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Context of '(9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001: President Bush Arrives at the Sarasota Airport and Quickly Boards Air Force One'

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Military officers exchanging the ‘nuclear football’ under the nose of Air Force One.Military officers exchanging the ‘nuclear football’ under the nose of Air Force One. [Source: J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press]Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gould, a military aide who is accompanying President Bush on his visit to Florida, promptly arranges for Air Force One to leave Sarasota after he learns that a second plane has hit the World Trade Center. Gould, one of the president’s five military aides, is currently off duty for a few hours and at the resort on Longboat Key where Bush spent the previous night (see September 10, 2001), while another military aide, Major Paul Montanus, is with Bush at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota. Gould was alerted to the first crash at the WTC but thought it was an accident (see Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). He is talking on the phone with his wife and watching the coverage of the crash on television when a second plane, Flight 175, hits the WTC at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). Realizing this must be a deliberate act, Gould abruptly ends the call with his wife. “At that point I know something has happened,” he will later recall. “It’s bigger than an accident. It’s an attack of some sort. I don’t think I thought through what kind of attack it was, but I knew it was something concerted.” Gould has tactical control of all the military assets that support the president, including presidential aircraft, and he has the ability to move assets on behalf of the president. He therefore calls Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot of Air Force One, immediately and tells him to get the president’s plane and its crew ready to depart as soon as possible. He then heads to the Sarasota airport, getting there at around 9:30 a.m. After the president’s motorcade arrives at the airport at 9:43 a.m. (see (9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Gould meets Montanus under the nose of Air Force One. Following strict protocol, Montanus gives Gould the “nuclear football”—a briefcase carried by the president’s military aide that holds the codes and plans necessary for the president to initiate a nuclear attack. Gould will be on Air Force One with the president when the plane takes off (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001), but Montanus will stay behind in Sarasota, as is procedure. (Scully 9/11/2011; Wallace 9/11/2011)

Bush’s motorcade on its way to the Sarasota airport.Bush’s motorcade on its way to the Sarasota airport. [Source: CBC]President Bush’s motorcade leaves the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, to take Bush and his entourage to Air Force One, but it initially heads in the wrong direction and has to turn around in order to proceed toward the airport. (Sammon 10/8/2002; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006) Bush has just participated in a reading demonstration at the school (see 9:02 a.m. September 11, 2001) and given a brief statement to the nation in which he addressed the attacks on the World Trade Center (see 9:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). (White House 9/11/2001; Associated Press 8/25/2002) He now heads out of the school and gets into his limousine, which then speeds off to take him to his plane. (Sammon 2002, pp. 98-99; Rove 9/3/2013) Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, where Air Force One is waiting, is three and a half miles away from the school. (Paltrow 3/22/2004 pdf file; Morell 9/2006 pdf file) Bush’s motorcade drives there much faster than it normally travels. Whereas it usually goes at around 40 to 45 miles per hour, on this occasion the vehicles are driven at 80 to 85 miles per hour. (Rove 9/3/2013) However, it initially speeds off in the wrong direction and, after several kilometers, the vehicles have to perform a U-turn in order to head toward the airport. (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006) During the journey, Bush notices people at the sides of the road, smiling and waving at him, apparently unaware of the crisis that is taking place. (Sammon 2002, pp. 98) The Secret Service is concerned that he might be attacked on his way to the airport and provides a high level of security for him during the journey (see (Between (Between 9:35 a.m. and 9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (BBC 9/1/2002; Rove 2010, pp. 251; Graff 9/9/2016) Bush will learn about the attack on the Pentagon while he is being driven to the airport (see (Between 9:38 a.m. and 9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001). His motorcade will arrive at the airport between 9:42 a.m. and 9:45 a.m. (see (9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39)

Bush boards Air Force One in Sarasota, Florida, waving to people below as if the day were like any other.Bush boards Air Force One in Sarasota, Florida, waving to people below as if the day were like any other. [Source: Agence France-Presse]President Bush and his entourage arrive at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, where Air Force One is waiting, and Bush hurriedly gets onto his plane. (BBC 9/1/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39) Bush left the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, at around 9:35 a.m. to be driven to Air Force One (see (9:34 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Langley 12/16/2001; Bloomberg 6/17/2004)
Limousine Stops Right by Air Force One - His limousine now speeds past the airport’s main entrance, goes north, and veers down a tiny road leading to the airport, ignoring a sign that states, “No Airport Access.” It then passes through a small, unmarked gate in a chain-link fence and races across the tarmac toward Air Force One. It swings around the plane’s tail and stops behind the left wing. (Sammon 2002, pp. 98-99) The motorcade arrives at the airport between 9:42 a.m. and 9:45 a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission Report. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39) According to journalist and author Bill Sammon, Bush’s limousine reaches the airport at 9:43 a.m. (Sammon 2002, pp. 99; Sammon 10/8/2002)
Plane's Engines Are Already Running - Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot of Air Force One, started two of the plane’s four engines while Bush was on his way to the airport. White House chief of staff Andrew Card will later comment that he is “struck that the engines on Air Force One [are] running” when the motorcade reaches the airport, since this is “normally a protocol no-no.” (Tillman 9/11/2011; Graff 9/9/2016) “Usually you don’t start the engine until the president is already on the plane,” he will say. (BBC 9/9/2011)
President Usually Takes His Time Saying Goodbye - Normally, when his motorcade arrives at Air Force One, the president “emerges from the limo, waves to the crowd behind barricades, thanks hosts who have accompanied him, and shakes hands with the airport personnel and guests who’ve come to see him off,” Karl Rove, Bush’s senior adviser, will write. The president then “walks alone up the steps to Air Force One at a leisurely pace, stopping to wave again to the people on the tarmac.” The other people in the motorcade usually only start to get on board once he is on the plane. (Rove 2010, pp. 252)
Bush Hurries up the Stairs onto Air Force One - Today, though, the Secret Service wants to get the president onto Air Force One as quickly as possible. (Graff 9/9/2016) Bush therefore walks briskly up the long mobile staircase behind the left wing. (Sammon 2002, pp. 99; Walsh 2003, pp. 207) He is “just trucking up the stairs” without his usual “Texas swagger,” Tillman will describe. (Graff 9/9/2016) He does find time, however, to pause at the doorway to wave to photographers before entering the plane. (Martin 7/4/2004) Once he is on board, he goes to his private cabin near the front of the aircraft. A Secret Service agent tells him, “Mr. President, we need you to get seated as soon as possible.” Bush then straps himself in, ready for takeoff. (Woodward 2002, pp. 16)
Chief of Staff Is Frustrated by the Passengers Delaying Takeoff - Meanwhile, everyone who is traveling on Air Force One apart from Bush and his senior staff boards the plane through its back stairs. But before doing so they are subjected to a strict security check (see (9:45 a.m.-9:53 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 99; Graff 9/9/2016) Card becomes frustrated that takeoff is being delayed due to the time it takes to get so many passengers onto the plane. (Card 8/16/2002; Adair and Hegarty 9/8/2002) Air Force One will take off unusually quickly once all the passengers are on board. (Keil 9/2004; Graff 9/9/2016) It usually takes another 15 minutes after everyone has boarded for the passengers to get seated, the doors to be closed, and the engines to power up, according to Rove. (Rove 2010, pp. 252) But today Air Force One will take off about 10 minutes after Bush’s motorcade reaches the airport, at around 9:55 a.m. (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39)

Secret Service agents inspecting the luggage of members of the media travel pool at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.Secret Service agents inspecting the luggage of members of the media travel pool at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport. [Source: Steve Nesius / Associated Press]Secret Service agents subject reporters and other individuals who are traveling with President Bush to a strict security check as they are getting onto Air Force One. Bush’s motorcade has now arrived at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport in Florida, where Air Force One is waiting (see (9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 99; Keil 9/2004) The plane’s crew members have been told there is a “great potential that we are going to be under attack sitting on the ramp” at the airport, according to Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot. They have also been told there are “unidentified people all around the airport,” and that there is a “possibility that we were subject to the plan to go ahead and assassinate the president” (see (9:04 a.m.-9:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Tillman 9/11/2011) Reporters who are heading for the rear entrance to Air Force One are stopped by Secret Service agents and ordered to drop whatever they are carrying for a security sweep. (Sammon 2002, pp. 99) One reporter, White House correspondent Richard Keil, will later recall seeing “a dozen additional Secret Service agents” at the airport, “each with bomb-sniffing dogs.” “We usually have our bags inspected only once in the morning, as long as we remain inside the secure ‘bubble’ in which the president travels,” Keil will write. But now, “everyone’s bag had to be re-swept.” (Keil 9/2004) Even staffers who are wearing special lapel pins showing they are White House employees have their belongings checked by the bomb-sniffing dogs. (Sammon 2002, pp. 99) Passengers also have to confirm who they are before being allowed onto the plane. “There was a lot of attention to our credentials, who we were,” Sandy Kress, Bush’s senior education adviser, will comment, adding: “We had to show ID and our badge, not just the badge. And this even though the crew knew most of us.” (Graff 9/9/2016) Meanwhile, a military aide standing at the foot of the rear entrance to the plane snaps: “If you’re not essential, you’re not getting on the airplane! We gotta hurry up and get out of here.” (Sammon 2002, pp. 99) Tillman will recall that Secret Service agents and the plane’s own security staffers are “double, triple-checking the manifest,” and the bomb-sniffing dogs “search everything” that comes onto Air Force One. “We didn’t want to take any chances,” he will comment. (Tillman 9/11/2011; Tillman 2/29/2012 pdf file) The mood, according to journalist and author Bill Sammon, is “extraordinarily tense.” (Sammon 2002, pp. 99)

Mark Tillman.Mark Tillman. [Source: US Air Force]Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot of Air Force One, is warned about an unidentified man, possibly carrying a gun, who is standing at the end of the runway at the airport in Sarasota, Florida, as he is preparing to take off with President Bush on the plane. (Shawn 9/6/2011; Tillman 2/29/2012 pdf file) Bush arrived at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport after being driven away from the Emma E. Booker Elementary School and is now on Air Force One (see (9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 98-99; Martin 7/4/2004) While the plane’s crew members were waiting for him to arrive, they were told there was “great potential that we are going to be under attack sitting on the ramp” and they received “reports of unidentified people all around the airport,” according to Tillman (see (9:04 a.m.-9:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Tillman 9/11/2011)
Secret Service Alerts Pilot to Man Carrying a 'Long Gun' - Now, as Air Force One is taxiing out for takeoff, Tillman receives a warning from the Secret Service about an unidentified man who is standing by the fence at the end of the runway and carrying some type of device. The Secret Service “didn’t know what the gentleman had, but he had something in his hand; they thought it might have been a long gun,” Tillman will later recall. (Shawn 9/6/2011) “It is almost impossible to defend against a long gun if he’s going to shoot me on the ground,” Tillman will note. He is told that “shooters have [the unidentified man] in sight” and “will take him down if he moves.” He is instructed, “[P]lease, do not taxi by him and take off,” even though the direction of the prevailing wind would normally lead to the plane going by the man while taking off. (Tillman 2/29/2012 pdf file) Tillman therefore has to launch in the opposite direction, with a tail wind, in order to stay away from the man. (McMillin 11/13/2012)
Plane Takes Off 'Like a Rocket' - Air Force One will take off at about 9:54 a.m. (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39) Tillman will climb the plane steeply. This, he will say, is “what we needed to do to make sure that [the man] didn’t have a correct line of sight to fire at the aircraft.” (Peter Schnall 1/25/2009) “I start hauling down the runway,” he will describe. “Pull back, went up at about 8,000 feet per minute, and just put the plane on its tail, rolled it off towards the Gulf of Mexico, because I didn’t want the shooter to get us.” (Tillman 2/29/2012 pdf file) White House communications director Dan Bartlett, who is on Air Force One, will note that the plane takes off “like a rocket.” He will recall that “for a good 10 minutes, the plane was going almost straight up.” (Bartlett 8/12/2002) White House adviser Karl Rove, who is also on Air Force One, will comment that he has not previously “been in a jet at such a steep incline.” He will also say the Secret Service is “concerned about the possibility of terrorists with shoulder-launched ground-to-air missiles” and it therefore wants the plane “out of range quickly.” (Rove 2010, pp. 252-253)
Suspicious Man Found to Be Not a Threat - The fear over the unidentified man at the end of the runway will turn out to be unfounded. The man, according to Tillman, is just someone who has come to the airport with his children to see Air Force One leaving Sarasota, and the device he is carrying is just a video camera. (Tillman 2/29/2012 pdf file; McMillin 11/13/2012)

Air Force One departs Sarasota.Air Force One departs Sarasota. [Source: Associated Press]Air Force One takes off from off from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport in Florida with President Bush on board. (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39) The plane takes off without any fighter jets protecting it. “The object seemed to be simply to get the president airborne and out of the way,” an administration official will later say. (Langley 12/16/2001) There are still 3,520 planes in the air over the US. (Adams, Levin, and Morrison 8/13/2002) About half of the planes in the Florida region where Bush’s plane is are still airborne. (Heller 9/7/2002) Apparently, fighters don’t meet up with Air Force One until over an hour and a half later (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will claim to have heard at around 9:50 a.m. from the White House bunker containing Vice President Dick Cheney that a fighter escort had been authorized. (Clarke 2004, pp. 8-9)


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