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Context of '(9:12 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Flight 77 Attendant Calls Parents and Confirms Hijacking, but Accounts Are Contradictory'

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Charles Burlingame.Charles Burlingame. [Source: Family photo / Associated Press]The 9/11 Commission says the hijacking of Flight 77 takes place between 8:51 a.m., when the plane transmits its last routine radio communication (see 8:51 a.m. September 11, 2001), and 8:54 a.m., when it deviates from its assigned course (see (8:54 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Based on phone calls made from the plane by flight attendant Renee May (see (9:12 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and passenger Barbara Olson (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001), the commission concludes that the hijackers “initiated and sustained their command of the aircraft using knives and box cutters… and moved all of the passengers (and possibly crew) to the rear of the aircraft.” It adds, “Neither of the firsthand accounts to come from Flight 77… mentioned any actual use of violence (e.g., stabbings) or the threat or use of either a bomb or Mace.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 8-9; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 29] People who knew Charles Burlingame, the pilot of Flight 77, will later contend that it would have required a difficult struggle for the hijackers to gain control of the plane from him. [Washington Post, 9/11/2002] Burlingame was a military man who’d flown Navy jets for eight years, served several tours at the Navy’s elite Top Gun school, and been in the Naval Reserve for 17 years. [Associated Press, 12/6/2001] His sister, Debra Burlingame, says, “This was a guy that’s been through SERE [Survival Evasion Resistance Escape] school in the Navy and had very tough psychological and physical preparation.” [Journal News (Westchester), 12/30/2003] Admiral Timothy Keating, who was a classmate of Burlingame’s from the Navy and a flight school friend, says, “I was in a plebe summer boxing match with Chick, and he pounded me.… Chick was really tough, and the terrorists had to perform some inhumane act to get him out of that cockpit, I guarantee you.” [CNN, 5/16/2006] Yet the five alleged hijackers do not appear to have been the kinds of people that would be a particularly dangerous opponent. Pilot Hani Hanjour was skinny and barely over 5 feet tall. [Washington Post, 10/15/2001] And according to the 9/11 Commission, the “so-called muscle hijackers actually were not physically imposing,” with the majority of them being between 5 feet 5 and 5 feet 7 in height, “and slender in build.” [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004] Senator John Warner (R-VA) later says “the examination of his remains… indicated Captain Burlingame was in a struggle and died before the crash, doing his best to save lives on the aircraft and on the ground.” [Washington Post, 12/8/2001]

Entity Tags: Hani Hanjour, John W. Warner, Charles Burlingame

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Flight 77 from Washington begins to go off course over southern Ohio, turning to the southwest. [Washington Post, 9/12/2001; Newsday, 9/23/2001; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

American Airlines initiates the “lockout” procedure to protect information about Flight 77. This standard procedure acknowledges an emergency on the flight and isolates information about it, so the airline’s top leadership can manage the case. A lockout safeguards information against being altered or released, and protects the identities of the plane’s passengers and crew. FAA air traffic controllers first alerted American Airlines about their loss of contact with Flight 77 at 8:58 (see 8:58 a.m. September 11, 2001), and called the airline again about the flight at 9:02 (see 9:02 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 12-13 and 30]

Entity Tags: American Airlines

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

By this time, officials at American Airlines’ System Operations Control in Fort Worth, Texas have mistakenly concluded that the second aircraft to hit the World Trade Center might have been Flight 77. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 9; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 30] American Airlines learned that communications had been lost with Flight 77 just before 9 a.m. (see 8:58 a.m. September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: American Airlines

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Renee May.
Renee May. [Source: Family photo]Renee May, a flight attendant on Flight 77, calls her parents in Las Vegas and reports her plane has been hijacked. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 9; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006] According to author Tom Murphy, May previously tried calling the American Airlines flight services office at Washington’s Reagan National Airport, but all the lines there were busy. [Murphy, 2006, pp. 56-57] However, a summary of the phone calls made from the four hijacked planes that is presented at the 2006 Zacarias Moussaoui trial will make no mention of this earlier call. May’s first attempt at calling her parents, at 9:11 a.m., had not connected, but her second attempt a minute later is successful, and the call lasts for two-and-a-half minutes. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 31; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006] According to reports shortly after 9/11 in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, May makes her call using a cell phone. [Las Vegas Review-Journal, 9/13/2001; Las Vegas Review-Journal, 9/15/2001] But at the Moussaoui trial it will be claimed she uses an Airfone. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 7 pdf file] According to most accounts, including that of the 9/11 Commission, she speaks to her mother, Nancy May. [Las Vegas Review-Journal, 9/13/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 9; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 7 pdf file] But according to Murphy, she speaks with her father, Ronald May. [Murphy, 2006, pp. 57] Renee reports that her plane is being hijacked. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 31] Although it will be officially claimed that there are five hijackers on Flight 77, she says six individuals have taken over the plane (see Between 9:12 a.m. and 9:15 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/27/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 2-3 and 9] Renee says the hijackers have moved people to the rear of the aircraft, though it is unclear whether she is referring to all of the passengers or just the flight’s crew. She tells her parent (either her mother or father, depending on the account) to call American Airlines and inform it of the hijacking. She gives three numbers in Northern Virginia to call. Before the time Flight 77 crashes, Renee May’s mother (or her father, according to Murphy) is able to contact an American Airlines employee at Reagan National Airport and pass on what their daughter has reported (see (Between 9:15 a.m. and 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 31; Murphy, 2006, pp. 57]

Entity Tags: Ronald May, Nancy May, Renee May

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In a phone call from Flight 77, flight attendant Renee May describes six hijackers on her plane, yet official accounts will state there are only five. May is able to call her parents from Flight 77 to report that her plane has been hijacked (see (9:12 a.m.) September 11, 2001). She says six individuals have carried out the hijacking. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 9; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 31] Yet, despite this, the official claim put forward by the FBI and later the 9/11 Commission will be that there are five hijackers—not six—on this flight. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/27/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 27] Apparently, the only other person to make a phone call from Flight 77 is passenger Barbara Olson, who reaches her husband (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/12/2001; 9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004 pdf file] But Olson does not appear to make any reference to the number of hijackers on the plane. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001 pdf file; CNN, 9/14/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 9]

Entity Tags: Ronald May, Renee May, Nancy May

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Toni Knisley.Toni Knisley. [Source: ReclaimingTheSky.com]At some time before the Pentagon is hit, one of the parents of flight attendant Renee May call an American Airlines employee at Reagan National Airport just outside Washington, DC, and report that their daughter has contacted them from Flight 77, which has been hijacked. May called her parents at 9:12 a.m., reported that her plane was being hijacked, and asked them to pass this information on to American Airlines (see (9:12 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 31] The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that it is May’s mother, Nancy May, who makes the call to American Airlines. [Las Vegas Review-Journal, 9/13/2001] This claim is repeated at the 2006 Zacarias Moussaoui trial. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 7 pdf file] But according to author Tom Murphy, it is her father, Ronald May, who makes the call. [Murphy, 2006, pp. 57] The parent describes the information provided by their daughter, including her flight number and her phone number on board the plane. According to the 9/11 Commission, the American Airlines employee initially thinks May’s mother (who the Commission indicates makes the call) is talking about the aircraft that crashed into the World Trade Center. But Nancy May repeats that she is referring to Flight 77, which is still in the air. (The error could possibly be because, by 9:08 a.m., officials at American Airlines’ System Operations Control in Texas mistakenly concluded that the second aircraft to hit the World Trade Center may have been Flight 77 (see 9:08 a.m. September 11, 2001).) [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 30-31] The employee, a secretary, then passes on the information about May’s call to Toni Knisley, a flight service manager at the airport. Knisley rushes to her office and enters May’s employee number into the computer to call up her schedule. This shows she was booked on Flight 77, Washington Dulles Airport to Los Angeles, scheduled to depart at 8:10 a.m. Knisley tries to log onto the flight to view its status, but the information is blocked, so she cannot see if it is still flying or where it is. [Murphy, 2006, pp. 56-57] (It is possible the information is blocked as a result of American Airlines having already initiated “lockout” procedures to protect information about Flight 77 (see 9:05 a.m. September 11, 2001).)

Entity Tags: American Airlines, Renee May, Nancy May, Ronald May, Toni Knisley

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Barbara Olson.Barbara Olson. [Source: Richard Eillis/ Getty Images]A passenger on Flight 77, Barbara Olson, calls her husband, Theodore (Ted) Olson, who is solicitor general at the Justice Department. [San Francisco Chronicle, 7/23/2004] Ted Olson is in his Justice Department office watching news of the attacks on the World Trade Center on television when his wife calls. A few days later, he will recall: “She told me that she had been herded to the back of the plane. She mentioned that they had used knives and box cutters to hijack the plane. She mentioned that the pilot had announced that the plane had been hijacked.” [CNN, 9/14/2001] He tells her that two planes have hit the WTC. [Daily Telegraph, 3/5/2002] Barbara Olson says she feels nobody is taking charge. [CNN, 9/12/2001] Ted Olson doesn’t know if she is near the pilots, but at one point she asks: “What shall I tell the pilot? What can I tell the pilot to do?” [CNN, 9/14/2001] Then the call is cut off without warning. [Newsweek, 9/29/2001]
Ted Olson's Recollections Vague - Ted Olson’s recollection of the call’s timing will be extremely vague. He will say the call “must have been 9:15 [a.m.] or 9:30 [a.m.]. Someone would have to reconstruct the time for me.” [CNN, 9/14/2001] Other accounts place the call around 9:25 a.m. [Miami Herald, 9/14/2001; New York Times, 9/15/2001; Washington Post, 9/21/2001] The call is said to last about a minute. [Washington Post, 9/12/2001] By some accounts, Ted Olson’s message to his wife, that planes have hit the WTC, comes later, in a second phone call. [Washington Post, 9/21/2001] According to one account, Barbara Olson calls her husband from inside a bathroom. [Evening Standard, 9/12/2001] But in another, she is near a pilot, and in yet another she is near two pilots. [Boston Globe, 11/23/2001]
Conflicting Accounts of Type of Phone Used - Ted Olson’s accounts of how his wife makes her calls are also conflicting. Three days after 9/11, he will say: “I found out later that she was having, for some reason, to call collect and was having trouble getting through. You know how it is to get through to a government institution when you’re calling collect.” He says he doesn’t know what kind of phone she uses, but he has “assumed that it must have been on the airplane phone, and that she somehow didn’t have access to her credit cards. Otherwise, she would have used her cell phone and called me.” [Hannity & Colmes, 9/14/2001] Why Barbara Olson would have needed access to her credit cards to call him on her cell phone is not explained. However, in another interview on the same day, Ted Olson will say his wife uses a cell phone and her call may be cut off “because the signals from cell phones coming from airplanes don’t work that well.” [CNN, 9/14/2001] Six months later, he will claim she calls collect, “using the phone in the passengers’ seats.” [Daily Telegraph, 3/5/2002] However, it is not possible to call on seatback phones, collect or otherwise, without a credit card, which would render making a collect call moot. Many other details in Ted Olson’s accounts are conflicting, and he will fault his memory and say he “tends to mix the two [calls from his wife] up because of the emotion of the events.” [CNN, 9/14/2001]
Call Supposedly Made through Secretary - According to official reports, Barbara Olson is able to reach her husband through a secretary, Lori Lynn Keyton, twice, at around 9:15 a.m. The first call is collect and comes through a live operator, while the second is direct. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001 pdf file; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/14/2001; 9/11 Commission, 5/20/2004]

Entity Tags: Barbara Olson, Lori Lynn Keyton, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The conservative lobbying and advocacy group Citizens United (CU) releases a documentary intended as a refutation of the popular documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11 (see June 25, 2004), a film by liberal documentarian Michael Moore that savaged the Bush administration’s handling of the 9/11 attacks. The CU film is entitled Celsius 41.11—The Temperature at Which the Brain Begins to Die. CU spent six weeks making the film, and is releasing it in small venues around the nation after the Federal Election Commission (FEC) denied the organization permission to broadcast it on television (see September 8, 2004). (In August, the FEC dismissed a complaint against Moore over Fahrenheit 9/11 filed by CU—see August 6, 2004.) The slogan for the movie is “The Truth Behind the Lies of Fahrenheit 9/11!” The movie was written and produced by Lionel Chetwynd, who has written and produced a number of Hollywood feature films and documentaries. Chetwynd, a vocal conservative, produced the September 2003 “docudrama” 9/11: Time of Crisis, which portrayed President Bush as a near-action hero during and after the 9/11 attacks, and took significant liberties with the actual events (see September 7, 2003). Of this film, Chetwynd says: “We could have gone wall to wall with red meat on this, but we purposely didn’t. The cheap shots may be entertaining in Moore’s film, but we wanted to make the intellectual case and go beyond lecturing to the converted.” New York Times reporter John Tierney describes the movie as overtly intellectual, sometimes appearing more as a PowerPoint presentation than a film made to appeal to a wider audience. It features a point-by-point defense of Bush’s actions during the 9/11 attacks, and features “politicians, journalists, and scholars discoursing on the legality of the Florida recount in 2000, the Clinton administration’s record on fighting terrorism, and the theory of American exceptionalism.” There are a few “red meat” moments, Tierney notes, including the juxtaposition of the Twin Towers burning as Moore says in a voiceover, “There is no terrorist threat.” It also includes a few slaps against Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA), mostly in the form of a country song where the singer Larry Gatlin sings, “John boy, please tell us which way the wind’s blowing,” a reference to the Bush campaign’s attempt to portray Kerry as a “flip-flopper” who goes back and forth in his views on various issues. The Georgetown premiere of the movie attracts some 300 viewers, almost all Republicans, according to Tierney. The audience, according to Tierney, views the film as more “thoughtful and accurate” than Moore’s film, and unlikely to make anywhere near the profits the earlier film garnered. Chetwynd says he resisted the temptation to launch an all-out assault on Kerry “the way that Moore did with Bush.” Filmgoer Jerome Corsi, who has written a bestselling book attacking Kerry’s Vietnam record, praises the film, as does Debra Burlingame, whose brother was the pilot of the airplane that was flown into the Pentagon on the morning of September 11, 2001 (see 8:51 a.m.-8:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). Burlingame, a founder of a group of 9/11 victim relatives that supports Bush, says: “Michael Moore actually used footage of the Pentagon in flames as a sight gag. It was really hard to sit there in the theater listening to people laugh at that scene knowing my brother was on that plane. I wish more people would see this film instead.” [New York Times, 9/30/2004] In October, the Washington Post’s Philip Kennicott will dismiss the film as “generat[ing] heat but no new light,” calling it “sad in a sad sort of way… dull, lazy, and inconsistent,” and suffused with an “unabashed idolatry of the Great Leader (in this case, George W. Bush)” in the same way that Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl made her documentaries (he wonders, “Has the conservative worldview really been reduced to a slavish worship of authority?”). Kennicott will ask if the film is an attempt to refute Moore’s documentary or an “overlong attack ad on John Kerry,” and concludes that the film is little more than a combination of “dreadful political advertisements and dreadful political talk shows.” [Washington Post, 10/22/2004] TV Guide’s Maitland McDonagh will call the film a “shrill, repetitive screed” obviously released just in time to influence the 2004 presidential election, and bearing “all the hallmarks of having been thrown together in a heated rush.” [TV Guide, 10/2004]

Entity Tags: Jerome Corsi, Debra Burlingame, Clinton administration, Citizens United, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Philip Kennicott, Lionel Chetwynd, Federal Election Commission, Larry Gatlin, Leni Riefenstahl, John Tierney (New York Times), Maitland McDonagh, John Kerry, Michael Moore

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Domestic Propaganda, 2004 Elections

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