down south toward Whiskey 105 and we don’t really have a mission for them at this point.” Whiskey 105 is military training airspace southeast of Long Island, a few minutes flying time from New York City. [Filson, 2003, pp. 56 and 58-59]
To New York, Then Redirected to Military Airspace - Other accounts will say the Otis fighters initially head toward New York City, but are subsequently redirected to the military airspace off Long Island (see 8:54 a.m.-8:55 a.m. September 11, 2001). According to author Lynn Spencer, after taking off, Duffy and Nash fly “supersonic toward New York for approximately 15 minutes.” But just after the second WTC tower is hit, Duffy suggests to the weapons controller at NEADS that the two fighters head to the Whiskey 105 training airspace off Long Island, and that is where they then go. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 83-85] Tape recordings of the NEADS operations floor will reveal that, at 8:45 a.m., Major Kevin Nasypany, the facility’s mission crew commander, gave Major Fox a coordinate north of New York City, and told him to “Head [the Otis jets] in that direction” (see 8:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). Then, at 8:52, he told one of his staff members, “Send ‘em to New York City still” (see 8:53 a.m. September 11, 2001). But, according to Vanity Fair, shortly after the second tower is hit, the NEADS weapons technicians get “pushback” from civilian FAA controllers, who are “afraid of fast-moving fighters colliding with a passenger plane,” so the two fighters are directed to a “holding area” just off the coast, near Long Island (see 9:09 a.m.-9:13 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] Accounts are also unclear regarding what speed the Otis jets fly at after taking off (see (8:53 a.m.-9:05 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: James Fox, Larry Arnold, Daniel Nash, Robert Marr, Timothy Duffy

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The minute Flight 175 hits the South Tower, fighter pilot Major Daniel Nash will recall, clear visibility allows him to see smoke pour out of Manhattan, even though NORAD will say he is 71 miles away from there. [Cape Cod Times, 8/21/2002] The other Otis pilot, Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Duffy, recalls, “We’re 60 miles out, and I could see the smoke from the towers.” They call NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) for an update, and, as Duffy will recall: “At that point, they said the second aircraft just hit the World Trade Center. That was news to me. I thought we were still chasing American [Airlines Flight] 11.” [ABC News, 9/14/2002] In another account Duffy will relate: “It was right about then when they said the second aircraft had just hit the World Trade Center, which was quite a shock to both [Nash] and I, because we both thought there was only one aircraft out there. We were probably 70 miles or so out when the second one hit. So, we were just a matter of minutes away.” [BBC, 9/1/2002] He asks NEADS for clarification of their mission, but the request is met with “considerable confusion.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002] Bob Varcadipane, a Newark, New Jersey, air traffic controller who sees the Flight 175 crash, will claim: “I remember the two F-15s. They were there moments after the impact. And I was just—said to myself, ‘If only they could have gotten there a couple minutes earlier.’ They just missed it.” [MSNBC, 9/11/2002] However, the 9/11 Commission appears to believe that the pilots never get near New York City at this time. According to the Commission’s account, lacking a clear target, the Otis fighters took off toward military controlled airspace over the ocean, off the coast of Long Island. A map released by the Commission indicates that at 9:03 they are about 100 miles away and heading southwest instead of west to New York City. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Tape recordings of the NEADS operations floor reveal Major Kevin Nasypany telling Colonel Robert Marr, “Fighters are south of—just south of Long Island.” [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] The 9/11 Commission says that, at 9:10 a.m., the FAA’s Boston Center tells the Otis fighters about the second WTC tower being struck. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 459]

Entity Tags: Bob Varcadipane, Northeast Air Defense Sector, Robert Marr, Timothy Duffy, World Trade Center, Kevin Nasypany, Daniel Nash

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In answer to a question from a weapons controller at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), one of the pilots that took off in response to Flight 11 confirms that he would be willing to shoot down a hijacked aircraft. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 153] Major Kevin Nasypany, the NEADS mission crew commander, has already checked that his section heads and weapons technicians are prepared to order the shooting down of a civilian aircraft (see (9:19 a.m.) September 11, 2001). At 9:32, after NEADS received a report of a hijacked plane approaching Washington (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001), Major James Anderson asked Nasypany what would happen if they located that aircraft, saying, “Are we gonna shoot him down if they got passengers on board?” [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]
Duffy Says He Would Shoot down a Plane - Nasypany wants to be sure that his pilots are willing to follow a shootdown order, should one be issued. He therefore directs his weapons controller who is dealing with the fighter jets launched from Otis Air National Guard Base (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001) to check this. The weapons controller radios Otis pilot Lt. Col. Timothy Duffy and tells him, “If we get another hijack track, you’re going to be ordered to shoot it down.” He then asks, “Do you have a problem with that?” Somewhat startled by the question, Duffy replies, “No—no problem with that.” He reportedly thinks to himself, “If I have a problem with that order, I am in the wrong seat.” According to author Lynn Spencer, Duffy is “doing what he’s been trained to do.… [I]f he gets a legal, lawful order to take out an airliner, then that’s what he’s going to do. He knows every other fighter pilot would do the same.” Duffy and the other Otis pilot that launched with him, Major Daniel Nash, are “confident no plane will get past them: they’ll do what it takes, and follow any order, to protect New York.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 153] Duffy will later tell the Boston Globe: “[P]eople have said, ‘Would you have done it [i.e. shot down a hostile airliner]?’ Absolutely, that’s my job.” [Boston Globe, 9/11/2005]
No Shootdown Order Issued - However, according to the 9/11 Commission, NEADS personnel will only learn that NORAD has been cleared to shoot down threatening aircraft at 10:31 a.m. (see 10:31 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 42] And, according to most accounts, the two Otis pilots never receive an order from the military to shoot down an airliner (see (After 9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Cape Cod Times, 8/21/2002; Boston Globe, 9/11/2005] Duffy and Nash will also be contacted by a civilian air traffic controller regarding the possibility of shooting down a hijacked aircraft (see (9:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [BBC, 9/1/2002]

Entity Tags: Daniel Nash, Northeast Air Defense Sector, Kevin Nasypany, Timothy Duffy

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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