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(9:55 a.m.-10:04 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Pilot, Secret Service Agent, Military Aide, and Bush’s Chief of Staff Discuss Destination for Air Force One

Thomas Gould.Thomas Gould. [Source: Nathan Lipscomb / US Air Force]A discussion takes place on Air Force One between Andrew Card, the White House chief of staff, Edward Marinzel, the head of President Bush’s Secret Service detail, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gould, Bush’s military aide, and Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot, about where the president’s plane should go. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 39] Air Force One’s original flight plan had Washington, DC, as the destination. [White House, 8/29/2002] And Bush has been anxious to return to Washington, to lead the government’s response to the terrorist attacks. [White House, 8/12/2002; White House, 8/16/2002; Bush, 2010, pp. 130] But when it took off from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport in Florida (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001), Air Force One had no fixed destination. According to the 9/11 Commission Report, the objective had been “to get up in the air—as fast and as high as possible—and then decide where to go.”
Washington Considered 'Too Unstable for the President to Return' - Now, in the discussion, it is decided that the plane should head somewhere other than Washington. Marinzel says he feels “strongly that the situation in Washington [is] too unstable for the president to return there” and Card agrees with him, according to the 9/11 Commission Report. [White House, 8/12/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 39] Mark Rosenker, the director of the White House Military Office, who is also on Air Force One, will recall that the decision to head to a destination other than Washington is “made based on the fact that the Pentagon had been hit, Washington was now clearly a target. There were a host of reports coming in that we could not tell [if they] were factual or not.” There is therefore “a consensus type of a decision made that perhaps we should look at an alternative site, clear the fog, and then make the final decision on where we would be going.” (It is unclear, however, whether Rosenker participates in the meeting between Card, Marinzel, Gould, and Tillman.) [White House, 8/29/2002]
President Reluctantly Accepts Decision - The time when the discussion of Air Force One’s destination takes place is unclear. Apparently describing this meeting, Card will say it takes place “up in the bedroom compartment” of the plane during the first “maybe five or 10 minutes of the flight,” meaning between around 9:55 a.m. and 10:05 a.m. [White House, 8/16/2002] But according to the 9/11 Commission Report, it takes place at about 9:45 a.m. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 39] After the meeting, Bush will reluctantly accept the advice he is given, to head for a destination other than Washington, and at around 10:10 a.m. Air Force One will change course and fly west (see (10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 315; Bush, 2010, pp. 130]

Entity Tags: Mark Tillman, Mark Rosenker, Edward Marinzel, Andrew Card, Thomas Gould

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline


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