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

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


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