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Context of '(9:28 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Cleveland Flight Control Hears Sounds of Struggle as Flight 93 Is Hijacked'

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Personnel at United Airlines’ headquarters, near Chicago, are subjected to a surprise training exercise in which they are led to believe that one of their planes has crashed, and their experience with this exercise allegedly means they will be better able to respond to the 9/11 attacks. [USA Today, 8/13/2002; 9/11 Commission, 11/20/2003 pdf file; Studdert, 5/26/2015 pdf file; Dubuque Telegraph Herald, 11/12/2015]
Manager Is Concerned that the Airline Is Unprepared for an Accident - Andy Studdert, United Airlines’ chief operating officer, has been concerned that, since it hasn’t suffered a real accident in over 15 years, United Airlines is unprepared to respond properly should one occur now. “I was worried we’d become cocky,” he will later comment. “We thought it couldn’t happen to us.” Around March this year, therefore, he told the airline’s other managers, “One of these days, I’m gonna come in here and I’m gonna do a no-notice drill.” [Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 3/15/2012; Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 4/26/2012] A “no-notice” drill is an exercise that is conducted without its participants being given any formal advance notice of when it will occur. [US Department of Justice, 5/21/2000; Inglesby, Grossman, and O'Toole, 2/1/2001; Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, 10/15/2011]
Pilot Is Told to Pretend His Plane Is Experiencing an Emergency - Today, Studdert holds this no-notice exercise. Only a few people know about it in advance. Studdert tells a United Airlines employee who he will refer to as his “safety guy” to contact the pilot of a flight to Australia and give them some instructions. The pilot is therefore told he needs to call in during his flight and report an emergency. He should say there is an “uncontained number three engine failure, rapid descent, decompression,” but stop talking halfway through the word “decompression” and then go silent. He should also turn off the plane’s transponder. [Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 3/15/2012; Dubuque Telegraph Herald, 11/12/2015] (A transponder is a device that sends an aircraft’s identifying information, speed, and altitude to air traffic controllers’ radar screens. [Washington Post, 9/16/2001] )
Airline Personnel Think One of Their Planes Has Crashed - The simulated emergency takes places this afternoon. At around 2 o’clock, Studdert is interrupted by his secretary, Maryann Irving, who rushes into his office and tells him a Boeing 747 has lost contact while flying over the Pacific Ocean. In response, he runs to the airline’s operations center. [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001; Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 3/15/2012] Airline employees believe the apparently troubled aircraft has crashed. Some of them are upset and some become physically ill. [Dubuque Telegraph Herald, 11/12/2015] “There are people throwing up in the hall; there are people crying; there are people just staring out the windows,” Studdert will describe.
Personnel Think the Crisis Is Real for 30 Minutes - Since no one in the operations center is able to contact the apparently troubled aircraft, Studdert opens the airline’s crisis center. [Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 3/15/2012] The crisis center, according to journalist and author Jere Longman, is “a terraced, theater-like room that resembled NASA’s Mission Control.” [Longman, 2002, pp. 77] Opening it, according to Studdert, is a significant course of action. When this happens, everyone working for the airline becomes responsible either for running the airline or acting to support the management of the emergency. This means that “3,000 people are put on an immediate activation.” [Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 4/23/2012] United Airlines employees believe one of their planes has crashed for about 30 minutes and then Studdert reveals that the apparent catastrophe is just an exercise scenario. [USA Today, 8/13/2002] He gets on the crisis center’s communications link, which, he will say, “has got 170 stations and people all over the country, all over the world,” and announces, “This has been a no-notice drill; there is no event; everything’s fine.”
Employees Are Furious about the Exercise - The reaction to the exercise in the days after it takes place will be particularly bitter and Studdert will face severe criticism for running it. “I had the board members calling; I had the unions demanding I be fired; I had people telling me I’m the most evil person in the world,” he will recall. [Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 3/15/2012; Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 4/26/2012] Some employees “wanted to kill me,” he will say.
Exercise Has Similarities to the Situation Experienced on September 11 - It is unclear whether Studdert’s exercise has a beneficial or a detrimental effect on the ability of United Airlines to respond to the hijackings 12 days later, on September 11. Studdert will claim that it prepares employees to manage the events of September 11 and reveals weaknesses, such as outdated phone numbers, which are quickly corrected. [Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 4/26/2012; Dubuque Telegraph Herald, 11/12/2015] “It’s amazing, after 9/11… how many people came up to me and thanked me [for running the exercise], because we were ready,” he will say. [Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 3/15/2012] It is possible, however, that it will cause some United Airlines employees to initially think the reports about the terrorist attacks on September 11 are part of another exercise, although accounts are contradictory (see (8:50 a.m.-9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 8/13/2002; Chicago Tribune, 7/16/2003] The scenario of Studdert’s exercise in fact has some similarities with the situation that operations center personnel have to deal with on September 11. On that day, communication with Flight 175—the first of the two United Airlines planes that are hijacked—will be lost (see 8:51 a.m.-8:53 a.m. September 11, 2001) and the plane will have its transponder code changed, although the transponder will not be turned off (see 8:46 a.m.-8:47 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 20-21] Communication will subsequently be lost with Flight 93—the second United Airlines plane to be hijacked (see 9:27 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (9:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001)—and that plane’s transponder will be turned off (see (9:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 38-39, 43]
Crisis Center Holds Quarterly Exercises - The United Airlines crisis center usually runs exercises four times a year. Most of these deal with safety issues, but security scenarios are also rehearsed, according to Ed Soliday, the airline’s vice president of safety and security. Typically, the 9/11 Commission will be told, these exercises “are scripted” and based around an act of bioterrorism or an international incident. United Airlines has also practiced hijacking scenarios, according to Soliday, although none of these dealt with the threat of an aircraft being used as a weapon. [9/11 Commission, 11/20/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 11/21/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Andrew P. Studdert, Maryann Irving, United Airlines, Ed Soliday

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A NORAD training exercise that is taking place this morning, presumably Vigilant Guardian (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001), is reportedly canceled shortly after 9:03, when the second World Trade Center tower is hit. [Airman, 3/2002] NORAD Commander Larry Arnold later says that after Flight 175 hits the South Tower, “I thought it might be prudent to pull out of the exercise, which we did.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 59] According to author Lynn Spencer: “The phone calls start flying between the various NORAD command centers. General Arnold calls Maj. Gen. Rick Findley” at NORAD’s operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, “to give him the latest information and have him withdraw all forces from the simulated exercise.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 86] Arnold will recall, “As we pulled out of the exercise we were getting calls about United Flight 93 and we were worried about that.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 59] Some early accounts say the military receives notification of the possible hijacking of Flight 93 at around 9:16 a.m. (see 9:16 a.m. September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/17/2001; 9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003] However, the 9/11 Commission will later claim that NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) first receives a call about Flight 93 at 10:07 a.m. (see 10:05 a.m.-10:08 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Arnold will add, “Then we had another call from Boston Center about a possible hijacking, but that turned out to be the airplane that had already hit the South Tower but we didn’t know that at the time.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 59]

Entity Tags: Larry Arnold, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Vigilant Guardian, Eric A. “Rick” Findley

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

According to an early timeline laid out to CNN by unnamed but “informed defense officials,” the FAA informs NORAD at this time that Flight 93 may have been hijacked. [CNN, 9/17/2001] In public testimony before the 9/11 Commission in 2003, NORAD officials will similarly claim that the FAA first reports the possible hijacking of Flight 93 at this time. [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003] Yet this is 12 minutes before the hijacking is meant to have occurred (see (9:28 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 38] One explanation is put forward that could possibly help explain the discrepancy: There are media reports that “investigators had determined from the cockpit voice recorder from United Airlines Flight 93… that one of the four hijackers had been invited into the cockpit area before the flight took off from Newark, New Jersey.” Cockpit voice recordings indicate that the pilots believed their guest was a colleague “and was thereby extended the typical airline courtesy of allowing any pilot from any airline to join a flight by sitting in the jumpseat, the folded over extra seat located inside the cockpit.” [Fox News, 9/24/2001; Herald Sun (Melbourne), 9/25/2001] This would be consistent with passenger phone calls from the plane, describing only three hijackers on Flight 93 (see (9:27 a.m.-10:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Longman, 2002, pp. 120] However, the reports will not be confirmed. The 9/11 Commission Report will dismiss the claim that NORAD was alerted at 9:16, stating, “In public testimony before this Commission in May 2003, NORAD officials stated that at 9:16, NEADS received hijack notification of United 93 from the FAA. This statement was incorrect. There was no hijack to report at 9:16. United 93 was proceeding normally at that time.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 34] No further explanations will be offered for the incorrect timelines. NORAD’s own initial timeline, released on September 18, 2001, will not give a time for when the FAA alerted it to Flight 93. It will only say that the FAA and its Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) “established a line of open communication discussing AA Flt 77 and UA Flt 93.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001]

Entity Tags: Northeast Air Defense Sector, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Federal Aviation Administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Ed Ballinger, the United Airlines flight dispatcher monitoring Flight 93, sends a warning message to this flight, telling the pilots to beware of any cockpit intrusion. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 11] At 9:21, United Airlines instructed its dispatchers to warn their flights to secure their cockpit doors (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001), but Ballinger had already taken the initiative two minutes earlier to begin warning the 16 flights he is monitoring (see 9:19 a.m. September 11, 2001). His text message reads: “Beware any cockpit intrusion… Two aircraft in NY hit [World] Trade Center builds.” Because this message is sent out to Ballinger’s 16 aircraft in groups, it is not until 9:23 a.m. that it is transmitted to Flight 93. [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 26 and 37] The warning is received in the plane’s cockpit one minute later. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 11] Then, at 9:26, Flight 93 pilot Jason Dahl responds with the text message, “Ed confirm latest mssg plz [message please]—Jason.” Apart from a routine radio contact with the FAA’s Cleveland Center a minute later (see 9:27 a.m. September 11, 2001), this is the last normal communication made from Flight 93’s cockpit before the hijacking occurs. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 38] Ballinger will later complain: “One of the things that upset me was that they knew 45 minutes before that American Airlines [Flight 11] had a problem. I put the story together myself [from news accounts]. Perhaps if I had the information sooner, I might have gotten the message to [Flight] 93 to bar the door.” [Chicago Daily Herald, 4/14/2004]

Entity Tags: Jason Dahl, Ed Ballinger

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The FAA’s Cleveland Center.The FAA’s Cleveland Center. [Source: FAA]Having entered the center’s airspace, Flight 93 establishes radio contact with the FAA’s Cleveland Center, a regional air traffic control center that guides long-range, high altitude flights. The pilot reports simply that his flight is experiencing intermittent light choppy air, and does not indicate there being any problems on board, saying, “Good morning Cleveland, United 93 with you at three-five-oh [35,000 feet], intermittent light chop.” The controller, John Werth, is busy with other flights, so does not initially respond. A minute later, Flight 93 radios again, “United 93 checking in three-five-oh.” Werth replies, “United 93, three-five-zero, roger.” [Gregor, 12/21/2001 pdf file; Longman, 2002, pp. 69; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 37; CBS News, 9/10/2006] Two minutes later, Flight 93 will make its final radio communication before the hijacker takeover occurs (see 9:27 a.m. September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: John Werth, Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Flight 93 makes its last normal communication with air traffic control before being hijacked, acknowledging a routine radio transmission from the FAA’s Cleveland Center. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 28] Flight 93 checked in with the Cleveland Center a couple of minutes earlier (see 9:24 a.m.-9:25 a.m. September 11, 2001). At 9:27, the Cleveland controller, John Werth, alerts it to another aircraft 12 miles away and to its right, at 37,000 feet: “United 93, that traffic for you is one o’clock, 12 miles east, bound three-seven-zero.” Seconds later, Flight 93 responds, “Negative contact, we’re looking, United 93.” Less than a minute after this, the hijackers appear to enter Flight 93’s cockpit (see (9:28 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Gregor, 12/21/2001 pdf file; Longman, 2002, pp. 69; CBS News, 9/10/2006]

Entity Tags: John Werth, Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Jason Dahl.Jason Dahl. [Source: Publicity photo]According to the 9/11 Commission, less than a minute after Flight 93 acknowledged a routine radio transmission from the FAA’s Cleveland Center (see 9:27 a.m. September 11, 2001), John Werth—the controller handling the flight—and pilots of other aircraft in the vicinity of Flight 93 hear “a radio transmission of unintelligible sounds of possible screaming or a struggle from an unknown origin.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004; CBS News, 9/10/2006] Someone, presumably Flight 93’s pilot Jason Dahl, is overheard by controllers as he shouts, “Mayday!” [New York Times, 7/22/2004] Seconds later, the controller responds, “Somebody call Cleveland?” Then there are more sounds of screaming and someone yelling, “Get out of here, get out of here.” [Toronto Sun, 9/16/2001; Newsweek, 9/22/2001; Observer, 12/2/2001; MSNBC, 7/30/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Then the voices of the hijackers can be heard talking in Arabic. The words are later translated to show they are talking to each other, saying, “Everything is fine.” [Newsweek, 12/3/2001] Later, passenger phone calls will describe two dead or injured bodies just outside the cockpit; presumably these are the two pilots. [New York Times, 7/22/2004]

Entity Tags: Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center, John Werth, 9/11 Commission, Jason Dahl

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Shortly before Flight 93 reverses direction and heads east, someone in its cockpit radios in and asks the FAA for a new flight plan, with a final destination of Washington, DC. [ABC News, 9/11/2001; ABC News, 9/14/2001] Jeff Krawczyk, the chief operating officer of a company that tracks aircraft movements, later comments, “We hardly ever get a flight plan change. Very unusual.” [Washington Business Journal, 9/11/2001] Who it is that makes this request is unclear. The hijacker takeover of Flight 93 occurred around 9:28 a.m. (see (9:28 a.m.) September 11, 2001) [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 11] , so it is presumably made by one of the hijackers. Twenty-five minutes later the pilot hijacker will also program a new destination into the plane’s navigational system (see 9:55 a.m. September 11, 2001).

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

At the FAA’s Cleveland Center, an air traffic controller hears a transmission, presumably made by Flight 93 hijacker-pilot Ziad Jarrah, stating: “Ladies and gentlemen: Here the captain, please sit down, keep remaining sitting. We have a bomb on board. So, sit.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 12; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 39] As the 9/11 Commission later notes, “Like [Mohamed] Atta on Flight 11, Jarrah apparently did not know how to operate the communication radios; thus his attempts to communicate with the passengers were broadcast on the [air traffic control] channel.” [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 98] While this communication is assumed to have come from Flight 93, an early FAA report states that it came “from an unknown origin.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file] According to Newsweek, just prior to the communication, Cleveland Center controllers heard the sound of screaming from the flight. [Newsweek, 9/22/2001] The 9/11 Commission states that, around the time of the transmission, the plane’s cockpit voice recording indicates “that a woman, most likely a flight attendant, was being held captive in the cockpit. She struggled with one of the hijackers who killed or otherwise silenced her.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 12; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 39] Though the Cleveland air traffic controller understands the hijacker’s communication, he responds to it: “Calling Cleveland Center, you’re unreadable. Say again, slowly.” He also notifies his supervisor who passes the information up the chain of command, and the FAA’s Command Center is subsequently informed, “United 93 may have a bomb on board.” At 9:34 the Command Center will relay this information to FAA headquarters (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 28]

Entity Tags: Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center, 9/11 Commission, Federal Aviation Administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

According to the 9/11 Commission, word of Flight 93’s hijacking reaches FAA headquarters. By this time, headquarters has established an open line of communication with the FAA Command Center at Herndon, Virginia. It had instructed the center to poll all flight control centers about suspect aircraft. So, at this time, the Command Center passes on Cleveland’s message: “United 93 may have a bomb on board.” The FAA headquarters apparently does not forward this information to the military, despite having the responsibility for doing so. Ben Sliney, the FAA’s national operations manager at its Herndon Command Center, will later recount, “I do know that all the information was being relayed to headquarters and, at least as far as we were concerned, it should have been. We thought it had been given to the military at each juncture.” The Command Center continually updates FAA headquarters on Flight 93 until it crashes. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004; CBC, 9/12/2006]

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration, Ben Sliney

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The Flight 93 hijackers (probably inadvertently) transmit over the radio: “Hi, this is the captain. We’d like you all to remain seated. There is a bomb on board. And we are going to turn back to the airport. And they had our demands, so please remain quiet.” [Boston Globe, 11/23/2001; Longman, 2002, pp. 209; MSNBC, 9/3/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] The controller responds, “United 93, understand you have a bomb on board. Go ahead,” but there is no response. There was a very similar “bomb on board” warning from the same flight at 9:32 a.m. (see (9:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The 9/11 Commission indicates that these are separate incidents. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Cleveland flight control apparently continues to wait for FAA superiors to notify NORAD. Earlier in the morning, Boston flight control directly contacted NORAD (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and local air force bases when they determined Flight 11 was hijacked.

Entity Tags: North American Aerospace Defense Command, Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center, Federal Aviation Administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The FAA’s Cleveland Center notifies the FAA’s Great Lakes Regional Operations Center about the screams and statements it heard from an unknown origin, but that are believed to have come from Flight 93. These transmissions were heard between 9:28 and 9:39 (see (9:28 a.m.) September 11, 2001, (9:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (9:39 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file] The FAA’s Herndon Command Center and Washington headquarters were alerted to Flight 93 several minutes earlier (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 39]

Entity Tags: Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center, Federal Aviation Administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The hijacker pilot of Flight 93 (presumably Ziad Jarrah) reprograms the plane’s navigational system for a new destination. He dials in the navigational code for Washington’s Reagan National Airport, which is just four miles from the White House, and an arrival time of 10:28 a.m. The 9/11 Commission will say this further indicates that the plane’s intended target is the nation’s capital. [Longman, 2002, pp. 78, 182; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 457; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 45] A minute later, an air traffic controller at the FAA’s Cleveland Center will enter a revised flight plan for Flight 93 into the FAA computer system, giving a new destination of Reagan Airport, although the reason she does this is unclear (see 9:56 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; St. Petersburg Times, 9/12/2001; 9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003 pdf file] Twenty-five minutes earlier, at 9:30 a.m., someone in Flight 93’s cockpit had radioed in and requested a new flight plan from the FAA, with a final destination of Washington (see 9:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). [ABC News, 9/14/2001]

Entity Tags: Ziad Jarrah

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Unaware the aircraft has crashed, United Airlines flight dispatcher Ed Ballinger instructs Flight 93 not to divert to Washington. At 10:10, he sends a text message to Flight 93, stating: “Don’t divert to DC. Not an option.” A minute later, he resends this same message to it. [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 46] Someone on Flight 93 had contacted the FAA at 9:30, requesting a new flight plan with the destination of Washington (see 9:30 a.m. September 11, 2001), and at 9:55 the pilot hijacker reprogrammed the plane’s navigational system for the new destination of Washington’s Reagan National Airport (see 9:55 a.m. September 11, 2001). United Airlines will not confirm that Flight 93 has crashed until around 10:15 (see (10:07 a.m.-10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and will notify its employees of this at 10:17 (see 10:17 a.m. September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Ed Ballinger

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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