Profile: New York Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC)
New York Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) was a participant or observer in the following events:
The FAA Command Center, the center of daily management of the US air traffic system. On 9/11 it is managed by Ben Sliney (not pictured here). [Source: CNN]The FAA’s Boston Center calls the FAA Command Center and says it believes Flight 11 has been hijacked and is heading toward the New York Center’s airspace. The Command Center immediately establishes a teleconference between the Boston, New York, and Cleveland air traffic control centers, so Boston can help the other centers understand what is happening, in case Flight 11 should enter their airspace. Minutes later, in line with the standard hijacking protocol, the Command Center will pass on word of the suspected hijacking to the FAA’s Washington headquarters (see 8:32 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 19; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 11 ; Spencer, 2008, pp. 21]
National Operations Manager Learns of Hijacking - A supervisor at the Command Center promptly passes on the news of the possible hijacking to Ben Sliney, who is on his first day as the national operations manager there. The supervisor says the plane in question is “American Flight 11—a 767 out of Boston for Los Angeles.” According to author Lynn Spencer, “Sliney flashes back to the routine for dealing with hijackings from the days when they were more common.” The procedure is to “[k]eep other aircraft away from the errant plane. Give the pilots what they need. The plane will land somewhere, passengers will be traded for fuel, and difficult negotiations with authorities will begin. The incident should resolve itself peacefully, although the ones in the Middle East, he recalls, often had a more violent outcome.” Apparently not expecting anything worse to happen, Sliney continues to the conference room for the daily 8:30 staff meeting there (see 8:30 a.m.-8:40 a.m. September 11, 2001).
Command Center a 'Communications Powerhouse' - The FAA Command Center is located in Herndon, Virginia, 25 miles from Washington, DC. According to Spencer, it “is a communications powerhouse, modeled after NASA’s Mission Control. The operations floor is 50 feet wide and 120 feet long, packed with tiered rows of computer stations, and at the front, seven enormous display screens show flight trajectories and weather patterns.” The center has nearly 50 specialists working around the clock, planning and monitoring the flow of air traffic over the United States. These specialists work with airlines and air traffic control facilities to fix congestion problems and deal with weather systems. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 1 and 19-20]
Flight 175 passes from the airspace of the FAA’s Boston Center to the airspace of the New York Center, which is in Ronkonkoma, New York. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 20 ] New York Center air traffic controller Dave Bottiglia takes over monitoring the flight from Boston Center controller John Hartling (see (8:34 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Flight 175 waits nearly 45 seconds to check in with Bottiglia. According to author Lynn Spencer, this is “rather long, and Bottiglia is just about to call the plane.” But then Captain Victor Saracini, the pilot of Flight 175, makes radio contact, saying, “New York, United 175 heavy.” [Gregor, 12/21/2001 ; Spencer, 2008, pp. 36]
Colin Scoggins, the military liaison at the FAA’s Boston Center, calls the FAA’s New York Center but is quickly cut off when the air traffic controller who answers says the center is busy dealing with a hijacking. According to author Lynn Spencer, Scoggins “calls New York Center to notify them that American 11 appears to be descending toward New York, most likely to land at JFK” International Airport. But the controller who takes the call snaps at him: “We’re too busy to talk. We’re working a hijack,” and then hangs up. According to Spencer, the New York Center controller is referring to Flight 175, but “Scoggins just figures that he’s talking about American 11. He has no idea that a second airliner is in crisis.” However, the timing of this call is unclear. If it is made while Flight 11 is descending toward New York, this would mean it occurs in the minutes before 8:46, when Flight 11 crashes (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). But in Spencer’s account, the call is made just after New York Center controller Dave Bottiglia notices that Flight 175’s transponder code has changed and he calls out to another controller, “I can’t get a hold of UAL 175 at all right now and I don’t know where he went to” (see 8:51 a.m.-8:53 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 48-49] The transcript of radio communications between the New York Center and Flight 175 shows that this would mean Scoggins’s call occurs around 8:53 a.m.-8:54 a.m., about seven minutes after Flight 11 crashes. [New York Times, 10/16/2001]
Victor Saracini. [Source: Family photo]Just after Flight 175 enters the airspace of the FAA’s New York Center (see 8:40 a.m. September 11, 2001), its pilot reports to the air traffic controller now managing the flight a suspicious transmission he had heard on departing Boston’s Logan Airport. The pilot, Captain Victor Saracini, tells the controller, Dave Bottiglia: “We figured we’d wait to go to your center. Ah, we heard a suspicious transmission on our departure out of Boston, ah, with someone, ah, it sounded like someone keyed the mikes and said, ah, ‘Everyone, ah, stay in your seats.’” [New York Times, 10/16/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 21; Spencer, 2008, pp. 36] Saracini is presumably referring to one of the three radio transmissions from Flight 11, where the voice of a hijacker could be heard (see 8:24 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (8:34 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, none of these had included the hijacker telling people to stay in their seats, as Saracini describes, although the second and third transmissions included the hijacker telling the passengers, “Nobody move.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 19] Bottiglia responds: “Oh, okay. I’ll pass that along.” Referring to the fact that this was the end of the transmission he heard, Saracini adds, “It cut out,” and then asks Bottiglia, “Did you copy that?” [Gregor, 12/21/2001 ; Spencer, 2008, pp. 36-37] This is the last radio transmission from Flight 175. The 9/11 Commission will conclude that the plane is hijacked within the next four minutes (see (Between 8:42 a.m. and 8:46 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 20 ] According to author Lynn Spencer, since controllers are only given information on a need-to-know basis, Bottiglia was unaware there were problems with Flight 11, which has not yet entered his airspace. He touches his computer screen to connect to the hotline for his sector controller, and then reports: “UAL 175 just came on my frequency and he said he heard a suspicious transmission when they were leaving Boston. ‘Everybody stay in your seats’—that’s what he heard… just to let you know.” [New York Times, 10/16/2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 36-37]
Dave Bottiglia. [Source: ABC News]After Flight 11 appears on his radar screen, Dave Bottiglia, an air traffic controller at the FAA’s New York Center, is informed that this aircraft is suspected of having been hijacked. Flight 175 entered Bottiglia’s airspace not long before this (see 8:40 a.m. September 11, 2001). [MSNBC, 9/11/2002; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 20 ] Its pilot has just told Bottiglia about the “suspicious transmission” (presumably from Flight 11) he heard while departing Boston airport (see 8:41 a.m.-8:42 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Gregor, 12/21/2001 ] Seconds later, Flight 11 also enters the area Bottiglia is monitoring and its target appears on his radar screen. The controller sitting next to Bottiglia gets up and points to the radar blip. He says: “You see this target here? This is American 11. Boston Center thinks it’s a hijack.” Bottiglia will later recall that his initial thought about Flight 11, based on this information, is that the hijackers “were probably going to Cuba.” As its transponder has been turned off (see (Between 8:13 a.m. and 8:21 a.m.) September 11, 2001), he has no altitude information for Flight 11, but can tell from the radar scope that it appears to be descending. According to author Lynn Spencer: “Even without a transponder, controller radars calculate ground speed for all radar targets, and when a plane is descending, the ground speed decreases. The flight had been ‘grounding’ 600 knots, and now it has decreased to 320.” Bottiglia follows Flight 11’s target on his radar screen until it disappears over New York City. [MSNBC, 9/11/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 37] Because he is focused on Flight 11, Bottiglia will not notice when Flight 175’s transponder code changes at 8:47 (see 8:46 a.m.-8:47 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 21; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 21 ] The New York Center was first notified of Flight 11’s hijacking at 8:25 a.m. (see 8:25 a.m. September 11, 2001), though this information was not passed on to Bottiglia. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 ; Spencer, 2008, pp. 36-37]
Bob Varcadipane. [Source: NBC News]At the air traffic control tower at Newark International Airport in New Jersey, controllers see the smoke coming from the World Trade Center in the distance and start calling other FAA facilities in the area about this. Controller Rick Tepper looks out the window of the tower across the Hudson River at New York City, and sees the huge cloud of smoke coming from the North Tower, which Flight 11 has crashed into it. He points this out to fellow controller Greg Callahan. In his office at the tower, Bob Varcadipane, the supervisor there, starts receiving a flood of phone calls reporting that a small aircraft has hit the WTC. According to author Lynn Spencer, “The assumption is that only a small plane could have gone so badly off course.” The Newark tower controllers start calling the towers at JFK, La Guardia, and Teterboro Airports, along with other air traffic control facilities in the area, to see if any of them has lost an aircraft. But none say they have; they have not yet been informed of the crash and are shocked at what they see when told to look out their windows at the burning WTC. Varcadipane calls the FAA’s New York Center to find out if they know whose plane hit the Twin Towers. He is told: “No, but Boston Center lost an airplane. They lost an American 767.” Varcadipane wonders if this 767 is the plane that hit the WTC, and says back: “I have a burning building and you have a missing airplane. This is very coincidental.” According to NBC: “a horrific realization dawns on controllers. American Flight 11, still missing from radar, finally has been found.” Word of the plane’s fate subsequently “quickly travels throughout the air traffic control world.” [MSNBC, 9/11/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 41-42] However, the FAA’s Indianapolis Center, which handles Flight 77, will reportedly not learn of the first hijackings until around 9:20 a.m. (see (9:20 a.m.-9:21 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 32 ]
Curt Applegate sitting next to his air traffic control terminal. [Source: NBC News]After being focused on Flight 11, Dave Bottiglia, an air traffic controller at the FAA’s New York Center, first notices problems with Flight 175. [MSNBC, 9/11/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 21] Both Flight 11 and Flight 175 have been in the airspace that Bottiglia is responsible for monitoring (see 8:40 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (8:42 a.m.-8:46 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Bottiglia has just watched Flight 11’s radar blip disappear, which means the plane has dipped below his radar’s coverage area, so is below 2,000 feet. But he does not yet realize it has crashed. He says aloud, “Well, we know he’s not high altitude anymore.” [MSNBC, 9/11/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 37] Around this time, Flight 175’s transponder changes twice in the space of a minute (see 8:46 a.m.-8:47 a.m. September 11, 2001).
Conflicting Accounts - According to MSNBC, “within seconds” of losing Flight 11’s blip, “Bottiglia has another unexpected problem.” While looking for Flight 11, he realizes that Flight 175 is also missing, and “instinctively… knows the two [planes] are somehow related.” He asks another controller to take over all of his other planes. [MSNBC, 9/11/2002] But according to the 9/11 Commission’s account, Bottiglia is still trying to locate Flight 11 after it crashes, and so it is not until 8:51 a.m. that he notices the problem with Flight 175 (see 8:51 a.m.-8:53 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 21 ]
'An Intruder over Allentown' - Around the time Flight 175 changes its transponder code, air traffic controller Curt Applegate, who is sitting at the radar bank next to Bottiglia’s, sees a blip that might be the missing Flight 11. He shouts out: “Look. There’s an intruder over Allentown.” According to the Washington Post, “In air traffic jargon, an ‘intruder’ is a plane with an operating transponder that has entered restricted airspace without permission.” In fact, it is the missing Flight 175. [Washington Post, 9/17/2001; MSNBC, 9/11/2002] However, these accounts make no mention of NORAD being notified about the problems with Flight 175 at this time. But according to a NORAD timeline released shortly after 9/11, NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) was alerted about Flight 175 by the FAA several minutes earlier, at 8:43 a.m. (see 8:43 a.m. September 11, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001]
Ben Sliney, the national operations manager at the FAA’s Herndon Command Center, learns that a plane has hit the World Trade Center, but it does not occur to him that this might have been the hijacked Flight 11 that he has been tracking. As national operations manager, Sliney is in charge of supervising all activities on the Command Center’s operations floor and overseeing the entire air traffic control system for the United States. He is currently on the operations floor, trying to gather and disseminate whatever information he can about Flight 11. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 2 and 45-46] At 8:48 a.m., a manager at the FAA’s New York Center provides a report on Flight 11 over a Command Center teleconference, saying: “We’re watching the airplane. I also had conversation with American Airlines, and they’ve told us that they believe that one of their stewardesses was stabbed and that there are people in the cockpit that have control of the aircraft, and that’s all the information they have right now.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 21] Although Flight 11 crashed two minutes earlier (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), this is all Sliney is currently hearing about the aircraft. The Command Center’s military liaison then approaches him. The liaison is a colonel who is responsible for handling military airspace reservations, but is not part of the NORAD chain of command. He tells Sliney to put CNN up on one of the center’s screens, because “They are reporting that a small plane has hit the World Trade Center.” Upon following this suggestion, Sliney and his colleagues see the television footage of the burning North Tower. Sliney is baffled, commenting aloud: “That’s a lot of smoke for a small plane. I’ve worked New York airspace. Why would you be right over the World Trade Center on a clear, bright day?” However, according to author Lynn Spencer, “The notion that it is actually American 11 that has hit the tower doesn’t cross his mind; the idea that the hijacking they’ve been tracking might have flown into that building, especially on such a clear day, is simply unfathomable.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 46]
A manager at the FAA’s New York Center speaks in a teleconference between air traffic control centers. The manager says: “Okay. This is New York [Center]. We’re watching the airplane [Flight 11]. I also had conversation with American Airlines, and they’ve told us that they believe that one of their stewardesses was stabbed and that there are people in the cockpit that have control of the aircraft, and that’s all the information they have right now.” The manager is unaware Flight 11 has already crashed. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] This appears to be a simplified version of flight attendant Betty Ong’s phone call, given to American Airlines leader Gerard Arpey and others minutes before (see (8:30 a.m.-8:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
The FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, establishes a teleconference with FAA facilities in the New York area. These facilities are the New York Center, the New York Terminal Radar Approach Control, and the Eastern Regional Office. The participants in the teleconference jointly decide to divert all air traffic that would otherwise enter the New York area, either to land or to overfly. Linda Schuessler, the deputy director of system operations at the Command Center, will later describe, “They [New York area air traffic control personnel] would continue to work what they’d been working, but we wouldn’t give them any more.” The teleconference participants’ decision does not affect takeoffs from the New York area. After the second World Trade Center tower is hit at 9:03 a.m., the Command Center will expand this teleconference to include FAA headquarters and other agencies (see 9:06 a.m. and After September 11, 2001). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 12/17/2001]
Technicians on the operations floor at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) receive what is apparently their first notification that a plane has hit the World Trade Center, in a phone call from the FAA’s Boston Center. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] NEADS ID technicians are currently trying to locate Flight 11, when they are called by Colin Scoggins, the military liaison at the Boston Center. ID tech Stacia Rountree answers the call. In response to Scoggins’s information, Rountree says to her colleagues, “A plane just hit the World Trade Center.” She asks Scoggins, “Was it American 11?” He tells her this is not confirmed. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 50] Another of the ID techs, Shelley Watson, starts murmuring in response to the news: “Oh my God. Oh God. Oh my God.” [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] A computer maintenance technician then runs onto the operations floor and announces that CNN is broadcasting that a 737 has hit the WTC. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 51]
NEADS Calls New York Center - Master Sergeant Maureen Dooley, the leader of the ID techs, tells Watson: “Update New York! See if they lost altitude on that plane altogether.” Watson immediately calls the FAA’s New York Center and asks, “Did you just hear the information regarding the World Trade Center?” When the person who answers her call says no, Watson explains, “Being hit by an aircraft.” The person at New York Center says, “You’re kidding,” but Watson adds, “It’s on the world news.” [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] One of the NEADS technicians is finally able to display the live CNN coverage on one of the 15-foot screens at the front of the room. People stare in silence at the footage of the burning North Tower. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 51]
The air traffic controller at the FAA’s New York Center who is responsible for monitoring Flight 175 sees the now-hijacked plane on his radar screen making a sharp turn (see (8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and is astonished as it rapidly climbs 3,000 feet. [National Transportation Safety Board, 2/19/2002 ; The Learning Channel, 8/20/2006] Around this time, the controller, Dave Bottiglia, first notices that Flight 175’s transponder code has changed (see 8:51 a.m.-8:53 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 21 ] As he will later recall: “As I’m watching, United 175 makes a hard left-hand turn and starts climbing. Not only did he make a sharp turn, but he also climbed 3,000 feet in a matter of approximately one minute, which is a very fast rate of climb.” Bottiglia will add, “This is something that we have never seen before.” He immediately turns to the manager at the New York Center and says, “I believe I just lost United 175.” [The Learning Channel, 8/20/2006] Yet, according to the 9/11 Commission, the center does not alert NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) to Flight 175 until 9:03 a.m. (see (9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 23]
Mike McCormick. [Source: Associated Press]Mike McCormick, the head of the FAA’s New York Center, sees the coverage of the first World Trade Center attack on CNN. He assumes that Flight 175, which he is tracking on his radar screen, is also headed into the WTC. He will recall: “Probably one of the most difficult moments of my life was the 11 minutes from the point I watched that aircraft, when we first lost communications until the point that aircraft hit the World Trade Center. For those 11 minutes, I knew, we knew, what was going to happen, and that was difficult.” [CNN, 8/12/2002] Yet, according to the 9/11 Commission, the New York Center will not notify NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) about Flight 175 until around the time it crashes, at 9:03 a.m. (see (9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 23]
Flight 175 almost collides in mid-air with at least two other planes as it descends towards Manhattan. At the FAA’s New York Center, air traffic controller Chris Tucker sees it turn toward the path of Delta Flight 2315, a Boeing 737 heading southwest at 28,000 feet. He tells the Delta pilot: “Traffic 2 o’clock. Ten miles. I think he’s been hijacked. I don’t know his intentions. Take any evasive action necessary.” The Delta plane begins to turn to get out of the way, but Flight 175 turns as well. According to the Washington Post, the two planes’ radar targets actually merge on the radar screen. Controller Dave Bottiglia later says, “It was a terrifying moment just to watch the two airplanes miss by less than, I think it was 200 feet.” Shortly after this near miss, Flight 175 almost collides with US Airways Flight 542, another 737, flying just below and four miles behind Delta 2315. This plane’s onboard collision alert system sounds an alarm as Flight 175 comes closer and closer to it. Its pilot descends, managing to avoid a collision. According to an early FAA report, after this incident, several New York air traffic controllers speculate that the unknown aircraft heading towards New York City—only later confirmed to be Flight 175—is an emergency and is heading for an airport to land. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 ; Washington Post, 9/17/2001; Newsday, 9/10/2002; MSNBC, 9/11/2002; Associated Press, 9/12/2002] Earlier on, Flight 175 nearly collided with Flight 11 (see (Shortly After 8:42 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and minutes later it will narrowly avoid another collision, with Midwest Airlines Flight 7 (see (9:01 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
The head air traffic controller at the FAA’s New York Center notifies a manager at the facility that she believes Flight 175 has been hijacked. The manager tries to notify regional managers about this, but cannot reach them because they are discussing the hijacking of Flight 11 and refuse to be disturbed. However, even though the controller managing Flight 175 said, “we may have a hijack” at 8:53 a.m. (see 8:51 a.m.-8:53 a.m. September 11, 2001), the 9/11 Commission will conclude that NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) is not notified about the aircraft until 9:03 a.m. (see (9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] The Commission’s account will conflict with previous accounts that state that NEADS was notified of the Flight 175 hijacking at 8:43 a.m. (see 8:43 a.m. September 11, 2001). The head of the New York Center, Mike McCormick, has already decided at 8:52 a.m. that Flight 175 has been hijacked and is on a suicide run to New York City (see (8:52 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [CNN, 8/12/2002]
About a half-dozen air traffic controllers at the FAA’s New York Center in Ronkonkoma, NY, watch Flight 175 on the radar screen in its final minutes, as it approaches Manhattan. [National Transportation Safety Board, 2/19/2002 ; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] Flight 175 is marked on the screen with the letter “I” for “intruder.” Initially, those at the center think it might be heading for Newark Airport, maybe for an emergency landing there. But controller Jim Bohleber says, “No, he’s too fast and low, he’ll never make Newark.” [Newsday, 9/10/2002] The controllers start speculating what Flight 175 is aiming for, with one of them guessing the Statue of Liberty. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] They are astonished at the extraordinary rate at which it is descending (see (8:58 a.m.-9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). A controller counts down its altitude, “Eight, six, four” thousand feet, and then says, “My god, he’s in the ground in the next step.” But someone else at the center says, “No, that’s the Trade Center right there.” [The Learning Channel, 8/20/2006] But, according to the 9/11 Commission, the New York Center does not notify NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) about Flight 175 until 9:03 a.m., the same time as it crashes into the South Tower (see (9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 23] Workers at the crisis center at United Airlines’ headquarters outside Chicago, also closely watch Flight 175 head into New York City on radar. [USA Today, 8/13/2002]
Air traffic controllers at the FAA’s New York Center who are watching Flight 175 on the radar screen (see (8:57 a.m.-9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001) see the aircraft descending at an astonishing rate of up to 10,000 feet per minute. [The Learning Channel, 8/20/2006] From 8:58 a.m., Flight 175 is constantly descending toward New York. [National Transportation Safety Board, 2/19/2002 ] One of the New York Center controllers, Jim Bohleber, is looking at his radar scope and calls out the plane’s rate of descent every 12 seconds, each time the screen updates, saying: “It’s six thousand feet a minute. Now it’s eight. Now ten.” [Newsday, 9/10/2002; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] Dave Bottiglia, the controller responsible for monitoring Flight 175, will later comment that 10,000 feet per minute is “absolutely unheard of for a commercial jet. It is unbelievable for the passengers in the back to withstand that type of force as they’re descending. [The hijackers are] actually nosing the airplane down and doing what I would call a ‘power dive.’” [The Learning Channel, 8/20/2006] While Flight 175 is in this rapid descent, it heads directly into the paths of several other aircraft, and narrowly avoids a mid-air collision with flight Midex 7 (see (9:01 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 73-76]
Gerald Earwood. [Source: MaryJo Walicki / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]Just one or two minutes before it crashes into the World Trade Center, Flight 175 narrowly avoids a mid-air collision with another commercial aircraft. [TMJ4, 6/25/2008] Midwest Airlines Flight 7 (Midex 7) is a DC-9 jet bound from Milwaukee to New York’s La Guardia Airport, with about 30 passengers and five crew members on board. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 6/24/2008] Pilot Gerald Earwood and co-pilot Eric Fjelstad have been concerned at the unusually slow radio responses they have been receiving from New York air traffic controllers. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 56-57 and 61-62] As they are approaching La Guardia from the southwest, Earwood is again frustrated as he awaits the controller’s response to his latest transmission. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 6/24/2008]
Instructed to Turn Left - Suddenly, the voice of a panicked controller comes over the radio: “Midex 7, are you with me? Midex 7, Midex 7, are you with me?” Unknown to Earwood, controllers have noticed that Flight 175 is now flying directly at his plane at over 500 miles per hour. Earwood replies, “Midex 7 is with you out of 7 for 4,000,” meaning he has just passed through 7,000 feet in his descent to his assigned altitude of 4,000 feet. The controller orders: “Roger, Midex 7, turn left now! Head two-four-zero degrees now, as quick as you can!” The pilots of Midex 7 begin a standard 30-degrees-of-bank turn. But even though they are doing exactly what they have been ordered to, the controller continues, “Left turn, Midex, left turn!” Several seconds later, the controller restates his order: “Midex 7, tighten it up! Roll left! Now! Now! Now!” Earwood looks out of the window for the plane he is meant to be avoiding, but cannot see anything.
Narrowly Avoids Collision - As Midex 7 is completing its left turn, the controller comes back over the radio even more panicked than before, ordering: ”Roll right, Midex! Roll right as hard as you can! Keep it tight, Midex. Roll hard right! Now! Now!” Midex 7 complies with the instruction, but Earwood is wondering where the plane is that he is trying to avoid. At the FAA’s New York Center, air traffic controllers watch as the radar returns for Flight 175 and Midex 7 get so close that they appear to merge on the screens. Finally, Flight 175 continues its rapid descent toward New York, after having narrowly avoided a collision. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 74-77] Midex 7 returns to its approach to La Guardia Airport, and then Earwood overhears a radio transmission from another pilot, who reports that a second plane has hit the World Trade Center. Earwood will later estimate that Flight 175 crashes into the South Tower 60 to 90 seconds after its near-collision with Midex 7. He sees the fireball coming from the tower, but does not immediately connect it with the aircraft he has just avoided. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 6/24/2008] Minutes earlier, Flight 175 almost collided with at least two other planes as it descended toward Manhattan (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and prior to that it had almost collided with Flight 11 (see (Shortly After 8:42 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Telegraph (Nashua), 9/12/2001; Washington Post, 9/17/2001] The incident with Midex 7 will not come to light until 2008, when it is described in the book Touching History: The Untold Story of the Drama that Unfolded in the Skies Over America on 9/11, by Lynn Spencer. [TMJ4, 6/25/2008]
In a conference call, Peter Mulligan, a manager at the FAA’s New York Center, tells the FAA Command Center in Herndon, Virginia: “We have several situations going here. It’s escalating big, big time. We need to get the military involved with us.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 10/14/2003, pp. 15 ] This is apparently a reference to the hijacking of Flight 175. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 22]
Manager Gives No Details of Aircraft - Mulligan does not initially give any details of the hijacked aircraft, such as its flight number, position, or heading, but soon leaves the phone to inform his military liaison of the hijack (see 9:01 a.m.-9:02 a.m. September 11, 2001). After about one minute, Mulligan comes back on the phone, says that the liaison has been notified, and adds: “We’re involved in something else. We have other aircraft that may have a similar situation going on here.” Again, he provides no detailed information about the second hijacked plane, whose number does not appear to be communicated to the FAA’s Command Center before it crashes. [Federal Aviation Administration, 10/14/2003, pp. 16-18 ]
9/11 Commission Confused - According to the transcript of the 9/11 Commission hearing at which a recording of the teleconference is played, it is the Herndon Command Center that says, “We’re involved with something else, we have other aircraft that may have a similar situation going on here.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] This version, which indicates the Command Center already knows about the hijacking of Flight 175 when Mulligan passes on the notification, is subsequently picked up by some media. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004; American RadioWorks, 9/2/2004; CBC, 9/12/2006] However, this will be altered in the Commission’s final report, which attributes the “We’re involved with something else” statement to Mulligan. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 22] The transcript of the call on which this section of the report is based indicates that the statement is actually made by Mulligan and that the 9/11 Commission is therefore only correcting an initial error it made at the hearing in its final report. [Federal Aviation Administration, 10/14/2003, pp. 18 ]
The FAA’s New York Center contacts the New York Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) and asks for help in locating Flight 175. Different air traffic controllers scan different altitudes, and TRACON controllers only deal with low-flying planes. These controllers have remained uninformed about the fate of Flight 11 until about now. “We had 90 to 120 seconds; it wasn’t any 18 minutes,” one controller wil later recall, referring to the actual elapsed time between the two crashes. Another controller will say of Flights 11 and 175: “They dove into the airspace. By the time anybody saw anything, it was over.” [New York Times, 9/13/2001; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]
The 9/11 Commission will later conclude that the FAA’s New York Center tells NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) that Flight 175 has been hijacked at this time. The Commission will refer to this as “the first indication that the NORAD air defenders had of the second hijacked aircraft.” The notification is apparently received from the military liaison at the New York Center (see 9:01 a.m.-9:02 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]
NEADS Technician Announces 'Second Possible Hijack' - Tape recordings of the NEADS operations floor will reveal ID tech Stacia Rountree answering the call from the New York Center, and saying out loud, “They have a second possible hijack!” [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] Colonel Robert Marr, the NEADS battle commander, will claim he first learns that an aircraft other than Flight 11 has been hijacked when he sees Flight 175 crash into the World Trade Center on television. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002] Lieutenant Colonel Dawne Deskins will claim that when she sees Flight 175 hitting the South Tower on television, “we didn’t even know there was a second hijack.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 59]
Conflicting Accounts - However, these accounts contradict NORAD’s claim that it makes shortly after 9/11 that NEADS was first notified about Flight 175 at 8:43 a.m. (see 8:43 a.m. September 11, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001] Additionally, as Flight 175 crashes into the WTC, Canadian Captain Mike Jellinek, who is working at NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado operations center, is on the phone with NEADS. He sees the crash live on television and asks NEADS, “Was that the hijacked aircraft you were dealing with?” The reply is yes. (However, it is unclear whether Jellinek is referring to Flight 175 or to the smoke coming from the crash of Flight 11.) [Toronto Star, 12/9/2001] If the 9/11 Commission’s account is correct, several questions remain unanswered. Flight 175 lost radio contact at 8:42 a.m. (see 8:41 a.m.-8:42 a.m. September 11, 2001) and changed transponder signals at 8:47 a.m. (see 8:46 a.m.-8:47 a.m. September 11, 2001); an air traffic controller declared it possibly hijacked sometime between 8:46 a.m. and 8:53 a.m. (see (Shortly After 8:46 a.m.) September 11, 2001); and an air traffic control manager called it hijacked at 8:55 a.m.(see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The Commission will not explain why the New York Center waits 10 to 16 minutes before warning NEADS that Flight 175 is possibly hijacked. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]
Rick Tepper. [Source: Eileen Blass]Air traffic controllers at Newark International Airport in New Jersey are on the phone with controllers at the FAA’s New York Center and are asked to find Flight 175 from their windows. They see it and watch in horror as it drops the last 5,000 feet and crashes into the World Trade Center. Controller Rick Tepper will recall: “He was in a hard right bank, diving very steeply and very fast. And he—as he was coming up the Hudson River, he—he made another hard left turn and—just heading for downtown Manhattan.… You could see that he was trying to line himself up on the tower. Just before he hit the tower, he almost leveled it out and just—just hit the building.” Newark tower immediately calls the FAA’s Herndon Command Center and says it will not land any more airplanes in Newark, in an effort to keep aircraft away from New York City. This is the first step in shutting down the national airspace system. [MSNBC, 9/11/2002]
In a series of stages, air traffic control managers ban aircraft from flying near the cities targeted by the hijackers. All takeoffs and landings in New York City are halted within two minutes of the Flight 175 crash (see 9:05 a.m. September 11, 2001). Mike McCormick, the air traffic control manager at the FAA’s New York Center, makes the decision. The FAA’s Boston Center follows suit in the next few minutes. Around 9:08 a.m.-9:11 a.m., departures nationwide heading to or through the New York and Boston regions’ airspace are canceled. [Associated Press, 8/12/2002; USA Today, 8/13/2002; Associated Press, 8/21/2002; Newsday, 9/10/2002] In addition, “a few minutes” after 9:03 a.m., all takeoffs from Washington Reagan National Airport are stopped. [USA Today, 8/11/2002]
After the second World Trade Center crash at 9:03 a.m., air traffic controllers at the FAA’s New York Center are told by their supervisors to watch for airplanes whose speed indicates that they are jets, but which either are not responding to commands or have disabled their transponders. Controllers in Washington receive a similar briefing, which will help them pick out hijacked planes more quickly. [New York Times, 9/13/2001] Whether controllers at other FAA air traffic control centers receive similar instructions at this time is unclear, but those at its Indianapolis Center, which is handling Flight 77, are apparently not informed by their supervisors of the unfolding crisis. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004; Spencer, 2008, pp. 105-107]
Bruce Barrett. [Source: H. Darr Beiser / USA Today]The FAA’s New York Center declares “air traffic control zero” (“ATC zero”), which means that all air traffic is prevented from departing from, arriving at, or traveling through the center’s airspace until further notice. [USA Today, 8/13/2002; Freni, 2003, pp. 18; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 24 ] According to author Lynn Spencer: “ATC zero is designed for situations in which an air traffic facility is completely incapable of handling aircraft due to a massive computer failure, power outage, or even a large enough weather system. The declaration pushes all their aircraft onto neighboring sectors, and any new airplanes from adjacent sectors are turned back, at the sector boundaries if necessary.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 68] The decision to declare ATC zero is made after the second plane hits the World Trade Center, confirming that the US is under terrorist attack. There are currently hundreds of aircraft in the skies around New York and the western Atlantic that the New York Center is responsible for. [Associated Press, 8/12/2002] Bruce Barrett, a senior manager at the New York Center, announces, “We’re declaring ATC zero,” and Mike McCormick, the center’s air traffic control manager, approves the order. Several of the managers there then start informing air traffic controllers of the decision.
Unprecedented Order - USA Today will report that this decision is unprecedented: “Controllers had gone to ‘air traffic control zero’ before, but only when their radar shut down or their radio transmitters went silent. The planes kept flying then, and controllers in other centers guided them. This time, ATC zero means something far more drastic. It means emptying the skies—something that has never been attempted. And not just the skies over Manhattan. Controllers must clear the air from southern New England to Maryland, from Long Island to central Pennsylvania—every mile of the region they control.… Controllers from Cleveland to Corpus Christi must reroute jets headed to the region and put some in holding patterns.”
Accounts Conflict over Whether Center Seeks Permission - According to USA Today, McCormick and Barrett declare ATC zero without first seeking permission from higher-ups, because a “call to Washington could take minutes, and they aren’t sure they have that long.” [USA Today, 8/13/2002] But according to Lynn Spencer, a New York Center supervisor has already requested ATC zero in a call to the FAA’s Herndon Command Center. Ben Sliney, the Command Center’s national operations manager, assured the supervisor, “You take care of matters in your center and we will provide all the assistance necessary by stopping any further aircraft from entering your airspace.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 68]
The two F-15 fighter jets launched from Otis Air National Guard Base in response to Flight 11 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001) have been directed to “Whiskey 105,” a military airspace training area over the Atlantic Ocean, just south of Long Island. According to the 9/11 Commission, “To avoid New York area air traffic and uncertain about what to do, the fighters were brought down to military airspace to ‘hold as needed.’ From 9:09 to 9:13, the Otis fighters stayed in this holding pattern.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20; Spencer, 2008, pp. 85] Otis pilot Major Daniel Nash will later comment, “Neither the civilian controller or the military controller knew what they wanted us to do.” [Cape Cod Times, 8/21/2002]
'Pushback' from FAA Controllers - By 9:08 a.m., Major Kevin Nasypany, the NEADS mission crew commander, had learned of the second World Trade Center crash and wanted to send the Otis fighters to New York City. However, according to Vanity Fair, the NEADS “weapons techs get ‘pushback’ from civilian FAA controllers, who have final authority over the fighters as long as they are in civilian airspace. The FAA controllers are afraid of fast-moving fighters colliding with a passenger plane, of which there are hundreds in the area, still flying normal routes.” [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 25 ; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] Author Lynn Spencer will add: “[L]ocal FAA controllers are busy shutting down New York’s airspace and are less than eager to grant the fighters access to the civilian airspace. They’re afraid of fast-moving fighters colliding with the hundreds of airliners that are still in the area. Many of those flights are doing unpredictable things just now, such as canceling their flight plans and changing course, and controllers are not convinced that they can provide adequate separation if fast-moving fighters are added to the mix. They just need a few more minutes, they keep saying.”
New York Center Not Answering Phone - Nasypany tries contacting the military liaison at the FAA’s New York Center, but no one is answering the phone. According to Spencer, “He wants the Otis fighters over New York, not in military airspace 100 miles off the coast, but he has little choice. Without permission from the FAA to penetrate the civil airspace over New York, NEADS must advise the Otis F-15 pilots… to continue to remain clear of the city.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 111-112]
Director Wants Jets 'Closer In' - At 9:10 a.m., the senior director on the NEADS operations floor tells the weapons director, “I want those fighters closer in.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 459] NEADS weapons controller Major Steve Hedrick asks Major James Fox, the weapons team leader, “Can we give [the fighters] a mission?” Fox replies, “Right now their mission is to hold.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 111] Then, at around 9:11 a.m., either the senior weapons director at NEADS or his technician instructs the Otis fighters to “remain at current position [holding pattern] until FAA requests assistance.”
Fighters Exit Holding Pattern for New York - Just before 9:13 a.m., the Otis pilots tell their controller at the FAA’s Boston Center that they need to establish a combat air patrol over New York. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 459] According to the 9/11 Commission, “Radar data show that at 9:13, when the Otis fighters were about 115 miles away from the city, the fighters exited their holding pattern and set a course direct for Manhattan” (see 9:13 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 24]
The two F-15s launched from Otis Air National Guard Base in response to Flight 11 finally exit their “holding pattern” off the Long Island coast, and fly directly toward New York. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 26 ] According to the 9/11 Commission, the two fighters had been sent to the military-controlled airspace over the Atlantic Ocean because they lacked a target, and so have been flying in this area for the last few minutes (see 9:09 a.m.-9:13 a.m. September 11, 2001). They are currently about 115 miles from the city. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20 and 24] Visibility is extremely clear and Lt. Col. Timothy Duffy, one of the two Otis pilots, will later recall that he can see the World Trade Center towers burning in the distance. He has just called NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) and asked: “What do you want me to do next? What do you need from me right this second?” [Cape Cod Times, 8/21/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 63]
NEADS Takes Control of Airspace - At NEADS, battle commander Colonel Robert Marr had lost patience waiting for approval from the FAA to send the Otis jets to New York, and so has just declared “AFIO” (Authorization for Interceptor Operations) for New York airspace, which gives the military authority to enter that airspace without permission (see (9:12 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 113] Therefore, a couple of minutes after Duffy made his inquiry, NEADS weapons controller Major Steve Hedrick gets back to him to relay the AFIO directive. Hedrick instructs Duffy: “Proceed direct to Manhattan and set up combat air patrol. NORAD has taken over control of the airspace.” Duffy confirms, “Okay, got that.”
Fighters Request Lower Altitude Clearance - Duffy, who is currently flying at 20,000 feet, immediately requests clearance from the FAA to fly at lower altitude. He calls its New York Center and identifies himself with his military call sign, saying, “Panta 4-5 needs to go direct to New York City and I need lower [altitude]… right now.” The controller gives him a heading and clears him to descend to 18,000 feet. After the two Otis jets exit military airspace at 9:13, they descend to 18,000 feet and Duffy asks the New York Center controller again for lower altitude clearance. He is given permission to descend to 16,000 feet, and upon further requests is allowed to go down to 11,000 feet. Finally, Duffy insists, “Guys, I need all the way to the surface!” and the controller replies: “Roger. Panta 4-5 is clear all altitudes.” “They just gave us the airspace,” Duffy will later recall. [Filson, 2003, pp. 63; Spencer, 2008, pp. 113-114]
Conflicting Times - According to the 9/11 Commission, the two Otis fighters will arrive over Manhattan at 9:25 (see 9:25 a.m. September 11, 2001), but numerous witnesses on the ground there will later recall only noticing fighters overhead after 10:00 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.-10:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 24]
An F-16 flies over New York City on September 12, 2001. Smoke is still rising from the World Trade Center.
[Source: Air National Guard]An air traffic controller at the FAA’s New York Center radios the pilots launched from Otis Air National Guard Base in response to Flight 11 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001) and tells them they may have to take out a hijacked aircraft. One of the two Otis pilots, Major Daniel Nash, will later recall, “The New York controller did come over the radio and say if we have another hijacked aircraft we’re going to have to shoot it down.” [BBC, 9/1/2002] However, he will add that this is just “an off-the-cuff statement.” [Cape Cod Times, 8/21/2002] It is unclear at what time this communication occurs, though a BBC documentary will place it at about the time the South Tower collapses, which would be around 9:59 a.m. [BBC, 9/1/2002] NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) has already radioed one of the Otis pilots to check that he is prepared to shoot down a hijacked aircraft (see (9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 153] But according to most accounts, the two pilots never receive an order from the military to shoot down hostile aircraft (see (After 9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 43; Boston Globe, 9/11/2005]
Personnel at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) are concerned about a group of US military aircraft that are approaching the United States across the Atlantic Ocean, which repeatedly fail to respond to their radio communications. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 246-247]
Staffer Says Aircraft Are 'Friendly' - At 10:31 a.m., a female member of staff at NEADS tells a caller—apparently someone in Canada—that the aircraft are “crossing your border right now.” She calls the aircraft “Gold 99,” referring to the call sign of one of the planes. She says, “We can’t get an aircraft type, but supposedly there’s four of them crossing your border, four aircraft,” and adds that the aircraft “are friendly.” She then tells the caller that the FAA’s New York Center “knows about it and everything,” and says the group of aircraft “has a mode 2,” which would mean they are military aircraft. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001] (“Mode 2” is a transponder mode of operation that is for military use only. [US Navy, 1993, pp. 3-3 ] ) The NEADS staff member then tells a colleague that the person at the New York Center that NEADS talked to about the suspect aircraft “said there is a mission,” but that person had been “very, very brief, because he had to go.” He had said of the aircraft, “All I can tell you right now, they’re okay, they know that they’re coming.”
Other Staff Member Says Aircraft Not Confirmed as 'Friendly' - Minutes later, at 10:34 a.m., another female member of the NEADS staff discusses Gold 99 with a male colleague and disputes whether the aircraft are indeed “friendly.” She says: “Wait a minute. That’s not confirmed, that they’re friendly.” She adds, “New York [Center] doesn’t know who it is.” Her colleague says, “Well, they’re the ones that told them that it’s Gold 99.” But the female staffer replies, “They were not told.” She adds, “I talked to New York [Center].” Another female member of staff then gives the instruction, “Don’t confirm them friendly yet.” About a minute later, that staff member continues: “All [the New York Center] had was [that] the Gold 99 is the mission flight, four ships.… No type aircraft.” The other female says, “They don’t know who it is right now.” Someone else says the New York Center “said they were too busy. They hung up.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001]
FAA's New York Center Says Aircraft Are Military Planes - Around this time, a female member of staff at NEADS contacts the New York Center to inquire further about the suspicious aircraft. She says to the person there that she is “trying to get some amplifying data” on the aircraft. The New York Center employee replies, “Gold 99 is one KC-10”—a military tanker aircraft—“accompanied by six A-10s,” which are military jet aircraft. He says the aircraft originated in “LEMO,” apparently referring to Morón Air Base in southern Spain by its International Civil Aviation Organization airport code. He also says the aircraft are on their way to Bangor International Airport in Maine. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; International Civil Aviation Organization, 1/12/2006 ]
NEADS Begins 'Unknown Rider' Procedure - At 10:36 a.m., one of the female NEADS staff members decides, “Let’s try unknown rider” on the group of aircraft. NEADS personnel then begin what appears to be a specific procedure. Another female staff member tries making radio contact with the aircraft over the “guard” frequency, which can be heard by all aircraft, no matter what other frequency they are on. She calls out: “Unknown rider, unknown rider at position 4123 north, 06532 west, this is Huntress [‘Huntress’ is the call sign for NEADS] on guard. Authenticate 283, south, kilo.”
Modified Communication Also Unsuccessful - She repeats this attempted communication with the aircraft, but receives no reply. She then tries a slightly different communication. At 10:39 a.m., she calls out: “Unknown rider, unknown rider at position 4120 north, 06551 west, this is Huntress on guard. Authenticate 8880506, alpha, alpha, alpha.” Several minutes later, at 10:44 a.m., this female staff member again calls out to the aircraft, asking the “unknown rider” to “authenticate.” Again, no response is received.
Aircraft Should Be in Radio Range - A male member of staff points out that the suspicious aircraft are only 174 miles away and therefore, he says, “They should be hearing us” over the radio. A female staff member agrees. One of the NEADS ID technicians therefore phones someone, possibly a colleague at NEADS. She asks him: “As far as authentication goes, how far out, this four-ship that’s coming in from this Canada East, how far out should they be able to hear us? Because nobody is coming back with an authentication and we’re trying to find out the range. Maybe they can’t hear us.” The person who answers the call replies: “They should be able to hear you out about as far as the radar coverage itself goes. If there was radar coverage, they should be able to hear you.” The ID technician says the aircraft are “within that, so, okay, copy.” But still the aircraft fail to reply when NEADS tries calling them. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001]
Fighters Intercept Suspect Aircraft - Two F-15 fighter jets scrambled from Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts will be directed to intercept the suspicious aircraft, reportedly shortly after 11:00 a.m. (see (11:04 a.m.) September 11, 2001). “Gold 99” will turn out to be a KC-10 tanker, as the New York Center stated. The aircraft with it are four A-10 jets, with the call signs “Mazda 41,” “Mazda 42,” “Mazda 43,” and “Mazda 44.” According to some accounts, the five aircraft are returning to the US from the Azores, off Portugal. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 2004; Spencer, 2008, pp. 246-247; Richard, 2010, pp. 21]
Two F-15 fighter jets from Otis Air National Guard Base, Massachusetts, patrol the airspace over New York, first assisting and then later replacing another pair of F-15s that arrived over the city earlier on. [9/11 Commission, 10/14/2003 ; Cape Cod Times, 9/11/2006; Richard, 2010, pp. 25-26, 88] The two fighters belong to the 102nd Fighter Wing, and are piloted by Major Martin Richard and Major Robert Martyn. They took off from Otis Air Base at around 10:30 a.m. (see (Shortly After 10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and have already intercepted a military cargo plane that was returning to the US from England (see (After 10:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Westover Patriot, 10/2001 ; 9/11 Commission, 10/14/2003 ; Richard, 2010, pp. 18-20]
Fighters Directed toward New York - The fighters were flying southwest toward New York when their pilots received orders from NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), instructing them to “continue southwest and set up a combat air patrol over bull’s-eye.” “Bull’s-eye”—the reference point from which all positional reporting originates—had been set as the location of the now-collapsed World Trade Center towers. The fighters therefore continued toward the city.
FAA's New York Center Does Not Respond to Communication - Richard and Martyn tried checking in with the FAA’s New York Center, but received no reply. NEADS therefore instructed them to instead check in with the FAA’s New York Terminal Radar Approach Control. As they were flying to New York, NEADS also told the two pilots that their mission was “to intercept, divert, or, if unsuccessful in those, to call them for authorization to shoot down” aircraft. Richard will later comment, “That certainly got our attention.” [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Richard, 2010, pp. 24]
Fighters Join Two Aircraft Already over New York - Two fighters that took off from Otis Air Base at 8:46 a.m. in response to the hijacked Flight 11 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), piloted by Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Duffy and Major Daniel Nash, arrived over New York earlier in the morning (see 9:25 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (9:45 a.m.-10:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and established a combat air patrol over the city. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20, 24; Boston Globe, 9/11/2005] Richard and Martyn arrive, joining these two fighters over New York, at approximately 11:00 a.m., Nash will say. [9/11 Commission, 10/14/2003 ]
Fighters Set Up a 'Point Defense' around New York - Martyn then calls Duffy over the radio. Referring to his own fighter by its call sign, Martyn says, “Panta one is on station at 15,000 feet.” Duffy instructs him, “Panta one, orbit over bull’s-eye and stand by.” Richard will describe the tactic the four fighters then employ, writing: “Duff decided to set up a point defense around the city.… Ground Zero was our reference point and the targets in the area were called out in reference to it.… Since we were flying in a void of actionable information, we decided that the most effective way to win this battle was to let the enemy come to us.” [Richard, 2010, pp. 25-26] While Duffy and Nash fly about 10,000 feet above New York, Richard and Martyn fly at around 18,000 feet. [Filson, 10/2/2002]
Fighters Intercept and Identify Aircraft - Richard will recall that he and Martyn “darted around the city, chasing down airliners, helicopters, and anything else in the air,” making sure that “everything in the air was visually identified, intercepted, and guided to land at the closest airfield.” [Richard, 2010, pp. 36] They spend several hours identifying helicopters that have no flight plans and are heading for Ground Zero. Many of these helicopters belong to organizations that want to help, and are there to provide relief and aid. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Richard, 2010, pp. 74] When necessary, the two fighters are able to refuel from a KC-135 tanker plane that is orbiting above them at 20,000 feet.
Fighters Replaced by Other Aircraft from Otis Air Base - After Duffy and Nash head back to Otis Air Base (see (2:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001), Richard and Martyn continue clearing the skies over New York and eastern New Jersey. Richard will describe the following few hours as “mostly boredom interspersed with moments of sheer terror.” [Richard, 2010, pp. 72, 74, 88] Richard and Martyn finally return to Otis Air Base at around 6:00 p.m. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001] Another two F-15s belonging to the 102nd Fighter Wing take their place patrolling the airspace above New York. These fighters are flown by pilots that Richard will only refer to by their nicknames, “Psycho Davis” and “Doo Dah Ray.” These pilots participated, along with Richard, in a training mission over the Atlantic Ocean early this morning (see (9:00 a.m.-9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Richard, 2010, pp. 88]
The FAA’s New York Center receives an e-mail, directing it to retain all data and records for September 11, yet one of the center’s managers will later ignore this directive and deliberately destroy a tape on which six of the center’s air traffic controllers recalled their interactions with two of the hijacked aircraft. [New York Times, 5/6/2004; Washington Post, 5/6/2004; Air Safety Week, 5/17/2004]
Directive Intended to Preserve Records - The directive has been issued by the air traffic evaluations and investigations staff at the FAA’s headquarters in Washington, DC. This staff is the FAA’s policy authority on aircraft accident and incident investigations. According to its manager, the intent of the directive is to preserve all voice communications, radar data, and facility records that would have been returned to service after the normal 15-day retention period.
E-mail Says Retain All Records - The directive is communicated to the New York Center in an e-mail from the FAA’s eastern region quality assurance manager. The e-mail states: “Retain and secure until further notice ALL administrative/operational data and records.… If a question arises whether or not you should retain the data, RETAIN IT.” It includes a phone number to call, should the recipients have any questions. [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 ]
Manager Disregards Directive - Both Mike McCormick, the New York Center manager, and Kevin Delaney, the center’s quality assurance manager, who was instructed to tape-record the controllers’ witness accounts on September 11 (see 11:40 a.m. September 11, 2001), receive this e-mail. Yet Delaney does not follow the directive, as he will subsequently destroy the tape with the controllers’ statements on (see Between December 2001 and February 2002). [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 ; US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 ; Air Safety Week, 5/17/2004]
Two Reasons for Ignoring Directive - Delaney will later give Department of Transportation investigators two reasons why he ignores the directive. Firstly, he will say he did not consider it to apply to the tape of the controllers’ statements, “because he felt the tape had been created in violation of FAA air traffic policy.” Secondly, he will claim the directive “could not have been intended to apply to the tape-recorded statements, since the region and FAA headquarters did not know of the tape’s existence” (see September 12, 2001-October 2003). [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 ] However, Air Safety Week will state that, according to “experienced criminal investigators,” “[w]hether higher authorities were aware or not, [and] whether the tape was a temporary or permanent record, is immaterial.” [Air Safety Week, 5/17/2004]
The FAA’s New York Center submits a “formal accident package” of evidence relating to the 9/11 attacks to FAA headquarters in Washington, DC, but a manager at the center deliberately excludes from it an audio tape on which several air traffic controllers recalled their experiences with the hijacked aircraft. [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 ; Washington Post, 5/6/2004] This tape was created on September 11, shortly after the attacks occurred, when six controllers at the New York Center who communicated with, or tracked, two of the hijacked aircraft were recorded giving their personal accounts of what happened (see 11:40 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 5/6/2004] The tape was then logged into the center’s formal record of evidence. [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 ]
Evidence Package Required for Air Accidents - FAA policy requires that a formal accident package be provided for all aircraft accident investigations, including military investigations, when FAA air traffic facilities were, or may have been, involved in the accident. A formal accident package must include “all pertinent records, personnel statements, transcriptions of voice recordings, charts, operation letters, letters of agreement, and facility memoranda.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 8/16/2000 ] Kevin Delaney, the New York Center’s quality assurance manager, has had an argument with FAA headquarters over whether the events of 9/11 should be declared an aircraft accident or an incident. Less information needs to be provided in an incident package than in an accident package. But as the 9/11 attacks are deemed an accident, Delaney is supposed to provide the names of everyone involved in them, including those that died at the World Trade Center. He must also provide transcripts and other information relating to the status of the aircraft involved, which would not be included in an incident package. [9/11 Commission, 9/30/2003 ]
Package Returned for Extra Work - The New York Center submits its formal accident package to FAA headquarters in November 2001, but the package is returned to the center the following month for additional work. It is re-sent and finalized in May 2002.
Delaney Decides to Omit Tape - The formal accident package includes written statements about the 9/11 attacks that have been provided by controllers whose accounts were recorded on the audio tape (see (Between September 11 and October 2, 2001)). But Delaney makes a conscious decision not to also include that tape in the package. His reason for this, he will later say, is that including it would mean losing control of the tape, thereby being unable to keep a promise he made to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association that he would “get rid of” it (see October 2001-February 2002). At some point after the initial submission of the package, between December 2001 and February 2002, Delaney deliberately destroys the tape of the controllers’ statements (see Between December 2001 and February 2002). [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 ]
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