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Profile: Mitch Gross
Mitch Gross was a participant or observer in the following events:
Future 9/11 hijacker Fayez Ahmed Banihammad attempts to get into an airplane cockpit on a test flight across the US, according to flight attendant Gregory McAleer. McAleer is employed by United Airlines. He will later claim to the 9/11 Commission that on August 30, 2001, he is working on Flight 514, a Boeing 737-300 flying from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport to Logan Airport in Boston.
Strange Encounter - Early in the boarding process a Middle Eastern male enters the airplane with a “jump seat” pass. This pass allows the person to sit in the jump seat, an extra seat in the airplane’s cockpit. Typically, only licensed pilots employed by US domestic airlines are given these passes. The man is not dressed in a pilot’s uniform, but wears casual clothes and carries a suitcase. McAleer sees this man entering the cockpit and talking to the pilot and copilot. After a few moments, the man leaves the cockpit and takes a seat in the coach section. McAleer is curious and asks the pilot about the man. The pilot says the man can’t use the jump seat since he doesn’t have the proper ID. Later in the flight, McAleer has a chance to question the man while both of them are waiting to use the lavatory. The man claims to be a pilot for a regional airline, but when McAleer, who has a pilot’s license, asks him questions about his job and his knowledge of flying, the answers don’t add up and the man also asks him some suspicious questions. McAleer finds the man’s behavior so suspicious that he wonders at the time if he could be a terrorist.
FBI and United Airlines Not that Interested - Several days after 9/11, McAleer will contact the FBI’s Chicago field office about the incident. An FBI agent takes his information, but does not seem very interested or even comprehending about the jump seat idea. Several days after that, McAleer describes the incident to a United Airlines flight attendant supervisor. After conferring with a manager, the supervisor tells him: “Do not talk to the FBI again. I went to [United Airlines assistant station manager] Mitch Gross and he told me to tell you not to talk to the FBI again. If you have any concerns you can call the [United Airlines] Crisis Center. The FBI agents are working on the case.” McAleer gives the information by phone to the Crisis Center, but he still is unsatisfied. He later tells the story to Gross, and Gross tells him, “You are not to talk to anyone about this.” On September 27, 2001, McAleer will read a local newspaper article that shows the pictures of all of the 9/11 hijackers for the first time (see September 27, 2001), and he quickly concludes that hijacker Fayez Ahmed Banihammad was the suspicious man who had flown on Flight 514. McAleer continues to try to raise the issue, for instance with United Airlines corporate security, but without much success.
FBI Stops Media Coverage - Eventually, McAleer will come in contact with a USA Today reporter named Blake Morrison. After checking with the FBI, Morrison decides to write a story about McAleer’s experience. However, at the last minute, the FBI contacts Morrison and asks him not to run the article. As a result, the article only runs in the international edition of USA Today, on June 12, 2002. Morrison later tells McAleer that an FBI source told him that Banihammad’s name was not on the flight manifest. This does not surprise McAleer, since people using jump seat passes or companion passes are not usually on the manifest. The 9/11 Commission will not mention McAleer’s story at all, and will dismiss the jumpseating issue in general. [9/11 Commission, 8/12/2003 ]
Legal Implications - There will be reports that other 9/11 hijackers used test flights to try to get into cockpits, and some tried to sit in jump seats (see November 23, 2001 and November 23, 2001). There will also be reports that jump seats were used by the hijackers in the 9/11 attacks (see September 24, 2001 and November 23, 2001).
Jumpseating will become a contentious issue, because if it could be shown that the 9/11 hijackers were able to get into cockpits using jump seats, American Airlines and United Airlines could be sued for significant damages. In fact, McAleer’s account will later be used in a 9/11 negligence lawsuit against United Airlines. In 2011, it will be reported that attorneys in the lawsuit are attempting to depose the agents who interviewed McAleer, but the Justice Department is refusing to let the agents testify. [WBUR NPR Boston, 1/31/2011]
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