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Context of '9:28 a.m. (or Before) September 11, 2001: Erratic Flight 93 Movements Noticed by Cleveland Flight Controller'

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Stacey Taylor.Stacey Taylor. [Source: NBC News]Cleveland flight controller Stacey Taylor has been warned to watch transcontinental flights heading west for anything suspicious. She later recalls, “I hear one of the controllers behind me go, ‘Oh, my God, oh my God,’ and he starts yelling for the supervisor. He goes, ‘What is this plane doing? What is this plane doing?’ I wasn’t that busy at the time, and I pulled it up on my screen and he was climbing and descending and climbing and descending, but very gradually. He’d go up 300 feet, he’d go down 300 feet. And it turned out to be United 93.” (Note the time of this incident is not specified, but presumably it is prior to when Cleveland controllers note Flight 93 descends 700 feet at 9:29 a.m. [MSNBC, 9/11/2002]

Entity Tags: Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center, Stacey Taylor

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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. [Washington Post, 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; Cleveland Plain Dealer, 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]

Entity Tags: Stacey Taylor, Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center, Linda Justice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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. [Guardian, 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.” [Independent, 8/13/2002]

Entity Tags: Stacey Taylor, Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center, Steve O’Brien

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Air traffic controllers at the FAA’s Cleveland Center.Air traffic controllers at the FAA’s Cleveland Center. [Source: Paul M. Walsh]Most members of staff at the FAA’s Cleveland Center are evacuated from the facility, due to a report of a small aircraft flying erratically above the center. [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. S-19; Newsnet5, 8/12/2002; Associated Press, 8/15/2002] The Cleveland Center, in Oberlin, Ohio, had the last contact with Flight 93 before it crashed. [Associated Press, 6/15/2002] The center’s air traffic controllers have been working on clearing the skies over the US after FAA facilities were ordered to instruct all aircraft to land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Newsnet5, 8/12/2002; Lake County News-Herald, 9/10/2011]
Operations Manager Orders Evacuation - The police in Oberlin now contact the Cleveland Center and warn it about a small plane that is still airborne and circling above the facility. As a result, the decision is made to evacuate the center. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001, pp. 9 pdf file; Associated Press, 8/15/2002; Cleveland Plain Dealer, 7/3/2011] The order to evacuate is apparently given by Leo Wolbers, the center’s operations manager. Wolbers will later recall, “[W]e made the decision to evacuate all non-essential personnel and get as many controllers out as possible.” He will say that he gathers together the supervisors at the center “to make sure they all knew to tell their controllers to get the planes down as quickly and safely as possible, and then leave the center.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/19/2001, pp. 6-7 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003 pdf file] Non-essential personnel are sent home, while essential personnel who leave the building go to the parking lot. By 10:30 a.m., the facility will be running on a skeleton crew of eight controllers and eight supervisors.
Center Considered a Possible Terrorist Target - The Cleveland Center is evacuated “because someone feared the facility could be targeted for a terrorist attack,” according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/12/2001, pp. 70 pdf file; Cleveland Plain Dealer, 7/3/2011] But Bill Keaton, a controller at the center, thinks to himself that “the evacuation [is] a little silly.” He will comment: “Though Cleveland Center might be a great strategic target, it was an awful terrorist target. Most people have no idea what goes on at a [air traffic control] center, and the terrorists were striking symbolic targets… the World Trade Center, the Pentagon.” [Lorain Morning Journal, 9/11/2011]
Center Is Searched - Around the time it is being evacuated, the Cleveland Center is receiving a number of bomb threats (see 10:07 a.m.-10:21 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. S-17, S-19] Possibly in response to these, the building is searched, apparently during the period when many of its employees are outside in the parking lot. Wolbers will recall, “After we got all of our aircraft on the ground, we went to one person in each area until the building was searched and found to be secure.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/19/2001, pp. 6-7 pdf file] Around two hours after the evacuation, employees who left the building but have not gone home will go back inside and return to their posts. By then, though, the airspace will be empty, apart from some military aircraft, and so the controllers will have little to do. [Cleveland Plain Dealer, 7/3/2011]
Identity of Plane Unknown - The suspicious aircraft that prompted the evacuation is not identified. Rick Kettell, the manager of the Cleveland Center, will recall that it “flew off to the north and we lost radar on it.” Eleven months after 9/11, the FAA will reportedly still be investigating what the plane was and what it was doing. [Newsnet5, 8/12/2002]

Entity Tags: Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center, Bill Keaton, Rick Kettell, Leo E. Wolbers

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline


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