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Profile: Joe Kelleher
Joe Kelleher was a participant or observer in the following events:
Two F-15s take off from Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts, becoming the second pair of fighter jets to take off from the base after NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) ordered it to launch all of its available aircraft. [9/11 Commission, 10/14/2003 ; Spencer, 2008, pp. 245-246; Richard, 2010, pp. 18] The fighters belong to the 102nd Fighter Wing, which is based at Otis Air Base, and are piloted by Major Martin Richard and Major Robert Martyn. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Cape Cod Times, 9/11/2006] The 102nd Fighter Wing launched its two F-15s that are kept on “alert”—ready for immediate takeoff—at 8:46 a.m., in response to the hijacked Flight 11 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20] Another two of the unit’s F-15s have just taken off (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 245-246] Richard is one of several 102nd Fighter Wing pilots who were out for a training mission over the Atlantic Ocean earlier this morning (see (9:00 a.m.-9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The pilots were called back to their base following the attacks in New York (see (9:25 a.m.-9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). It is unclear whether Martyn also participated in the training. [Cape Cod Times, 9/11/2006]
Pilot Doesn't Know What Is Going On - After landing back at Otis Air Base, Richard headed into the operations building and phoned his wife. He told her, “I don’t know what’s going on, but I am going flying.” Richard will later recall: “My feelings were of trepidation. I didn’t know what was going on and didn’t know what the two scrambled aircraft [i.e. the two fighters launched from his base in response to Flight 11] were doing.” Richard and Martyn had then been called to the operations desk, where Lieutenant Colonel Jon Treacy, their unit’s supervisor of flying, told them they would be flying two of the first four fighters to be subsequently taking off from the base. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Richard, 2010, pp. 14-15] Around that time, NEADS called the unit and instructed it to launch all of its available fighters, and the pilots had then been sent out to their aircraft (see (10:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 245]
Fighter Only Has One Missile Loaded - When he arrived at his fighter, Richard found Technical Sergeant Matthew Jackson loading the second of two AIM-9 heat-seeking missiles onto it. Dennis Mills, the crew chief, told Richard that his plane was fueled up and had a “hot gun with bullets,” meaning the 20mm gun was loaded and armed for use. Richard, who was impatient to get airborne, instructed Jackson to not bother loading the second missile onto his aircraft.
Intelligence Officer Warns of Eight Suspicious Aircraft - Then, Sergeant Joe Kelleher, the unit’s intelligence specialist, arrived, out of breath. Kelleher said: “There are up to eight airliners airborne with bombs on board. We know of an American [Airlines] jet out of Dulles [International Airport] and a United [Airlines] jet. I think you are going after the United jet.” The United Airlines aircraft he referred to, according to Richard, was Flight 93. [Richard, 2010, pp. 15-16] However, this plane crashed in Pennsylvania 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). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 30] Richard will comment, “We were finding out real-time what the actual air picture was, and the information was not accurate.” Kelleher continued: “They are turning jets away from Europe and the rumor is some have crashed because they’ve run out of fuel. It’s friggin’ chaos!”
Fighters Take Off from Base - In their fighters, Richard and Martyn now taxi to the runway and take off from Otis Air Base. While climbing to altitude, Richard keeps his fighter’s engines in afterburner so as to gather the most speed he can. [Richard, 2010, pp. 16, 18] Richard and Martyn will be directed to intercept a C-130 military cargo plane (see (After 10:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and will subsequently be sent over New York to intercept and identify aircraft there (see (11:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Cape Cod Times, 9/11/2006; Airman, 9/3/2011]
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