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A US Airways plane that is flying to the United States from Madrid, Spain, is incorrectly suspected of being hijacked. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001; Rice 10/24/2001) It is stated over an FAA teleconference that the White House has reported this suspicious aircraft, which is heading to Philadelphia International Airport, and the military is scrambling fighter jets in response to it. (Federal Aviation Administration 1/2/2002) NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) was alerted to the plane by US Customs and the FBI, according to a NORAD representative on the Pentagon’s air threat conference call (see 9:37 a.m.-9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). NORAD has been unable to locate the aircraft on radar, according to the NORAD representative. (US Department of Defense 9/11/2001) Accounts conflict over whether the plane is US Airways Flight 930 or Flight 937. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 1/2/2002)
Plane Is Reportedly Transmitting the Hijack Signal - Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, who is in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, will later recall that when those in the PEOC learn of the suspect flight, “we got word that it was only 30 minutes or so outside of US airspace.” According to Libby, the plane’s transponder is transmitting the code for a hijacking: He will say it is reported that the flight has been “showing hijacking through some electronic signal.” (Libby 11/14/2001) However, according to the NORAD representative on the air threat conference call, the plane’s transponder has not been “squawking” the code for a hijacking. “We do not have squawk indication at this point,” he has said.
Plane Is Reportedly Diverted to Pittsburgh - An FAA representative on the air threat conference call apparently says an e-mail has been sent from the suspicious aircraft, stating that the plane is being diverted to Pittsburgh, although the FAA representative’s communications are distorted and therefore unclear. (US Department of Defense 9/11/2001)
President Says Fighters Can Shoot Down the Plane - President Bush discusses the suspicious US Airways flight with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld over the air threat conference call after landing at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001) and Major General Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental United States NORAD Region (CONR), listens in. (Filson 2003, pp. 87-88) Rumsfeld wants Bush to confirm that fighters are authorized to shoot down the plane if it is considered a threat to a city in the US. “The reason I called… was just to verify that your authorization for the use of force would apply as well in this situation,” he says. Bush replies, “It does, but let us make sure that the fighters and you on the ground get all the facts.” (US Department of Defense 9/11/2001)
Plane Is on the Ground in Spain - After a time, it will be found that the plane is not a threat and is on the ground in Spain. Arnold will be called by Colonel Robert Marr, the battle commander at NEADS, and told, “We just talked to the airline and that aircraft is back on the ground in Madrid.” (Filson 2003, pp. 88) According to Libby, “It turned out that, I think, it was only 35 minutes out of Spanish airspace, not out of our airspace.” (Libby 11/14/2001) Reggie Settles, the FAA representative at NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center in Colorado, will be informed by US Airways that Flight 937 in fact never existed. However, he will be told, there is a US Airways Flight 911, which “took off from Madrid,” but “has turned back and returned to Madrid,” and “is not en route to the United States.” (US Department of Defense 9/11/2001)
President Decides to Leave Offutt after the Concerns Are Resolved - After he learns that the suspicious plane is back in Spain, Arnold will pick up the hot line and tell Bush: “Mr. President, this is the CONR commander.… No problem with Madrid.” According to Arnold, Bush will reply, “Okay, then I’m getting airborne.” (Filson 2003, pp. 88) Bush will take off from Offutt aboard Air Force One at around 4:30 p.m. (see (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (CNN 9/12/2001) Numerous aircraft are incorrectly suspected of being hijacked on this day (see (9:09 a.m. and After) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 28; Baker 3/31/2005) The US Airways flight from Madrid is the last of these, according to Arnold. (Code One Magazine 1/2002)
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