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Context of '(9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Fighters Do Not Have Shootdown Authority'

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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

A fighter pilot flying from Otis Air Base toward New York City later notes that it wouldn’t have mattered if he caught up with Flight 175, because only President Bush could order a shootdown, and Bush is at a public event at the time. [Cape Cod Times, 8/21/2002] “Only the president has the authority to order a civilian aircraft shot down,” according to a 1999 CNN report. [CNN, 10/26/1999] In fact, by 9/11, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld also has the authority to order a shootdown, but he is not responding to the crisis at this time. [New York Observer, 6/20/2004] Furthermore, NORAD Commander Larry Arnold later states that on 9/11, “I have the authority in case of an emergency to declare a target hostile and shoot it down under an emergency condition.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 75]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The two F-15 fighter jets launched from Otis Air National Guard Base in response to Flight 11 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001) have been directed to “Whiskey 105,” a military airspace training area over the Atlantic Ocean, just south of Long Island. According to the 9/11 Commission, “To avoid New York area air traffic and uncertain about what to do, the fighters were brought down to military airspace to ‘hold as needed.’ From 9:09 to 9:13, the Otis fighters stayed in this holding pattern.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20; Spencer, 2008, pp. 85] Otis pilot Major Daniel Nash will later comment, “Neither the civilian controller or the military controller knew what they wanted us to do.” [Cape Cod Times, 8/21/2002]
'Pushback' from FAA Controllers - By 9:08 a.m., Major Kevin Nasypany, the NEADS mission crew commander, had learned of the second World Trade Center crash and wanted to send the Otis fighters to New York City. However, according to Vanity Fair, the NEADS “weapons techs get ‘pushback’ from civilian FAA controllers, who have final authority over the fighters as long as they are in civilian airspace. The FAA controllers are afraid of fast-moving fighters colliding with a passenger plane, of which there are hundreds in the area, still flying normal routes.” [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 25; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] Author Lynn Spencer will add: “[L]ocal FAA controllers are busy shutting down New York’s airspace and are less than eager to grant the fighters access to the civilian airspace. They’re afraid of fast-moving fighters colliding with the hundreds of airliners that are still in the area. Many of those flights are doing unpredictable things just now, such as canceling their flight plans and changing course, and controllers are not convinced that they can provide adequate separation if fast-moving fighters are added to the mix. They just need a few more minutes, they keep saying.”
New York Center Not Answering Phone - Nasypany tries contacting the military liaison at the FAA’s New York Center, but no one is answering the phone. According to Spencer, “He wants the Otis fighters over New York, not in military airspace 100 miles off the coast, but he has little choice. Without permission from the FAA to penetrate the civil airspace over New York, NEADS must advise the Otis F-15 pilots… to continue to remain clear of the city.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 111-112]
Director Wants Jets 'Closer In' - At 9:10 a.m., the senior director on the NEADS operations floor tells the weapons director, “I want those fighters closer in.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 459] NEADS weapons controller Major Steve Hedrick asks Major James Fox, the weapons team leader, “Can we give [the fighters] a mission?” Fox replies, “Right now their mission is to hold.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 111] Then, at around 9:11 a.m., either the senior weapons director at NEADS or his technician instructs the Otis fighters to “remain at current position [holding pattern] until FAA requests assistance.”
Fighters Exit Holding Pattern for New York - Just before 9:13 a.m., the Otis pilots tell their controller at the FAA’s Boston Center that they need to establish a combat air patrol over New York. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 459] According to the 9/11 Commission, “Radar data show that at 9:13, when the Otis fighters were about 115 miles away from the city, the fighters exited their holding pattern and set a course direct for Manhattan” (see 9:13 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 24]

Entity Tags: James Fox, Federal Aviation Administration, New York Air Route Traffic Control Center, Kevin Nasypany, Steve Hedrick, Daniel Nash, Northeast Air Defense Sector

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A KC-135 Stratotanker.A KC-135 Stratotanker. [Source: Boeing]The two F-15 fighter jets launched from Otis Air National Guard Base in response to Flight 11 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001) are finally able to refuel, after they request to rendezvous with a tanker plane that was scheduled to refuel Otis fighters out on training missions this morning. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 153]
Fighters Low on Fuel - By around 9:35 a.m., according to author Lynn Spencer, the two Otis fighters are running increasingly low on fuel and need to find a fuel tanker right away. For about the last 25 minutes, technicians at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) have been searching for a tanker (see (9:09 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 112 and 152-153] A member of staff at NEADS in fact talked over the radio with a KC-135 tanker from Bangor, Maine, at around 9:05 a.m., and the plane’s crew agreed to provide support to the Otis fighters launched in response to Flight 11 (see 9:04 a.m.-9:06 a.m. September 11, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001] However, the pilots of these fighters have apparently not heard back from NEADS about whether it has been able to find a tanker for them. Now one of the pilots, Major Daniel Nash, has come up with a solution. Prior to being put on alert duty, he had been acting as the scheduling officer at Otis Air Base, and he therefore knows that a training mission a number of Otis fighters were scheduled to fly today called for refueling (see (9:00 a.m.-9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Consequently he knows about the KC-135 tanker plane from Bangor that NEADS communicated with earlier on, which had been scheduled to support those fighters during their training. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 152-153]
Tanker Heading toward Training Airspace - The tanker plane, which has the call sign “Maine 85,” is one of the eight KC-135s that are attached to the 101st Air Refueling Wing, based at Bangor International Airport. Its pilots are Lieutenant Colonel Adam Jenkins and Lieutenant Colonel Andy Marshall. [Portland Press Herald, 9/13/2001; Bangor Daily News, 9/9/2011] It had been scheduled to rendezvous with the Otis fighters on their training mission about 20 minutes from now in “Whiskey 105,” the military training airspace just south of Long Island, where Nash and his fellow Otis pilot Timothy Duffy had earlier been flying in a “holding pattern” (see 9:09 a.m.-9:13 a.m. September 11, 2001). The KC-135 should be on its way there now. Nash calls Duffy and tells him, “[W]e have a tanker scheduled for the training missions this morning off the coast in 105.” Duffy calls NEADS and requests that the KC-135 orbit at 20,000 feet above New York’s JFK International Airport. NEADS then coordinates with the 101st Air Refueling Wing to borrow the tanker. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 153]
Tanker Directed toward New York - The KC-135 is instructed to fly toward Manhattan. Jenkins will later recall, “We were told to start heading west to the city.” The voice over his radio tells him, “We’ll give you details along the way.” [Bangor Daily News, 9/9/2011] Soon, the KC-135 is flying an orbit over JFK Airport and the two Otis fighters then take turns refueling. [Grant, 2004, pp. 21; Grant and Thompson, 10/6/2006, pp. 4 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 153] According to the 9/11 Commission Report, the two Otis fighters arrived over Manhattan at 9:25 a.m. (see 9:25 a.m. September 11, 2001), but accounts of most witnesses on the ground indicate they do not arrive there until after 10:00 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.-10:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 24]

Entity Tags: Timothy Duffy, Andy Marshall, Daniel Nash, 101st Air Refueling Wing, Adam Jenkins, Northeast Air Defense Sector

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline


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