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Context of '(9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Flight 93 Reverses Course'

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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

Personnel at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) are following Flight 93 while it is still flying west and before it reverses course, according to the accounts of some NEADS and NORAD officials, but their claims will be disputed by the 9/11 Commission. [Filson, 2003, pp. 68, 71; 9/11 Commission, 10/30/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 100-101]
NEADS Watches Flight 93 Heading West - Colonel Robert Marr, the battle commander at NEADS, will later recall that around this time, “his focus” is on Flight 93, which, he will say, is “circling over Chicago.” [9/11 Commission, 10/27/2003 pdf file] Marr will tell author Leslie Filson that the flight is being monitored by NEADS personnel while it is still flying west. He will describe: “We don’t have fighters that way and we think [Flight 93 is] headed toward Detroit or Chicago. I’m thinking Chicago is the target.” Marr will say NEADS contacts an Air National Guard base in the area, “so they [can] head off 93 at the pass” (see (9:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 68]
NORAD Watching Flight 93 When It Changes Course - Lieutenant Colonel Mark Stuart, an intelligence officer who is in the NEADS battle cab with Marr, will give a similar account. He will say that when the Flight 93 “incident began to unfold,” it was his “professional judgment that the plane was going to strike the Sears Tower in Chicago, and he passed that judgment to Colonel Marr.” [9/11 Commission, 10/30/2003 pdf file] And Major General Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental United States NORAD Region, will say that NORAD personnel are already following Flight 93 at 9:36 a.m., when it reverses course and heads back east (see (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). He will tell Filson, “[W]e watched the 93 track as it meandered around the Ohio-Pennsylvania area and started to turn south toward [Washington,] DC.” [National Transportation Safety Board, 2/19/2002 pdf file; Filson, 2003, pp. 71; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 41] Marr will similarly say “that he distinctly remembers watching [Flight 93] come west and turn over Cleveland.” [9/11 Commission, 1/23/2004 pdf file]
9/11 Commission Says No One at NORAD Watches Flight 93 - However, the 9/11 Commission will dispute these accounts. It will state: “The record demonstrates… that no one at any level in NORAD… ever ‘watched the 93 track’ start to turn south towards Washington, DC. In fact, the military never saw Flight 93 at all.” [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 101] NEADS will first be alerted to Flight 93 significantly later, at 10:07 a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission (see 10:05 a.m.-10:08 a.m. September 11, 2001).
Officer May Have Confused Flight 93 with Delta 1989 - The 9/11 Commission will suggest to Marr that he was mistaking Flight 93 for Delta Air Lines Flight 1989, an aircraft that is incorrectly reported as having been hijacked around this time (see (9:28 a.m.-9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). Marr will respond that he may have confused Flight 93 with Delta 1989, but say that “he believes the last point at which he saw Flight 93 was when it was over Ohio, before it turned off its transponder,” which happens at 9:41 a.m. (see (9:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 1/23/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 27-30] Senior officials, including Marr and Arnold, will claim that the US military continues following Flight 93 after it reverses course and is heading toward Washington (see (9:36 a.m.-10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 71, 73] Stuart will say that after Flight 93 changes course, he “and other NEADS people knew it was headed to DC.” [9/11 Commission, 10/30/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: North American Aerospace Defense Command, Northeast Air Defense Sector, Larry Arnold, Mark E. Stuart, Robert Marr

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Having followed a seemingly normal course until now, after reaching the Cleveland area, Flight 93 suddenly makes a sharp turn to the south. It then makes another turn back eastward, cutting through West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle before re-entering Pennsylvania. [Washington Post, 9/12/2001; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/13/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 41] Having thus turned 180 degrees, it now heads toward Washington, DC. [CNN, 9/13/2001]

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, provides updates to FAA headquarters in Washington, DC, about the problems with Flight 93. At 9:41 a.m., John White, a manager at the Command Center, is talking to Doug Davis, the special assistant for technical operations in air traffic services at FAA headquarters. White says that Flight 93 has reversed course from its intended flight path (see (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001), its transponder signal has been lost (see (9:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and it is now descending and heading east. From 9:42 a.m., one of the Command Center managers (exactly who is unstated) gives the headquarters several updates on Flight 93’s progress and location. At 9:46 a.m., White tells Jeff Griffith, the FAA’s deputy director of air traffic, that Flight 93 is “29 minutes out of Washington, DC, and tracking toward us.” Two minutes later, in another conversation with Griffith, White confirms that Flight 93 has reversed course and is heading toward Washington. [Federal Aviation Administration, 10/21/2002; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 43-44]

Entity Tags: Doug Davis, Federal Aviation Administration, Jeff Griffith, John White

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The air traffic control tower at Pittsburgh International Airport is evacuated, because of concerns that Flight 93, which is heading in the direction of the airport, could crash into it. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/23/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. 11-13 pdf file; Lancaster New Era, 11/3/2006]
Cleveland Center Notifies Pittsburgh Tower - At 9:44 a.m., an air traffic controller at the FAA’s Cleveland Center calls the Pittsburgh Airport control tower and notifies it of the loss of radio contact with Flight 93, and the loss of a secondary radar return from that aircraft (see (9:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The Cleveland Center controller also says Flight 93 has made an unanticipated turn (see (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and its flight path will take it close to Pittsburgh Airport, if not directly over it. [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. 11-12 pdf file] The controller at the Pittsburgh tower who answers the call, apparently Paul Delfine, begins tracking Flight 93’s primary target on radar, and calls over his operations supervisor, Mal Fuller. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file; Lancaster New Era, 11/3/2006]
Supervisor Orders Evacuation - Delfine points to a plane—which Fuller only later learns is Flight 93—on a radar scope. He tells Fuller it was hijacked over Cleveland, and controllers don’t know where it is heading. Fuller will later recall: “In two sweeps of the radar, I could tell it was going very fast. It was headed directly for the control tower.” Fuller is aware of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and, at 9:49, gives the order, “Evacuate the facility.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/23/2001; Lancaster New Era, 11/3/2006] By 9:51, the facility has been evacuated. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file] However, one controller refuses to leave his post and remains in the tower. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 193-194]
Employees Do Not See Flight 93 Overhead - Some of the evacuated employees are so upset that they immediately head home. Others mill around in a parking lot. Fuller will later guess that Flight 93 passed directly overhead as he was heading outside, but he assumes it was too high for anyone to see it. He will recall: “We watched and watched and watched. We never saw anything.” [Lancaster New Era, 11/3/2006]
Controllers Return to Facility - Minutes after evacuating, at 9:56 a small number of tower controllers will volunteer to return to their facility. Once back inside, they find that Flight 93’s track is no longer visible on their radar screens. At 10:05 a.m., tower personnel will contact the FAA’s Herndon Command Center to explain why they evacuated. They say they did so because there had been an aircraft, thought to be Flight 93, which appeared to be on a collision course with the tower, and this aircraft allegedly had a bomb on board. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file; Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. 12-13 pdf file] Around the time the Pittsburgh Airport control tower evacuates, while Flight 93 is heading east, NEADS battle commander Colonel Robert Marr hears that the FAA’s Cleveland Center is being evacuated (see (10:17 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 73]

Entity Tags: Paul Delfine, Pittsburgh International Airport, Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center, Mal Fuller

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 127th Wing at Selfridge Air National Guard Base.F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 127th Wing at Selfridge Air National Guard Base. [Source: John S. Swanson / US Air Force]NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) contacts Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Michigan to arrange for two of its F-16 fighter jets that are out on a training mission to intercept a suspicious aircraft. Accounts will conflict over whether this aircraft is Flight 93 or Delta Air Lines Flight 1989, which is wrongly thought to have been hijacked. [Associated Press, 8/30/2002; ABC News, 9/11/2002; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 178] Delta 1989 was flying about 25 miles behind Flight 93 when air traffic controllers mistakenly suspected it might be hijacked (see (9:28 a.m.-9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and since then it has been instructed to land at Cleveland Hopkins Airport in Ohio (see (9:42 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 8/13/2002; USA Today, 9/11/2008] Flight 93 is currently flying east across Pennsylvania. [National Transportation Safety Board, 2/19/2002 pdf file] NEADS has already tried getting fighter jets from a unit in Duluth, Minnesota, sent after Delta 1989, but the unit was unable to respond (see (Shortly After 9:41 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 1/22/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 1/23/2004 pdf file]
NEADS Calls Selfridge Base - A NEADS weapons technician now calls the 127th Wing at Selfridge Air National Guard Base. He knows the unit has two F-16s in the air on a training mission. Although these jets are unarmed and only have a limited amount of fuel remaining, the commander at the Selfridge base agrees to turn them over to NEADS. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 178] The commander says: “[H]ere’s what we can do. At a minimum, we can keep our guys airborne. I mean, they don’t have—they don’t have any guns or missiles or anything on board.” The NEADS technician replies, “It’s a presence, though.” [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]
Fighters May Have to Crash into Hijacked Plane - Military commanders realize that, without weapons, the Selfridge fighter pilots might have to slam their jets into a hijacked plane to stop it in its tracks. Colonel Robert Marr, the NEADS battle commander, will later reflect, “As a military man, there are times that you have to make sacrifices that you have to make.” [ABC News, 8/30/2002; ABC News, 9/11/2002] However, the Selfridge jets never have to intercept either of the two suspect aircraft, and instead are able to head back to base. [Filson, 2003, pp. 70; Wolverine Guard, 9/2006 pdf file]
Selfridge Called due to Concerns about Delta 1989? - According to author Lynn Spencer, the NEADS weapons technician’s call to the Selfridge unit is made in response to a report NEADS received about the possible hijacking of Delta 1989 (see 9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 178] Vanity Fair magazine and the 9/11 Commission will also say NEADS calls the Selfridge unit in response to this report about Delta 1989. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 28; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]
NORAD Commander Gives Different Account - However, Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental United States NORAD Region, will suggest the Selfridge unit is called due to concerns about both Delta 1989 and Flight 93. He will say: “We were concerned about Flight 93 and this Delta aircraft [Flight 1989] and were trying to find aircraft in the vicinity to help out. We didn’t know where it was going to go. We were concerned about Detroit… and the fighters up there were out of gas with no armament.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 71]
NEADS Commander Claims Fighters Sent toward Flight 93 - Robert Marr will give another different account. He will claim that NEADS contacts the Selfridge base solely because of its concerns over Flight 93. He tells author Leslie Filson that before Flight 93 reversed course and headed back east (see (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001), NEADS thought it was “headed toward Detroit or Chicago. I’m thinking Chicago is the target and know that Selfridge Air National Guard Base has F-16s in the air.” NEADS contacts “them so they could head off 93 at the pass.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 68] Marr will tell the 9/11 Commission that the Selfridge F-16s are going to be “too far from Cleveland to do any good,” and so he believes NEADS directs them to intercept Flight 93. [9/11 Commission, 1/23/2004 pdf file] (Presumably, he means the jets cannot be responding to Delta 1989, which has been told to land in Cleveland [USA Today, 9/11/2008] )
9/11 Commission Disputes Arnold's and Marr's Accounts - The 9/11 Commission will reject Arnold’s and Marr’s accounts. It will state, “The record demonstrates, however, that… the military never saw Flight 93 at all” before it crashes, and conclude, “The Selfridge base was contacted by NEADS not regarding Flight 93, but in response to another commercial aircraft in the area that was reported hijacked (Delta Flight 1989, which ultimately was resolved as not hijacked).” [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 101] Lt. Col. Doug Champagne, the pilot of one of the Selfridge F-16s, will recall that “he and his colleague never received orders to intercept [Flight 93] in any way.” [Mount Clemens-Clinton-Harrison Journal, 9/6/2006] Reports based on interviews with the two Selfridge pilots will make no mention of the jets being directed to intercept Delta 1989 either (see (9:56 a.m.-10:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 68-70; Wolverine Guard, 9/2006 pdf file; Mount Clemens-Clinton-Harrison Journal, 9/6/2006]

Entity Tags: Larry Arnold, 127th Wing, Doug Champagne, Northeast Air Defense Sector, Robert Marr, Selfridge Air National Guard Base

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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