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Profile: Michael Strother
Michael Strother was a participant or observer in the following events:
The Norfolk Tower TRACON. [Source: Federal Aviation Administration]The FAA’s Norfolk Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) is briefly in charge of the three F-16s launched from Langley Air Force Base (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001), but it does not redirect them northward in line with the military’s orders, after the Langley air traffic control tower previously instructed them to fly east. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 96]
Jets Are Sent East instead of North - When NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) issued the scramble order (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001), it specified that the Langley jets be directed north toward Washington, DC. But as the jets were taking off, the Langley tower instructed them to go “090 for 60,” meaning they were to fly east for 60 miles (see (9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 1/9/2004; Spencer, 2008, pp. 142-143]
TRACON Does Not Redirect the Jets - When aircraft take off from Langley Air Force Base, control of them is passed from the Langley tower to the Norfolk TRACON. [9/11 Commission, 10/6/2003 ] Controllers at the TRACON are permitted to change an aircraft’s flight plan, in the case of the Langley jets the “090 for 60” instruction. [9/11 Commission, 12/1/2003 ] A 9/11 Commission memorandum will state that the Langley jets are “not bound to the 60 mile distance and could have turned to the north at any time they were directed to or had orders to do so.” [9/11 Commission, 10/6/2003 ] However, although the TRACON is aware that NEADS ordered the jets to head north, it does not redirect them toward this heading instead of going east. [9/11 Commission, 12/1/2003 ] According to the 9/11 Commission, the reason is that “both the lead Langley pilot,” Major Dean Eckmann, “and the FAA’s Norfolk TRACON facility… assumed the flight plan instruction to go ‘090 for 60’ was newer guidance that superseded the original scramble order instructions” issued by NEADS. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 96]
Pilot Agrees to Follow the Tower's Directions - At 9:33 a.m., Norfolk TRACON controller Michael Strother asks Eckmann what direction he wants to head in. Strother says, “Quit 2-5, are you going directly to the Langley 090 at 60?” If Eckmann wanted to go somewhere other than what is specified in the flight plan, Strother has the authority to grant the request. But Eckmann replies, “Affirmative.” He says, “That’s our second clearance,” and, referring to the NEADS scramble order, adds, “We had an earlier clearance of a vector and an altitude.” The 9/11 Commission will summarize, “Put simply, the Langley pilots received flight direction guidance from both the scramble order and the Langley AFB departure flight plan, and continued on the latter heading for several minutes until a direction and geographic destination was provided.” [9/11 Commission, 12/1/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 1/9/2004; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 96]
Navy Facility Takes Over Control of the Jets - Norfolk TRACON subsequently passes control of the three F-16s on to “Giant Killer,” the Fleet Area Control and Surveillance Facility in Virginia Beach, Virginia (see 9:33 a.m. September 11, 2001). This is the Navy air traffic control agency that handles all over-water military operations. [New York Times, 2/10/1997; 9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 1/9/2004; Spencer, 2008, pp. 143] It will not be until around the time the Pentagon is hit that the Langley jets are redirected to their correct heading (see 9:36 a.m. September 11, 2001), after NEADS notices they are going in the wrong direction (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 149-151]
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