Profile: Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center
Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center was a participant or observer in the following events:
The FAA Command Center, the center of daily management of the US air traffic system. On 9/11 it is managed by Ben Sliney (not pictured here). [Source: CNN]The FAA’s Boston Center calls the FAA Command Center and says it believes Flight 11 has been hijacked and is heading toward the New York Center’s airspace. The Command Center immediately establishes a teleconference between the Boston, New York, and Cleveland air traffic control centers, so Boston can help the other centers understand what is happening, in case Flight 11 should enter their airspace. Minutes later, in line with the standard hijacking protocol, the Command Center will pass on word of the suspected hijacking to the FAA’s Washington headquarters (see 8:32 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 19; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 11 ; Spencer, 2008, pp. 21]
National Operations Manager Learns of Hijacking - A supervisor at the Command Center promptly passes on the news of the possible hijacking to Ben Sliney, who is on his first day as the national operations manager there. The supervisor says the plane in question is “American Flight 11—a 767 out of Boston for Los Angeles.” According to author Lynn Spencer, “Sliney flashes back to the routine for dealing with hijackings from the days when they were more common.” The procedure is to “[k]eep other aircraft away from the errant plane. Give the pilots what they need. The plane will land somewhere, passengers will be traded for fuel, and difficult negotiations with authorities will begin. The incident should resolve itself peacefully, although the ones in the Middle East, he recalls, often had a more violent outcome.” Apparently not expecting anything worse to happen, Sliney continues to the conference room for the daily 8:30 staff meeting there (see 8:30 a.m.-8:40 a.m. September 11, 2001).
Command Center a 'Communications Powerhouse' - The FAA Command Center is located in Herndon, Virginia, 25 miles from Washington, DC. According to Spencer, it “is a communications powerhouse, modeled after NASA’s Mission Control. The operations floor is 50 feet wide and 120 feet long, packed with tiered rows of computer stations, and at the front, seven enormous display screens show flight trajectories and weather patterns.” The center has nearly 50 specialists working around the clock, planning and monitoring the flow of air traffic over the United States. These specialists work with airlines and air traffic control facilities to fix congestion problems and deal with weather systems. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 1 and 19-20]
CNN reports that, while Flight 11 is heading toward the World Trade Center, “[S]ources say there were bomb threats called in to air traffic control centers adding to the chaos.” One center receiving such threats is the FAA’s Boston Center, which handles air traffic over New England and monitors flights 11 and 175. Cleveland Center, which will monitor Flight 93, receives similar threats. Whether other centers are threatened is unstated. According to Newsweek, “Officials suspect that the bomb threats were intended to add to the chaos, distracting controllers from tracking the hijacked planes.” [Newsweek, 9/22/2001; CNN, 9/30/2001] Yet, just weeks after 9/11, the Washington Post will claim, “Federal aviation officials no longer believe that accomplices of the hijackers made phony bomb threats to confuse air traffic controllers on Sept. 11. Sources said reports of multiple threats were apparently the result of confusion during the early hours of the investigation and miscommunication in the Federal Aviation Administration.” [Washington Post, 9/27/2001 ]
Shortly after the second attack on the World Trade Center, FBI agents call the FAA’s Cleveland Center and warn air traffic controllers there to keep an eye on Delta Air Lines Flight 1989. According to USA Today, controllers at the Cleveland Center, which is tracking Delta 1989, have already been watching this flight, and, like the FBI, suspect “that terrorists plan to hijack [it] next.” Although Delta 1989 is not showing any signs of being hijacked, the reason for their suspicion is that it has many similarities to the two aircraft that hit the World Trade Center: it is also a Boeing 767, heavy with fuel, and had taken off from Boston’s Logan Airport around the same time as they did. [USA Today, 8/13/2002] At 9:27 a.m., the FAA’s Boston Center will—apparently mistakenly—report that Delta 1989 is missing (see 9:27 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003] And at around 9:30 a.m., Cleveland Center controllers will mistakenly conclude that it has been hijacked (see (9:28 a.m.-9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 8/13/2002]
The FAA’s New England regional office calls the FAA’s Herndon Command Center, and asks it to tell Cleveland Center to contact Delta Air Lines Flight 1989 and advise it to use extra cockpit security. The reason the New England regional office makes this request is unclear. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 10] As the 9/11 Commission will describe, apparently in response to the request, “[A]t 9:19 the FAA… Command Center in Herndon ordered controllers to send a cockpit warning to Delta 1989 because, like American 11 and United 175, it was a transcontinental flight departing Boston’s Logan Airport.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 455] Minutes earlier, the FAA’s Boston Center asked the Command Center to contact the nation’s FAA centers and instruct them to tell all airborne aircraft to increase their cockpit security (see (9:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The Command Center’s instruction to air traffic controllers about Delta 1989 is apparently an exception, as the 9/11 Commission will say it found “no evidence to suggest that the Command Center acted on this request.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 23; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 25-26 ] Delta 1989 will subsequently be mistakenly reported as having been hijacked (see (9:28 a.m.-9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 8/13/2002; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]
Having entered the center’s airspace, Flight 93 establishes radio contact with the FAA’s Cleveland Center, a regional air traffic control center that guides long-range, high altitude flights. The pilot reports simply that his flight is experiencing intermittent light choppy air, and does not indicate there being any problems on board, saying, “Good morning Cleveland, United 93 with you at three-five-oh [35,000 feet], intermittent light chop.” The controller, John Werth, is busy with other flights, so does not initially respond. A minute later, Flight 93 radios again, “United 93 checking in three-five-oh.” Werth replies, “United 93, three-five-zero, roger.” [Gregor, 12/21/2001 ; Longman, 2002, pp. 69; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 37 ; CBS News, 9/10/2006] Two minutes later, Flight 93 will make its final radio communication before the hijacker takeover occurs (see 9:27 a.m. September 11, 2001).
Flight 93 makes its last normal communication with air traffic control before being hijacked, acknowledging a routine radio transmission from the FAA’s Cleveland Center. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 28] Flight 93 checked in with the Cleveland Center a couple of minutes earlier (see 9:24 a.m.-9:25 a.m. September 11, 2001). At 9:27, the Cleveland controller, John Werth, alerts it to another aircraft 12 miles away and to its right, at 37,000 feet: “United 93, that traffic for you is one o’clock, 12 miles east, bound three-seven-zero.” Seconds later, Flight 93 responds, “Negative contact, we’re looking, United 93.” Less than a minute after this, the hijackers appear to enter Flight 93’s cockpit (see (9:28 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Gregor, 12/21/2001 ; Longman, 2002, pp. 69; CBS News, 9/10/2006]
Stacey Taylor. [Source: NBC News]Cleveland flight controller Stacey Taylor has been warned to watch transcontinental flights heading west for anything suspicious. She later recalls, “I hear one of the controllers behind me go, ‘Oh, my God, oh my God,’ and he starts yelling for the supervisor. He goes, ‘What is this plane doing? What is this plane doing?’ I wasn’t that busy at the time, and I pulled it up on my screen and he was climbing and descending and climbing and descending, but very gradually. He’d go up 300 feet, he’d go down 300 feet. And it turned out to be United 93.” (Note the time of this incident is not specified, but presumably it is prior to when Cleveland controllers note Flight 93 descends 700 feet at 9:29 a.m. [MSNBC, 9/11/2002]
Jason Dahl. [Source: Publicity photo]According to the 9/11 Commission, less than a minute after Flight 93 acknowledged a routine radio transmission from the FAA’s Cleveland Center (see 9:27 a.m. September 11, 2001), John Werth—the controller handling the flight—and pilots of other aircraft in the vicinity of Flight 93 hear “a radio transmission of unintelligible sounds of possible screaming or a struggle from an unknown origin.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004; CBS News, 9/10/2006] Someone, presumably Flight 93’s pilot Jason Dahl, is overheard by controllers as he shouts, “Mayday!” [New York Times, 7/22/2004] Seconds later, the controller responds, “Somebody call Cleveland?” Then there are more sounds of screaming and someone yelling, “Get out of here, get out of here.” [Toronto Sun, 9/16/2001; Newsweek, 9/22/2001; Observer, 12/2/2001; MSNBC, 7/30/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Then the voices of the hijackers can be heard talking in Arabic. The words are later translated to show they are talking to each other, saying, “Everything is fine.” [Newsweek, 12/3/2001] Later, passenger phone calls will describe two dead or injured bodies just outside the cockpit; presumably these are the two pilots. [New York Times, 7/22/2004]
A Delta Air Lines Boeing 767, the same kind of aircraft as Delta 1989. [Source: Public domain]The FAA’s Cleveland Center incorrectly concludes that Delta Air Lines Flight 1989 has been hijacked, but accounts will conflict over how it comes to this conclusion. [USA Today, 8/13/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 167] Delta 1989, a Boeing 767, is currently in the sector of airspace being monitored by Cleveland Center air traffic controller John Werth. [9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003 ; USA Today, 9/11/2008] It is flying west over Pennsylvania, approaching the Ohio border, and is about 25 miles behind Flight 93. FBI agents suspected Delta 1989 might be the next plane to be hijacked and called the Cleveland Center after the second attack on the World Trade Center, with the warning to watch this flight (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 8/13/2002] A supervisor at the center told Werth to keep an eye on the flight because, as Werth will later recall, “he was a suspected hijacking because he had taken off from Boston at approximately the same time as” the first two hijacked aircraft, Flights 11 and 175. [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 ; USA Today, 9/11/2008]
Controllers Hear Suspicious Communications - When, at 9:28, Werth hears the sound of screaming (subsequently determined to have come from Flight 93) over the radio (see (9:28 a.m.) September 11, 2001), he is unsure which of seven or eight possible aircraft it is coming from. The radio frequency is put on the speaker so other controllers can hear it, and they subsequently make out the words, “get out of here.” [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 11, 28]
Controllers Think Delta 1989 Is Hijacked - According to USA Today, when Cleveland Center controllers then hear a voice with a heavy accent over the radio, saying “Ladies and gentlemen: Here the captain.… We have a bomb on board” (see (9:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001), they mistakenly think it is coming from Delta 1989, not Flight 93. They suspect the flight has been hijacked, and start informing their chain of command. “Officials at Cleveland Center rush word to Washington: Hijackers have another flight. At the Federal Aviation Administration’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, Delta Flight 1989 joins a growing list of suspicious jets.” [USA Today, 8/13/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 12]
Werth Decides Hijacked Aircraft Is Flight 93 - Werth then calls all of the aircraft in his sector, and Flight 93 is the only one that does not respond. He also sees Flight 93 go into a quick descent and then come back up again. Werth therefore concludes that it is Flight 93, not Delta 1989, that has been hijacked, and instructs his supervisor to “tell Washington” of this. [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003 ] However, events in the following minutes will cause Cleveland Center controllers to remain suspicious of Delta 1989 (see (Shortly After 9:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 9:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 8/13/2002; 9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003 ; Spencer, 2008, pp. 168; USA Today, 9/11/2008]
Book Gives Alternative Account - In a book published in 2008, author Lynn Spencer will give a different explanation for why Cleveland Center becomes suspicious of Delta 1989. According to her account, after hearing a later radio transmission where a hijacker again says “There is a bomb on board” (see (9:39 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Werth begins to hand off his flights to other controllers so he can devote his full attention to Flight 93. “In the distraction of the emergency, the crew of Delta 1989 misses the hand-off to the new frequency. The new sector controller for Delta 1989 calls out to the plane several times and gets no response.” As a result, “News travels fast,” and “Soon, word on the FAA’s open teleconference call is that a fifth aircraft is out of radio contact: Delta 1989… is added to the list of suspect aircraft.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 167] At 9:39 a.m., even though it is not responsible for handling Delta 1989, the FAA’s Boston Center will call NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) and incorrectly tell it that Delta 1989 is another possible hijack (see 9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 2004; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]
A small jet plane—ExecuJet 956—tracks Flight 93 for what is described as “a substantial period of time” before it crashes, and picks up some of the radio transmissions from it, as both planes are operating on the same frequency. [Government's motion for protective order regarding cockpit voice recorder pursuant to 49 USC 1154. United States v. Zacarias Moussaoui, 8/8/2002 ; Washington Post, 8/9/2002] The exact period over which ExecuJet 956 follows Flight 93 is unclear. But as early as 9:31 it calls the FAA’s Cleveland Center and, referring to Flight 93, reports: “[W]e’re just answering your call. We did hear that, uh, yelling too.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 461] At 9:40, after being asked, “did you understand that transmission [from Flight 93]?” ExecuJet 956 tells Cleveland Center: “Affirmative. He said that there was a bomb on board.” [Associated Press, 4/12/2006] Cleveland Center then asks the ExecuJet pilot if he can change course and try to spot Flight 93. He sees it, loses it, and then sees it again. He then has to make an evasive turn, as Flight 93 is heading directly for him. [Longman, 2002, pp. 104] ExecuJet 956 is one of a fleet of small jets available for hire from a company based in Woodbridge, New Jersey called NetJets, which sells shares in private business aircraft. [Associated Press, 8/8/2002; Washington Post, 8/9/2002] NetJets’ owner is the multi-billionaire Warren Buffet. [Knight Ridder, 11/6/2001; Observer, 1/12/2003] Another small business jet is reportedly within 20 miles of Flight 93 when it crashes, but this is apparently a different one, belonging to a North Carolina clothing firm (see 10:07 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Pittsburgh Channel, 9/15/2001; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/16/2001]
John Werth. [Source: CBS]Shortly after hearing strange noises from the cockpit of Flight 93, Cleveland air traffic controllers notice the plane has descended about 700 feet. John Werth, the controller who is handling the plane, tells the supervisor nearest to him, “I think we have another one [i.e., another hijacking].” He will repeatedly radio the cockpit over the next four minutes, asking the pilot to confirm the hijacking, but receive no response. At 9:30 a.m., Werth begins asking other nearby flights on his frequency if they’ve heard screaming; several say that they have. [Gregor, 12/21/2001 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 28; CBS News, 9/10/2006] The Cleveland Center immediately notifies United Airlines’ headquarters of the loss of communication with Flight 93 (see (9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, the FAA chain of command is apparently not also immediately informed. And the Cleveland Center will not contact NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) about Flight 93 until 10:07 a.m. (see 10:05 a.m.-10:08 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 28 and 30]
The FAA’s Cleveland Center notifies United Airlines’ headquarters, near Chicago, that Flight 93 is not responding to attempted radio contacts. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 39 ] Cleveland Center made its last normal communication with Flight 93 at 9:27 (see 9:27 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 28] After the hijacking began at around 9:28, the controller handling Flight 93, John Werth, tried unsuccessfully to re-establish contact with it. [Gregor, 12/21/2001 ; CBS News, 9/10/2006] The lack of response from Flight 93, combined with the plane’s turning to the east (see (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001), will lead United to believe, by 9:36 a.m., that it has been hijacked. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 456]
At the FAA’s Cleveland Center, an air traffic controller hears a transmission, presumably made by Flight 93 hijacker-pilot Ziad Jarrah, stating: “Ladies and gentlemen: Here the captain, please sit down, keep remaining sitting. We have a bomb on board. So, sit.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 12; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 39 ] As the 9/11 Commission later notes, “Like [Mohamed] Atta on Flight 11, Jarrah apparently did not know how to operate the communication radios; thus his attempts to communicate with the passengers were broadcast on the [air traffic control] channel.” [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 98 ] While this communication is assumed to have come from Flight 93, an early FAA report states that it came “from an unknown origin.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 ] According to Newsweek, just prior to the communication, Cleveland Center controllers heard the sound of screaming from the flight. [Newsweek, 9/22/2001] The 9/11 Commission states that, around the time of the transmission, the plane’s cockpit voice recording indicates “that a woman, most likely a flight attendant, was being held captive in the cockpit. She struggled with one of the hijackers who killed or otherwise silenced her.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 12; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 39 ] Though the Cleveland air traffic controller understands the hijacker’s communication, he responds to it: “Calling Cleveland Center, you’re unreadable. Say again, slowly.” He also notifies his supervisor who passes the information up the chain of command, and the FAA’s Command Center is subsequently informed, “United 93 may have a bomb on board.” At 9:34 the Command Center will relay this information to FAA headquarters (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 28]
When Flight 93 is over Youngstown, Ohio, Stacey Taylor and other Cleveland flight controllers see it rapidly climb 6,000 feet above its assigned altitude of 35,000 feet and then rapidly descend. The plane drops so quickly toward Cleveland that the flight controllers worry they might be the target. Other accounts say the climb occurs around 9:35 a.m. Controllers continue to try to contact the plane but still get no response. [Guardian, 10/17/2001; USA Today, 8/13/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]
FAA’Â€Â™s Cleveland Center. [Source: ABC News]According to the 9/11 Commission, at about this time Cleveland flight control specifically asks the FAA Command Center whether someone has requested the military to launch fighters toward Flight 93. Cleveland offers to contact a nearby military base. The Command Center replies that FAA personnel well above them in the chain of command have to make that decision and are working on the issue. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Cleveland overheard a hijacker say there was a “bomb on board” at 9:32 a.m. and passed the message to FAA higher ups (see (9:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001). According to John Werth, the Cleveland controller handling Flight 93, “Within three or four minutes, probably, of when [the hijacking] happened, I asked if the military was advised yet. Had anybody called the military? They said, ‘don’t worry. That’s been taken care of,’ which I think to them, meant they had called the command center in Washington.” [CBS News, 9/10/2006]
According to a book about the FAA’s response to the 9/11 attacks, Cleveland Center air traffic controllers follow Flight 93 as it turns south and reverses course (see (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). But, “bomb threats called in concerning four other planes focused their attention onto what they believed to be more critical maneuvers.” [Freni, 2003, pp. 40] One of these four planes is presumably Delta Flight 1989, which is mistakenly thought to be hijacked and to have a bomb aboard (see (9:28 a.m.-9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [WKYC, 9/11/2006] The identities of the other three planes are unknown. By this time, Cleveland Center has already overheard a radio transmission from Flight 93 stating, “We have a bomb on board” (see (9:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and has acknowledged this, reporting, “United 93 may have a bomb on board,” so it seems unlikely that other threatened aircraft would be regarded as “more critical maneuvers.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]
The Flight 93 hijackers (probably inadvertently) transmit over the radio: “Hi, this is the captain. We’d like you all to remain seated. There is a bomb on board. And we are going to turn back to the airport. And they had our demands, so please remain quiet.”
[Boston Globe, 11/23/2001; Longman, 2002, pp. 209; MSNBC, 9/3/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] The controller responds, “United 93, understand you have a bomb on board. Go ahead,” but there is no response. There was a very similar “bomb on board” warning from the same flight at 9:32 a.m. (see (9:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The 9/11 Commission indicates that these are separate incidents. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Cleveland flight control apparently continues to wait for FAA superiors to notify NORAD. Earlier in the morning, Boston flight control directly contacted NORAD (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and local air force bases when they determined Flight 11 was hijacked.
The transponder signal from Flight 93 ceases. [CNN, 9/17/2001; MSNBC, 9/3/2002; MSNBC, 9/11/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] However, the plane can be—and is—tracked using primary radar by Cleveland flight controllers and at United headquarters. Altitude can no longer be determined, except by visual sightings from other aircraft. The plane’s speed begins to vary wildly, fluctuating between 600 and 400 mph before eventually settling around 400 mph. [Longman, 2002, pp. 77, 214; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]
After learning that Delta flight 1989 may have been hijacked from Boston flight control (see 9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001), NEADS calls Cleveland flight control, which is handling the flight, to discuss this. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 14] Although Cleveland flight control has been aware that United 93 has been hijacked since before 9:30, it apparently fails to mention this to NEADS. According to the 9/11 Commission, the NMCC is not notified of United 93’s hijacking until 10:03 (see 10:03 a.m. September 11, 2001).
The Delta Air Lines operations control center in Atlanta, Georgia. [Source: Public domain]Delta Air Lines instructs one of its aircraft, Flight 1989, to land at Cleveland Hopkins Airport, but the FAA’s Cleveland Center, which is handling the aircraft, is not notified of this. [USA Today, 8/13/2002; Associated Press, 8/15/2002]
Pilots Instructed to Land - The pilots of Delta 1989 receive an ACARS text message from their airline’s dispatch office in Atlanta, Georgia, instructing them to “Land immediately in Cleveland.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 167] According to USA Today, “Since early reports that a bomb, then hijackers, might be aboard” Delta 1989, Delta Air Lines’ headquarters in Atlanta has been tracking the flight, and receiving reports on it every five minutes. [USA Today, 8/13/2002] The plane’s pilot, Captain Paul Werner, quickly types a response to the message, “ok.” But, a couple of minutes later, he receives another ACARS message from the airline. It says: “Confirm landing in Cleveland. Use correct phraseology.” Werner and First Officer David Dunlap are puzzled. According to author Lynn Spencer: “There’s such a thing as correct phraseology on the radio, but there is no such thing when typing back and forth with dispatch on ACARS. Those messages are usually casual.” Werner carefully types a response: “Roger. Affirmative. Delta 1989 is diverting to Cleveland.” He calls the Cleveland Center at 9:44 a.m. and requests a diversion to Cleveland Airport. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 167-168; USA Today, 9/11/2008]
Cleveland Center Not Informed - About 15 minutes earlier, Cleveland Center heard the sounds from Flight 93 as it was being hijacked, but initially thought these came from Delta 1989, and mistakenly believed the Delta flight was being taken over (see (9:28 a.m.-9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 8/13/2002] But the Delta pilots’ normal responses to radio transmissions soon led air traffic controller John Werth, who is handling Delta 1989, to conclude that this aircraft was fine. [USA Today, 9/11/2008] However, controllers at the Cleveland Center are unaware that Delta Air Lines has instructed Flight 1989 to land, and so Werner’s request for a change of course will make them suspicious of it again (see (Shortly After 9:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 8/13/2002]
The air traffic control tower at Pittsburgh International Airport is evacuated, because of concerns that Flight 93, which is heading in the direction of the airport, could crash into it. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 ; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/23/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. 11-13 ; Lancaster New Era, 11/3/2006]
Cleveland Center Notifies Pittsburgh Tower - At 9:44 a.m., an air traffic controller at the FAA’s Cleveland Center calls the Pittsburgh Airport control tower and notifies it of the loss of radio contact with Flight 93, and the loss of a secondary radar return from that aircraft (see (9:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The Cleveland Center controller also says Flight 93 has made an unanticipated turn (see (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and its flight path will take it close to Pittsburgh Airport, if not directly over it. [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. 11-12 ] The controller at the Pittsburgh tower who answers the call, apparently Paul Delfine, begins tracking Flight 93’s primary target on radar, and calls over his operations supervisor, Mal Fuller. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 ; Lancaster New Era, 11/3/2006]
Supervisor Orders Evacuation - Delfine points to a plane—which Fuller only later learns is Flight 93—on a radar scope. He tells Fuller it was hijacked over Cleveland, and controllers don’t know where it is heading. Fuller will later recall: “In two sweeps of the radar, I could tell it was going very fast. It was headed directly for the control tower.” Fuller is aware of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and, at 9:49, gives the order, “Evacuate the facility.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/23/2001; Lancaster New Era, 11/3/2006] By 9:51, the facility has been evacuated. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 ] However, one controller refuses to leave his post and remains in the tower. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 193-194]
Employees Do Not See Flight 93 Overhead - Some of the evacuated employees are so upset that they immediately head home. Others mill around in a parking lot. Fuller will later guess that Flight 93 passed directly overhead as he was heading outside, but he assumes it was too high for anyone to see it. He will recall: “We watched and watched and watched. We never saw anything.” [Lancaster New Era, 11/3/2006]
Controllers Return to Facility - Minutes after evacuating, at 9:56 a small number of tower controllers will volunteer to return to their facility. Once back inside, they find that Flight 93’s track is no longer visible on their radar screens. At 10:05 a.m., tower personnel will contact the FAA’s Herndon Command Center to explain why they evacuated. They say they did so because there had been an aircraft, thought to be Flight 93, which appeared to be on a collision course with the tower, and this aircraft allegedly had a bomb on board. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 ; Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. 12-13 ] Around the time the Pittsburgh Airport control tower evacuates, while Flight 93 is heading east, NEADS battle commander Colonel Robert Marr hears that the FAA’s Cleveland Center is being evacuated (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 73]
Having earlier concluded that it was not hijacked, air traffic controllers at the FAA’s Cleveland Center again become suspicious of Delta Air Lines Flight 1989, after its pilot requests a change of course and then fails to respond to a message.
Pilot Requests Diversion - Cleveland Center controllers initially thought the sounds from Flight 93 as it was being hijacked had come from Delta 1989, but soon decided they had come from Flight 93 (see (9:28 a.m.-9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 8/13/2002] However, without notifying the Cleveland Center, Delta Air Lines has just instructed Delta 1989 to land at Cleveland Hopkins Airport (see (9:42 a.m.) September 11, 2001). After the plane’s pilot, Captain Paul Werner, calls the Cleveland Center at 9:44 a.m., requesting an immediate diversion, controllers there become suspicious. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 167-168; USA Today, 9/11/2008]
Supervisor Reports Concerns over Teleconference - USA Today will later describe: “The Delta flight wants to land in Cleveland? And the captain’s request comes before he can know that the FAA wants every flight down. On this day, the fact that the pilot requests to be rerouted before he is ordered to land seems suspicious. Why the urgency? Controllers don’t know that Delta officials, also concerned about the flight, have ordered Werner to land in Cleveland.” After Delta 1989 makes an abrupt 30-degree turn back toward Cleveland Airport, a supervisor at the Cleveland Center announces the apparently suspicious development on an FAA teleconference.
Coded Message Confirms No Hijacking - As Delta 1989 begins its descent toward Cleveland, a Cleveland Center controller radios Werner with a coded message to check whether his plane has been hijacked. The controller says, “Delta 1989, I hear you’re ‘late’ today.” (The controller is using the code word for a hijack, which has been replaced with the word ‘late’ in subsequent accounts of this incident, for security reasons. Pilots can use this code word to alert controllers to their situation if they are unable to do so openly because hijackers are in the cockpit.) Werner reassures the controller that all is okay, saying: “Negative. Delta 1989 is not a ‘late.’”
Lack of Response Causes More Suspicion - Then, as the plane descends, it receives another message from the Cleveland Center. But Werner, who is busy, fails to respond to it. This arouses further suspicion. According to USA Today: “On the ground, controllers in Cleveland Center grow alarmed. Why didn’t he respond? Have both jets—the United [Flight 93] and the Delta flights—been hijacked?” [USA Today, 8/13/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 168-169]
The FAA’s Cleveland Center receives a call from NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), incorrectly notifying it that Delta Air Lines Flight 1989 is a confirmed hijacking. A supervisor then rushes around the center, informing all the controllers and managers of this. [9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 2004]
Cleveland Realized Delta 1989 Not Hijacked - At around 9:30 a.m., Cleveland Center air traffic controllers heard the sounds from Flight 93 as it was being hijacked, but initially thought these came from Delta 1989 (see (9:28 a.m.-9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 8/13/2002] Due to the Delta pilots’ normal responses to subsequent radio transmissions, John Werth—the controller monitoring both flights—concluded that the hijacked aircraft was in fact Flight 93. [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 ; USA Today, 9/11/2008] However, at around 9:39, the FAA’s Boston Center guessed that Delta 1989 might be hijacked and called NEADS to report the plane as a possible hijacking (see 9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 28] NEADS then begins alerting FAA centers of this. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]
NEADS Calls Cleveland Center - Greg Dukeman, the military operations specialist in the traffic management unit at Cleveland Center, receives a call from a female member of staff at NEADS, one of its ID technicians. He passes the call on to supervisor Kim Wernica. The caller says Delta 1989 is “a confirmed hijack.” Wernica then goes “running back and forth” around the center, informing controllers and managers of what she has been told. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 2004]
Controller Disputes NEADS's Information - Wernica rushes up to John Werth and tells him, “It’s the Delta, it’s the Delta!” She says a military liaison on the phone has confirmed that the Delta jet has been hijacked. Werth responds that he is pretty sure that Flight 93, not Delta 1989, has been hijacked. When Wernica returns a few moments later, Werth tells her that Delta 1989 is “fine—at least for now.” Wernica consults again on the phone and then comes back, saying, “They said it’s a confirmed hijack and a bomb threat.” Werth thinks to himself that the bomb threats had come from Flight 93 (see (9:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (9:39 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and is therefore convinced the caller must be confusing the two flights. He tells Wernica, “Tell them they’re full of it!” [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 ; USA Today, 9/11/2008]
While flight controllers are working to clear the skies of all aircraft, they notice a small plane flying erratically above the FAA’s Cleveland Center. Consequently, the center is evacuated, with people withdrawing to its parking lot. According to Rick Kettell, the Cleveland air traffic manager, the errant plane is never identified. He says it “flew off to the north, and we lost radar on it.” Eleven months later, the FAA will reportedly still be investigating what the plane was and what it was doing. There are contradictory accounts of when the evacuation occurs. NEADS Commander Robert Marr reportedly is informed of it while Flight 93 is still airborne (see 9:44 a.m.-9:51 a.m. September 11, 2001). Cleveland flight controller Stacey Taylor will later recall, “They’re evacuating the Center,” at a time when Flight 93 is still airborne. However, she and another Cleveland controller say they see Flight 93 disappear from their radar scopes when it crashes, suggesting that the center is not fully evacuated, or is only fully evacuated later on. Rick Kettell claims the evacuation occurs after most planes have already been landed from the region’s skies, which would be later in the morning. [Newsnet5, 8/12/2002; MSNBC, 9/11/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 73; Cleveland Free Times, 9/6/2006]
Douglas Champagne. [Source: David Kujawa / US Air Force]Although NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) has contacted Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Michigan, reportedly to arrange that two of its F-16s be diverted from a training mission to intercept either Flight 93 or Delta Air Lines Flight 1989 (accounts conflict over which aircraft is concerned), the pilots of those jets apparently never receive an order to intercept a plane, and so return directly to their base. [Filson, 2003, pp. 68, 71; Wolverine Guard, 9/2006 ; Mount Clemens-Clinton-Harrison Journal, 9/6/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 178] However, some accounts will claim the pilots are indeed ordered to intercept the suspect aircraft. [ABC News, 8/30/2002; Associated Press, 8/30/2002; Post-Standard (Syracuse), 3/27/2005; Spencer, 2008, pp. 188]
Jets Returning from Training Mission - The F-16s, piloted by Lieutenant Colonel Tom Froling and Major Douglas Champagne of the 127th Wing, had taken off from Selfridge Air National Guard Base at around 8:50 a.m. for a routine training mission at Grayling Range in central northern Michigan. The two pilots were oblivious to the attacks taking place in New York and Washington. [Filson, 2003, pp. 68; GlobalSecurity (.org), 4/26/2005; Wolverine Guard, 9/2006 ] When they started heading back to Selfridge after completing their training mission, they began hearing “unusual radio traffic” as air traffic controllers began diverting flights from their original destinations. [Mount Clemens-Clinton-Harrison Journal, 9/6/2006]
Pilots Learn of Plane Hitting Pentagon - Froling will later recall: “Something strange was occurring and I couldn’t put my finger on what was happening. I could hear [the FAA’s] Cleveland Center talking to the airlines and I started putting things together and knew something was up.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 68-70] Champagne hears an air traffic controller stating that a plane has crashed at the Pentagon. He then hears the Cleveland Center announcing a “demon watch,” which means pilots have to contact their operations center for more information.
Commander Asks if Pilots Have Used up Their Ammunition - When Champagne calls the Selfridge base, his operations group commander, General Michael Peplinski, wants to know if he and Froling have used up their ammunition during the training mission. Champagne will recall: “[Peplinski] asked if we had expended all our munitions and specifically asked if we had strafed. We replied that all ordnance was gone. I assumed we had strafed without clearance and had injured someone down range. We had no idea what was happening on the Eastern seaboard.” [Wolverine Guard, 9/2006 ; Mount Clemens-Clinton-Harrison Journal, 9/6/2006]
Pilots Directed to Return to Base - According to author Lynn Spencer, because a commander with the 127th Wing agreed to turn the two F-16s over to NEADS (see (9:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Champagne and Froling are instructed to call NEADS. When they do so, they are ordered to intercept Delta 1989. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 178, 180, 188] But according to other accounts, they are “ordered south in case United Airlines 93 was targeting Chicago.” [ABC News, 9/11/2002; Post-Standard (Syracuse), 3/27/2005] However, according to two reports based on interviews with Champagne, Peplinski only instructs the two pilots to return to their base and land on its auxiliary runway.
Pilots Apparently Not Ordered to Intercept Aircraft - Accounts based on interviews with the pilots will make no mention of the jets being directed to intercept Delta 1989 or Flight 93. According to Champagne, the air traffic controller’s announcement that an aircraft hit the Pentagon “was the only indication we received that other aircraft and buildings were involved.” Champagne will say that “he and his colleague never received orders to intercept [Flight 93] in any way.” The two pilots “had no ammunition… and only an hour’s worth of fuel remaining. And as they approached Selfridge amid the puzzling radio transmissions, they still were oblivious to what was transpiring.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 68-70; Wolverine Guard, 9/2006 ; Mount Clemens-Clinton-Harrison Journal, 9/6/2006]
Jets Land at Base - The two F-16s land back at Selfridge Air National Guard Base at 10:29 a.m. [9/11 Commission, 10/27/2003 ] As Champagne pulls in his aircraft, his friend Captain Sean Campbell approaches and mouths the words to him: “It’s bad. It’s really, really bad.” [Wolverine Guard, 9/2006 ; Mount Clemens-Clinton-Harrison Journal, 9/6/2006]
An air traffic controller at the FAA’s Cleveland Center enters a new flight plan for Flight 93 into the FAA computer system, giving a new destination of Reagan National Airport in Washington, DC. Flight 93 is currently flying in the airspace covered by the Cleveland Center’s Imperial Sector radar position, which is being managed by controller Linda Justice. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; St. Petersburg Times, 9/12/2001; 9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003 ; Lynn Spencer, 2008]
Controller Enters New Flight Plan for Flight 93 - Justice changes the flight’s destination code from “SFO,” the code for San Francisco International Airport, to “DCA,” the code for Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. [St. Petersburg Times, 9/12/2001] An FAA chronology will specify that she changes the flight plan “direct HGR [the code for Hagerstown Regional Airport in Maryland] to DCA.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001] Another FAA chronology will similarly state that Justice reroutes Flight 93 “direct to Hagerstown direct to Washington National.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 12/6/2001] Flight 93’s tag therefore now reads, “Hagerstown—National,” according to Justice. [9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003 ]
New Flight Plan Not Due to Communication with Pilot - The reason Justice enters a new flight plan for Flight 93 is unclear. A minute earlier, the hijacker pilot on Flight 93 reprogrammed the plane’s navigational system for the new destination of Reagan Airport (see 9:55 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Longman, 2002, pp. 182; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 457] And according to the St. Petersburg Times, controllers typically only change a plane’s destination when this is requested by the pilots. [St. Petersburg Times, 9/12/2001] But one of the FAA chronologies will state that Justice’s change to the flight plan is “not a result of any communication with the pilot.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001]
Flight Plan Changed to Aid Handoff to Washington Controllers - Justice will later explain why she changes the flight plan. She will state that Flight 93 appears to be heading toward the airspace of the FAA’s Washington Center, and so, in “an attempt to expedite the situation,” she enters the change of routing to reflect Hagerstown Airport to Reagan Airport. She will say she does this “only to forward [the] information [about Flight 93] to the sectors the aircraft appeared to be tracking toward.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/12/2001 ] Justice will tell the 9/11 Commission that she changes the routing when she sees Flight 93 is heading eastbound. She will say, “The easiest way to do a handoff is to change the flight plan,” and also say she changes the flight plan “to show that Washington Center was the recipient.” According to Justice, the “controversial step” she takes is “putting in Hagerstown, because the misconception was that she had communicated with the plane and cleared it through.” [9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003 ] John Werth, another controller at the Cleveland Center, will tell the 9/11 Commission that Justice enters the new destination for Flight 93 “because she knew it would be easier to track the primary [radar track for the aircraft] when the computer has a flight plan to work with.” [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 ] After changing the flight plan, Justice calls the Potomac Sector radar position at the Washington Center and tells the controller there to “pull up the data block” for Flight 93. Justice will say it is clear to the Washington Center controller that she has created the new destination in order to make it easier to locate the plane. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/12/2001 ; 9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003 ]
New Flight Plan Causes False Reports of Plane Approaching Washington - According to author Lynn Spencer, the new flight plan creates a “coast track” of Flight 93 on the traffic situation displays at air traffic control facilities. “A coast track,” Spencer will write, “differs from a radar track in that it is not supported by radar returns but rather by a computer-generated, projected course for the flight. Although this track did not appear on controller radar screens, its presence on their [traffic situation displays] allowed Washington controllers to monitor the flight’s progression toward Washington.” According to Spencer, the presence of this coast track leads to incorrect reports of an aircraft approaching Washington in the minutes after Flight 93 crashes. She will write, “A controller in Washington, unaware that the flight had crashed, was calling position reports for the coast track of United 93 to the White House (see (Between 10:10 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001)… as well as the FBI at the Pentagon (where firefighters were evacuated and the firefight suspended in anticipation of a second impact)” (see (10:15 a.m.-10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Lynn Spencer, 2008]
The military liaison at the FAA’s Cleveland Center calls NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) and alerts it to the hijacked Flight 93. According to the 9/11 Commission, this is the first notification NEADS receives about Flight 93, but it comes too late, since the plane has already crashed (see (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 30; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 46 ]
'Bomb on Board' Flight 93 - At 10:05 a.m., the military liaison at the Cleveland Center, who is unaware that Flight 93 has just crashed, calls NEADS to inform it that Flight 93 is heading toward Washington, DC. Even though communicating with NEADS is not one of his responsibilities, he wants to make sure it is in the loop. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 224] At NEADS, the call is answered by Tech Sergeant Shelley Watson. Shortly into the call, at 10:07, the military liaison tells her: “We got a United 93 out here. Are you aware of that?” He continues, “That has a bomb on board.” Watson asks: “A bomb on board? And this is confirmed? You have a mode three [beacon code], sir?” The military liaison replies, “No, we lost his transponder” (see (9:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The news about Flight 93 is shouted out to Major Kevin Nasypany, the NEADS mission crew commander. Nasypany responds: “Gimme the call sign. Gimme the whole nine yards.… Let’s get some info, real quick. They got a bomb?”
Liaison Wants Fighters Sent toward Flight 93 - The military liaison continues, asking Watson if NEADS scrambled fighter jets in response to Delta 1989, an aircraft that was mistakenly reported as having been hijacked (see (9:28 a.m.-9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). Watson replies: “We did. Out of Selfridge and Toledo” (see (9:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 10:01 a.m. September 11, 2001), and says these jets are airborne. When the military liaison asks if the fighters can be directed to where Flight 93 is, Watson asks him if the Cleveland Center has latitude and longitude coordinates for this aircraft. The military liaison replies that he has not got this information available right now. All he knows is that Flight 93 has “got a confirmed bomb on board… and right now, his last known position was in the Westmoreland area.… Which is… in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, area.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]
NEADS Searches on Radar - The news of a bomb on board Flight 93 spreads quickly at NEADS, and personnel there search for the aircraft’s primary return on their radar screens. But because the plane has already crashed, they will be unable to locate it. NEADS will only learn that Flight 93 has crashed at 10:15 a.m., during a call with the FAA’s Washington Center (see 10:15 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 30-31]
FAA Failed to Notify Military Earlier - The Cleveland Center’s notification to NEADS about Flight 93 comes 39 minutes after the plane was hijacked (see (9:28 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and 33 minutes after FAA headquarters was alerted to the hijacking (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 11, 28] At the time NEADS is alerted to Flight 93, NORAD is similarly uninformed about this aircraft, according to the 9/11 Commission. The Commission will state, “At 10:07, its representative on the air threat conference call stated that NORAD had ‘no indication of a hijack heading to DC at this time.’” According to the Commission, the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon learned about the Flight 93 hijacking slightly earlier on, at 10:03 a.m. (see 10:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). However, the NMCC was notified by the White House, not the FAA. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 42] A former senior FAA executive, speaking on condition of anonymity, will later try to explain why it takes the FAA so long to alert NEADS to Flight 93. He will say, “Our whole procedures prior to 9/11 were that you turned everything [regarding a hijacking] over to the FBI.” [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] Yet military instructions contradict this, stating, “In the event of a hijacking, the NMCC will be notified by the most expeditious means by the FAA.” [US Department of Defense, 7/31/1997 ; US Department of Defense, 6/1/2001 ]
NORAD Commanders Claim Earlier Awareness of Flight 93 - Two senior NORAD officials will contradict the 9/11 Commission’s conclusion, and claim they were aware of Flight 93 well before it crashed (see Shortly Before 9:36 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (9:36 a.m.-10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 68, 71-73] Colonel Robert Marr, the NEADS battle commander, will tell the Commission that, while the flight was still airborne, “his focus was on UAL 93, which was circling over Chicago,” and he “distinctly remembers watching the flight UAL 93 come west, and turn over Cleveland.” [9/11 Commission, 10/27/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 1/23/2004 ] Major General Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental US NORAD Region, will recall, “[W]e watched the [Flight] 93 track as it meandered around the Ohio-Pennsylvania area and started to turn south toward DC.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 71]
The military liaison at the FAA’s Cleveland Center is informed that Flight 93 has been hijacked and is given information about its location. It is unclear when the liaison first receives this information, but it must happen before 10:07, as he telephones NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) at this time to pass on the information (see 10:05 a.m.-10:08 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 30] Military liaison officers at the FAA’s Command Center are also said to be informed of the hijacking of Flight 93 (see After 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001).
Falcon 20 business jet. [Source: Portuguese Air Force]According to some accounts, following a request from the FAA’s Cleveland Center, a Fairchild Falcon 20 business jet reports seeing puffs of smoke in the area of Flight 93’s last known position. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/16/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 ] The FBI later says the business jet was within 20 miles of Flight 93 when it crashed, at an altitude of 37,000 feet, and on its way to Johnstown. It was asked to descend to 5,000 feet to help locate the crash site for the benefit of the responding emergency crews. [Pittsburgh Channel, 9/15/2001] Stacey Taylor appears to be the Cleveland Center controller who made the request. She later recalls: “I had another airplane [other than Flight 93] that I was working. And I told him, I said, ‘Sir,’ I said, ‘I think we have an aircraft down.’ I said, ‘This is entirely up to you, but if you’d be willing to fly over the last place that we spotted this airplane—and see if you can see anything.‘… So he flew over and at first he didn’t see anything and then he said, ‘We see a great big plume or a cloud of smoke.’” [MSNBC, 9/9/2006] The business jet belongs to VF Corp, a Greensboro, North Carolina clothing firm. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/16/2001] According to David Newell, VF Corp’s director of aviation and travel, Cleveland Center contacted the plane’s copilot Yates Gladwell when it was at an altitude “in the neighborhood of 3,000 to 4,000 ft,” rather than 37,000 feet, as claimed by the FBI. He will add: “They got down within 1,500 ft. of the ground when they circled. They saw a hole in the ground with smoke coming out of it. They pinpointed the location and then continued on.” [Popular Mechanics, 3/2005] This incident occurs around 40 minutes after the FAA initiated a nationwide ground stop, which required planes in the air to land as soon as reasonable (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Time, 9/14/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 25] The FBI will claim the VF Corp business jet is probably the plane some witnesses on the ground see up above, shortly after the crash of Flight 93 (see (Before and After 10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Pittsburgh Channel, 9/15/2001] However, at least two witnesses say they saw a plane overhead even before the time of the Flight 93 crash, and one of them describes it as “definitely military,” rather than a business jet. Also, some will describe it as flying much lower than the Falcon 20 was—just “40 feet above my head,” according to one witness. [Bergen Record, 9/14/2001; Mirror, 9/12/2002]
Lt. Col. Steve O’Brien standing in front of a C-130. [Source: CBC]Cleveland Center air traffic controller Stacey Taylor has asked a nearby C-130 pilot to look at Flight 93’s last position and see if he can find anything. Remarkably, this C-130 pilot, Lt. Col. Steve O’Brien, is the same pilot who was asked by air traffic control to observe Flight 77 as it crashed into the Pentagon earlier on (see 9.36 a.m. September 11, 2001). O’Brien tells Taylor that he saw smoke from the crash shortly after the hijacked plane went down. [Guardian, 10/17/2001; MSNBC, 9/11/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] An article in the London Independent will later suggest that Flight 93 might have been brought down by the US military using “electronic warfare applications” that can disrupt the mechanisms of an airplane (See August 13, 2002); it will refer to this C-130, since “in 1995 the Air Force installed ‘electronic suites’ in at least 28 of its C-130s—capable, among other things, of emitting lethal jamming signals.” [Independent, 8/13/2002]
An aircraft at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. [Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer]Delta Air Lines Flight 1989, a Boeing 767 out of Boston that is wrongly suspected of being hijacked (see 9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (Shortly After 9:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001), lands at Cleveland Hopkins Airport in Ohio, and is directed to a remote area of the airport. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/16/2001; USA Today, 8/13/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 27-28; WKYC, 9/11/2006]
Plane Flies Long Path toward Airport - Delta Air Lines had been concerned about Flight 1989, and ordered it to land as soon as possible in Cleveland (see (9:42 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 167; USA Today, 9/11/2008] As it was heading in to land, air traffic controllers instructed Delta 1989 to follow a trajectory that initially took it far past Cleveland Airport. Unknown to the plane’s pilots, the controllers incorrectly believe the flight has been hijacked and contains a bomb, and they were therefore making time to evacuate the airport before the plane landed (see (9:50 a.m. and After) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 191]
Plane Directed to Remote Area - Once Delta 1989 is on the ground, the Cleveland Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) informs the FAA’s Cleveland Center that Delta 1989 is “on the ground at 1418,” where “1418” means 10:18 a.m. Cleveland Center asks, “Very safely too, I hope?” The TRACON responds that the plane is being taken to the bomb area to check. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/16/2001] Delta 1989 is directed to “taxi left onto taxiway Bravo and wait there.” This taxiway leads to a remote part of the airport that is far away from the terminal. The pilot does as instructed. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 229]
Passengers Not Allowed Off - The pilots radio the airport’s air traffic control tower and say: “Just to make sure we don’t have any misunderstandings here, our flaps are up, we are landing only as a precaution at the company’s request. You understand that?” They ask if they are going to get to their gate soon, but the controller responds that city authorities are in charge and he believes people will be coming to search the aircraft. The controller advises that city authorities have said to keep the plane’s passengers on the aircraft for now. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/16/2001] The passengers and crew will have to remain on board for perhaps a couple of hours, until FBI agents allow them off (see 11:28 a.m.-12:23 p.m. September 11, 2001). [WKYC, 9/11/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 270-271]
Conflicting Reports of Landing Time - Subsequent accounts will give conflicting times for when Delta 1989 lands at Cleveland Airport. According to a detailed timeline provided by the airport’s control tower, the aircraft is “on the ground” at 10:18 a.m. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/16/2001] Several accounts will give similar landing times of between 10:05 a.m. and 10:10 a.m. [Federal Aviation Administration, 1/2/2002 ; USA Today, 8/13/2002] But a NORAD official will tell the 9/11 Commission that Delta 1989 landed at 9:47 a.m. [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003] Other accounts will say it lands at between 10:33 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. [Associated Press, 9/11/2001; Associated Press, 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 ]
The FAA’s Cleveland Center has to authorize two Ohio Air National Guard fighter jets to shoot down threatening aircraft, because NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) is unable to communicate directly with those jets and give them the authorization itself. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 241-242] The two F-16s, which belong to the 180th Fighter Wing of the Ohio Air National Guard, took off from Toledo Express Airport at 10:17 a.m. (see 10:17 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Toledo Blade, 12/9/2001; WTOL, 9/11/2006]
NEADS Unable to Contact Fighters - NEADS has just received a message, informing it that Vice President Dick Cheney has authorized NORAD to shoot down suspicious aircraft (see 10:31 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 42] A weapons officer wants to pass this important information to the two 180th FW fighter pilots. However, since the jets took off, NEADS has been unable to bring them up on their UHF frequency, and so the weapons officer has had to communicate with them indirectly, via the FAA’s Cleveland Center. He now phones the Cleveland Center and asks it to pass on the new rules of engagement to the 180th FW pilots.
Controller Passes on Shootdown Authorization - A Cleveland Center air traffic controller then radios one of those pilots, Scott Reed, and asks him, “Sting 1-1 [Reed’s call sign], Cleveland Center, do you know what your ROE is?” Reed is surprised to hear a civilian controller use the military acronym for “rules of engagement.” He responds, “Sting 1-1, no.” The controller asks, “Would you like to know?” and then tells Reed, “Sting 1-1, if you have a non-military aircraft moving toward a population center, you are clear to engage.” Reed says, “Cleveland Center, Sting 1-1, please confirm ROE.” The controller responds, “Sting 1-1, if the airplane you are vectored against does not comply with your instructions, you are cleared to engage.” According to author Lynn Spencer, Reed “is shocked; he’s just been given clearance—from a civilian controller—to shoot down a commercial airliner.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 241-242] The two 180th FW jets never receive any subsequent orders to engage specific aircraft. According to NEADS battle commander, Colonel Robert Marr, the pilots “never had a track close enough that they were directed to engage. [But] if a valid direction had come from the appropriate level to engage a target, or shoot down a target at some time, they could have done that.” [Toledo Blade, 12/9/2001] Though it notifies the 180th FW jets, NEADS fails to pass on the shootdown authorization to the fighters from Otis Air National Guard Base and Langley Air Force Base that are under its command (see 10:32 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 43; Farmer, 2009, pp. 229]
The plane carrying Attorney General John Ashcroft is ordered to land by the FAA’s Cleveland Center, but Ashcroft is intent on reaching Washington, DC, and instructs his pilot to ignore the order. [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002 ; Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 117; Spencer, 2008, pp. 258] Ashcroft learned of the attacks in New York while flying to Milwaukee in a small government jet, and immediately wanted to return to Washington, but his plane needed to land first in Milwaukee to refuel (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). Even though the FAA had issued a nationwide ground stop to prevent aircraft from taking off, Ashcroft then insisted that his plane leave Milwaukee to fly back to Washington (see After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001).
FAA Manager Furious, Wants Plane to Land - When Ben Sliney, the national operations manager at the FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, hears about Ashcroft’s plane defying the ground stop order, he is livid. He immediately calls the FAA’s Cleveland Center and tells it to order the plane to land. An air traffic controller at the Cleveland Center then issues this order to Ashcroft’s plane. [Newsweek, 3/10/2003; Spencer, 2008, pp. 257-258] David Clemmer, the plane’s pilot, tells Ashcroft, “They’re instructing me to land outside of Detroit,” but Ashcroft tells him, “No, keep going.” [Washington Post, 9/28/2001; Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 117]
Controller Reports that Plane Is Not Complying - According to a 2002 FAA report, Ashcroft then requests that his plane be allowed to immediately return to Washington, and he receives permission to do so. [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002 ] But author Lynn Spencer will give a different account, saying that Clemmer “chooses to ignore the controller and continues toward Washington.” The Cleveland Center controller then informs the FAA Command Center that the pilot of Ashcroft’s plane is not responding and not complying. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 258] Ashcroft’s plane will subsequently be redirected toward Richmond, Virginia, and is threatened with being shot down if it does not land (see 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Daily Record (Glasgow), 9/29/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002 ; Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 118]
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