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Context of '9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001: Newark Controllers Watch Flight 175 Hit WTC'

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Bob Varcadipane.Bob Varcadipane. [Source: NBC News]At the air traffic control tower at Newark International Airport in New Jersey, controllers see the smoke coming from the World Trade Center in the distance and start calling other FAA facilities in the area about this. Controller Rick Tepper looks out the window of the tower across the Hudson River at New York City, and sees the huge cloud of smoke coming from the North Tower, which Flight 11 has crashed into it. He points this out to fellow controller Greg Callahan. In his office at the tower, Bob Varcadipane, the supervisor there, starts receiving a flood of phone calls reporting that a small aircraft has hit the WTC. According to author Lynn Spencer, “The assumption is that only a small plane could have gone so badly off course.” The Newark tower controllers start calling the towers at JFK, La Guardia, and Teterboro Airports, along with other air traffic control facilities in the area, to see if any of them has lost an aircraft. But none say they have; they have not yet been informed of the crash and are shocked at what they see when told to look out their windows at the burning WTC. Varcadipane calls the FAA’s New York Center to find out if they know whose plane hit the Twin Towers. He is told: “No, but Boston Center lost an airplane. They lost an American 767.” Varcadipane wonders if this 767 is the plane that hit the WTC, and says back: “I have a burning building and you have a missing airplane. This is very coincidental.” According to NBC: “a horrific realization dawns on controllers. American Flight 11, still missing from radar, finally has been found.” Word of the plane’s fate subsequently “quickly travels throughout the air traffic control world.” [MSNBC, 9/11/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 41-42] However, the FAA’s Indianapolis Center, which handles Flight 77, will reportedly not learn of the first hijackings until around 9:20 a.m. (see (9:20 a.m.-9:21 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 32]

Entity Tags: Teterboro Airport, World Trade Center, Newark International Airport, Rick Tepper, La Guardia Airport, John F. Kennedy International Airport, Bob Varcadipane, Greg Callahan, New York Air Route Traffic Control Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

About a half-dozen air traffic controllers at the FAA’s New York Center in Ronkonkoma, NY, watch Flight 175 on the radar screen in its final minutes, as it approaches Manhattan. [National Transportation Safety Board, 2/19/2002 pdf file; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] Flight 175 is marked on the screen with the letter “I” for “intruder.” Initially, those at the center think it might be heading for Newark Airport, maybe for an emergency landing there. But controller Jim Bohleber says, “No, he’s too fast and low, he’ll never make Newark.” [Newsday, 9/10/2002] The controllers start speculating what Flight 175 is aiming for, with one of them guessing the Statue of Liberty. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] They are astonished at the extraordinary rate at which it is descending (see (8:58 a.m.-9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). A controller counts down its altitude, “Eight, six, four” thousand feet, and then says, “My god, he’s in the ground in the next step.” But someone else at the center says, “No, that’s the Trade Center right there.” [The Learning Channel, 8/20/2006] But, according to the 9/11 Commission, the New York Center does not notify NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) about Flight 175 until 9:03 a.m., the same time as it crashes into the South Tower (see (9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 23] Workers at the crisis center at United Airlines’ headquarters outside Chicago, also closely watch Flight 175 head into New York City on radar. [USA Today, 8/12/2002]

Entity Tags: New York Air Route Traffic Control Center, Jim Bohleber

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Rick Tepper.Rick Tepper. [Source: Eileen Blass]Air traffic controllers at Newark International Airport in New Jersey are on the phone with controllers at the FAA’s New York Center and are asked to find Flight 175 from their windows. They see it and watch in horror as it drops the last 5,000 feet and crashes into the World Trade Center. Controller Rick Tepper will recall: “He was in a hard right bank, diving very steeply and very fast. And he—as he was coming up the Hudson River, he—he made another hard left turn and—just heading for downtown Manhattan.… You could see that he was trying to line himself up on the tower. Just before he hit the tower, he almost leveled it out and just—just hit the building.” Newark tower immediately calls the FAA’s Herndon Command Center and says it will not land any more airplanes in Newark, in an effort to keep aircraft away from New York City. This is the first step in shutting down the national airspace system. [MSNBC, 9/11/2002]

Entity Tags: Rick Tepper, Federal Aviation Administration, New York Air Route Traffic Control Center, Newark International Airport

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline


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