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Context of '(9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Cleveland Flight Control Wants NORAD Notified; FAA Command Center Says People Are Working on It'

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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

A Delta Air Lines Boeing 767, the same kind of aircraft as Delta 1989.A Delta Air Lines Boeing 767, the same kind of aircraft as Delta 1989. [Source: Public domain]The FAA’s Cleveland Center incorrectly concludes that Delta Air Lines Flight 1989 has been hijacked, but accounts will conflict over how it comes to this conclusion. [USA Today, 8/13/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 167] Delta 1989, a Boeing 767, is currently in the sector of airspace being monitored by Cleveland Center air traffic controller John Werth. [9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003 pdf file; USA Today, 9/11/2008] It is flying west over Pennsylvania, approaching the Ohio border, and is about 25 miles behind Flight 93. FBI agents suspected Delta 1989 might be the next plane to be hijacked and called the Cleveland Center after the second attack on the World Trade Center, with the warning to watch this flight (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 8/13/2002] A supervisor at the center told Werth to keep an eye on the flight because, as Werth will later recall, “he was a suspected hijacking because he had taken off from Boston at approximately the same time as” the first two hijacked aircraft, Flights 11 and 175. [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 pdf file; USA Today, 9/11/2008]
Controllers Hear Suspicious Communications - When, at 9:28, Werth hears the sound of screaming (subsequently determined to have come from Flight 93) over the radio (see (9:28 a.m.) September 11, 2001), he is unsure which of seven or eight possible aircraft it is coming from. The radio frequency is put on the speaker so other controllers can hear it, and they subsequently make out the words, “get out of here.” [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 11, 28]
Controllers Think Delta 1989 Is Hijacked - According to USA Today, when Cleveland Center controllers then hear a voice with a heavy accent over the radio, saying “Ladies and gentlemen: Here the captain.… We have a bomb on board” (see (9:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001), they mistakenly think it is coming from Delta 1989, not Flight 93. They suspect the flight has been hijacked, and start informing their chain of command. “Officials at Cleveland Center rush word to Washington: Hijackers have another flight. At the Federal Aviation Administration’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, Delta Flight 1989 joins a growing list of suspicious jets.” [USA Today, 8/13/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 12]
Werth Decides Hijacked Aircraft Is Flight 93 - Werth then calls all of the aircraft in his sector, and Flight 93 is the only one that does not respond. He also sees Flight 93 go into a quick descent and then come back up again. Werth therefore concludes that it is Flight 93, not Delta 1989, that has been hijacked, and instructs his supervisor to “tell Washington” of this. [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003 pdf file] However, events in the following minutes will cause Cleveland Center controllers to remain suspicious of Delta 1989 (see (Shortly After 9:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 9:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 8/13/2002; 9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 168; USA Today, 9/11/2008]
Book Gives Alternative Account - In a book published in 2008, author Lynn Spencer will give a different explanation for why Cleveland Center becomes suspicious of Delta 1989. According to her account, after hearing a later radio transmission where a hijacker again says “There is a bomb on board” (see (9:39 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Werth begins to hand off his flights to other controllers so he can devote his full attention to Flight 93. “In the distraction of the emergency, the crew of Delta 1989 misses the hand-off to the new frequency. The new sector controller for Delta 1989 calls out to the plane several times and gets no response.” As a result, “News travels fast,” and “Soon, word on the FAA’s open teleconference call is that a fifth aircraft is out of radio contact: Delta 1989… is added to the list of suspect aircraft.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 167] At 9:39 a.m., even though it is not responsible for handling Delta 1989, the FAA’s Boston Center will call NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) and incorrectly tell it that Delta 1989 is another possible hijack (see 9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 2004; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]

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

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The FAA’s Cleveland Center notifies United Airlines’ headquarters, near Chicago, that Flight 93 is not responding to attempted radio contacts. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 39] Cleveland Center made its last normal communication with Flight 93 at 9:27 (see 9:27 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 28] After the hijacking began at around 9:28, the controller handling Flight 93, John Werth, tried unsuccessfully to re-establish contact with it. [Gregor, 12/21/2001 pdf file; CBS News, 9/10/2006] The lack of response from Flight 93, combined with the plane’s turning to the east (see (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001), will lead United to believe, by 9:36 a.m., that it has been hijacked. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 456]

Entity Tags: United Airlines, Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

FAA’€™s Cleveland Center.FAA’€™s Cleveland Center. [Source: ABC News]According to the 9/11 Commission, at about this time Cleveland flight control specifically asks the FAA Command Center whether someone has requested the military to launch fighters toward Flight 93. Cleveland offers to contact a nearby military base. The Command Center replies that FAA personnel well above them in the chain of command have to make that decision and are working on the issue. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Cleveland overheard a hijacker say there was a “bomb on board” at 9:32 a.m. and passed the message to FAA higher ups (see (9:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001). According to John Werth, the Cleveland controller handling Flight 93, “Within three or four minutes, probably, of when [the hijacking] happened, I asked if the military was advised yet. Had anybody called the military? They said, ‘don’t worry. That’s been taken care of,’ which I think to them, meant they had called the command center in Washington.” [CBS News, 9/10/2006]

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

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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