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Context of '(9:04 a.m.) September 11, 2001: DC Air National Guard Officers Realize US Is under Attack, Yet No Fighters Are Launched'

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Logo of the 113th Wing of the DC Air National Guard.Logo of the 113th Wing of the DC Air National Guard. [Source: Air National Guard]Pilots and officers with the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) are notified of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center, but mistakenly assume this must have been an accident and continue with a meeting they are holding. [Rasmussen, 9/18/2003; 9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 122] The 113th Wing of the DC Air National Guard, which includes the 121st Fighter Squadron, is based at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, 10 miles southeast of Washington. [District of Columbia Air National Guard, 7/24/2001; GlobalSecurity (.org), 8/21/2005; GlobalSecurity (.org), 1/21/2006]
Pilots and Flight Managers in Meeting - Some DCANG officers are currently in a conference room at their unit at Andrews, conducting the weekly scheduling meeting, where plans for the upcoming week are discussed. According to Captain Brandon Rasmussen, a pilot who is also the chief of scheduling with the unit, about five or six people are in the meeting. [Rasmussen, 9/18/2003; 9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 pdf file] As well as Rasmussen, those present include Major David McNulty, the senior intelligence officer of the 113th Wing; pilots Marc Sasseville and Daniel Caine; and a new officer, Mark Valentine.
Officers Think Crash Is an Accident - An intelligence officer interrupts the meeting and says a plane has just flown into the WTC. However, the meeting participants assume the crash is an accident involving a small aircraft. [9/11 Commission, 3/8/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 122] Rasmussen will later recall: “[A]ll of us in the meeting kind of looked at each other and looked outside the window, it was clear blue skies. It doesn’t get any more flying weather than that. So we thought, ‘What kind of a moron can’t see those big buildings right in front of them?’ We all figured it was just some light civil aircraft… little Cessnas, Piper Cubs, or whatever, someone doing some sightseeing flying up and down the Hudson and just not paying attention where he was going.” Therefore, “we continued on with the meeting, thinking we’d catch the news clips later on in the day.” The scheduling meeting will continue until its participants learn of the second plane hitting the WTC and realize this is a terrorist attack (see (9:04 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Rasmussen, 9/18/2003; 9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 122-123]
Some at Base Suspicious about Crash - However, according to the Washington Post, at least some individuals with the DC Air National Guard are “immediately suspicious” upon hearing of the first crash. Pilot Heather Penney Garcia will recall having wondered, “How do you make a mistake like that?” (Penney Garcia is at the 121st Fighter Squadron headquarters at Andrews, though whether she is attending the scheduling meeting is unstated.)
Only Four DCANG Pilots Available - Members of the 121st Fighter Squadron have just returned from “Red Flag,” a major training exercise in Nevada (see Late August-September 8, 2001). Most of the squadron’s pilots, who fly commercial planes in their civilian lives and are involved with the unit on only a part-time basis, are consequently away from the base on this day, either back at their airline jobs or on leave, according to different accounts. [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; 9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004; Spencer, 2008, pp. 156] Of the seven pilots the squadron has available at the base today, three have just taken off for a training mission over North Carolina (see 8:36 a.m. September 11, 2001), meaning only four available pilots are left at the base. [9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/8/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 pdf file]
DCANG Not Part of NORAD Air Defense Force - The DC Air National Guard flies the F-16 Fighting Falcon jet fighter, and its mission includes providing “capable and ready response forces for the District of Columbia in the event of a natural disaster or civil emergency.” [DC Military (.com), 6/2001; GlobalSecurity (.org), 8/21/2005] Unlike other Air National Guard units, it reports to the president, instead of a state governor. It works closely with Secret Service agents who are across the runway at Andrews Air Force Base, in the Air Force One hangar. [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; Vogel, 2007, pp. 445] According to Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine, the 121st Fighter Squadron is “not standing alert on Sept. 11” because the DC Air National Guard is “not assigned to the North American Aerospace Defense Command air defense force.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002]

Entity Tags: Brandon Rasmussen, Daniel Caine, David McNulty, Mark Valentine, Marc Sasseville, District of Columbia Air National Guard, Heather Penney Garcia

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Pilots and officers with the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) at Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, realize the US is under terrorist attack when they learn of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center, yet the first DCANG fighter to launch in response to the attacks will not take off until more than 90 minutes later. [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 44; Spencer, 2008, pp. 122-123]
Intel Officer Reports Crash - The 113th Wing of the DC Air National Guard, which includes the 121st Fighter Squadron, is based at Andrews. [District of Columbia Air National Guard, 7/24/2001; GlobalSecurity (.org), 8/21/2005] Some of its pilots and officers who are in the unit’s weekly scheduling meeting at the base learned of the first crash when an intelligence officer interrupted their meeting to bring them the news, but they assumed it was an accident (see Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). After the second plane hits the WTC at 9:03 a.m., the intelligence officer returns. He bursts into the room, yelling: “It’s happened again! The second tower has been hit! And it’s on purpose!” [9/11 Commission, 3/8/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 122]
Officers Realize This Is a 'Coordinated Attack' - Those in the meeting realize this is a terrorist attack. Captain Brandon Rasmussen, a pilot who is also the chief of scheduling with the unit, will later recall: “At that point [the] meeting adjourned, this is no longer a pure accident, somebody is meaning to do this. I think everybody knew that this was a coordinated attack that was happening. We had no idea who it was by, but it was definitely intentional when you get two airplanes hitting both towers.” The officers head down the hall to the break room, where the television is on. Seeing the coverage from New York, they realize that large airliners hit the towers, not “light civil aircraft” as they previously thought.
People 'Launched into Action' - One officer exclaims, “Well, holy sh_t, if this is a terrorist attack, we need to get something in the air!” [Rasmussen, 9/18/2003; Spencer, 2008, pp. 123] Lieutenant Colonel Steve Chase, who is at the operations desk, will later describe: “People just launched into action. There was a buzz in the unit. People got on the radio and telephones to higher headquarters.” [Washington Post, 4/8/2002]
Leadership Only Acts after Pentagon Attack - However, Rasmussen will say that the 121st Fighter Squadron only takes proper action in response to the attacks after the Pentagon is hit at 9:37 a.m. He will recall that, after learning of the second attack, “we didn’t know what we could possibly do, that’s New York City way up the road. So… like everybody else in America, we’re just standing by and watching the news. Time dilatation between the towers being hit and when the Pentagon was hit, but the news [broke] about the Pentagon being hit, and by that time they were in our backyard. At that point, the squadron leadership went into action.… As soon as the Pentagon was hit, we knew that we were going to be sticking around home and being quite busy.” [Rasmussen, 9/18/2003] Brigadier General David Wherley, the commander of the DC Air National Guard, will only head across the base to assist the response at the 121st Fighter Squadron’s headquarters after the Pentagon attack occurs (see (Shortly After 9:39 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; Vogel, 2007, pp. 445-446]
Jets Take Off over 90 Minutes Later - According to Knight Ridder, “Air defense around Washington, DC, is provided mainly by fighter planes from Andrews.” [Knight Ridder, 9/11/2001] Yet the first DCANG fighter jet to take off in response to the attacks does not launch until 95 minutes after the second crash, at 10:38 a.m. (see (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and this has no missiles, only training ammunition. [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; 9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 44] The first fully armed jets will take off from Andrews at 11:11 a.m. (see 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 84; 9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004]

Entity Tags: 121st Fighter Squadron, District of Columbia Air National Guard, Steve Chase, Brandon Rasmussen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The commander of the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) at Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, finally heads across the base to the headquarters of the 121st Fighter Squadron, which is part of the DCANG, and joins his officers in responding to the terrorist attacks. [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; Vogel, 2007, pp. 445-446]
Squadron Leaders Not yet Gone 'Into Action' - Brigadier General David Wherley, the commander of the 113th Wing of the DC Air National Guard, is in his office at Andrews. He has already given his officers the go-ahead to use the unit’s missiles, so they can be unloaded from storage and put onto fighter jets (see (Shortly After 9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 156-157, 184] However, according to Captain Brandon Rasmussen, one of the DCANG pilots, it is only after the Pentagon is hit that “the squadron leadership went into action.” [Rasmussen, 9/18/2003]
Wherley Runs across Base - The Washington Post will report that Wherley’s “first inkling that the attacks would go beyond New York was when one of his officers, whose husband worked at the Pentagon, saw on television that the building had been hit and began shrieking.” After briefly comforting the woman, Wherley dashes from his office and runs several hundred yards across the base to the headquarters of the 121st Fighter Squadron.
Wherley Doesn't Want Jets Launched Yet - Unlike other Air National Guard units, the DCANG reports to the president, rather than a state governor. [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; Vogel, 2007, pp. 445] Furthermore, since the Secret Service provides protection to the president, who is the commander in chief of the US military, it has some authority over the military, including the DCANG. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 123] DCANG squadron officers have already heard from their Secret Service contacts, who have asked them about getting fighters launched (see (Shortly After 9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 78] But after arriving at the 121st FS headquarters, Wherley says he wants more explicit authorization before launching aircraft. He tells the squadron officers: “We have to get instructions. We can’t just fly off half-cocked.” [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; Vogel, 2007, pp. 445-446]
Takes over Call from White House - At the operations desk, Major Daniel Caine has recently been called by a Secret Service agent at the White House Joint Operations Center, who is requesting armed fighter jets over Washington. After Wherley has arrived at the 121st FS headquarters, Caine passes the phone to him, telling the caller, “Here’s my boss.” Caine then says, “I’m going to fly.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 78; 9/11 Commission, 3/8/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 pdf file] Despite his responsibilities as the unit’s supervisor of flying, Caine has decided to get airborne himself, and heads off to join the other pilots preparing to take off from Andrews. [Filson, 2003, pp. 76; Spencer, 2008, pp. 184] Wherley will talk over the phone with the Secret Service, and try to obtain instructions for the launching of his fighter jets (see (Shortly After 9:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001, (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001, (10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001, and (Between 10:16 a.m. and 10:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/28/2003; Spencer, 2008, pp. 184-185, 218]

Entity Tags: David Wherley, Daniel Caine, District of Columbia Air National Guard, Brandon Rasmussen, 121st Fighter Squadron

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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