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Context of '(9:36 a.m.-10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Military Claims It Is Tracking Flight 93 and Ready to Shoot It Down; 9/11 Commission Says Otherwise'

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Captain Craig Borgstrom.Captain Craig Borgstrom. [Source: US Air Force / Austin Knox]The three F-16 fighter jets ordered to scramble from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001) take off and, radar data will show, are airborne by 9:30 a.m. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; Christian Science Monitor, 4/16/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 27]
Delayed during Launch - Major Dean Eckmann will recall that, after receiving the scramble order, he and the two other pilots have “a pretty quick response time. I believe it was four to five minutes we were airborne from that point.” [BBC, 9/1/2002] According to the 1st Air Force’s book about 9/11, the three fighters are “given highest priority over all other air traffic at Langley Air Force Base” as they are launching. [Filson, 2003, pp. 63] But, according to author Lynn Spencer, in spite of this, the jets are delayed. As Eckmann is approaching the runway, he calls the control tower for clearance to take off, but the tower controller tells him, “Hold for an air traffic delay.” Air traffic controllers at the FAA’s Washington Center “have not had time to clear airliners out of the way for the northerly heading. Dozens of aircraft at various altitudes fill the jets’ route.” After having to wait two minutes, Eckmann complains: “We’re an active air scramble. We need to go now!” Finally, the tower controller tells him, “Roger, Quit flight is cleared for takeoff, 090 for 60,” meaning the fighters are to fly due east for 60 miles (see (9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Taking Off - The three jets launch 15 seconds apart, with Eckmann in front and the two other jets following. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 143-144] Pilot Craig Borgstrom will later recall, “[W]e took off, the three of us, and basically the formation we always brief on alert, we’ll stay in a two- to three-mile trail from the guy in front.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 63] According to the BBC, the pilots get a signal over their planes’ transponders, indicating an emergency wartime situation. [BBC, 9/1/2002]
Could Reach Washington before Pentagon Attack - F-16s have a maximum speed of 1,500 mph at high altitude, or 915 mph at sea level, so the three fighters could plausibly travel the 130 miles from Langley Air Force Base to Washington in just minutes. [Chant, 1987, pp. 404; Associated Press, 6/16/2000; USA Today, 9/16/2001; Washington Post, 9/16/2001 pdf file; US Air Force, 10/2007] Major General Larry Arnold, the commanding general of NORAD’s Continental US Region, will tell the 9/11 Commission, “I think if those aircraft had gotten airborne immediately, if we were operating under something other than peacetime rules, where they could have turned immediately toward Washington, DC, and gone into burner, it is physically possible that they could have gotten over Washington” before 9:37, when the Pentagon is hit. [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003] Yet according to the 9/11 Commission, the jets are redirected east over the Atlantic Ocean and will be 150 miles from the Pentagon when it is hit (see 9:30 a.m.-9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 27]
Conflicting Times - Some early news reports after 9/11 will say the Langley jets take off at the later time of 9:35 a.m. [Washington Post, 9/12/2001; CNN, 9/14/2001; Washington Post, 9/15/2001; CNN, 9/17/2001] But according to Colonel Alan Scott, the former vice commander of the Continental US NORAD Region, though the jets are airborne at 9:30, the report of this does not come down until 9:35, so this fact may account for the conflicting times. [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003]

Entity Tags: Brad Derrig, Alan Scott, Craig Borgstrom, Dean Eckmann, Langley Air Force Base, Larry Arnold

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

According to the later claims of several senior officials, the US military is tracking Flight 93 as it heads east and is ready to shoot it down if necessary.
bullet According to Brigadier General Montague Winfield, the Pentagon’s National Military Command Center (NMCC) has “received the report from the FAA that Flight 93 had turned off its transponder, had turned, and was now heading towards Washington, DC.” Winfield will add, “The decision was made to try to go intercept Flight 93.” [ABC News, 9/11/2002]
bullet General Richard Myers, the acting chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will write that in the NMCC, “We learned that there was apparently a fourth hijacked aircraft, United Airlines Flight 93 out of Newark, bound nonstop for San Francisco. Like the other planes, it had switched off its transponder, making it much harder if not impossible to track on ground radar.” [Myers, 2009, pp. 152]
bullet Major General Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental United States NORAD Region, will say, “I was personally anxious to see what 93 was going to do, and our intent was to intercept it.” Three fighters have taken off from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). According to Arnold, “we launched the aircraft out of Langley to put them over top of Washington, DC, not in response to American Airline 77, but really to put them in position in case United 93 were to head that way.” [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003] He says, “as we discussed it in the conference call, we decided not to move fighters toward 93 until it was closer because there could have been other aircraft coming in,” but adds, “I had every intention of shooting down United 93 if it continued to progress toward Washington, DC… whether we had authority or not.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 73]
bullet Colonel Robert Marr, the battle commander at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), is reportedly “focused on United Flight 93, headed straight toward Washington.” He will concur with Arnold, saying: “United Airlines Flight 93 would not have hit Washington, DC. He would have been engaged and shot down before he got there.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 73] Marr and Arnold will both say they were tracking Flight 93 even earlier on, while it was still heading west (see Shortly Before 9:36 a.m. September 11, 2001).
Yet, contradicting these claims, the 9/11 Commission will conclude that the military only learns about Flight 93 around the time it crashes. It says the NMCC learns of the hijacking at 10:03 a.m. (see 10:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). Based upon official records, including recordings of the NEADS operations floor, it says NEADS never follows Flight 93 on radar and is first alerted to it at 10:07 a.m. (see 10:05 a.m.-10:08 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 30-31, 34 and 42; Washington Post, 4/30/2006; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]

Entity Tags: National Military Command Center, Montague Winfield, Richard B. Myers, Robert Marr, Larry Arnold

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

According to the 9/11 Commission, the NMCC learns about the Flight 93 hijacking at this time. Since the FAA has not yet been patched in to the NMCC’s conference call, the news comes from the White House. The White House learned about it from the Secret Service, and the Secret Service learned about it from the FAA. NORAD apparently is still unaware. Four minutes later, a NORAD representative on the conference call states, “NORAD has no indication of a hijack heading to Washington, D.C., at this time.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]

Entity Tags: US Secret Service, Federal Aviation Administration, National Military Command Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The military liaison at the FAA’s Cleveland Center calls NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) and alerts it to the hijacked Flight 93. According to the 9/11 Commission, this is the first notification NEADS receives about Flight 93, but it comes too late, since the plane has already crashed (see (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 30; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 46]
'Bomb on Board' Flight 93 - At 10:05 a.m., the military liaison at the Cleveland Center, who is unaware that Flight 93 has just crashed, calls NEADS to inform it that Flight 93 is heading toward Washington, DC. Even though communicating with NEADS is not one of his responsibilities, he wants to make sure it is in the loop. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 224] At NEADS, the call is answered by Tech Sergeant Shelley Watson. Shortly into the call, at 10:07, the military liaison tells her: “We got a United 93 out here. Are you aware of that?” He continues, “That has a bomb on board.” Watson asks: “A bomb on board? And this is confirmed? You have a mode three [beacon code], sir?” The military liaison replies, “No, we lost his transponder” (see (9:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The news about Flight 93 is shouted out to Major Kevin Nasypany, the NEADS mission crew commander. Nasypany responds: “Gimme the call sign. Gimme the whole nine yards.… Let’s get some info, real quick. They got a bomb?”
Liaison Wants Fighters Sent toward Flight 93 - The military liaison continues, asking Watson if NEADS scrambled fighter jets in response to Delta 1989, an aircraft that was mistakenly reported as having been hijacked (see (9:28 a.m.-9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). Watson replies: “We did. Out of Selfridge and Toledo” (see (9:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 10:01 a.m. September 11, 2001), and says these jets are airborne. When the military liaison asks if the fighters can be directed to where Flight 93 is, Watson asks him if the Cleveland Center has latitude and longitude coordinates for this aircraft. The military liaison replies that he has not got this information available right now. All he knows is that Flight 93 has “got a confirmed bomb on board… and right now, his last known position was in the Westmoreland area.… Which is… in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, area.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]
NEADS Searches on Radar - The news of a bomb on board Flight 93 spreads quickly at NEADS, and personnel there search for the aircraft’s primary return on their radar screens. But because the plane has already crashed, they will be unable to locate it. NEADS will only learn that Flight 93 has crashed at 10:15 a.m., during a call with the FAA’s Washington Center (see 10:15 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 30-31]
FAA Failed to Notify Military Earlier - The Cleveland Center’s notification to NEADS about Flight 93 comes 39 minutes after the plane was hijacked (see (9:28 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and 33 minutes after FAA headquarters was alerted to the hijacking (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 11, 28] At the time NEADS is alerted to Flight 93, NORAD is similarly uninformed about this aircraft, according to the 9/11 Commission. The Commission will state, “At 10:07, its representative on the air threat conference call stated that NORAD had ‘no indication of a hijack heading to DC at this time.’” According to the Commission, the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon learned about the Flight 93 hijacking slightly earlier on, at 10:03 a.m. (see 10:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). However, the NMCC was notified by the White House, not the FAA. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 42] A former senior FAA executive, speaking on condition of anonymity, will later try to explain why it takes the FAA so long to alert NEADS to Flight 93. He will say, “Our whole procedures prior to 9/11 were that you turned everything [regarding a hijacking] over to the FBI.” [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] Yet military instructions contradict this, stating, “In the event of a hijacking, the NMCC will be notified by the most expeditious means by the FAA.” [US Department of Defense, 7/31/1997 pdf file; US Department of Defense, 6/1/2001 pdf file]
NORAD Commanders Claim Earlier Awareness of Flight 93 - Two senior NORAD officials will contradict the 9/11 Commission’s conclusion, and claim they were aware of Flight 93 well before it crashed (see Shortly Before 9:36 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (9:36 a.m.-10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 68, 71-73] Colonel Robert Marr, the NEADS battle commander, will tell the Commission that, while the flight was still airborne, “his focus was on UAL 93, which was circling over Chicago,” and he “distinctly remembers watching the flight UAL 93 come west, and turn over Cleveland.” [9/11 Commission, 10/27/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 1/23/2004 pdf file] Major General Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental US NORAD Region, will recall, “[W]e watched the [Flight] 93 track as it meandered around the Ohio-Pennsylvania area and started to turn south toward DC.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 71]

Entity Tags: Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center, Kevin Nasypany, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Northeast Air Defense Sector, Shelley Watson

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A report is secretly delivered to Congress by the Pentagon’s Office of Inspector General, regarding the inaccuracy of statements made by Defense Department officials on the military’s response to the September 11 hijackings. The 9/11 Commission made a formal request in summer 2004 for the inspector general to investigate the matter, because military officials had given testimony that was later proved to have been false (see Shortly before July 22, 2004). For example, they claimed that NORAD had been tracking Flight 93 on 9/11 and was ready to shoot it down if it threatened Washington (see Shortly Before 9:36 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (9:36 a.m.-10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Yet audiotapes obtained under subpoena showed NORAD was unaware of this flight until after it crashed. In its report, the inspector general’s office states that it found “the inaccuracies, in part, resulted because of inadequate forensic capabilities.” It says that commanders found it difficult to create an accurate timeline of the events of 9/11 due to the lack of a well-coordinated system in logging information about air defense operations. At the time, air defense watch centers had used handwritten logs, and these could be unreliable. Following the attacks, the report claims, commanders failed to press hard enough for an accurate timeline to be produced for the benefit of investigations, like the 9/11 Commission. Yet, as some of the Commission’s staff will later point out, the military had already reviewed the NORAD audiotapes chronicling the events of 9/11 prior to its officials giving their incorrect testimonies. In response to a freedom of information request by the New York Times, the inspector general’s report will be publicly released in August 2006, but the equivalent of several pages will be blacked out on national security grounds. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006; Washington Post, 8/2/2006; New York Times, 8/5/2006; Reuters, 8/5/2006; US Department of Defense, 9/12/2006 pdf file]
9/11 Staff Member Criticizes Report - In his 2009 book The Ground Truth, John Farmer, who served as senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission, will criticize the inspector general’s report. Farmer says the report mischaracterizes the 9/11 Commission’s referral by saying the Commission had alleged officials knowingly made false statements, when instead it had simply “documented the facts concerning what occurred on 9/11, the disparity between those facts and what the government had been telling the public with total assurance since 9/11, and the relative ease with which anyone looking could have uncovered those facts.” He faults the inspector general for interpreting the issue narrowly, by focusing on statements made to the 9/11 Commission; ignoring the larger context in which the events of 9/11 were extremely significant and so it should have been extremely important for the military to understand the truth of what happened, in order to correct any problems, as well as to be able to present an accurate account to the White House and to the public; and failing to address the question of whether the false accounts had served anyone’s interests. The inspector general’s report affirms the claims of top NORAD commanders that, in Farmer’s words, they had been “simply too busy fixing the system and fighting the war on terror to concern themselves with piecing together the facts of 9/11.” Farmer will ask, “[H]ow… could the Department of Defense identify and correct operational weaknesses without knowing precisely what had occurred that morning?” He will question the report’s determination that the Defense Department lacked the forensic capabilities for maintaining logs, video and audio recordings, and storing radar information, and had not coordinated with the FAA on reconstructing the events of 9/11, as the Commission had documented evidence that the two agencies had indeed coordinated while developing their reconstructions of events. Farmer will write that “it is impossible to conclude honestly, from the two inspector general reports, that the official version of the events of 9/11 was the result of mere administrative incompetence; too many questions remain unanswered.” He will add, “History should record that whether through unprecedented administrative incompetence or orchestrated mendacity, the American people were misled about the nation’s response to the 9/11 attacks.” [Farmer, 2009, pp. 283-289]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Office of the Inspector General (DoD), John Farmer

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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