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Context of '(9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Langley Pilot Instructed to Identify Unknown Aircraft and Survey Pentagon; Doesn’t Realize a Plane Hit It'

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Major Dean Eckmann.
Major Dean Eckmann. [Source: US Air Force]The two pilots on alert at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia are put on “battle stations,” and get into their fighter jets, ready to take off if required. [Longman, 2002, pp. 64; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 24] Being at “battle stations” means the pilots are in their planes’ cockpits with the engines turned off, but ready to start them and taxi out should a scramble order follow. [Filson, 2003, pp. 55; Spencer, 2008, pp. 27] NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) has ordered this in response to the news of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center and over concerns that the fighters launched from Otis Air National Guard base in response to Flight 11 might run out of fuel (see 9:09 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (9:09 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 460; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 88] According to journalist and author Jere Longman, the two “alert” pilots at Langley are currently “still in the dark about the gravity of the moment.” [Longman, 2002, pp. 64-65]
Pilot Wonders If Order Connected to Events in New York - Major Dean Eckmann, one of the pilots on alert, will later recall: “The scramble horn goes off and we get the yellow light, which is our battle stations. So at that point I go running out to… my assigned alert airplane, get suited up, and I get into the cockpit ready to start.” [BBC, 9/1/2002] He asks his crew chief, “Do you think this has anything to do with New York?” The chief replies: “I can’t imagine how. The Otis guys could handle that.”
Pilot Told 'This Is Just Precautionary' - Meanwhile, Captain Craig Borgstrom, the unit’s operations manager, is briefing the other alert pilot, Major Brad Derrig, on what he knows. He tells him: “There’s some wacky stuff happening. Some airplane just hit the World Trade Center. I don’t have any more information, but I’m sure this is just precautionary.” Borgstrom then heads out to give Eckmann the same brief, but has to stop to answer a phone call from NEADS (see (Between 9:10 a.m. and 9:23 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 118] Although the 9/11 Commission and other accounts will state that the Langley jets are placed on battle stations at 9:09, a BBC documentary will suggest this happens at 9:21, and Longman will indicate this does not occur until 9:24. [Longman, 2002, pp. 64; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; BBC, 9/1/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 24] The two alert jets, along with a third jet piloted by Borgstrom, will be ordered to scramble at 9:24 a.m. (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Christian Science Monitor, 4/16/2002; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 16]

Entity Tags: Craig Borgstrom, Langley Air Force Base, Dean Eckmann, Northeast Air Defense Sector, Brad Derrig

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

An F-16 launched from Langley Air Force Base is directed toward two unidentified aircraft and then asked to inspect and report on the damage to the Pentagon. Major Dean Eckmann, one of the three F-16 pilots who took off from Langley at 9:30 (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001), is reportedly flying in the Washington area. He will later recall, “I set up a combat air patrol with air traffic controllers,” and then, at around 9:45, “they come back to me and say there are a couple [of] unknowns heading north on the Potomac River toward the White House.” He is flying above 20,000 feet but heads straight down and reaches his target in “no time,” he says. The unknowns turn out to be a military helicopter and a law enforcement helicopter apparently heading towards the Pentagon to assist there. Eckmann flies over the Capitol and Mall area, he recalls, “to clear the area and make sure nothing else was coming in.”
Instructions to Inspect the Pentagon - Then Captain Craig Borgstrom, one of the other two Langley pilots, calls him and says that NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) wants to know the extent of the damage at the Pentagon. Eckmann flies over it and reports that the two outer rings have been damaged. NEADS wants to know if he can tell what has happened. He guesses it was “a big fuel tanker truck because of the amount of smoke and flames coming up and nobody indicated anything about an airplane. And there was no airplane wreckage off to the side.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 66] But he will give a different account to the 9/11 Commission, telling it: “I reverted to the Russian threat.… I’m thinking cruise missile threat from the sea. You know you look down and see the Pentagon burning and I thought the bastards snuck one by us.… [N]o one told us anything.” According to the Commission, the Langley pilots have not been briefed about why they were scrambled. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 45 and 465] Eckmann will in fact say, “[W]e didn’t actually find out it was an airliner [that hit the Pentagon] until the next day.” [Associated Press, 8/19/2002]
Conflicting Times - Eckmann’s F-16 is presumably the first fighter to arrive over the Pentagon following the attack there. When precisely this occurs is unclear (see (Between 9:49 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, according to numerous witnesses on the ground, the first fighter does not fly over the Pentagon until significantly later than Eckmann describes, at around 10:40 a.m. (see (10:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 130-131] And according to some accounts, this is not Eckmann’s plane, but an F-16 from Andrews Air Force Base, piloted by Major Billy Hutchison. [Filson, 2003, pp. 81-82; Spencer, 2008, pp. 235-236]

Entity Tags: Dean Eckmann, Craig Borgstrom

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The three F-16 fighter jets that launched from Langley Air Force Base to defend Washington, DC (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001) land back at their base after flying a combat air patrol (CAP) over the capital. The flight lead, Major Dean Eckmann, was refueling on a tanker when the order came for the three fighters to return to base. The two other pilots, Captain Craig Borgstrom and Major Brad Derrig, immediately headed back to Langley and Eckmann joined them shortly after. [Leslie Filson, 2002; Longman, 2002, pp. 222; Spencer, 2008, pp. 277]
Fighters Kept Planes Away from Washington - During the four hours they were over Washington, the three F-16s, which belong to the 119th Fighter Wing of the North Dakota Air National Guard, kept aircraft away from the capital. According to Borgstrom, they only had to intercept a few planes. He will say: “It wasn’t intercept upon intercept. It was one here and, maybe 50 minutes later, one here. There was not a lot of it.” Borgstrom will recall that the three fighters were alone in flying a CAP over Washington for about the first hour, but were then joined by other aircraft “from all over the place.” By the time they headed back to Langley Air Force Base, Borgstrom will say that he “personally counted 17 other fighters in the CAP.” [Leslie Filson, 2002]
Pilots Learn Details of Attacks - The three pilots had been unaware of precisely why they were scrambled and did not realize the threat was from hijacked planes (see (9:30 a.m.-2:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 45] They only learn the details of the terrorist attacks after landing back at Langley. Borgstrom is surprised to see over a dozen trailers carrying missiles lined up near the runway. He will recall, “I thought, ‘What the heck is going on?’” because, “At this point, I still didn’t know it was airliners” that were involved in the attacks. [Leslie Filson, 2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 277] According to Eckmann, it is only after they land that the three pilots learn about the World Trade Center towers collapsing. Eckmann learns of the collapses in a phone call with his wife. [Leslie Filson, 12/6/2002] Borgstrom asks his crew chief, “What else did they get?” As Borgstrom will later recall, the crew chief says he isn’t sure, “but he thought there was some others,” presumably meaning more planes and targets involved. Borgstrom recalls, “So at that point I was like, oh no, a really terrible thing has happened.” [Leslie Filson, 2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 277] According to Eckmann, the three pilots only learn about Flight 93 on the following day, September 12. [Leslie Filson, 12/6/2002]

Entity Tags: Craig Borgstrom, Brad Derrig, Dean Eckmann

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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