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Context of '(9:09 a.m. and After) September 11, 2001: Numerous False Reports of Hijacked Aircraft Cause Confusion'

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William Glover.William Glover. [Source: Thomas Doscher / US Air Force]The NORAD operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, receives numerous reports from the FAA of additional hijacked aircraft, but most of these reports turn out to be incorrect. Lieutenant Colonel William Glover, the commander of NORAD’s Air Warning Center, will later recall that after 9:03 a.m., when the second plane hits the World Trade Center, those in the operations center are “starting to receive reports… that we have these hijackings coming in.” He will say, “We had all these other reports coming in now, we were receiving from FAA, that there’s other issues on there.” (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/8/2011) According to Glover, the FAA says to NORAD, “Hey, this may be a possible hijack, or this aircraft may be a possible hijack.” As a result, those in the operations center “did not know how many more there were. Were there five, six, seven, or eight?” (BBC 9/1/2002) Major General Rick Findley, NORAD’s director of operations, will similarly recall: “Lots of other reports were starting to come in. And now you’re not too sure. If they’re that clever to coordinate that kind of attack, what else is taking place across North America?” (Simmie 12/9/2001) According to Glover, the uncertainty about how many additional hijacked planes there are will lead NORAD to implement a limited version of a plan called SCATANA, which clears the skies and gives the military control of US airspace (see (11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Scott 6/3/2002; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) However, most of the additional hijackings that the FAA is reporting to NORAD turn out to be false alarms. Glover will say that most of the reports “were not true.” (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/8/2011) According to the 9/11 Commission Report, there are “multiple erroneous reports of hijacked aircraft” during the morning (see (9:09 a.m. and After) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 28)

NEADS commander Robert Marr.NEADS commander Robert Marr. [Source: Dick Blume]Numerous reports incorrectly claiming that aircraft have been hijacked are received while the terrorist attacks are taking place and into the afternoon. (Code One Magazine 1/2002; Baker 3/31/2005; Graff 9/9/2016) There are “multiple erroneous reports of hijacked aircraft” during the morning, according to the 9/11 Commission Report. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 28) At around 9:09 a.m., the FAA Command Center reports that 11 aircraft are either not communicating with FAA facilities or flying unexpected routes. (Scott 6/3/2002) Major General Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental United States NORAD Region, will later claim that during the “four-hour ordeal” of the attacks, a total of 21 planes are identified as possible hijackings. (Filson 2002; Code One Magazine 1/2002; Filson 2003, pp. 71) Colonel Robert Marr, the battle commander at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), will say, “At one time I was told that across the nation there were some 29 different reports of hijackings.” (Baker 3/31/2005) Secret Service agent Dave Wilkinson, who travels with President Bush on Air Force One after it leaves Sarasota, Florida (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001), will recall that by the time the plane reaches Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, at 2:50 p.m. (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001), “there were like 15 to 20 planes still unaccounted for” nationwide. “For everything we knew, they were all hijacked,” he will say. (Graff 9/9/2016) Officials will claim that these false reports cause considerable confusion. Arnold will recall that particularly during the time between the Pentagon being hit at, 9:37 a.m., and Flight 93 going down, at around 10:03 a.m., “a number of aircraft are being called possibly hijacked.… There was a lot of confusion, as you can imagine.” (Filson 2003, pp. 71-73) He will say: “We were receiving many reports of hijacked aircraft. When we received those calls, we might not know from where the aircraft had departed. We also didn’t know the location of the airplane.” (Code One Magazine 1/2002) Marr will comment: “There were a number of false reports out there. What was valid? What was a guess? We just didn’t know.” (Filson 2003, pp. 73) Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Victoria Clarke, who is in the Pentagon during the attacks and for most of the rest of the day, will recall: “There were lots of false signals out there. There were false hijack squawks, and a great part of the challenge was sorting through what was a legitimate threat and what wasn’t.” (CNN 6/17/2004; Clarke 2006, pp. 215-231)

The FAA Command Center in Herndon, Virginia.The FAA Command Center in Herndon, Virginia. [Source: Federal Aviation Administration]Ben Sliney, the national operations manager at the FAA’s Herndon Command Center, puts the word out that he wants all air traffic control facilities around the US to inform him of anything unusual that occurs with the flights they are handling. In response, news of suspicious activity quickly starts coming in to the Command Center. (Spencer 2008, pp. 125-126)
Command Center Calls Field Facilities - Sliney wants air traffic control facilities to notify him of anything out of the ordinary, such as a radar target disappearing from the radar scope, loss of communication with an aircraft, or an aircraft making an unauthorized change of course. He also wants to know immediately of any glitches that occur, even if these are common, everyday problems, such as a flight deviating from its course, missing a frequency change, overlooking a radio call, or getting a transponder code wrong. The center’s controllers at each regional desk therefore start calling their field facilities, and ask them to report any unusual occurrences. (9/11 Commission 7/22/2003 pdf file; Spencer 2008, pp. 125) The Command Center has telecommunications lines to all the major air traffic control facilities in the US, which enables it to reach out to those facilities and establish the big picture about aircraft activity. (Freni 2003, pp. 64)
'More and More' Responses Received - Following the call for information, numerous reports of suspicious activity are received from the air traffic control facilities. (Spencer 2008, pp. 125-126) Linda Schuessler, the deputy director of system operations at the Command Center, will later recall, “[W]e started getting more and more calls about bomb threats, about aircraft that we had lost communication or radar identification with.” (Bond 12/17/2001)
Center Lists Suspect Aircraft - Sliney wants a list compiled of the reportedly suspicious aircraft. A dry-erase board is set up in the middle of the room. On it a manager keeps track of the reports that are coming in, writing down where each suspect aircraft was last seen, who was working it, where the flight originated, and where it is going. Another person contacts the field facilities to follow up on the reports. (9/11 Commission 7/22/2003 pdf file; Spencer 2008, pp. 126)
Two Dozen Suspicious Flights - Author Pamela Freni will later describe, “[F]or the next several hours the call signs and status” of every suspicious aircraft will be recorded. Command Center personnel call “airline operations centers, trying to determine any crises on each flight. Only when each plane landed or was found safe did its identification information disappear from the board. Upward to two dozen were listed at one time, but ultimately the number was whittled to 11 highly suspicious cases” (see (9:09 a.m. and After) September 11, 2001). “Nine of those airplanes would land safely. Two of them—AA 77 and UA 93—would not.” (Freni 2003, pp. 64-65)

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)

Air Force One departs Sarasota.Air Force One departs Sarasota. [Source: Associated Press]Air Force One takes off from off from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport in Florida with President Bush on board. (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39) The plane takes off without any fighter jets protecting it. “The object seemed to be simply to get the president airborne and out of the way,” an administration official will later say. (Langley 12/16/2001) There are still 3,520 planes in the air over the US. (Adams, Levin, and Morrison 8/13/2002) About half of the planes in the Florida region where Bush’s plane is are still airborne. (Heller 9/7/2002) Apparently, fighters don’t meet up with Air Force One until over an hour and a half later (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will claim to have heard at around 9:50 a.m. from the White House bunker containing Vice President Dick Cheney that a fighter escort had been authorized. (Clarke 2004, pp. 8-9)

NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) receives a call from a NORAD unit in Canada, reporting another suspected hijacked aircraft that is heading south from Canada, across the border toward Washington, DC. (Bronner 8/1/2006)
Aircraft Reported on Chat System - A member of staff at NEADS relays to their colleagues that the aircraft is from an “unknown departure airport, heading towards Washington,” but they do not “know any codes or anything” else about it. (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001) Another member of staff at NEADS calls the Canadian unit for more information. A Lance Corporal Nicholson there says only that he has seen “something on the chat” about a “possible” aircraft. (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001) (Nicholson is presumably referring to NORAD’s computer chat system. (Spencer 2008, pp. 139) )
Fighter Unit Contacted - According to author Lynn Spencer, NEADS battle commander Colonel Robert Marr contacts a military unit in Syracuse, New York, to get fighter jets sent after the suspicious flight. (Spencer 2008, pp. 223) However, the first jets to launch from Syracuse will not take off until 10:42 a.m. (see 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Wasilewski 9/12/2001)
Report Is a False Alarm - The suspected hijacking is soon revealed to be a false alarm. Nicholson will call from Canada and tell NEADS: “Be advised… that our [intelligence team] is not assessing that there is an actual aircraft problem. It’s just that there could be problems from our area.… There’s no actual aircraft that we suspect as being a danger.” He will add that his intelligence people “haven’t got any particular aircraft in mind.” (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001; Bronner 8/1/2006)
Numerous Erroneous Reports - This is one of the numerous mistaken reports of hijackings received during the course of the morning (see (9:09 a.m. and After) September 11, 2001). According to Vanity Fair: “In the barrage of information and misinformation, it becomes increasingly difficult for the controllers [at NEADS] to keep count of how many suspected hijackings are pending. So far, it is known that three have hit buildings, but given the uncertainty about the fates of American 11 and American 77—no one knows yet that this is the plane that hit the Pentagon—the sense at NEADS is that there are possibly three hijacked jets still out there, and who knows how many more yet to be reported.” At the time NEADS is informed of the suspicious aircraft coming in from Canada, “no one on the military side is aware that United 93 has been hijacked.” (Bronner 8/1/2006)

The entrance to Offutt Air Force Base’s bunker.The entrance to Offutt Air Force Base’s bunker. [Source: CBC]Air Force One, with President Bush on board, lands at Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Nebraska, accompanied by two F-16 fighter jets. (Tapper 9/12/2001; Bamford 2004, pp. 89; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 326) Offutt is the home of the US Strategic Command (Stratcom), which controls America’s nuclear weapons. (Associated Press 9/11/2001; Hansen 9/6/2011) The large base is one of the most heavily defended in the US. (Langley 12/16/2001) Personnel there were told earlier in the day that the president might come to Offutt during the crisis but they only received confirmation that he would be landing at the base about 20 to 30 minutes ago. (Dejka 2/27/2002; Dejka 9/8/2002; Liewer 9/9/2016) They have, however, taken the initiative to start preparing for his arrival. “There were pretty wide-scale preparations going on anticipating that the president might come, without knowing for sure, even before we got notice that he was coming,” Admiral Richard Mies, commander in chief of Stratcom, will later recall. “We’d started to evacuate the main quarters that could be used for VIPs and install some of the protection there that’d be needed in case [Bush] needed to spend the night,” Mies will say. (Kelly 12/27/2011; Graff 9/9/2016) Journalists on Air Force One were not told they would be landing at Offutt. However, they learned what was happening when they saw a local television channel showing the plane arriving at the base (see (2:50 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Gilbert et al. 2002, pp. 198; Sammon 2002, pp. 120-121; Sylvester and Huffman 2002, pp. 138) Bush will get off the plane about 10 minutes after it lands and then be taken to an underground command center (see (3:00 p.m.-3:10 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Tapper 9/12/2001; Bamford 2004, pp. 89) He will conduct a meeting of the National Security Council in a secure video teleconference while he is at the base (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 10/8/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 326) Personnel at Offutt were the middle of a major training exercise called Global Guardian when America came under attack this morning (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001 and Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001), although the exercise has now been canceled (see (10:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Dejka 9/8/2002; Schmitt and Shanker 2011, pp. 22)

A US Airways airliner.A US Airways airliner. [Source: Public domain]A US Airways plane that is flying to the United States from Madrid, Spain, is incorrectly suspected of being hijacked. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001; Rice 10/24/2001) It is stated over an FAA teleconference that the White House has reported this suspicious aircraft, which is heading to Philadelphia International Airport, and the military is scrambling fighter jets in response to it. (Federal Aviation Administration 1/2/2002 pdf file) NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) was alerted to the plane by US Customs and the FBI, according to a NORAD representative on the Pentagon’s air threat conference call (see 9:37 a.m.-9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). NORAD has been unable to locate the aircraft on radar, according to the NORAD representative. (US Department of Defense 9/11/2001) Accounts conflict over whether the plane is US Airways Flight 930 or Flight 937. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 1/2/2002 pdf file)
Plane Is Reportedly Transmitting the Hijack Signal - Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, who is in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, will later recall that when those in the PEOC learn of the suspect flight, “we got word that it was only 30 minutes or so outside of US airspace.” According to Libby, the plane’s transponder is transmitting the code for a hijacking: He will say it is reported that the flight has been “showing hijacking through some electronic signal.” (Libby 11/14/2001) However, according to the NORAD representative on the air threat conference call, the plane’s transponder has not been “squawking” the code for a hijacking. “We do not have squawk indication at this point,” he has said.
Plane Is Reportedly Diverted to Pittsburgh - An FAA representative on the air threat conference call apparently says an e-mail has been sent from the suspicious aircraft, stating that the plane is being diverted to Pittsburgh, although the FAA representative’s communications are distorted and therefore unclear. (US Department of Defense 9/11/2001)
President Says Fighters Can Shoot Down the Plane - President Bush discusses the suspicious US Airways flight with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld over the air threat conference call after landing at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001) and Major General Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental United States NORAD Region (CONR), listens in. (Filson 2003, pp. 87-88) Rumsfeld wants Bush to confirm that fighters are authorized to shoot down the plane if it is considered a threat to a city in the US. “The reason I called… was just to verify that your authorization for the use of force would apply as well in this situation,” he says. Bush replies, “It does, but let us make sure that the fighters and you on the ground get all the facts.” (US Department of Defense 9/11/2001)
Plane Is on the Ground in Spain - After a time, it will be found that the plane is not a threat and is on the ground in Spain. Arnold will be called by Colonel Robert Marr, the battle commander at NEADS, and told, “We just talked to the airline and that aircraft is back on the ground in Madrid.” (Filson 2003, pp. 88) According to Libby, “It turned out that, I think, it was only 35 minutes out of Spanish airspace, not out of our airspace.” (Libby 11/14/2001) Reggie Settles, the FAA representative at NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center in Colorado, will be informed by US Airways that Flight 937 in fact never existed. However, he will be told, there is a US Airways Flight 911, which “took off from Madrid,” but “has turned back and returned to Madrid,” and “is not en route to the United States.” (US Department of Defense 9/11/2001)
President Decides to Leave Offutt after the Concerns Are Resolved - After he learns that the suspicious plane is back in Spain, Arnold will pick up the hot line and tell Bush: “Mr. President, this is the CONR commander.… No problem with Madrid.” According to Arnold, Bush will reply, “Okay, then I’m getting airborne.” (Filson 2003, pp. 88) Bush will take off from Offutt aboard Air Force One at around 4:30 p.m. (see (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (CNN 9/12/2001) Numerous aircraft are incorrectly suspected of being hijacked on this day (see (9:09 a.m. and After) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 28; Baker 3/31/2005) The US Airways flight from Madrid is the last of these, according to Arnold. (Code One Magazine 1/2002)


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