The Center for Grassroots Oversight

This page can be viewed at http://www.historycommons.org/context.jsp?item=a907hijackannounced&scale=2


Context of '9:07 a.m. September 11, 2001: FAA Command Center Informs All Air Traffic Facilities of First Hijacking'

This is a scalable context timeline. It contains events related to the event 9:07 a.m. September 11, 2001: FAA Command Center Informs All Air Traffic Facilities of First Hijacking. You can narrow or broaden the context of this timeline by adjusting the zoom level. The lower the scale, the more relevant the items on average will be, while the higher the scale, the less relevant the items, on average, will be.

American Airlines has problems contacting the FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, about the problems with its aircraft, according to four managers working at the airline’s System Operations Control (SOC) center in Fort Worth, Texas, on this day. Craig Marquis, Craig Parfitt, Joe Bertapelle, and Mike Mulcahy will later tell the 9/11 Commission that American Airlines has “a hard time on 9/11 in getting in touch with Herndon.” They will say that “[p]recious minutes were lost in building the communications bridge” between the SOC and the Command Center. The cause of these communication problems is unknown. (9/11 Commission 11/19/2003 pdf file) The SOC has known that there are problems on Flight 11 since 8:21 a.m., when Marquis received a call from a supervisor at the airline’s Southeastern Reservations Office in North Carolina, alerting him to a call that had been received from one of the plane’s flight attendants about the emergency taking place (see 8:21 a.m. September 11, 2001). Presumably the SOC starts trying to contact the FAA Command Center soon after receiving this call. It is known that the SOC will make contact with the Command Center at 9:16 a.m., if not earlier (see 9:16 a.m.-9:18 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 9, 15) Bill Halleck, an air traffic control specialist at the SOC, is at least able to reach the FAA’s Boston Center regarding Flight 11 at 8:29 a.m. (see 8:29 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 5, 453) The four American Airlines managers will also tell the 9/11 Commission, “In the event that the [American Airlines] SOC was aware that it was the first to know about an incident [with an aircraft], the protocol would have been for the SOC manager on duty [i.e. Marquis] to have immediately autodialed to the Herndon manager on duty [i.e. Ben Sliney] with the information.” However, the FAA “knew what was going on because of the intercepted communications from the cockpit.” (9/11 Commission 11/19/2003 pdf file) (FAA air traffic controllers have been aware of problems with Flight 11 since around 8:14 a.m., when they lost communication with the plane (see 8:14 a.m.-8:24 a.m. September 11, 2001), and they subsequently hear communications made by the hijackers on the plane, beginning at 8:24 a.m. (see 8:24 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 18-19) )

Pete Zalewski.Pete Zalewski. [Source: NBC]Because the talkback button on Flight 11 has been activated, Boston Center air traffic controllers can hear a hijacker on board say to the passengers: “We have some planes. Just stay quiet and you’ll be OK. We are returning to the airport.” (Johnson 11/23/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 19) Air traffic controller Pete Zalewski recognizes this as a foreign, Middle Eastern-sounding voice, but does not make out the specific words “we have some planes.” He responds, “Who’s trying to call me?” Seconds later, in the next transmission, the hijacker continues: “Nobody move. Everything will be OK. If you try to make any moves you’ll endanger yourself and the airplane. Just stay quiet.” (Wald and Sack 10/16/2001; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004; MSNBC 9/9/2006) Bill Peacock, the FAA director of air traffic services, later claims, “We didn’t know where the transmission came from, what was said and who said it.” David Canoles, the FAA’s manager of air traffic evaluations and investigations, adds: “The broadcast wasn’t attributed to a flight. Nobody gave a flight number.” (Murray 9/11/2002) Similarly, an early FAA report will state that both these transmissions came from “an unknown origin.” (Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 pdf file) Zalewski asks for an assistant to help listen to the transmissions coming from the plane, and puts its frequency on speakers so others at Boston Center can hear. Because Zalewski didn’t understand the initial hijacker communication from Flight 11, the manager of Boston Center instructs the center’s quality assurance specialist to “pull the tape” of the transmission, listen to it carefully, and then report back. They do this, and by about 9:03 a.m. a Boston manager will report having deciphered what was said in the first hijacker transmission (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004; MSNBC 9/9/2006) Fellow Boston controller Don Jeffroy also hears the tape of the hijacker transmissions, though he doesn’t state at what time. He says: “I heard exactly what Pete [Zalewski] heard. And we had to actually listen to it a couple of times just to make sure that we were hearing what we heard.” (MSNBC 9/11/2002) At some point, Ben Sliney, the national operations manager at the FAA’s Herndon Command Center, gets word of the “We have some planes” message, and later says the phrase haunts him all morning. American Airlines Executive Vice President for Operations Gerard Arpey is also informed of the “strange transmissions from Flight 11” at some point prior to when it crashes at 8:46 a.m. (Levin, Adams, and Morrison 8/12/2002) Boston Center will receive a third transmission from Flight 11 about ten minutes later (see (8:34 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

Boston flight control reportedly “notifies several air traffic control centers that a hijack is taking place.” (Ellison 10/17/2001) This is immediately after Boston controllers heard a transmission from Flight 11, declaring, “We have some planes” (see 8:24 a.m. September 11, 2001), and would be consistent with a claim later made to the 9/11 Commission by Mike Canavan, the FAA’s associate administrator for civil aviation security. He says, “[M]y experience as soon as you know you had a hijacked aircraft, you notify everyone.… [W]hen you finally find out, yes, we do have a problem, then… the standard notification is it kind of gets broadcast out to all the regions.” (9/11 Commission 5/23/2003) An early FAA report will say only that Boston controllers begin “inter-facility coordination” with New York air traffic control at this time (Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 pdf file) , but the New York Times reports that controllers at Washington Center also know “about the hijacking of the first plane to crash, even before it hit the World Trade Center.” (Wald 9/13/2001) However, the Indianapolis flight controller monitoring Flight 77 claims to not know about this or Flight 175’s hijacking twenty minutes later at 8:56 a.m. (see 8:56 a.m. September 11, 2001). Additionally, the flight controllers at New York City’s La Guardia airport are never told about the hijacked planes and learn about them from watching the news. (Kelly 1/4/2004) Boston Center also begins notifying the FAA chain of command of the suspected Flight 11 hijacking at this time (see 8:25 a.m. September 11, 2001), but it does not notify NORAD for another 6-15 minutes, depending on the account (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

Flight controllers hear a hijacker on Flight 11 say to the passengers: “Nobody move, please, we are going back to the airport. Don’t try to make any stupid moves.” (Wald and Sack 10/16/2001; Ellison 10/17/2001; Johnson 11/23/2001; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) This is the third hijacker transmission from Flight 11 heard by Boston Center. Following the previous two transmissions, controller Pete Zalewski had put the plane’s frequency on speakers so that others at the center could hear (see 8:24 a.m. September 11, 2001). This is therefore the first time some of them hear the hijacker’s voice. One controller says out loud, “That is really scary.” (MSNBC 9/11/2002)

Victor Saracini.Victor Saracini. [Source: Family photo]Just after Flight 175 enters the airspace of the FAA’s New York Center (see 8:40 a.m. September 11, 2001), its pilot reports to the air traffic controller now managing the flight a suspicious transmission he had heard on departing Boston’s Logan Airport. The pilot, Captain Victor Saracini, tells the controller, Dave Bottiglia: “We figured we’d wait to go to your center. Ah, we heard a suspicious transmission on our departure out of Boston, ah, with someone, ah, it sounded like someone keyed the mikes and said, ah, ‘Everyone, ah, stay in your seats.’” (New York Times 10/16/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 21; Spencer 2008, pp. 36) Saracini is presumably referring to one of the three radio transmissions from Flight 11, where the voice of a hijacker could be heard (see 8:24 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (8:34 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, none of these had included the hijacker telling people to stay in their seats, as Saracini describes, although the second and third transmissions included the hijacker telling the passengers, “Nobody move.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 19) Bottiglia responds: “Oh, okay. I’ll pass that along.” Referring to the fact that this was the end of the transmission he heard, Saracini adds, “It cut out,” and then asks Bottiglia, “Did you copy that?” (Gregor 12/21/2001 pdf file; Spencer 2008, pp. 36-37) This is the last radio transmission from Flight 175. The 9/11 Commission will conclude that the plane is hijacked within the next four minutes (see (Between 8:42 a.m. and 8:46 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 20) According to author Lynn Spencer, since controllers are only given information on a need-to-know basis, Bottiglia was unaware there were problems with Flight 11, which has not yet entered his airspace. He touches his computer screen to connect to the hotline for his sector controller, and then reports: “UAL 175 just came on my frequency and he said he heard a suspicious transmission when they were leaving Boston. ‘Everybody stay in your seats’—that’s what he heard… just to let you know.” (New York Times 10/16/2001; Spencer 2008, pp. 36-37)

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)

CNN is the first major network to show the footage of the crash site. It breaks into a commercial and anchor Carol Lin says, “This just in. You are looking at… obviously a very disturbing live shot there—that is the World Trade Center, and we have unconfirmed reports this morning that a plane has crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center.” CNN then switches to Sean Murtagh, the network’s vice president of finance, who says in a live telephone interview, “I just witnessed a plane that appeared to be cruising at a slightly lower than normal altitude over New York City. And it appears to have crashed into—I don’t know which tower it is—but it hit directly in the middle of one of the World Trade Center towers. It was a jet, maybe a two-engine jet, maybe a 737… a large passenger commercial jet… It was teetering back and forth, wing-tip to wing-tip, and it looks like it has crashed into—probably, twenty stories from the top of the World Trade Center—maybe the eightieth to eighty-fifth floor. There is smoke billowing out of the World Trade Center.” (CNN 9/11/2001; Bamford 2004, pp. 16-17) Many reports do not come until a few minutes later. For instance, ABC first breaks into regular programming with the story at 8:52 a.m. (ABC News 9/14/2002) Incredibly, a NORAD timeline presented to the 9/11 Commission in 2003 claims that CNN doesn’t begin its coverage of the attacks until 8:57. (9/11 Commission 5/23/2003)

Bill Roy.Bill Roy. [Source: Publicity photo]Apparently, managers at United Airlines’ System Operations Control (SOC) center, just outside Chicago, are unaware of any unfolding emergency until they see CNN reporting the burning World Trade Center (see 8:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). “Within minutes,” the air traffic control coordinator at United Airlines’ headquarters, located next to the SOC, calls an official at the FAA’s Herndon Command Center to confirm that the plane that just hit the WTC was not one of United’s aircraft. The FAA official tells him the plane had been a hijacked American Airlines 757. Soon afterwards, the air traffic control coordinator briefs Bill Roy and Mike Barber—the director and the dispatch manager at United’s SOC—on this information from the FAA. Barber then tries notifying United’s top corporate officials about it. However, he is unable to because the airline’s pager system is not working. (Mccartney and Carey 10/15/2001; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 21-22)

A Longboat Key resident has a strange encounter with some Middle Eastern men. He is standing on the Sarasota bay front, waiting for President Bush’s motorcade to go by on its way to the Booker Elementary School. He sees a dilapidated van passing by, with two Middle Eastern men “screaming out the windows, ‘Down with Bush’ and raising their fists in the air.” This would be around the time when reports of the first WTC crash are first being broadcast (see 8:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). The man will later report this incident to the police and then be questioned by the FBI about it. Several hours earlier, some Middle Eastern men had pulled up in a van at the resort where Bush was staying, falsely claiming to have an interview with him (see (Before 6:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). It is unknown whether these were the same men as were seen on the Sarasota bay front. (Sullivan 9/26/2001)

An article in the New York Times will later suggest that officials in the Pentagon’s National Military Command Center (NMCC) promptly become aware of the problems with Flight 77, long before NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) is alerted to the flight. The article will state, “During the hour or so that American Airlines Flight 77 [is] under the control of hijackers, up to the moment it struck the west side of the Pentagon, military officials in [the NMCC are] urgently talking to law enforcement and air traffic control officials about what to do.” (Wald 9/15/2001) This appears consistent with what would be expected under normal procedures. According to the FAA’s acting Deputy Administrator Monte Belger: “Prior to 9/11, FAA’s traditional communication channel with the military during a crisis had been through the National Military Command Center (NMCC). They were always included in the communication net that was used to manage a hijack incident.” He will say that, since the FAA does not have direct dedicated communication links with NORAD, in a hijack scenario the NMCC has “the responsibility to coordinate [the Defense Department]‘s response to requests from the FAA or the FBI.” (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) NEADS reportedly is not alerted to Flight 77 until significantly later: at 9:24 a.m. by some accounts (see (9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001), or, according to other accounts, at 9:34 a.m., when it only learns that Flight 77 is missing (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/18/2001; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004)

Flight 77’s transponder is turned off, meaning that the aircraft’s speed, altitude, and flight information are no longer visible on radar displays at the FAA’s Indianapolis Center. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 pdf file; National Transportation Safety Board 2/19/2002 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 9) The Indianapolis Center air traffic controller in charge of Flight 77 watched the plane go off course and head southwest before its data disappeared from his radar screen. He looks for primary radar signals along the aircraft’s projected flight path as well as in the airspace where it had started to turn, but cannot find it. (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) He tries contacting the plane repeatedly, saying “American 77, Indy,” and: “American 77, Indy, radio check. How do you read?” But there is no response. (Wald and Sack 10/16/2001; New York Times 10/16/2001)
NEADS Not Contacted - US News and World Report will later comment, “[E]xperts say that an airliner making a 180-degree turn followed by a transponder turnoff should have been a red flag to controllers.” It will quote Robert Cauble, a 20-year veteran of Navy air traffic control, who says: “The fact that the transponder went off, they should have picked up on that immediately. Everyone should have been on alert about what was going on.” (Schultz 10/8/2001) Yet the Indianapolis Center supposedly does not notify NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS). According to the 9/11 Commission, NEADS will only learn that Flight 77 is missing at 9:34 a.m. (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 26-27)
Controller Thinks Plane Suffered Mechanical Failure - While several air traffic control centers were reportedly informed of the Flight 11 hijacking as early as 8:25 a.m. (see 8:25 a.m. September 11, 2001), according to the 9/11 Commission, the controller handling Flight 77 does not realize other aircraft have been hijacked, and he is unaware of the situation in New York. He mistakenly assumes Flight 77 has experienced an electrical or mechanical failure. (Ellison 10/17/2001; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) After he informs other Indianapolis Center personnel of the developing situation, they will clear all other aircraft from the plane’s westerly route so their safety will not be affected if Flight 77 is still flying along its original path but unable to be heard. (Freni 2003, pp. 29; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 460; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 30)
Airline and Possibly Pentagon Learn of Flight 77 Problems - While NEADS is not alerted about the errant aircraft, a controller at the Indianapolis Center will contact American Airlines at 8:58 to inform it that contact has been lost with Flight 77 (see 8:58 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 30) And an article in the New York Times will indicate that the Pentagon’s National Military Command Center (NMCC) promptly becomes aware of the problems with Flight 77 (see (Shortly After 8:51 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Wald 9/15/2001)

An air traffic controller at the FAA’s Indianapolis Center contacts the American Airlines dispatch office in Texas, and informs it that contact has been lost with Flight 77. The controller is a sector radar associate, whose job is to help with hand-offs and to coordinate with other sectors and facilities. He speaks to American Airlines dispatcher Jim McDonnell. (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 30; Spencer 2008, pp. 63) The controller begins, “This is Indianapolis Center trying to get a hold of American 77.” McDonnell asks for clarification, “Who you trying to get a hold of?” and the controller replies: “American 77.… On frequency 120.27.… We were talking to him and all of a sudden it just, uh…” McDonnell interjects: “Okay, all right. We’ll get a hold of him for you.” The call comes to an abrupt end and the controller then continues trying to contact Flight 77. (New York Times 10/16/2001; Spencer 2008, pp. 63-64) Soon after this call, American Airlines’ executive vice president of operations, Gerard Arpey, will give an order to stop all American flight takeoffs in the Northeast US (see Between 9:00 a.m. and 9:10 a.m. September 11, 2001). By 8:59 a.m., American Airlines begins attempts to contact Flight 77 using ACARS (a digital communications system used primarily for aircraft-to-airline messages). Within minutes, some time between 9:00 a.m. and 9:10 a.m., American will get word that United Airlines also has lost contact with a missing airliner (presumably Flight 175). When reports of the second WTC crash come through after 9:03 a.m., one manager will mistakenly shout, “How did 77 get to New York and we didn’t know it?” (Mccartney and Carey 10/15/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 454; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 31) The sector radar associate at the Indianapolis Center will call American Airlines again about Flight 77 at 9:02, and again speak with McDonnell (see 9:02 a.m. September 11, 2001). (New York Times 10/16/2001)

According to the 9/11 Commission, shortly after 9:00 a.m., Indianapolis flight control begins to notify other government agencies that American 77 is missing and has possibly crashed. For instance, at 9:08 a.m., Indianapolis contacts Air Force Search and Rescue at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, and tells them to look out for a downed aircraft. It is not clear what Air Force Search and Rescue does with this information. Indianapolis also contacts the West Virginia State Police at about 9:15 a.m., and asks whether they have any reports of a downed aircraft (see Soon After 9:09 a.m. September 11, 2001). However, they apparently do not contact NORAD, but do notify the FAA regional center at 9:09 a.m. (see 9:09 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004)

Terry Biggio.Terry Biggio. [Source: CNN]Over an FAA teleconference, Terry Biggio, the operations manager at the FAA’s Boston Center, reports to the FAA’s New England regional office the “We have some planes” comment apparently made by a Flight 11 hijacker at 8:24 a.m. (see 8:24 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 23; Spencer 2008, pp. 79-80) Because the Boston Center controller monitoring Flight 11 had not understood the communication, the center’s quality assurance specialist had been instructed to “pull the tape” of the transmission, listen to it carefully, and then report back. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 19) Biggio now reports to the New England region representative: “I’m gonna reconfirm with, with downstairs, but the, as far as the tape, Bobby seemed to think the guy said that ‘we have planes.’ Now, I don’t know if it was because it was the accent, or if there’s more than one [hijacked plane], but I’m gonna, I’m gonna reconfirm that for you, and I’ll get back to you real quick. Okay?” Another participant in the teleconference asks, “They have what?” and Biggio clarifies: “Planes, as in plural.… It sounds like, we’re talking to New York, that there’s another one aimed at the World Trade Center.… A second one just hit the Trade Center.” The New England region representative replies: “Okay. Yeah, we gotta get—we gotta alert the military real quick on this.” (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 23) A manager at the FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, is monitoring the teleconference, and so also learns of the “We have some planes” communication at this time (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Spencer 2008, pp. 79-80) At 9:05 a.m., Biggio will confirm for the New England region representative—with the Command Center listening in—that a hijacker said, “we have planes” (forgetting the “some”). (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 24)

Ashley Snee.Ashley Snee. [Source: Ashley Snee]Ashley Snee, Vice President Dick Cheney’s special assistant, becomes concerned that terrorists might attack the White House after she sees the second hijacked plane crashing into the World Trade Center on television. (KMAX-TV 9/11/2016) Snee is in Cheney’s outer office in the West Wing of the White House with Debbie Heiden, another assistant to the vice president. The television there was on and the two women consequently saw the news that a plane had crashed into the WTC when it was first reported (see 8:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Baker 2013, pp. 121; Giovannettone 9/8/2013) Heiden called Cheney and told him: “Sir, something’s happening in New York. Turn on your TV and so you can see what’s going on.” Cheney subsequently saw the second hijacked plane crashing into the South Tower on television, at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). He promptly came out of his office and told his two assistants, “They hit the second tower.” (Cheney and Reiner 2013, pp. 189; KMAX-TV 9/11/2016) There is now “a flurry of activity in the otherwise quiet halls of the West Wing,” Snee will later describe. The special assistant notices “senior staff” going “in and out of the vice president’s office.” (Giovannettone 9/8/2013) She and Heiden realize the crashes must have been intentional. Snee therefore starts worrying that the White House might be attacked. “It started to set in that if this was an attack, I’m sitting in probably a pretty high-level target,” she will recall. “We got a little nervous,” she will comment. (KMAX-TV 9/11/2016) She assumes, however, that since Cheney is being allowed to stay in his office, the White House must have been determined to be safe. “I took solace [from thinking] that if he was safe in his office, just steps away, surely we were too,” she will remark. Cheney will remain in his office until around 9:35 a.m., when the Secret Service learns a suspicious aircraft is flying toward the White House and agents consequently move him to a safer location (see (9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39-40; Hayes 2007, pp. 333) Snee will be “overcome with panic” when she sees him being hurried away from his office. At that point, she will recall, “What I feared all morning became obvious: we’re not safe here.” (Giovannettone 9/8/2013) “Well, it’s not safe for him, it’s probably not safe for us,” she will think. (KMAX-TV 9/11/2016)

According to a book about the Federal Aviation Administration’s response on 9/11, the FAA Command Center sends a message to all the nation’s air traffic facilities at this time, announcing the first hijacking. (Freni 2003, pp. 59) This would be two minutes after it had been informed that the Flight 11 hijackers had announced, “we have [some] planes” (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). Yet according to the 9/11 Commission, Indianapolis Center, which handles Flight 77, only learns that there are other hijacked aircraft “By 9:20” (see (9:20 a.m.-9:21 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 23-24)

An air traffic controller at the FAA’s Indianapolis Center, which was monitoring Flight 77 when it disappeared from radar (see 8:56 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (8:56 a.m.-9:05 a.m.) September 11, 2001), learns for the first time that there has been at least one hijacking—of Flight 11—this morning, and that planes have crashed into the World Trade Center. Yet, after he passes this information on to a colleague, neither controller suspects that the missing Flight 77 might also be hijacked. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 24; Spencer 2008, pp. 105-107)
Dispatcher Gives Details of Crisis - The controller, a sector radar associate at the Indianapolis Center, calls the American Airlines dispatch office in Texas and overhears dispatcher Jim McDonnell on another call, discussing the morning’s crisis. He hears McDonnell saying, “… and it was a Boston-LA flight and [Flight] 77 is a Dulles-LA flight and, uh, we’ve had an unconfirmed report a second airplane just flew into the World Trade Center.” McDonnell then acknowledges the Indianapolis Center controller, who asks, “Did you get a hold of American 77 by chance?” McDonnell answers, “No sir, but we have an unconfirmed report the second airplane hit the World Trade Center and exploded.” The controller asks, “Say again?” McDonnell tells him: “You know, we lost American 11 to a hijacking. American 11 was a Boston to Los Angeles flight.” The controller seems shocked, saying: “I can’t really… I can’t hear what you’re saying there. You said American 11?” McDonnell replies, “Yes, we were hijacked… and it was a Boston-LA flight, and [Flight] 77 is a Dulles-LA flight and, uh, we’ve had an unconfirmed report a second airplane just flew into the World Trade Center.” The controller then abruptly ends the call, saying: “Thank you very much. Goodbye.” (New York Times 10/16/2001; Spencer 2008, pp. 106)
Controllers Make No Connection with Flight 77 - After hanging up, the Indianapolis Center controller immediately calls another of the center’s radar associates and repeats what he has just heard. They look through their flight plans but can find no record of Flight 11 in their system. According to author Lynn Spencer, the center’s host computer, which performs critical radar and flight management functions, only holds on to active flight plans. Therefore, several minutes after the system had stopped tracking the transponder data tag for Flight 11, its flight plan dropped out of the system. According to Spencer, the two controllers fail to connect what McDonnell has said with the disappearance of Flight 77: “The best the controllers can figure is that [Flight 11] was hijacked on the ground in New York and proceeded to take off for Los Angeles without a clearance. They’re not sure just how this is relevant to the disappearance of American 77, if at all, and they’ve done all they can do for now.… Confused, they return to their jobs.” (Spencer 2008, pp. 106-107)
Hijacking Not Suspected - At 9:08, the Indianapolis Center contacted Air Force Search and Rescue to request that it be on the lookout for an accident involving Flight 77 (see (After 9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and at 9:09 it informs the FAA regional office of a possible accident involving Flight 77 (see 9:09 a.m. September 11, 2001). However, according to the 9/11 Commission, it is not until about 9:20 that the center begins to doubt its initial assumption that Flight 77 has crashed, and discusses this concern with the FAA’s Herndon Command Center (see (9:20 a.m.-9:21 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 31-32)

When Indianapolis flight control reported the loss of contact with Flight 77 to the FAA’s Great Lakes Regional Operations Center (see 9:09 a.m. September 11, 2001), an employee at an FAA flight service station (which particular one is unspecified) picks up on the communication and mistakenly calls the Ashland, Kentucky police to report a confirmed crash. Indianapolis controllers had noted the last known position of Flight 77 as being near the Ohio-Kentucky border, so this becomes part of the employee’s report. Indianapolis Center personnel, suspecting that Flight 77 may have crashed, subsequently contact the same police office, requesting information on any crashes. (An FAA report describes them contacting the West Virginia State Police at about 9:15 a.m. Ashland, though in Kentucky, is only a few miles out of West Virginia, so this may be referring the same incident.) Using the flight service station report as an actual accident, the police mistakenly confirm the crash, even though it never actually happened. A state helicopter is even dispatched to the plane’s last known coordinates, but there is nothing there. Time is lost in all the confusion. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 pdf file; Freni 2003, pp. 29) It is not until about 9:20 a.m., when Indianapolis Center learns there are other hijacked aircraft in the system (see (9:20 a.m.-9:21 a.m.) September 11, 2001), that it will start to doubt its initial assumption that Flight 77 crashed. (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 32) However, the report of a downed plane persists. Shortly before 10 a.m., Dale Watson, counterterrorism chief at the FBI, will say to counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke over a video teleconference, “We have a report of a large jet crashed in Kentucky, near the Ohio line.” (Clarke 2004, pp. 13) According to USA Today, “The reports are so serious that [FAA Administrator Jane] Garvey notifies the White House that there has been another crash. Only later does she learn the reports are erroneous.” (Adams, Levin, and Morrison 8/13/2002)

An air traffic controller at the FAA’s Indianapolis Center, which was monitoring Flight 77 when it disappeared from radar (see 8:56 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (8:56 a.m.-9:05 a.m.) September 11, 2001), receives confirmation from American Airlines that Flight 11 was hijacked, but apparently still does not suspect that the missing Flight 77 may also have been hijacked. (New York Times 10/16/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 24) The controller, a sector radar associate at the Indianapolis Center, called the American Airlines dispatch office in Texas five minutes earlier, and was informed by dispatcher Jim McDonnell that Flight 11 had been hijacked and that two planes had hit the World Trade Center (see 9:09 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Spencer 2008, pp. 106) He now calls the dispatch office and again speaks with McDonnell. After introducing himself, he asks, “American 11, you guys said he departed off of, uh, New York?” McDonnell replies, “Boston.” The controller continues, “Boston, he was going to LA, and it was a hijacked airplane?” McDonnell confirms, “Yes.” The controller asks, “And you, have you heard anything from American 77?” McDonnell replies, “No,” and then adds, “I talked to a winder in the center up there, and I gave them the information I got.” (What McDonnell is referring to here is unclear.) The controller thanks McDonnell, and the call ends. (New York Times 10/16/2001) Despite receiving this information from American Airlines, according to the 9/11 Commission it is not until about 9:20 that the Indianapolis Center begins to doubt its initial assumption that Flight 77 has crashed, and discusses this concern with the FAA’s Herndon Command Center (see (9:20 a.m.-9:21 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 32)

According to the 9/11 Commission, the FAA’s Indianapolis Center, which was monitoring Flight 77 when it disappeared from radar (see 8:56 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (8:56 a.m.-9:05 a.m.) September 11, 2001), has learned by 9:20 a.m. that there are “other hijacked aircraft,” and begins “to doubt its initial assumption that American 77 had crashed.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 24) In fact, a transcript of air traffic controller communications will show that the Indianapolis Center was informed of the Flight 11 hijacking, and that two planes had hit the World Trade Center, at 9:09 a.m. (see 9:09 a.m. September 11, 2001); five minutes later, it received confirmation of the Flight 11 hijacking (see 9:14 a.m. September 11, 2001). (New York Times 10/16/2001) And television networks have been covering the crashes in New York since as early as 8:48 a.m. (see 8:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Bamford 2004, pp. 16-17)
Other Facilities Notified - The manager at the Indianapolis Center now discusses the concern that Flight 77 may not have crashed with the FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia. This discussion prompts the Command Center to notify some FAA field facilities that Flight 77 is lost. (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 32) Also at around 9:20, the Indianapolis Center operations manager contacts the FAA’s Chicago Center. He advises its operations manager of his concern that Flight 77 may have been hijacked, and says to be on the lookout, based on the events that have occurred in New York. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 pdf file) By 9:21, according to the 9/11 Commission, the FAA “Command Center, some FAA field facilities, and American Airlines had started to search for American 77. They feared it had been hijacked.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 24-25)

The FAA’s Great Lakes Regional Operations Center notifies the Operations Center at FAA’s Washington headquarters of the simultaneous loss of radar identification and radar communications with Flight 77. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 32) This is almost 30 minutes after this loss of contact occurred (see 8:56 a.m. September 11, 2001), and 15 minutes after the Great Lakes regional center was informed of it (see 9:09 a.m. September 11, 2001).

Todd Lewis.Todd Lewis. [Source: NBC]After air traffic controllers at Washington Dulles International Airport notice an unidentified aircraft, later determined to be Flight 77, approaching Washington on their radar screens (see (Between 9:25 a.m. and 9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 9:32 a.m. September 11, 2001), they initially think it is a military fighter plane, due to its high speed and the way it is being flown. (News 10/24/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 9) Yet the alleged hijacker pilot of Flight 77 has been known for his poor flying skills. (Goldstein 9/30/2001; Yardley 5/4/2002)
Aircraft Performs Elaborate Maneuver - The Dulles controllers are unable to identify the plane because its transponder—which transmits identifying information about an aircraft to radar screens—has been turned off (see 8:56 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Phillips 9/11/2001; Finkel 9/12/2001) It is flying at almost 500 miles per hour while approaching Washington, and then performs a rapid downward spiral, “dropping the last 7,000 feet in two and a half minutes,” before hitting the Pentagon (see 9:34 a.m.- 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (CBS News 9/21/2001; Levin, Adams, and Morrison 8/12/2002)
Moving 'Like a Military Aircraft' - Controller Danielle O’Brien will later recall: “The speed, the maneuverability, the way that he turned, we all thought in the radar room, all of us experienced air traffic controllers, that that was a military plane. You don’t fly a 757 in that manner. It’s unsafe.” (News 10/24/2001) Another controller, Todd Lewis, will recall: “[N]obody knew that was a commercial flight at the time. Nobody knew that was American 77.… I thought it was a military flight. I thought that Langley [Air Force Base] had scrambled some fighters and maybe one of them got up there.… It was moving very fast, like a military aircraft might move at a low altitude.” (MSNBC 9/11/2002)
Alleged Pilot 'Could Not Fly at All' - Yet many people who have met Hani Hanjour, the hijacker allegedly at the controls of Flight 77, considered him to be a very poor pilot (see October 1996-December 1997, 1998, February 8-March 12, 2001, and (April-July 2001)). Just a month previously, an airport refused to rent him a single-engine Cessna plane because instructors there found his flying skills so weak (see Mid-August 2001). (Furfari 9/21/2001; Frank 9/23/2001) And an employee at a flight school Hanjour attended earlier in the year will later comment: “I’m still to this day amazed that he could have flown into the Pentagon. He could not fly at all” (see January-February 2001). (Yardley 5/4/2002)

Danielle O’Brien.Danielle O’Brien. [Source: ABC News]At 9:32 a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission, several air traffic controllers at Washington Dulles International Airport notice a fast-moving target, which is later determined to be Flight 77, heading eastbound on their radar screens. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 25; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 33) At the Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) at Dulles Airport, which is 22 miles west of the Pentagon, controllers have been searching for primary radar targets since 9:21, when the facility was notified of the loss of contact with Flight 77 (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Parker 9/13/2001; Rolfsen 9/22/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 25)
Controllers See Fast-Moving Radar Track - They now notice an unidentified blip on their screens, heading toward the White House at unusually high speed. (Phillips 9/11/2001; Spencer 2008, pp. 145) Controller Danielle O’Brien will later recall: “I noticed the aircraft. It was an unidentified plane to the southwest of Dulles, moving at a very high rate of speed.… I had literally a blip and nothing more. I slid over to the controller on my left, Tom Howell, and I asked him, ‘Do you see an unidentified plane there southwest of Dulles?’ And his response was, ‘Yes. Oh, my gosh, yes! Look how fast he is.’” According to O’Brien, the aircraft is between 12 and 14 miles away when she notices it. It is heading for what is known as Prohibited Area 56 (P-56), which is the airspace over and near the White House, at a speed of about 500 miles per hour. (ABC 10/24/2001; News 10/24/2001; Department of Transportation 8/4/2005) Because the plane’s transponder has been turned off (see 8:56 a.m. September 11, 2001) its identity and type are presently unknown, and the Dulles controllers initially think it is a military aircraft (see (9:25 a.m.-9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Fisher and Phillips 9/12/2001; News 10/24/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 25)
TRACON Notifies Others - The Dulles TRACON alerts Washington’s Reagan National Airport (see (9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and the Secret Service (see (9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001) to the approaching aircraft. Its operations supervisor also provides continuous updates over a teleconference that has been established at the FAA’s headquarters. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 25) According to an FAA chronology that is published shortly after 9/11, the Dulles TRACON controllers notice the unidentified aircraft earlier than the 9/11 Commission says, at between 9:25 and 9:30 (see (Between 9:25 a.m. and 9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 pdf file)

According to the 9/11 Commission, NEADS contacts Washington flight control to ask about Flight 11. A manager there happens to mention, “We’re looking—we also lost American 77.” The commission claims, “This was the first notice to the military that American 77 was missing, and it had come by chance.… No one at FAA Command Center or headquarters ever asked for military assistance with American 77.” (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) Yet, 38 minutes earlier, flight controllers determined Flight 77 was off course, out of radio contact, and had no transponder signal (see 8:56 a.m. September 11, 2001). They’d warned American Airlines headquarters within minutes. By some accounts, this is the first time NORAD is told about Flight 77, but other accounts have them warned around 9:25 a.m.

Stacia Rountree.Stacia Rountree. [Source: Vanity Fair]Colin Scoggins, the military liaison at the FAA’s Boston Center, contacts NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) and incorrectly notifies it that another aircraft, Delta Air Lines Flight 1989, is a possible hijacking. (9/11 Commission 2004; Bronner 8/1/2006) Boston Center previously called NEADS at 9:27 and said that Delta 1989 was missing (see 9:27 a.m. September 11, 2001). (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission 5/23/2003)
NEADS Technicians Respond - At NEADS, Stacia Rountree, the ID technician who takes Scoggins’s call, announces to her colleagues: “Delta ‘89, that’s the hijack. They think it’s possible hijack.… South of Cleveland.” The plane’s transponder is still on, and she adds, “We have a code on him now.” Rountree’s team leader, Master Sergeant Maureen Dooley, instructs: “Pick it up! Find it!” The NEADS technicians quickly locate Delta 1989 on their radar screens, just south of Toledo, Ohio, and start alerting other FAA centers to it. (Bronner 8/1/2006; Spencer 2008, pp. 177) NEADS mission crew commander Major Kevin Nasypany will be notified by his staff of the suspected hijacking at about 9:41 or 9:42 a.m. (9/11 Commission 1/22/2004 pdf file) NEADS never loses track of Delta 1989. It will follow it on radar as it reverses course over Toledo, heads east, and then lands in Cleveland (see (10:18 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 28) It will order Air National Guard fighter jets from Selfridge and Toledo to intercept the flight (see (9:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 10:01 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Spencer 2008, pp. 178-179) But it will soon learn that Delta 1989 is not in fact hijacked. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 28)
Cleveland Center, Not Boston, Handling Delta 1989 - Although Boston Center notifies NEADS of the suspected hijacking, Delta 1989 is in fact being handled by the FAA’s Cleveland Center. (Adams, Levin, and Morrison 8/13/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 10-12) Cleveland Center air traffic controllers suspected that Delta 1989 had been hijacked at around 9:30 a.m. (see (9:28 a.m.-9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001), but apparently only informed the FAA’s Command Center, and not NEADS, of this. (Adams, Levin, and Morrison 8/13/2002) To explain why Boston Center alerts NEADS to the flight, the 9/11 Commission will later comment that, “Remembering the ‘we have some planes’ remark” (see 8:24 a.m. September 11, 2001), the Boston Center simply “guessed that Delta 1989 might also be hijacked.”
Similar to First Two Hijacked Planes - Like Flights 11 and 175, the two aircraft that have crashed into the World Trade Center (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), Delta 1989 took off from Boston’s Logan Airport. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 27-28) According to the New York Times, it left there at about the same time as Flights 11 and 175 did, meaning around 8:00 to 8:15 a.m. (Wald and van Natta 10/18/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 32) Like those two aircraft, it is a Boeing 767. (Adams, Levin, and Morrison 8/13/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 27-28) But, unlike those flights, its transponder has not been turned off, and so it is still transmitting a beacon code. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 28; Bronner 8/1/2006) It is unclear what Delta 1989’s intended destination is. According to some accounts, like Flights 11 and 175 were, it is bound for Los Angeles. (Singer 9/11/2001; Wald and van Natta 10/18/2001; Adams, Levin, and Morrison 8/13/2002; Velez 9/24/2007; Spencer 2008, pp. 167) Other accounts will say that its destination is Las Vegas. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 28; Bronner 8/1/2006) Personnel at NEADS are apparently informed that Las Vegas is the intended destination. Around this time, one member of staff there tells her colleagues that the flight is “supposed to go to Vegas.” (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001)
One of Numerous Incorrect Reports - The 9/11 Commission will comment: “During the course of the morning, there were multiple erroneous reports of hijacked aircraft (see (9:09 a.m. and After) September 11, 2001). The report of American 11 heading south was the first (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001); Delta 1989 was the second.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 28)


Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike