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Profile: United Airlines
United Airlines was a participant or observer in the following events:
Dorothy Hunt. [Source: Spartacus Educational]Dorothy Hunt, the wife of accused Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972), dies in a plane crash that claims the lives of 44 others when it crashes just after takeoff from Chicago’s Midway Airport. Some believe that the plane crash may have been planned, though there is no hard evidence to support this contention.
Blackmailing the White House? - Hunt and his fellow “Plumbers” (see Late June-July 1971) have been regularly receiving “hush money” payments from the Nixon presidential campaign to stay quiet about their activities (see March 20, 1971). With the prospect of going to prison, Hunt threatened to reveal juicy details of who exactly paid him to organize the Watergate burglary. His wife helped negotiate a payoff deal with Nixon aide Charles Colson. Hunt’s fellow Plumber, James McCord, will later claim that Dorothy Hunt said that her husband has information that would “blow the White House out of the water.” She was, Colson later admits, “upset at the interruption of payments from Nixon’s associates to Watergate defendants.” Former Attorney General John Mitchell, the head of Nixon’s re-election organization, arranged to have Nixon aide Frederick LaRue pay the Hunts $250,000 to keep their mouths shut. The day of the crash, Dorothy Hunt had arranged to meet with CBS journalist Michelle Clark, perhaps to discuss the Watergate investigation. Clark, Dorothy Hunt, and Illinois congressman George Collins are aboard the plane, United Airlines Flight 533, when it crashes into a Chicago neighborhood; all three die. Hunt is reported to be carrying $10,000 in cash as a partial payoff for the burglars (see February 28, 1973), but some sources will later claim that she was carrying far more. [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007] Shortly after the crash, White House aides H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman tell Nixon that Mrs. Hunt had distributed $250,000 in cash to her husband and the other Watergate burglars. The cash was delivered to Mrs. Hunt by White House courier Tony Ulasewicz, whose standard procedure was to take cash from the White House to Washington’s National Airport and leave the money in a rented locker. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 551] In October 1974, Watergate burglar Bernard Barker will confirm that Dorothy Hunt was the burglars’ connection to the White House. Barker will recall that, months after the burglary, he met her in Miami, where she told him, “From now on, I will be your contact.” [Harper's, 10/1974]
FBI 'Swarms' Crash Site - One reporter, Lalo J. Gastriani, later reports that just after the crash, the downed plane is swarmed by “a battalion of plainclothes operatives in unmarked cars parked on side streets.” The neighbors who report this to Gastriani say that some of the “operatives” look like “FBI types,” and one neighbor recognizes a “rescue worker” as a CIA agent. Gastriani’s account sounds like the worst conspiracy theory and is anything but conclusive, but future FBI director William Ruckelshaus will later admit that his agency had over 50 agents at the crash site. Interestingly, one of Colson’s aides directly involved in overseeing Hunt’s “Plumbers,” Egil Krogh, will be named as undersecretary of transportation one day after the crash; the position gives Krogh direct control over the two agencies responsible for investigating the crash. Another Nixon aide, Dwight Chapin, soon becomes a top executive at United Airlines. [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007]
Entity Tags: Egil Krogh, United Airlines, William Ruckelshaus, E. Howard Hunt, Dorothy Hunt, Charles Colson, Tony Ulasewicz, Bernard Barker, Central Intelligence Agency, Richard M. Nixon, John Mitchell, Lalo J. Gastriani, Frederick LaRue, George Collins, H.R. Haldeman, Michelle Clark, Frank Sturgis, James McCord, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Dwight Chapin, John Ehrlichman
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
The Hyatt Regency hotel in San Francisco. [Source: Hyatt Hotels Corporation]A conference is held in San Francisco, California, to examine airport security, during which terrorism and hijackings are two of the main topics of discussion. The Airport Security Summit is held at the Hyatt Regency hotel, near San Francisco International Airport. [Security, 6/2001; Security Technology and Design, 10/2001] It is produced by World Research Group, a New York-based conference and training development company. [Security Technology and Design, 10/2001; World Research Group, 2011] Numerous top aviation and airport executives attend the three-day event, at which they discuss their security problems and successes. Participants include representatives from San Francisco International Airport, JFK International Airport in New York, Logan International Airport in Boston, United Airlines, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the US Department of Transportation, among others. [World Research Group, 6/19/2001; World Research Group, 6/19/2001; Airport Business, 9/2001] Aircraft hijackings and terrorism are two of the key agenda topics. [Security Technology and Design, 10/2001] The conference includes presentations with titles such as “It Can’t Happen Here: Anatomy of an Attempted Hijacking,” “Airport Safety and Security: Logan International Airport’s Approach,” and “Working Towards Better Partnerships to Combat Security Threats.” [World Research Group, 6/19/2001] The event is held “[i]n response to growing awareness that aviation security needed strengthening,” according to Security Technology and Design magazine. [Security Technology and Design, 10/2001]
Kathryn LaBorie. [Source: Family photo]A flight attendant who will be on board one of the hijacked planes on 9/11 reveals that she is undertaking training to deal with terrorists, but will not give any details. [Rocky Mountain News, 9/6/2006] Kathryn LaBorie has been working for United Airlines for nearly seven years. [Rocky Mountain News, 9/18/2001] While visiting her parents in Colorado Springs, Colorado in the weeks before 9/11, she mentions terrorists and the training she is undergoing at United Airlines to deal with them. Her father, Gene Yancey, later recalls: “She started to say something to me about terrorists, and the fear of, and then she wouldn’t talk to me anymore about it.” He will add, “I don’t know why to this day, but she wouldn’t talk about it any more than that introduction.” [Rocky Mountain News, 9/6/2006] LaBorie will be on Flight 175, the second plane to hit the World Trade Center, on 9/11. [Rocky Mountain News, 9/18/2001]
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]
Personnel at United Airlines’ headquarters, near Chicago, are subjected to a surprise training exercise in which they are led to believe that one of their planes has crashed, and their experience with this exercise allegedly means they will be better able to respond to the 9/11 attacks. [USA Today, 8/12/2002; 9/11 Commission, 11/20/2003 ; Studdert, 5/26/2015 ; Dubuque Telegraph Herald, 11/12/2015]
Manager Is Concerned that the Airline Is Unprepared for an Accident - Andy Studdert, United Airlines’ chief operating officer, has been concerned that, since it hasn’t suffered a real accident in over 15 years, United Airlines is unprepared to respond properly should one occur now. “I was worried we’d become cocky,” he will later comment. “We thought it couldn’t happen to us.” Around March this year, therefore, he told the airline’s other managers, “One of these days, I’m gonna come in here and I’m gonna do a no-notice drill.” [Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 3/15/2012; Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 4/26/2012] A “no-notice” drill is an exercise that is conducted without its participants being given any formal advance notice of when it will occur. [US Department of Justice, 5/21/2000; Inglesby, Grossman, and O'Toole, 2/1/2001; Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, 10/15/2011]
Pilot Is Told to Pretend His Plane Is Experiencing an Emergency - Today, Studdert holds this no-notice exercise. Only a few people know about it in advance. Studdert tells a United Airlines employee who he will refer to as his “safety guy” to contact the pilot of a flight to Australia and give them some instructions. The pilot is therefore told he needs to call in during his flight and report an emergency. He should say there is an “uncontained number three engine failure, rapid descent, decompression,” but stop talking halfway through the word “decompression” and then go silent. He should also turn off the plane’s transponder. [Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 3/15/2012; Dubuque Telegraph Herald, 11/12/2015] (A transponder is a device that sends an aircraft’s identifying information, speed, and altitude to air traffic controllers’ radar screens. [Washington Post, 9/16/2001] )
Airline Personnel Think One of Their Planes Has Crashed - The simulated emergency takes places this afternoon. At around 2 o’clock, Studdert is interrupted by his secretary, Maryann Irving, who rushes into his office and tells him a Boeing 747 has lost contact while flying over the Pacific Ocean. In response, he runs to the airline’s operations center. [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001; Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 3/15/2012] Airline employees believe the apparently troubled aircraft has crashed. Some of them are upset and some become physically ill. [Dubuque Telegraph Herald, 11/12/2015] “There are people throwing up in the hall; there are people crying; there are people just staring out the windows,” Studdert will describe.
Personnel Think the Crisis Is Real for 30 Minutes - Since no one in the operations center is able to contact the apparently troubled aircraft, Studdert opens the airline’s crisis center. [Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 3/15/2012] The crisis center, according to journalist and author Jere Longman, is “a terraced, theater-like room that resembled NASA’s Mission Control.” [Longman, 2002, pp. 77] Opening it, according to Studdert, is a significant course of action. When this happens, everyone working for the airline becomes responsible either for running the airline or acting to support the management of the emergency. This means that “3,000 people are put on an immediate activation.” [Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 4/23/2012] United Airlines employees believe one of their planes has crashed for about 30 minutes and then Studdert reveals that the apparent catastrophe is just an exercise scenario. [USA Today, 8/12/2002] He gets on the crisis center’s communications link, which, he will say, “has got 170 stations and people all over the country, all over the world,” and announces, “This has been a no-notice drill; there is no event; everything’s fine.”
Employees Are Furious about the Exercise - The reaction to the exercise in the days after it takes place will be particularly bitter and Studdert will face severe criticism for running it. “I had the board members calling; I had the unions demanding I be fired; I had people telling me I’m the most evil person in the world,” he will recall. [Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 3/15/2012; Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 4/26/2012] Some employees “wanted to kill me,” he will say.
Exercise Has Similarities to the Situation Experienced on September 11 - It is unclear whether Studdert’s exercise has a beneficial or a detrimental effect on the ability of United Airlines to respond to the hijackings 12 days later, on September 11. Studdert will claim that it prepares employees to manage the events of September 11 and reveals weaknesses, such as outdated phone numbers, which are quickly corrected. [Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 4/26/2012; Dubuque Telegraph Herald, 11/12/2015] “It’s amazing, after 9/11… how many people came up to me and thanked me [for running the exercise], because we were ready,” he will say. [Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 3/15/2012] It is possible, however, that it will cause some United Airlines employees to initially think the reports about the terrorist attacks on September 11 are part of another exercise, although accounts are contradictory (see (8:50 a.m.-9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 8/12/2002; Chicago Tribune, 7/16/2003] The scenario of Studdert’s exercise in fact has some similarities with the situation that operations center personnel have to deal with on September 11. On that day, communication with Flight 175—the first of the two United Airlines planes that are hijacked—will be lost (see 8:51 a.m.-8:53 a.m. September 11, 2001) and the plane will have its transponder code changed, although the transponder will not be turned off (see 8:46 a.m.-8:47 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 20-21] Communication will subsequently be lost with Flight 93—the second United Airlines plane to be hijacked (see 9:27 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (9:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001)—and that plane’s transponder will be turned off (see (9:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 38-39, 43]
Crisis Center Holds Quarterly Exercises - The United Airlines crisis center usually runs exercises four times a year. Most of these deal with safety issues, but security scenarios are also rehearsed, according to Ed Soliday, the airline’s vice president of safety and security. Typically, the 9/11 Commission will be told, these exercises “are scripted” and based around an act of bioterrorism or an international incident. United Airlines has also practiced hijacking scenarios, according to Soliday, although none of these dealt with the threat of an aircraft being used as a weapon. [9/11 Commission, 11/20/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 11/21/2003 ]
There is a sharp increase in the short selling of American and United Airlines stocks on the New York Stock Exchange prior to 9/11. A short sell is a bet that a particular stock will drop. Short selling increases 40 percent over the previous month for these two airlines, compared to an 11 percent increase for other big airlines and one percent for the exchange overall. United’s stock will drops 43 percent and American 39 percent the first day the market reopens after the attack. [Reuters, 9/20/2001; San Francisco Chronicle, 9/22/2001] There is also a short spike in the short interest in Dutch airline KLM three to seven days before 9/11, reaching historically unprecedented levels. [USA Today, 9/26/2001]
A. B. “Buzzy” Krongard. [Source: Public domain]Suspicious trading occurs on the stock of American and United, the two airlines hijacked in the 9/11 attacks. “Between 6 and 7 September, the Chicago Board Options Exchange [sees] purchases of 4,744 put option contracts [a speculation that the stock will go down] in UAL versus 396 call options—where a speculator bets on a price rising. Holders of the put options would [net] a profit of $5 million once the carrier’s share price [dive] after September 11. On September 10, 4,516 put options in American Airlines, the other airline involved in the hijackings, [are] purchased in Chicago. This compares with a mere 748 call options in American purchased that day. Investigators cannot help but notice that no other airlines [see] such trading in their put options.” One analyst later says, “I saw put-call numbers higher than I’ve ever seen in ten years of following the markets, particularly the options markets.”
[Associated Press, 9/18/2001; San Francisco Chronicle, 9/19/2001]
“To the embarrassment of investigators, it has also [learned] that the firm used to buy many of the ‘put’ options… on United Airlines stock was headed until 1998 by ‘Buzzy’ Krongard, now executive director of the CIA.” Krongard was chairman of Alex Brown Inc., which was bought by Deutsche Bank. “His last post before resigning to take his senior role in the CIA was to head Bankers Trust—Alex Brown’s private client business, dealing with the accounts and investments of wealthy customers around the world.”
French author Bernard-Henri Levy claims to know an anonymous manager at a Dubai, United Arab Emirates, bank who gives him astute and accurate tips on Arab banking. The manager tells Henri-Levy in 2002, “We know a bank here that made [a put option] transaction between the 8th and 10th of September on certain Dow Jones blue-chip stocks for accounts linked to bin Laden. I know the name of a bank that, by shorting 8,000 shares of United Airlines on the 7th of September, then 1,200 shares of American Airlines on the morning of the 10th, allowed the attack to finance itself.” The manager won’t name the bank, but he quotes bin Laden from a late September 2001 interview, stating, “al-Qaeda is full of young, modern, and educated people who are aware of the cracks inside the Western financial system, and know how to exploit them. These faults and weaknesses are like a sliding noose strangling the system.” [Daily Ummat (Karachi), 9/28/2001; Levy, 2003, pp. 312-313] The timing and amount of type of stock speculation mentioned in this account is similar to, but not the same as, previously published reports (see September 6-10, 2001). Levy suspects the al-Qaeda agent making these transactions is the financially astute Saeed Sheikh, graduate of the London School of Economics. An al-Qaeda agent using the alias Mustafa Ahmad is captured by a surveillance camera entering the Bank of Dubai on September 10, Dubai time, to pick up money sent by Mohamed Atta in previous days, but this video footage has never been publicly released. Levy and others argue that Mustafa Ahmad and Saeed Sheikh are one and the same (see September 5-10, 2001). [Levy, 2003, pp. 312-313]
The trading ratio on United Airlines is 25 times greater than normal at the Pacific Exchange. Pacific Exchange officials later decline to state whether this abnormality is being investigated. [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/19/2001]
Two of the Flight 175 hijackers approach a customer service representative at the United Airlines ticket counter at Boston’s Logan Airport. The two appear unaccustomed to traveling. One tells the representative, Gail Jawahir, that he needs a ticket, though upon examining his documents she finds he already has one. Both men have problems answering standard security questions, which Jawahir has to repeat very slowly until they give the routine, reassuring answers. There is conflicting evidence over their identities. Jawahir will place her encounter with the men at “shortly before 7 a.m.” Shown photos of the alleged hijackers after 9/11, she will indicate that one of the two she encountered resembled Mohand Alshehri, suggesting the two were Alshehri and Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, who checked in at 6:53 a.m. Yet she recalls the two having the same last name and having assigned seats on Row 9 of the plane, suggesting they were Ahmed and Hamza Alghamdi, who checked in at 6:20 a.m. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 2, 451; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 17-18, 89]
According to the 9/11 Commission, between 7:03 a.m. and 7:39 a.m. the four alleged Flight 93 hijackers check in at the United Airlines ticket counter at Newark (New Jersey) Liberty International Airport. Only Ahmad Alhaznawi is selected for additional scrutiny by airport security under the FAA’s CAPPS program (see (6:20 a.m.-7:48 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The only consequence is that his checked bag is screened for explosives, and not loaded onto the plane until it is confirmed that he has boarded. [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 4; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 35] On their way to boarding the plane, all four would pass through a security checkpoint, which has three walk-through metal detectors, two X-ray machines, and explosive trace detection equipment. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 97] The 9/11 Commission later claims Newark Airport has no video cameras monitoring its security checkpoints, so there is no documentary evidence showing when the hijackers passed through the checkpoint or what alarms may have been triggered. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 4; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 35] However, Michael Taylor, the president of a security company, who has done consulting work for the New York Port Authority (which operates the airport), claims that Newark does use security cameras at the time of 9/11. [Boston Herald, 9/29/2001] All of the screeners on duty at the checkpoint are subsequently interviewed, and none report anything unusual or suspicious having occurred. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 4; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 35] The 9/11 Commission later concludes that the passports of Ahmad Alhaznawi and fellow Flight 93 hijacker Ahmed Alnami have suspicious indicators and could have been linked to al-Qaeda, but it does not elaborate on this. [Baltimore Sun, 1/27/2004]
The September 11, 2001 attacks. From left to right: The World Trade Center, Pentagon, and Flight 93 crash.
[Source: unknown] (click image to enlarge)The 9/11 attack: Four planes are hijacked, two crash into the WTC, one into the Pentagon, and one crashes into the Pennsylvania countryside. Nearly 3,000 people are killed.
Senior United Airlines personnel are, unusually, not informed about air traffic control communications with Flight 175. At 8:41 a.m., the pilots of Flight 175 reported to air traffic controllers that they heard “a suspicious transmission” from another aircraft during their departure out of Boston (see 8:41 a.m.-8:42 a.m. September 11, 2001). Yet the details of this communication with Flight 175 are not passed on to personnel at the United Airlines System Operations Control (SOC) center, just outside Chicago. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 20]
Manager Receives 'No Relevant Information about the Hijackings' - Rich Miles, the manager on duty at the SOC, will later tell the 9/11 Commission that “[w]hile his experience and expectation was that [FAA air traffic control] would communicate to him and to the SOC about ‘strange’ or unusual communications from the cockpit… he could not recall any such communications on 9/11.” He will say that although, “typically, he would receive relevant information from the [air traffic control] system,” he receives “no relevant information about the hijackings” on this day. [9/11 Commission, 11/21/2003 ]
Other Airline Personnel Unaware of Flight 175 Communications - None of the other senior United Airlines officials on duty at the SOC are told about the 8:41 a.m. report made by the pilots of Flight 175. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 20] These officials will tell the 9/11 Commission that “the dispatchers and managers at the SOC” are in fact “not aware of any communications” between FAA controllers and Flight 175 this morning. [9/11 Commission, 11/20/2003 ] The 9/11 Commission will describe, “SOC personnel at United that we talked to had no idea of the extent of interaction of the [Flight 175] crew with the saga of [Flight 11].” The Commission will add, “We walked down a list of indicators,” but state, “Until we mentioned them, no one we talked to [at United Airlines] was aware of those occurrences.” [9/11 Commission, 11/17/2003 ]
Controllers Communicate with Pilots, Not Dispatchers - The United Airlines officials will say, however, that, “first and foremost,” FAA controllers “communicated directly with airline pilots, not the dispatchers” at the airline. [9/11 Commission, 11/20/2003 ] Ed Ballinger, the United Airlines dispatcher responsible for Flight 175, will comment that “he did not feel that [air traffic control] was under any obligation to share such information [as the details of the 8:41 a.m. communication] with him, because it didn’t apparently affect the safety of any of his flights.” [9/11 Commission, 4/14/2003 ]
Airline Not Advised to Notify Other Planes about Hijackings - The United Airlines officials who talk with the 9/11 Commission will also recall that “they never received any communication… from the FAA or the air traffic control system advising United to contact its aircraft about the hijackings.” The 9/11 Commission will not offer any explanation for the lack of communication between air traffic control and United Airlines. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 20]
Ed Soliday. [Source: Ed Soliday]Those at United Airlines’ System Operations Control (SOC) center, near Chicago, have serious problems communicating with others outside their building, particularly using e-mail, for a period of about two hours. This is according to Ed Soliday, United Airlines’ vice president of safety and security, who is involved with the airline’s response to the terrorist attacks after arriving at the SOC at around 9:35 a.m. Soliday will tell the 9/11 Commission that, on this day, United Airlines “lost e-mail capability and some of their phone and cell service.” This, he will say, is “because everyone was on the phone trying to ‘call their best friend’ to talk about what was happening,” presumably meaning that the national telecommunications infrastructure has become overloaded due to increased traffic. Soliday will add, “For a couple of hours, trying to communicate out of the [SOC] building was impossible.” [9/11 Commission, 11/21/2003 ] Soliday apparently does not state the particular time period over which United Airlines experiences these communication problems. However, it appears they may begin around the time of the first attack, since, according to the 9/11 Commission, shortly before 9:00 a.m., a United dispatch manager is unable to reach top company officials because the airline’s pager system “was not working” (see (Shortly After 8:48 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 21-22]
Bill Roy. [Source: Publicity photo]Apparently, managers at United Airlines’ System Operations Control (SOC) center, just outside Chicago, are unaware of any unfolding emergency until they see CNN reporting the burning World Trade Center (see 8:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). “Within minutes,” the air traffic control coordinator at United Airlines’ headquarters, located next to the SOC, calls an official at the FAA’s Herndon Command Center to confirm that the plane that just hit the WTC was not one of United’s aircraft. The FAA official tells him the plane had been a hijacked American Airlines 757. Soon afterwards, the air traffic control coordinator briefs Bill Roy and Mike Barber—the director and the dispatch manager at United’s SOC—on this information from the FAA. Barber then tries notifying United’s top corporate officials about it. However, he is unable to because the airline’s pager system is not working. [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 21-22]
The United Airlines System Operations Control center. [Source: United Airlines]Andy Studdert, United Airlines’ chief operating officer, learns that an American Airlines plane has crashed into the World Trade Center and goes to his airline’s operations center to help respond to the incident, but when he gets there he is told that one of his airline’s planes, Flight 175, is missing. Studdert is in a meeting at United Airlines’ headquarters, near Chicago, with Jim Goodwin, the airline’s chairman and CEO; Rono Dutta, the airline’s president; and three or four other individuals. [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001; Chicago Tribune, 7/16/2003; 9/11 Commission, 11/20/2003 ] The meeting, in Goodwin’s office, is about union negotiations. [Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 4/23/2012] Meanwhile, personnel in the airline’s System Operations Control (SOC) center have seen the television coverage of the burning North Tower and been informed that the WTC was hit by an American Airlines plane (see (Shortly After 8:48 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Bill Roy, the SOC director, called the adjacent headquarters building and passed on the news to Studdert’s secretary, Maryann Irving.
Managers Are Baffled at the News of the Crash - Irving now runs to Goodwin’s office and, once there, tells Studdert: “Andy, call the SOC. An American plane just went into the World Trade Center.” [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001; 9/11 Commission, 11/20/2003 ] The men in the office, Studdert will later recall, say to each other: “That’s nuts. That can’t happen. There’s no way, under any circumstances, that an airline pilot is gonna hit the World Trade Center.” [Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 4/23/2012] Studdert thinks the plane that hit the WTC “couldn’t have been American Airlines, because that wasn’t an ordinary flight route.” [9/11 Commission, 11/20/2003 ] The men in Goodwin’s office switch on a TV and see the coverage of the WTC on fire.
Manager Learns that a United Airlines Flight Is Missing - Studdert immediately goes to respond to the incident. Although the plane that reportedly hit the WTC doesn’t belong to United Airlines, according to Studdert, “there’s a fraternity… of the airlines, so we would help each other during a crisis.” He heads across the complex to the SOC—the operations center. [Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 4/23/2012] The operations center is a room about the size of a football field in which around 300 people are working, tracking planes and pulling up information relating to the airline’s flights. [Longman, 2002, pp. 77] When Studdert arrives there, he says aloud, “Confirm American into the World Trade Center.” [Chicago Tribune, 7/16/2003; Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 4/23/2012] However, someone in the operations center informs him that contact has now been lost with a United Airlines plane, Flight 175. A few minutes later, Studdert is told that a supervisor at the airline’s maintenance office in San Francisco called and said Flight 175 has been reported as hijacked (see Shortly Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001; Chicago Tribune, 7/16/2003; 9/11 Commission, 11/20/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 22]
Manager Tells Employees, 'This Is Not a Drill' - Studdert is concerned that personnel in the operations center might think the apparent crisis is a scenario in a training exercise. [Chicago Tribune, 7/16/2003] This is because 12 days ago he held a surprise exercise in which contact was lost with a United Airlines plane flying over the Pacific Ocean and airline personnel were led to believe the aircraft had crashed (see August 30, 2001). [USA Today, 8/12/2002; Studdert, 5/26/2015 ; Dubuque Telegraph Herald, 11/12/2015] It is possible that personnel in the operations center are indeed confused over whether the current crisis is simulated, as part of another exercise. According to the Chicago Tribune, Studdert senses “disbelief among his employees” and so he tells them, “This is not a drill.” [Chicago Tribune, 7/16/2003] But according to USA Today, “the staff already knows” this is not another exercise. [USA Today, 8/12/2002]
Airline Employees See Second Crash on TV - At 9:03 a.m., Studdert and his colleagues see Flight 175 crashing into the South Tower of the WTC live on television (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001] Studdert, however, is unsure whether this second plane to hit the WTC was a United Airlines flight, because the clarity of the image on television is too poor to tell. [9/11 Commission, 11/20/2003 ] Studdert will be involved in activating his airline’s crisis center in response to the attacks (see (9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 11/21/2003 ; Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 4/23/2012]
Jim Goodwin. [Source: Chicago Tribune]Rich Miles, the manager at the United Airlines System Operations Control (SOC) center just outside Chicago, receives a call from a supervisor at United’s maintenance office in San Francisco, informing him that Flight 175 has been reported as hijacked. [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 22] The maintenance office received a call minutes earlier from a flight attendant on United 175, who said their plane had been hijacked (see 8:52 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 7-8] When the supervisor tells Miles about this, he initially responds, “No, the information we’re getting is that it was an American 757.” (The FAA has just informed United Airlines that the plane that hit the World Trade Center was a hijacked American Airlines 757 (see (Shortly After 8:48 a.m.) September 11, 2001).) But the supervisor insists, “No, we got a call from a flight attendant on 175.” [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001] Miles notifies his boss Bill Roy, the SOC director, about this information. Roy then contacts United’s CEO Jim Goodwin and its chief operating officer Andy Studdert, who are in a meeting at the airline’s headquarters, located next to the SOC. Roy then begins the process of activating the crisis center at the United headquarters, which will take about 30 minutes to complete. [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001; 9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 22]
Ed Freni. [Source: Associated Press]As he learns of the two plane crashes in New York, a director at Boston’s Logan Airport—from where the two crashed aircraft took off—contacts the airlines to request the passenger manifests for these flights. At around 9:00 a.m., Ed Freni, who is Logan’s director of aviation operations, has just been informed that a plane—believed to be from his airport—has hit the World Trade Center, and another plane from the airport is missing (see (8:50 a.m.-9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). He calls the American Airlines station in Logan’s Terminal B. A friend of his there tells him they are concerned about American Airlines Flight 11. The friend says Amy Sweeney, one of its flight attendants, called from the air (see 8:22 a.m.-8:24 a.m. September 11, 2001), said they were flying low over Manhattan, and then her line went dead (see (8:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Freni asks to be faxed a copy of the manifest for Flight 11. The manifest holds the names of passengers on an aircraft by seat number. If there is an accident, it allows officials to begin contacting next of kin. At 9:05, he arrives at the Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport) aviation office on the 18th floor of the FAA control tower at Logan, where he has arranged to meet John Duval, the airport’s deputy director of operations. Freni sees on television the footage of the South Tower being hit just two minutes earlier. He calls his contacts at various airlines at Logan and learns that United Airlines is concerned about its Flight 175. He asks United to fax him the manifest for this plane. According to author Tom Murphy, Freni will receive the manifests for Flight 11 and Flight 175 at 9:30 a.m. (see 9:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). Meanwhile, Duval is talking with FAA officials further up in the control tower. They tell him: “United 175 came from here. We lost contact at 8:43.” [Murphy, 2006, pp. 33-35]
Andrew Studdert. [Source: Rental Equipment Register]United Airlines receives numerous reports about threats and other emergencies, which turn out to be incorrect. This is according to Andrew Studdert, United Airlines’ chief operating officer, who spends much of the morning at the airline’s System Operations Control center, near Chicago. [9/11 Commission, 11/20/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004] Two of the flights hijacked in the terrorist attacks—Flight 175 and Flight 93—are United Airlines aircraft. [CNN, 9/12/2001] Studdert will tell the 9/11 Commission that, additionally, throughout the morning “there is a torrent of reported bomb threats” received by the airline. He will add that “explosions are reported at two airports, and there are reports of other threats and other hijackings.” Studdert will refer to “various rumors” the airline has to deal with. One of these is a “call from someone alleging to be the spouse of a flight attendant onboard an inbound flight from Europe, saying that it had been hijacked.” United Airlines “chased down and sweated these rumors until all the airplanes were grounded.” Studdert will say that these reports “turn out to be misunderstandings or hoaxes.” However, he will add, “the presumed threats cannot be dismissed in the high uncertainty of the moment.” [9/11 Commission, 11/20/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004] United Airlines also temporarily loses communication with several of its planes this morning (see (10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001); numerous other United Airlines aircraft are temporarily reported as missing (see 10:47 a.m.-11:40 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 10:55 a.m.-11:15 a.m. September 11, 2001); and one United Airlines plane reportedly transmits a distress signal while flying over the Atlantic Ocean (see 11:18 a.m.-12:27 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. S-26; 9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004]
United Airlines activates its crisis center, from where it will respond to the terrorist attacks. [9/11 Commission, 11/20/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 22] Personnel at United Airlines’ System Operations Control (SOC) center, near Chicago, learned that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center when they saw the television coverage of the incident. Minutes later, they were informed that the WTC was hit by a hijacked American Airlines plane (see (Shortly After 8:48 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Shortly before 9:00 a.m., a supervisor at the airline’s maintenance office in San Francisco, California, called the SOC—the operations center—and said a United Airlines plane, Flight 175, had been reported as hijacked (see Shortly Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 21-22] United Airlines’ usual procedure when there is a crisis involving one of its aircraft is to isolate that aircraft and move the handling of it to the crisis center, so as not to disrupt operations in the rest of the system.
Crisis Center Is Activated in about 30 Minutes - The crisis center, which is located just off the operations center, is apparently activated sometime around 9:00 a.m. It takes about 30 minutes for staffers to assemble and fully activate it. When the center is activated, a representative from every division of the airline’s corporate structure has to report to it, and once they arrive they have predetermined duties they are required to carry out. Clipboards are therefore distributed to operations center staffers, which show a list of people who are needed in the crisis center that they have to call. A phone bridge is set up with the airline’s other crisis centers, which are activated around this time in San Francisco and Denver, Colorado. [9/11 Commission, 11/20/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 11/21/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 22] Patti Carson, United Airlines’ vice president of human resources, will later recall that after they see the live television coverage of Flight 175 crashing into the WTC at 9:03 a.m. on a screen in the operations center (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), “Without exchanging a word, every crisis team member in the room walked the 10 or 15 steps to the airline’s crisis center and took their positions.” [HR (.com), 7/1/2005]
Opening the Center Is 'the Single Most Significant Thing You Do' - The crisis center is “a terraced, theater-like room that resembled NASA’s Mission Control,” according to journalist and author Jere Longman. On one wall is a large screen on which United Airlines’ flights are displayed. [Longman, 2002, pp. 77; USA Today, 8/12/2002] Other screens in the center show CNN and other TV news channels. [9/11 Commission, 11/20/2003 ] Opening the crisis center, according to Andy Studdert, United Airlines’ chief operating officer, “is the single most significant thing you do [at an airline], because once that happens… everybody in an airline has a second job and that second job is to either run the airline… or act to support the crisis.” Once the center has been opened, “3,000 people are put on an immediate activation,” Studdert will say. [Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 4/23/2012]
Different People Later Claim to Have Activated the Center - It is unclear when exactly the crisis center is activated and who activates it. Bill Roy, the SOC director, will say he is responsible for activating the center and he does this shortly after he learned a plane had crashed into the WTC. This is presumably sometime around 8:50 a.m. or shortly after. Roy will say that by around 9:00 a.m., he and his colleagues are in the process of activating the center. [9/11 Commission, 11/20/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004] But Rich Miles, the SOC manager, will indicate that he activates the center and he does this apparently at around 9:00 a.m. He will say that after they saw the television coverage of the burning WTC and then learned that the North Tower was hit by an American Airlines plane, staffers in the operations center discussed what to do and considered whether to open the crisis center. One member of staff went into the center, and started turning on computers and other equipment. Miles will recall that after the supervisor at the airline’s maintenance office in San Francisco called, shortly before 9:00 a.m., with the news that Flight 175 had been reported as hijacked, he begins activating the center. [9/11 Commission, 11/21/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 21-22]
COO Is Authorized to Activate the Crisis Center - Other accounts will suggest that Studdert is responsible for activating the crisis center. Studdert will recall that sometime after 9:00 a.m., when he arrived at the operations center (see (8:50 a.m.-9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001), he realizes that the airline is “in a crisis, and we immediately activate the crisis center.” [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004; Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 4/23/2012] Furthermore, Ed Soliday, United Airlines’ vice president of safety and security, will indicate that Studdert is one of only a few people with authority to activate the crisis center. He will say that although the airline’s usual protocol is to obtain a “vote of three” before opening the center, both Studdert and he are empowered to order it activated on their own say-so. Since Soliday will arrive at United Airlines’ headquarters at around 9:35 a.m., this would suggest that only Studdert could order that the crisis center be activated on his own at the current time. [9/11 Commission, 11/21/2003 ]
Center Remains Operational for Three Weeks - The crisis center will remain in operation around the clock every day for the next three weeks. It will provide United Airlines personnel around the country with instant access to resource providers and key decision makers. [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004] The center was previously activated just 12 days ago, when Studdert ran a surprise “no-notice” exercise in which United Airlines personnel were led to believe that one of their planes had crashed (see August 30, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 11/20/2003 ; Center for Values-Driven Leadership, 4/26/2012; Dubuque Telegraph Herald, 11/12/2015]
Beginning at 9:03, a number of United Airlines flight dispatchers send text messages to several United aircraft, indicating to the pilots that planes have flown into the World Trade Center. But, according to the 9/11 Commission, “These messages provided no details or warnings.” [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 36] It is not until 9:21 that United dispatchers are told to warn their flights to secure cockpit doors (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004] The dispatcher responsible for Flight 175 and Flight 93—Ed Ballinger—begins sending warning messages to the flights he is monitoring at 9:19 a.m., informing them that two aircraft have hit the WTC (see 9:19 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 37] Airline dispatchers have an important part to play in managing aircraft in flight. According to commercial pilot and author Lynn Spencer, under FAA rules, dispatchers “take guardianship of each company aircraft in the sky. They are assigned to a certain number of aircraft and know all there is to know about each: who is flying, who is working the cabin, how many pounds of fuel are onboard, the flight plan, the alternate plan, and anything at all relevant to that flight. If there is a glitch in the system, the pilot talks to the dispatcher, and together they formulate a plan of action.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 35 and 72] United Airlines dispatchers are each responsible for monitoring from ten to 30 flights during a shift, and monitor anything up to two dozen flights at a time. [Longman, 2002, pp. 68]
Within minutes of the second World Trade Center tower being hit, United Airlines tells the FAA’s Boston Center that Flight 175 is down. This is according to Colin Scoggins, a civilian manager who is the military liaison at the Boston Center. Scoggins will later recall, “When we phoned United [after the second tower was hit], they confirmed that United 175 was down, and I think they confirmed that within two or three minutes.” [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] However, according to the 9/11 Commission, even though by 9:20 United Airlines suspects that the second plane to hit the WTC was Flight 175 (see Between 9:10 a.m. and 9:20 a.m. September 11, 2001), at that time the identity of the crashed aircraft is “still unconfirmed.” It is not until 9:22 that United issues an advisory to its facilities, stating that Flight 175 has been in an accident in New York (see 9:22 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 26]
Melodie Homer. [Source: Jim Varhegyi]The United Airlines Operations Center at JFK Airport in New York sends a text message to LeRoy Homer, the co-pilot of Flight 93, but receives no response from him. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 37] At 9:10, Melodie Homer, the wife of LeRoy Homer, contacts the operations center after seeing the second plane hitting the World Trade Center on television. Knowing her husband is flying, she requests that a message be sent to him, stating, “Your wife just wants to make sure you’re okay.” [Pittsburgh Channel, 9/19/2001; Longman, 2002, pp. 78; New York Observer, 2/15/2004; Discovery Channel, 2005] Melodie is told, “If you want to hang on, we’ll get a message back in a couple of minutes.” According to journalist and author Jere Longman, after no response is received, a second text message is sent. Although Melodie Homer’s message is later determined to have been received by the flight, there is still no reply. [Longman, 2002, pp. 81-82] However, the 9/11 Commission will only describe one message—not two—being sent to Homer, which it says happens at 9:22. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 456; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 37] The hijacking of Flight 93 is believed to take place at 9:28 (see (9:28 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 11] A text message sent by an airline dispatcher to Flight 93’s pilot Jason Dahl shortly before the hijacking will receive a response from him three minutes later (see 9:23 a.m.-9:26 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 37-38]
United Airlines orders its aircraft that have not yet taken off to remain on the ground. However, the exact time and details of this order are unclear. According to the 9/11 Commission, United orders the “ground stop” at an unstated time after about 9:10, when American Airlines had ordered a nationwide ground stop of its aircraft (see Between 9:00 a.m. and 9:10 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 10] The Wall Street Journal reports that Andy Studdert, United Airlines’ chief operating officer, gives the order for United aircraft to remain “frozen on the ground” at 9:20. However, it only describes this order applying to “all international flights,” so whether it also applies to United’s domestic flights is unclear. [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001] The FAA will issue an order to all its facilities, initiating a “national ground stop,” at around 9:25 a.m. (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Time, 9/14/2001] At around 9:45, United Airlines will order all its airborne flights to land (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004]
United Airlines issues a companywide order for its flight dispatchers to warn their flights to secure their cockpit doors. [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 455] The airline’s air traffic control coordinator sends a message to all of the airline’s dispatchers, telling them: “There may be addnl [additional] hijackings in progress. You may want to advise your flts [flights] to stay on alert and shut down all cockpit access inflt [in flight]. Sandy per Mgmt.” United Airlines dispatchers began notifying their aircraft that planes had crashed into the World Trade Center at 9:03 (see 9:03 a.m. and After September 11, 2001). However, with the exception of one dispatcher (see 9:19 a.m. September 11, 2001), the airline has so far not sent any warnings to its aircraft. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 36-37] United Airlines did not initially realize the second plane to hit the WTC was one of its own (see Between 9:10 a.m. and 9:20 a.m. September 11, 2001), and it is not until 9:22 that it notifies its dispatchers that UAL Flight 175 has been involved in “an accident” in New York (see 9:22 a.m. September 11, 2001).
United Airlines headquarters. [Source: United Airlines]Just before 9:22, United Airlines headquarters, located outside Chicago, begins the “lockout” procedure to restrict access to passenger and crew information about Flight 175. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 26] This procedure is standard for airlines in safety and security incidents. As the 9/11 Commission will later describe, “It acknowledges an emergency on the flight and isolates information so that the case can be managed by top leadership at the airlines in a way that protects information from being altered or released, and also protects the identities of the passengers and crew.” [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 12-13] This procedure begins almost 40 minutes after Flight 175 was hijacked (see (Between 8:42 a.m. and 8:46 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and about 35 minutes after the plane’s transponder signal changed (see 8:46 a.m.-8:47 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 7]
Rich Miles, the manager of United Airlines’ System Operations Control center, located outside Chicago, issues an advisory to all United Airlines facilities, including the flight dispatchers. This advisory, which is issued under the name of UAL Chief Operating Officer Andy Studdert, states that Flight 175 has been involved in an accident in New York City, and that the airline’s crisis center has been activated. [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 26] This appears to be United Airlines’ first proper confirmation that Flight 175 has crashed. However, it will not issue a press release confirming the crash until 11:53 a.m. (see 11:53 a.m. September 11, 2001). [United Airlines, 9/11/2001]
Following a company-wide order instructing them to warn aircraft to secure their cockpits (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001), flight dispatchers at United Airlines’ headquarters issue an alert to all their pilots, stating: “There may be terrorist acts in progress. Do not open cockpit doors. Secure the cockpit.” Furthermore, Joseph Vickers, the director of flight dispatch, initiates a procedure for “positive contact.” This means the dispatchers must make direct contact with each aircraft every 10 to 15 minutes and confirm that its cockpit is still secure. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 109]
Managers from American Airlines and United Airlines are added by the FAA to a teleconference, but they receive no guidance from top government officials on what to do. According to author Lynn Spencer, at some point after the second aircraft hit the World Trade Center, the executives from the two airlines are “quickly on the phone to FAA headquarters and the FAA Command Center.” They are brought into “a conference call that has now been set up with Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta and Vice President Dick Cheney at the White House. The airline executives inform the secretary that they are each dealing with additional aircraft that they are unable to contact. They seek guidance, but there is none.… The nation is under attack, but there is no plan in place, and no guidance is forthcoming from the top as the crisis escalates.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 109] The time when the airline executives join the teleconference is unclear. In Spencer’s account, she places it after United Airlines dispatchers have warned their aircraft to secure their cockpits (see (Shortly After 9:21 a.m.) September 11, 2001), which would mean some time after 9:21. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 37; Spencer, 2008, pp. 109] But Spencer also says that, when the executives join the conference, the “president is still reading to children in a Florida school room” (see (9:08 a.m.-9:13 a.m.) September 11, 2001), which would be roughly between 9:05 and 9:15. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 38-39; Spencer, 2008, pp. 109] If Norman Mineta is already participating in the teleconference when the airline executives join it, the time would have to be after around 9:20, which is when Mineta later says he arrived at the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House (see (Between 9:20 a.m. and 9:27 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003] And Cheney, who Spencer also says is participating in the teleconference when the executives join it, arrives at the PEOC as late as 9:58, according to the 9/11 Commission, although other accounts indicate he arrives there much earlier than this (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [ABC News, 9/14/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 40] According to the Wall Street Journal, American Airlines president Don Carty and United Airlines CEO Jim Goodwin are talking on the phone with Mineta (presumably over the conference call) about five minutes before the FAA shuts down all US airspace (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001), which would mean they are participating in the teleconference by around 9:40 a.m. [US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure, 9/21/2001; Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001]
The FAA’s Cleveland Center notifies United Airlines’ headquarters, near Chicago, that Flight 93 is not responding to attempted radio contacts. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 39] Cleveland Center made its last normal communication with Flight 93 at 9:27 (see 9:27 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 28] After the hijacking began at around 9:28, the controller handling Flight 93, John Werth, tried unsuccessfully to re-establish contact with it. [Gregor, 12/21/2001 ; CBS News, 9/10/2006] The lack of response from Flight 93, combined with the plane’s turning to the east (see (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001), will lead United to believe, by 9:36 a.m., that it has been hijacked. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 456]
After United Airlines learns that Flight 93 is not responding to air traffic controllers, it notifies its flight dispatchers of this, and two of its employees try to contact the flight. At about 9:30, the FAA’s Cleveland Center informed the United Airlines headquarters, near Chicago, that Flight 93 was not responding to attempted radio contacts (see (9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). At 9:31, officials at the headquarters inform the airline’s dispatchers—who are responsible for monitoring aircraft in flight—that there is a potential problem with Flight 93. Over the next minute, United’s air traffic control coordinator and another of its employees each send a text message to Flight 93, stating, “ATC looking for you on 133.37.” Flight 93 does not respond to these or any subsequent text messages. [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 39]
An unknown flight attendant on Flight 93, later determined to be Sandy Bradshaw, calls the United Airlines maintenance facility in San Francisco, and reports that her plane has been hijacked. The San Francisco number is one that flight crews know to call if they need to report mechanical problems, obtain advice on troubleshooting, or request maintenance while in flight. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 40; United States of America v. Zacarias Moussaoui, a/k/a Shaqil, a/k/a Abu Khalid al Sahrawi, Defendant., 4/11/2006 ] Bradshaw makes her call from the rear of Flight 93, using an Airfone. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 ] A United Airlines maintenance employee initially answers the call. Shortly thereafter, it is taken over by a manager at the facility. Bradshaw reports that hijackers are in the cabin of her plane behind the first-class curtain, and also in the cockpit. They have pulled a knife, have killed a flight attendant, and have announced they have a bomb on board. The manager will later describe Bradshaw as being “shockingly calm” during the conversation. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 40; United States of America v. Zacarias Moussaoui, a/k/a Shaqil, a/k/a Abu Khalid al Sahrawi, Defendant., 4/11/2006 ] Bradshaw’s call lasts just under six minutes. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006] The manager reports the emergency to his supervisor, who passes the information to the crisis center at United Airlines’ headquarters, outside Chicago. [USA Today, 8/12/2002; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 40] After about 9:45-9:50, “everyone” in the crisis center will know “that a flight attendant on board” Flight 93 has “called the mechanics desk to report that one hijacker had a bomb strapped on and another was holding a knife on the crew.” [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 43] The manager at the San Francisco maintenance facility instructs the Airfone operator to try and reestablish contact with the plane, but the effort is unsuccessful. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 40] At 9:50, Bradshaw will make another call from Flight 93, this time to her husband (see 9:50 a.m. September 11, 2001). [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 12 ]
At the United Airlines crisis center, at its headquarters outside Chicago, staff members watch Flight 93’s radar track until the plane crashes. United Airlines’ senior management has started to gather in the theater-like crisis center, a room that resembles NASA’s Mission Control. Although the airline still has hundreds of flights in the air, officials have highlighted only Flight 93’s path on the large Aircraft Situation Display screen. Even after the plane’s transponder has been switched off (see (9:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001), the flight can still be tracked, but officials can no longer determine its altitude. They watch as the plane’s speed fluctuates wildly while it heads toward Washington. Hank Krakowski, United Airlines’ director of flight operations, will later recall: “We knew what was going on. We could see the airplane headed toward the capital. We were wondering whether the military was going to intervene or not.” Those in the crisis center see Flight 93’s radar track stop moving at the time it crashes. A dispatcher determines the latitude and longitude of its last position and reports that it was south of Johnstown in Pennsylvania, about 120 miles from Washington. [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001; Longman, 2002, pp. 77-78 and 214; USA Today, 8/13/2002]
The transponder signal from Flight 93 ceases. [CNN, 9/17/2001; MSNBC, 9/3/2002; MSNBC, 9/11/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] However, the plane can be—and is—tracked using primary radar by Cleveland flight controllers and at United headquarters. Altitude can no longer be determined, except by visual sightings from other aircraft. The plane’s speed begins to vary wildly, fluctuating between 600 and 400 mph before eventually settling around 400 mph. [Longman, 2002, pp. 77, 214; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]
Alice Hoglan, the mother of Mark Bingham, a passenger on Flight 93, informs the FBI that her son has just phoned her from the plane, and then calls Bingham’s cell phone and leaves two voicemail messages. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/17/2001; Barrett, 2002, pp. 157-158] Alice Hoglan is currently staying at the home of her brother, Vaughn Hoglan, and his wife in Saratoga, California. [Longman, 2002, pp. 129; San Francisco Chronicle, 9/10/2003] Bingham has just called her and told her his flight was taken over by three men who said they had a bomb, but the call got broken off after less than three minutes (see (9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 5/13/2004 ; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 41, 99]
Bingham's Mother Realizes Flight 93 Will Likely Crash - No one in the Hoglan household was aware of the terrorist attacks in New York and at the Pentagon. But after the call from Bingham ends, Vaughn Hoglan switches on the television to see if there is any news about Flight 93 and the family sees, for the first time, the recorded footage of Flight 175 crashing into the World Trade Center (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [BBC, 12/2001; Barrett, 2002, pp. 157] Alice Hoglan then realizes the hijacking of Flight 93 is part of a “grand and ugly scheme,” and that her son’s plane will likely crash, too. [San Francisco Chronicle, 1/28/2005; San Jose Mercury News, 9/10/2011]
Bingham's Mother Tells the FBI about the Hijacking - Being a flight attendant with United Airlines, she calls her airline to ask about her son’s plane. [Los Gatos Patch, 8/25/2011] However, she will later recall, all she gets is a recorded message, which states, “United Flight 93 left Newark at 8:01 a.m. and will arrive San Francisco, Gate 82, at 11:19 a.m.” [BBC, 12/2001] She also calls 9-1-1 to report what has happened. She is put through to the San Francisco division of the FBI and speaks to an agent there. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/17/2001] The agent asks her a series of questions about the hijackers on Flight 93, but she is unable to answer them.
Bingham's Mother Leaves Messages for Her Son - Alice Hoglan then tries calling her son twice on his cell phone, intending to let him know the full scale of the attack that his plane’s hijacking is part of. On both occasions, she has to leave messages on his voicemail. She makes the first call at 9:54 a.m. (Because she is flustered, she miscalculates the East Coast time by an hour during the call and also mistakenly says Flight 93 might be used as a “target” rather than as a “weapon.”) She says: “Mark, this is your mom. It’s 10:54 a.m. [Eastern Time]. The news is that it’s been hijacked by terrorists. They are planning to probably use the plane as a target to hit some site on the ground. So, if you possibly can, try to overpower these guys if you can, ‘cause they will probably use the plane as a target. I would say go ahead and do everything you can to overpower them, because they’re hellbent. Try to call me back if you can. You know the number here. Okay, I love you sweetie. Bye.” A minute or so later she calls Bingham’s cell phone again and leaves a second, similar message. Among other things, she urges her son to “group some people and perhaps do the best you can to get control of [the plane].” [Barrett, 2002, pp. 157-158; San Jose Mercury News, 9/10/2011; McMillan, 2014, pp. 122] Bingham will never receive these messages. [ABC News, 3/30/2002] His plane will crash in a field in Pennsylvania at 10:03 a.m. (see (10:03 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 14, 30]
United Airlines headquarters receives a report that an aircraft has crashed into the Pentagon. They learn it is Flight 77. [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004]
United Airlines orders all its flights to land at the nearest airport. Andy Studdert, the airline’s chief operating officer, will tell the 9/11 Commission, “At approximately 9:45 I order the entire United fleet grounded, for the first time in United history.” He will add, “Even before this, some individual dispatchers were already grounding their flights.” [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004] Studdert gives the instruction, “Tell them to get to the nearest airport they can.” [USA Today, 8/12/2002] The FAA gives out a similar order to all its facilities around this time (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 29] American Airlines ordered its aircraft to land earlier on, at around 9:15 (see (9:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 31] United Airlines has already ordered a ground stop, preventing any new takeoffs of its aircraft (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 10]
Rich Miles, the manager of United Airlines’ System Operations Control center outside Chicago, tries to initiate the “lockout” procedure for Flight 93, which would acknowledge an emergency on the flight and safeguard information about it, but he is unable to do so. At some time between 9:45 a.m. and 9:50 a.m., the United Airlines maintenance facility in San Francisco contacted Miles about a call it had just received from an attendant on Flight 93, reporting that her plane had been hijacked (see 9:35 a.m. September 11, 2001). In response, Miles attempts to initiate a lockout of Flight 93. Lockout is a standard procedure for airlines in safety and security incidents, which isolates information about a flight so the case can be managed by the airline’s top leadership, and protects the identities of the passengers and crew. But Miles is unable activate this procedure. According to the 9/11 Commission, this is because United Airlines has already conducted a lockout of Flight 175 (see (9:21 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and its computer system is not presently set up to deal simultaneously with two such procedures. [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 12-13 and 43]
United Airlines temporarily loses communication with three of its aircraft. Andrew Studdert, United Airlines’ chief operating officer, will tell the 9/11 Commission that at around 10:00 a.m., the airline loses contact with Flight 399, Flight 415, and Flight 641. Persistent attempts to communicate with these “missing” aircraft are eventually successful. [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004] At 10:45 a.m., the FAA’s Cleveland Center will report that Flight 641 is on the ground at Detroit Metro Airport in Michigan. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001]
United Airlines official Sandy Rogers calls Ellen King at the FAA’s Command Center to discuss Flight 93. The timing of the call is not known specifically, although it appears to be after the Pentagon was hit and could not be long after Flight 93 is thought to have crashed, which is shortly after 10:00 a.m. (see (10:03 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Rogers tells King that Flight 93 has been hijacked, and King responds, “Oh God… thank you,” indicating she was previously unaware of the hijacking. However, the FAA had been aware of the situation since a few minutes after the hijacking took place (see (9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). Rogers also says: “It’s over Hagerstown now and you’re not aware of it. It’s heading toward Washington, DC, and we are under a threat of a hijacking on board and this flight is out of our control now heading toward Washington, DC.” Rogers states that United Airlines is “advising the military” about the plane and King also says that the FAA will do the same. [Federal Aviation Administration, 10/14/2003, pp. 37-39 ] However, there are no other reports of Flight 93 ever being over Hagerstown, which is in Maryland. Flight 93 is said to crash in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and is thought never to reach Maryland. There will be some—apparently mistaken—reports that the plane is still airborne after it is thought to have crashed (see (Between 10:10 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 10:10 a.m.-10:11 a.m. September 11, 2001), and this may be another such report.
Hank Krakowski. [Source: Unisys]After seeing Flight 93’s radar track stopping over Pennsylvania, a senior United Airlines official contacts an airport in that area and receives confirmation of what appears to be an airplane crash nearby. Along with other United Airlines managers, Hank Krakowski, United’s director of flight operations, has just been watching Flight 93 on a large screen in the crisis center at the airline’s headquarters, outside Chicago (see (9:36 a.m.-10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). A dispatcher has determined the plane’s last position was south of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, so Krakowski tries phoning the Johnstown airport. However, due to an apparent power failure, there is no reply. He has to call the airport manager’s cell phone number. He asks the manager: “We might have a plane down in your area there. See anything unusual?” The manager reports a black smoke plume visible about 30 miles to the south of the airport. Krakowski thinks, “We just watched one of our airplanes crash.” [Longman, 2002, pp. 214; USA Today, 8/13/2002] Therefore, by 10:15 a.m. according to the 9/11 Commission, United Airlines headquarters has “confirmed that an aircraft [has] crashed near Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and [it] believed that this was Flight 93.” [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 47]
Andy Studdert, the chief operating officer of United Airlines, sends out an operational alert message to the airline’s personnel, informing them of the crash of Flight 93. The message states: “UAL 93-11 EWR-SFO has been involved in an accident. Crisis center has been activated.” [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 47] Along with other United Airlines managers, Studdert watched Flight 93’s radar track as it came to a halt on a screen in the airline’s crisis center, at its headquarters outside Chicago (see (9:36 a.m.-10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). By 10:15, United had learned from the manager of the Johnstown airport in Pennsylvania of a plume of smoke rising up in the area where Flight 93 crashed (see (10:07 a.m.-10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Longman, 2002, pp. 77 and 214]
Patrick Madigan, the commander of the Somerset Barracks of the Pennsylvania State Police, arrives at the Flight 93 crash scene around 10:20 a.m. [Department of the Army and the Air Force National Guard Bureau, 2002 ] He says that at some point later in the day (he does not specify a time), a “strange incident” occurs: “We were there at the site and an airplane started circling. It was a jetliner circling the crash site very low. No one knew what to expect because we knew that all of the planes were supposedly grounded.” (The FAA had, at about 9:45 a.m., ordered that all aircraft be instructed to land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001).) After a few minutes of uncertainty, it is announced that the plane is carrying United Airlines executives, who are circling the site to view it before they land in nearby Johnstown. [Kashurba, 2002, pp. 63] Another low-flying jet plane was witnessed over the site earlier on, around the time Flight 93 went down (see (Before and After 10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
The Secret Service reports that a United Airlines aircraft, Flight 182, is missing. Doug Davis, the special assistant for technical operations in air traffic services at FAA headquarters is talking over the phone with John White, a manager at the FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia. At 10:47 a.m., Davis informs White, “[United Airlines] 182, Secret Service is saying is missing.” Davis asks White to “find out for me” whether this is indeed the case. He adds that the flight is going from “Boston to Seattle.” [9/11 Commission, 11/4/2003] According to some accounts, Flight 182 is reported as missing at a later time. A Secret Service timeline of the morning’s events records the flight as being “unaccounted for” at 10:55 a.m. [Secret Service, 9/11/2001] And according to an FAA chronology, the plane is reported as being “unaccounted for” over an FAA teleconference at 11:40 a.m. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001] Presumably Flight 182 is located at some later time, although further details of this missing aircraft are unstated.
Nine United Airlines aircraft are reported missing. Andrew Studdert, United Airlines’ chief operating officer, will tell the 9/11 Commission that between 10:55 a.m. and 11:15 a.m., United Airlines Flights 57, 103, 634, 1211, 1695, 2101, 2102, 2256, and 2725 are reported as missing. All nine aircraft are eventually located at various airports. [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004] One of them, Flight 57, is later reported as having landed at Garden City Regional Airport in Kansas. [9/11 Commission, 2004]
Richard Belme. [Source: CNN]A United Airlines aircraft maintenance officer working at a maintenance facility in London, England, receives a suspicious satellite phone call from an unknown aircraft, apparently made by the plane’s pilot, who sounds distraught, possibly as if he is being choked.
Caller Sounds Strange, Makes No Sense - The call lasts for about seven or eight sentences, but the maintenance officer is unable to make sense of what it is about. He will later recall that the caller sounds strange, and tell the 9/11 Commission that this is the “only phone call that he’d ever received of that nature in the 10 years he’s been on the job for United.” The maintenance officer presumes that the caller is the plane’s pilot, because this specific type of satellite phone call can only be made from the flight deck of a commercial airliner. However, the caller’s manner of talking is not professional. The number for the London facility would not have been programmed into the phone, so the caller would have needed to type it in.
Caller Possibly Being Choked - The maintenance officer subsequently contacts the United Airlines System Aircraft Maintenance Control (SAMC) at San Francisco International Airport to report the strange call. The FBI is already at the SAMC and is made aware of his report. It is informed that the maintenance officer has said the caller from the plane “sounded as if they were being choked.” However, when he is interviewed by the 9/11 Commission in November 2003, the maintenance officer will state that “it is difficult to say whether or not the pilot was getting choked.” He will say he “doesn’t believe this to be the case and doesn’t recall reporting this,” although he will indicate that it is “possible he previously told someone that it sounded like the person was being choked.”
Origin of Call Unknown - The suspicious call comes up as “registration number unknown.” However, the maintenance officer recognizes it as coming from what he will call a “Sat 7 phone,” because, he will say, “the background noise was characteristic of that type of satellite call.” Typically, Boeing 767s and 777s have the equipment to make “Sat 7” calls, although the maintenance officer believes the call is most likely from a 777. The United Airlines legal department will subsequently tell the maintenance officer that “it would be possible to find the station that placed the call, because United must have a record of the phone call.” Satellite phone communication is expensive and each call is itemized when paid for. However, a 9/11 Commission memorandum in November 2003 will state that, at that time, the origin of the call “is still unknown.”
Call Unrelated to Two United Airlines Hijackings - According to the maintenance officer, the call is not tape recorded. But according to Richard Belme, a manager at the SAMC, the call is recorded but then only stored for a short time, maybe three months. The maintenance officer’s notes from this day will subsequently be shredded. The 9/11 Commission will conclude that the suspicious call could not have come from either of the two hijacked United Airlines flights because it does not coincide with the timeframe of those flights. Furthermore, United Airlines Flight 93 was a Boeing 757 and so would not have been equipped with the type of phone necessary to make the call. In mid-2003, the aircraft maintenance officer will be told that “this issue [is] over.” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 11/21/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 11/21/2003 ]
United Airlines issues a press release confirming that Flight 93 has crashed. Flight 93 went down in Pennsylvania shortly after 10:00 a.m. (see (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The release states: “United Airlines has confirmed one of its flights has crashed near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. United Flight 93, a Boeing 757 aircraft, is the flight number involved. The flight originated in Newark and was bound for San Francisco.” The release adds, “United is deeply concerned about a further flight, United Flight 175, a Boeing 767, which was bound from Boston to Los Angeles.” [United Airlines, 9/11/2001] Although Flight 175 hit the World Trade Center at 9:03 (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), United Airlines will not publicly confirm it has crashed until 11:53 a.m. (see 11:53 a.m. September 11, 2001).
United Airlines finally issues a press release confirming that Flight 175 has crashed, nearly three hours after this aircraft hit the World Trade Center (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). The release states, “United Airlines has now confirmed that two of its aircraft have crashed.” These include “United Flight 175, a Boeing 767 aircraft, [that] departed from Boston at 7:58 a.m. local time, bound for Los Angeles, with 56 passengers onboard, two pilots and seven flight attendants.” [United Airlines, 9/11/2001] United Airlines previously issued a press release, at 11:17, confirming the crash of Flight 93 (see 11:17 a.m. September 11, 2001), but this had stated that the airline was, at that time, only “deeply concerned” about Flight 175. [United Airlines, 9/11/2001] However, at 9:22, the United Airlines System Operations Control manager had issued an advisory to all the airline’s facilities, stating that Flight 175 had been in an accident in New York (see 9:22 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 26] And Colin Scoggins, the military liaison at the FAA’s Boston Center, will later claim that United confirmed to the center that Flight 175 was down, “within two or three minutes” (see (9:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]
Deena Burnett, whose husband Tom Burnett was on Flight 93, is told by United Airlines it isn’t aware this plane has crashed. Deena had earlier on learned of an aircraft crashing in Pennsylvania, and a police officer with her informed her that this was her husband’s flight. Yet in her own book, published in 2006, Deena Burnett will describe that she now calls “United Airlines and asked about Flight 93. ‘Were there any survivors?’” She will recall: “They said they didn’t know the plane had even crashed. They suggested I call back or they would contact me when they knew something.” According to her own description, Deena appears to make this call shortly before 11:00 a.m. Pacific Time, meaning close to 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time. [Burnett and Giombetti, 2006, pp. 71-72 and 79] Yet by 10:15 a.m. ET, United Airlines’ headquarters had confirmed that an aircraft had crashed in Pennsylvania, and believed this was Flight 93 (see (10:07 a.m.-10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 47] And at 11:17 a.m. ET, the airline had issued a press release confirming the crash of Flight 93 (see 11:17 a.m. September 11, 2001). [United Airlines, 9/11/2001] At what time Deena Burnett hears back from United Airlines after making this call is unstated.
Robert J. Darling. [Source: Robert J. Darling]Government and military officials in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House learn that the FBI’s crisis response team wants to be flown from California back to Washington, DC, and, because of the team’s crucial role in responding to terrorism, they arrange a flight for it as a matter of priority. [Darling, 2010, pp. 73-75] The FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG) arrived in California the previous day for a week of field training (see September 10, 2001) and was therefore stranded away from Washington when the terrorist attacks occurred this morning (see 10:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [NBC 4, 9/11/2001; Darling, 2010, pp. 75]
FBI San Francisco Office Arranges to Get Team to Washington - Two agents belonging to the CIRG learned of the attacks when the FBI’s San Francisco field office phoned them just before 9:00 a.m. (Eastern time) and alerted them to the events in New York. The agents quickly went to the field office, where Bruce Gebhardt, the special agent in charge, gave them the details of what had happened, and told them to get their team together and head to the San Francisco airport. Gebhardt said that although US airspace was closed to all commercial air traffic (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001), he would do what he could to get the CIRG transported back to Washington as soon as possible. The team members therefore packed their gear and went to the airport. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 8/18/2004; Darling, 2010, pp. 75-76]
Transporting Unit Home Becomes 'Priority' at White House - In the PEOC, Colonel Michael Irwin, the director of operations for the White House Military Office, is called by a senior member of the FBI, who requests airlift support for the CIRG. The request is quickly passed to Joe Hagin, the White House deputy chief of staff. Hagin hands it back to Irwin and says: “I want you to get these folks back to DC immediately! Let the military know this is a White House priority.” The task of getting the CIRG back to Washington is then passed to Major Robert Darling, the White House Military Office airlift operations liaison officer, who is also in the PEOC. It becomes his “number-one mission priority.” The CIRG is the unit that coordinates the FBI’s rapid response to crisis incidents, including terrorist attacks. Therefore, “It made perfect sense,” Darling will later comment, “that the president would want them home and at the ready, given the day’s events.”
United Airlines Offers to Provide Aircraft - After learning that the FBI has essential personnel trying to return to Washington, United Airlines quickly offers its services. If the White House can authorize an aircraft to fly under the Special Assignment Air Mission designator, the airline says, it will provide the required aircraft and crew immediately. With the approval of Hagin and a phone call to NORAD, United Airlines Flight 8811 is authorized to transport the CIRG back to Washington. “Within the hour” of this authorization being given, according to Darling, the CIRG members will take off from San Francisco and head back to Washington (see Late Afternoon September 11, 2001). [Darling, 2010, pp. 73-76]
Airphone from Flight 93 wreckage. [Source: National Museum of American History]The first FBI agents arrive at the Flight 93 crash scene soon after it goes down. [Kashurba, 2002, pp. 60] Due to the criminal nature of the crash, the FBI becomes lead authority for the investigation of the site. Attempts are made to have the area declared a federal disaster, but these are unsuccessful. [DMORT National News, 1/2002] For about two weeks, the FBI’s evidence recovery team of about 150 agents goes over the site with sifters, filtering evidence from the soil. It recovers about 510 pounds of human remains. [Longman, 2002, pp. 259; Age (Melbourne), 9/9/2002] Despite the lack of wreckage reported by those first at the crash scene (see (After 10:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001), the FBI claims that it recovers 95 percent of the plane. The largest piece found, it says, is a seven-foot-long piece of the fuselage skin, including four windows. With the exception of the two black boxes, all wreckage is passed on to United Airlines. Asked what United will do with this, a spokeswoman says, “I don’t think a decision has been made… but we’re not commenting.” [CNN, 9/24/2001; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/25/2001] While conducting its investigation of the crash site, the FBI overrules a plan to carefully map the area and mark the positions of debris so as to determine exactly how Flight 93 crashed, claiming this would be too time-consuming (see September 16, 2001). [Longman, 2002, pp. 262] After it completes its work, the site becomes the responsibility of the county coroner, who continues the search for remains. [Longman, 2002, pp. 258-259]
Lisa Beamer. [Source: NBC]Since 9/11, Lisa Beamer—whose husband Todd Beamer died on Flight 93—has reportedly had one “nagging question.” According to Newsweek, she’d wondered, “Why had her husband, a man so attached to his cell phone that [she] had to confiscate it when they went on vacation, not called her from the plane? Other passengers had called home from Flight 93 to say goodbye and talk to their loved ones. Why not Todd?” [Newsweek, 12/3/2001] This evening, she receives a call from her family liaison with United Airlines, informing her that the FBI has released information that Todd made a call from the flight: Using a GTE Airfone, he’d spoken to an operator in the Chicago area. The FBI had been keeping the information private until it reviewed the material. The liaison reads her a summary of the call written by Lisa Jefferson, the GTE supervisor with whom Todd had spoken (see 9:45 a.m.-9:58 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Beamer and Abraham, 2002, pp. 185-186] During the call, Jefferson had asked Todd if he’d wanted to be connected to his wife. However, as Jefferson later recalls, he’d “said no, that he did not want to upset her as they were expecting their third child in January.” [Orlando Sentinel, 9/5/2002] Instead, he’d asked Jefferson to contact his family if he didn’t “make it out of this.” [Longman, 2002, pp. 200] In her book, published in 2002, Lisa Beamer writes that she was “so glad he didn’t” contact her from the plane, because, “Had I learned about Todd’s circumstances by hearing his voice from the plane, I no doubt would have lost it.” While Lisa Beamer only learns of her husband’s call from Flight 93 on this day, the CEO of the company for which he’d worked appears to have been aware of its details a day earlier (see September 13, 2001). [Beamer and Abraham, 2002, pp. 184-185 and 201-202]
$2.5 million in put options on American Airlines and United Airlines are reported unclaimed. This is likely the result of the suspension in trading on the New York Stock Exchange after the attacks which gave the SEC time to be waiting if the owners showed up to redeem their put options placed the week before the 9/11 attacks. [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/29/2001]
Richard Ben-Veniste. [Source: C-SPAN]The 10 members of the new 9/11 Commission are appointed by this date, and are: Republicans Thomas Kean (chairman), Slade Gorton, James Thompson, Fred Fielding, and John Lehman, and Democrats Lee Hamilton (vice chairman), Max Cleland, Tim Roemer, Richard Ben-Veniste, and Jamie Gorelick. [Chicago Tribune, 12/12/2002; Associated Press, 12/16/2002; New York Times, 12/17/2002] Senators Richard Shelby (R-AL) and John McCain (R-AZ) had a say in the choice of one of the Republican positions. They and many 9/11 victims’ relatives wanted former Senator Warren Rudman (R-NH), who co-wrote an acclaimed report about terrorism before 9/11 (see January 31, 2001). But, possibly under pressure from the White House, Senate Republican leader Trent Lott (R-MS) blocked Rudman’s appointment and chose John Lehman instead. [St. Petersburg Times, 12/12/2002; Associated Press, 12/13/2002; Reuters, 12/16/2002; Shenon, 2008, pp. 55-56] It will slowly emerge over the next several months that at least six of the 10 commissioners have ties to the airline industry. [CBS News, 3/5/2003] Henry Kissinger (see December 13, 2002) and his replacement Thomas Kean (see December 16, 2002) both caused controversy when they were named. In addition, the other nine members of the Commission are later shown to all have potential conflicts of interest. Republican commissioners:
Fred Fielding also works for a law firm lobbying for Spirit Airlines and United Airlines. [Associated Press, 2/14/2003; CBS News, 3/5/2003]
Slade Gorton has close ties to Boeing, which built all the planes destroyed on 9/11, and his law firm represents several major airlines, including Delta Air Lines. [Associated Press, 12/12/2002; CBS News, 3/5/2003]
John Lehman, former secretary of the Navy, has large investments in Ball Corp., which has many US military contracts. [Associated Press, 3/27/2003]
James Thompson, former Illinois governor, is the head of a law firm that lobbies for American Airlines and has previously represented United Airlines. [Associated Press, 1/31/2003; CBS News, 3/5/2003] Democratic commissioners:
Richard Ben-Veniste represents Boeing and United Airlines. [CBS News, 3/5/2003] He also has other curious connections, according to a 2001 book on CIA ties to drug running written by Daniel Hopsicker, which has an entire chapter called “Who is Richard Ben-Veniste?” Lawyer Ben-Veniste, Hopsicker says, “has made a career of defending political crooks, specializing in cases that involve drugs and politics.” He has been referred to in print as a “Mob lawyer,” and was a long-time lawyer for Barry Seal, one of the most famous drug dealers in US history who is also alleged to have had CIA connections. [Hopsicker, 2001, pp. 325-30]
Max Cleland, former US senator, has received $300,000 from the airline industry. [CBS News, 3/5/2003]
James Gorelick is a director of United Technologies, one of the Pentagon’s biggest defense contractors and a supplier of engines to airline manufacturers. [Associated Press, 3/27/2003]
Lee Hamilton sits on many advisory boards, including those to the CIA, the president’s Homeland Security Advisory Council, and the US Army. [Associated Press, 3/27/2003]
Tim Roemer represents Boeing and Lockheed Martin. [CBS News, 3/5/2003]
Entity Tags: American Airlines, Fred F. Fielding, Jamie Gorelick, 9/11 Commission, James Thompson, John McCain, John Lehman, Trent Lott, Richard Shelby, Lee Hamilton, Richard Ben-Veniste, United Airlines, Warren Rudman, Slade Gorton, Tim Roemer, Max Cleland
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Spokesperson Paul Bresson announces that the FBI has concluded that there was no insider trading in US securities markets by people with advance knowledge of the 9/11 attacks. According to Bresson, the “vast majority” of a pre-attack surge of trading in options that bet on a drop in the stock of AMR Corp., which owns American Airlines, and UAL Corp., which owns United Airlines, was conducted by investment hedge funds implementing bearish investment strategies or hedging a line position of common stock, and was not linked to terrorists. [9/11 Commission, 8/18/2003 ; St. Petersburg Times, 9/19/2003; Washington Post, 9/19/2003] However, seven months later, a paper by a professor of finance at the University of Illinois will conclude that “there is evidence of unusual option market activity in the days leading up to September 11” (see April 25, 2004). [Poteshman, 3/10/2004]
The 9/11 Commission dismisses allegations of insider trading in the days preceding 9/11, in a footnote contained in its final report. According to the report, the put options for the parent companies of United Airlines were placed by a “US-based institutional investor with no conceivable ties to al-Qaeda as part of a trading strategy that also included buying 115,000 shares of American on September 10.” With respect to the highly suspicious trading in the parent company of American Airlines, the Commission states that many of the trades were “traced to a specific US-based options trading newsletter, faxed to its subscribers on Sunday, September 9, which recommended these trades.” According to the Commission: “The SEC and the FBI, aided by other agencies and the securities industry, devoted enormous resources to investigating this issue, including securing the cooperation of many foreign governments. These investigators have found that the apparently suspicious consistently proved innocuous.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 499]
Rashid Rauf. [Source: Warrick Page/ Getty Images]British police arrest 24 people in connection with a plot to blow up aircraft flying from Britain to the United States. Metropolitan Police Deputy Commissioner Paul Stephenson says the plot was “intended to be mass murder on an unimaginable scale.” [CNN, 8/10/2006] Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff describes the plot as “well-advanced and well-thought-out and… really resourced to succeed.” [MSNBC, 8/10/2006] He also likens it to the foiled 1995 Bojinka plot, one portion of which involved blowing up up to a dozen airplanes over the ocean using liquid explosives smuggled onto the planes. [CNN, 8/11/2006] The British threat warning level is raised to critical and London’s Heathrow Airport is closed to most European flights. US officials say the plot involved hiding liquid explosives in carry-on luggage, and up to 12 flights would have been targeted. A senior US congressional source says the plotters planned to carry sports drinks onto the flights, which would then be mixed with a gel-like substance. The explosives would be triggered by the electrical charge from an iPod or mobile phone. Administration officials say the plot involved British Airways, Continental, United, and American Airlines. The plotters intended to detonate the devices over New York, Washington, San Francisco, Boston, and Los Angeles. Officials say the plot demonstrates “very strong links to al-Qaeda” and was nearly operational. In the US, the Department of Homeland Security raises the terror threat to the highest level, red, meaning “severe,” for commercial flights originating in Britain and bound for the US. In addition, the threat level is raised to orange, or “high,” for all commercial flights operating in or coming to the US. [CNN, 8/10/2006] British officials say the death toll could have exceeded the 2,700 of the September 11 attacks, with one source calling the plot “our 9/11.” The arrests were spurred by the detention in Pakistan of one of the plotters, Rashid Rauf. The Pakistanis arrested him at the behest of US Vice President Dick Cheney (see Before August 10, 2006 and Between July 28 and August 9, 2006). [Guardian, 8/11/2006] Officials say some plotters already had tickets for flights and planned to stage test runs over the weekend. Despite the 24 arrests, five suspects in Britain are still being urgently hunted. One official says, “They didn’t get them all.” But British officials claim the arrests in London and Birmingham snare all the alleged “main players.” [MSNBC, 8/10/2006] British Home Secretary John Reid says the operation is ongoing and more arrests may be made. US officials say the suspects are all British citizens between the ages of 17 and 35, with some being of Pakistani ethnicity. They add that some of the suspects had been monitored by British intelligence for several months. Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, head of the Metropolitan Police Service Anti-Terrorist Branch, says the arrests follow an “unprecedented level of surveillance” over several months involving meetings, movements, travel, spending, and the aspirations of a large group of people. [CNN, 8/10/2006]
Liquids, Gels, Electronics Banned from Flights - Homeland Security bans all liquids and gels except baby formula and prescription medications in the name of the ticket holder in carry-on luggage on all flights. Passengers traveling from and through British airports are temporarily permitted to only carry-on items on a restricted list. These items have to be carried in transparent plastic bags. No liquids can be carried on board, including liquid medications “unless verified as authentic.” All electronic items are also banned. [Detroit Free Press, 8/10/2006]
Arrests, Alert Questioned - In the days following the security operation, the arrests will meet with some skepticism. Stephen Glover of the Daily Mail points to previous baseless terror scares in the US and Britain, as well as questioning the political motivations of the home secretary. [Daily Mail, 8/16/2006] Douglas Fraser of the Herald in Edinburgh suggests the “political component” of the operation has caused skepticism. He says the intelligence services are taking credit for foiling a major plot by “ramping up the level of public concern about the threat.” He notes that the timing coincides with an attempt by the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair to return to an issue it was defeated on before: increasing to 90 days the amount of time that people can be detained without charge in the case of alleged terrorist offenses. [VOA News, 8/18/2006] Sean O’Neill and Stewart Tendler of the London Times urge the public and the media to wait for solid evidence before accepting the version of events presented by the government. They say previous bungled anti-terror operations have put pressure on the authorities to build a solid case in public. [London Times, 8/12/2006] In response to these criticisms, intelligence services will be hesitant to release much information publicly, but confirm to The Guardian that surveillance and tips from informants pointed to a plot in the making. Police identify the explosives to be used in the plot as TATP (triacetone triperoxide) and HMTD (hexamethylene triperoxide diamine), both peroxide-based liquid explosives. [Guardian, 8/19/2006] Police will also reveal that the raids uncovered jihadist materials, receipts of Western Union money transfers, seven martyrdom videos, and the last will and testament of one plotter. [New York Times, 8/28/2006]
Some Suspects to Be Released; Security Measures Probably Unnecessary - However, The Guardian does indicate that some of the arrested suspects are likely to be released and that the security measures instituted following the arrests are almost certainly unnecessary. [Guardian, 8/19/2006] Contradicting earlier reports, a senior British official will suggest an attack was not imminent, saying the suspects had not yet purchased any airline tickets. In fact, some do not even have passports. [MSNBC, 8/14/2006] Over two and a half weeks after the arrests, a target date for the attacks and number of planes involved will still be undetermined by investigators. The estimate of 10 to 12 planes is characterized by officials as speculative and exaggerated. Clarke acknowledges the police are still investigating “the number, destination, and timing of the flights.” [New York Times, 8/28/2006]
12 Suspects to Be Tried - Twelve suspects will be charged with terrorism offences near the end of August 2006. Trials are expected to start in January 2008 at the earliest. Prosecutor Colin Gibbs says he expects “a very long trial of [between] five and eight months.” [IOL, 9/4/2006]
Entity Tags: Michael Chertoff, Paul Stephenson, US Department of Homeland Security, Peter Clarke, Metropolitan Police Service Anti-Terrorist Branch, Sean O’Neill, Rashid Rauf, John Reid, Al-Qaeda, Douglas Fraser, United Airlines, Frances Townsend, Stephen Glover, British Airways, American Airlines, Stewart Tendler, Continental Airlines
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Zweites Deutsches Ferhnsehn (ZDF), Germany’s public television station, broadcasts an investigation into alternative accounts of 9/11 called “Mythos und Warheit: Der 11. September 2001.” The documentary concludes there was no government conspiracy behind the attacks but describes what producer Michael Renz calls a “wall of silence” when he approached officials for information. “When officials are asked about 9/11 conspiracy theories they react by barricading themselves. For example: one of the greatest mysteries about the attacks on America is the apparently empty crater in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Where is the wreckage of Flight United 93? After asking United Airlines, we are told that the insurance company has the wreckage. But the responsible manager at that company is first in a meeting, then on a three-day business trip, which then becomes a several weeks-long intercontinental trip. During this time he cannot be reached by email or cell-phone—or so we are told by the secretary of one of the largest airline-insurance companies in the United States. After weeks and countless phone calls finally a brief answer: we do not have the wreckage. The FBI in Washington is in charge. The FBI press officer is surprisingly open and cooperative. There will be no interview about 9/11 but he will certainly give permission to film the wreckage. After all, the investigations have ended and there is no reason to exclude the public. Alas! The FBI no longer has the wreckage. It has been returned to United Airlines. Back to square one! Yes, we have the wreckage, says the airline after a new inquiry. But no permission to film. No reason given. All inquiries to government officials, and most to private companies, end this way. Apparently no one wants to have anything to do with 9/11.” The producer describes similar difficulties when he tried to obtain permission to film inside a Boeing flight simulator or when he approached New York officials to ask them about the fireproofing in the WTC. “But when we talk with officials off-the-record, many say a gag-order has been handed from the top. There is widespread fear of getting into trouble by talking.” [Hamburger Abendblatt, 9/11/2007; Renz, 9/11/2007]
It is revealed that Larry Silverstein, the developer of Ground Zero, is seeking $12.3 billion in damages from airlines and airport security companies for the attacks on 9/11. Silverstein sought the damages in a claim filed in 2004, alleging that the companies failed to prevent the hijackers from taking over the planes that destroyed the World Trade Center buildings. The size of his claim was previously unknown, but is now revealed at a status conference in the US District Court in Manhattan. [New York Times, 3/27/2008] Of the $12.3 billion sought, $8.4 billion would be to replace the property destroyed in the attacks, and the other $3.9 billion would cover lost income and expenses associated with renting the new buildings. Companies named in the suit include American Airlines, United Airlines, Continental Airlines, Boeing, and the Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport), which manages Logan Airport in Boston, from where the two planes that hit the WTC took off. [CNN, 3/27/2008] Silverstein’s case is consolidated with similar, earlier lawsuits by other property owners and some families of 9/11 victims. Silverstein is by far the biggest of the claimants. A lawyer for the airlines says that if Silverstein wins, it could push the total claims beyond the amount of insurance the airlines and security companies have available. Silverstein, the CEO and president of Silverstein Properties, only signed the 99-year lease on the World Trade Center six weeks before 9/11 (see July 24, 2001). He has already won nearly $4.6 billion in insurance payments stemming from the attacks (see May 23, 2007). [New York Times, 3/27/2008; NY1 News, 3/28/2008]
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