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Context of '9:39 a.m.-9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001: Flight 93 Begins Rapid Descent Despite Being Hundreds of Miles from Presumed Target'

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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

John Werth, the air traffic controller at the FAA’s Cleveland Center who is monitoring the now-hijacked Flight 93, has to move Delta Air Lines Flight 1989 and several other aircraft, in order to get them out of Flight 93’s path and avoid a midair collision. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 39; USA Today, 9/11/2008]
Controller Begins Moving Aircraft - At 9:30 a.m., Werth begins moving other aircraft away from Flight 93 due to the hijacked flight’s failure to acknowledge his radio transmissions. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file] Furthermore, as USA Today will describe, Flight 93 “became erratic. It sped up and started gaining on another United [Airlines] flight. Werth commanded the second jet to turn right. Seconds later, Flight 93 turned to the right, too.” [USA Today, 9/11/2008]
Controller Worried about Possible Collision - Then, between 9:34 a.m. and 9:38 a.m., Flight 93 climbs from 35,000 feet up to 41,000 feet (see (9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and during this period it reverses course and heads back east (see (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [National Transportation Safety Board, 2/19/2002 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 39, 41] Werth becomes concerned about the possibility of a midair collision. [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 pdf file]
Delta 1989 Turns Several Times - As Flight 93 climbs, Werth instructs Delta 1989, which is also in the airspace he is monitoring, to turn right, so as to get away from the hijacked jet. As Flight 93 continues its turn back toward the east, Werth has to move Delta 1989 out of its path. In all, he has to turn the Delta flight several times. [USA Today, 9/11/2008] Minutes earlier, Cleveland Center concluded incorrectly that Delta 1989, not Flight 93, was the aircraft being hijacked (see (9:28 a.m.-9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 8/13/2002] The Delta pilots’ normal responses to his instructions reassure Werth that it is a “safe bet that the Delta flight hadn’t been hijacked.” [USA Today, 9/11/2008]
Other Aircraft Moved out of Path - According to the 9/11 Commission, while Flight 93 is ascending to 41,000 feet, Werth has to move “several aircraft out of its way,” acting “decisively to clear the other flights in his sector from Flight 93’s path.” [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 39]

Entity Tags: John Werth

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Before crashing into the Pentagon, Flight 77 performs a rapid downward spiral, flying almost a complete circle and descending 7,000 feet in two and a half minutes. [CBS News, 9/21/2001]
330-Degree Turn - At 9:34 a.m., Flight 77 is about 3.5 miles west-southwest of the Pentagon. But, at an altitude of around 7,000 feet, it is flying too high to hit its target. [CBS News, 9/21/2001; New York Times, 10/16/2001; National Transportation Safety Board, 2/19/2002 pdf file] Based on an analysis of radar data and information from the plane’s flight data recorder, a 2002 National Transportation Safety Board report will describe the maneuver the aircraft then performs: “[Flight 77] started a right 330-degree descending turn to the right. At the end of the turn, the aircraft was at about 2,000 feet altitude and four miles southwest of the Pentagon. Over the next 30 seconds, power was increased to near maximum and the nose was pitched down in response to control column movements.” The aircraft accelerates to about 530 miles per hour as it closes in on the Pentagon. [National Transportation Safety Board, 2/19/2002 pdf file]
Controllers Watch on Radar - Air Traffic Controllers at Washington Dulles International Airport follow Flight 77 on their radar screens as it performs this maneuver. Danielle O’Brien will later recall: “John, our supervisor, relayed verbatim, ‘OK, he’s 12 miles west, he’s moving very fast eastbound.… Eleven miles west.’ And it was just a countdown. Ten miles west, nine miles west.… And it went six, five, four, and I had it in my mouth to say three, and all of a sudden the plane turned away. In the room it was almost a sense of relief.” [ABC, 10/24/2001; ABC News, 10/24/2001] Todd Lewis will recall that the aircraft “was heading right towards a prohibited area in downtown Washington.… Then it turned south and away from the prohibited area, which seemed like a momentary sigh of relief, and it disappeared. But it was going away from Washington, which seemed to be the right thing.” [MSNBC, 9/11/2002] However, O’Brien will continue: “[T]he plane turned back. He continued in the right-hand turn, made a 360-degree maneuver.… We lost radar contact with that aircraft. And we waited. And we waited.” [ABC, 10/24/2001; ABC News, 10/24/2001]
Maneuver Indicates Advanced Flying Skills - According to CBS News, “The steep turn” made by Flight 77 “was so smooth… sources say, it’s clear there was no fight for control going on.” The “complex maneuver suggests the hijackers had better flying skills than many investigators first believed.” [CBS News, 9/21/2001] Aviation experts will conclude that this maneuver was the work of “a great talent… virtually a textbook turn and landing.” [Washington Post, 9/10/2002] Due to the aircraft’s high speed and the way it is being flown, Dulles Airport controllers mistake it for a military fighter jet (see (9:25 a.m.-9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 9/12/2001; ABC News, 10/24/2001; MSNBC, 9/11/2002] Yet the hijacker allegedly at the controls, Hani Hanjour, was considered to be a very poor pilot at numerous flight schools he attended (see October 1996-December 1997, 1998, January-February 2001, February 8-March 12, 2001, (April-July 2001), and Mid-August 2001). [Washington Post, 9/10/2002]

Entity Tags: Todd Lewis, RobertMoomo, Danielle O’Brien, John Hendershot, Washington Dulles International Airport

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

At 9:39 a.m., after having maintained a maximum altitude of 41,000 feet for about two minutes, Flight 93 begins a rapid descent, going down at a rate of 4,000 feet per minute. At 9:46, it interrupts this, going up from 19,000 feet to 20,500 feet, but then resumes its descent at the slower rate of 1,300 feet per minute. At 9:59, it has reached an altitude of 5,000 feet. [National Transportation Safety Board, 2/19/2002 pdf file] The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will later describe this as a “surprising element in the navigation of Flight 93,” since the aircraft begins its “rapid descent from cruise altitudes while still approximately 260 nautical miles [about 300 miles] from the (presumed) target.” [National Transportation Safety Board, 2/13/2002, pp. 3 pdf file] The target of Flight 93 is later believed to be either the White House or the Capitol building. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 14] The NTSB will note that by the times Flights 11, 175, and 77 had descended below 5,000 feet, they were all within 10 nautical miles (11.5 miles) of their targets. “UAL 93, on the other hand, descended to 5,000 feet while still 135 [nautical miles] from Washington.” [National Transportation Safety Board, 2/13/2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: RobertMoomo

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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