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Context of '(After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001: United Airlines Tells FAA Flight 93 Is over Maryland, Says Military Will Be Informed'

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FAA Administrator Jane Garvey notifies the video conference chaired by counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke that all aircraft have been ordered to land at the nearest field and reads a list of potential hijacks including Delta 1989 and United 93. (Clarke 2004, pp. 5) Although, according to Clarke’s account, both General Richard Myers and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld are present at the conference at this point, the 9/11 Commission will later claim that the military was not notified about the hijacking of United 93 until over half an hour later (see 10:03 a.m. September 11, 2001).

According to the 9/11 Commission, word of Flight 93’s hijacking reaches FAA headquarters. By this time, headquarters has established an open line of communication with the FAA Command Center at Herndon, Virginia. It had instructed the center to poll all flight control centers about suspect aircraft. So, at this time, the Command Center passes on Cleveland’s message: “United 93 may have a bomb on board.” The FAA headquarters apparently does not forward this information to the military, despite having the responsibility for doing so. Ben Sliney, the FAA’s national operations manager at its Herndon Command Center, will later recount, “I do know that all the information was being relayed to headquarters and, at least as far as we were concerned, it should have been. We thought it had been given to the military at each juncture.” The Command Center continually updates FAA headquarters on Flight 93 until it crashes. (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004; CBC 9/12/2006)

United Airlines official Sandy Rogers calls Ellen King at the FAA’s Command Center to discuss Flight 93. The timing of the call is not known specifically, although it appears to be after the Pentagon was hit and could not be long after Flight 93 is thought to have crashed, which is shortly after 10:00 a.m. (see (10:03 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Rogers tells King that Flight 93 has been hijacked, and King responds, “Oh God… thank you,” indicating she was previously unaware of the hijacking. However, the FAA had been aware of the situation since a few minutes after the hijacking took place (see (9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). Rogers also says: “It’s over Hagerstown now and you’re not aware of it. It’s heading toward Washington, DC, and we are under a threat of a hijacking on board and this flight is out of our control now heading toward Washington, DC.” Rogers states that United Airlines is “advising the military” about the plane and King also says that the FAA will do the same. (Federal Aviation Administration 10/14/2003, pp. 37-39 pdf file) However, there are no other reports of Flight 93 ever being over Hagerstown, which is in Maryland. Flight 93 is said to crash in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and is thought never to reach Maryland. There will be some—apparently mistaken—reports that the plane is still airborne after it is thought to have crashed (see (Between 10:10 a.m. and 10:18 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 10:10 a.m.-10:11 a.m. September 11, 2001), and this may be another such report.

Smoke rising, minutes after Flight 93 crashes in Pennsylvania.Smoke rising, minutes after Flight 93 crashes in Pennsylvania. [Source: CNN]Exactly when Flight 93 crashes is unclear. According to NORAD, Flight 93 crashes at 10:03 a.m. (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/18/2001) The 9/11 Commission gives an exact time of 11 seconds after 10:03 a.m. It will claim this “time is supported by evidence from the staff’s radar analysis, the flight data recorder, NTSB [National Transportation Safety Board] analysis, and infrared satellite data.” It does note that “[t]he precise crash time has been the subject of some dispute.” (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) However, a seismic study authorized by the US Army and drafted by scientists Won-Young Kim and Gerald Baum to determine when the plane crashed will conclude that the crash happened at 10:06:05 a.m. (Kim and Baum 2002 pdf file; Perlman 12/9/2002) The discrepancy is so puzzling that the Philadelphia Daily News will publish an article on the issue, titled “Three-Minute Discrepancy in Tape.” This notes that leading seismologists agree on the 10:06 a.m. time, give or take a couple of seconds. (Bunch 9/16/2002) The New York Observer will note that, in addition to the seismology study, “The FAA gives a crash time of 10:07 a.m. In addition, the New York Times, drawing on flight controllers in more than one FAA facility, put the time at 10:10 a.m. Up to a seven-minute discrepancy? In terms of an air disaster, seven minutes is close to an eternity. The way our nation has historically treated any airline tragedy is to pair up recordings from the cockpit and air traffic control and parse the timeline down to the hundredths of a second. However, as [former Inspector General of the Transportation Department] Mary Schiavo points out, ‘We don’t have an NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) investigation here, and they ordinarily dissect the timeline to the thousandth of a second.’” (Sheehy 2/15/2004)

Flight 93 crashed in the Pennsylvania countryside. Resue vehicles arrive in the distance.Flight 93 crashed in the Pennsylvania countryside. Resue vehicles arrive in the distance. [Source: Keith Srakocic/ Associated Press]Flight 93 crashes into an empty field just north of the Somerset County Airport, about 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, 124 miles or 15 minutes from Washington, D.C. Presumably, hijackers Ziad Jarrah, Ahmed Alhaznawi, Ahmed Alnami, Saeed Alghamdi, and all the plane’s passengers are killed instantly. (CNN 9/12/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/18/2001; Ellison 10/17/2001; Hillston 10/28/2001; Levin, Adams, and Morrison 8/12/2002; Associated Press 8/21/2002; MSNBC 9/3/2002) The point of impact is a reclaimed coal mine, known locally as the Diamond T Mine, that was reportedly abandoned in 1996. (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review 9/12/2001; Zapinski 9/12/2001; Frederick 9/11/2002) Being “reclaimed” means the earth had been excavated down to the coal seam, the coal removed, and then the earth replaced and planted over. (Kashurba 2002, pp. 121) A US Army authorized seismic study times the crash at five seconds after 10:06 a.m. (Kim and Baum 2002 pdf file; Perlman 12/9/2002) As mentioned previously, the timing of this crash is disputed and it may well occur at 10:03 a.m., 10:07 a.m., or 10:10 a.m.

Dick Cheney in the PEOC, speaking to administration officials including (from left) Joshua Bolten, Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin (standing), Condoleezza Rice, and I. Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby.Dick Cheney in the PEOC, speaking to administration officials including (from left) Joshua Bolten, Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin (standing), Condoleezza Rice, and I. Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby. [Source: David Bohrer / White House]Navy Captain Anthony Barnes, deputy director of presidential contingency programs for the White House Military Office, asks Vice President Dick Cheney if the military is authorized to engage a suspicious aircraft that is approaching Washington, DC, and Cheney says it is. (Cheney 11/19/2001; Cheney 12/17/2001) Communicators in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House have received reports from the Secret Service about a suspicious aircraft that is presumably hijacked and is heading toward Washington (see 10:02 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 41) Meanwhile, Barnes, the senior military officer on duty in the PEOC this morning, was called by a general at the Pentagon who wanted permission for the military to shoot down this aircraft (see (Shortly Before 10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). In response to the request, Barnes goes into the PEOC conference room to ask the vice president to provide this authorization. (Summers and Swan 2011, pp. 141; Graff 2019, pp. 164-165)
Cheney Is Told that a Suspicious Aircraft Is 80 Miles Out - He tells Cheney there is an unidentified aircraft approaching Washington that is not squawking a transponder code and is believed to be hijacked. (9/11 Commission 4/16/2004; Cheney and Cheney 2011, pp. 3) He says the plane is 80 miles out and asks Cheney for authorization to engage it. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 41) “I posed this question to the vice president exactly the way it was posed to me,” Barnes will later recall. “I asked for confirmation on what I was being allowed to pass back to the general,” he will say. (Summers and Swan 2011, pp. 141-142)
Cheney Authorizes the Military to Shoot the Plane Down - Cheney responds immediately and decisively, telling Barnes that fighters can engage the inbound aircraft. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 41; Cheney and Cheney 2011, pp. 3) “Yes, take it out,” he will recall saying. (Cheney 9/30/2014) But according to Barnes, he says, “If you can confirm there’s another terrorist aircraft inbound, permission is granted to take it out.” (Summers and Swan 2011, pp. 142) Cheney will explain why he decided so quickly that the military could shoot down the aircraft, saying, “As the last hour and a half had made brutally clear, once a plane was hijacked it was a weapon in the hands of the enemy.” (Cheney and Cheney 2011, pp. 3) At 10:14 a.m., presumably as a result of hearing Cheney giving his authorization, a military officer in the PEOC tells participants on the air threat conference call convened by the National Military Command Center at the Pentagon that the vice president has confirmed that fighters are cleared to engage hijacked aircraft (see 10:14 a.m.-10:19 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 42)
Officer Again Asks for Authorization to Engage the Aircraft - A short time after receiving Cheney’s authorization for the military to engage the suspicious aircraft, Barnes returns to the conference room to repeat his request. He says the plane is now 60 miles out and, for a second time, asks Cheney to give his authorization for the military to engage it. (Libby 11/14/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 41; Gellman 2008, pp. 120) “For me, being a military member and an aviator—understanding the absolute depth of what that question was and what that answer was—I wanted to make sure that there was no mistake whatsoever about what was being asked,” he will explain. “I am confirming that you have given permission,” he says to Cheney. (Graff 2019, pp. 164-165) Again, Cheney agrees to the request. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 41; Cheney and Cheney 2011, pp. 3) “Yes, if it won’t divert, take it out,” he says. (Cheney 9/30/2014) According to Josh Bolten, the deputy White House chief of staff, Barnes then asks Cheney to give his authorization for a third time. “Just confirming, sir, authority to engage?” Bolten will recall him saying. But according to the Washington Post, Barnes asks, “Does the order still stand?” Cheney, sounding annoyed, replies, “I said yes,” according to Bolten. But according to the Washington Post, he snaps, “Of course it does.” (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002; CNN 9/11/2002; Hayes 2007, pp. 338) After receiving the shootdown authorization from Cheney, Barnes goes and passes it on to the general who called him to request it (see (10:18 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Summers and Swan 2011, pp. 142; Graff 2019, pp. 165)
Bush Has Already Given Shootdown Authorization, Cheney Will Claim - Cheney will claim that he talked to President Bush about “rules of engagement” for fighter pilots and Bush gave his authorization for them to shoot down hostile aircraft during a call made before the vice president talked to Barnes about the issue (see (Shortly After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Cheney 11/19/2001; Cheney 12/17/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 40) “I had a conversation with the president earlier about what the rules of engagement would be with our airplanes,” Cheney will say. (Cheney 9/30/2014) He will recall telling Bush, “We’ve got to give the pilots rules of engagement,” and recommending that “we authorize them to shoot,” and Bush replying, “Okay, I’ll sign up to that.” Therefore, Cheney will explain, when he authorized the military to engage the suspicious aircraft, he simply “passed on the decision the president had already made.” (Cheney 11/19/2001) However, the 9/11 Commission Report will state that “no documentary evidence for this call” was found and some 9/11 Commission staffers will be highly skeptical about Cheney’s claim (see June 15, 2004). (Klaidman 6/27/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 41; Shenon 2008, pp. 265) The first time Cheney talks to Bush to get his authorization for the military to shoot down hostile aircraft, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, will be in a phone call at 10:18 a.m., shortly after the vice president gives his permission for the military to engage the approaching aircraft (see 10:18 a.m.-10:20 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 41, 465; Gellman 2008, pp. 121-122)

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