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Profile: John Azzarello
John Azzarello was a participant or observer in the following events:
Having taken off after returning from a training mission, a pilot with the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) flies two loops up the Potomac River, reversing course near Georgetown and the Pentagon, but is unable to locate a suspicious approaching aircraft, and heads back to base less than 10 minutes after launching. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 ; Spencer, 2008, pp. 219-221]
No Rules of Engagement - Major Billy Hutchison, a pilot with the 121st Fighter Squadron of the DCANG, had landed back at Andrews Air Force Base, 10 miles from Washington, but was ordered to take off again immediately (see (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002] His plane has no missiles, and only training ammunition, and he has been given no specific rules of engagement other than being told to identify an aircraft that is coming down the river. [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; 9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 ; Vogel, 2007, pp. 446] Because the DCANG is not in the communication and command loops of NORAD or its Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), Hutchison is unaware that three fighter jets NEADS ordered into the air from Langley Air Force Base (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001) are also flying over Washington, albeit at a much higher altitude than he is. [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; 9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004]
Controller Directs Hutchison - Hutchison calls the Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) at Washington’s Reagan National Airport. He says, “Bully 1 [his call sign] is looking for a contact.” Victor Padgett, the operations supervisor at the TRACON, replies, “We have an intercept for you northwest of here and coming down the Potomac.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 219] Hutchison knows he is meant to be searching for a civilian aircraft, and will later recall that he is told it is coming from Pennsylvania. [9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004] In order to conserve fuel and gain airspeed, he flies low over the White House and Georgetown, reportedly staying between 500 and 1,000 feet above ground level. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 219] After Padgett gives him details of the approaching aircraft’s location, Hutchison spots it on his jet’s radar screen, but it quickly disappears. The aircraft reappears a minute later, but then both Hutchison and Padgett lose sight of it.
Aircraft Claimed to Be Flight 93 - Some accounts will suggest the approaching aircraft is thought to be Flight 93 (see (10:30 a.m.-10:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001), even though that plane has already crashed (see (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 219-221] Hutchison will later recall that the TRACON at Reagan Airport is “frantic with what they seem to think are aircraft coming their way.… There is another aircraft, and it’s United Flight 93. They… apparently have been given information that it’s coming their way.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 81] Major David McNulty, the senior intelligence officer of the DCANG, will recall, “[I]t wasn’t until later that they realized the plane [coming down the river] might be UAL 93.” [9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 ] However, John Farmer, John Azzarello, and Miles Kara, who are all staff members of the 9/11 Commission, subsequently rebut this claim. They will write: “[R]adar records of the day [of 9/11] indicate that Major Hutchison did not take off until more than a half-hour after United 93 had crashed near Shanksville, PA, and a good 20 minutes after the wreckage had been located. He could not have seen United 93 on his scope, and could not have intercepted it.” [New York Times, 9/13/2008]
Told to Investigate Other Aircraft - After the aircraft disappears off Hutchison’s radar screen, Dan Creedon, an air traffic controller at the TRACON at Reagan Airport, is concerned about planes and helicopters that are taking off and landing across Washington, and tells Hutchison, “We have more contacts!” Hutchison confirms that he will investigate the targets Creedon alerts him to, but he keeps losing them among the ground clutter on his radar screen. According to author Lynn Spencer, “The flights are too close to the surface and, from what he can see, appear to be mostly helicopters flying medevac from the Pentagon.”
Flies over the Pentagon - Hutchison, who’d noticed the burning Pentagon before he landed at Andrews Air Force Base (see (9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001), then decides he should investigate it. He descends and flies a steep turn over the Pentagon. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 234-235] He will later recall: “I circled at a couple of hundred feet at the most just to, one, investigate, and two, give the people on the ground some semblance of security of an American fighter coming by. And apparently it changed the mood for a lot of people when they saw that” (see (10:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Running out of Fuel - By now, Hutchison is almost out of fuel. He will recall, “After that point, I’m emergency fuel, the lowest I’ve ever been in an F-16, and tell [the FAA’s] Washington Center I must leave, and they say I’m cleared to return to base and that two more aircraft are coming out of Andrews.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 81-82] Hutchison will land at Andrews at 10:47 a.m. (see 10:47 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004]
Entity Tags: Victor Padgett, Dan Creedon, Billy Hutchison, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Pentagon, 121st Fighter Squadron, John Farmer, Miles Kara, David McNulty, John Azzarello, District of Columbia Air National Guard
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
After finding that FAA and US military officials have made a string of false statements to them about the air defense on the day of the attacks and have withheld key documents for months (see September 2003, Late October 2003, October 14, 2003, and November 6, 2003), the 9/11 Commission’s staff proposes a criminal investigation by the Justice Department into those officials.
Proposal Sent to Zelikow - The proposal is contained in a memo sent by the Commission team investigating the day of the attacks to Philip Zelikow, the Commission’s executive director. However, nothing much is done with the memo for months. A similar proposal will then be submitted to the very last meeting of the 9/11 commissioners, who decide to refer the matter not to the Justice Department, but to the inspectors general of the Pentagon and FAA (see Shortly before July 22, 2004). Whereas the Justice Department could bring criminal charges for perjury, if it found they were warranted, the inspectors general cannot.
Dispute over Events - According to John Azzarello, a Commission staffer behind the proposal, Zelikow fails to act on the proposal for weeks. Azzarello will say that Zelikow, who has friends at the Pentagon (see (Late October-Early November 2003)), “just buried that memo.” Azzarello’s account will be backed by Commission team leader John Farmer. However, Zelikow will say that Azzarello was not party to all the discussions about what to do and that the memo was delayed by other Commission staffers, not him. Zelikow’s version will receive backing from the Commission’s lawyer, Daniel Marcus. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 209-210]
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