Profile: Thomas McGuinness
Thomas McGuinness was a participant or observer in the following events:
Thomas McGuinness. [Source: Courtesy photo]Thomas McGuinness, who will who be the co-pilot of American Airlines Flight 11—the first plane to hit the World Trade Center—on September 11, only arranges to be on that flight the afternoon before, pushing from it the original co-pilot, who assigned himself to the flight less than 30 minutes earlier. [Peter Scheibner, 8/30/2011; WYFF 4, 9/10/2011; KSAX, 1/20/2012] The original co-pilot of Flight 11 is Steve Scheibner, a Baptist pastor and a commander in the Naval Reserves, who also works part-time as an on-call pilot for American Airlines. [New York Times, 2/27/2000; Portland Press Herald, 3/1/2003; Fergus Falls Daily Journal, 1/20/2012]
Pilot Puts Name Down for Flight 11 - Scheibner will later describe how McGuinness comes to take his place on the flight. He will recall: “I was available to go flying on September 11. So at about three o’clock in the afternoon of September 10 I sat down at the computer and I logged in like I normally do, to check to see if there was any unassigned flying for the next day. And sure enough there was one trip that was available on September 11. It was American Airlines Flight 11 out of Boston’s Logan Airport to Los Angeles.… And I looked at it and there was no pilot assigned to it yet.” Scheibner checks to see if there are any reserve pilots available, but, he will say, “It just so happened [that] on September 11, 2001, there was only one guy available to go flying on that day and that was me.” He therefore puts his name down for Flight 11. Scheibner tells his wife he will be flying to Los Angeles the following day, packs his bags for the flight, and takes them out to the car ready.
Pilot Receives No Confirmation Call from Airline - However, shortly after Scheibner puts his name down for the flight, McGuinness takes the position from him. Scheibner will say how this comes about. According to Scheibner, the “final assignment” of a pilot to a flight involves a phone call from American Airlines, where someone from the airline will say, “Hey, we wanna let you know you’ve been assigned a trip.” Once this call has been made, even if another pilot wants to take your place, they cannot do so. There is therefore “a 30-minute window of opportunity” to replace a pilot who has already been assigned to a flight. After that, “Once that phone call gets made, it’s a done deal.” But after Scheibner signs up for Flight 11, the anticipated call from American Airlines never comes. Later on, during the evening, Scheibner thinks, “You know, they never assigned that trip to me.”
McGuinness Replaces Scheibner as Co-Pilot - Scheibner will explain what instead happens. He will say that McGuinness is one of American Airlines’ “line holding pilots” and is a “little bit senior” to him. At “about three o’clock in the afternoon,” Scheibner will say, McGuinness “went over to the computer and he logged in and he looked and he saw that [Flight 11] was open, but my name had been penciled in.” McGuinness knows he is “still in that 30-minute window of opportunity,” and so he calls American Airlines and asks: “Am I legal to take this trip? In other words, can I bump Scheibner off that trip?” According to Scheibner, American Airlines says, “Yep, you’re legal for that trip, but you gotta give us a call back in the next 20 minutes, or else we’re gonna finalize the assignment.” McGuinness does indeed call the airline again and tells it he will take the flight. “At that moment,” Scheibner will say, American Airlines “erased my name off the trip [and] they assigned it to Tom [McGuinness].” [Peter Scheibner, 8/30/2011] For a pilot to take another pilot’s place like this is a rare occurrence. In 2011, Scheibner will note, “I can count three times in 20 years at American Airlines that I’ve been bumped from a trip the night before.” [WYFF 4, 9/10/2011]
Scheibner Learns Flight's Fate from Airline Website - On September 11, Scheibner will not initially realize that the flight he tried to be on was targeted in the terrorist attacks. It will only be in the evening that he will be wondering who was on the flight he signed up for, and so log into the American Airlines website to check. He will recall: “I logged in and when the screen came up in front of me, it looked exactly like it did the day before when it had that trip and it had my name penciled in. Except this time it had this trip sequence, my name wasn’t there, and it said these three words: ‘Sequence. Failed. Continuity.’” These words are the code the airline uses to say, “The trip never made it to its destination.” [Peter Scheibner, 8/30/2011] John Ogonowski, who will pilot Flight 11 on 9/11, is, like McGuinness, not originally supposed to be on that flight, but is scheduled to take it shortly before September 11 (see Shortly Before September 11, 2001). [Georgetown Record, 9/18/2003; Georgetown Record, 9/7/2005] Pilots on two of the other aircraft hijacked on 9/11 are also not originally scheduled to fly that day, but are booked onto those planes shortly before September 11 (see Shortly Before September 11, 2001 and Shortly Before September 11, 2001). [New York Times, 9/13/2001; Denver Post, 12/16/2001; MSNBC, 9/11/2006]
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