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Profile: Flight Explorer
Flight Explorer was a participant or observer in the following events:
A Fairfax, Virginia company that makes computer software that tracks and records the flight paths of planes helps media companies and airlines to reconstruct the paths of all four of the hijacked aircraft. [Washington Business Journal, 9/11/2001; Washington Post, 9/13/2001] Flight Explorer sells an Internet-accessible application that provides constantly updated information on the positions of aircraft in flight. It uses radar feeds that the FAA collects from control centers across the US. [Business Wire, 6/16/2000; St. Petersburg Times, 8/12/2001] All of Flight Explorer’s employees begin sorting through its data “after the first crash [of Flight 11] was reported,” so presumably this is at around 8:50 a.m. Whether any particular agency, such as the FAA, requests this or they do it of their own initiative is unknown. Although there are some 4,000 planes in the air above the US at the time of the attacks, the company is quickly able to pinpoint the paths of all four hijacked aircraft. It then creates charts and animated videos of the four flights’ actual and intended routes. About 12 news agencies, including all the major networks, request these animated illustrations. [Washington Business Journal, 9/11/2001; Washington Post, 9/13/2001] Flight Explorer is apparently unhindered by the fact that flights 11 and 93 have their transponders turned off during the hijackings. Its reconstruction of Flight 77’s path ends, however, at 8:57, around the time that aircraft’s transponder goes off and it disappears from controllers’ radar screens (see (8:56 a.m.-9:05 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Yet the 9/11 Commission will later say that, despite this disappearance, “Radar reconstructions performed after 9/11 reveal that FAA radar equipment tracked the flight from the moment its transponder was turned off.” Why the Flight Explorer illustration does not therefore show the rest of Flight 77’s journey is not clear. [AVweb, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Until a few years back, Flight Explorer was the only company that recorded flight paths. Since the 1999 death of golfer Payne Stewart (see October 25, 1999) the FAA has also been recording these paths. [Washington Business Journal, 9/11/2001] The final report of the 9/11 Commission will make no mention of the Flight Explorer flight path recordings. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 222]
At FAA headquarters in Washington, DC, David Canoles, the FAA’s manager of air traffic evaluations and investigations, and his staff begin coordinating the collection of forensic evidence that might clarify how the morning’s attacks unfolded. They coordinate the capture and copying of radar track data showing the paths of the four hijacked planes, and obtain air traffic control voice tapes from every facility that had spoken with these planes. FAA Assistant Investigations Manager Tony Mello and other employees will work for most of the afternoon, all night, and part of the following day, gathering data and coordinating with the FBI, Secret Service, Defense Department, White House, and National Transportation Safety Board, making sure these other agencies receive as much evidence as is available. Radar tracks are crudely plotted, showing the flight paths of the four jets, and voice tapes are transcribed. Having been stuck in Chicago when the attacks occurred, (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001), Tony Ferrante, the manager of FAA investigations, will finally arrive at FAA headquarters at 5:00 a.m. on September 12. His first priority is “to ensure that the radar data and voice tapes from every location involved in the attack [are] put under lock and key as soon as possible,” presumably to be kept safe for any investigations. He looks at and listens to the relevant controller tapes, and begins constructing a detailed timeline of the four hijacked aircraft. Along with Tony Mello and others of his staff, Ferrante will spend several days working out the movements of the four planes. FAA radar experts Dan Diggins and Doug Gould will also spend days interpreting the radar tracks of the four planes, piecing together a detailed timeline of their actions from takeoff to crash. [Freni, 2003, pp. 74 and 76-77] The FAA will publish a fairly comprehensive chronology of the hijackings on September 17, though this will not be made public until September 2005. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 ; National Security Archive, 9/9/2005] Presently, it refers any media requests for flight patterns to Flight Explorer, a software company that makes charts of plane routes using information from the FAA’s radar system (see After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 9/13/2001] The US military has also started doing its own reconstructions of the radar data for the hijacked aircraft (see (11:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
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