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Profile: Bill Keaton
Bill Keaton was a participant or observer in the following events:
Bill Keaton. [Source: Kevin Niedermier]Cleveland Center air traffic controller Bill Keaton is responsible for guiding high-altitude flights in the airspace where Flight 93 turned off its transponder (see (9:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). After its transponder goes off, he follows Flight 93 on his radar scope as it travels across his sector, headed toward Washington, DC, and is instructed not to let any other aircraft come within 20 miles of it. Because its transponder is off, Keaton cannot tell the plane’s altitude. He sees it disappear from his scope at the time it crashes. [USA Today, 8/11/2002; Cleveland Free Times, 9/6/2006]
Shortly after 9/11, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) will say the nearest fighter jets to Flight 93 at the time it crashes are the F-16s from Langley Air Force Base that are flying a combat air patrol over Washington, DC (see (Between 9:49 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 34] Other accounts will conflict over whether or not there are any fighter jets near Flight 93 when it goes down:
Two days after the attacks, it will be reported that an unnamed New England air traffic controller has ignored a ban on controllers speaking to the media, and this controller claims “that an F-16 fighter closely pursued Flight 93.… [T]he F-16 made 360-degree turns to remain close to the commercial jet.” The controller adds that the fighter pilot “must’ve seen the whole thing.” He reportedly learned this from speaking to controllers who were closer to the crash. [Telegraph (Nashua), 9/12/2001; Associated Press, 9/13/2001]
Five days after the attacks, on September 16, CBS News will report that two F-16s are tailing Flight 93 and are within 60 miles of it when it goes down. [CBS News, 9/16/2001; Independent, 8/13/2002]
But, also on September 16, Major General Paul Weaver, the director of the Air National Guard, will say that no military planes were sent after Flight 93. [Seattle Times, 9/16/2001]
In April 2002, Anthony Kuczynski will tell the University of St. Thomas’s weekly newspaper that he had flown toward Pittsburgh alongside two F-16s on 9/11. He says he was piloting an E-3 Sentry AWACS plane, which has advanced radar and surveillance equipment that can be used to direct fighter jets to their targets. He was just about to intercept Flight 93 when it crashed. He says, “I was given direct orders to shoot down an airliner.” (E-3s are unarmed, so, if this account is accurate, the order presumably applied to the fighters Kuczynski was accompanying.) [St. Thomas Aquin, 4/12/2002; US Air Force, 9/22/2015]
A year after the attacks, ABC News will report that the “closest fighters” to Flight 93 when it crashes “are two F-16 pilots on a training mission from Selfridge Air National Guard Base” near Detroit, Michigan. These are ordered after Flight 93, according to some accounts, even though they are unarmed. [ABC News, 8/30/2002; ABC News, 9/11/2002] However, other accounts will state that these jets are in fact ordered to intercept another aircraft, Delta 1989, or are simply told to return to their base (see (9:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (9:56 a.m.-10:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 28; Mount Clemens-Clinton-Harrison Journal, 9/6/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 178]
Stacey Taylor, an air traffic controller at the FAA’s Cleveland Center, will claim not to have seen any fighter jets on radar around the area of the crash. [MSNBC, 9/11/2002]
Five years after 9/11, Bill Keaton, a Cleveland Center controller who tracked Flight 93 as it flew eastward (see (9:41 a.m.-10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001), will be asked whether there were fighter jets in the vicinity of the plane when it crashed. He will reply, “[T]hat goes beyond the scope of what I can comment on.” (Air traffic controllers reportedly can lose their security clearances if they discuss the movements of military aircraft.) [Cleveland Free Times, 9/6/2006]
Air traffic controllers at the FAA’s Cleveland Center. [Source: Paul M. Walsh]Most members of staff at the FAA’s Cleveland Center are evacuated from the facility, due to a report of a small aircraft flying erratically above the center. [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. S-19; Newsnet5, 8/12/2002; Associated Press, 8/15/2002] The Cleveland Center, in Oberlin, Ohio, had the last contact with Flight 93 before it crashed. [Associated Press, 6/15/2002] The center’s air traffic controllers have been working on clearing the skies over the US after FAA facilities were ordered to instruct all aircraft to land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Newsnet5, 8/12/2002; Lake County News-Herald, 9/10/2011]
Operations Manager Orders Evacuation - The police in Oberlin now contact the Cleveland Center and warn it about a small plane that is still airborne and circling above the facility. As a result, the decision is made to evacuate the center. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001, pp. 9 ; Associated Press, 8/15/2002; Cleveland Plain Dealer, 7/3/2011] The order to evacuate is apparently given by Leo Wolbers, the center’s operations manager. Wolbers will later recall, “[W]e made the decision to evacuate all non-essential personnel and get as many controllers out as possible.” He will say that he gathers together the supervisors at the center “to make sure they all knew to tell their controllers to get the planes down as quickly and safely as possible, and then leave the center.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/19/2001, pp. 6-7 ; 9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003 ] Non-essential personnel are sent home, while essential personnel who leave the building go to the parking lot. By 10:30 a.m., the facility will be running on a skeleton crew of eight controllers and eight supervisors.
Center Considered a Possible Terrorist Target - The Cleveland Center is evacuated “because someone feared the facility could be targeted for a terrorist attack,” according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/12/2001, pp. 70 ; Cleveland Plain Dealer, 7/3/2011] But Bill Keaton, a controller at the center, thinks to himself that “the evacuation [is] a little silly.” He will comment: “Though Cleveland Center might be a great strategic target, it was an awful terrorist target. Most people have no idea what goes on at a [air traffic control] center, and the terrorists were striking symbolic targets… the World Trade Center, the Pentagon.” [Lorain Morning Journal, 9/11/2011]
Center Is Searched - Around the time it is being evacuated, the Cleveland Center is receiving a number of bomb threats (see 10:07 a.m.-10:21 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. S-17, S-19] Possibly in response to these, the building is searched, apparently during the period when many of its employees are outside in the parking lot. Wolbers will recall, “After we got all of our aircraft on the ground, we went to one person in each area until the building was searched and found to be secure.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/19/2001, pp. 6-7 ] Around two hours after the evacuation, employees who left the building but have not gone home will go back inside and return to their posts. By then, though, the airspace will be empty, apart from some military aircraft, and so the controllers will have little to do. [Cleveland Plain Dealer, 7/3/2011]
Identity of Plane Unknown - The suspicious aircraft that prompted the evacuation is not identified. Rick Kettell, the manager of the Cleveland Center, will recall that it “flew off to the north and we lost radar on it.” Eleven months after 9/11, the FAA will reportedly still be investigating what the plane was and what it was doing. [Newsnet5, 8/12/2002]
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