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Context of '(9:36 a.m.-10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001: United Airlines Crisis Center Watches Flight 93 on Radar until It Crashes'

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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 pdf file]
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 pdf file] 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 pdf file] 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

At the United Airlines crisis center, at its headquarters outside Chicago, staff members watch Flight 93’s radar track until the plane crashes. United Airlines’ senior management has started to gather in the theater-like crisis center, a room that resembles NASA’s Mission Control. Although the airline still has hundreds of flights in the air, officials have highlighted only Flight 93’s path on the large Aircraft Situation Display screen. Even after the plane’s transponder has been switched off (see (9:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001), the flight can still be tracked, but officials can no longer determine its altitude. They watch as the plane’s speed fluctuates wildly while it heads toward Washington. Hank Krakowski, United Airlines’ director of flight operations, will later recall: “We knew what was going on. We could see the airplane headed toward the capital. We were wondering whether the military was going to intervene or not.” Those in the crisis center see Flight 93’s radar track stop moving at the time it crashes. A dispatcher determines the latitude and longitude of its last position and reports that it was south of Johnstown in Pennsylvania, about 120 miles from Washington. [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001; Longman, 2002, pp. 77-78 and 214; USA Today, 8/13/2002]

Entity Tags: Hank Krakowski, United Airlines

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The transponder signal from Flight 93 ceases. [CNN, 9/17/2001; MSNBC, 9/3/2002; MSNBC, 9/11/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] However, the plane can be—and is—tracked using primary radar by Cleveland flight controllers and at United headquarters. Altitude can no longer be determined, except by visual sightings from other aircraft. The plane’s speed begins to vary wildly, fluctuating between 600 and 400 mph before eventually settling around 400 mph. [Longman, 2002, pp. 77, 214; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]

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

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Bill Keaton.Bill Keaton. [Source: Kevin Niedermier]Cleveland Center air traffic controller Bill Keaton is responsible for guiding high-altitude flights in the airspace where Flight 93 turned off its transponder (see (9:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). After its transponder goes off, he follows Flight 93 on his radar scope as it travels across his sector, headed toward Washington, DC, and is instructed not to let any other aircraft come within 20 miles of it. Because its transponder is off, Keaton cannot tell the plane’s altitude. He sees it disappear from his scope at the time it crashes. [USA Today, 8/11/2002; Cleveland Free Times, 9/6/2006]

Entity Tags: Bill Keaton

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

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

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 pdf file]
'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

Hank Krakowski.Hank Krakowski. [Source: Unisys]After seeing Flight 93’s radar track stopping over Pennsylvania, a senior United Airlines official contacts an airport in that area and receives confirmation of what appears to be an airplane crash nearby. Along with other United Airlines managers, Hank Krakowski, United’s director of flight operations, has just been watching Flight 93 on a large screen in the crisis center at the airline’s headquarters, outside Chicago (see (9:36 a.m.-10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). A dispatcher has determined the plane’s last position was south of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, so Krakowski tries phoning the Johnstown airport. However, due to an apparent power failure, there is no reply. He has to call the airport manager’s cell phone number. He asks the manager: “We might have a plane down in your area there. See anything unusual?” The manager reports a black smoke plume visible about 30 miles to the south of the airport. Krakowski thinks, “We just watched one of our airplanes crash.” [Longman, 2002, pp. 214; USA Today, 8/13/2002] Therefore, by 10:15 a.m. according to the 9/11 Commission, United Airlines headquarters has “confirmed that an aircraft [has] crashed near Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and [it] believed that this was Flight 93.” [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 47 pdf file]

Entity Tags: United Airlines, Hank Krakowski

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 pdf file] 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

Andy Studdert, the chief operating officer of United Airlines, sends out an operational alert message to the airline’s personnel, informing them of the crash of Flight 93. The message states: “UAL 93-11 EWR-SFO has been involved in an accident. Crisis center has been activated.” [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 47 pdf file] Along with other United Airlines managers, Studdert watched Flight 93’s radar track as it came to a halt on a screen in the airline’s crisis center, at its headquarters outside Chicago (see (9:36 a.m.-10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). By 10:15, United had learned from the manager of the Johnstown airport in Pennsylvania of a plume of smoke rising up in the area where Flight 93 crashed (see (10:07 a.m.-10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Longman, 2002, pp. 77 and 214]

Entity Tags: Andrew P. Studdert, United Airlines

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

United Airlines contacts American Airlines and notifies it of the crash of Flight 93. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 47 pdf file] Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania shortly after 10:00 a.m. (see (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). United Airlines received confirmation of this by 10:15 (see (10:07 a.m.-10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: United Airlines, American Airlines

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Deena Burnett, whose husband Tom Burnett was on Flight 93, is told by United Airlines it isn’t aware this plane has crashed. Deena had earlier on learned of an aircraft crashing in Pennsylvania, and a police officer with her informed her that this was her husband’s flight. Yet in her own book, published in 2006, Deena Burnett will describe that she now calls “United Airlines and asked about Flight 93. ‘Were there any survivors?’” She will recall: “They said they didn’t know the plane had even crashed. They suggested I call back or they would contact me when they knew something.” According to her own description, Deena appears to make this call shortly before 11:00 a.m. Pacific Time, meaning close to 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time. [Burnett and Giombetti, 2006, pp. 71-72 and 79] Yet by 10:15 a.m. ET, United Airlines’ headquarters had confirmed that an aircraft had crashed in Pennsylvania, and believed this was Flight 93 (see (10:07 a.m.-10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 47 pdf file] And at 11:17 a.m. ET, the airline had issued a press release confirming the crash of Flight 93 (see 11:17 a.m. September 11, 2001). [United Airlines, 9/11/2001] At what time Deena Burnett hears back from United Airlines after making this call is unstated.

Entity Tags: United Airlines, Deena Burnett

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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