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EVENTS

According to an FAA report, between 9:25 a.m. and 9:30 a.m., air traffic controllers at the Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) at Washington Dulles International Airport notice an unidentified blip, later identified to be Flight 77, on their radar screens. This is several minutes earlier than the 9/11 Commission will claim they notice it. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 9]
Plane Flying East at High Speed - The TRACON at Dulles Airport, which is about 22 miles west of the Pentagon, learned several minutes earlier that the FAA had lost contact with Flight 77. It then advised its controllers to look out for “primary targets” (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 9/13/2001; Navy Times, 9/22/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 32] These are radar tracks that can still be viewed when a plane’s transponder has been turned off. [Salon, 9/10/2004] Several of the facility’s controllers now observe a primary radar target heading eastbound toward Washington at high speed, almost 500 miles per hour. Although the aircraft has no transponder signal to identify it, it is later determined to be Flight 77. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file; USA Today, 8/13/2002]
Conflicting Times - According to the 9/11 Commission Report, the Dulles TRACON controllers only notice this aircraft at 9:32 a.m. (see 9:32 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 9] The FAA report, which is published less than a week after 9/11, will state that its time of between 9:25 and 9:30 is “approximate, based on personnel statements from Dulles Terminal Radar Approach Control.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file] But this earlier time will receive some corroboration from a report in USA Today, which states that the FAA’s Command Center is notified by a Dulles controller of the unidentified aircraft at “just before 9:30 a.m.” [USA Today, 8/13/2002] Furthermore, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, who is currently at the White House, will tell the 9/11 Commission that at “about 9:25 or 9:26” he overhears someone warning Vice President Dick Cheney of an aircraft approaching Washington (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003] Radar evidence obtained by CBS News will show that “at 9:30 a.m.… radar tracked the plane as it closed to within 30 miles of Washington.” [CBS News, 9/21/2001]

Entity Tags: Washington Dulles International Airport, Federal Aviation Administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Danielle O’Brien.Danielle O’Brien. [Source: ABC News]At 9:32 a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission, several air traffic controllers at Washington Dulles International Airport notice a fast-moving target, which is later determined to be Flight 77, heading eastbound on their radar screens. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 25; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 33] At the Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) at Dulles Airport, which is 22 miles west of the Pentagon, controllers have been searching for primary radar targets since 9:21, when the facility was notified of the loss of contact with Flight 77 (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 9/13/2001; Navy Times, 9/22/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 25]
Controllers See Fast-Moving Radar Track - They now notice an unidentified blip on their screens, heading toward the White House at unusually high speed. [Washington Post, 9/11/2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 145] Controller Danielle O’Brien will later recall: “I noticed the aircraft. It was an unidentified plane to the southwest of Dulles, moving at a very high rate of speed.… I had literally a blip and nothing more. I slid over to the controller on my left, Tom Howell, and I asked him, ‘Do you see an unidentified plane there southwest of Dulles?’ And his response was, ‘Yes. Oh, my gosh, yes! Look how fast he is.’” According to O’Brien, the aircraft is between 12 and 14 miles away when she notices it. It is heading for what is known as Prohibited Area 56 (P-56), which is the airspace over and near the White House, at a speed of about 500 miles per hour. [ABC, 10/24/2001; ABC News, 10/24/2001; Department of Transportation, 8/4/2005] Because the plane’s transponder has been turned off (see 8:56 a.m. September 11, 2001) its identity and type are presently unknown, and the Dulles controllers initially think it is a military aircraft (see (9:25 a.m.-9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 9/12/2001; ABC News, 10/24/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 25]
TRACON Notifies Others - The Dulles TRACON alerts Washington’s Reagan National Airport (see (9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and the Secret Service (see (9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001) to the approaching aircraft. Its operations supervisor also provides continuous updates over a teleconference that has been established at the FAA’s headquarters. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 25] According to an FAA chronology that is published shortly after 9/11, the Dulles TRACON controllers notice the unidentified aircraft earlier than the 9/11 Commission says, at between 9:25 and 9:30 (see (Between 9:25 a.m. and 9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Danielle O’Brien, Washington Dulles International Airport, Tom Howell

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Before crashing into the Pentagon, Flight 77 performs a rapid downward spiral, flying almost a complete circle and descending 7,000 feet in two and a half minutes. [CBS News, 9/21/2001]
330-Degree Turn - At 9:34 a.m., Flight 77 is about 3.5 miles west-southwest of the Pentagon. But, at an altitude of around 7,000 feet, it is flying too high to hit its target. [CBS News, 9/21/2001; New York Times, 10/16/2001; National Transportation Safety Board, 2/19/2002 pdf file] Based on an analysis of radar data and information from the plane’s flight data recorder, a 2002 National Transportation Safety Board report will describe the maneuver the aircraft then performs: “[Flight 77] started a right 330-degree descending turn to the right. At the end of the turn, the aircraft was at about 2,000 feet altitude and four miles southwest of the Pentagon. Over the next 30 seconds, power was increased to near maximum and the nose was pitched down in response to control column movements.” The aircraft accelerates to about 530 miles per hour as it closes in on the Pentagon. [National Transportation Safety Board, 2/19/2002 pdf file]
Controllers Watch on Radar - Air Traffic Controllers at Washington Dulles International Airport follow Flight 77 on their radar screens as it performs this maneuver. Danielle O’Brien will later recall: “John, our supervisor, relayed verbatim, ‘OK, he’s 12 miles west, he’s moving very fast eastbound.… Eleven miles west.’ And it was just a countdown. Ten miles west, nine miles west.… And it went six, five, four, and I had it in my mouth to say three, and all of a sudden the plane turned away. In the room it was almost a sense of relief.” [ABC, 10/24/2001; ABC News, 10/24/2001] Todd Lewis will recall that the aircraft “was heading right towards a prohibited area in downtown Washington.… Then it turned south and away from the prohibited area, which seemed like a momentary sigh of relief, and it disappeared. But it was going away from Washington, which seemed to be the right thing.” [MSNBC, 9/11/2002] However, O’Brien will continue: “[T]he plane turned back. He continued in the right-hand turn, made a 360-degree maneuver.… We lost radar contact with that aircraft. And we waited. And we waited.” [ABC, 10/24/2001; ABC News, 10/24/2001]
Maneuver Indicates Advanced Flying Skills - According to CBS News, “The steep turn” made by Flight 77 “was so smooth… sources say, it’s clear there was no fight for control going on.” The “complex maneuver suggests the hijackers had better flying skills than many investigators first believed.” [CBS News, 9/21/2001] Aviation experts will conclude that this maneuver was the work of “a great talent… virtually a textbook turn and landing.” [Washington Post, 9/10/2002] Due to the aircraft’s high speed and the way it is being flown, Dulles Airport controllers mistake it for a military fighter jet (see (9:25 a.m.-9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 9/12/2001; ABC News, 10/24/2001; MSNBC, 9/11/2002] Yet the hijacker allegedly at the controls, Hani Hanjour, was considered to be a very poor pilot at numerous flight schools he attended (see October 1996-December 1997, 1998, January-February 2001, February 8-March 12, 2001, (April-July 2001), and Mid-August 2001). [Washington Post, 9/10/2002]

Entity Tags: Todd Lewis, RobertMoomo, Danielle O’Brien, John Hendershot, Washington Dulles International Airport

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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