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Profile: Tom Mannello

Tom Mannello was a participant or observer in the following events:

United Airlines Flight 23, a Boeing 767 bound from JFK International Airport in New York to Los Angeles, cancels its takeoff and may thus avoid becoming the morning’s fifth hijacked plane. It was scheduled to depart at 8:30 a.m., but was late in pushing back from the gate and is still waiting in line to take off. (Associated Press 9/13/2001; Wald 10/20/2001) The plane’s pilots, Tom Mannello and Carol Timmons, have heard a report over their radio that a plane has flown into the World Trade Center. They then receive a text message from United Airlines dispatcher Ed Ballinger, which reportedly states: “We have gone to heightened security. Do not open cockpit doors. Secure the cockpit.” (Spencer 2008, pp. 102-103) This is presumably the message Ballinger sent out at 9:19 (see 9:19 a.m. September 11, 2001), though it seems to be more like a description of the message he sends out at 9:32 (see 9:32 a.m.-9:33 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 37 and 39)
Pilots Alarmed at Warning - Having never received a warning like this before, the pilots are alarmed. Timmons starts barricading the cockpit door with their suitcases while Mannello grabs the crash ax for protection. Mannello calls the plane’s lead flight attendant to inform her of the threat, and tells her not to open the cockpit door under any circumstances. Soon afterwards, she calls back and informs him: “We [the plane’s flight attendants] just think you should know this because we think it is unusual. We have four young Arab men sitting in first class this morning.” (Spencer 2008, pp. 103) (Other accounts will claim there are three or even six suspicious passengers on the flight. (Associated Press 9/13/2001; Davis 4/14/2004) ) Mannello hasn’t been told what the reported threat is about or if it relates to Arabs, so simply thanks the attendant for the information. Minutes later, the pilots receive a radio message from ground control, announcing, “All aircraft, be advised that the airport is now closed.” A subsequent message announces the airport is being evacuated. Mannello decides to move his aircraft back to the terminal. (Spencer 2008, pp. 103-104)
Arab Passengers Become Aggressive - After the passengers are told their flight has been canceled, the Arab men become upset. They stand up and start urgently consulting with each other, and then refuse to return to their seats. (Associated Press 9/13/2001; Wald 10/20/2001) One official will later describe: “These guys got belligerent, and said something like, ‘We’ve got to be on this plane.’ They expressed a desire to remain on the plane and resisted getting off.” (Levy and Rashbaum 9/14/2001) According to the Associated Press, “The argument with a member of the flight crew became so heated that the crew member called airport security. But before security arrived, the men had vanished.” (Associated Press 9/13/2001)
Evidence Indicates Plans for Hijacking Plane - Authorities will later check the men’s unclaimed baggage and find box-cutters, copies of the Koran, and al-Qaeda instruction sheets. (Davis 4/14/2004; Spencer 2008, pp. 105) In 2002, apparently referring to this incident, Lieutenant General Ken Pennie, the deputy commander of NORAD, will state, “We suspect there might have been more than just the four aircraft involved” as targets for the 9/11 attacks. (Ha 6/13/2002) The FBI will investigate this incident and go through the flight manifest to determine the names of the Arab men, who are believed to have had ticketed reservations. (Associated Press 9/13/2001; Levy and Rashbaum 9/14/2001) Investigators will interview the plane’s crew nearly half a dozen times. But no information about the suspicious Arab passengers is ever released to the public. (Spencer 2008, pp. 105) On September 14, it is reported that investigators believe at least one of these passengers was among a number of individuals taken into custody at JFK and La Guardia Airports the previous day (see September 13-14, 2001). (Levy and Rashbaum 9/14/2001) However, these detained individuals are soon cleared of any connection with the events of 9/11 and are released. (Associated Press 9/14/2001) In 2004, Representative Mark Kirk (R-IL) will say the suspicious Flight 23 passengers were never found and are likely still at large. (Davis 4/14/2004)

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