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Shortly Before 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001: Air Force One’s Pilot Warned about Suspicious Man, Possibly with a Gun, at the End of Runway

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. [Fox News, 9/6/2011; US Air Force, 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; St. Petersburg Times, 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). [United Services Automobile Association, 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. [Fox News, 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. [US Air Force, 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. [Wichita Eagle, 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.” [US Air Force, 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.” [White House, 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. [US Air Force, 2/29/2012 pdf file; Wichita Eagle, 11/13/2012]

Entity Tags: Mark Tillman, Karl C. Rove, US Secret Service, Dan Bartlett

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline


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