!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News
Profile: Stephen Roebuck
Stephen Roebuck was a participant or observer in the following events:
The two F-15 fighter jets launched from Otis Air National Guard Base in response to the hijacked Flight 11 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001) are given guidance by an air traffic controller at the FAA’s Boston Center on flying into military airspace over the Atlantic Ocean, and then discuss details of their intended hold in that airspace with another Boston Center controller. [9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 2004]
Fighters Heading into Training Area - Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Duffy, the pilot of one of the fighters, talks over radio with the Boston Center controller who is working at the Cape Sector radar position. Duffy says the two fighters are “proceeding [on] our present heading of 250 for about 100 miles,” and adds that “Huntress”—the call sign for NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS)—“wants us to hold just south of Long Island, to see if we can get any more assistance.” The controller replies: “Okay, that’s fine. You are heading into the warning area.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001] By the “warning area,” he is referring to a military airspace training area over the Atlantic, just south of Long Island, known as “Warning Area 105” or “Whiskey 105.” [9/11 Commission, 9/22/2003 ; Spencer, 2008, pp. 85] The original flight strip for the two F-15s gave a destination of New York’s JFK International Airport, but the fighters have recently been redirected (see 8:54 a.m.-8:55 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 9/22/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 9/24/2003; 9/11 Commission, 2004]
Fighters Told They Can Contact Navy Control Facility - The controller continues, “If you want, if you can’t contact me, you can go to Giant Killer on 338.1.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001] (“Giant Killer” is the call sign for the Fleet Area Control and Surveillance Facility in Virginia Beach, Virginia—a Navy air traffic control agency that handles over-water military operations. [New York Times, 2/10/1997; Spencer, 2008, pp. 143] ) The controller then tells Duffy that he can contact Giant Killer, because “you’re going through their airspace.” Duffy replies, “Okay, I’ll do all that, thanks.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001] The Otis fighters are then handed on to another controller at the Boston Center. Stephen Roebuck, who is working at the Hampton Sector radar position, now communicates with them. [9/11 Commission, 9/22/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 2004] The Hampton Sector covers the area that includes the Whiskey 105 airspace.
Pilots Unable to Give Specific Information about 'Hold' - Roebuck asks the pilots of the fighters if they know their destination. They reply no, and say they need to hold in the western area of Whiskey 105. Roebuck wants information on the position they will hold at in Whiskey 105, but the pilots say they cannot give a specific location. Instead, they tell Roebuck to keep them in a “published hold” in the area. Roebuck asks if the fighters want a “radial” or a “latitude/longitude” hold, but is told they will maintain themselves.
Controller Finds Fighters' Unspecific 'Hold' Unusual - Due to the lack of information the pilots have provided him with, Roebuck is unsure what the fighters are going to do, and does not know how to clear airspace for their potential course. Roebuck will tell the 9/11 Commission that “normally, clearing area for fighters is very specific, so this unknown generic hold [is] extremely unusual. The fighters had an altitude, but did not issue an EFC [expect further clearance].” He assumes the purpose of the generic hold is that “if the fighters needed to move rapidly, they did not want to be encumbered by an air traffic technicality.” [9/11 Commission, 9/22/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 9/24/2003]
The FAA’s Boston Center notifies the two fighter jets launched from Otis Air National Guard Base in response to the hijacked Flight 11 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001) that a second aircraft has been hijacked, and then tells the fighters of the second crash at the World Trade Center. The fighters are currently flying into a military training area over the Atlantic Ocean, just south of Long Island, known as “Whiskey 105” (see 9:01 a.m. September 11, 2001). They are being handled by Boston Center air traffic controller Stephen Roebuck.
Pilots Told of Second Hijacking and Crash - Roebuck asks the pilots of the fighters if they are in contact with “company,” meaning the military, and they say they are. He then informs them of the report of a second aircraft being hijacked. [9/11 Commission, 9/22/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 9/24/2003; 9/11 Commission, 2004] However, one of the pilots, Major Daniel Nash, will later say he is not told the call sign of this second hijacked aircraft, “UAL 175, until after he landed.” [9/11 Commission, 10/14/2003 ] Roebuck hears from a colleague at the Boston Center that a second plane has hit the WTC. Just before 9:08 a.m., he notifies the Otis pilots of this. Roebuck will recall that he tries to communicate this “second event” to them calmly. [9/11 Commission, 9/22/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 9/24/2003; 9/11 Commission, 2004]
Pilot Switches into 'Combat Mode' - Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Duffy, the other Otis pilot along with Nash, will later recall his response to the news of the second crash, saying: “I look up and we’re about 60 or 70 miles outside Manhattan, and I can see the towers burning.… Okay, obviously everything just changed from my personal mind-set. We take off to go help somebody, and now as I look up and can see the burning I say, ‘Okay, now people are dying.’ It’s kind of hard to explain, but basically you switch into a combat mode where you say, ‘Okay, this just got real serious real fast.‘… Now people are dying and you’re thinking, ‘Okay, what do I have to do?’ And you have to put emotion aside because you don’t have time for it.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 60] Both pilots will later claim that prior to learning of the second hijacking and the second crash, they had been unaware that the first hijacked plane, Flight 11, had hit the WTC. [Filson, 10/2/2002; Filson, 10/22/2002; 9/11 Commission, 10/14/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 1/7/2004 ] However, recordings of communications at the Boston Center reveal that Duffy was told of that first crash at 8:55 a.m. (see 8:55 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 2004] Duffy and Nash are also told about the second crash by someone at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) around this time (see (9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Filson, 10/2/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 84]
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.