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Context of '(9:42 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Delta Air Lines Tells Flight 1989 to Land at Cleveland Airport, but FAA Not Informed'

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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

The Delta Air Lines operations control center in Atlanta, Georgia.The Delta Air Lines operations control center in Atlanta, Georgia. [Source: Public domain]Delta Air Lines instructs one of its aircraft, Flight 1989, to land at Cleveland Hopkins Airport, but the FAA’s Cleveland Center, which is handling the aircraft, is not notified of this. [USA Today, 8/13/2002; Associated Press, 8/15/2002]
Pilots Instructed to Land - The pilots of Delta 1989 receive an ACARS text message from their airline’s dispatch office in Atlanta, Georgia, instructing them to “Land immediately in Cleveland.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 167] According to USA Today, “Since early reports that a bomb, then hijackers, might be aboard” Delta 1989, Delta Air Lines’ headquarters in Atlanta has been tracking the flight, and receiving reports on it every five minutes. [USA Today, 8/13/2002] The plane’s pilot, Captain Paul Werner, quickly types a response to the message, “ok.” But, a couple of minutes later, he receives another ACARS message from the airline. It says: “Confirm landing in Cleveland. Use correct phraseology.” Werner and First Officer David Dunlap are puzzled. According to author Lynn Spencer: “There’s such a thing as correct phraseology on the radio, but there is no such thing when typing back and forth with dispatch on ACARS. Those messages are usually casual.” Werner carefully types a response: “Roger. Affirmative. Delta 1989 is diverting to Cleveland.” He calls the Cleveland Center at 9:44 a.m. and requests a diversion to Cleveland Airport. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 167-168; USA Today, 9/11/2008]
Cleveland Center Not Informed - About 15 minutes earlier, Cleveland Center heard the sounds from Flight 93 as it was being hijacked, but initially thought these came from Delta 1989, and mistakenly believed the Delta flight was being taken over (see (9:28 a.m.-9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 8/13/2002] But the Delta pilots’ normal responses to radio transmissions soon led air traffic controller John Werth, who is handling Delta 1989, to conclude that this aircraft was fine. [USA Today, 9/11/2008] However, controllers at the Cleveland Center are unaware that Delta Air Lines has instructed Flight 1989 to land, and so Werner’s request for a change of course will make them suspicious of it again (see (Shortly After 9:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 8/13/2002]

Entity Tags: David Dunlap, Delta Airlines, Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center, Paul Werner

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Having earlier concluded that it was not hijacked, air traffic controllers at the FAA’s Cleveland Center again become suspicious of Delta Air Lines Flight 1989, after its pilot requests a change of course and then fails to respond to a message.
Pilot Requests Diversion - Cleveland Center controllers initially thought the sounds from Flight 93 as it was being hijacked had come from Delta 1989, but soon decided they had come from Flight 93 (see (9:28 a.m.-9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 8/13/2002] However, without notifying the Cleveland Center, Delta Air Lines has just instructed Delta 1989 to land at Cleveland Hopkins Airport (see (9:42 a.m.) September 11, 2001). After the plane’s pilot, Captain Paul Werner, calls the Cleveland Center at 9:44 a.m., requesting an immediate diversion, controllers there become suspicious. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 167-168; USA Today, 9/11/2008]
Supervisor Reports Concerns over Teleconference - USA Today will later describe: “The Delta flight wants to land in Cleveland? And the captain’s request comes before he can know that the FAA wants every flight down. On this day, the fact that the pilot requests to be rerouted before he is ordered to land seems suspicious. Why the urgency? Controllers don’t know that Delta officials, also concerned about the flight, have ordered Werner to land in Cleveland.” After Delta 1989 makes an abrupt 30-degree turn back toward Cleveland Airport, a supervisor at the Cleveland Center announces the apparently suspicious development on an FAA teleconference.
Coded Message Confirms No Hijacking - As Delta 1989 begins its descent toward Cleveland, a Cleveland Center controller radios Werner with a coded message to check whether his plane has been hijacked. The controller says, “Delta 1989, I hear you’re ‘late’ today.” (The controller is using the code word for a hijack, which has been replaced with the word ‘late’ in subsequent accounts of this incident, for security reasons. Pilots can use this code word to alert controllers to their situation if they are unable to do so openly because hijackers are in the cockpit.) Werner reassures the controller that all is okay, saying: “Negative. Delta 1989 is not a ‘late.’”
Lack of Response Causes More Suspicion - Then, as the plane descends, it receives another message from the Cleveland Center. But Werner, who is busy, fails to respond to it. This arouses further suspicion. According to USA Today: “On the ground, controllers in Cleveland Center grow alarmed. Why didn’t he respond? Have both jets—the United [Flight 93] and the Delta flights—been hijacked?” [USA Today, 8/13/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 168-169]

Entity Tags: Paul Werner, Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Michael White.Michael White. [Source: Publicity photo]Cleveland Hopkins Airport and numerous buildings in the city of Cleveland are evacuated, following the decision to land Delta Air Lines Flight 1989—which is wrongly thought to be hijacked and with a bomb on board—at the Cleveland airport. [Associated Press, 9/11/2001; WKYC, 9/11/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 191-192]
Airport Concerned about Delta 1989 - Delta Air Lines was concerned about Flight 1989, and instructed it to land as soon as possible in Cleveland (see (9:42 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 167; USA Today, 9/11/2008] FAA and military personnel have mistakenly suspected that this aircraft has been hijacked (see (9:28 a.m.-9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001, 9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001, and (Shortly After 9:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and their concerns have reached personnel at Cleveland Airport. Fred Szabo, the airport commissioner, will later recall: “There was an indication that this might be a terrorist plane. We didn’t know if there were bombs on board, or if it was a hijacked plane.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 27-28; WKYC, 9/11/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 167-168]
Airport Evacuated as Plane Approaches - As Delta 1989 heads in to land, air traffic controllers instruct it to follow a long path that initially takes it far past the airport. According to author Lynn Spencer, the “controllers are giving themselves time to evacuate the airport since [Delta 1989] has been confirmed hijacked and since they believe it contains a bomb intended to detonate when the aircraft crashes into the terminal.” Even FAA personnel at the airport evacuate their building and make their way to a huge NASA hangar next door. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 191-192] After Delta 1989 lands, police block off all entrances to the airport terminal, and bomb-sniffing dogs are brought to baggage pickup areas. [Associated Press, 9/11/2001]
City Buildings Evacuated - Furthermore, for the first time in his administration, Cleveland Mayor Michael White orders the evacuation of all federal and city buildings. [WCPN, 9/20/2001] Schools are closed and a parking ban is issued downtown. [WCPN, 9/12/2001] White also asks owners of large commercial high-rises to evacuate. [Associated Press, 9/11/2001] These evacuation efforts presumably benefit from the fact that Cleveland is one of six major Ohio cities that has, for a number of years, been part of a federal program to help defend against domestic terrorism. [WCPN, 9/20/2001]
NASA Facility Evacuated - Even the 3,500 employees at the NASA Glenn Research Center, which is located adjacent to the Cleveland airport, are ordered to evacuate their facility. Directors there had in fact met and decided to evacuate the center after seeing the television coverage of the second attack on the World Trade Center. It takes about an hour and a half to get everyone out of the building. [Cleveland Free Times, 9/6/2006]

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration, Fred Szabo, Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, Michael R. White

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

Air traffic controllers at the Cleveland Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) remain suspicious of Delta Air Lines Flight 1989 as it is coming in to land at Cleveland Hopkins Airport, due to the pilot’s failure to use an important standard term in his communications with them. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/16/2001] A TRACON is an FAA facility that guides aircraft approaching or departing an airport. Flights coming in to land will subsequently be passed on to the airport’s air traffic control tower once they are within five miles of the airport and below 2,500 feet. [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/24/2006] The Cleveland TRACON is in contact with Delta 1989 as it descends from 9,000 feet down to 3,000 feet. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/16/2001] Delta 1989, a Boeing 767 out of Boston, is mistakenly suspected of being hijacked (see 9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (Shortly After 9:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and has been instructed to land as soon as possible in Cleveland (see (9:42 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 8/13/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 27-28; Spencer, 2008, pp. 167-168; USA Today, 9/11/2008]
Pilot Does Not Use Term 'Heavy' - A detailed timeline provided by the Cleveland Airport control tower shortly after 9/11 will describe, “One anomaly that perpetuated concern by approach controllers in the face of constant information that there was nothing going on with [Delta 1989] was that the pilot never used the HEAVY designator in his communications.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/16/2001] The term “heavy” alerts controllers to provide extra spacing behind very large aircraft, which are above a certain weight, because these aircraft generate significant wake turbulence. [USA Today, 6/1/2005; USA Today, 5/22/2006]
Controllers Skeptical of Delta 1989's Security - While the TRACON controllers use the “heavy” designator, “the pilot [of Delta 1989] did not respond with it.” The control tower’s timeline will state that, while this detail “may seem minor,” it “should not be overlooked. The use of HEAVY in the terminal environment is of the highest importance. Increased separation standards are required, and misapplication of separation standards can be disastrous. For pilots, not referring to a heavy aircraft as HEAVY is tantamount to calling a doctor ‘Mister.’” As a result, “This omission, along with all of the other information flying around, kept everyone alert and skeptical of the security of the flight.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/16/2001]

Entity Tags: Cleveland Terminal Radar Approach Control, Paul Werner

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

An aircraft at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.An aircraft at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. [Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer]Delta Air Lines Flight 1989, a Boeing 767 out of Boston that is wrongly suspected of being hijacked (see 9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (Shortly After 9:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001), lands at Cleveland Hopkins Airport in Ohio, and is directed to a remote area of the airport. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/16/2001; USA Today, 8/13/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 27-28; WKYC, 9/11/2006]
Plane Flies Long Path toward Airport - Delta Air Lines had been concerned about Flight 1989, and ordered it to land as soon as possible in Cleveland (see (9:42 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 167; USA Today, 9/11/2008] As it was heading in to land, air traffic controllers instructed Delta 1989 to follow a trajectory that initially took it far past Cleveland Airport. Unknown to the plane’s pilots, the controllers incorrectly believe the flight has been hijacked and contains a bomb, and they were therefore making time to evacuate the airport before the plane landed (see (9:50 a.m. and After) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 191]
Plane Directed to Remote Area - Once Delta 1989 is on the ground, the Cleveland Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) informs the FAA’s Cleveland Center that Delta 1989 is “on the ground at 1418,” where “1418” means 10:18 a.m. Cleveland Center asks, “Very safely too, I hope?” The TRACON responds that the plane is being taken to the bomb area to check. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/16/2001] Delta 1989 is directed to “taxi left onto taxiway Bravo and wait there.” This taxiway leads to a remote part of the airport that is far away from the terminal. The pilot does as instructed. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 229]
Passengers Not Allowed Off - The pilots radio the airport’s air traffic control tower and say: “Just to make sure we don’t have any misunderstandings here, our flaps are up, we are landing only as a precaution at the company’s request. You understand that?” They ask if they are going to get to their gate soon, but the controller responds that city authorities are in charge and he believes people will be coming to search the aircraft. The controller advises that city authorities have said to keep the plane’s passengers on the aircraft for now. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/16/2001] The passengers and crew will have to remain on board for perhaps a couple of hours, until FBI agents allow them off (see 11:28 a.m.-12:23 p.m. September 11, 2001). [WKYC, 9/11/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 270-271]
Conflicting Reports of Landing Time - Subsequent accounts will give conflicting times for when Delta 1989 lands at Cleveland Airport. According to a detailed timeline provided by the airport’s control tower, the aircraft is “on the ground” at 10:18 a.m. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/16/2001] Several accounts will give similar landing times of between 10:05 a.m. and 10:10 a.m. [Federal Aviation Administration, 1/2/2002; USA Today, 8/13/2002] But a NORAD official will tell the 9/11 Commission that Delta 1989 landed at 9:47 a.m. [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003] Other accounts will say it lands at between 10:33 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. [Associated Press, 9/11/2001; Associated Press, 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center, Cleveland Terminal Radar Approach Control, Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, David Dunlap, Paul Werner

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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