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Profile: Linda Justice
Linda Justice was a participant or observer in the following events:
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]
Flight 93’s transponder, which was switched off after Flight 93 was hijacked, is turned back on just before the plane crashes, thereby revealing the plane’s altitude to air traffic controllers at the FAA’s Cleveland Center. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001; MSNBC, 9/11/2002] A transponder is a device that sends a plane’s identifying information, speed, and altitude to controllers’ radar screens. [Washington Post, 9/16/2001] Flight 93’s transponder was switched off at around 9:40 a.m. (see (9:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001), although Cleveland Center controllers have still been able to follow Flight 93 on “primary radar,” which shows less information about a flight (see (9:41 a.m.-10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1/8/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 29; Cleveland Plain Dealer, 7/3/2011]
Plane Shown to Be Flying at 8,200 Feet - Flight 93’s transponder is reactivated at 10:02 a.m. and 50 seconds, and then stays on for “approximately 20 seconds,” according to “information from the flight data” provided to the FBI later today by Rick Kettell, the manager of the Cleveland Center. After the transponder is turned back on, Flight 93’s radar track is observed by Cleveland Center controllers Linda Justice and Stacey Taylor. The information from the transponder shows them that Flight 93 is at an altitude of 8,200 feet. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 9/16/2001 ; 9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003 ]
Plane Soon Disappears from Radar Screens - Flight 93 will crash into the ground at 10:03 a.m. and 11 seconds, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, less than 30 seconds after the transponder is reactivated (see (10:03 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 30] Cleveland Center controllers will see the plane completely disappear from their radar screens around that time. [MSNBC, 9/11/2002] A Cleveland Center controller will then report, apparently over an FAA teleconference, that Flight 93’s transponder “came on briefly and then it went back off with the primary, and now we’ve lost him completely.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001] “I had two radar hits on [Flight 93],” Taylor will recall, adding that she then “lost the primary target on [Flight 93] and we suspected it had gone down.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/16/2001 ] The reason Flight 93’s transponder is switched back on just before the plane crashes is unclear. Taylor will comment, a year after 9/11: “That’s something we’ve always wanted to know. Why did the transponder come back on?” She will say Cleveland Center controllers wondered this because they believed that “the hijackers had shut it off so that they couldn’t be tracked.” [MSNBC, 9/11/2002]
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