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Profile: John White
John White was a participant or observer in the following events:
At the FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, manager John White learns of the communication apparently made by a hijacker on Flight 11, stating “We have some planes” (see 8:24 a.m. September 11, 2001), and quickly notifies the national operations manager of this. Terry Biggio, the operations manager at the FAA’s Boston Center, is relaying all the information he has about Flight 11 to the Command Center’s teleconference. In the conference room at the Command Center, White is listening in. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 79-80] Because the air traffic controller monitoring Flight 11 had not understood the “We have some planes” hijacker communication, the Boston Center’s quality assurance specialist had been instructed to “pull the tape” of the transmission, listen to it carefully, and then report back. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 19] Having learned that the specialist has deciphered the transmission, Biggio now relays the details of it over the teleconference. Seconds later, those at the Command Center see Flight 175 crashing into the South Tower of the World Trade live on CNN. White promptly dispatches a manager to pass on the details of the transmission to Ben Sliney, the national operations manager at the Command Center (see 9:06 a.m. and After September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 79-80] The FAA’s New England regional office also learns of the “We have some planes” communication at this time (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 23]
A Continental Airlines flight transmits a special transponder code three times, indicating to air traffic controllers that it has been hijacked, but the pilot then reports that the plane is fine. At 9:36 a.m., John White, a manager at the FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, will report the suspicious incident over the phone to Doug Davis, the special assistant for technical operations in air traffic services at FAA headquarters. White says that Continental Airlines Flight 321, which is flying from Cleveland to Denver and is currently over South Bend, Indiana, has “squawked hijack three times.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 11/4/2003] (Pilots can set their plane’s transponder—a device that sends information about the aircraft to controllers’ radar screens—to squawk a code of “7500,” which is the universal code that signals a plane has been hijacked. [USA Today, 8/12/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 17] ) Yet, White says, “we have made contact with the pilot and the pilot has told us everything is okay.” White adds, “We are trying to determine why he squawked hijack.” At 9:48 a.m., asked if anything more is known about the aircraft, White will tell Davis, “I have no update on Continental 321.” An hour later, White will again be talking to Davis about Flight 321. He tells him that it is “on the ground at Peoria,” in Illinois, and that the FBI is “approaching the aircraft at this time.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 11/4/2003] Further details about Continental Airlines Flight 321, and why it wrongly signals it has been hijacked, are unknown.
The FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, provides updates to FAA headquarters in Washington, DC, about the problems with Flight 93. At 9:41 a.m., John White, a manager at the Command Center, is talking to Doug Davis, the special assistant for technical operations in air traffic services at FAA headquarters. White says that Flight 93 has reversed course from its intended flight path (see (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001), its transponder signal has been lost (see (9:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and it is now descending and heading east. From 9:42 a.m., one of the Command Center managers (exactly who is unstated) gives the headquarters several updates on Flight 93’s progress and location. At 9:46 a.m., White tells Jeff Griffith, the FAA’s deputy director of air traffic, that Flight 93 is “29 minutes out of Washington, DC, and tracking toward us.” Two minutes later, in another conversation with Griffith, White confirms that Flight 93 has reversed course and is heading toward Washington. [Federal Aviation Administration, 10/21/2002; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 43-44]
Doug Davis. [Source: Federal Aviation Administration]John White, a manager at the FAA’s Command Center, suggests to Doug Davis, the special assistant for technical operations in air traffic services at FAA headquarters, that fighter jets should be launched in response to Flight 93. However, FAA headquarters is apparently unable to act on this suggestion. [Federal Aviation Administration, 10/21/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 29; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/10/2006] In the last few minutes, the Command Center has warned headquarters that Flight 93 is “29 minutes out of Washington” and approaching the city (see 9:41 a.m.-9:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 44]
Command Center Asks about Launching Fighters - Davis now tells White, “They’re pulling Jeff [Griffith, the FAA’s deputy director of air traffic] away to go talk about United 93.” White asks, “Uh, do we want to think, uh, about scrambling aircraft?” Davis replies, “Oh, God, I don’t know.” White says, “Uh, that’s a decision somebody’s gonna have to make probably in the next 10 minutes.” However, Davis only responds, “Uh, ya know everybody just left the room.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 10/21/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 29] This conversation takes place 13 minutes after the FAA’s Cleveland Center asked the Command Center whether anyone had asked the military to launch fighter jets to intercept Flight 93 (see (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 40]
Person Who Could Request Fighters Is Unavailable - Apparently there is only one person at FAA headquarters who is authorized to request military assistance, and Ben Sliney, the Command Center’s national operations manager, is told that no one can find him. Sliney will later recount: “I said something like, ‘That’s incredible. There’s only one person. There must be someone designated or someone who will assume the responsibility of issuing an order, you know.’ We were becoming frustrated in our attempts to get some information. What was the military response?” [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/10/2006] This lack of response to Flight 93 contrasts with the FAA’s earlier reaction to Flight 11, when Boston Center air traffic controllers contacted NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) themselves (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and even called military bases directly (see 8:34 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (8:34 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20]
Brigadier General David Wherley, the commander of the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) at Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, wants his fighter jets to intercept a suspicious aircraft coming down the Potomac River toward the capital, which is apparently thought to be Flight 93, although that plane has already crashed (see (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 79-81; 9/11 Commission, 8/28/2003]
Numerous Suspicious Aircraft - According to the Washington Post, the DCANG has learned there are “about a half-dozen suspicious aircraft in the air across the country, among them hijacked United Airlines Flight 93, on a path toward Washington.” Wherley will add: “Nobody knew it had crashed. We just knew there was an airplane out there that could be coming to Washington. We knew the threat was real.”
Fighters Launched due to False Report - The first three DCANG fighters to take off in response to the attacks are ordered to go after this alleged inbound aircraft. [Washington Post, 4/8/2002] Lieutenant Colonel Phil Thompson, the chief of safety for the DC Air National Guard, will later recall: “We had something coming down the Potomac at low altitude. Brigadier General Wherley is standing here, and we’ve got the tower with the Secret Service agent, and they want us to launch anything we’ve got. And the general said, ‘Do it.’” [Filson, 2003, pp. 81] DCANG pilot Billy Hutchison, who takes off at 10:38 a.m. (see (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001), will describe, “There was an aircraft coming down the Potomac that they needed me in the air for” that had to “be prevented from reaching the DC area.” He is told this aircraft is “coming from Pennsylvania.” [9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004] And pilot Marc Sasseville, who, along with Heather Penney Garcia, takes off at 10:42 a.m. (see 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001), later says: “We all realized we were looking for an airliner—a big airplane. That was Flight 93; the track looked like it was headed toward DC at that time.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; Vogel, 2007, pp. 446]
Incorrect Report Comes from Secret Service - According to Major David McNulty, the senior intelligence officer of the DCANG, his understanding is that “the information about the plane coming down the river” came from the Secret Service’s White House Joint Operations Center. [9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 ] FAA personnel are also receiving similar information from the Secret Service. At 10:32, an FAA employee tells John White, a manager at the FAA’s Herndon Command Center, “Secret Service is reporting one unknown eight miles out, flying inbound.” Two minutes later, this employee says they are “[t]rying to tell [the] Secret Service about [Flight] 93,” because the Secret Service is “a little bit behind, still getting reports.” They then tell White, “Secret Service is saying the aircraft they are talking is coming up the Potomac right now.” [9/11 Commission, 11/4/2003] Fire and rescue workers are evacuated away from the Pentagon site around this time, in response to a report from the FBI of a hijacked aircraft flying toward Washington (see (10:15 a.m.-10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). This may be the same alleged plane that the DCANG and FAA learn of. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A30 ; Fire Engineering, 11/2002]
Aircraft Supposedly a Helicopter - The incoming aircraft is apparently a false alarm. [9/11 Commission, 8/28/2003] After searching for it, Hutchison will be instructed to fly back toward Washington because, he will say, “the plane had been lost.” [9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004] According to a 9/11 Commission memorandum, “FAA tapes and transcripts” reveal the aircraft to be “an Army National Guard helicopter based out of Davison Field, Fort Belvoir, Virginia, which had become isolated in Maryland as events unfolded and which wanted to return to its home field.” [9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 ]
Secret Service Thinks Plane Crashed at Camp David - However, at 10:36, the FAA employee relays that the “Secret Service is saying they believe United 93 hit Camp David.” Seconds later, they add that the Secret Service is “confirming that UA 93 did go into Camp David.” [9/11 Commission, 11/4/2003] Even President Bush is given an incorrect report of a plane going down near Camp David around this time (see (10:37 a.m.-11:09 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 108] So this erroneous information may be what leads to Hutchison being informed that the aircraft he was sent after has been lost. [9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004]
Entity Tags: US Secret Service, David Wherley, Billy Hutchison, Phil Thompson, David McNulty, John White, Marc Sasseville, District of Columbia Air National Guard, Heather Penney Garcia, Federal Aviation Administration
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
The Secret Service reports that a United Airlines aircraft, Flight 182, is missing. Doug Davis, the special assistant for technical operations in air traffic services at FAA headquarters is talking over the phone with John White, a manager at the FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia. At 10:47 a.m., Davis informs White, “[United Airlines] 182, Secret Service is saying is missing.” Davis asks White to “find out for me” whether this is indeed the case. He adds that the flight is going from “Boston to Seattle.” [9/11 Commission, 11/4/2003] According to some accounts, Flight 182 is reported as missing at a later time. A Secret Service timeline of the morning’s events records the flight as being “unaccounted for” at 10:55 a.m. [Secret Service, 9/11/2001] And according to an FAA chronology, the plane is reported as being “unaccounted for” over an FAA teleconference at 11:40 a.m. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001] Presumably Flight 182 is located at some later time, although further details of this missing aircraft are unstated.
The US Coast Guard reports having received distress signals from three aircraft that are over the Atlantic Ocean, but these signals are soon determined to be false alarms, and one of the supposedly distressed aircraft is reported as not even flying on this day. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. S-26, S-29 ]
Three Planes Issued Distress Signals - At 11:18 a.m., it is reported on an FAA teleconference that the Coast Guard in Norfolk, Virginia, has received distress signals from United Airlines Flight 947, Continental Airlines Flight 57, and Air Canada Flight 65. [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. S-26 ]
Command Center Told to Notify Military - Fifteen minutes later, at 11:33 a.m., Jeff Griffith, the deputy director of air traffic at the FAA’s Washington, DC, headquarters, passes on the news about the three planes in a phone call with John White, a manager at the FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia. Griffith confirms that the distress signals received by the Coast Guard were from planes “in the Atlantic,” and instructs White, “Would you please make sure that NORAD is aware [of the three aircraft], and also the Services Cell,” meaning the Air Traffic Services Cell, a small office at the Command Center that is manned by military reservists (see (Between 9:04 a.m. and 9:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001). White replies, “I’ll do it.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001]
Flight Heading to Canada - Around the same time, according to a 2002 FAA report, it is reported on the FAA teleconference that United 947 is now heading toward Gander, in Canada, and is being managed by the Gander Area Control Center, which is the Canadian facility responsible for transatlantic flights. [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. S-28 ; MSNBC, 3/12/2010] However, a transcript of FAA communications on this day indicates that it is in fact the Continental Airlines flight that is heading toward Gander. According to that transcript, beginning around 11:40 a.m., White discusses the three suspicious flights over the phone with Doug Davis, the special assistant for technical operations in air traffic services at FAA headquarters. White says Continental 57 was originally destined for Newark, New Jersey, and air traffic controllers “have a track on the target” for this flight, which indicates that it is now heading to Gander. However, White says, controllers are “still looking” for the other two aircraft reported by the Coast Guard. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001]
Planes Found to Be Safe - At 11:46 a.m., it is reported over the FAA teleconference that “[a]ll three aircraft that the US Coast Guard reported hearing distress calls [from] are accounted for,” and all of them are fine. [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. S-29 ] A couple of minutes later, White updates Davis on what is now known. White says one of the aircraft that was reportedly transmitting a distress signal, Air Canada Flight 65, was never even airborne. He says it “landed last night and was scheduled to depart today, but the flight’s canceled.” He adds that another of the flights, United 947, has “returned to Amsterdam,” in the Netherlands. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001] Finally, at 12:27 p.m., it is reported over the FAA teleconference that Continental 57 has “landed in Gander.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. S-33 ]
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