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Profile: Carolyn Shelton
Carolyn Shelton was a participant or observer in the following events:
The specially modified C-135 nicknamed ‘Speckled Trout.’ [Source: United States Air Force]General Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, takes off to fly to Europe for a NATO conference, and will therefore be away from the US when the 9/11 terrorist attacks occur. [Giesemann, 2008, pp. 20, 22; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 430-433] Shelton is scheduled to attend a meeting of the Military Committee—NATO’s highest military authority—in Budapest, Hungary, on September 12, to discuss the situation in the Balkans, the European Security and Defense Identity, and NATO’s new force structure. On his return journey, he is set to stop in London, Britain, to be knighted by the Queen. [North Atlantic Treaty Organization, 9/10/2001; North Atlantic Treaty Organization, 9/11/2001; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 430] Shelton takes off from Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, DC, on a specially modified C-135 (the military version of a Boeing 707) nicknamed “Speckled Trout.” Normally he flies on a VIP Boeing 757 often used by the vice president, but that aircraft is presently unavailable, so he is flying instead on the C-135, which is usually reserved for the Air Force chief of staff. Those accompanying Shelton on the flight include his wife, Carolyn; his executive assistant, Colonel Doug Lute; his aides, Master Sergeant Mark Jones and Lieutenant Commander Suzanne Giesemann; and his personal security agent, Chief Warrant Officer Marshall McCants. [Giesemann, 2008, pp. 20-22; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 431, 434] When Shelton is out of the country, General Richard Myers, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is designated by law as acting chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in his place. Shelton will later recall, “Until I crossed back into United States airspace, all the decisions would be [Myers’s] to make, in conjunction with Secretary [of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld and the president.” [Myers and McConnell, 2009, pp. 10; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 432] After learning of the attacks in New York, Shelton will give the order for his plane to return to the US (see (8:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Giesemann, 2008, pp. 22-23; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 431] However, the plane will repeatedly be denied permission to enter US airspace (see (After 9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and will only land back in the US at 4:40 p.m. (see 4:40 p.m. September 11, 2001). Shelton will only arrive at the National Military Command Center at the Pentagon an hour after that (see 5:40 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001 ; Myers and McConnell, 2009, pp. 159; Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 ]
Doug Lute. [Source: Joint Chiefs of Staff]General Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, learns of the terrorist attacks in New York and at the Pentagon while flying to Europe, but his plane is then initially denied permission to return to the US. Shelton’s plane took off from Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, DC, at 7:15 a.m. to transport the chairman to Hungary for a NATO conference (see 7:15 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. G-1; Giesemann, 2008, pp. 20, 22-23; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 430-432]
Shelton Learns of First Crash - About an hour and a half into the flight, while the plane is over the Atlantic Ocean, a member of the flight crew approaches Colonel Doug Lute, Shelton’s executive assistant, and tells him a small aircraft has crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. Lute says, “That doesn’t sound good.” He goes to the chairman’s cabin at the rear of the aircraft and tells Shelton, “Sir, just to advise you, the pilot has received word that a civilian aircraft has just struck the World Trade Center.” Shelton is reminded of a speech he recently gave, in which he warned of the possibility of a terrorist attack on US soil (see (Shortly Before September 11, 2001)), and says to his wife, Carolyn, who is with him in the cabin, “I sure hope that is not a terrorist attack.” He will later recall, “This had the potential to play out exactly as I had warned.”
Shelton Learns of Second Crash - About 10 minutes after Lute returns to his seat, the member of the flight crew comes out again and reports that a second plane has crashed into the WTC. Lieutenant Commander Suzanne Giesemann, one of Shelton’s aides, says to Lute, “That can’t be an accident.” Lute goes again to Shelton’s cabin and tells the chairman, “Sir, it’s a second plane and it’s hit the other tower of the World Trade Center.” Shelton exclaims: “Doug, that’s no coincidence. Have them turn us around, we’re going back. Then I want General Myers on the line.” (General Richard Myers is the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.) After Lute returns to his seat, he and Giesemann put on headsets and make calls to the Pentagon. Giesemann talks to Kris Cicio, Shelton’s personal assistant, who tells her that the WTC towers were hit not by small planes, but by jetliners full of innocent passengers. Giesemann then loses her connection with Cicio, and so listens instead to BBC news reports through her headset and passes on what she learns to the other members of Shelton’s staff on the flight. Lute talks with someone in the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon. After the call, he heads to Shelton’s cabin. [Giesemann, 2008, pp. 22-23; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 431]
Controllers Deny Request to Enter US Airspace - Having learned of the attack on the Pentagon (which takes place at 9:37 a.m.), Lute tells Shelton that there has been “some type of big explosion at the Pentagon.” He also tells the chairman that air traffic controllers have refused their request to fly into Washington. Lute says: “[W]e’ve been denied permission to return. All US airspace has been shut down” (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). But Shelton retorts: “Doug, tell the pilot we’ll ask for forgiveness instead of permission, so have him turn us around. We’re going home.” Shelton will later recall, “I knew there was no way they were going to shoot down a 707 with UNITED STATES AIR FORCE emblazoned along the side.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. G-1; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 432]
Shelton's Plane Supposedly Cleared to Fly into Washington - After Lute returns from Shelton’s cabin, he nods to Giesemann and says, “We’re going back.” Giesemann will recall that she then heads into the cockpit and orders the pilot, “Major, take us back to Andrews.” The pilot replies, “Yes, ma’am.” [Giesemann, 2008, pp. 23] According to an FAA report, “minutes” after the initial denial of permission to return to the US, Shelton’s plane is granted clearance. [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. G-1] The pilot turns the plane around and heads back toward Washington, according to Shelton. [Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 432] But according to Captain Rob Pedersen, the flight navigator on Shelton’s plane, it is several hours before the plane is cleared to enter the US airspace (see (After 9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 ] The plane will consequently only land at Andrews Air Force Base at 4:40 p.m. (see 4:40 p.m. September 11, 2001) and Shelton will only arrive at the NMCC an hour after that (see 5:40 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001 ; Myers and McConnell, 2009, pp. 159]
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