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Context of '(9:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001: American Airlines Orders Its Flights to Land Immediately'

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United Airlines dispatcher Ed Ballinger sends messages to the flights he is responsible for, telling them to land, and is also informed that Flight 93 is possibly hijacked. At 9:50, Ballinger sends a text message to Flight 93 and United’s other transcontinental flights, instructing them to “land ASP at nearest UAL airport—ORD terrorist.” (“ASP” is presumably short for “as soon as possible”; what “ORD” stands for is unreported.) The message also warns to beware of cockpit intrusion, stating, “No one in to cockpit—Land asp.” Over the next minute, Ballinger sends two more text messages to his flights, advising them to land as soon as possible. He still receives no response from Flight 93. United Airlines ordered that all its aircraft be grounded about five minutes earlier (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 1/27/2004; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 44) However, Ballinger will later say that United dispatchers are told by their superiors, “Don’t tell the pilots why we want them to land.” (Davis 4/14/2004) Also around this time, Rich Miles, the manager at United’s System Operations Control center, informs Ballinger about a call recently received by United’s maintenance facility in San Francisco, from an attendant on Flight 93, who reported that her plane had been hijacked (see 9:35 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Mccartney and Carey 10/15/2001; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 43)

Ronald Bucca.
Ronald Bucca. [Source: Public domain]Two firefighters climbing up the South Tower, Orio Palmer and Ronald Bucca, have reached its 78th floor, the lower end of the impact zone where Flight 175 hit. (Dwyer and Fessenden 8/4/2002) They are just two floors below the level where, minutes later, its collapse initiates. (Federal Emergency Management Agency 5/1/2002, pp. 2-34) Over radio, Palmer tells firefighter Joseph Leavey, “We’ve got two isolated pockets of fire. We should be able to knock it down with two lines.” (Dwyer and Flynn 2005, pp. 206) The fact that they reached so high up the tower only comes to light almost a year later, when a tape of radio communications from 9/11 is made public (see August 4, 2002). The New York Times will report “[N]owhere on the tape is there any indication that firefighters had the slightest indication that the tower had become unstable or that it could fall.” (Dwyer and Flynn 11/9/2002) Palmer’s communication appears to contradict claims that “extreme fires” contributed to the tower’s collapse. (Barter 9/13/2001; Lipton 10/20/2004) Ronald Bucca, a Special Forces veteran, had actually conducted his own private research into Islamic militancy following the 1993 WTC bombing. He’d even taken time, in 1996, to attend the beginning of the trial of Ramzi Yousef, a mastermind of the bombing (see September 5, 1996). (Lance 2003, pp. 180-183, 333-334)

NORAD’s Continental United States Region (CONR) is told it will not need to provide fighter jets to escort Air Force One when the plane takes off from Sarasota, Florida. (Arnold 11/19/2001) While President Bush is visiting the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Air Force One is on the ground at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport. (Paltrow 3/22/2004 pdf file; Tillman 2/29/2012 pdf file) Major General Larry Arnold, the CONR commander, will later recall that around this time, CONR “knew that the president was down in Florida” but it “didn’t know what he was going to do.” “Eventually,” he will say, “we asked the question: If he takes off, do we need to escort?” Arnold will not state who CONR, which is based at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, asks this question to. But the person or agency says no. CONR will only be asked to provide fighters to escort Air Force One after 9:54 a.m., when the plane takes off from Sarasota (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). “[T]he airplane took off and we got immediate word that the Secret Service had asked us to escort [it],” Arnold will recall. (Arnold 11/19/2001) He will say that CONR “received tasking from the Secret Service through the Joint [Chiefs of] Staff and NORAD to follow the president and protect him.” (Code One Magazine 1/2002) In Florida, NORAD has two fighters on alert at Homestead Air Reserve Base and two fighters on alert at Tyndall Air Force Base. (McKenna 12/1999; Martin 7/4/2004) However, its Southeast Air Defense Sector (SEADS) will scramble fighters from Ellington Field in Texas to escort Air Force One (see (After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Schmidt 9/19/2001; Rosenfeld and Gross 2007, pp. 40) Furthermore, these fighters will only reach Air Force One at around 11:29 a.m., more than 90 minutes after the plane takes off (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Martin 7/4/2004)

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)

Acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers enters the National Military Command Center (NMCC) within the Pentagon, though exactly when this happens remains unclear. According to his own statements, he was on Capitol Hill, in the offices of Senator Max Cleland (D-GA), from just before 9:00 a.m. until around the time the Pentagon was hit. He’d then headed back to the Pentagon (see Shortly Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (Shortly After 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Armed Forces Radio And Television Service 10/17/2001; Myers 9/11/2002; Myers 6/29/2006) According to the 9/11 Commission, Myers joins the air threat conference call from the NMCC at “shortly before 10:00.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 38) But the American Forces Press Service reports that he arrives at the NMCC “about 15 minutes” before Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (who arrives around 10:30), meaning at about 10:15 a.m. (Garamone 9/8/2006) Rumsfeld claims that, as he enters the NMCC, Myers has “just returned from Capitol Hill.” (9/11 Commission 3/23/2004) Cleland verifies that Myers was with him on Capitol Hill until around the time of the Pentagon attack. (CNN 11/20/2001; Baxter and Galloway 6/16/2003) But counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke claims that Myers has been taking part in a video conference since shortly after the second attack on the WTC, and has been visible on the Pentagon screen (see (9:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 9:28 a.m. September 11, 2001), thereby implying Myers has been at the Pentagon all along. (Clarke 2004, pp. 3 and 5) Myers tells the 9/11 Commission, “After I reached the National Military Command Center (NMCC), I asked questions to determine where Secretary Rumsfeld was, how the FAA was handling airborne flights, and the status of fighters prepared to intercept any hijacked aircraft inbound to Washington.” (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004 pdf file)

Members of New York Police Department’s elite Emergency Service Unit (ESU) are given an order that means they have to get out of the World Trade Center or delay entering it and consequently many of them will avoid being killed when the South Tower collapses, at 9:59 a.m. (Keegan and Davis 2006, pp. 101-102; Appel 2009, pp. 112-113) The ESU is a highly trained organization comprised of first response rescuers. (City of New York 6/29/2002) Its members respond to situations that require the most specialized training, such as hostage taking and water rescue, and use the most advanced equipment. (Keegan and Davis 2006, pp. 101)
Officers Are Ordered to Come Down from the WTC - Inspector Ronald Wasson, commanding officer of the ESU, earlier on divided his officers into four teams of five or six men and then sent two teams into each of the Twin Towers to assist the rescue operation. (McPhee and O'Shaughnessy 11/11/2001) But now, ESU commanders give the order for the unit’s members to “go tactical.” This means the officers in the towers have to come out of the buildings and go to the unit’s SWAT (special weapons and tactics) vans; put on their BDU (battle dress uniform) suits, flak jackets, and Kevlar helmets; and arm themselves with heavy weapons and assault rifles.
Commander Thinks Terrorists Might Attack the First Responders - The decision to order ESU officers to go tactical is made by Wasson, according to a book by Lieutenant William Keegan of the Port Authority Police Department. (Keegan and Davis 2006, pp. 101-102) Wasson is currently assembled with a number of other ESU officers outside the Twin Towers, at the corner of West and Vesey Streets. (Appel 2009, pp. 68) He decides that ESU officers should go tactical due to his concern that armed terrorists might attack the first responders at the WTC. He is “worried that with all his personnel inside the buildings, he [has] no way to protect the cops, firefighters, or civilians from the kind of low-intensity warfare—snipers, automatic weapons, car bombs, hostage situations—he [is] sure [will] follow the attack,” Keegan will write. He believes it is the responsibility of the New York Fire Department to deal with the fires in the Twin Towers, while the Police Department should be preparing for what might happen next. Many ESU members will come out of the towers after receiving the order to go tactical, according to Keegan. (Keegan and Davis 2006, pp. 101-102)
Order Is Given after an Officer Hears of the Pentagon Attack - However, according to author Anthea Appel, the order to go tactical is made by Sergeant Tom Sullivan, another ESU officer. Sullivan is currently at the corner of West and Vesey Streets along with Wasson, getting ready to take two teams into the WTC. At 9:56 a.m., after hearing over his radio about the attack on the Pentagon, which occurred at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001), he exclaims, “Screw rescue!” He then pulls his men back and announces that all ESU teams will be “going in tactical,” according to Appel. “I want heavy vests, helmets, rifles, and machine guns,” he says. In response to his announcement, ESU officers start taking off their rescue gear and putting on combat gear. They take off their safety helmets and replace them with ballistic helmets. They take off their air tanks, unbuckle their Roco harnesses, and put on more body armor over their bulletproof vests. They also unlock their gun bins and take out shotguns, submachine guns, and assault rifles. Some officers grumble under their breath, annoyed at being held back. “They didn’t like wasting time fiddling around with equipment,” Appel will comment, “and this sudden switch interrupted their adrenaline momentum.” They will be in the middle of changing into their combat gear when the South Tower collapses (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Appel 2009, pp. 112-113)
Order Is Wrong but Saves Lives - The order to go tactical will turn out to be mistaken as there are no attacks by armed terrorists on the first responders at the WTC. However, as a result of it being issued, numerous ESU members will be outside the Twin Towers instead of inside the buildings when the South Tower comes down and many of them will therefore avoid being killed in the collapse. While 14 ESU members will die in the WTC collapses, a far greater number will survive, Keegan will write, “because Wasson’s order pulled them out of the towers and saved their lives.” (Keegan and Davis 2006, pp. 102) One ESU member, Detective Frank DeMasi, will conclude that Sullivan “definitely saved his life when he made that last-minute decision to switch from rescue to tactical mode,” according to Appel, since the delay while they changed into their combat gear “kept DeMasi and his teammates from walking into the South Tower before it collapsed.” (Appel 2009, pp. 265-266)

Two F-16s belonging to the 147th Fighter Wing.Two F-16s belonging to the 147th Fighter Wing. [Source: Gonda Moncada / Texas Military Forces]Four armed F-16 fighter jets belonging to the Texas Air National Guard are directed toward Air Force One in order to escort the president’s plane. (BBC 9/1/2002; Kohn 9/11/2002; Bombardier 9/8/2006 pdf file; Rosenfeld and Gross 2007, pp. 40)
SEADS Sends Fighters toward Air Force One - Air Force One has taken off from Sarasota, Florida (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001), and the White House has requested a fighter escort for it (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Martin 7/4/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 38) NORAD’s Southeast Air Defense Sector (SEADS) orders jets that belong to the 147th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard toward the president’s plane. (Hehs 4/2002; Filson 2003, pp. 87; Rosenfeld and Gross 2007, pp. 40) Major General Larry Arnold, the commanding general of NORAD’s Continental US Region, will later recall: “We were not told where Air Force One was going. We were told just to follow the president.” (Code One Magazine 1/2002)
Ellington Field an 'Alert' Site - The 147th Fighter Wing is based at Ellington Field, a joint civil and military use airport about 15 miles south of Houston. (Rendon 12/9/2003; GlobalSecurity (.org) 8/21/2005; GlobalSecurity (.org) 1/21/2006) Ellington Field is one of NORAD’s seven “alert” sites around the US, which all have a pair of armed fighters ready to take off immediately if called upon. (McKenna 12/1999; Hebert 2/2002)
Pilots Not Told What Their Target Is - Two of the F-16s sent toward Air Force One are on the ground at Ellington Field and have been placed on “battle stations,” with the pilots sitting in the cockpits, when the scramble order is received. (Hehs 4/2002) The other two have been flying a training mission (see After 9:55 a.m. September 11, 2001), and are pulled off it to escort Air Force One. (Arnold 12/2001 pdf file; Spencer 2008, pp. 255) Among the four pilots are Shane Brotherton and Randy Roberts. Their new mission is so secret that their commander does not tell them where they are going. When they ask what their target is, the commander says, “You’ll know when you see it.” Brotherton will later recall, “I didn’t have any idea what we were going up [for] until that point.” (Kohn 9/11/2002; Spencer 2008, pp. 255)
Jets First to Reach Air Force One - At least two of the 147th Fighter Wing F-16s will be seen from Air Force One at around 11:30 a.m., although an official will tell reporters on board that fighters are escorting the plane about 15 minutes before that time (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). They are the first fighters to reach Air Force One after it left Sarasota, according to most accounts. (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Kohn 9/11/2002; Filson 2003, pp. 87; Martin 7/4/2004; Rosenfeld and Gross 2007, pp. 40; Spencer 2008, pp. 255) However, a few accounts will indicate the first jets to reach it belong to a unit of the Florida Air National Guard located at Jacksonville International Airport (see (10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (US Department of Defense 9/2001; Langley 12/16/2001) The 147th Fighter Wing F-16s will accompany Air Force One all the way to Washington, DC. (Filson 2003, pp. 87-88; Cousins 7/9/2005)

James Nieckarz.James Nieckarz. [Source: Maryknoll Mission Archives]Police officers order members of the public to get away from the World Trade Center, telling them the Twin Towers are in danger of collapsing. Shanthy Nambiar, a reporter for BridgeNews in New York, is standing on Vesey Street, beneath Building 7 of the WTC. She hears someone shout, “You guys shouldn’t be in this area.” She will later recall, “Police officers ordered people to start fleeing the area, saying the towers were in danger of collapse.” She runs north one block and then sees the South Tower coming down (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Casey 2001, pp. 156) Priest Father James Nieckarz is also standing outside Building 7 around this time. He will recall that a couple of police officers come along, shouting out to everyone on the street: “Everyone run to the north. The tower is shaking and may come down.” Nieckarz goes around Building 7 and then, as he is walking north, hears “a loud rumbling roar” behind him as the South Tower collapses. (Milisic 9/12/2001; United States Conference of Catholic Bishops 9/2003, pp. 15) Why the police officers encountered by Nambiar and Nieckarz believe the Twin Towers are in danger of collapsing is unclear. Although a New York City Police Department (NYPD) helicopter has reported “large pieces” falling from the South Tower (see (9:49 a.m.) September 11, 2001), the 9/11 Commission Report will state, “Prior to 9:59, no NYPD helicopter pilot predicted that either tower would collapse.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 304)

The South Tower of the World Trade Center collapses.The South Tower of the World Trade Center collapses. [Source: Associated Press]The South Tower of the World Trade Center tilts to the southeast and then collapses. It was hit by Flight 175 at 9:03 a.m., 56 minutes earlier (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Washington Post 9/12/2001; New York Times 9/12/2001; MSNBC 9/22/2001; Cauchon 12/20/2001; Associated Press 8/21/2002; ABC News 9/11/2002; National Institute of Standards and Technology 9/2005, pp. 44) The first sign of the collapse is visible on floor 82. (National Institute of Standards and Technology 9/2005, pp. 87) The angle of the tilt will be disputed after 9/11 (see September-November 2005), as will the time it takes the towers to fall to the ground (see September 12, 2001-September 2005). (Ashley 10/9/2001; Eagar and Musso 12/2001; PBS Nova 5/2002; National Institute of Standards and Technology 8/30/2006)

A Maryland State Police helicopter.A Maryland State Police helicopter. [Source: Maryland State Police]Sergeant Ronald Galey, the pilot of a US Park Police helicopter responding to the attack on the Pentagon, asks the Maryland State Police to send medical evacuation (medevac) helicopters to help out at the crash scene, but is told, “No, we can’t respond,” apparently because the airspace has been shut down. (Forror 11/2001; Galey 11/20/2001) Galey is flying one of the two Park Police Aviation Unit helicopters that arrived at the Pentagon within minutes of the attack there (see Shortly After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). His helicopter has been circling overhead while the other Park Police helicopter landed to conduct medical evacuations. They are currently the only helicopters to have arrived on the scene.
Pilot Wants More Helicopters to Assist at the Pentagon - Realizing that his helicopter cannot provide its current command and control function and conduct medical evacuations at the same time, Galey requests assistance from other departments that have helicopters equipped to transport injured patients. The first department he calls is the Maryland State Police. (Galey 11/20/2001; McDonnell 2004, pp. 20-22 pdf file) The Maryland State Police Aviation Command owns 12 helicopters and most of its work involves medical transport, with its helicopters carrying injured patients to hospital. (Maryland State Police 2/16/2003; Desmon 3/7/2006) According to Galey, the unit has “the most resources for aircraft, medevac aircraft, that we knew were manned and ready to go.” However, Galey will later recall, in response to his request, “they came back and said, ‘No, we can’t respond.’”
Maryland Police Think They Cannot Launch Helicopters - When Galey is told that the unit cannot respond, he and the rest of his crew are “very shocked,” and, Galey will say, “[T]hat’s when we were starting to suspect there was something more to it.” According to later accounts, the unit cannot respond because the airspace has been shut down. (Forror 11/2001; Galey 11/20/2001) (The FAA has issued a nationwide “ground stop” that prevents any aircraft from taking off (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and has also ordered that all airborne aircraft must land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure 9/21/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 25, 29) Galey is currently unaware that the airspace has been shut down. However, the Maryland State Police helicopters should be able to respond all the same, because NORAD has told him, “The aircraft that you’re calling in, we’re going to allow to come in” (see (Shortly After 9:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). According to Galey, the Maryland State Police “just didn’t know [that] if we requested them they could come.”
Other Departments Send Helicopters - Galey then contacts MedStar at the Washington Hospital Center and AirCare at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Virginia. Each of them dispatches helicopters to the Pentagon. Galey will recall that these two departments “hadn’t gotten the word that the airspace was shut down, and since I’m the one who requested the aircraft and informed NORAD, NORAD allowed them to come in.” (Forror 11/2001; Galey 11/20/2001) It is unclear exactly when Galey contacts the different departments. But according to the Arlington County After-Action Report, the helicopter that MedStar launches arrives at the Pentagon at around 10:18 a.m. Inova Fairfax Hospital launches one helicopter at “approximately 10:00 a.m.” and then sends a second helicopter to the Pentagon at around 10:40 a.m. (US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002, pp. A-45 pdf file)

George Piro.George Piro. [Source: FBI]George Piro and Ken Williams, two agents at the FBI field office in Phoenix, Arizona, visit a flight school in Phoenix to see if any suspicious students have attended it recently and the manager immediately informs them about Hani Hanjour, one of the alleged hijackers of Flight 77. As they watched the terrorist attacks unfolding on television, Piro and Williams decided they wanted to start responding to the crisis on their own initiative, rather than sitting around and waiting for an order. They know Phoenix has the second-highest concentration of flight schools in the nation. Piro therefore looked in the Yellow Pages and found three programs that offer commercial pilot licenses. With this information in hand, the two agents set out to visit some flight schools. The first one they go to is the Sawyer School of Aviation at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix. They ask the manager there if any suspicious students have attended recently. Almost without hesitation, she gives them the file of one such student: Hanjour. (Graff 2011, pp. 325; Graff 5/5/2011) Hanjour received training at the flight school earlier this year and, previously, in 1998 (see 1998 and Summer 2001). (Goldstein, Sun, and Lardner 10/15/2001; Berry 12/29/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 529) He allegedly flew Flight 77 into the Pentagon (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Zimmerman 1/7/2016) Just after they are given the file, Piro receives a call on his cell phone from an agent from the FBI’s Boston office. The agent, who is currently at Logan International Airport in Boston, says he has a name from the passenger manifest for Flight 77 that the Phoenix agents should look into: Hani Hanjour. To the agent’s surprise, Piro replies, “I’m holding his file in my hands right now.” Piro and Williams then head back to their office to report their progress. At the office, Piro tells their squad leader, “I’ve identified one of the hijackers.” Incredulous at this news, the squad leader replies, “Get out of here—I don’t have time for jokes today.” (Graff 2011, pp. 325-326; Graff 5/5/2011)

Flight 93’s transponder, which was switched off after Flight 93 was hijacked, is turned back on just before the plane crashes, thereby revealing the plane’s altitude to air traffic controllers at the FAA’s Cleveland Center. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/11/2001; MSNBC 9/11/2002) A transponder is a device that sends a plane’s identifying information, speed, and altitude to controllers’ radar screens. (Maraniss 9/16/2001) Flight 93’s transponder was switched off at around 9:40 a.m. (see (9:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001), although Cleveland Center controllers have still been able to follow Flight 93 on “primary radar,” which shows less information about a flight (see (9:41 a.m.-10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Federal Bureau of Investigation 1/8/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 29; Sangiacomo 7/3/2011)
Plane Shown to Be Flying at 8,200 Feet - Flight 93’s transponder is reactivated at 10:02 a.m. and 50 seconds, and then stays on for “approximately 20 seconds,” according to “information from the flight data” provided to the FBI later today by Rick Kettell, the manager of the Cleveland Center. After the transponder is turned back on, Flight 93’s radar track is observed by Cleveland Center controllers Linda Justice and Stacey Taylor. The information from the transponder shows them that Flight 93 is at an altitude of 8,200 feet. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 9/16/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 10/2/2003 pdf file)
Plane Soon Disappears from Radar Screens - Flight 93 will crash into the ground at 10:03 a.m. and 11 seconds, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, less than 30 seconds after the transponder is reactivated (see (10:03 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 30) Cleveland Center controllers will see the plane completely disappear from their radar screens around that time. (MSNBC 9/11/2002) A Cleveland Center controller will then report, apparently over an FAA teleconference, that Flight 93’s transponder “came on briefly and then it went back off with the primary, and now we’ve lost him completely.” (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001) “I had two radar hits on [Flight 93],” Taylor will recall, adding that she then “lost the primary target on [Flight 93] and we suspected it had gone down.” (Federal Aviation Administration 9/16/2001 pdf file) The reason Flight 93’s transponder is switched back on just before the plane crashes is unclear. Taylor will comment, a year after 9/11: “That’s something we’ve always wanted to know. Why did the transponder come back on?” She will say Cleveland Center controllers wondered this because they believed that “the hijackers had shut it off so that they couldn’t be tracked.” (MSNBC 9/11/2002)

Smoke rising, minutes after Flight 93 crashes in Pennsylvania.Smoke rising, minutes after Flight 93 crashes in Pennsylvania. [Source: CNN]Exactly when Flight 93 crashes is unclear. According to NORAD, Flight 93 crashes at 10:03 a.m. (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/18/2001) The 9/11 Commission gives an exact time of 11 seconds after 10:03 a.m. It will claim this “time is supported by evidence from the staff’s radar analysis, the flight data recorder, NTSB [National Transportation Safety Board] analysis, and infrared satellite data.” It does note that “[t]he precise crash time has been the subject of some dispute.” (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) However, a seismic study authorized by the US Army and drafted by scientists Won-Young Kim and Gerald Baum to determine when the plane crashed will conclude that the crash happened at 10:06:05 a.m. (Kim and Baum 2002 pdf file; Perlman 12/9/2002) The discrepancy is so puzzling that the Philadelphia Daily News will publish an article on the issue, titled “Three-Minute Discrepancy in Tape.” This notes that leading seismologists agree on the 10:06 a.m. time, give or take a couple of seconds. (Bunch 9/16/2002) The New York Observer will note that, in addition to the seismology study, “The FAA gives a crash time of 10:07 a.m. In addition, the New York Times, drawing on flight controllers in more than one FAA facility, put the time at 10:10 a.m. Up to a seven-minute discrepancy? In terms of an air disaster, seven minutes is close to an eternity. The way our nation has historically treated any airline tragedy is to pair up recordings from the cockpit and air traffic control and parse the timeline down to the hundredths of a second. However, as [former Inspector General of the Transportation Department] Mary Schiavo points out, ‘We don’t have an NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) investigation here, and they ordinarily dissect the timeline to the thousandth of a second.’” (Sheehy 2/15/2004)

In response to the terrorist attacks in the United States, the Russian military cancels a major training exercise it has been holding, turning back its bomber aircraft and calling off planned missile testing. (Simmie 12/9/2001; Doscher 9/8/2011) The Russian Air Force began the exercise—which was being conducted over the North Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic Oceans—on September 10 (see September 10, 2001), and had planned for it to continue until September 14. NORAD has deployed fighter jets to Alaska and Northern Canada to monitor the exercise (see September 9, 2001).
Russians Cancel Exercise to Avoid Confusion - The Russians now call off their exercise, “to avoid misunderstandings, since US defenses were now on high alert in case of further possible terrorist attacks,” according to BBC correspondent Bridget Kendall. (BBC 2001, pp. 161; North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/9/2001; Gertz 9/11/2001) “The Russians knew NORAD would have its hands full,” the Toronto Star will report. Lieutenant Colonel William Glover, the commander of NORAD’s Air Warning Center, will say the Russians stop their exercise “because they understood the magnitude of what had happened to us in the United States. They didn’t want any questions; they didn’t want us worrying about what they would be doing or entering our Air Defense Identification Zone.”
Russia Tells US about Canceling Exercise - The Russians notify the US of their actions. Captain Michael Jellinek, the director of plans, requirements, and readiness at NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center in Colorado, will later recall: “They sent the message to the State Department clearly and unambiguously: ‘Don’t worry about our movements, we’re going to stay down for a while.’”
Russia's Actions Are 'Very Helpful' to US - It is unclear when exactly the Russians call off their exercise. According to the Toronto Star, they “immediately” cancel it “on seeing the attacks in New York and Washington.” Glover will say the Russians notify the US that they are stopping their exercise “after the United Flight 93 went into Shanksville” (see (10:03 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Jellinek will call the Russians’ actions in canceling their exercise “[v]ery, very useful. Very helpful.” Glover will comment, “[T]hat was amazing to me, personally, the fact that they stopped their exercise and… that they told us that they were going to stop the exercise.” (Simmie 12/9/2001; Doscher 9/8/2011) Russian President Vladimir Putin will contact the White House and inform National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice that the Russians are voluntarily canceling their exercise (see Between 10:32 a.m. and 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002)

Several local people believe they hear a missile overhead just before Flight 93 goes down. Barry Lichty, a US Navy veteran and mayor of Indian Lake Borough (just to the east of where Flight 93 crashes), is watching television with his wife. He says he hears “a loud roar above the house that sounded like a missile.… Shortly thereafter, we heard an explosion and a tremor. My first reaction, as a former utility employee, was that maybe someone shot a missile into the substation.” He says Flight 93 “did not come over my house. I don’t know what we heard.” (Kashurba 2002, pp. 158-159) Joe Wilt, who lives a quarter-mile from the crash site, hears a “whistling like a missile, then a loud boom.” He says, “The first thing I thought it was, was a missile.” (Michaud 9/12/2001; Lane and Pan 9/12/2001) And Ernie Stuhl, the mayor of Shanksville, later says, “I know of two people - I will not mention names - that heard a missile. They both live very close, within a couple of hundred yards.… This one fellow’s served in Vietnam and he says he’s heard them, and he heard one that day.” (Bunch 11/18/2001) Officials will emphatically deny that Flight 93 was shot down, as some people later suggest (see September 14, 2001). (Gazarik and Acton 9/14/2001; Longman 2002, pp. 264) However, a number of witnesses report seeing a small, white jet plane near the crash site, around the time Flight 93 reportedly goes down (see (Before and After 10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

Looking straight down onto the Flight 93 crash site. North is to the top. Note the impact point north of the road, and the burned trees to the south of it.Looking straight down onto the Flight 93 crash site. North is to the top. Note the impact point north of the road, and the burned trees to the south of it. [Source: FBI]A second plane, described “as a small, white jet with rear engines and no discernible markings,” is seen by at least ten witnesses flying low and in erratic patterns, not much above treetop level, over the crash site within minutes of United Flight 93 crashing. (Carlin 8/13/2002)
bullet Lee Purbaugh: “I didn’t get a good look but it was white and it circled the area about twice and then it flew off over the horizon.” (Wallace 9/12/2002)
bullet Susan Mcelwain: Less than a minute before the Flight 93 crash rocked the countryside, she sees a small white jet with rear engines and no discernible markings swoop low over her minivan near an intersection and disappear over a hilltop, nearly clipping the tops of trees lining the ridge. (Pillets 9/14/2001) She later adds, “There’s no way I imagined this plane—it was so low it was virtually on top of me. It was white with no markings but it was definitely military, it just had that look. It had two rear engines, a big fin on the back like a spoiler on the back of a car and with two upright fins at the side. I haven’t found one like it on the Internet. It definitely wasn’t one of those executive jets. The FBI came and talked to me and said there was no plane around.… But I saw it and it was there before the crash and it was 40 feet above my head. They did not want my story—nobody here did.” (Wallace 9/12/2002)
bullet John Fleegle and two work colleagues arrive at the crash site “before any fireman or paramedics or anybody.” According to Fleegle, “When we got there, there was a plane flying up above and he was smart, he flew straight for the sun so you couldn’t look at it and see exactly what type of plane, if it was a fighter or what it was.” However, Fleegle claims the plane “was decent sized. It wasn’t just a little private jet or something like that, from what we could see.” (Lappe and Marshall 2004, pp. 35-36)
bullet Dennis Decker and/or Rick Chaney, say: “As soon as we looked up [after hearing the Flight 93 crash], we saw a midsized jet flying low and fast. It appeared to make a loop or part of a circle, and then it turned fast and headed out.” Decker and Chaney described the plane as a Learjet type, with engines mounted near the tail and painted white with no identifying markings. “It was a jet plane, and it had to be flying real close when that 757 went down. If I was the FBI, I’d find out who was driving that plane.” (Pillets 9/14/2001)
bullet Kathy Blades, who is staying about quarter of a mile from the impact site, runs outside after the crash and sees a jet, “with sleek back wings and an angled cockpit,” race overhead. (Bunch 11/18/2001)
bullet Anna Ruth Fisher says, “After the crash, another jet went near over to look.” Her mother, Anna B. Fisher, adds, “We were looking at the smoke cloud when we saw the jets circling up there.” (Kashurba 2002, pp. 27)
bullet Jim Brandt sees a small plane with no markings stay about one or two minutes over the crash site before leaving. (Pittsburgh Channel 9/12/2001)
bullet Bob Page sees a large plane circling the crash site for about two or three minutes, before climbing almost vertically into the sky. He cannot see what kind of plane it is or if there are any markings on it, but says, “It sure wasn’t no puddle jumper.” (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review 9/12/2001)
bullet Tom Spinelli: “I saw the white plane. It was flying around all over the place like it was looking for something. I saw it before and after the crash.” (Wallace 9/12/2002)
The FBI later claims this was a Fairchild Falcon 20 business jet, directed after the crash to fly from 37,000 feet to 5,000 feet and obtain the coordinates for the crash site to help rescuers (see 10:07 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Pittsburgh Channel 9/15/2001; Heltzel and Gibb 9/16/2001) The FBI also says there was a C-130 military cargo aircraft flying at 24,000 feet about 17 miles away (see 10:08 a.m. September 11, 2001), but that plane wasn’t armed and had no role in the crash. (Pittsburgh Channel 9/15/2001; Heltzel and Gibb 9/16/2001) Note that this is the same C-130 that flies very close to Flight 77 right as that planes crashes into the Pentagon (see 9.36 a.m. September 11, 2001).

Falcon 20 business jet.Falcon 20 business jet. [Source: Portuguese Air Force]According to some accounts, following a request from the FAA’s Cleveland Center, a Fairchild Falcon 20 business jet reports seeing puffs of smoke in the area of Flight 93’s last known position. (Heltzel and Gibb 9/16/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 pdf file) The FBI later says the business jet was within 20 miles of Flight 93 when it crashed, at an altitude of 37,000 feet, and on its way to Johnstown. It was asked to descend to 5,000 feet to help locate the crash site for the benefit of the responding emergency crews. (Pittsburgh Channel 9/15/2001) Stacey Taylor appears to be the Cleveland Center controller who made the request. She later recalls: “I had another airplane [other than Flight 93] that I was working. And I told him, I said, ‘Sir,’ I said, ‘I think we have an aircraft down.’ I said, ‘This is entirely up to you, but if you’d be willing to fly over the last place that we spotted this airplane—and see if you can see anything.‘… So he flew over and at first he didn’t see anything and then he said, ‘We see a great big plume or a cloud of smoke.’” (MSNBC 9/9/2006) The business jet belongs to VF Corp, a Greensboro, North Carolina clothing firm. (Heltzel and Gibb 9/16/2001) According to David Newell, VF Corp’s director of aviation and travel, Cleveland Center contacted the plane’s copilot Yates Gladwell when it was at an altitude “in the neighborhood of 3,000 to 4,000 ft,” rather than 37,000 feet, as claimed by the FBI. He will add: “They got down within 1,500 ft. of the ground when they circled. They saw a hole in the ground with smoke coming out of it. They pinpointed the location and then continued on.” (Chertoff et al. 3/2005) This incident occurs around 40 minutes after the FAA initiated a nationwide ground stop, which required planes in the air to land as soon as reasonable (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Donnelly 9/14/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 25) The FBI will claim the VF Corp business jet is probably the plane some witnesses on the ground see up above, shortly after the crash of Flight 93 (see (Before and After 10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Pittsburgh Channel 9/15/2001) However, at least two witnesses say they saw a plane overhead even before the time of the Flight 93 crash, and one of them describes it as “definitely military,” rather than a business jet. Also, some will describe it as flying much lower than the Falcon 20 was—just “40 feet above my head,” according to one witness. (Pillets 9/14/2001; Wallace 9/12/2002)

Lt. Col. Steve O’Brien standing in front of a C-130.Lt. Col. Steve O’Brien standing in front of a C-130. [Source: CBC]Cleveland Center air traffic controller Stacey Taylor has asked a nearby C-130 pilot to look at Flight 93’s last position and see if he can find anything. Remarkably, this C-130 pilot, Lt. Col. Steve O’Brien, is the same pilot who was asked by air traffic control to observe Flight 77 as it crashed into the Pentagon earlier on (see 9.36 a.m. September 11, 2001). O’Brien tells Taylor that he saw smoke from the crash shortly after the hijacked plane went down. (Ellison 10/17/2001; MSNBC 9/11/2002; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) An article in the London Independent will later suggest that Flight 93 might have been brought down by the US military using “electronic warfare applications” that can disrupt the mechanisms of an airplane (See August 13, 2002); it will refer to this C-130, since “in 1995 the Air Force installed ‘electronic suites’ in at least 28 of its C-130s—capable, among other things, of emitting lethal jamming signals.” (Carlin 8/13/2002)

Andi Ball.Andi Ball. [Source: White House]Laura Bush, the president’s wife, and her entourage are driven from Capitol Hill to the Secret Service headquarters in Washington, DC, for their own security, but their journey is slowed by the heavy traffic. (Woodward 2002, pp. 17; National Journal 8/31/2002; Kessler 2006, pp. 136; Bush 2010, pp. 200-201) Bush has been at the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, where she was originally scheduled to testify before a Senate committee. (McCaleb 9/12/2001; Woodward 2002, pp. 16-17) Her Secret Service agents have said they are going to take the first lady and her staff to a secure location. (Kessler 2006, pp. 136) After the Secret Service emergency response team arrived for her, Bush was escorted out of the Russell Senate Office Building and to her limousine (see (Shortly After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Bush and those accompanying her leave Capitol Hill at 10:10 a.m., according to Noelia Rodriguez, the first lady’s press secretary.
Agents with Guns Drawn Protect Motorcade - Secret Service agents protect Bush’s motorcade with their guns as it heads to the secure location. Ashleigh Adams, the first lady’s deputy press secretary, will later recall, “It felt like we were in a war, because the Secret Service was driving next to the motorcade and they were hanging out of the windows with their machine guns out.” She will add that she has “been around the agents” before, but has “never seen them with their guns.”
Motorcade Delayed by Traffic - However, the motorcade is slowed by the heavy traffic. Bush will describe, “Outside our convoy windows, the city streets were clogged with people evacuating their workplaces and trying to reach their own homes.” Rodriguez will say, “In the car, we seemed to be going in slow motion.” (National Journal 8/31/2002; Bush 2010, pp. 200) “The traffic was so bad that everything was stopped,” Andi Ball, Bush’s chief of staff, will recall. One of the Secret Service agents escorting Bush and her staff will later say a car sideswiped them during the journey.
Secure Location Is Secret Service Headquarters - The “secure location” that Bush and her staff are being taken to turns out to be the Secret Service headquarters. (Kessler 2006, pp. 136) The Secret Service headquarters, according to journalist and author Ronald Kessler, is “an anonymous nine-story tan brick building on H Street at Ninth Street NW in Washington.” (Kessler 2009, pp. 23) It is located a few blocks from the White House. After the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) it was reinforced to survive a large-scale blast. Bush and her entourage arrive there through an underground entrance. (Bamford 8/23/2009; Bush 2010, pp. 200-201)
Journey Reportedly Takes 45 Minutes - The exact time they arrive at is unclear. According to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, “In the traffic jam from the Capitol, it took 45 minutes to get [Bush] to Secret Service headquarters.” This would mean the first lady arrives there at around 10:55 a.m. (Woodward 2002, pp. 17) However, Bush will write that she watches the North Tower of the World Trade Center collapsing “live in front of my eyes,” on a screen at the headquarters. (Bush 2010, pp. 201) If this is correct, she must arrive at the headquarters sometime before 10:28 a.m., when the North Tower comes down (see 10:28 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 311) White House spokespeople will refuse to disclose where the first lady has been taken to, only saying she is at a “secure location.” (Associated Press 9/11/2001; McCaleb 9/12/2001; CNN 9/11/2002)

Someone from the 174th Fighter Wing, which is based at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base near Syracuse, NY, calls NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) and speaks with Major Kevin Nasypany, the mission crew commander there. (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001) Earlier on, shortly after seeing the second plane hitting the World Trade Center at 9:03, a commander of the 174th Fighter Wing called NEADS to offer fighter jets to help (see (After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). They’d said: “Give me ten [minutes] and I can give you hot guns. Give me 30 [minutes] and I’ll have heat-seeker [missiles]. Give me an hour and I can give you slammers.” (Scott 6/3/2002; Carey 9/12/2006) Yet, now, more than an hour after the second attack, these fighters have still not been launched. Syracuse tells Nasypany, “I’ve got guys that’ll be launching in about 15 minutes.” Despite the earlier promise to have heat-seekers and slammers on the planes, Syracuse says: “We’ve got hot guns. That’s all I’ve got.” Nasypany says: “I’ve got another possible aircraft with a bomb on board. It’s in Pennsylvania, York, approximate area.” He adds that there is “another one, that’s possibly at Cleveland area.” These aircraft, he says, are United Airlines Flight 93 and Delta ‘89, respectively. (Although Flight 93 has already crashed, NEADS apparently does not learn of this until 10:15 (see 10:15 a.m. September 11, 2001).) NEADS was alerted to Delta Flight 1989 at 9:41, and mistakenly suspects it has been hijacked (see 9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). Syracuse says: “I’ve got two jets right now. Do you need more than two?” After NEADS requests another two, Syracuse replies, “Get four set up, yep.” (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001) According to the Syracuse Post-Standard, the first fighters to launch from Hancock Field are two F-16s that take off at 10:42 a.m. A further three take off at about 1:30 p.m., and two more launch around 3:55 p.m. (see 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Wasilewski 9/12/2001)

Michael Irwin.Michael Irwin. [Source: Publicity photo]Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gould, a military aide who is accompanying President Bush on his visit to Florida, makes a call requesting a fighter escort and other assets to support Air Force One as it flies away from Sarasota. Gould, who has tactical control of all the military assets that support the president, including presidential aircraft, was with Bush on Air Force One when the plane took off from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). He has talked with Colonel Mark Tillman, Air Force One’s pilot, about the plane’s ability to evade other aircraft. “At this point we don’t know the scope of this attack and what’s in front of us,” Gould will later recall. Gould will say that because he “thought there was a threat,” he makes a phone call and asks for three things: fighter jets to escort Air Force One, a refueling plane, and an AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System plane) to provide the ability to “see” around the president’s plane.
Request Relayed over Conference Call - Gould will say, in 2011, that he calls the Pentagon to make this request. (Scully 9/11/2011; Wallace 9/11/2011) However, other evidence indicates that he contacts the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House with the request, and the request is then passed on to the Pentagon over the air threat conference call. A transcript of the air threat conference call shows that at 10:14 a.m., Colonel Michael Irwin, the director of operations for the White House Military Office, who is in the PEOC, says he has “just talked to [the] mil aide” on Air Force One, and then adds: “We’d like AWACS over Louisiana. We’d like fighter escort.” (US Department of Defense 9/11/2001 pdf file)
Fighters and AWACS Later Accompany Air Force One - An AWACS on a training mission off the coast of Florida is directed toward Air Force One and will accompany it all the way to Washington, DC (see Before 9:55 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Code One Magazine 1/2002) Fighters will also arrive to escort the president’s plane. However, it will be over an hour before they reach it (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001) It is unclear if and when a refueling plane reaches Air Force One.

Logo of the 1st Fighter Wing.Logo of the 1st Fighter Wing. [Source: US Air Force]The 1st Fighter Wing at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, notifies NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) that it is unable to provide fighter jets to escort the president’s plane, Air Force One, because a lieutenant general at the Air Combat Command (ACC) has instructed the wing to stand by. (Spencer 2008, pp. 239-240) The White House has requested a fighter escort for Air Force One (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001), and officers at the headquarters of the Continental US NORAD Region in Florida have been calling around to find any available jets that might be able to provide that escort, irrespective of what branch of the military they belong to. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 38; Spencer 2008, pp. 239)
Wing Told to Stand By - As a result, a colonel from the 1st Fighter Wing now calls NEADS. He says that although his unit would love to help, the lieutenant general at ACC has told it to stand by, as, technically, the wing belongs to ACC, not NORAD. Author Lynn Spencer will comment, “In times of war, commanders can waive a significant amount of the military bureaucracy and make such decisions.” However, “they are assuming an enormous personal responsibility if they do so and something terribly wrong happens.” Personnel at NEADS are thus “reminded of the military bureaucracy governing orders and authorizations.” (Spencer 2008, pp. 239-240)
Wing's F-15s Take Off Following Attacks - F-15s from the 1st Fighter Wing will take off later on—“within two hours” of the terrorist attacks, according to one account—to provide “protection for the National Command Authority and the rest of the nation’s civilian and military leadership,” and to patrol the skies of the East Coast. (Air Force Association 10/2/2002; Langley Air Force Base 1/2005; 1st Fighter Association 3/14/2006) Eventually, fighters from Ellington Field in Texas and elsewhere will escort Air Force One (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Code One Magazine 1/2002; Filson 2003, pp. 87)
ACC Is Air Force's Combat Arm - The ACC, which is headquartered at Langley Air Force Base, is the main combat arm of the US Air Force, and is responsible for supplying forces to regional military commanders around the world. (Virginian-Pilot 9/20/2001; US Air Force 2/26/2010) The 1st Fighter Wing is the “host unit” at Langley, and, as such, operates and maintains one of the largest fighter bases in the ACC. It includes three fighter squadrons, which fly the F-15 Eagle fighter jet. (Virginian-Pilot 9/20/2001; Langley Air Force Base 11/2003; Air Force Print News 11/9/2006)

A representative of the FAA finally joins an emergency teleconference being conducted by the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon, after NMCC personnel have repeatedly been unable to connect the FAA to the conference. In response to the terrorist attacks, the NMCC began a “significant event conference” at 9:29 a.m., to gather and disseminate information from government agencies (see 9:29 a.m.-9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001), and eight minutes later upgraded this to an “air threat conference” (see 9:37 a.m.-9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). However, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, because of “equipment problems and difficulty finding secure phone numbers,” operators at the NMCC have been unable to connect the FAA to the conference (see (9:29 a.m.-12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/21/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 37)
FAA Representative Has 'No Situational Awareness' - The air threat conference is now joined by FAA employee Rayford Brooks. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 463) Brooks is on duty in the Central Altitude Reservation Function (CARF) at the FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia. This office is responsible for processing and separating altitude reservations, and coordinates military requests for priority airspace activity with FAA facilities and international agencies. (9/11 Commission 4/5/2004; 9/11 Commission 4/15/2004) However, Brooks has “no familiarity with or responsibility for hijackings, no access to decisionmakers, and none of the information available to senior FAA officials,” according to the 9/11 Commission Report. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 37) Brooks will later recall having had “no situational awareness” of the current crisis. He only arrived at the Command Center at around 9:30 a.m. and had not been listening to the radio while driving to work. Those on the Command Center floor have not given him any instructions regarding the NMCC conference or other operational matters.
Brooks on Conference instead of Military Cell Officer - Brooks will tell the 9/11 Commission that the Air Traffic Services Cell (ATSC)—a small office located next to the CARF at the Command Center, manned by military reservists (see (Between 9:04 a.m. and 9:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001)—has asked the CARF to monitor the NMCC’s air threat conference on its behalf for three or four hours, because the ATSC does not have a working STU-III secure phone. (9/11 Commission 4/15/2004) (A chronology of the ATSC’s actions on this day will state that the keys for the ATSC’s secure phones are recalibrated at some point, and these phones then “worked fine.” (US Air Force 9/11/2001) )
NORAD and FAA Leaders out of Contact - Three times before 10:03 a.m., when the last hijacked plane reportedly crashed (see (10:03 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001), NORAD asked for confirmation of the FAA’s presence on the NMCC’s conference, so the FAA could provide an update on the hijackings, but the FAA had not been connected at those times. As a result of the FAA’s absence from the conference, the leaders of NORAD and the FAA have effectively been out of contact with each other. (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 37-38)
FAA's Absence Caused Confusion over Identities of Hijacked Planes - General Richard Myers, the acting chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will later write that the lack of communication between the NMCC and the FAA has contributed to confusion at the NMCC over the flight numbers of the aircraft that were hijacked. However, according to Myers, the NMCC could not contact the FAA over ordinary phone lines because “[t]errorists who could hijack aircraft so readily could probably also eavesdrop on unsecured phone lines.” (Myers 2009, pp. 153)

An aircraft at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.An aircraft at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. [Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer]Delta Air Lines Flight 1989, a Boeing 767 out of Boston that is wrongly suspected of being hijacked (see 9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (Shortly After 9:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001), lands at Cleveland Hopkins Airport in Ohio, and is directed to a remote area of the airport. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/16/2001; Adams, Levin, and Morrison 8/13/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 27-28; O'Mara 9/11/2006)
Plane Flies Long Path toward Airport - Delta Air Lines had been concerned about Flight 1989, and ordered it to land as soon as possible in Cleveland (see (9:42 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Spencer 2008, pp. 167; Levin 9/11/2008) As it was heading in to land, air traffic controllers instructed Delta 1989 to follow a trajectory that initially took it far past Cleveland Airport. Unknown to the plane’s pilots, the controllers incorrectly believe the flight has been hijacked and contains a bomb, and they were therefore making time to evacuate the airport before the plane landed (see (9:50 a.m. and After) September 11, 2001). (Spencer 2008, pp. 191)
Plane Directed to Remote Area - Once Delta 1989 is on the ground, the Cleveland Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) informs the FAA’s Cleveland Center that Delta 1989 is “on the ground at 1418,” where “1418” means 10:18 a.m. Cleveland Center asks, “Very safely too, I hope?” The TRACON responds that the plane is being taken to the bomb area to check. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/16/2001) Delta 1989 is directed to “taxi left onto taxiway Bravo and wait there.” This taxiway leads to a remote part of the airport that is far away from the terminal. The pilot does as instructed. (Spencer 2008, pp. 229)
Passengers Not Allowed Off - The pilots radio the airport’s air traffic control tower and say: “Just to make sure we don’t have any misunderstandings here, our flaps are up, we are landing only as a precaution at the company’s request. You understand that?” They ask if they are going to get to their gate soon, but the controller responds that city authorities are in charge and he believes people will be coming to search the aircraft. The controller advises that city authorities have said to keep the plane’s passengers on the aircraft for now. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/16/2001) The passengers and crew will have to remain on board for perhaps a couple of hours, until FBI agents allow them off (see 11:28 a.m.-12:23 p.m. September 11, 2001). (O'Mara 9/11/2006; Spencer 2008, pp. 270-271)
Conflicting Reports of Landing Time - Subsequent accounts will give conflicting times for when Delta 1989 lands at Cleveland Airport. According to a detailed timeline provided by the airport’s control tower, the aircraft is “on the ground” at 10:18 a.m. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/16/2001) Several accounts will give similar landing times of between 10:05 a.m. and 10:10 a.m. (Federal Aviation Administration 1/2/2002; Adams, Levin, and Morrison 8/13/2002) But a NORAD official will tell the 9/11 Commission that Delta 1989 landed at 9:47 a.m. (9/11 Commission 5/23/2003) Other accounts will say it lands at between 10:33 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. (Singer 9/11/2001; Singer 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 pdf file)

President Bush’s travels on 9/11.President Bush’s travels on 9/11. [Source: Yvonne Vermillion / MagicGrapix.com]Air Force One begins heading for Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana after the base is identified as a suitable interim destination for the president’s plane. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 325) Washington, DC, was the plane’s original destination. (White House 8/29/2002; Scully 9/11/2011) But after taking off from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport in Florida without a fixed destination (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001), Air Force One changed course at around 10:10 a.m. and headed west (see (10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). This was because it had been determined that Washington was too unsafe for President Bush to return there (see (9:55 a.m.-10:04 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39, 325) At that time, the plane’s new destination was undecided.
Military Base Sought for President to Make a Statement - Andrew Card, Bush’s chief of staff, who is with the president on Air Force One, will later recall, “And so we started looking at potential Air Force bases or Navy bases where we could land the plane.” (Card 8/16/2002) Mark Rosenker, the director of the White House Military Office, will recall that Card comes up to him in the communications area of the plane and says, “We need to find a facility, a base that we can get to in a relatively short period of time so that the president can make a statement.” (White House 8/29/2002)
Secret Service Told of Bush's Desire to Land - Card will recall: “I had a goal of landing the plane within an hour and a half. It was somewhat arbitrary, but I wanted to get the president down.” (Card 8/16/2002) Card similarly tells Edward Marinzel, the head of the president’s Secret Service detail, that Bush wants to land so he can make a statement to the press. It is also noted “that the stop would provide an opportunity for the airplane to be refueled and those on board to effect necessary communication,” Marinzel will say. (United States Secret Service 2001)
Offutt Air Base Rejected as Destination - Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gould, Bush’s military aide, quickly researches the possibilities. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 325) The first plan that is considered, according to Rosenker, is to fly all the way out to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, but this idea is dismissed because it would take too long to get there, and it is “very important to the president to address the nation and make sure that the people could see that he was safe and in total control of the situation.” (White House 8/29/2002) (Air Force One will in fact head to Offutt later in the day, landing there at 2:50 p.m. (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001).)
Barksdale Makes 'the Greatest Sense' - Instead, at around 10:20 a.m., Gould identifies Barksdale Air Force Base as “an appropriate interim destination,” according to the 9/11 Commission Report. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 325-326) Rosenker will recall: “Barksdale made the greatest sense to us. It was a highly secure Air Force base, had B-52s there; they had the capability to do what was necessary to secure Air Force One and to make sure that the president was safe, and make sure that we could provide the appropriate communications facility so the president could make his statement.” (White House 8/29/2002)
Bush Agrees with Decision to Head to Barksdale - The final decision to head to Barksdale Air Base is made by Card, “after talking to the military and the Secret Service,” according to White House press secretary Ari Fleischer. (Fleischer 2005, pp. 142) Bush agrees with the decision and Barksdale becomes his plane’s new destination. (Bush 2010, pp. 130; Rove 2010, pp. 255) Air Force One will land at Barksdale Air Force Base at around 11:45 a.m. (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 325)

Patrick Madigan, the commander of the Somerset Barracks of the Pennsylvania State Police, arrives at the Flight 93 crash scene around 10:20 a.m. (Department of the Army and the Air Force National Guard Bureau 2002 pdf file) He says that at some point later in the day (he does not specify a time), a “strange incident” occurs: “We were there at the site and an airplane started circling. It was a jetliner circling the crash site very low. No one knew what to expect because we knew that all of the planes were supposedly grounded.” (The FAA had, at about 9:45 a.m., ordered that all aircraft be instructed to land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001).) After a few minutes of uncertainty, it is announced that the plane is carrying United Airlines executives, who are circling the site to view it before they land in nearby Johnstown. (Kashurba 2002, pp. 63) Another low-flying jet plane was witnessed over the site earlier on, around the time Flight 93 went down (see (Before and After 10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

Personnel at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) in Rome, New York, learn that Air Force One is airborne, around half an hour after it took off from Florida, and are told the plane is heading toward Washington, DC. (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 325)
NEADS Learns President's Plane Is Airborne - Major Kevin Nasypany, the mission crew commander at NEADS, is briefed by a colleague that “Air Force One is airborne out of Florida, heading to Washington.” This is apparently the first time NEADS knows that the president’s plane is in the air. (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001) But Air Force One took off from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport in Florida about half an hour ago (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 325) And while some later accounts will state that the plane is indeed heading north, toward Washington, at this time (see (10:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001), according to other accounts, including the 9/11 Commission Report, it has turned west (see (10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and is now flying toward Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana (see (10:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Sammon 2002, pp. 108; Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 325)
Commander Told Fighters Will Escort Air Force One - Nasypany’s colleague continues: “We’ve got those four F-15s coming out of Langley. They’re done rolling.” (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001) He is presumably referring to F-15 fighter jets belonging to the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. (Langley Air Force Base 11/2003; Airman 9/2005) He says, “Two of [the F-15s] will be diverted to escort [Air Force One] at the appropriate time.” Nasypany says, “We need a plane out of the Air Force One.” He then asks his colleague, “Is he airborne now?” The colleague says yes.
Commander Told SEADS Is Providing Fighter Escort - Nasypany then says, “We’ve identified [Air Force One] as a special one.” His colleague replies: “We haven’t got him. Southeast does,” meaning NORAD’s Southeast Air Defense Sector (SEADS) at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida. Referring to SEADS, Nasypany asks, “So they’ll have fighters on him?” His colleague says yes. (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001) However, fighters will only be noticed escorting Air Force One by those on the plane more than an hour later (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001)
Commander Passes on News about Air Force One - Nasypany then passes on the information about Air Force One to another colleague. He tells them: “Air Force One is airborne out of Florida, going to Washington. There should be F-15s on them by the time they hit our AOR [area of responsibility].” Nasypany restates that the president’s plane is “going to Washington. This is what I was just passed.” He says, “SEADS should be putting fighters on it,” but adds that “we’ll have to take over [in providing a fighter escort for Air Force One] once they hit our AOR.” (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001)

Damage to the southwest corner of WTC 7.Damage to the southwest corner of WTC 7. [Source: Arquelio Galarza]World Trade Center Building 7 (WTC 7) suffers some damage, caused by debris from the collapse of the north WTC tower, according to later official reports. (Federal Emergency Management Agency 5/1/2002, pp. 5-16; National Institute of Standards and Technology 11/2008, pp. 16)
WTC 7 Undamaged by South Tower Collapse - WTC 7 is a 47-story office building located 370 feet north of the North Tower (WTC 1). In the final report of its investigation into WTC 7’s collapse, published in November 2008 (see November 20, 2008), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will state that although a few windows on the lower floors of WTC 7’s south face were broken when the South Tower (WTC 2) collapsed at 9:59 a.m. (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001), “None of the large pieces of debris from WTC 2 hit WTC 7, because of the large distance between the two buildings,” and there is “no evidence of structural damage to WTC 7” as a result of the South Tower’s collapse.
Debris Reportedly Damages Exterior Columns - However, when the North Tower collapses (see 10:28 a.m. September 11, 2001), some fragments of debris are “forcibly ejected” from it, and travel “distances up to hundreds of meters.” According to NIST, pieces of this debris “hit WTC 7, severing six columns on floors 7 through 17 on the south face and one column on the west face near the southwest corner.” NIST will add that the debris also causes “structural damage between floor 44 and the roof,” and breaks a large number of windows on WTC 7’s south face.
Building Core Undamaged - However, NIST will state, based on “photographic evidence, witness accounts, and engineering judgment, it is likely that the structural damage (steel and floor slabs) did not penetrate beyond the perimeter of the building core. At the southwest corner, the structural damage extended only about one-third of the distance from the exterior wall to the building core.” NIST will comment, “Compared to the airplane impact damage to the WTC towers, there was relatively little damage to the interior of WTC 7.” There is also “no superficial or structural damage” to WTC 7’s north and east faces. And the sprayed fire resistive material that has been applied to the building’s steel columns, girders, and beams is only damaged in the “immediate vicinity of the WTC 1 debris impact.” NIST will admit, however, that there are “uncertainties” in its accounting of the events leading up to the collapse of WTC 7, because “the remains of all the WTC buildings were disposed of before Congressional action and funding was available for [its] investigation [of the WTC collapses] to begin” (see Shortly After September 11, 2001 and September 12-October 2001). (National Institute of Standards and Technology 8/21/2008; National Institute of Standards and Technology 11/2008, pp. 15-16)
FEMA Describes WTC 7 Damage - According to an earlier report on the collapse of WTC 7, published by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in May 2002 (see May 1, 2002), at that time, the “extent and severity of the resulting damage to WTC 7” when the North Tower collapses “are currently unknown.” But based on “photographic evidence and eyewitness accounts,” it is “assumed that the south side of the building was damaged to some degree.” FEMA’s report will state: “It does not appear that the collapse of WTC 1 affected the roof, or the east, west, and north elevations of WTC 7 in any significant way. However, there was damage to the southwest corner of WTC 7 at approximately floors 8 to 20, 24, 25, and 39 to 46.” The report will add: “According to firefighters’ eyewitness accounts from outside of the building, approximately floors 8-18 were damaged to some degree. Other eyewitness accounts relate that there was additional damage to the south elevation.” (Federal Emergency Management Agency 5/1/2002, pp. 5-16, 5-20)
Structural Damage Not Responsible for Collapse - WTC 7 will collapse at 5:20 p.m. this afternoon (see (5:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (National Institute of Standards and Technology 8/21/2008) However, NIST will conclude that the structural damage the building suffers plays no role in causing it to come down. NIST will state, “Other than initiating the fires in WTC 7, the damage from the debris from WTC 1 had little effect on initiating the collapse of WTC 7.” (National Institute of Standards and Technology 11/2008, pp. xxxvii) WTC 7 suffers fires on some floors, which are reportedly initiated by debris from the collapse of the North Tower (see (10:28 a.m.-5:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001). According to NIST, it is these fires, “rather than the structural damage that resulted from the impacts” of debris, which “initiated the building’s collapse.” (National Institute of Standards and Technology 8/21/2008)

FBI agents in New York quickly set up a temporary field office in an FBI parking garage, where they will be based for the next few weeks, after the attacks on the World Trade Center rendered their original office unusable. The New York office is the FBI’s largest field office, comprising some 1,100 special agents. It is located at 26 Federal Plaza, just a few blocks away from the WTC site. However, the collapses of the Twin Towers (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 10:28 a.m. September 11, 2001) disabled its telephone service, thereby rendering it useless. Officials are also concerned that 26 Federal Plaza might be the target of another terrorist attack.
New Facility Is Set Up in 24 Hours - Therefore, “Almost immediately” after the Twin Towers came down, according to the New York Times, the FBI starts relocating to a garage in Manhattan. The block-long, multilevel garage at 26th Street and the West Side Highway is usually used by the FBI to store and repair its fleet of vehicles. But within 24 hours of the attacks on the WTC, a temporary field office is up and running there. The facility is equipped with about 100 laptop computers. Three hundred phone lines are installed, with phones hooked up to a satellite truck positioned outside the garage.
Investigation Is Coordinated from the Temporary Facility - Officials from over two dozen federal, state, and local agencies are then based at the makeshift facility. Barry Mawn, director of the FBI’s New York office, and key federal prosecutors, including Mary Jo White, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, coordinate the work of almost 2,000 investigators from there. The garage will serve as the command center for the first four weeks of the FBI’s investigation of the terrorist attacks. (Rashbaum 9/24/2001; Thompson 10/20/2001; Kessler 2002, pp. 5, 424; Garcia 3/2002 pdf file) It will be “New York’s nerve center for information about the attacks,” according to the Associated Press. (Associated Press 9/27/2001) Agents will move back to their original field office at 26 Federal Plaza early in October. (Thompson 10/20/2001)

Brigadier General Montague Winfield finally returns to his post as the deputy director for operations (DDO) in the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon, after leaving a colleague, who only recently qualified to take over the position, to stand in for him throughout the terrorist attacks. (9/11 Commission 4/29/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) At 8:30 a.m. Winfield left his post to attend a pre-scheduled meeting that was unrelated to the morning’s attacks and had been convened by the Air Force. Since that time, Captain Charles Leidig has replaced him as the DDO (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). Leidig, the deputy for Command Center operations, only qualified to stand in as the DDO in the NMCC about a month ago. Even though officers in the NMCC realized the US was under terrorist attack when the second plane hit the World Trade Center at 9:03 a.m., Winfield did not return to his post at that time (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/21/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 4/29/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004 pdf file)
Winfield Returns to His Post, but Timing Unclear - Now Winfield finally relieves Leidig and resumes his duties as DDO. This happens after Flight 93 has crashed in Pennsylvania (see (10:03 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001), although the exact time is unclear. In a private interview with the 9/11 Commission, Leidig will say he is “certain that Winfield returned [from the meeting] after the Pentagon was hit” at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001), but he “is not certain of Winfield’s arrival in relationship with the vice chairman” of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers. (9/11 Commission 4/29/2004 pdf file) (According to the 9/11 Commission Report, Myers arrived at the NMCC shortly before 10:00 a.m. (see (Between 9:55 a.m. and 10:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 38) ) Winfield then takes over as DDO “at some point in relation to the report of the Pennsylvania crash,” according to Leidig. As the 9/11 Commission will point out, since the crash of Flight 93 happened around 10:03 a.m., “any reporting would be after that time.” (9/11 Commission 4/29/2004 pdf file) During a public hearing of the 9/11 Commission, Leidig will similarly say that Winfield takes over from him “[r]ight after we resolved what was going on with United 93.” He will also say that a report over the NMCC’s air threat conference at 10:37 a.m., about an anonymous threat against Air Force One (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001), occurs “right after I was relieved on the watch by General Winfield.” (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) This would indicate that Winfield takes over from Leidig at around 10:30 a.m.
Unclear If Winfield Returns to Post Immediately after Meeting - It is also unclear whether Winfield returns to his position as DDO immediately after leaving the Air Force-convened meeting, or he allowed Leidig to continue in his place even while he was available to resume his duties. A 9/11 Commission memorandum will state, “Winfield transitioned into the position [of DDO] upon his return to the NMCC,” following the meeting. (9/11 Commission 7/21/2003 pdf file) Leidig will recall that he “looked up at one point and General Winfield was standing next to him.” He will also recall that Myers “looked at him at one time and realized the coordinator [i.e. the DDO] was not a general as the position called for, and asked who the general or admiral was that had duty that day.” The guidance that was subsequently given was “to get General Winfield briefed up and in the chair.”
Leidig Listens to Conference before Returning to Post - After Winfield returns to his position as DDO, Leidig initially “stands next to him and listens to the [NMCC’s air threat] conference.” Leidig will then transition into his regular job, which involves making sure the NMCC operates properly, and start dealing with the smoke coming into the center and other issues effecting operations there. (9/11 Commission 4/29/2004 pdf file)

The FAA allows “military and law enforcement flights to resume (and some flights that the FAA can’t reveal that were already airborne).” All civilian, military, and law enforcement flights were ordered at 9:26 a.m. to land as soon as reasonably possible. (Donnelly 9/14/2001) Civilian flights remain banned until September 13. Note that the C-130 cargo plane that witnessed the Flight 77 crash (see 9.36 a.m. September 11, 2001) and which came upon the Flight 93 crash site (see 10:08 a.m. September 11, 2001) right after it had crashed was apparently not subject to the grounding order issued about an hour earlier.

Will Chandler.Will Chandler. [Source: National Geographic]Vice President Dick Cheney phones President Bush and tells him the White House has received a credible threat against Air Force One. (Sammon 2002, pp. 106-107; Woodward 2002, pp. 18; Kohn 9/11/2002) The White House has just received an anonymous phone call in which the caller said the president’s plane would be the next terrorist target (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Woodward 2002, pp. 18; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 554) The caller referred to the plane as “Angel,” which is the Secret Service’s code name for Air Force One. (Fleischer 2005, pp. 141-142) Details of the call were passed on to government officials, including Cheney, in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House. (Cheney 11/19/2001; Thomas 12/30/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 554)
Cheney Tells Bush about a 'Credible' Threat - Cheney now tells Bush: “We’re getting reports of a threat against you. It appears credible,” Major Robert Darling of the White House Military Office, who is with Cheney in the PEOC, will later recall. Cheney says, “We’re scrambling fighter escorts and the Secret Service is taking internal precautions on board Air Force One.” (Darling 2010, pp. 61) Bush turns to Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gould, his military aide, and passes on the news, saying, “A call came into the White House switchboard saying, ‘Angel is next.’” Bush then continues talking with Cheney and says, “We’re at war, Dick, and we’re going to find out who did this and we’re going to kick their ass.” (Sammon 2002, pp. 107; Fleischer 2005, pp. 141-142)
Pilot Is Told of the Threat and Asks for a Guard at the Cockpit Door - Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot of Air Force One, is told about the threat. (Kohn 9/11/2002) Noting that “Angel” is “a classified call sign of Air Force One,” Tillman will comment that “the only people that knew that call sign was us, [the] Secret Service, and the staff.” Therefore, he will say, “for somebody [to] call into the White House and say that Angel was next, that was just incredible.” (Tillman 2/29/2012 pdf file) “It was serious before that, but now… no longer is it a time to get the president home,” Tillman will comment. “We actually have to consider everything we say. Everything we do could be intercepted and we have to make sure that no one knows what our position is.” Tillman asks to have an armed guard at his cockpit door. Will Chandler, the chief of security, is therefore summoned to the front of the plane and stands watch at the base of the stairs leading to the cockpit. No one is then allowed up these stairs. Secret Service agents double-check the identity of everyone on the plane, while the crew reviews the emergency evacuation plan. (Kohn 9/11/2002; Graff 9/9/2016)
Threat Influences the Decision to Fly to Nebraska - White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who is on Air Force One with Bush, will say the threat against the president’s plane is what leads to the decision to take Bush to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001) and is also one of the reasons why Bush does not head back to Washington, DC, right away. (White House 9/12/2001) However, during the afternoon, the Secret Service will determine that the reported threat was unfounded. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 554) Shortly after Bush learns about the threat, Tillman will be informed that an aircraft that may have been hijacked is heading toward Air Force One (see (10:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Kohn 9/11/2002; Knoller 1/17/2009) White House chief of staff Andrew Card will say he in fact learned a threat had been made against Air Force One almost an hour earlier, while he was being driven with Bush to Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport (see (Between 9:35 a.m. and 9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Card 8/12/2002; Card 8/16/2002; Card 8/16/2002)

Mark Rosenker.Mark Rosenker. [Source: National Transportation Safety Board]The FAA’s Jacksonville Center informs the pilot of Air Force One that an unidentified aircraft is heading toward his plane, and this aircraft is out of radio contact, has its transponder off, and might be another hijacking. Air Force One is currently flying toward Gainesville in northern Florida. (Kohn 9/11/2002; Knoller 1/17/2009; Peter Schnall 1/25/2009) Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot of Air Force One, has just been informed that President Bush, who is on the plane, has been called by Vice President Dick Cheney, and Cheney told the president that an anonymous threat has been phoned into the White House, stating that Air Force One is the next target (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 106-107; Kohn 9/11/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 554)
Suspicious Plane Descending toward Air Force One - Tillman is now notified of the suspicious aircraft by the Jacksonville Center. He will later recall that the Jacksonville Center air traffic controller says there is “an aircraft coming at us, descending… and… its transponder was not on, and they had no idea who it was. It could have been another hijacked airliner. They weren’t sure.” The controller tells Tillman the aircraft is “behind you 10 miles, descending at least, flight level 3-5-0, looks to be holding there.” He adds: “Apparently we’ve lost radio contact with them. Are you aware of them?” Tillman replies, “Affirmative.” (Peter Schnall 1/25/2009) The FAA reports this suspicious aircraft over the Pentagon’s air threat conference call at 10:39 a.m., saying the Jacksonville Center “is not working the aircraft. He’s not under [air traffic control] control.” (US Department of Defense 9/11/2001 pdf file) Major Robert Darling of the White House Military Office, who is in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, will later recall that around this time, those in the PEOC receive word “of an unaccounted-for airliner last seen in the Atlanta, Georgia, area headed southeast toward Florida.” It is unclear if this is the aircraft that Tillman is warned about. (Darling 2010, pp. 61)
Pilot Tells Others on Air Force One of Suspect Plane - Tillman informs others onboard Air Force One of the suspicious plane. Mark Rosenker, the director of the White House Military Office, will recall that Tillman “indicated to us that something was coming at us, it was not squawking [i.e. its transponder was off], it was not turning, and we had a feeling that we were going to be able to get away from it. But for a moment you ask the question, ‘What could it be?’” A CBS interviewer will point out to Rosenker that since this “unidentified aircraft… had its transponder off and wasn’t communicating,” it is apparently following “the MO [modus operandi] of all the other aircraft that attacked that day,” and suggest, “That must have made everybody a little nervous.” Rosenker will reply, “Well, it did.” However, he will add, “[W]e are clearly on probably the finest airplane in the world, so we were comforted by knowing that we had the ability to out-run and out-climb anything that was going to get near us.” (White House 8/29/2002)
Air Force One Heads toward Gulf of Mexico for Safety - Tillman turns Air Force One and heads out to the Gulf of Mexico. He will recall: “We weren’t sure who was hijacked and who wasn’t, so I went out into the Gulf of Mexico. There’s basically fighters all over the Gulf that have the capability to make sure that no one comes into the Gulf, penetrates the United States. So I knew I’d be safe out into the Gulf of Mexico.” He will say he heads to the Gulf “to regroup and figure out where we could bring the president to keep him safe.”
Suspicious Plane a False Alarm - The concern about the suspicious aircraft turns out to be a false alarm. According to Tillman, “In reality, just his transponder was off [and] he hadn’t checked in with the controller right afterwards.” (Knoller 1/17/2009; Peter Schnall 1/25/2009)

Billy Hutchison.Billy Hutchison. [Source: Family photo]The first fighter jet to launch from Andrews Air Force Base, 10 miles southeast of Washington, takes off in response to the attacks. (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004; GlobalSecurity (.org) 1/21/2006) The F-16 belongs to the 121st Fighter Squadron, which is part of the 113th Wing of the District of Columbia Air National Guard, and is piloted by Major Billy Hutchison. It is one of three F-16s that were flying on a training mission in North Carolina, over 200 miles from Andrews (see 8:36 a.m. September 11, 2001), and which have finally been recalled to the base (see (9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Scott 9/9/2002; Miles 5/12/2005) Although the three jets met with a refueling plane, they did not fill their tanks up completely. (Spencer 2008, pp. 216-217) Hutchison’s aircraft is the only one of them with enough fuel remaining to take off again immediately, though he only has 2,800 pounds, which is equivalent to one-eighth of a tank in a car. His jet has no missiles, and only training ammunition.
Pilot Takes Off, Instructed to Protect Washington - Immediately after landing at Andrews at 10:36 a.m., Hutchison takes off again at the instruction of Brigadier General David Wherley, the commander of the DC Air National Guard. He is instructed “to intercept an aircraft coming toward DC and prevent it from reaching DC,” he will later recall. (Vogel 4/8/2002; Filson 2003, pp. 79-81; 9/11 Commission 2/17/2004) According to author Lynn Spencer, Lieutenant Colonel Phil Thompson, the supervisor of flying (SOF) at Andrews, tells Hutchison to “use whatever force is necessary to prevent [the aircraft] from getting to DC.” Thompson adds: “You are weapons free. Do you understand?” “Weapons free” means the decision to shoot at a target now rests solely with Hutchison. (Spencer 2008, pp. 219) However, according to the 9/11 Commission, the “weapons free” instruction goes out to other pilots that launch from Andrews at 10:42 and after, but apparently not to Hutchison. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 44) Thompson will tell Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine simply that he instructs Hutchison “to ‘do exactly what [air traffic control] asks you to do.’ Primarily, he was to go ID [identify] that unknown [aircraft] that everybody was so excited about” (see (10:30 a.m.-10:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Scott 9/9/2002) Hutchison takes off “without afterburner to conserve fuel, go across the White House over the Georgetown area and continue northwest up the Potomac,” he will recall (see 10:39 a.m.-10:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Filson 2003, pp. 81)
Conflicting Timelines - Conflicting times will later be given for when Hutchison takes off from Andrews. The pilots with the 121st Fighter Squadron will admit that their own recollection of the morning’s timeline “is fuzzy.” (Scott 9/9/2002) According to 113th Wing operations desk records, Hutchison takes off at 10:33 a.m. (Filson 2003, pp. 81, 89) Based on an interview with David Wherley, the 9/11 Commission states he is airborne at 10:38 a.m. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 44, 465) Recordings of air traffic controller transmissions confirm this time. (9/11 Commission 2004; 9/11 Commission 2/17/2004) But in her 2008 book Touching History, Lynn Spencer will claim Hutchison took off significantly earlier, some time after 9:50 but before Flight 93 crashed (which was just after 10:00 a.m.). (Spencer 2008, pp. 216-220) (However, she will later amend her claim, saying instead, “Radio data indicates that Hutchison’s flight did not depart from Andrews… until just after 10:35.” (Lynn Spencer 2008) ) Two more fighters will take off from Andrews at 10:42 a.m. (see 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001) and another two take off at 11:11 a.m. (see 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). Due to his plane’s limited fuel, Hutchison will only be airborne for about 10 minutes, and he lands back at Andrews at 10:47 a.m. (see 10:47 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 8/28/2003; 9/11 Commission 2004; 9/11 Commission 2/17/2004; Vogel 2007, pp. 446)
One Jet Landed Already - The first of the three F-16s to return from the training mission over North Carolina landed at Andrews at 10:14 a.m., but did not take off again to defend Washington (see 10:14 a.m. September 11, 2001). The other F-16, piloted by Lou Campbell, landed with Hutchison’s jet at 10:36 a.m. (9/11 Commission 2004; 9/11 Commission 2/17/2004; 9/11 Commission 2/27/2004) The 113th Wing is not part of NORAD’s air sovereignty force and, according to the 1st Air Force’s book about 9/11, does not have an alert mission. (Filson 2003, pp. 76) According to Phil Thompson, “We’ve never been an air defense unit,” but “We practice scrambles, we know how to do intercepts and other things.” (Scott 9/9/2002)

The plane carrying Attorney General John Ashcroft is ordered to land by the FAA’s Cleveland Center, but Ashcroft is intent on reaching Washington, DC, and instructs his pilot to ignore the order. (Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002 pdf file; Ashcroft 2006, pp. 117; Spencer 2008, pp. 258) Ashcroft learned of the attacks in New York while flying to Milwaukee in a small government jet, and immediately wanted to return to Washington, but his plane needed to land first in Milwaukee to refuel (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). Even though the FAA had issued a nationwide ground stop to prevent aircraft from taking off, Ashcroft then insisted that his plane leave Milwaukee to fly back to Washington (see After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001).
FAA Manager Furious, Wants Plane to Land - When Ben Sliney, the national operations manager at the FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, hears about Ashcroft’s plane defying the ground stop order, he is livid. He immediately calls the FAA’s Cleveland Center and tells it to order the plane to land. An air traffic controller at the Cleveland Center then issues this order to Ashcroft’s plane. (Brill 3/10/2003; Spencer 2008, pp. 257-258) David Clemmer, the plane’s pilot, tells Ashcroft, “They’re instructing me to land outside of Detroit,” but Ashcroft tells him, “No, keep going.” (Eggen 9/28/2001; Ashcroft 2006, pp. 117)
Controller Reports that Plane Is Not Complying - According to a 2002 FAA report, Ashcroft then requests that his plane be allowed to immediately return to Washington, and he receives permission to do so. (Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002 pdf file) But author Lynn Spencer will give a different account, saying that Clemmer “chooses to ignore the controller and continues toward Washington.” The Cleveland Center controller then informs the FAA Command Center that the pilot of Ashcroft’s plane is not responding and not complying. (Spencer 2008, pp. 258) Ashcroft’s plane will subsequently be redirected toward Richmond, Virginia, and is threatened with being shot down if it does not land (see 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Lines 9/29/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002 pdf file; Ashcroft 2006, pp. 118)

Vice President Dick Cheney calls President Bush, who is on Air Force One, and urges him not to return to Washington, DC. (Sanger and van Natta 9/16/2001; Sammon 2002, pp. 108-109; Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002) Cheney, who is in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, wants Bush to instead go to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, according to the New York Times. This is because Cheney “knew from his days as secretary of defense” that Offutt has “an extraordinarily sophisticated Strategic Command communications center.” (Sanger and van Natta 9/16/2001) According to journalist and author Bill Sammon, Cheney tells Bush that he and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice both think Washington is “no longer safe enough for his return.” (Sammon 2002, pp. 108-109) Cheney says, “There’s still a threat to Washington.” Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward will describe: “Signals intelligence and all kinds of reports were flooding in. Given what had happened—four hijackings—it wasn’t prudent to come back.” Cheney says he is worried that “the terrorists might be trying to decapitate the government, to kill its leaders,” and Bush agrees with him. Cheney says they have “a responsibility to preserve the government, its continuity of leadership.” (Woodward 2002, pp. 18; Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002) White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who is with the president on Air Force One, will recall that around this time—presumably just after the call from Cheney—Bush tells others on the plane “that the vice president didn’t think it was safe for us to return to Washington until we could get a handle on how many hijacked planes there were. All planes flying in the continental United States had been ordered to land, but it wasn’t clear that all had done so.” (Fleischer 2005, pp. 142) According to some reports, Air Force One is traveling north toward Washington at the time of Cheney’s call, and shortly afterwards it changes course and heads west toward Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana (see (10:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 108-109; Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002) However, other accounts, including the 9/11 Commission Report, will state that Air Force One turned west at around 10:10 a.m. (see (10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and began heading toward Barksdale about 10 minutes later (see (10:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 325)

Heather Penney Garcia.Heather Penney Garcia. [Source: Johnathon Orrell]Two F-16 fighter jets belonging to the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) take off from Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, but they have no missiles and only training bullets for their guns. The pilots are Lieutenant Colonel Marc Sasseville and Lieutenant Heather Penney Garcia. (Filson 2003, pp. 82; 9/11 Commission 2004; Vogel 2007, pp. 446)
Possibly Given Shootdown Authorization - Before they headed to their jets, Sasseville and Penney Garcia were given a short briefing by Brigadier General David Wherley, the commander of the DC Air National Guard. Wherley will later recall telling Sasseville that he has “weapons free flight-lead control,” meaning he is responsible for deciding whether to fire on hostile aircraft (see (Between 9:40 a.m. and 10:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Filson 2003, pp. 82; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 44; Vogel 2007, pp. 446) But Sasseville will say he does not recall receiving any such rules of engagement until after he has taken off. (9/11 Commission 3/8/2004 pdf file)
Jets Only Have Training Ammunition - The two pilots run out to their jets and climb into the cockpits. But their F-16s are armed only with “hot” guns and 511 rounds of non-explosive training practice (TP) ammunition. According to Sasseville: “They had two airplanes ready to go, and were putting missiles on numbers three and four. Maintenance wanted us to take the ones with missiles, but we didn’t have time to wait on those.”
Rookie Pilot 'Never Scrambled Before' - Penney Garcia, who is a rookie pilot, will later say: “I’d never scrambled before, I’d never done this. I was screaming to the maintainers to pull the chocks, and the guys were pulling the pins to arm the guns. We were going without INS [inertial navigation system].” Sasseville and Penney Garcia are airborne about six minutes after reaching their jets. They are unaware that fighters launched from Langley Air Force Base are also flying over Washington, at around 20,000 feet (see (Between 9:49 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Scott 9/9/2002; Filson 2003, pp. 82)
Told to Look for Hijacked Plane - Over their radios, Sasseville and Penney Garcia receive instructions from their squadron to look for a hijacked aircraft approaching from the northwest and heading toward Georgetown (see (10:30 a.m.-10:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). But, Sasseville will later recall, “We didn’t know what we were looking for—how high he was coming, or low, or where he was going.” (Vogel 2007, pp. 446) He will say, “I don’t have the whole picture, but have word from Washington National Approach that something is coming.”
Pilot 'Making Things Up on the Fly' - The two jets will fly over Washington at low altitudes, around 5,000 or 6,000 feet. Sasseville will later say, “I didn’t want to get too low for a good radar angle, and not too high, so we could get somewhere fast.” He will admit that he is “making things up on the fly,” as he has no precedent to draw upon. (Scott 9/9/2002; Filson 2003, pp. 82) Another DCANG pilot, Billy Hutchison, launched from Andrews four minutes before Sasseville and Penney Garcia take off, but he is airborne for less than 10 minutes (see (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 10:47 a.m. September 11, 2001). The next DCANG jets to take off, which will be armed with missiles, launch at 11:11 a.m. (see 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 2004; 9/11 Commission 2/17/2004; Vogel 2007, pp. 446)

Air Force One, with President Bush on board, changes course and heads west toward Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana around this time, according to some reports, significantly later than is claimed in other accounts, such as the 9/11 Commission Report. (Sammon 2002, pp. 108-109; Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 325) The president’s plane is currently flying off the coast of South Carolina and is about half way through its 900-mile journey from Sarasota, Florida (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001), to Washington, DC, according to journalist and author Bill Sammon. (Sammon 2002, pp. 109) At 10:41 a.m., Vice President Dick Cheney called Bush from the White House and urged him not to come back to Washington, because, Cheney told Bush, the capital was still too unsafe for him to return there (see 10:41 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Sanger and van Natta 9/16/2001; Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002)
Air Force One Turns West - According to the 9/11 Commission Report, Air Force One changed course and headed west at around 10:10 a.m. (see (10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and it began flying toward Barksdale Air Force Base at about 10:20 a.m. (see (10:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 325) However, Sammon will write that Bush gives the order to divert his plane after receiving the 10:41 a.m. call from Cheney. (Sammon 2002, pp. 108-109) “Within minutes” of Cheney calling Bush, according to the Washington Post, “those on board the president’s plane could feel it bank suddenly and sharply to the left, its course now westerly toward Barksdale Air Force Base.” (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002) Barksdale is about 800 miles away, according to Sammon. (Sammon 2002, pp. 109) Representative Dan Miller (R-FL), who is on Air Force One, will support the claim that the plane changes course at this time, around 10:45 a.m. According to the St. Petersburg Times, Miller thought Air Force One “flew due north for about 45 minutes. Then it turned west.” (Martin 7/4/2004) Miller will tell the National Journal, “I would say 10:45, maybe 10:30 or so, the plane changed course.” (National Journal 8/31/2002)
Other Evidence Indicates Plane Is Already Flying West - However, in addition to the 9/11 Commission Report, several other accounts will indicate that Air Force One turned west and headed toward Barksdale Air Force Base significantly earlier than this. A reporter who is on Air Force One will write that the plane “suddenly veered west” within “perhaps 20 minutes of takeoff,” meaning before 10:15 a.m. (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001) And Ann Compton, another reporter on Air Force One, writes in her notebook that at 10:29 a.m., “We were not en route to Washington.” (Gilbert et al. 2002, pp. 131-132) Furthermore, at 10:42 a.m., an ID technician at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) received a call about Air Force One, in which they were told, “It looks like he’s going westbound now.” The caller, someone at NORAD’s Southeast Air Defense Sector (SEADS), added that the plane was “west of Tallahassee,” which is in north Florida, and said, “We called [the FAA’s Jacksonville Center] to see if he was deviating and they said he, it’s unknown where he’s going at this time.” (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001)

The first fighter jet that launched from Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, in response to the morning’s attacks lands at its base less than 10 minutes after taking off. (9/11 Commission 2004; 9/11 Commission 2/17/2004) The F-16, which is piloted by Major Billy Hutchison, was ordered to take off immediately after arriving back at Andrews from a training mission in North Carolina (see (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Hutchison has made two loops up the Potomac River, and flown over the burning Pentagon (see 10:39 a.m.-10:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Scott 9/9/2002; Spencer 2008, pp. 235) His aircraft had only 2,800 pounds of fuel—equivalent to one-eighth of a tank in a car—remaining when he took off, and he’d subsequently noticed his fuel gauge pegged at the lowest level it can indicate, 400 pounds. He announced to the air traffic controller he was communicating with, “I’ve got to go.” (Filson 2003, pp. 79; Spencer 2008, pp. 248) Hutchison will later recall that his plane is “on vapors” when he lands. (9/11 Commission 2/27/2004) By now, two more F-16s have taken off from Andrews (see 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Filson 2003, pp. 82; Vogel 2007, pp. 446) Hutchison’s jet is refueled and loaded with weapons, and he will then take off again to defend Washington. (9/11 Commission 2/27/2004; Spencer 2008, pp. 249)

James K. Will.James K. Will. [Source: WTAE-TV]After hearing a plane has crashed in his area, a farmer flies over the Flight 93 crash site to take photos of the wreckage. James K. Will, who is an aerial photographer as well as a farmer, had just landed his Cessna on a private airstrip at his farm in Berlin, Pennsylvania, after visiting nearby Altoona. His mother rushed out and told him there were reports of a plane having crashed near Shanksville. He’d grabbed his camera and set off in his plane for the site, to take photos of the wreckage. He later recalls that he circles the Flight 93 crash scene around 45 minutes after the crash occurred. He says, “I thought it was just an accident.” He is then intercepted by a state police helicopter, which escorts him to the Johnstown airport. He will be questioned and briefly detained there before being released. His plane will be searched and then released. (Pittsburgh Channel 9/15/2001; Erdley 9/15/2001) At around 9:45 a.m., all FAA facilities had been ordered to instruct every aircraft to land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). About 20 minutes earlier, the FAA had initiated a nationwide ground stop, which prohibited takeoffs and required planes in the air to land as soon as reasonable (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Donnelly 9/14/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 25 and 29)

Pilot Mark Tillman in the cockpit of Air Force One.Pilot Mark Tillman in the cockpit of Air Force One. [Source: CBS News]Reporters accompanying President Bush on Air Force One notice their plane significantly increasing its altitude. (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Tapper 9/12/2001; Gilbert et al. 2002, pp. 148) According to Ann Compton of ABC Radio, who is on Air Force One, there is “a noticeable increase in the plane’s altitude” at this time. (Sylvester and Huffman 2002, pp. 136) At 11:14 a.m., the reporters on the plane will be informed that they are flying at around 40,000 feet. (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001) Compton will later recall that around the time it increases its altitude, Air Force One is heading west, instead of flying toward Washington, DC. A Secret Service agent shakes his head and whispers to her, “We aren’t going home.” (Gilbert et al. 2002, pp. 148; Sylvester and Huffman 2002, pp. 136) It is unclear if there is a specific reason for Air Force One’s increase in altitude. Around 20 minutes earlier, Colonel Mark Tillman, the plane’s pilot, was notified of a threat received by the White House indicating that Air Force One is a target (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and shortly afterwards, air traffic control alerted him to a suspicious aircraft that was flying toward his plane (see (10:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 106-107; Kohn 9/11/2002; Knoller 1/17/2009)

A member of staff at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) tells someone he is talking to on the phone to keep quiet about the location of Air Force One and the fact that the plane is airborne. (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001) Air Force One took off from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport in Florida with President Bush on board at around 9:54 a.m. (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39) Personnel at NEADS, however, only learned it was airborne about half an hour later (see 10:26 a.m. September 11, 2001). (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001) A member of staff at NEADS, whose identity is unstated, is on the phone with someone whose identity is also unstated. He tells them, “If anybody calls, you get a phone call, anything, you pass [on] no information as to where Air Force One is and [the fact] that it’s airborne.” The person on the phone acknowledges the instruction, saying, “Copy.” A second member of staff at NEADS jokes, “I don’t know where he [i.e. Air Force One] is anyway” and laughs. The person on the phone then says he “didn’t know he [i.e. Air Force One] was airborne until you told me.” (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001) It is unclear why the NEADS staffer wants details about Air Force One kept quiet. Some NEADS personnel have already discussed the plane and the need to provide fighter jets to escort it among themselves. (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001) And an ID technician at NEADS talked about the location of the plane and its possible destination over the phone with someone at NORAD’s Southeast Air Defense Sector (SEADS) (see (10:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001) A few minutes later, the member of staff at NEADS will again assert the need to keep quiet about what is happening this morning. At around 11:01 a.m., they will tell someone they are talking to on the phone, apparently the same person as before, “If you get phone calls from anybody on anything that’s going on, don’t forget: you direct them to public affairs or the MCC.” (The MCC is Major Kevin Nasypany, the NEADS mission crew commander.) The person on the phone will acknowledge the instruction, saying, “Copy.” (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001)

Secretary of the Army Thomas White is ordered to leave the Pentagon and go to Site R, an alternate military command center outside Washington, DC, but the decision to send him there will subsequently be found to have been a mistake and so he will return to the Pentagon later in the day. (Chiarelli 2/5/2002; Christopher N. Koontz 2011, pp. 57 pdf file; Arkin 2013, pp. 176) White arrived at the Army Operations Center (AOC) in the basement of the Pentagon sometime after 9:37 a.m., when the Pentagon was attacked (see 9:43 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Chiarelli 2/5/2002; White 10/26/2004; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 135) While there, he has provided leadership and guidance to personnel in the center. (Christopher N. Koontz 2011, pp. 56 pdf file)
Army Secretary Is Ordered to Leave the Pentagon - After he has spent some time in the AOC, though, he is ordered to leave the Pentagon and go to Site R, a secure complex of buildings on the Pennsylvania-Maryland border. (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 135; Arkin 2013, pp. 176) The facility was designed as a duplicate of the Pentagon’s National Military Command Center (NMCC) that would serve as the Pentagon’s primary command center if the NMCC was destroyed in an attack or needed to be evacuated. (Creed and Newman 2008, pp. 174) White is ordered to go there by Major General Peter Chiarelli, the Army’s director of operations, readiness, and mobilization. Chiarelli will later recall that he issued the order to White after he “got word that we were going to exercise a relocation plan of key leaders to a place called Site R.”
White Initially Objects to Leaving the Pentagon - White is unhappy when he is first told that he has to leave the Pentagon and refuses to go. “He communicated he was not leaving, he was staying in the building,” Chiarelli will recall. But the officer in charge of the relocation and continuity of operations plan then explains to Chiarelli that White has to go to Site R. He says: “Sir, he has no choice at this time. This has been directed and he must immediately proceed to leave here. This is bigger than him. This is continuity of the government of the United States.” Chiarelli asks the officer, “Are you sure of this?” and the officer replies: “Yes, I’m sure. Sir, you need to go up and tell him he needs to get up and go.” Chiarelli therefore goes up to White and tells him that he has “no choice; he was bound to do this; we had gotten word that this portion of the implementation plan was in effect, and that he must proceed directly to a specified place in the building where he would get in a helicopter and leave.” White then agrees to go to Site R.
Order to Send White Away Will Be Found to Be Unnecessary - He leaves the Pentagon at the same time as Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz does (see (11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and the two men are flown to the secure facility in the same helicopter, according to Chiarelli. However, personnel in the AOC will subsequently discover that the decision to send White to Site R was a mistake. “We found out that it wasn’t required for him to leave at that particular point in time, because the level of evacuation did not reach his level,” Chiarelli will say. The unnecessary order came about because the person who said White had to leave the Pentagon “misspoke over the phone,” he will add. White will therefore return to the Pentagon about four hours after leaving it. (Chiarelli 2/5/2002)
Army Vice Chief of Staff Will Be in Charge While White Is Away - As secretary of the Army, White is the top civilian leader for the US Army and is responsible for the effective and efficient functioning of the Army. (US Department of the Army 7/9/2002 pdf file; Collins 4/7/2017) He is also the “top executive agent in the Pentagon hierarchy,” the “coordinator of continuity for the Pentagon,” and the “middleman for military support to civil authorities,” according to military expert and author William Arkin. But while he is away from the Pentagon, General John Keane, vice chief of staff of the Army, will be “in charge of the Army (and of decisions relating to military support to civil authorities),” Arkin will write. (Arkin 2013, pp. 176)

The FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, sends out an advisory that suspends operations in the national airspace system, requiring all aircraft to land and prohibiting aircraft from taking off from all airports. (Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002 pdf file; Federal Aviation Administration 4/15/2002) At 9:26 a.m., the FAA ordered a national ground stop that prevented any aircraft from taking off (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and at 9:45 a.m. it instructed all airborne aircraft to land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure 9/21/2001) According to a 2002 FAA report, “With this advisory, the shutdown of the air traffic system en masse had officially begun.” The advisory states: “Due to extraordinary circumstances and for reasons of safety. Attention all aircraft operators. By order of the Federal Aviation Command Center all airports/airdromes are not authorized for landing and takeoff. All traffic including airborne aircraft are encouraged to land shortly, including all helicopter traffic. Aircraft involved in firefighting in the Northwest US are excluded. Please read this notice over the emergency frequencies, and VOR [VHF omnidirectional range] voice.” (Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002 pdf file)

The plane carrying Attorney General John Ashcroft, which is heading toward Washington, DC, is threatened with being shot down by the military if it does not land, and is diverted to Richmond, Virginia. (Eggen 9/28/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002 pdf file; Spencer 2008, pp. 258) Even though the FAA had issued a national ground stop preventing aircraft from taking off (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Ashcroft insisted that his plane take off and fly back to Washington after it landed in Milwaukee to refuel (see After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). And though the FAA has been instructing all aircraft to land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Ashcroft told his pilot to ignore an order to land near Detroit, and instead continue toward Washington (see 10:40 a.m. September 11, 2001). (US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure 9/21/2001; Ashcroft 2006, pp. 117; Spencer 2008, pp. 257-258)
Fighters Intercept Ashcroft's Plane - When Ben Sliney, the national operations manager at the FAA’s Herndon Command Center, hears that Ashcroft’s pilot is refusing to land, he notifies NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS). As a result, two F-16 fighter jets from a nearby Air National Guard base intercept Ashcroft’s plane, but they remain out of sight and undetected by its pilot. The F-16s’ pilots report to NEADS that the errant plane is a private corporate jet without any markings, which is heading for Washington and does not seem to have any intention of landing.
Sliney Wants Plane 'out of My Sky' - Ashcroft’s pilot, David Clemmer, has started broadcasting a message “in the blind,” meaning it is not intended for any specific air traffic controller, stating that the attorney general is on the plane and they are returning to Washington. The F-16 pilots notify NEADS of this, but when a NEADS officer then tells Sliney about the message, Sliney asks, “Can you guarantee me that it is indeed John Ashcroft on that plane?” The officer replies, “No sir, we cannot,” and so Sliney demands, “Then get him out of my sky!” NEADS issues the order to the two F-16 pilots that if the plane will not land voluntarily, then they must take it down. The F-16 flight lead calls the FAA’s Washington Center and arranges for one of its controllers to call the plane’s pilot and tell him that if he does not divert and land, his plane will be shot down. (Spencer 2008, pp. 258)
Pilot Warned Plane Could Be Shot Down - The Washington Center controller tells Clemmer, “Land your plane immediately, or risk getting shot down by the US Air Force.” (Thomas and Hosenball 9/24/2001) Clemmer relays this warning to Ashcroft, telling him: “Sir, there’s a shootdown order. If we get any closer to Washington, they might blow us out of the sky.” (Ashcroft 2006, pp. 118) Clemmer also turns to an FBI agent who has been assigned to guard Ashcroft, and says, “Well, Larry, we’re in deep kimchi here, and basically, all the rules you and I know are out the window.” He tells air traffic controllers that he is carrying the attorney general, but is worried that this information won’t get through to military commanders who control the airspace around Washington. (Thomas and Hosenball 9/24/2001) Clemmer will later recall: “We didn’t want to do anything that would jeopardize our safety or the safety of the [attorney general]. I know I didn’t want to get shot down either.”
Plane Diverted to Richmond - According to some accounts, Ashcroft finally relents, and, at the insistence of the FAA, his plane is diverted to Richmond. Ashcroft will later recall, “It was a real negotiation [with the FAA].” (Eggen 9/28/2001; Brill 3/10/2003; Spencer 2008, pp. 258) However, according to a 2002 FAA report, Ashcroft’s plane is diverted to Richmond “due to air traffic requests for the release of medevac aircraft in the Washington, DC, area.” (Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002 pdf file) As the plane flies toward Richmond, Clemmer negotiates getting a fighter escort for it. Ashcroft will persist in his desire to reach Washington, and his plane will eventually be cleared to land in the capital (see 11:27 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Eggen 9/28/2001; Spencer 2008, pp. 272)

Logo of the 192nd Fighter Wing.Logo of the 192nd Fighter Wing. [Source: Air National Guard]More fighter jets arrive over Washington, DC. These include F-16s from Richmond, Virginia, and Atlantic City, New Jersey. (Scott 9/9/2002) The Atlantic City jets belong to the 177th Fighter Wing (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and the Richmond jets belong to the 192nd Fighter Wing. (GlobalSecurity (.org.) 10/21/2001; Vocale 10/2002) Fighters from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia (see (Between 9:49 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington (see 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001), are already flying over the capital. Captain Brandon Rasmussen, who took off from Andrews at 11:11 a.m., actually flies out to intercept the fighters from Richmond, apparently not realizing who they are. He will later recall: “I ended up running an intercept out of a two-ship out of Richmond, two-ship F-16 out of Richmond that just came flying north. In essence, we would find whatever we could on the radar, ask [the FAA’s] Washington Center if they knew who it was, and if they didn’t, we would run an intercept on them to visual identify who they were.” (Rasmussen 9/18/2003) According to Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine, with jets from different units arriving over Washington, “The air picture was confused, at best, and radio frequencies were alive with chatter.” (Scott 9/9/2002)

Curtis M. Bedke.Curtis M. Bedke. [Source: US Air Force]Officials at Barksdale Air Force Base, near Shreveport, Louisiana, are informed that a large plane will be arriving unexpectedly at their base and will require security within the next 30 minutes, and they quickly deduce that the aircraft is Air Force One, the president’s plane, and start preparing for its arrival. (Associated Press 10/2/2001; Freeman 10/2006 pdf file)
Officers Given List of Requirements for Air Force One - Colonel Anthony Imondi and Colonel Curtis Bedke of the 2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale take a call from Air Force One in which they are given a list of requirements requested by the plane’s crew. These requirements include supplies intended to last for at least a day or two, as the president is currently uncertain of his final destination or how long he may need to remain airborne. On the list are, among other things, 150,000 pounds of fuel, 75 box lunches, 10 gallons of orange juice, bagels, muffins, and 25 pounds of bananas.
Commander Deduces Plane Is Air Force One - When Lieutenant General Thomas Keck, the commander of the 8th Air Force at Barksdale, learns of the request, he asks his staff, “Who the heck is this?” His personnel say they don’t know, as the plane would not identify itself except to say there were distinguished visitors on board and it was “Code Alpha,” which means top priority. The pilot of Air Force One, Colonel Mark Tillman, then informs the base that the distinguished visitors are four congressmen. However, Keck suspects the plane is more important and soon works out that it must be Air Force One, carrying the president. He then has just 20 minutes to prepare for the president’s arrival at Barksdale.
Base Prepares for Plane's Arrival - Keck orders his staff to prepare for receiving a large, inbound aircraft, although he and his colleagues try to keep the plane’s identity secret as much as possible. The order goes out for the requested supplies to be gathered from the dining facility on the base, the commissary, or from off-base stores. The base’s security forces, and fuels and maintenance personnel, are instructed to stand by to service the plane. Keck tells the base’s military police unit that the incoming plane will need a full-on security detail as soon as it stops on the runway. (2d Bomb Wing 6/30/2002 pdf file; Freeman 10/2006 pdf file)
Officer Told Air Force One Landing at Nearby Airport - Captain Russell Stilling, an operations officer with the 2nd Security Forces Squadron at the base, is initially told only that an “unidentified aircraft” is inbound. Four minutes later he is called by the Secret Service, which tells him the aircraft is in fact Air Force One, but says the plane will be arriving at Shreveport Regional Airport, not Barksdale Air Base, and asks him to assign extra security police. Stilling only realizes Air Force One is landing at Barksdale while he is still on the phone with the Secret Service and he glances at a camera focused on the base’s runways, which is showing the plane coming in to land. (Villafuerte 9/8/2002) Air Force One will land at Barksdale Air Force Base at 11:45 a.m. (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Gibbs 9/14/2001)

Helicopters belonging to the 12th Aviation Battalion.Helicopters belonging to the 12th Aviation Battalion. [Source: United States Army]Helicopter crews with an Army aviation unit based near the Pentagon are initially unable to launch after returning from weapons training, because, they are told, they are “locked down until further notice.” (Exempt 11/14/2001 pdf file) The 12th Aviation Battalion is stationed at Davison Army Airfield, which is at Fort Belvoir, 12 miles south of the Pentagon. It is the Military District of Washington’s aviation support unit, and includes three helicopter companies that fly UH-1 “Huey” and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. (Military District of Washington 8/2000) But at the time of the attacks on the World Trade Center, an unspecified number of the battalion’s members were away at the shooting range at Fort AP Hill, for their annual weapons training (see 8:46 a.m.-9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). They only set out on the one and a half to two hours drive back to base after the Pentagon was hit. One of the battalion’s helicopter pilots, who says the Pentagon is “basically one of our missions,” will later recall that after arriving back at Davison Airfield, his company commander “pretty much had us all get together, and he broke us down into aviation crews… and then he briefed us on what to expect.” The battalion’s helicopters are put “online,” meaning “we preflight our aircraft, got ready, and we went ahead and took everything out.” But, the pilot will say: “then basically we were locked down until further notice. That’s what we were told. And at that point, aviation got hit the hardest, so nobody was flying anywhere unless we had specific permission.… It was a waiting game.” The first helicopter to take off from Davison Airfield transports some engineers to the Pentagon, though the time it launches at is unstated. The 12th Aviation Battalion helicopters will subsequently be involved with supporting Operation Noble Eagle, the new homeland defense mission after 9/11. (Exempt 11/14/2001 pdf file)

United Airlines issues a press release confirming that Flight 93 has crashed. Flight 93 went down in Pennsylvania shortly after 10:00 a.m. (see (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The release states: “United Airlines has confirmed one of its flights has crashed near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. United Flight 93, a Boeing 757 aircraft, is the flight number involved. The flight originated in Newark and was bound for San Francisco.” The release adds, “United is deeply concerned about a further flight, United Flight 175, a Boeing 767, which was bound from Boston to Los Angeles.” (United Airlines 9/11/2001) Although Flight 175 hit the World Trade Center at 9:03 (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), United Airlines will not publicly confirm it has crashed until 11:53 a.m. (see 11:53 a.m. September 11, 2001).

American Airlines issues a statement confirming that it has lost two of its aircraft in “tragic incidents this morning.” The statement identifies the aircraft as “Flight 11, a Boeing 767 en route from Boston to Los Angeles,” and “Flight 77, a Boeing 757 operating from Washington Dulles to Los Angeles.” The statement adds, “Because of the heightened security due to the nature of today’s events, American said it is working closely with US government authorities and will not release more information at this time.” (Associated Press 2001 pdf file; Associated Press 9/11/2001; CNN 9/12/2001) Flight 11 hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m. (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001) and Flight 77 hit the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004)

An E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft from Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma.An E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft from Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma. [Source: John K. McDowell / US Air Force]An Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) plane that is on its way back to its base in Oklahoma is called by NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) and instructed to head to Washington, DC, in order to provide radar and radio coverage, and help NEADS to communicate with fighter jets that are in the airspace over the capital.
Poor Communications over Washington - NEADS is having trouble communicating with fighters that have arrived over Washington (see (Between 9:49 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (11:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and the radio reception is nonexistent when those aircraft go below 20,000 feet. As Major General Larry Arnold, the commanding general of NORAD’s Continental US Region, will later recall, NORAD’s “picture over DC was pretty poor. And the communication was poor.” As a result, “the aircrews themselves” of the fighters over Washington “coordinated the refueling and the combat air patrols.”
NEADS Contacts AWACS Heading toward Oklahoma - NEADS weapons controller Trey Murphy therefore gets on the radio to an AWACS belonging to the 552nd Air Control Wing, based at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma. (Code One Magazine 1/2002; Spencer 2008, pp. 265-266) An AWACS is a modified Boeing 707 equipped with long-range radar and sophisticated communications equipment, which can track aircraft within a radius of several hundred miles. (Schmitt 9/23/1995; Asia Times 1/27/2000) The AWACS Murphy contacts had been flying a training mission earlier in the morning, somewhere near Washington (see Before 9:55 a.m. September 11, 2001), but was directed to return to Tinker, supposedly as a result of the “immediate confusion after the attacks” (see (Between 9:05 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
AWACS Told to Head to Washington - Murphy instructs the pilot of the AWACS to turn around and head back toward Washington. He says: “Here’s the deal. We need you to cover the NCA [national capital area].” The pilot responds, “Roger that,” and asks, “Where do you want us?” Murphy replies: “No, no. You’re the one with the big jet with the rotor-dome on it. You tell me where you need to go to get me a surface to infinity look at that area.” As author Lynn Spencer will later describe, with Murphy’s request, “The problem of radar and radio coverage over DC has been solved.” After it arrives over the Washington area, according to Arnold, “The AWACS could talk to the Northeast [Air Defense] Sector and provide a better picture to them.” (Code One Magazine 1/2002; Spencer 2008, pp. 265-266)

One of the FAA’s Cessna Citation V jet planes.One of the FAA’s Cessna Citation V jet planes. [Source: Unknown]Although it was recently redirected toward Richmond, Virginia, the plane carrying Attorney General John Ashcroft tries again to head to Washington, DC, and a military fighter jet arrives to escort it into the capital. (Eggen 9/28/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002 pdf file; Ashcroft 2006, pp. 118) Ashcroft’s plane, a small government Cessna jet, has been trying to return to Washington after an engagement in Milwaukee was aborted due to the terrorist attacks (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). Ashcroft has ignored requests to land, and so his plane has been threatened with being shot down by the military and diverted to Richmond (see 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Thomas and Hosenball 9/24/2001; Brill 3/10/2003; Spencer 2008, pp. 257-258)
Pilot Persuaded to Head toward Washington - However, Ashcroft still wants to reach Washington. He therefore calls the Justice Department command center for assistance. Then, according to author Lynn Spencer, “With some high-level coordination,” one of the protective agents on Ashcroft’s plane “convinced the pilot to try once again to enter the city.” (Spencer 2008, pp. 272) The pilot, David Clemmer, negotiates to have fighter jets escort the plane into Washington. (Thomas and Hosenball 9/24/2001; Eggen 9/28/2001)
Controller Requests Fighter Escort - The FAA’s Washington Center consequently calls the Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) at Washington’s Reagan National Airport. The Washington Center controller says: “Hey, we’ve got November 4 out here. He wants to land at [Reagan Airport]. There’s some concern and they want a fighter escort.” TRACON controller Dan Creedon recognizes the plane’s N-number (specifically, N4) as belonging to one of the FAA’s jet aircraft, and confirms, “Yeah, November 4 is based out of Washington.” He then calls District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) pilot Major Daniel Caine, who recently launched from Andrews Air Force Base to defend Washington (see 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001), and tells him of the plane requesting a fighter escort. When Caine asks who is on it, Creedon replies: “I don’t know. My assumption is FAA-1 or DOT-1,” meaning FAA Administrator Jane Garvey or Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta.
DCANG Pilot Gets Langley Jets to Provide Escort - Caine says the jets launched from Langley Air Force Base (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001) that are defending Washington (see (Between 9:49 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001) will handle this. He forwards Creedon’s request to Major Dean Eckmann, the lead pilot from Langley. Eckmann responds that the inbound plane “can have one” of his fighters. He then directs his wingman, Major Brad Derrig, to intercept it. (9/11 Commission 12/1/2003; 9/11 Commission 12/1/2003; Spencer 2008, pp. 272-273) While Ashcroft’s plane is waiting for Derrig’s fighter to arrive, it is put in a holding pattern outside of Washington. (9/11 Commission 12/17/2003 pdf file) Ashcroft’s plane will be escorted to Reagan Airport, but the time it lands at is unclear (see (12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Thomas and Hosenball 9/24/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002 pdf file; Adams, Levin, and Morrison 8/13/2002; Vogel 2007, pp. 453)

Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot of Air Force One, is informed that unidentified fast-moving aircraft are heading toward his plane, and he becomes concerned that these may be armed fighter jets flown by foreign nationals. While Air Force One is heading out over the Gulf of Mexico, Tillman receives a call from an air traffic controller at the FAA’s Houston Center who tells him, “Air Force One, you have fast movers coming up at your 7 o’clock,” which means they are behind and to the left of his plane. Tillman thinks these aircraft could be fighters that are coming to escort Air Force One. He suggests this to Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gould, a military aide who is accompanying President Bush on the plane. But Gould says: “I haven’t’ asked for fighters yet. We haven’t had the chance to do it yet.” (Tillman 7/19/2012; McMillin 11/13/2012; KFDI 12/11/2012) (However, a transcript of the Pentagon’s air threat conference call will show that Gould in fact requested fighters to escort Air Force One at around 10:13 a.m. (see (10:13 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (US Department of Defense 9/11/2001 pdf file) )
Pilot Told about Foreigners Flying Training Missions in the Gulf - Tillman asks the Houston Center controller, “Who are they?” The controller replies: “We don’t know. They just popped up on radar.” (Tillman 2/29/2012 pdf file) He says the suspicious aircraft have “come somewhere out of Texas, we think, or somewhere out of the Gulf.” Around this time, Gould tells Tillman that the Air Force has informed him there are “foreign nationals in the Gulf of Mexico” who are out training in American F-16 fighters that are “heavily armed.” Tillman asks the Houston Center controller how fast the suspicious aircraft are flying and is told, “They’re supersonic.”
Aircraft Are Fighters Sent to Escort Air Force One - But then Tillman is called over radio by the pilot of one of the unidentified aircraft, who says, “Air Force One, Cowry 4-5, flight of two, we are your cover.” (Tillman 7/19/2012; KFDI 12/11/2012) The pilot says his estimated time of arrival with Air Force One is in three minutes. (Tillman 2/29/2012 pdf file) The aircraft are in fact two F-16s belonging to the Texas Air National Guard that launched from Ellington Field, an airport about 15 miles south of Houston, in order to escort Air Force One (see (After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (BBC 9/1/2002; Cenciotti 9/9/2011) Tillman will later describe this communication as the “coolest radio call I’ve ever heard in my life.” The reason, he will say, is that even though he can tell the pilots are “Texans, and they had an accent, it was not a foreign accent. So I knew: good people.” (KFDI 12/11/2012) The F-16s “joined up on us, fighter on each wing, and they protected us for the rest of the day,” Tillman will recall. (Tillman 7/19/2012) Passengers on Air Force One will first notice fighters escorting their plane at around 11:29 a.m. (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Brook 9/7/2011)

President Bush (center, bending) and others look out  the windows of Air Force One as their fighter escort arrives.President Bush (center, bending) and others look out the windows of Air Force One as their fighter escort arrives. [Source: White House]President Bush, his entourage, and reporters accompanying them on board Air Force One notice fighter jets escorting their plane for the first time. Air Force One is currently flying westward over Mississippi, toward Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Sammon 2002, pp. 109; Kohn 9/11/2002) The White House requested a fighter escort for it (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001) and the Secret Service asked Major General Larry Arnold, the commanding general of NORAD’s Continental US Region, to provide that escort. (Code One Magazine 1/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 38; Spencer 2008, pp. 255)
Passengers Notice Fighters - Now, air traffic control radios Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot of Air Force One, and notifies him, “[Y]ou’ve got two F-16s at about your—say, your 10 o’clock position.” (Kohn 9/11/2002; Spencer 2008, pp. 255) Reporters on board notice a fighter flying alongside the plane’s right wing, and then spot another one alongside its left wing. (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001) According to a photographer on the plane, these jets are “so close that we could see the pilot’s head.” (BBC 9/1/2002) Bush also notices the fighters. (Sammon 2002, pp. 109) White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett will later recall: “The staff, and the president and us, were filed out along the outside hallway of his presidential cabin there and looking out the windows. And the president gives them a signal of salute, and the pilot kind of tips his wing, and fades off and backs into formation.” (Kohn 9/11/2002)
Fighters Maybe Arrived Earlier, but Remained out of Sight - According to most accounts, the jets alongside Air Force One belong to the 147th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard. (Kohn 9/11/2002; Filson 2003, pp. 87; Martin 7/4/2004; Rosenfeld and Gross 2007, pp. 40; Spencer 2008, pp. 255) But a few accounts will indicate they belong to a unit of the Florida Air National Guard in Jacksonville (see (10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (US Department of Defense 9/2001; Langley 12/16/2001) Four 147th Fighter Wing jets have been directed toward the president’s plane to accompany it (see (After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Filson 2003, pp. 87; Rosenfeld and Gross 2007, pp. 40) But according to Sarasota Magazine, Air Force One is “currently being escorted by six jet fighters.” (Plunket 11/2001) Fifteen minutes earlier, at 11:14 a.m., an official, whose identity is unstated but who is not a member of the White House staff, told the reporters on Air Force One that the plane already had plenty of military escort, but the fighters were not visible at that time, presumably meaning they were escorting the plane from a distance. (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001)
Jets Protecting '80-Mile Bubble' around Air Force One - The two jets seen by the passengers on Air Force One are reportedly being flown by pilots Shane Brotherton and Randy Roberts of the 147th Fighter Wing. Roberts will later recall, “We were trying to keep an 80-mile bubble… around Air Force One, and we’d investigate anything that was within 80 miles.” (Kohn 9/11/2002; Spencer 2008, pp. 255) The 147th Fighter Wing jets will accompany Air Force One to Barksdale Air Force Base, then on to Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, and finally to Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, DC. (Filson 2003, pp. 87-88; Cousins 7/9/2005)

At around 8:00 p.m., Afghanistan time (11:30 a.m., New York time), Taliban leader Mullah Omar allegedly says, “Things have gone much further than expected.” This is according to what the New Yorker will describe as “Afghan intelligence sources” who monitor the call. (It is unclear what “Afghan intelligence sources” means, since the Taliban control nearly all of Afghanistan at this time, but it could be a reference to Northern Alliance forces; the CIA gave them equipment to monitor the Taliban (see Winter 1999-March 2000).) Omar’s comment takes place over an hour after one of the World Trade Center towers collapsed, which means thousands have been killed in the attacks, not hundreds (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001). An Afghan intelligence official will later say: “They were expecting a reaction. But they thought it would be a Clinton-type reaction. They didn’t anticipate the kind of revenge that occurred.” (Anderson 6/10/2002) The “Clinton-type reaction” presumably is a reference to the August 1998 missile strikes on Sudan and Afghanistan during the Clinton administration (see August 20, 1998).

Ann Compton.Ann Compton. [Source: Harvard University]Reporters on Air Force One are told that President Bush is being evacuated, but they currently have no idea where the plane is heading. (Tapper 9/12/2001; BBC 9/1/2002; Graff 9/9/2016) Thirteen reporters are gathered in a small cabin at the back of the president’s plane. (Cosgrove-Mather 8/19/2002; Fleischer 2005, pp. 145) White House press secretary Ari Fleischer comes in and tells them, “This is off the record, but the president is being evacuated.” He says Bush is being evacuated “for his safety and the safety of the country.” Ann Compton of ABC Radio responds: “You can’t put that off the record. That’s a historic and chilling fact. That has to be on the record.” (ABC News 9/11/2002; Graff 9/9/2016) “I’ve covered the White House for more than 25 years,” she will later reflect, adding, “I have never heard of a president being evacuated.” (BBC 9/1/2002) Fleischer’s statement “sent chills down my spine,” she will say. (Graff 9/9/2016) Air Force One is currently heading for Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana (see (10:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 325) But the reporters on board are unaware of the plane’s destination. When they have inquired where they were going, the people they asked said they didn’t know. (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Tapper 9/12/2001; Keil 9/2004)

Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot of Air Force One, is informed that an unidentified aircraft is heading toward his plane, and one of the fighter jets that is escorting Air Force One then goes and intercepts this suspicious aircraft. (Tillman 7/19/2012; KFDI 12/11/2012) Air Force One is flying toward Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana and has now been joined by two F-16 fighters belonging to the 147th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Rosenfeld and Gross 2007, pp. 40; Cenciotti 9/9/2011)
Pilot Says Aircraft Will Be Shot Down if It Is Hostile - The pilot of one of the fighters calls Tillman and tells him, “There’s a guy coming off New Orleans, looks like New Orleans, and he’s coming off and he’s climbing right at us, he’s coming right up at us.” He says he has instructed the pilot of the other fighter to head out to locate and identify the aircraft, and, he says, if the aircraft is “not a friendly, he’s gonna go ahead and splash him.” Tillman asks the pilot, “Who has got shootdown authority here?” and is told, “You have shootdown authority.” He then phones the president’s office, downstairs on Air Force One, and says to the person who answers, “Let the president know: the fighters on the wing say that I have shootdown authority.” Tillman then hears “a little chuckle in the background,” which, he will later say, is the “president and everybody laughing ‘cause Tillman thinks he has shootdown authority.”
Aircraft Is Just a Learjet Flown by a Civilian - The suspicious aircraft is intercepted by the fighter that went to locate and identify it. It turns out to be a Learjet piloted by a civilian, according to Tillman, which has just taken off from Lakefront Airport in New Orleans. “My angle coming in [toward Barksdale Air Force Base] was coming right over New Orleans and he’s taking off, coming right at me,” Tillman will say. (Tillman 2/29/2012 pdf file; Tillman 7/19/2012; KFDI 12/11/2012) If this is correct, it is unclear why the aircraft was permitted to take off, since the FAA ordered a nationwide ground stop at around 9:26 a.m., which was supposed to prevent any aircraft taking off across the US (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure 9/21/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 25) “It’s the only guy in the country that didn’t get the word we’re not flying today,” Tillman will comment. Finally, according to Tillman, the FAA’s Houston Center gets the Learjet back on the ground. (KFDI 12/11/2012) Air Force One then heads on to Barksdale Air Force Base, where it will land at 11:45 a.m. (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Kohn 9/11/2002)

Air Force One at Barksdale Air Force Base.Air Force One at Barksdale Air Force Base. [Source: Win McNamee / Reuters]Air Force One, with President Bush on board, lands at Barksdale Air Force Base—the home of the B-52 bomber—near Shreveport, Louisiana. (Sanger and van Natta 9/16/2001; Langley 12/16/2001; BBC 9/1/2002) The president’s plane was escorted by fighter jets from the 147th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard as it came in to land (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Gibbs 9/14/2001; Filson 2003, pp. 87; Bush 2010, pp. 132) Two of those fighters now land at Barksdale with Air Force One while the other two remain airborne, flying a combat air patrol over Shreveport and Bossier City. Aircraft and personnel at Barksdale were participating in the major training exercise Global Guardian this morning, before the terrorist attacks began (see 8:48 a.m. September 11, 2001), and after touching down, Air Force One taxies past 40 fully loaded B-52s. (Villafuerte 9/8/2002; Bombardier 9/8/2006 pdf file; Draper 2007, pp. 141) Air Force personnel dressed in full combat gear and brandishing M-16s then set up a perimeter around the plane. (Gibbs 9/14/2001) Bush initially remains on board, gathering more intelligence. There is no mobile gangway on the tarmac and so he is unable to get off through his usual door in the top half of Air Force One. Instead, the flight crew opens a hatch near the belly of the plane and lowers a set of retractable stairs while Bush continues working the phones. The president finally gets off the plane just before noon and is then escorted away from it amid tight security (see (11:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 111-112) The Daily Telegraph will later comment, “The official reason for landing at Barksdale was that Mr. Bush felt it necessary to make a further statement (see 12:36 p.m. September 11, 2001), but it isn’t unreasonable to assume that—as there was no agreement as to what the president’s movements should be—it was felt he might as well be on the ground as in the air.” (Langley 12/16/2001) Bush will remain at Barksdale Air Force Base for almost two hours before taking off again on Air Force One (see 1:37 p.m. September 11, 2001). (Tapper 9/12/2001; 2d Bomb Wing 6/30/2002 pdf file)

Two A-10 aircraft from Barksdale Air Force Base.Two A-10 aircraft from Barksdale Air Force Base. [Source: Greg Steele / US Air Force]Because no fighter jets are available at Barksdale Air Force Base, the Air Force Reserve places two A-10 jets, which are intended for close air support of ground forces, on alert in order to defend the base and the president’s plane, Air Force One, which landed at Barksdale at 11:45 a.m. (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). Lieutenant General Thomas Keck, the commander of the 8th Air Force, is responsible for protecting President Bush and Air Force One from any attack while they are at his base, and he realizes something needs to be done to provide cover for Barksdale. He therefore calls Brigadier General Jack Ihle, the commander of the 917th Wing of the Air Force Reserve at Barksdale, and requests help. When Keck asks Ihle if he can provide “any kind of defense,” Ihle immediately answers, “You got it!” The Air Force Reserve at Barksdale has no fighters, but it does have A-10 Warthogs, which are twin-engine jet aircraft known as “tank killers,” because they can deliver heavy firepower against tanks and ground forces. Despite the plane’s relatively slow speed, the A-10’s “gun is deadly,” according to Keck. Two A-10s are therefore parked at the end of the base’s runway on cockpit alert, with crews ready to take off immediately if required. Keck will later recall, “We felt better having them there, and then NORAD sent over a couple of F-16s before long.” (Freeman 10/2006 pdf file; GlobalSecurity (.org) 7/7/2011) (Keck is presumably referring to the fighters launched by the Louisiana Air National Guard’s 159th Fighter Wing to follow Air Force One after it leaves Barksdale (see (1:45 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Filson 2003, pp. 87; Associated Press 12/30/2007) ) Two of the four F-16 fighters from the 147th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard that escorted Air Force One as it came in to land at Barksdale fly a combat air patrol overhead, while the other two are on the ground with Air Force One while the president is at the base, according to the Bombardier, the newspaper for Barksdale Air Force Base. (Bombardier 9/8/2006 pdf file)

United Airlines finally issues a press release confirming that Flight 175 has crashed, nearly three hours after this aircraft hit the World Trade Center (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). The release states, “United Airlines has now confirmed that two of its aircraft have crashed.” These include “United Flight 175, a Boeing 767 aircraft, [that] departed from Boston at 7:58 a.m. local time, bound for Los Angeles, with 56 passengers onboard, two pilots and seven flight attendants.” (United Airlines 9/11/2001) United Airlines previously issued a press release, at 11:17, confirming the crash of Flight 93 (see 11:17 a.m. September 11, 2001), but this had stated that the airline was, at that time, only “deeply concerned” about Flight 175. (United Airlines 9/11/2001) However, at 9:22, the United Airlines System Operations Control manager had issued an advisory to all the airline’s facilities, stating that Flight 175 had been in an accident in New York (see 9:22 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 26) And Colin Scoggins, the military liaison at the FAA’s Boston Center, will later claim that United confirmed to the center that Flight 175 was down, “within two or three minutes” (see (9:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Bronner 8/1/2006)

President Bush at Barksdale Air Force Base, accompanied by Lieutenant General Thomas Keck.
President Bush at Barksdale Air Force Base, accompanied by Lieutenant General Thomas Keck. [Source: White House]President Bush is provided with a high level of security when he gets off Air Force One at Barksdale Air Force Base, near Shreveport, Louisiana, and is promptly driven to a conference center on the base from where he makes a brief phone call. (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Newseum et al. 2002, pp. 164; Rove 2010, pp. 258-259) Air Force One landed at Barksdale at 11:45 a.m. and was immediately surrounded by Air Force personnel in full combat gear, with their rifles drawn (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Martin 7/4/2004) Bush remained on board while a retractable set of stairs was lowered for him to leave the plane by.
Reporters Updated on President's Actions - A dark blue Dodge Caravan now pulls up next to these stairs, and a Secret Service agent and two Air Force officers take positions at the bottom of the stairs. The Dodge then pulls away, perhaps 40 feet back from the plane, and is swept inside and outside with dogs. Some members of the president’s staff come down the stairs from the plane. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer approaches the pool of reporters who have been traveling on Air Force One and who are waiting under the plane’s left wing for the president to disembark. Fleischer gives them a brief update on the president’s actions during the flight and adds: “You will see [the president] disembark here shortly. He will head inside and that’s all I’m going to indicate at this moment. You will have additional information shortly.” Fleischer then answers several questions from the reporters.
President Gets off Plane and into Minivan - Bush then descends from Air Force One. (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Sammon 2002, pp. 111) The Shreveport Secret Service office has been mobilized to oversee security arrangements while the president is at Barksdale. However, there is no presidential limousine waiting to drive Bush away from the plane. (Rove 2010, pp. 258) Normally the president’s armored limousine would be flown in ahead of time on a military transport plane, but there has been no time to get it to Barksdale. (Sammon 2002, pp. 112) Bush instead gets into the Dodge Caravan, which is being guarded by a Humvee with a .50-caliber machine gun on top. (Rove 2010, pp. 258) White House chief of staff Andrew Card gets in with him. The media and some of Bush’s staff, including his senior adviser, Karl Rove, and his communications director, Dan Bartlett, get into an Air Force minibus. (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Sammon 2002, pp. 112)
Bush Taken to Conference Center on Base - The Dodge then drives off at high speed. Bush will later recall that it “blasted off down the runway at what felt like 80 miles an hour. When the man behind the wheel started taking turns at that speed, I yelled, ‘Slow down, son, there are no terrorists on this base!’” (Bush 2010, pp. 132) The Humvee pulls out behind the Dodge, and the airman manning the machine gun on top cocks his weapon and puts a live round in the chamber. The minibus carrying the reporters follows moments later. (Rove 2010, pp. 258-259) The small motorcade drives to the Dougherty Conference Center, a two-story building on the base. At the stroke of noon, Bush and his aides enter the building. A car blocks the driveway and several armed soldiers stand guard while the president is inside. (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Sammon 2002, pp. 112)
Bush Speaks to Vice President - Bush and his aides are met by Colonel Curtis Bedke, the commander of the 2nd Bomb Wing, and Lieutenant General Thomas Keck, the commander of the 8th Air Force, apparently as they are entering the conference center. (2d Bomb Wing 6/30/2002 pdf file; Freeman 10/2006 pdf file) Inside, Bush picks up a telephone and speaks briefly with Vice President Dick Cheney, who is at the White House. (Sammon 2002, pp. 112) Bush tells Keck he needs to get to a secure phone. Keck says there is one in his office, but this is in a different building on the base. (Freeman 10/2006 pdf file) The pool of reporters waits in the parking lot outside the conference center for about 10 minutes while the president is inside. Bush and his staff finally come out at 12:11 p.m., to be taken to the 8th Air Force headquarters building (see (12:11 p.m.-1:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Sammon 2002, pp. 112)

David Israelite.David Israelite. [Source: Publicity photo]The plane carrying Attorney General John Ashcroft finally arrives in Washington, DC, landing at Reagan National Airport. (Eggen 9/28/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002 pdf file) Ashcroft has wanted his plane, a small government Cessna jet, to return to Washington since he learned of the attacks in New York while flying out to Milwaukee (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001 and After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Brill 3/10/2003; Ashcroft 2006, pp. 115-118) Despite his plane being instructed to land on more than one occasion (see 10:40 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001), Ashcroft has insisted on returning to the capital. (Adams, Levin, and Morrison 8/13/2002; Spencer 2008, pp. 258, 272)
Plane Lands, Passengers Met by Agents with Machine Guns - Ashcroft’s plane has finally been cleared to land in Washington, and an F-16 fighter jet escorts it in to Reagan Airport. (Eggen 9/28/2001; 9/11 Commission 12/1/2003) After touching down, the plane taxies to the tarmac near Signature Aviation, the private executive aircraft terminal. When Ashcroft and the other individuals with him get off, they are met by numerous agents, some with machine guns at the ready. Apparently concerned about possible snipers, the agents quickly cover Ashcroft with a bulletproof trench coat and pass out bulletproof vests to the others with him. All of them are hustled into a hangar, where several vans are waiting. Ashcroft and his deputy chief of staff, David Israelite, get into a heavily reinforced SUV, while their colleagues disperse to other vehicles.
Ashcroft Advised to Go to Classified Site - Ashcroft calls the White House Situation Room to ask where he should go to set up operations. He is connected to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who suggests that he head to the remote, classified site, where other Justice Department personnel have gone, until it is known if any more attacks are forthcoming. Ashcroft’s vehicle heads toward the site, but due to the roads being clogged with traffic, it turns around and goes instead to the FBI’s Strategic Information and Operations Center in Washington, where Ashcroft will spend much of the rest of the day. (9/11 Commission 12/17/2003 pdf file; Ashcroft 2006, pp. 118-120, 129)
Conflicting Accounts of Landing Time - The time when Ashcroft’s plane lands at Reagan Airport is unclear. According to a 2002 FAA report, it lands “just before noon.” (Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002 pdf file) According to USA Today, it does not arrive in Washington “until afternoon.” (Adams, Levin, and Morrison 8/13/2002) And a federally funded report on the emergency response to the Pentagon attack will claim that an unidentified aircraft—later determined to be Ashcroft’s plane—is approaching Washington and leads to an evacuation of the Pentagon site at around 2:00 p.m. (see (2:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002, pp. A30 pdf file; Vogel 2007, pp. 453) Ashcroft’s plane is one of the last aircraft to land in the United States on this day, according to the Washington Post. (Eggen 9/28/2001)

Several of the hijackers have tickets to continue from the destinations of their 9/11 flights. However, they do not take the flights, as all air traffic has been grounded in the US (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and they are presumed to have died in the 9/11 attacks. Flight 77 hijackers Nawaf and Salem Alhazmi, and Flight 175 hijackers Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, Mohand Alshehri, and Hamza Alghamdi are to fly from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Flight 93 hijacker Ahmed Alhaznawi is to continue from San Francisco to San Diego, whereas Ziad Jarrah is to continue to Las Vegas. Alghamdi also has tickets for flights later in September (see September 20-29, 2001). (Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/2001, pp. 233, 238, 242 246, 288 pdf file)

President Bush spends time arguing with his colleagues about where he should go next while he is at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana and is advised to stay away from Washington, DC. (Langley 12/16/2001; Bush 2010, pp. 133) Air Force One landed at Barksdale at 11:45 a.m. (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001) and, about 25 minutes later, Bush was taken to the headquarters of the 8th Air Force at the base (see (12:11 p.m.-1:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 112; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 325) The media are now asking about his whereabouts and why he has not returned to Washington. Bush is in fact keen to return to the capital. “I was worried people would get the impression that the government was disengaged,” he will later write. “The American people needed to see their president in Washington,” he will comment.
Bush Is Advised to Stay Away from Washington - While he is at the base, Bush debates whether he should return to Washington with the Secret Service and Vice President Dick Cheney, who is at the White House. (Langley 12/16/2001; Bush 2010, pp. 133) These people advise him against going back. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 325) “The Secret Service agents felt it was still too uncertain,” he will recall, adding: “Dick [Cheney] and [National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who is at the White House] agreed. They recommended that I go to the Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. It had secure housing space and reliable communications.” (Bush 2010, pp. 133) Meanwhile, Andrew Card, Bush’s chief of staff, spends time on the phone, seeking opinions from a number of trusted individuals. On the basis of these calls, he advises Bush that it would be reckless to return to Washington. (Langley 12/16/2001)
Secret Service Decides Where the President Goes - Despite Bush’s desire to return to the capital, the Secret Service has the power to determine where the president should go in a crisis, according to Dave Wilkinson, assistant special agent in charge of the presidential protection division. “By federal law, the Secret Service has to protect the president,” he will say, adding: “The wishes of that person that day are secondary to what the law expects of us. Theoretically it’s not his call, it’s our call.” (Graff 9/9/2016) Bush therefore acquiesces and a few minutes before 1:00 p.m., according to the London Daily Telegraph, agrees to fly to Offutt Air Force Base rather than going back to Washington. (Langley 12/16/2001) “I resigned myself to delaying my return once again,” he will comment. (Bush 2010, pp. 133) Bush “fought with us tooth and nail all day to go back to Washington,” Wilkinson will say, but the Secret Service “basically refused to take him back.” (Graff 9/9/2016)
Bush Is Frustrated at Being Unable to Return to the White House - After returning to Air Force One, but before the plane takes off, Bush gets on the phone to Cheney again and expresses his increasing frustration at being unable to return to the capital. He tells the vice president: “I can assure you I’d like to come home now. Tonight would be great.” Then, at 1:25 p.m., he turns to Card and Edward Marinzel, the head of his Secret Service detail, and says: “I want to go back home ASAP. I don’t want whoever this is holding me outside of Washington.” But Marinzel tells him, “Our people say it’s too unsteady still.” Bush replies, “Cheney says it’s not safe yet, as well.” Card then advises, “The right thing is to let the dust settle.” (Sammon 2002, pp. 118-119) Air Force One will take off from Barksdale Air Force Base and head to Offutt Air Force Base at 1:37 p.m. (see 1:37 p.m. September 11, 2001). (Milbank and Allen 9/12/2001)

The Navy Annex, located next to the Virginia State Police Barracks.The Navy Annex, located next to the Virginia State Police Barracks. [Source: Arlington County After-Action Report]The FBI establishes a command post for its response to the Pentagon attack at the Virginia State Police Barracks, overlooking the Pentagon. (Eversburg 11/2002) Around midday, Assistant Special Agent in Charge Robert Blecksmith arrived at the Pentagon and took over from Special Agent Chris Combs as the FBI’s on scene commander. He had quickly decided that the area around the Arlington County Fire Department’s incident command post by the Pentagon was too crowded and lacked support facilities. He therefore decides it will be safer for the FBI to carry out its operations at the Virginia State Police Barracks, located next to the Navy Annex, a few hundred yards from the Pentagon. Along with Combs, Blecksmith establishes the FBI’s command post there, and starts moving the FBI up to it. The two men will spend most of the afternoon at the barracks, where they work on establishing a Joint Operations Center (JOC) at nearby Fort Myer. (US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002, pp. A23 and C50 pdf file; Creed and Newman 2008, pp. 178) The JOC will open early the following morning (see September 12, 2001). (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 161)

US airspace is clear of all civilian air traffic, with the exception of a small number of law enforcement and emergency operations aircraft. Otherwise, only military aircraft are airborne. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/18/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 4/15/2002; Levin 8/12/2002) The FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, announces that the airspace has been successfully shut down. (Spencer 2008, pp. 269) At 9:26 a.m., the Command Center ordered a national ground stop that prevented any aircraft from taking off (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and at 9:45 a.m. it ordered FAA facilities to instruct all aircraft to land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Since then, about 4,500 commercial and general aviation aircraft have landed without incident. This is the first time ever that all civilian aircraft in the United States have been grounded. (US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure 9/21/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 29) Author Pamela Freni will later comment that this clearing of the skies was “a tremendous feat accomplished by a huge team that had never even practiced this part of the game before.” Frank Hatfield, the air traffic division manager for the FAA’s eastern region, will comment: “What we did on September 11 was done amazingly well. It was almost like World War II, the way the airplanes were handled.” (Freni 2003, pp. 69) At 12:30 p.m., the FAA will report that there are 50 flights in US airspace, but none of them are reporting any problems. (CNN 9/12/2001)

Secretary of State Colin Powell learned of the attacks on the US while away in Peru, Lima (see (9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). During his seven-hour flight back to Washington, he is frustrated at being unable to communicate with other senior government leaders. In a March 2002 speech at the State Department, Powell will recall, “I never felt more useless in my life than on the morning of the 11th of September. Phones [were] gone because of what happened here and what happened to the [communications] system here in Washington. They couldn’t get a phone line through. I was able to get some radio communications—two radio spots on the way back—but for most of that seven-hour period, I could not tell what was going on here in my capital, and I’m the secretary of state!” (Barrett 2002, pp. 4-5 pdf file; Verton 2003, pp. 149-150) Powell is able to talk by radio with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. But, according to journalist Bob Woodward, any “real talk” between them “was hopeless.” (Woodward 2002, pp. 10) Yet, in a 7:40 p.m. press briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Philip Reeker will claim that Powell “has been kept in the loop and informed all day.” (US Department of State 9/11/2001)

President Bush records a speech at Barksdale Air Force Base.President Bush records a speech at Barksdale Air Force Base. [Source: Win McNamee / Reuters]President Bush delivers a short speech to the nation in a windowless conference room at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, which is recorded and will be broadcast on television about half an hour later. (Gibbs 9/14/2001; Sammon 2002, pp. 113-117) Since arriving at Barksdale (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001), Bush has been spending time in the office of Lieutenant General Thomas Keck, the commander of the 8th Air Force (see (12:11 p.m.-1:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Freeman 10/2006 pdf file) Bush will later recall that by 12:30 p.m., “it had been almost three hours since I had spoken to the country” (see 9:30 a.m. September 11, 2001) and he is “worried people would get the impression that the government was disengaged.” (Bush 2010, pp. 133)
Bush Taken to Conference Room to Record Statement - A short statement to the nation has therefore been prepared for Bush to deliver. Keck escorts the president from his office to the conference room in the 8th Air Force headquarters building to record it. Bush is also accompanied to the room by his chief of staff, Andrew Card, his senior adviser, Karl Rove, his communications director, Dan Bartlett, his press secretary Ari Fleischer, and several Secret Service agents. (Sammon 2002, pp. 113; Freeman 10/2006 pdf file) A hurried attempt has been made to prepare the room for the president’s speech. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 325) Airmen have arranged three US flags behind the wooden lectern behind which Bush will speak, and have tried to add some lighting to brighten up the dark room. The reporters who have been traveling with the president on Air Force One went to the conference room after entering the 8th Air Force headquarters building, and are assembled there when Bush comes in. (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Freeman 10/2006 pdf file)
Tape of Speech Taken to Satellite Truck to Be Broadcast - Bush delivers his 219-word speech in precisely two minutes. (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Woodward 2002, pp. 19) After doing so, he leaves the room without acknowledging, or taking any questions from, the reporters in the room. (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Newseum et al. 2002, pp. 165) Keck, who stays to watch Bush deliver the speech, then escorts the president back to his office. (Freeman 10/2006 pdf file) Master Sergeant Rich Del Haya, the officer in charge of the 8th Air Force public affairs office, is then called to the 8th Air Force headquarters building to collect the videotape of the speech. He runs out of the building with it, accompanied by a CBS network producer and reporter, and drives toward the base’s far north entrance. Gate officials contact a state trooper outside the base, who escorts the three to a satellite truck of the local CBS affiliate. (Villafuerte 9/8/2002) The recording of the president’s speech will be broadcast from the satellite truck at 1:04 p.m. (see 1:04 p.m. September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 117)

Attorney General John Ashcroft arrives at the FBI’s Strategic Information and Operations Center (SIOC), located on the fifth floor of the FBI’s Washington, DC, headquarters. (CNN 11/20/1998; 9/11 Commission 12/17/2003 pdf file; Ashcroft 2006, pp. 120) Ashcroft has returned to Washington after his scheduled engagement in Milwaukee had to be aborted due to the terrorist attacks (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Thomas and Hosenball 9/24/2001; Brill 3/10/2003)
Ashcroft Heads to the SIOC instead of the Remote, Classified Site - After his plane landed at Reagan National Airport (see (12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001), Ashcroft was advised by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to head to the remote, classified site, where other Justice Department personnel had gone. But because the roads were clogged with traffic, at the recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, Ashcroft and his deputy chief of staff, David Israelite, turned around and headed instead toward the SIOC. While on his way to the SIOC, Ashcroft ordered that senior Justice Department officials like Thompson, who was at the remote, classified site, meet him at the center. Ashcroft will later estimate that he arrives at the SIOC sometime between 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. (9/11 Commission 12/17/2003 pdf file; Ashcroft 2006, pp. 118-120)
Sophisticated Command Center Can Manage Multiple Crises - The FBI’s new, upgraded SIOC officially opened in November 1998. (CNN 11/20/1998; Federal Bureau of Investigation 1/18/2004) The windowless, high-tech command center is 40,000 square feet in size. (Grunwald 11/21/1998; Ashcroft 2006, pp. 120) It can seat 380 people, includes 20 rooms to support its operations, and is equipped with sophisticated computers and communications equipment. It functions as a 24-hour watch post, a crisis management center, and an information processing center. It is capable of handling up to five crises at once. (CNN 11/20/1998; Federal Bureau of Investigation 1/18/2004) The SIOC was operational “[w]ithin minutes” of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, according to the FBI (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and provides “analytical, logistical, and administrative support” for the FBI’s teams on the ground in New York, Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 2003) Ashcroft will remain at the SIOC throughout the day, along with most of the FBI and Justice Department’s top officials (see (2:00 p.m.-8:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Chen and Schrader 9/12/2001; Ashcroft 2006, pp. 129)

A short pre-recorded statement is broadcast on television, in which President Bush tells the nation that all appropriate security measures are being taken, and he assures people that “the United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts.” (CNN 9/12/2001; Sammon 2002, pp. 117) The 219-word statement, lasting two minutes, was recorded about half an hour ago in a conference room at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana (see 12:36 p.m. September 11, 2001). (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Woodward 2002, pp. 19)
Bush Says US Will Find and Punish Terrorists - Bush begins: “Freedom itself was attacked this morning by faceless cowards. And freedom will be defended.” He continues: “Make no mistake: The United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts.” He reassures the public that he has been in contact with his colleagues in Washington, DC, and they “have taken all appropriate security precautions to protect the American people. Our military at home and around the world is on high alert status, and we have taken the necessary security precautions to continue the functions of your government.” He says, “[W]e will do whatever is necessary to protect America and Americans.” He concludes his statement, saying: “The resolve of our great nation is being tested. But make no mistake: We will show the world that we will pass this test. God bless.” (CNN 9/11/2001; White House 9/11/2001)
Bush Remains at Base after Speech Is Broadcast - After the president’s statement was recorded, Rich Del Haya, a military public relations officer at Barksdale, brought the videotape of it to a TV satellite truck outside the base. A technician there put the tape into a deck to be broadcast. However, the uplink failed twice. Finally, the third broadcast goes out to American TV screens. TV anchors emphasize that the president’s remarks are recorded, not live. “The implication,” journalist and author Bill Sammon will later write, “was that the White House had purposely delayed the airing of the tape in order to get a head start on the president’s next secret destination.” (Sammon 2002, pp. 117; Villafuerte 9/8/2002) The 9/11 Commission Report will similarly state that “for security reasons,” Bush’s statement “was taped and not broadcast live.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 325) But according to Sammon: “[T]he tape delay had been a function of mere logistics—there were no cables available at Barksdale for a live feed on such short notice. In fact, Bush remained at Barksdale more than half an hour after his taped speech was aired.” (Sammon 2002, pp. 117)
Bush's Delivery of Statement Is 'Not Reassuring' - Some commentators will later be critical of Bush’s performance in delivering his statement. Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward will write: “The president’s eyes were red-rimmed when he walked in. His performance was not reassuring. He spoke haltingly, mispronouncing several words as he looked down at his notes.” (Woodward 2002, pp. 19) Howard Fineman of Newsweek will call the speech “the low point” in the president’s war on terrorism. (Sammon 2002, pp. 116) Bush will comment that the “sentiment” of his speech “was right, but the setting—a sterile conference room at a military base in Louisiana—did not inspire much confidence.” (Bush 2010, pp. 133)

Logan Walters.Logan Walters. [Source: SCF Partners]While he is at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, President Bush receives an intelligence report from the US Strategic Command (Stratcom), informing him that a high-speed object is heading for his ranch in Crawford, Texas. It is already more than 45 minutes since US airspace had been cleared of all aircraft except military and emergency flights (see 12:16 p.m. September 11, 2001). Bush orders an underling to notify everyone at the ranch about this. (Lemann 9/25/2001; Sammon 2002, pp. 117; Kohn 9/2/2003) In the White House Situation Room, they are also informed of the rogue aircraft. Logan Walters, who is Bush’s personal aide, calls the ranch’s caretaker and tells him, “Get as far away from there as you can.” Senior national security official Franklin Miller then receives a phone call informing him that a combat air patrol (CAP) has been established over the ranch. (Draper 2007, pp. 142) (A CAP is an aircraft patrol with the purpose of intercepting and destroying hostile aircraft before they reach their targets. (US Department of Defense 4/12/2001) ) Miller heads to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House to ask Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley about the CAP. Both men agree that it seems unnecessarily excessive. When Miller returns to the Situation Room, he sets about calling off the CAP, but finds that it wasn’t even established to begin with, and that, furthermore, the report of a rogue aircraft was a false alarm. (Draper 2007, pp. 143) A threat to Air Force One had allegedly been received earlier on (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001), but this too is later deemed to have been a false alarm. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 554)

A Ryder truck.A Ryder truck. [Source: Ryder]Personnel in NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center (CMOC) in Colorado are informed that a truck, or a number of trucks, carrying men who appear to be Arabs is heading up the mountain toward the CMOC, but the apparent threat will turn out to be a false alarm. (US Department of Defense 9/11/2001; Scott 6/3/2002; BBC 9/1/2002) A NORAD representative describes what CMOC personnel are told over the Pentagon’s air threat conference call, saying, “We just received some intel that eight Ryder vans may be en route to the Cheyenne Mountain complex.” (US Department of Defense 9/11/2001) According to some accounts, though, only one vehicle—not eight—is reportedly heading toward the CMOC and this is carrying a number of Arab-looking men. CMOC personnel receive “an input that there [is] a yellow transport truck coming up the hill with seven Islamic folks in the front cab,” Lieutenant Colonel William Glover, the commander of NORAD’s Air Warning Center, will later recall. (BBC 9/1/2002) According to Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine, there is a “rumor” going around the CMOC about a “Ryder rental truck full of explosives,” driven by “Arab-looking men,” that is “targeting the mountain.” (Scott 6/3/2002) The source of the information about the truck, or trucks, supposedly approaching the CMOC is unstated.
Blast Doors Are Reportedly Shut due to the Threat - The massive blast doors leading to the CMOC are closed in response to this apparent threat, according to the NORAD representative on the air threat conference call (see (10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). He says over the conference call, “Cheyenne Mountain is closing [the] blast doors in response to [a] possible threat of eight Ryder trucks en route from downtown to the Cheyenne Mountain complex.”
Threat Is a False Alarm - The supposed threat will turn out to be a false alarm. The NORAD representative will later report over the conference call: “I previously briefed [about a] possible eight Ryder trucks en route to Cheyenne Mountain. That threat has been negated. That is no longer a threat.” He will be asked if the report about the trucks was “an accurate assessment” or if someone had to “neutralize the force,” presumably meaning military action had to be taken against the trucks. The NORAD representative will answer simply, “We have no more details at this time.” It is unclear when CMOC personnel are alerted to the truck, or trucks, that is supposedly heading their way. The NORAD representative on the air threat conference call first mentions the trucks shortly after he reported that an unidentified aircraft had been spotted flying toward President Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas. (US Department of Defense 9/11/2001) Bush was told about this aircraft at 1:05 p.m. (see 1:05 p.m. September 11, 2001), which was presumably around the time that NORAD was alerted to it. (Lemann 9/25/2001; Sammon 2002, pp. 117) CMOC personnel presumably therefore learn about the truck, or trucks, supposedly heading their way shortly after 1:05 p.m.

Deena Burnett, whose husband Tom Burnett was on Flight 93, is told by United Airlines it isn’t aware this plane has crashed. Deena had earlier on learned of an aircraft crashing in Pennsylvania, and a police officer with her informed her that this was her husband’s flight. Yet in her own book, published in 2006, Deena Burnett will describe that she now calls “United Airlines and asked about Flight 93. ‘Were there any survivors?’” She will recall: “They said they didn’t know the plane had even crashed. They suggested I call back or they would contact me when they knew something.” According to her own description, Deena appears to make this call shortly before 11:00 a.m. Pacific Time, meaning close to 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time. (Burnett and Giombetti 2006, pp. 71-72 and 79) Yet by 10:15 a.m. ET, United Airlines’ headquarters had confirmed that an aircraft had crashed in Pennsylvania, and believed this was Flight 93 (see (10:07 a.m.-10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 47) And at 11:17 a.m. ET, the airline had issued a press release confirming the crash of Flight 93 (see 11:17 a.m. September 11, 2001). (United Airlines 9/11/2001) At what time Deena Burnett hears back from United Airlines after making this call is unstated.

Air Force One departs Barksdale Air Force Base.Air Force One departs Barksdale Air Force Base. [Source: Reuters]Air Force One takes off from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana to fly President Bush to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. While Bush has been at Barksdale, base personnel have refueled Air Force One and restocked it with provisions for its continuing journey, on the basis that it may have to serve as the president’s flying command center for the foreseeable future. (Associated Press 10/2/2001; 2d Bomb Wing 6/30/2002 pdf file; BBC 9/1/2002)
Reduced Number of Passengers on Board - For security reasons, the number of people traveling on Air Force One has been reduced (see (1:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Fleischer 2005, pp. 145-146) Those continuing with the president include Bush’s chief of staff Andrew Card, his senior adviser Karl Rove, his communications director Dan Bartlett, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, and assistant press secretary Gordon Johndroe. The number of Secret Service agents accompanying the president has been reduced, as has the number of reporters. The five remaining journalists are Ann Compton of ABC Radio, Sonya Ross of the Associated Press, Associated Press photographer Doug Mills, and a CBS cameraman and sound technician. (Tapper 9/12/2001; Ross 9/12/2001)
President Given Thumbs-up by Airmen - Lieutenant General Thomas Keck, the commander of the 8th Air Force, has been at Bush’s side for most of his time at Barksdale, and accompanies the president as he is being driven across the base to Air Force One. The president passes a row of B-52 bombers and is given a thumbs-up by the planes’ crew members. Keck explains to Bush that this means the troops “are trained, they’re ready, and they’ll do whatever you want them to.” Military police salute and other Air Force crew members cheer the president as he passes them. (Freeman 10/2006 pdf file)
Fighter Escort Rejoins Air Force One - Air Force One is being guarded by soldiers with their guns drawn when Bush reaches it, and a pack of military dogs is patrolling the tarmac. (Sammon 2002, pp. 117-118) After the plane takes off, two F-16 fighter jets pull up alongside it to provide an escort. (Freeman 10/2006 pdf file) These are presumably the same fighters, belonging to the 147th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard, that escorted Air Force One as it came in to land at Barksdale (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Filson 2003, pp. 87; Bombardier 9/8/2006 pdf file)
Destination Chosen Due to 'Continuity of Government' Plan - Bush’s destination, Offutt Air Force Base, is home to the US Strategic Command (Stratcom), which controls the nation’s nuclear weapons. (Associated Press 9/11/2001; Woodward 2002, pp. 19) Bush will later say the decision to head there was based on Offutt’s “secure housing space and reliable communications.” (Bush 2010, pp. 133) The base’s secure teleconferencing equipment will allow the president to conduct a meeting of his National Security Council later in the afternoon (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 119; Woodward 2002, pp. 19, 26) According to the 9/11 Commission Report, Offutt has been chosen as the president’s next destination “because of its elaborate command and control facilities, and because it could accommodate overnight lodging for 50 persons. The Secret Service wanted a place where the president could spend several days, if necessary.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 325) But according to White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke, the decision to head to Offutt instead of back to Washington, DC, was due to a plan called “Continuity of Government.” This program, which dates back to the Reagan administration, originally planned to set up a new leadership for the US in the event of a nuclear war. It was activated for the first time shortly before 10:00 a.m. this morning (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Kurtz 4/7/2004; ABC News 4/25/2004)

An F-15 from the 159th Fighter Wing.An F-15 from the 159th Fighter Wing. [Source: Louisiana National Guard]Fighter jets belonging to the Louisiana Air National Guard’s 159th Fighter Wing are launched in order to accompany Air Force One after it takes off from Barksdale Air Force Base. (Filson 2003, pp. 87; Associated Press 12/30/2007) The 159th Fighter Wing is located at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans, in Belle Chasse, Louisiana. (GlobalSecurity (.org) 1/21/2006)
SEADS Scrambles Fighters - Although the wing is not one of NORAD’s alert units around the US, NORAD’s Southeast Air Defense Sector (SEADS) scrambles four of its fighters around the time President Bush is leaving Barksdale Air Base on board Air Force One (see 1:37 p.m. September 11, 2001). The fighters had already been loaded with live missiles by the time Air Force One landed at the base (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). According to weapons officer Major Jeff Woelbling, “As we were all watching the news, the wing leadership decided to configure our jets and get ready.”
Military Unaware of Air Force One's Route - At the time Air Force One leaves Barksdale, SEADS is unaware of its next destination. Lieutenant Colonel Randy Riccardi, the commander of the 122nd Fighter Squadron, which is part of the 159th Fighter Wing, will later recall, “When Air Force One took off out of Barksdale, we were scrambled because SEADS didn’t know his route of flight.” Riccardi will add: “We were in a four-ship and turned north toward Barksdale and the president was already airborne. We were 300 miles behind him since SEADS didn’t know where he was going.” The 159th Fighter Wing jets will accompany Air Force One until it is near Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001). They then turn around and return to base. (Filson 2003, pp. 87) When Air Force One landed at Barksdale, it was already being escorted by jets from the 147th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard (see (After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Those jets will continue escorting the president’s plane until it reaches Washington, DC. (Cousins 7/9/2005; Bombardier 9/8/2006 pdf file)

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer tells reporters traveling with President Bush that the administration received no warnings of the terrorist attacks that occurred this morning. During a press briefing on Air Force One after the plane takes off from Barksdale Air Force Base (see 1:37 p.m. September 11, 2001), a reporter asks if Bush knows “anything more” about who is responsible for the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. “That information is still being gathered and analyzed,” Fleischer replies. Fleischer is then asked, “Had there been any warnings that the president knew of?” to which he answers, simply, “No warnings.” He is then asked if Bush is “concerned about the fact that this attack of this severity happened with no warning?” In response, Fleischer changes the subject and fails to answer the question. In the coming days and weeks, senior administration officials, including Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, will similarly say there was “no specific threat” of the kind of attack that happened today. (White House 9/11/2001; van Natta 5/18/2002) The 9/11 Commission Report, however, will note, “Most of the intelligence community recognized in the summer of 2001 that the number and severity of threat reports were unprecedented.” On August 6, Bush in fact received a Presidential Daily Brief that included an article titled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” (see August 6, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 260, 262) All the same, Fleischer will say in May 2002 that the answer he gave to reporters today, stating that there were no warnings of the attacks, was appropriate. “Flying on Air Force One, with the destruction of the attacks still visible on the plane’s TV sets, the only way to interpret that question was that it related to the attacks that we were in the midst of,” he will say. (van Natta 5/18/2002) And according to the 9/11 Commission Report, “Despite their large number, the threats received [in the summer of 2001] contained few specifics regarding time, place, method, or target.” The report will state, therefore, that the 9/11 Commission “cannot say for certain whether these reports, as dramatic as they were, related to the 9/11 attacks.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 262-263)

President Bush asks Mike Morell, his CIA briefer, who is responsible for today’s attacks on the US and Morell says he is sure al-Qaeda is to blame. About 15 minutes after Air Force One left Barksdale Air Force Base (see 1:37 p.m. September 11, 2001), White House chief of staff Andrew Card enters the staff section of the plane, where Morell is seated, and tells Morell that the president wants to see him. Morell goes to Bush’s office, where he then sits alone with the president and Card.
CIA Briefer Says He'd Bet Al-Qaeda Was behind the Attacks - Bush wants to know who Morell thinks is responsible for today’s attacks. “Michael, who did this?” he asks. Morell explains that he doesn’t have any intelligence indicating who is to blame, so he will simply provide his personal opinion. “I said that there were two countries capable of carrying out an attack like this, Iran and Iraq, but I believed both would have everything to lose and nothing to gain from the attack,” he will later recall. The culprit was almost certainly a non-state actor, he says, adding that he has no doubt that the trail of evidence will lead to the doorstep of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. “I’d bet my children’s future on that,” he says.
Briefer Is Unsure How Long It Will Take to Determine Who Is Responsible - “When will we know?” Bush asks. Morell replies, “I can’t say for sure,” and then goes over some recent terrorist attacks and says how long it took the CIA to determine, with any certainty, who was responsible. He says that in the case of the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), it took a couple of days; with the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000 (see October 12, 2000), it took a couple of months; but with the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia (see June 25, 1996), it had taken over a year. He says the CIA may know soon who is to blame for today’s attacks, but then again it might take some time. Bush says nothing in response once Morell has finished giving his views on who is responsible for today’s attacks and the men sit in silence for a while. Finally, Morell asks, “Is there anything else, Mr. President?” and Bush replies, “No, Michael, thank you.” Morell then returns to his seat in the staff section of the plane. (Morell 9/2006 pdf file; Morell and Harlow 2015, pp. 55-56; Graff 9/9/2016) Bush will learn that the CIA has linked al-Qaeda to today’s attacks later this afternoon, after Air Force One lands at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001). During a video teleconference, CIA Director George Tenet will tell him that early signs indicate the terrorist group is behind the attacks (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 326; Bowden 2012, pp. 17-18)

James Schwartz.James Schwartz. [Source: Arlington County, Virginia]Firefighting and other operations are severely disrupted when the Pentagon site is evacuated due to a report of an unidentified aircraft heading toward the Pentagon. Firefighters have to abandon their equipment and run several hundred yards to protected areas. (US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002, pp. A16 and A30 pdf file) Assistant Fire Chief James Schwartz orders the evacuation after the control tower at Washington’s Reagan National Airport notifies the Arlington County Emergency Communications Center (ECC) of an inbound aircraft that is not identifying itself and is heading up the Potomac River at a high rate of speed. It is not known if this is a hijacked plane, but no aircraft other than military jets are now supposed to be in the air. The ECC then notifies Schwartz at the Pentagon. By the time he orders the evacuation, the aircraft is reportedly just two minutes away. (US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002, pp. A30 and A52 pdf file; Creed and Newman 2008, pp. 187) At one point, the controllers at Reagan Airport are reporting that the plane has disappeared from radar, though they do not say why they think this is. (Creed and Newman 2008, pp. 191)
Approaching Aircraft Is 'Friendly' - The unidentified aircraft is soon determined to be “friendly.” (Eversburg 11/2002; Creed and Newman 2008, pp. 193) According to the Arlington County After-Action Report, it turns out to have been a government aircraft flying Attorney General John Ashcroft back to Washington. (US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002, pp. A30 and C52 pdf file; Vogel 2007, pp. 453) However, a 2002 FAA report will state that Ashcroft’s plane landed in Washington “just before noon” (see (12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002 pdf file) If that report is correct, then the identity of the approaching aircraft is unclear.
Emergency Operations Disrupted - The firefighters and other emergency responders return to the Pentagon and resume their activities, but the evacuation has significantly disrupted firefighting operations, giving fires in some areas 30 minutes to gain ground. (US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002, pp. A16 pdf file; Creed and Newman 2008, pp. 193-194) The FBI’s evidence recovery operation has also been disrupted. (Creed and Newman 2008, pp. 191)
Evacuation Avoidable, Caused by Loss of FBI Presence - This evacuation is later determined to have been avoidable, and only necessary because of the loss of a senior FBI presence at the incident command post (ICP) at the Pentagon, which means there is no way for the ICP to verify whether the approaching aircraft is “friendly” or not. This loss is due to the FBI having relocated to the Virginia State Police Barracks shortly after midday (see (12:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001). The Arlington County After-Action Report will later conclude, “Friendly aircraft, carrying US government executives and escorted by fighter aircraft, should not have been cause for evacuation.” A previous evacuation of the Pentagon site due to reports of an approaching unidentified aircraft occurred around 10:15 a.m. (see (10:15 a.m.-10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and a third similar evacuation will occur on the morning of September 12 (see (10:00 a.m.) September 12, 2001). (US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002, pp. A30-A31 pdf file; Eversburg 11/2002)

No relatives of the Flight 93 passengers are waiting at San Francisco International Airport at the time when the plane is scheduled to have arrived there. A counseling center has been set up at the airport for any relatives that might show up, and dozens of clergy members gave gathered at United Airlines’ VIP lounge to await the families. San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown has arranged to come and meet them. But at 11:15 a.m. Pacific Time (2:15 p.m. Eastern Time), when Flight 93 was scheduled to arrive, no family members have shown up, nor have any arrived by midday (3:00 p.m. ET). Willie Brown cancels his trip to meet the families when it appears none will show up. Knight Ridder will suggest the reason no relatives have come is that United Airlines employees contacted many of them before they left home. (Wong 9/12/2001; Rogers and Fernandez 9/12/2001) Also, United Airlines publicly confirmed that Flight 93 had crashed several hours earlier (see 11:17 a.m. September 11, 2001), so passengers’ relatives may have realized for themselves what has happened by now. (United Airlines 9/11/2001) Another possible factor could be that many of the passengers—at least 16 out of a mere 33—were not originally scheduled to be on Flight 93, and only arranged to be on it at the last minute or switched from another flight (see Shortly Before September 11, 2001-Early Morning September 11, 2001), so their relatives may not initially realize they had been on the plane. (Longman 9/11/2002) In contrast, some relatives of passengers on the other three hijacked planes have gone to Los Angeles International Airport, the destination of those planes: The New York Times will describe “a few grieving relatives” there, and the Associated Press describes, “In Los Angeles, several dozen relatives met grief counselors at an airport hotel.” (Associated Press 9/11/2001; Glaberson 9/12/2001)

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)

James L. Jones.James L. Jones. [Source: US Marine Corps]The Navy establishes a new command center at the Navy Annex in Arlington, Virginia, after its original command center was destroyed in the attack on the Pentagon. The original Navy Command Center, located on the first floor of the Pentagon, provided Navy leaders with timely information and intelligence about operations around the world. But it was destroyed, and many of its personnel died, when the Pentagon was hit (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Leiby 1/20/2002; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 133) Reportedly, 70 percent of the Navy’s spaces in the Pentagon were damaged or destroyed in the Pentagon attack. (Brown 10/1/2001)
Navy Invited to Join Marines at Navy Annex - General James Jones, the commandant of the Marine Corps, therefore invited several of his Navy counterparts and their staffs to co-locate with the Marine Corps at the Navy Annex. (Brill 1/2002) The Navy Annex is a huge building located a few hundred yards uphill from the Pentagon. It has enough room for 6,000 employees. Currently, about 100 Navy personnel work in it, and most of the space is used by the Marine Corps. (Garamone 9/24/2001; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 14; GlobalSecurity (.org) 5/7/2011) It is the location of the Marine Corps Command Center. (Brill 1/2002) Admiral William Fallon, the vice chief of naval operations, has consequently made arrangements for the Navy’s leadership and support personnel to move to the Navy Annex. (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 133)
Building Manager Unhappy about Moving People to Navy Annex - At around 3:00 p.m., Coneleous Alexander, a building manager at the Navy Annex, learns from one of the Marine Corps administrative managers of the plan to relocate the Navy Command Center to his building. The new command center will be set up in an area on the fourth floor that, Alexander will later say, “had been demolished for use by the build out for ballistic missiles.” (Alexander 12/21/2001) It is unclear from Alexander’s account whether he means that missiles are being stored at the Navy Annex, or is referring to the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, which has been housed at the Navy Annex since February this year. (US Department of Defense 11/30/2001; Kadish 5/2/2002) Alexander is unsure whether it is a good idea to move personnel to the Navy Annex. One reason for his uncertainty, he will say, is “the ballistic missiles” being there. He thinks a better choice would be to move people to Henderson Hall, the Marine Corps headquarters, which is located next to the Navy Annex.
Only Mission-Essential Personnel Allowed into Building - All the same, Marines start moving equipment into the Navy Annex, and maintenance crews set up portable air conditioners and exhaust fans for the Navy’s new command center there. It is decided that, due to the fear of another attack, only mission-essential personnel may enter the building. (Alexander 12/21/2001; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 133) While some Navy staffs will be able to promptly return to their spaces at the Pentagon, others have to temporarily move to offices at locations that, as well as the Navy Annex, include the Washington Navy Yard and Northern Virginia’s Crystal City office complex. (Brown 10/1/2001)

President Bush takes part in a video teleconference at Offutt Air Force Base. Chief of Staff Andrew Card sits on his left, and Admiral Richard Mies sits on his left.
President Bush takes part in a video teleconference at Offutt Air Force Base. Chief of Staff Andrew Card sits on his left, and Admiral Richard Mies sits on his left. [Source: White House]At Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, President Bush convenes the first meeting of the National Security Council since the attacks occurred. (Woodward 2002, pp. 26) He begins the video conference call from a bunker beneath the base. He and Chief of Staff Andrew Card visually communicate directly with Vice President Cheney, National Security Adviser Rice, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, CIA Director Tenet, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, and others. (Langley 12/16/2001; ABC News 9/11/2002; Sammon 10/8/2002) According to Clarke, Bush begins the meeting by saying, “I’m coming back to the White House as soon as the plane is fueled. No discussion.” But according to Condoleezza Rice, he begins with the words, “We’re at war.” Clarke leads a quick review of what has already occurred, and issues that need to be quickly addressed. Bush asks CIA Director Tenet who he thinks is responsible for the day’s attacks. Tenet later recalls, “I told him the same thing I had told the vice president several hours earlier: al-Qaeda. The whole operation looked, smelled, and tasted like bin Laden.” Tenet tells Bush that passenger manifests show that three known al-Qaeda operatives had been on Flight 77. According to Tenet, when he tells the president in particular about Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar (two of the alleged Flight 77 hijackers), Bush gives Mike Morell, his CIA briefer, “one of those ‘I thought I was supposed to be the first to know’ looks.” (Other evidence indicates the third al-Qaeda operative whose name is on the passenger manifest would be Salem Alhazmi (see 9:53 p.m. September 11, 2001).) Tenet tells the meeting that al-Qaeda is “the only terrorist organization capable of such spectacular, well-coordinated attacks,” and that “Intelligence monitoring had overheard a number of known bin Laden operatives congratulating each other after the attacks. Information collected days earlier but only now being translated indicated that various known operatives around the world anticipated a big event. None specified the day, time, place or method of attack.” Richard Clarke later corroborates that Tenet had at this time told the president he was certain that al-Qaeda was to blame. Yet only six weeks later, in an October 24, 2001 interview, Rice will claim differently. She will say, “In the first video conference, the assumption that everybody kind of shared was that it was global terrorists.… I don’t believe anybody said this is likely al-Qaeda. I don’t think so.” Tenet also relays a warning the CIA has received from French intelligence, saying another group of terrorists is within US borders and is preparing a second wave of attacks. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld briefs on the status of US forces, and states that about 120 fighters are now above US cities. (Woodward 2002, pp. 26-27; Clarke 2004, pp. 21-22; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 326 and 554; Tenet 2007, pp. 169) The meeting reportedly ends around 4:00-4:15 p.m. (Langley 12/16/2001; Sammon 10/8/2002)

A Boeing 757 takes off from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, to fly a group of reporters, congressmen, White House staffers, and Secret Service agents to Washington, DC. (Tapper 9/12/2001; Plunket 11/2001; Rove 2010, pp. 259; National Journal 5/3/2011) The group consists of individuals considered nonessential passengers that had been traveling on Air Force One, whom members of President Bush’s staff decided to leave behind when the president’s plane departed from Barksdale (see (1:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). It includes eight reporters, two congressmen, numerous White House staffers, and several Secret Service agents. After Air Force One took off from the base earlier in the afternoon to fly the president to his next destination (see 1:37 p.m. September 11, 2001), these individuals were escorted to a building, where they remained until the plane arrived for them. (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Plunket 11/2001; Fleischer 2005, pp. 145) Blake Gottesman, Bush’s personal assistant, who was among those left behind at Barksdale, was given the task of getting the group back to Washington. He has been able to commandeer a Boeing 757 from the Air Force’s Special Missions Fleet. (Rove 2010, pp. 259) This plane was sent from Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, to Barksdale. (Keil 9/2004) It is painted with the “United States of America” label, and has an office, a private cabin, and all-first class seats. It has in fact been used previously as Air Force One. (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001) About two hours after the president and his entourage left Barksdale, the plane takes off from the base with the group of former Air Force One passengers on board. (Newseum et al. 2002, pp. 165) It lands at Andrews Air Force Base around 5:00 p.m. (Plunket 11/2001; National Journal 5/3/2011) Reuters correspondent Arshad Mohammed, who is on the plane, will later comment, “It’s sort of amazing that they got us back to DC that same day when planes were locked down all over the country.” (Newseum et al. 2002, pp. 165)

While President Bush is conducting a video conference with his principal advisers from a bunker beneath Offutt Air Force Base (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001), most of the people accompanying him are waiting in a conference room across the hallway. Among this group is Bush’s senior adviser Karl Rove. Rove later claims that, around this time, there are rumors that more planes remain unaccounted for. He says that, while “they’ve accounted for all four [hijacked] planes,” there are still concerns that “they’ve got another, I think, three or four or five planes still outstanding.” (Lemann 9/25/2001) However, according to the FAA, there are no such reports, and the White House and Pentagon had been quickly informed when US skies were completely cleared at 12:16 p.m. White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett later says he does not know from where Rove got the information about the additional unaccounted-for planes. (Paltrow 3/22/2004 pdf file) But according to tapes of the operations floor at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector later obtained by Vanity Fair, “False reports of hijackings, and real responses, continue well into the afternoon, though civilian air-traffic controllers had managed to clear the skies of all commercial and private aircraft by just after 12 p.m.” (See 10:15 a.m. and After September 11, 2001). (Bronner 8/1/2006) Despite the Secret Service’s advice that he should remain at Offutt, the president announces around this time that he is returning to Washington (see (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001).

Fighter pilots who have been escorting Air Force One as it transports President Bush across the US are not informed that the president’s plane is departing Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, and have to try and catch up with it after they hear it taking off. The pilots belong to the 147th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard. Four F-16s from the wing have been escorting Air Force One since before it landed at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Pilots Told They Would Be Called When Air Force One Is Leaving - After Air Force One landed at Offutt Air Force Base (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001), the F-16s landed there as well. The fighter pilots then met with Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot of Air Force One. Tillman asked them about the capabilities of the F-16. He also took down their cell phone numbers and said he would call them when Air Force One would be leaving the base. However, he was unable to tell them where Air Force One would be going next, so the fighter pilots could not file a flight plan. The fighter pilots then headed off to get a snack and a drink.
Air Force One Takes Off, Pilots Not Informed - However, they are not informed when Air Force One, with Bush on board, takes off from Offutt (see (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001). One of the fighter pilots, Major Shane Brotherton, will later recall: “We were eating our snacks and heard jet noise. It was Air Force One and they’d never called us. We got to the jets and he’s taxiing fast and never stopped. Now we’re taxiing fast and we blast off.” By the time the fighters are airborne, Air Force One is 100 miles ahead of them. Some Iowa Air National Guard fighters from Sioux City are also now airborne to protect the president’s plane, but the 147th Fighter Wing jets continue to follow it. Brotherton will recall: “All across the country we were playing catch up, because [Air Force One] was moving. And we didn’t catch up until we were nearing Washington.” (Filson 2003, pp. 87-88)

A four-image progression of photos showing World Trade Center Building 7 collapsing down into its footprint.A four-image progression of photos showing World Trade Center Building 7 collapsing down into its footprint. [Source: unknown] (click image to enlarge)Building 7 of the World Trade Center complex, a 47-story tower, collapses. No one is killed. (CNN 9/12/2001; Washington Post 9/12/2001; MSNBC 9/22/2001; Associated Press 8/21/2002) It collapses in 6.6 seconds, which is just 0.6 of a second longer than it would have taken a free-falling object dropped from its roof to hit the ground. (Jarvik 11/10/2005) Many questions will arise over the cause of its collapse in the coming months and years. Building 7, which was not hit by an airplane, is the first modern, steel-reinforced high-rise to collapse because of fire. (Glanz 11/29/2001; Shwartz 12/5/2001; Glanz and Lipton 3/2/2002) Some will later suggest that the diesel fuel stored in several tanks on the premises may have contributed to the building’s collapse. The building contained a 6,000-gallon tank between its first and second floors and another four tanks, holding as much as 36,000 gallons, below ground level. There were also three smaller tanks on higher floors. (Glanz 11/29/2001; Glanz and Lipton 3/2/2002; Rice 3/25/2002; Federal Emergency Management Agency 5/1/2002, pp. 1-17) However, the cause of the collapse is uncertain. A 2002 government report will conclude: “The specifics of the fires in WTC 7 and how they caused the building to collapse remain unknown at this time. Although the total diesel fuel on the premises contained massive potential energy, the best hypothesis has only a low probability of occurrence.” (Federal Emergency Management Agency 5/1/2002, pp. 1-17) Some reports indicate that the building may have been deliberately destroyed. Shortly after the collapse, CBS News anchor Dan Rather comments that the collapse is “reminiscent of… when a building was deliberately destroyed by well-placed dynamite to knock it down.” (CBS News 9/11/2001) And moments after the collapse, MSNBC’s Brian Williams joins David Restuccio, an FDNY lieutenant, by phone to ask him about the collapse. “You guys knew this was coming all day?” asks Williams. Restuccio replies: “We had heard reports that the building was unstable, and that it would eventually need to come down on its own, or it would be taken down. I would imagine it came down on its own.” Restuccio does not explain what he means by “it would be taken down.” (MSNBC 9/11/2001)

Attorney General John Ashcroft briefs about 250 members of Congress on the latest developments regarding the day’s terrorist attacks. (Associated Press 9/12/2001) Since he arrived there in the early afternoon (see (Between 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001), Ashcroft has spent most of the day at the Strategic Information and Operations Center at the FBI’s headquarters in Washington, DC (see (2:00 p.m.-8:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). He and other senior Justice Department officials have repeatedly heard from members of Congress who want more information about the attacks. Ashcroft will later recall, “We tried our best to provide it, but we were still in the heat of battle.” However, “No matter; Congress wanted answers.” Therefore, after attending a meeting at the White House—presumably President Bush’s meeting with his National Security Council and/or his subsequent meeting with his most senior principal national security advisers (see (9:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001)—Ashcroft heads to the police station north of the Hart Senate Office Building, to brief the House and Senate members who are gathered there. (9/11 Commission 12/17/2003 pdf file; Ashcroft 2006, pp. 129) About 250 members of Congress are at the briefing. (Associated Press 9/12/2001) Ashcroft will recall, “The place was jammed with members of Congress, all shouting questions, some complaining about apparent inconsistencies, many expressing dissatisfaction that we didn’t know everything, and all wanting answers that I didn’t know or couldn’t say.” (Ashcroft 2006, pp. 129) He reportedly tells those at the briefing that “the US government now believes teams of three to five individuals carrying knives commandeered those four airliners earlier today, destroying them and themselves in the process.” (CNN 9/11/2001; CNN 9/12/2001) Ashcroft stays at the police station until well after midnight, holding what he will describe as “an intense discussion” with the members of Congress. He has to say “I don’t know” over and over again, he will recall. (Ashcroft 2006, pp. 129)

Susan Mcelwain, who lives two miles from the Flight 93 crash site, had seen a small jet plane flying very low overhead as she was driving home. She later recalls that it had been “heading right to the point where Flight 93 crashed and must have been there at the very moment it came down.” But it was only later in the afternoon, after returning home and turning on the TV, that she’d realized what she’d seen was connected to the attacks in New York and Washington. While she was confused that a Boeing 757—not a small jet plane—was being reported as having gone down near where she’d been, she’d then realized that the small plane was flying in a different direction to that being described for Flight 93. So she got her husband to tell the police about what she’d witnessed. Consequently, late in the evening, the FBI turns up to talk to her about it. Yet, as Mcelwain later recalls, “They did not want my story.” They keep asking her how big the plane she’d seen was. When she tells them it was small, not much bigger than her van, one of the agents tells her, “You don’t know what a 757 looks like.” She retorts, “Don’t be condescending towards me. If you don’t want to believe me, that’s fine, but I thought I should report what I saw. You ought to know there was something else in the air at the same time this was going on. We want to make sure it was ours and not somebody else’s.” After this, she will recall, the agent “did seem to get a little nicer. Told me that it was a white Learjet. Somebody was taking pictures. And I said, ‘Before the crash?’ and he says, ‘Well, we’ve got to go,’ and that was the end of it.” (Pillets 9/14/2001; Wallace 9/12/2002; Lappe and Marshall 2004, pp. 38-40) Numerous other witnesses also saw a small jet plane flying above the crash site around the time Flight 93 reportedly went down (see (Before and After 10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

Regarding President Bush’s decision not to return to Washington immediately after the 9/11 attacks, historian Robert Dallek tells a USA Today reporter: “Frankly, President Bush made an initial mistake. The president’s place is back in Washington” (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001, (9:45 a.m.-9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001, and 10:02 a.m. September 11, 2001). Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley adds, “If I were Bush, I’d be in the White House right now, saying, ‘We took a hit at the Pentagon and had a disaster in New York, but the government of the United States is unscathed by this and we’re going to march forward.’” When Dallek’s words appear in print, White House political adviser Karl Rove calls Dallek to inform him that Bush did not return to Washington right away because of security threats to the White House (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and Air Force One (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). Rove provides no substantiation for his claims, and media critic Eric Alterman later asks, “If you think Air Force One is to be attacked (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001), why go up in Air Force One?” Looking back on Dallek’s assessment, New York Times columnist Frank Rich later writes, “September 11 was the first time since the British set fire to the White House in 1814 that a president abandoned the capital for security reasons.” (Page 9/12/2001; Rich 2006, pp. 24-25)

Firefighting operations at the Pentagon are disrupted when the crash site there is evacuated in response to a report of an approaching unidentified plane. (US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002, pp. A16 and A30 pdf file; Eversburg 11/2002) Air traffic controllers at Washington’s Reagan National Airport have noticed an aircraft on their radar scopes that is not identifying itself and is flying fast up the Potomac River. (Creed and Newman 2008, pp. 333) They notify the Arlington County Emergency Communications Center, which passes the information on to Assistant Fire Chief James Schwartz, the incident commander at the Pentagon, and he orders the evacuation. Firefighters have to abandon their operations and run several hundred yards to protected areas. (US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002, pp. A16 and C52 pdf file) The unidentified aircraft is soon determined to be “friendly,” and firefighters then return to work. (Eversburg 11/2002; Creed and Newman 2008, pp. 335) The plane was a government aircraft with FEMA Director Joseph Allbaugh on board. (US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002, pp. A30 and C52 pdf file) The Pentagon was similarly evacuated two times on September 11, due to false alarms over reports of unidentified aircraft heading for Washington (see (10:15 a.m.-10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (2:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Eversburg 11/2002)

Carl Levin.Carl Levin. [Source: Publicity photo]Air Force General Richard Myers is questioned about the US military’s response to the 9/11 attacks when he appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee for his confirmation hearing as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but his answers are vague and confused, and he claims, incorrectly, that no fighter jets were scrambled in response to the hijackings until after the Pentagon was hit. (Shenon 2008, pp. 119; Farmer 2009, pp. 241-243) Myers has been the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff since March 2000. (US Air Force 9/2005) With General Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, flying toward Europe on the morning of September 11 (see (8:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001), he served as the acting chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the 9/11 attacks. (Myers 2009, pp. 10; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell 2010, pp. 431-433)
Myers Says Fighters Were Only Scrambled after the Pentagon Attack - During the hearing, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) asks if the Department of Defense was contacted by “the FAA or the FBI or any other agency” after the first two hijacked aircraft crashed into the World Trade Center, at 8:46 a.m. and 9:03 a.m. (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), but before 9:37 a.m., when the Pentagon was hit (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). Myers replies, “I don’t know the answer to that question.” Levin then asks if the military was “asked to take action against any specific aircraft” during the attacks. Myers answers, “When it became clear what the threat was, we did scramble fighter aircraft, AWACS, radar aircraft, and tanker aircraft to begin to establish orbits in case other aircraft showed up in the FAA system that were hijacked.” Myers elaborates later in the hearing, telling Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL): “[A]fter the second tower was hit, I spoke to the commander of NORAD, General [Ralph] Eberhart (see (9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). And at that point, I think the decision was at that point to start launching aircraft.” But he tells Levin that “to the best of my knowledge,” the order to scramble fighters was only given “after the Pentagon was struck.”
Flight 93 Was Not Shot Down, Myers Says - Myers addresses the military’s response to Flight 93, the fourth hijacked plane, which crashed in a field in Pennsylvania (see (10:03 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). He says: “[I]f my memory serves me… we had launched on the one that eventually crashed in Pennsylvania. I mean, we had gotten somebody close to it, as I recall.” However, he adds, “I’ll have to check that out.” When Levin mentions that there have been “statements that the aircraft that crashed in Pennsylvania was shot down,” Myers responds, “[T]he armed forces did not shoot down any aircraft.” He says, “[W]e never actually had to use force.” Although Myers appears unclear about when the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) launched fighters in response to the hijackings, he is more confident when he states: “At the time of the first impact on the World Trade Center, we stood up our Crisis Action Team. That was done immediately. So we stood it up. And we started talking to the federal agencies.” (US Congress 9/13/2001)
NORAD and the 9/11 Commission Contradict Myers's Account - Myers’s claim that fighters were only launched in response to the hijackings after the Pentagon was hit will later be contradicted by the accounts of NORAD and the 9/11 Commission, which state that fighters were ordered to take off from Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, at 8:46 a.m. (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001) and from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia at 9:24 a.m. (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001). (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/18/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 20, 27) The 9/11 Commission will also contradict Myers’s claim that the military launched fighters in response to Flight 93 and “had gotten somebody close to it.” “By the time the military learned about the flight,” the 9/11 Commission Report will state, “it had crashed.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 34)
Myers's Testimony Prompts Criticism in the Media - Journalist and author Philip Shenon will question why Myers, a veteran Air Force fighter pilot, would give such an inaccurate account of the military’s response to the 9/11 attacks during the hearing. “It seemed obvious that Myers, of all people at the Pentagon, would want to know—would demand to know—how jet fighters under NORAD’s control had responded on the morning of September 11 to the threat in the skies,” he will write. (US Congress 9/13/2001; Shenon 2008, pp. 119) John Farmer, the senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission, will comment that “Myers’s evident confusion about precisely what had occurred prompted criticism in the media and a quick, if contradictory, response from the administration.” (Farmer 2009, pp. 243) Major General Paul Weaver, director of the Air National Guard, will provide a more detailed account of the military’s response to the hijackings in an “impromptu hallway interview” at the Pentagon on September 14 (see September 14, 2001). (Whittle 9/14/2001) And four days later, NORAD will release a timeline of its response to the hijackings (see September 18, 2001). (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/18/2001)

Major General Paul Weaver, director of the Air National Guard, provides reporters with details of the 9/11 attacks and the US military’s response to the hijackings. Speaking at the Pentagon, Weaver gives reporters a detailed account of what happened on September 11. He says Air National Guard planes responded to the hijackings on orders from NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), which was alerted to the hijackings by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Fighters Took Off Too Late to Catch Flight 175 - Weaver says that at 8:53 a.m., seven minutes after Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), two F-15 fighter jets took off from Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in pursuit of Flight 175, the second plane to be hijacked (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 8:53 a.m. September 11, 2001). However, Weaver says, the FAA had only told NEADS that “there was an airplane that had a problem,” and at that time it was unclear if Flight 175 had been hijacked. He says that although the fighters flew at over 500 miles per hour, they were unable to catch up with Flight 175 before it hit the South Tower of the WTC at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001).
More Fighters Were Launched Just before Pentagon Was Hit - Weaver says Flight 77, the third aircraft to be hijacked, flew west for 45 minutes and then turned east, and its transponder was turned off. He does not claim that the military received notice that it had been hijacked, but says NEADS scrambled F-16 fighters that were on alert at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia at 9:35 a.m. (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Two minutes later, at 9:37 a.m., the Pentagon was hit (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). The F-16s, he says, subsequently remained on patrol over the Pentagon.
No Fighters Took Off to Intercept Flight 93 - Weaver says no fighters were scrambled to chase after Flight 93, the fourth hijacked plane, which crashed in a field in Pennsylvania (see (10:03 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). “There was no notification for us to launch airplanes,” he tells the reporters. “We weren’t even close.” (Whittle 9/14/2001; Farmer 2009, pp. 244) (However, also on this day, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz contradicts Weaver’s claim. He tells PBS’s NewsHour, “[W]e were already tracking in on that plane that crashed in Pennsylvania,” and adds, “[T]he Air Force was in a position to do so [i.e. shoot Flight 93 down] if we had had to.” (Wolfowitz 9/14/2001; Farmer 2009, pp. 245) ) Weaver says that even if fighters had caught up with the hijacked planes, they may have been unable to stop them reaching their targets. “You’re not going to get an American pilot shooting down an American airliner,” he says. “We don’t have permission to do that.” According to Weaver, only the president can issue an order to shoot down an American airliner. (Whittle 9/14/2001)
Weaver's Account Is the 'Most Accurate' Prior to the 9/11 Commission's Investigation - The account he gives to reporters today, according to John Farmer, the senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission, will be “the last public statement uttered by General Weaver on the subject and proved to be the most accurate account of events issued until the 9/11 Commission’s investigation.” (Farmer 2009, pp. 245) Apparently after Weaver issues his statement to the reporters, an Air Force spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity, adds that no regular Air Force planes were scrambled during the 9/11 attacks, “because continental air defense is the mission of the Air National Guard.” He says regular Air Force fighters “have air superiority as their mission,” which means they train “to deploy somewhere where we are engaged in hostile action and secure the skies.” These fighters, according to the spokesman, “ordinarily are not ready to fly on short notice and their pilots are not on standby to defend the United States.” (Whittle 9/14/2001)
Pentagon Has Been Slow to Answer Questions about Response to Hijackings - The Washington Post will comment, “Questions about the time it took US military planes to respond to the threat of several hijacked aircraft speeding toward the nation’s financial and military centers have dogged the Pentagon since the attacks.” It will add, “Top Pentagon officials have been slow to respond to press inquiries for a timeline that would establish the exact times that civil aviation authorities became aware of the hijackings, when US military commanders were notified, and when US fighter jets took to the air.” (Graham 9/15/2001) The previous day, Air Force General Richard Myers was questioned about the military’s response to the attacks before the Senate Armed Services Committee, but his answers were vague and confused (see September 13, 2001). (US Congress 9/13/2001; Farmer 2009, pp. 241-242) NORAD will release its own timeline of the events of September 11 and its response to the hijackings on September 18 (see September 18, 2001). (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/18/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/29/2004)

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) produces a chronology of the events of September 11, which it uses when it briefs the White House today, but the document fails to mention when NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) was alerted to two of the hijacked planes. The FAA’s chronology, titled “Summary of Air Traffic Hijack Events,” incorporates “information contained in the NEADS logs, which had been forwarded, and on transcripts obtained from the FAA’s Cleveland Center, among others,” according to John Farmer, the senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission.
Document Includes Notification Times for First Two Hijacked Flights - The chronology refers “accurately to the times shown in NEADS logs for the initial notifications from FAA about the hijacking of American 11 and the possible hijacking of United 175,” according to the 9/11 Commission. It gives 8:40 a.m. as the time at which the FAA alerted NEADS to Flight 11, the first plane to be hijacked (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and 9:05 a.m. as the time when the FAA alerted NEADS to Flight 175, the second plane to be hijacked (see (9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, it makes no mention of when the FAA alerted NEADS to Flight 77 and Flight 93, the third and fourth planes to be hijacked. The FAA’s omission of these two notification times is “suspicious,” according to the 9/11 Commission, “because these are the two flights where FAA’s notification to NEADS was significantly delayed.”
Document Omits Notification Times for Flights 77 and 93 - The chronology, as Farmer will later point out, “makes no mention… of the notification to NEADS at 9:33 that American 77 was ‘lost’ (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001) or of the notification to NEADS at 9:34 of an unidentified large plane six miles southwest of the White House (see 9:36 a.m. September 11, 2001), both of which are in the NEADS logs that the FAA reviewed” when it was putting together the timeline. It also fails to mention the call made by the FAA’s Cleveland Center to NEADS in which, at 10:07 a.m., the caller alerted NEADS to Flight 93 and said there was a “bomb on board” the plane (see 10:05 a.m.-10:08 a.m. September 11, 2001), even though this information was also “duly noted in the NEADS logs” that the FAA has reviewed.
Chronology Omits Other Key Information - The chronology, Farmer will write, reflects “a time at which the FAA was notified that the Otis [Air National Guard Base] fighters were scrambled” in response to the hijacking of Flight 11 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), but it gives “no account of the scramble of the fighters from Langley Air Force Base” (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001). It also fails to mention the report that NEADS received after Flight 11 crashed, in which it was incorrectly told the plane was still airborne and heading toward Washington, DC (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001). Despite lacking information about the times when the FAA alerted NEADS to Flights 77 and 93, the FAA’s chronology is one of the documents used to brief the White House about the 9/11 attacks today (see September 17, 2001).
Investigators Were Told to Determine Exact Notification Times - The chronology is the product of investigations that began promptly in response to the 9/11 attacks. According to senior FAA officials, FAA Administrator Jane Garvey and Deputy Administrator Monte Belger “instructed a group of FAA employees (an ‘after-action group’) to reconstruct the events of 9/11.” This group, according to the 9/11 Commission, “began its work immediately after 9/11 and reviewed tape recordings, transcripts, handwritten notes, logs, and other documents in an effort to create an FAA chronology of events.” The group, according to one witness, “was specifically asked to determine exactly when the FAA notified the military that each of the four planes had been hijacked,” and “[s]everal people worked on determining correct times for FAA notifications to the military.” (Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 7/29/2004; Farmer 2009, pp. 245-247) NORAD will release a timeline of the events of September 11 and its response to the attacks a day after the FAA chronology is published (see September 18, 2001). (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/18/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/29/2004)

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) releases a chronology of the events of September 11 and its response to the terrorist attacks that day, but the accuracy of this account will later be challenged by the 9/11 Commission. (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/18/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 34; 9/11 Commission 7/29/2004)
NORAD Learned of First Hijackings Too Late to Defend the WTC - The chronology provides the times at which NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) was alerted to the hijackings and when fighter jets were scrambled in response to the hijackings. It states that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) notified NEADS about Flight 11, the first hijacked aircraft, at 8:40 a.m. In response, the order was given to scramble two F-15 fighters from Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, at 8:46 a.m. (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), the same time that Flight 11 crashed into the World Trade Center (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), and the fighters were airborne at 8:52 a.m. (see 8:53 a.m. September 11, 2001). The FAA notified NEADS about Flight 175, the second hijacked aircraft, at 8:43 a.m., according to the chronology. When Flight 175 crashed into the WTC at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), the chronology states, the Otis fighters were 71 miles away from New York.
Fighters Were Scrambled in Response to Flight 77 Hijacking - NEADS was alerted to Flight 77, the third hijacked aircraft, at 9:24 a.m., according to the chronology. In response, the order was given to scramble two F-16 fighters from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001) and these were airborne at 9:30 a.m. (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). But the F-16s were 105 miles from the Pentagon when it was hit at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). Regarding the fourth hijacked aircraft, Flight 93, the chronology gives “N/A” as the time the FAA alerted NEADS, but it also states that the FAA and NEADS discussed the flight on “a line of open communication.” At 10:03 a.m., when Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania (see (10:03 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001), the chronology states, the F-16s launched from Langley Air Force Base in response to the hijacking of Flight 77 were “in place to protect DC.” (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/18/2001)
9/11 Commission Disputes NORAD's Account - The 9/11 Commission Report, released in 2004, will highlight what it says are inaccuracies in NORAD’s timeline of the events of September 11. It will state that NORAD’s claim that NEADS was alerted to Flight 77 at 9:24 a.m. was incorrect. The notice NEADS received at that time, according to the report, was the incorrect claim that Flight 11 “had not hit the World Trade Center and was heading for Washington, DC” (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001). “NEADS never received notice that American 77 was hijacked,” the report will state. “It was notified at 9:34 that American 77 was lost (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). Then, minutes later, NEADS was told that an unknown plane was six miles southwest of the White House” (see 9:36 a.m. September 11, 2001). The report will state that NORAD’s claim that the Langley fighters were scrambled in response to the notification about Flight 77 is also incorrect. Instead, it will state, the fighters were scrambled in response to the incorrect report that Flight 11 was still airborne and heading south. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 34)
9/11 Commission Disputes NORAD's Account regarding Flights 175 and 93 - Furthermore, whereas NORAD’s chronology claims that NEADS discussed Flight 93 with the FAA on “a line of open communication,” the 9/11 Commission Report will state that NEADS “first received a call about United 93 from the military liaison at [the FAA’s] Cleveland Center at 10:07,” by which time the plane “had already crashed” (see 10:05 a.m.-10:08 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 30) And while NORAD states that the FAA notified NEADS about Flight 175 at 8:43 a.m., according to the report, the first notification came “in a phone call from [the FAA’s] New York Center to NEADS at 9:03” (see (9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 23)
Military Has Been Slow to Provide Details of Its Response on September 11 - US military officials, according to the Washington Post, “have been slow to respond to press inquiries for a timeline that would establish the exact times that civil aviation authorities became aware of the hijackings, when US military commanders were notified, and when US fighter jets took to the air.” (Graham 9/15/2001) On September 13, Air Force General Richard Myers was questioned about the military’s response to the 9/11 attacks before the Senate Armed Services Committee, but his answers were vague and confused (see September 13, 2001). (US Congress 9/13/2001; Farmer 2009, pp. 241-242) A day later, Major General Paul Weaver, director of the Air National Guard, provided reporters with details of the military’s response to the hijackings in an “impromptu hallway interview” at the Pentagon (see September 14, 2001). (Whittle 9/14/2001)

The FBI claims on this day that there were six hijacking teams on the morning of 9/11. (Johnston and Risen 9/19/2001; Borger and Hooper 10/13/2001) A different report claims investigators are privately saying eight. (Gumbel 9/25/2001) However, the reports below suggest there may have been as many as nine aborted flights, leading to a potential total of 13 hijackings:
bullet Knives of the same type used in the successful hijackings were found taped to the backs of fold-down trays on a Continental Airlines flight from Newark. (Kelso et al. 9/19/2001)
bullet The FBI is investigating American Airlines Flight 43, which was scheduled to leave Boston about 8:10 a.m. bound for Los Angeles but was canceled minutes before takeoff due to a mechanical problem. (BBC 9/18/2001; Chicago Tribune 9/18/2001; Kelso et al. 9/19/2001) Another version claims the flight left from Newark and made it as far as Cincinnati before being grounded in the nationwide air ban. (Johnston and Risen 9/19/2001)
bullet Knives and box cutters were found on two separate canceled Delta Airlines planes later that day, one leaving Atlanta for Brussels and the other leaving from Boston. (Donnelly 9/22/2001; Gumbel 9/25/2001)
bullet On September 14, two knives were found on an Air Canada flight that would have flown to New York on 9/11 if not for the air ban. (Sieberg 10/15/2001)
bullet Two men arrested on 9/11 may have lost their nerve on American Airlines Flight 1729 from Newark to San Antonio via Dallas that was scheduled to depart at 8:50 a.m., and was later forced to land in St. Louis. Alternately, they may have been planning an attack for September 15, 2001. Their names are Mohammed Azmath and Ayub Ali Khan, whose real name according to later reports is Syed Gul Mohammad Shah. (Johnston and Risen 9/19/2001)
bullet There may have been an attempt to hijack United Airlines Flight 23 flying from JFK Airport, New York to Los Angeles around 9:00 a.m. Shortly after 9:00 a.m., United Airlines flight dispatcher Ed Ballinger sent out a warning about the first WTC crash to the flights he was handling (see 9:19 a.m. September 11, 2001). Because of this warning, the crew of Flight 23 told the passengers it had a mechanical problem and immediately returned to the gate. Ballinger was later told by authorities that six men initially wouldn’t get off the plane. When the men finally disembarked, they disappeared into the crowd and never returned. Later, authorities checked their luggage and found copies of the Koran and al-Qaeda instruction sheets. (Prial 9/14/2001; Davis 4/14/2004) In mid-2002, a NORAD deputy commander says “we don’t know for sure” if Flight 23 was to have been hijacked. (Ha 6/13/2002)
bullet According to anonymous FAA officials, a plane bound for Chicago, home of the Sears Tower, could have been another target for hijacking. The plane landed unexpectedly at the Cleveland airport after the FAA initiated a national ground stop. Four Middle Eastern men had deplaned and left the airport before officials could detain them for questioning. (Freni 2003, pp. 81)
bullet A box cutter knife was found under a seat cushion on American Airlines Flight 160, a 767 that would have flown from San Diego to New York on the morning of 9/11 but for the air ban. (Bendavid 9/23/2001)
The FBI is said to be seeking a number of passengers who failed to board the same, rescheduled flights when the grounding order on commercial planes in the US was lifted. (BBC 9/18/2001) The Independent points out suspicions have been fueled “that staff at US airports may have played an active role in the conspiracy and helped the hijackers to circumvent airport security.” They also note, “It is possible that at least some of the flights that have come under scrutiny were used as decoys, or as fallback targets.” (Gumbel 9/25/2001)

Flight 175 hijacker Hamza Alghamdi has a ticket to fly from Rome to Casablanca, Morocco, and another to fly from Casablanca to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on September 20. However, his flight to Casablanca is scheduled to arrive after his flight from Casablanca departs. He is also scheduled to fly from Riyadh to Damman, Saudi Arabia, on September 29. Alghamdi and several other hijackers also had tickets to continue from the destinations of their apparent suicide flights on 9/11 to other cities in the US (see Afternoon September 11, 2001). (Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/2001, pp. 288, 296 pdf file)

Lofti Raissi.Lofti Raissi. [Source: Amnesty International]Lotfi Raissi, an Algerian pilot living in Britain, is arrested and accused of helping to train four of the hijackers. An FBI source says, “We believe he is by far the biggest find we have had so far. He is of crucial importance to us.” (Las Vegas Review-Journal 9/29/2001) However, in April 2002, a judge dismisses all charges against him, calling the charges “tenuous.” US officials originally said, “They had video of him with Hani Hanjour, who allegedly piloted the plane that crashed into the Pentagon; records of phone conversations between the two men; evidence that they had flown a training plane together; and evidence that Raissi had met several of the hijackers in Las Vegas. It turned out, the British court found, that the video showed Raissi with his cousin, not Mr. Hanjour, that Raissi had mistakenly filled in his air training logbook and had never flown with Hanjour, and that Raissi and the hijackers were not in Las Vegas at the same time. The US authorities never presented any phone records showing conversations between Raissi and Hanjour. It appears that in this case the US authorities handed over all the information they had…” (Ford 3/27/2002; Guardian 9/26/2005) Raissi later says he will sue the British and American governments unless he is given a “widely publicized apology” for his months in prison and the assumption of “guilty until proven innocent.” (Reuters 8/14/2002) In September 2003, he does sue both governments for $20 million. He also wins a undisclosed sum from the British tabloid Mail on Sunday for printing false charges against him. (Gillan 9/16/2003; BBC 10/7/2003; Wagner 10/14/2003) Declassified documents will later reveal that the British arrested Raissi only days after the FBI requested that the British discretely monitor and investigate him, not arrest him. (Guardian 9/26/2005) Raissi perfectly matches the description of an individual mentioned in FBI agent Ken Williams’ “Phoenix memo” (see July 10, 2001), whom the FBI had attempted to investigate in May 2001 (see 1997-July 2001).

Wayne Allard.Wayne Allard. [Source: Publicity photo]General Ralph Eberhart, the commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee and gives NORAD’s account of the events of September 11 and the military’s response to the terrorist attacks that day, but the 9/11 Commission will later find that some of the information he provides is incorrect. (US Congress. Senate 10/25/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/29/2004; Farmer 2009, pp. 248) Eberhart was at NORAD headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, and then went to NORAD’s operations center in Cheyenne Mountain when the 9/11 attacks were taking place. (9/11 Commission 3/1/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 3/1/2004) NORAD released a timeline of its response to the hijackings on September 18 (see September 18, 2001) and Eberhart’s testimony is consistent with that account. (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/18/2001)
Eberhart Says Fighters Were Scrambled in Response to First Hijacking - During the hearing, Eberhart tells Senator Wayne Allard (R-CO) that after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) alerted NORAD to the first hijacking, of Flight 11 (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001), NORAD ordered two F-15 fighter jets to take off from Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), “almost simultaneously to the first crash” at the World Trade Center (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). Eberhart says that after he learned a plane had hit the WTC, he was initially unsure if that plane was Flight 11. “I’m sitting there hoping that someone has made a mistake; there has been an accident; that this isn’t the hijacked airplane [that hit the WTC], because there is confusion,” he recalls. He says he was informed that “it was a light commuter airplane” that hit the WTC, although, he says, it “didn’t look like that was caused by a light commuter airplane.”
Fighters Didn't Have Enough Time to Stop Second Crash - Eberhart says the FAA notified NORAD that there was “a second hijacked plane”—referring to Flight 175—“somewhere in there,” but although the Otis fighters were “flying toward New York” after being scrambled, they were still eight minutes away from the city when Flight 175 crashed into the WTC at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). “Tragically, there was just too much distance between Otis and New York City to get there in time,” Eberhart comments.
Eberhart Says NORAD Learned Flight 77 Was Hijacked before It Crashed - Eberhart says the first documented instance NORAD has of the FAA notifying it about Flight 77, the third aircraft to be hijacked, was at 9:24 a.m. After the hearing, in responses submitted for the record, Eberhart adds that the FAA notified NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) that Flight 77 “was headed towards Washington, DC.” NEADS, he states, “then passed this information to NORAD’s Air Warning Center and Command Center in Cheyenne Mountain, and to the Continental US NORAD Region’s Regional Air Operations Center.”
Fighters Were Scrambled Too Late to Prevent the Pentagon Attack - Eberhart says NORAD launched two F-16 fighters from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia “as soon as” the FAA alerted it to the hijacking of Flight 77 (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001). However, he says, these fighters were still “approximately 13 minutes away from Washington, DC, when that tragic crash [at the Pentagon] occurred.”
Eberhart Is Unaware of Reason for FAA's Delay in Contacting NORAD - Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) tells Eberhart: “The timeline that we’ve been given is that at 8:55 on September 11, American Airlines Flight 77 began turning east, away from its intended course. And at 9:10, Flight 77 was detected by the FAA radar over West Virginia heading east. That was after the two planes had struck the World Trade Center towers. Then 15 minutes later, at 9:25, the FAA notified NORAD that Flight 77 was headed toward Washington.” In light of this, he asks, “[D]o you know why it took 15 minutes for the FAA to notify NORAD?” Eberhart replies: “I do not know, sir, why it took that amount of time for FAA. I hate to say it, but you’ll have to ask FAA.” Senator John Warner (R-VA), who has an extensive military background, tells Eberhart he is “a little bit stunned that you don’t know why that delay occurred.” He continues, saying, “I would have thought by now all of you in this chain would have gone back, rehearsed these things, figured out what happened, what went wrong, so that we ensure it won’t happen again.” In his responses submitted for the record, Eberhart suggests possible reasons for the delay, stating that after the FAA lost radar contact with Flight 77, it “began to receive calls from outside agencies with reports of a possible downed aircraft. Additionally, the loss of radio contact with the aircraft added to the confusion.” Consequently, he states, “I believe the FAA was faced with conflicting information, which hindered them from making an accurate assessment of the actual location of the aircraft.”
Eberhart Says NORAD Was Following Flight 93 before It Crashed - Eberhart says NORAD was aware of the problems with Flight 93, the fourth hijacked plane, before it crashed in Pennsylvania (see (10:03 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). He tells Allard that the FAA “knew before it deviated its flight pattern” that Flight 93 “was hijacked.” He says NORAD had been “trying to decide, initially, if that flight was going to continue west and if there was some other target for that flight. Was it Chicago? Was it St. Louis? And what might we do to launch an aircraft to intercept it.” But he says that after the FAA reacquired Flight 93 on radar, NORAD thought the plane “was headed probably for Washington, DC, but maybe New York.” He says NORAD decided at that time to keep the Otis and Langley fighters in place over New York and Washington. If another suspicious plane was approaching, he says, “our intent was to go out and meet that aircraft and destroy it if we needed to, if it entered either Washington, DC, or New York City airspace.” However, in his responses submitted for the record, Eberhart states that the “data/log entries received by NORAD from the FAA [after September 11] do not show a time or entry indicating the FAA specifically notified the Pentagon that United Airlines Flight 93 was hijacked.” He also states that NORAD “did not notify” the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon that Flight 93 had been hijacked.
9/11 Commission Disputes Some of Eberhart's Claims - Several claims Eberhart makes in the hearing will be contradicted by evidence uncovered by the 9/11 Commission during its investigation of the terrorist attacks. Whereas Eberhart says the military was first notified about the hijacking of Flight 77 at 9:24 a.m. and implies that this notification prompted the scrambling of fighters from Langley Air Force Base, according to John Farmer, the senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission, “[T]he first notification regarding American 77 occurred at 9:34, when it was reported ‘lost’” (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). (US Congress. Senate 10/25/2001; Farmer 2009, pp. 248-254) The notice NEADS received at 9:24 a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission Report, was the incorrect claim that Flight 11 “had not hit the World Trade Center and was heading for Washington, DC” (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 34) Consequently, Farmer will write, “the scramble of the Langley fighters did occur as an immediate reaction to a notification about hijacking, but that notification was not, as [Eberhart’s] testimony implies, a report that American 77 was hijacked, but the report that American 11 was still airborne and heading for Washington.” And while Eberhart claims the FAA told NEADS that Flight 77 was heading toward Washington, according to Farmer: “The FAA never notified NEADS that American 77 was heading for Washington, DC. There is no such notification recorded on any tape or in any log maintained at NEADS or at NORAD.” Furthermore, while Eberhart claims the military was following Flight 93 on radar before it crashed and was in position to shoot it down if it approached Washington, Farmer will write that “in fact, NEADS never located United 93 on radar, because the plane had already crashed by the time NEADS was notified.” (Farmer 2009, pp. 251, 254-255)

Subash Gurung.Subash Gurung. [Source: CNN/Courtesy WLS-TV]A young Nepalese man named Subash Gurung is arrested at Chicago’s O’Hare airport trying to board a United Airlines flight to Omaha with numerous knives, a can of mace, and a stun gun. He is in the US on an expired student visa. He is unemployed at the time of his arrest. Gurung claims that he was in a hurry and was unaware of the knives and other items in his luggage. But CNN reports that Gurung gave as his address an apartment building in Chicago that was also used by one of two terror suspects arrested on September 12, 2001 (see September 19, 2001 and After and October 20, 2001). This individual, Ayub Ali Khan (whose real name is apparently Syed Gul Mohammad Shah), lived in New Jersey but also used a Chicago address. A CNN government source says “many phone calls were made to and from that apartment, and credit card bills were paid from that address.” After being released by local police on bond, Gurung will be re-arrested the following day by the FBI for a weapons violation. Despite the apparent link to Ayub Ali Khan, the FBI denies any terror connection: “There is no allegation that this incident involves any suspected terrorist activity.” (CNN 11/5/2001; CNN 11/6/2001) Gurung will be convicted of a weapons charge in October 2002, and then deported. (Napolitano 10/9/2002)

Faisal al-Salmi, a Saudi man who knew 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour, is convicted of making false statements to the FBI. Al-Salmi, 34, trained at the same Arizona flight school as Hanjour where they both used the flight simulator (see Summer 2001). Al-Salmi denied knowing Hanjour but, according to investigators, they spoke several times and were seen together in the summer of 2001. He is not accused of being involved in the 9/11 plot. Al-Salmi will later receive a six-month sentence. (Margasak 10/13/2001; Cloud 10/28/2001; Press 2/14/2002; New York Times 2/16/2002; Poniewozik 4/20/2002; Marson 7/24/2004)

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