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9/11 Timeline

Flight AA 77

Project: 9/11 Timeline
Open-Content project managed by matt, Paul, KJF

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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). (Parker 9/13/2001; Rolfsen 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. (Phillips 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; 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). (Fisher and Phillips 9/12/2001; 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)

Based on an analysis of radar data for Flight 77 as it approaches the Pentagon and makes a 330 degree loop (see 9:34 a.m.- 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001), experts will later say that the plane is being flown so smoothly that “it’s clear there [is] no fight for control going on.” (CBS News 9/21/2001; Johnson 11/23/2001) The plane gets near the White House during this turn. “Sources say the hijacked jet… [flies] several miles south of the restricted airspace around the White House.” (CBS News 9/21/2001) The Daily Telegraph will later write: “If the airliner had approached much nearer to the White House it might have been shot down by the Secret Service, who are believed to have a battery of ground-to-air Stinger missiles ready to defend the president’s home. The Pentagon is not similarly defended.” (Wastell and Jacobson 9/16/2001) White House spokesman Ari Fleischer will suggest the plane goes even closer to the White House, saying, “That is not the radar data that we have seen. The plane was headed toward the White House.” (CBS News 9/21/2001 Sources: Ari Fleischer)

A supervisor at Washington’s Reagan National Airport calls the Secret Service Joint Operations Center (JOC) and warns it about an unidentified aircraft that is heading toward the White House. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/14/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 9) Controllers at Reagan Airport have just been contacted by controllers at Washington Dulles International Airport, and notified of the unidentified aircraft, later determined to be Flight 77, approaching Washington (see (9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Phillips 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 33)
Supervisor Calls Secret Service - Immediately after he learns of this aircraft, Victor Padgett, the operations supervisor at the Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) at Reagan Airport, picks up a direct line to the White House and informs the Secret Service JOC there: “We have a target five [miles] west. He’s turning south but he’s still on our scope. We’re not talking to him. It’s definitely a suspicious aircraft.” (Federal Aviation Administration 9/14/2001; Spencer 2008, pp. 146) According to the 9/11 Commission, this is “the first specific report to the Secret Service of a direct threat to the White House.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39) Padgett provides the Secret Service with continuous updates on the aircraft’s actions. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/14/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 pdf file) After traveling almost 10 miles south of Reagan Airport, the aircraft turns back toward Washington and again appears to be heading for the White House. Padgett tells the Secret Service: “What I’m telling you, buddy, if you’ve got people, you’d better get them out of there! And I mean right g_ddamned now!” (Spencer 2008, pp. 158) (People will begin rapidly evacuating from the White House at about 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (CNN 9/11/2001; CNN 9/12/2001)
Cheney Not Evacuated - According to the 9/11 Commission, when Padgett initially calls the JOC, “No move [is] made to evacuate the vice president” from his White House office. The officer who takes the call will explain, “[I was] about to push the alert button when the tower advised that the aircraft was turning south and approaching Reagan National Airport.” According to the Commission, Vice President Dick Cheney is not evacuated until “just before 9:36” (see (9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39) (However, other accounts indicate he was evacuated earlier on, shortly after 9:00 a.m. (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Safire 9/13/2001; ABC News 9/14/2002) ) A supervisor at Dulles Airport also contacts the Secret Service around this time to notify it of the approaching aircraft (see (9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 pdf file)

A supervisor at Washington Dulles International Airport contacts the Secret Service at the White House and informs it that an unidentified aircraft is heading toward Washington at a high rate of speed. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 7/22/2003 pdf file) Air traffic controllers at the Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) at Dulles Airport have recently noticed this aircraft on their radar screens (see (Between 9:25 a.m. and 9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 9:32 a.m. September 11, 2001). Its identity and type are currently unknown, but it is later determined to be Flight 77. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 9, 25)
Supervisor Calls White House over Hotline - The Dulles TRACON has a direct phone line to the Secret Service at the White House. After a controller alerts him to the suspicious aircraft, John Hendershot, the operations supervisor, calls the Secret Service over this line. (9/11 Commission 7/22/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 12/22/2003 pdf file) He says, “We have an unidentified, very fast-moving aircraft inbound toward your vicinity, eight miles west.” (News 10/24/2001)
Supervisor Uncertain about Response - Hendershot is unsure what response his call elicits. He will tell the 9/11 Commission, “I guess the operator picked it up,” and say that he assumed the information he provided was relayed to the relevant people at the White House. He will also tell the Commission that, following his call, “no one from Dulles tower was talking to the White House during the minute-minute countdown concerning the unknown primary approaching from the west.” (9/11 Commission 12/22/2003 pdf file) A supervisor at Washington’s Reagan National Airport also contacts the Secret Service around this time, to notify it of the approaching aircraft (see (9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 9) But, while the White House is alerted, personnel at Dulles Airport will tell the 9/11 Commission that there is no discussion about notifying the US Capitol of the unidentified aircraft. (9/11 Commission 7/22/2003 pdf file)

Reagan National Airport.Reagan National Airport. [Source: Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority]Air traffic controllers at Washington’s Reagan National Airport are contacted by controllers at Washington Dulles International Airport, and informed of a fast-moving unidentified aircraft, later determined to be Flight 77, which is approaching the restricted airspace around the White House. (Phillips 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 6/4/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 33) Reagan Airport is less than a mile from the Pentagon and only a few miles from the White House. (Adair, Huettel, and Heller 9/19/2001) During a shift, it has 10 or 11 controllers working in its Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) and seven or eight controllers working in its air traffic control tower. (9/11 Commission 7/28/2003 pdf file) Controllers at the Dulles TRACON have recently noticed the unidentified aircraft on their radar screens (see (Between 9:25 a.m. and 9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 9:32 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 9)
TRACON Told of Aircraft - A Dulles Airport controller now calls the TRACON at Reagan Airport, and says: “Hey! Untracked target 15 [miles] west of you. Primary target eastbound! Heading toward P-56!” (Spencer 2008, pp. 145-146) (P-56, or Prohibited Area 56, is the restricted airspace above and near the White House. (Department of Transportation 8/4/2005) ) Reagan Airport controller Dan Creedon checks his radar screen and sees the aircraft’s target about 10 miles west of the White House. The radar track is untagged, so he attaches a data box to it with the word “LOOK” in it. This will allow other controllers to quickly spot the aircraft. It also causes its ground speed to appear on the screen. According to author Lynn Spencer, the aircraft is shown to be flying at 290 miles per hour. (Spencer 2008, pp. 146) But other accounts will claim it is flying at between 400 and 500 mph as it approaches Washington. (CBS News 9/21/2001; News 10/24/2001; Levin, Adams, and Morrison 8/12/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/28/2003 pdf file) Creedon then calls out to Victor Padgett, the operations supervisor in the TRACON, and tells him about the aircraft heading their way. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/14/2001; Spencer 2008, pp. 146)
Controllers Notify Others - After the Reagan Airport controllers learn of the approaching aircraft, they promptly contact other agencies about it. Padgett calls the Secret Service (see (9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Federal Aviation Administration 9/14/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 pdf file) And another controller will issue traffic advisories on the aircraft to a C-130 military cargo plane that is flying in the area, and then instruct the C-130 to identify and follow the aircraft (see 9.36 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 pdf file; Wald and Sack 10/16/2001; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 33; Spencer 2008, pp. 146-147) A controller in the TRACON will also call the Reagan Airport control tower, and alert it to the approaching aircraft (see (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Spencer 2008, pp. 158)

The BBC reports that pilot Major Dean Eckmann gets a message as he’s flying from Langley, Virginia. “They said—all airplanes, if you come within (I believe it was) 30 miles of Washington, D.C., you will be shot down.” (BBC 9/1/2002) It’s not clear who “they” are and what authority they have. However, fighters are not actually given shootdown orders until later, if at all.

Air traffic controllers at Washington’s Reagan National Airport fail to notify the Pentagon and a nearby Army airfield about an unidentified aircraft, later determined to be Flight 77, which they are tracking as it approaches the capital. (Exempt 11/14/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 33)
Controllers Call Secret Service but Not Military - Controllers in the Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) at Reagan National Airport are aware of the unidentified, fast-moving aircraft that is approaching the White House from at least as early as 9:33 a.m. (see (9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 9, 39; Spencer 2008, pp. 145-146) (However, those in the airport’s control tower possibly only learn of it slightly later (see (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Spencer 2008, pp. 158) ) Although a supervisor at the TRACON promptly alerts the Secret Service at the White House to the aircraft (see (9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001), none of the Reagan Airport controllers contact the Pentagon or the nearby Davison Army Airfield about it. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 pdf file; Exempt 11/14/2001 pdf file)
Aviation Unit Located near Pentagon - Davison Army Airfield is located at Fort Belvoir, an Army base 12 miles south of the Pentagon. The airfield’s principal missions include maintaining “a readiness posture in support of contingency plans,” exercising “operational control” of the local airspace, and providing “aviation support for the White House, US government officials, Department of Defense, Department of the Army, and other government agencies.” The 12th Aviation Battalion, which is the aviation support unit for the Military District of Washington, is stationed at Davison Airfield. The battalion operates UH-1 “Huey” and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. (Fahrig 5/7/1999; Military District of Washington 8/2000) Its airfield operations unit—Davison Airfield Management—operates and maintains the heliport at the Pentagon. (Harding 7/2006)
Tower Supervisor Unhappy - The supervisor of air traffic control currently working in the control tower at Davison Airfield will be unhappy about the failure of the Reagan Airport controllers to alert his unit or the Pentagon to the approaching aircraft. He will voice his complaints when he later talks to one of those controllers. The supervisor will later recall: “I was asking him, ‘Did you know that the aircraft was coming this way?’ And he said: ‘Yes. We were tracking him for so many miles.’”
Controller: 'It Never Occurred to Me' to Call Military - The supervisor will ask the controller: “Why you didn’t say anything to Davison? Why you didn’t say anything to the Pentagon? Because if you would have said something, my controller at the Pentagon would have called the DPS unit,” meaning the Defense Protective Service, which guards the Pentagon, “and it would have alerted them that there was something coming to Washington, DC, an aircraft with hostile intentions or something.” The controller will reply, “Well, you know what, it never occurred to me,” and say, “we didn’t know that he was going to hit the Pentagon.” (Exempt 11/14/2001 pdf file)

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; Wald and Sack 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; 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; 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.” (Fainaru and Ibrahim 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). (Fisher and Phillips 9/12/2001; 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). (Fainaru and Ibrahim 9/10/2002)

At NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), Staff Sergeant William Huckabone is the first person to notice that the three fighter jets launched from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001) are drastically off course.
Jets Heading to Training Airspace - Huckabone has spotted the radar returns for the Langley F-16s and notices that, instead of flying north toward the Baltimore area as instructed, the fighters are going east, out over the Atlantic Ocean, apparently toward a military training airspace called Whiskey 386 (see 9:30 a.m.-9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). Unfortunately, NEADS cannot contact the jets directly, as they are out of its radio range. Furthermore, the supervisor of flying (SOF) for the alert unit at Langley AFB is unavailable. (Bronner 8/1/2006; Spencer 2008, pp. 149) As the SOF, Captain Craig Borgstrom would normally be responsible for communicating with NEADS and getting information to pass on to his jets, but he has taken off himself, along with his unit’s two alert pilots (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Tyson 4/16/2002; Spencer 2008, pp. 118)
NEADS Calls 'Giant Killer' - Huckabone alerts fellow weapons director Master Sergeant Steve Citino, who is sitting next to him, to the off-course fighters. He then gets on the phone to “Giant Killer”—the Fleet Area Control Surveillance Facility in Virginia Beach, Virginia. This is the Navy air traffic control agency that handles all over-water military operations. (Wald 2/10/1997; Spencer 2008, pp. 143, 149) Protocol requires that, because the Langley jets are in Giant Killer’s airspace, the Navy facility is responsible for directing them until they reach the airspace of the FAA’s Washington Center, where FAA controllers will take over.
Navy Controller Unconcerned - Citino and Huckabone speak to the Navy air traffic controller who is handling the three Langley fighters, but the controller appears not to grasp the urgency of the situation. Huckabone says, “Those fighters need to go north toward Baltimore, and now!” The Navy controller asks: “You’ve got [the Langley F-16s] moving east in airspace. Now you want ‘em to go to Baltimore?” Huckabone says yes, and adds, “We’re not gonna take ‘em in Whiskey 386.” He tells the Navy controller that, once the jets are heading toward Baltimore: “Have [the pilots] contact us on auxiliary frequency 2-3-4 decimal 6. Instead of taking handoffs to us and us handing ‘em back, just tell [the FAA’s Washington] Center they’ve got to go to Baltimore.” The Navy controller responds: “All right, man. Stand by. We’ll get back to you.” He seems to lack any sense of urgency, and Citino snaps at him: “What do you mean, ‘We’ll get back to you’? Just do it!” After hanging up the phone, Huckabone jokes, “I’m gonna choke that guy!” Looking at his radar screen, he sees that the Langley F-16s are continuing to fly out over the ocean. (Bronner 8/1/2006; Spencer 2008, pp. 149-150)

Daniel Caine.Daniel Caine. [Source: White House]The Secret Service calls the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) at Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, and asks if it can get fighter jets launched. (Filson 2003, pp. 78)
Secret Service Calls DCANG - Major Daniel Caine, the supervisor of flying with the 113th Wing of the DC Air National Guard, which is based at Andrews, called his contact at the Secret Service earlier on to see if they needed assistance from his unit, but was told they did not (see (Between 9:05 a.m. and 9:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001). But the Secret Service has just learned of a suspicious aircraft five miles from the White House (see (9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and so one of its agents now calls Caine back. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 pdf file; Spencer 2008, pp. 124, 156) Caine’s previous call to the Secret Service had been with agent Kenneth Beauchamp, who told Caine he would call back. However, he did not do so. The name of the agent that makes the current call is unstated. (9/11 Commission 3/8/2004 pdf file)
Agent Wants Planes Launched - The Secret Service agent asks, “Can you get airplanes up?” He then tells Caine to stand by, and says somebody else will call. Caine will later recall, “When I heard the tone in his voice, I called our bomb dump and told them to uncrate our missiles.” (Filson 2003, pp. 78) But before Caine does this, Lieutenant Colonel Marc Sasseville, the acting operations group commander under the 113th Wing, calls Brigadier General David Wherley, the commander of the 113th Wing, to get permission to use their “war-reserve missiles.” Wherley gives the go-ahead, and then Caine calls the weapons loaders across the base and orders them, “Get some live AIM-9s [missiles] and bring them over!” At the same time, Sasseville calls the unit’s maintenance officer and orders that their jets be prepared for launch (see (9:35 a.m.-11:05 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Scott 9/9/2002; 9/11 Commission 3/8/2004 pdf file; Spencer 2008, pp. 156-157) Someone from the Secret Service’s White House Joint Operations Center will soon call Caine, and request that armed fighters be launched over Washington (see (Shortly After 9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Filson 2003, pp. 78; 9/11 Commission 3/11/2004 pdf file)

According to the 9/11 Commission, NEADS contacts Washington flight control to ask about Flight 11. A manager there happens to mention, “We’re looking—we also lost American 77.” The commission claims, “This was the first notice to the military that American 77 was missing, and it had come by chance.… No one at FAA Command Center or headquarters ever asked for military assistance with American 77.” (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) Yet, 38 minutes earlier, flight controllers determined Flight 77 was off course, out of radio contact, and had no transponder signal (see 8:56 a.m. September 11, 2001). They’d warned American Airlines headquarters within minutes. By some accounts, this is the first time NORAD is told about Flight 77, but other accounts have them warned around 9:25 a.m.

A helicopter belonging to the US Park Police Aviation Unit.A helicopter belonging to the US Park Police Aviation Unit. [Source: United States Park Police]A US Park Police helicopter is directed to intercept the aircraft that subsequently hits the Pentagon, according to the later statements of US Navy historian John Darrell Sherwood. The helicopter’s pilot reportedly describes the incident when later interviewed by a US Marine Corps historian. Details of the pilot’s account are then revealed by Sherwood, who is a colleague of the Marine Corps historian, while he is interviewing Jeffrey Mark Parsons of the United States Border Patrol about his experiences of the 9/11 attacks.
Pilot Is Told to Prevent the Plane from Hitting the Pentagon - According to Sherwood, the helicopter pilot, who is “an aviation sergeant with the United States Park Police,” is “in the area [of the Pentagon] and he got a call saying, ‘Try to intercept this plane, try to distract the plane, try to do something to, you know, prevent the plane from going into the Pentagon.’” It is unclear from what Sherwood says whether the helicopter is on the ground or already airborne at this time. In response to the instruction, the helicopter goes “to try to distract” the approaching aircraft.
Helicopter Is Witnessed near the Pentagon - What is apparently this Park Police helicopter is then witnessed by Parsons out of a window on the 17th floor of the hotel he is staying at. Parsons sees it flying toward the helicopter landing pad at the Pentagon, two or three minutes before the Pentagon is attacked. (Parsons 12/13/2001; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 258) Other individuals near or inside the Pentagon see what is presumably the same helicopter around this time (see (9:35 a.m.-9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and Shortly Before 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (CNN 9/11/2001; Washington Post 9/5/2002; Priess 2016, pp. 244-245) Parsons has been staying at the Marriott Residence Inn in Arlington, near the Pentagon, for almost a month, but, he will recall, he has “never seen a helicopter approach the Pentagon from that direction before.”
Pilot Sees the Pentagon Attack - At some point, the helicopter lands for a period near the Pentagon. According to Sherwood, it “landed, at one point, near the Memorial Bridge, and there’s that strip of land before you get to the Memorial Cemetery.” Its pilot reportedly witnesses the attack on the Pentagon. He “saw the plane go in, and then the next thing he started doing is medevacing people out of there,” according to Sherwood. When told while being interviewed by Sherwood that the helicopter pilot is instructed to intercept a plane approaching the Pentagon, Parsons will ask, “Then they knew [the plane] was headed toward the Pentagon before it actually hit the Pentagon, then?” To this, Sherwood will only answer, “I guess that helicopter swung around, but by the time he got around, the plane was already into the building.”
Park Police Flies Huey Helicopters - The helicopter is a white and blue Huey, according to Sherwood. (Parsons 12/13/2001) The Park Police Aviation Unit has two Bell 412 helicopters. (Wagstaff 10/1/2001; Forror 11/2001; Forror 2/2002; National Park Service 10/16/2004) (The Bell 412 is a more modern version of the “Huey” helicopter. (Brzezinski 8/24/2003; Hawley 10/25/2007) ) The aviation unit is located in Anacostia Park in southeast Washington, across the Potomac River from the Pentagon. (Wagstaff 10/1/2001; National Park Service 10/16/2004)
Witness Will Be Told, 'Don't Tell Anyone about' the Incident - Most accounts of the unit’s actions on this day will make no mention of this incident, and only describe Park Police helicopters taking off in the minutes after the attack on the Pentagon (see Shortly After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Forror 11/2001; NBC 4 9/11/2003; McDonnell 2004, pp. 20 pdf file; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 161-162) However, it appears there may be an attempt to keep the incident secret. After Parsons recalls seeing the helicopter near the Pentagon minutes before the attack there, Sherwood will instruct him: “Don’t tell anyone about that story, because that’s one of our, I think that’s one of the best stories that’s going to come out of this. We don’t want the press to get this.” (Parsons 12/13/2001)

In answer to a question from a weapons controller at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), one of the pilots that took off in response to Flight 11 confirms that he would be willing to shoot down a hijacked aircraft. (Spencer 2008, pp. 153) Major Kevin Nasypany, the NEADS mission crew commander, has already checked that his section heads and weapons technicians are prepared to order the shooting down of a civilian aircraft (see (9:19 a.m.) September 11, 2001). At 9:32, after NEADS received a report of a hijacked plane approaching Washington (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001), Major James Anderson asked Nasypany what would happen if they located that aircraft, saying, “Are we gonna shoot him down if they got passengers on board?” (Bronner 8/1/2006)
Duffy Says He Would Shoot down a Plane - Nasypany wants to be sure that his pilots are willing to follow a shootdown order, should one be issued. He therefore directs his weapons controller who is dealing with the fighter jets launched from Otis Air National Guard Base (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001) to check this. The weapons controller radios Otis pilot Lt. Col. Timothy Duffy and tells him, “If we get another hijack track, you’re going to be ordered to shoot it down.” He then asks, “Do you have a problem with that?” Somewhat startled by the question, Duffy replies, “No—no problem with that.” He reportedly thinks to himself, “If I have a problem with that order, I am in the wrong seat.” According to author Lynn Spencer, Duffy is “doing what he’s been trained to do.… [I]f he gets a legal, lawful order to take out an airliner, then that’s what he’s going to do. He knows every other fighter pilot would do the same.” Duffy and the other Otis pilot that launched with him, Major Daniel Nash, are “confident no plane will get past them: they’ll do what it takes, and follow any order, to protect New York.” (Spencer 2008, pp. 153) Duffy will later tell the Boston Globe: “[P]eople have said, ‘Would you have done it [i.e. shot down a hostile airliner]?’ Absolutely, that’s my job.” (Viser 9/11/2005)
No Shootdown Order Issued - However, according to the 9/11 Commission, NEADS personnel will only learn that NORAD has been cleared to shoot down threatening aircraft at 10:31 a.m. (see 10:31 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 42) And, according to most accounts, the two Otis pilots never receive an order from the military to shoot down an airliner (see (After 9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Dennehy 8/21/2002; Viser 9/11/2005) Duffy and Nash will also be contacted by a civilian air traffic controller regarding the possibility of shooting down a hijacked aircraft (see (9:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (BBC 9/1/2002)

Weapons being driven across Andrews Air Force Base to the flight line on September 11.Weapons being driven across Andrews Air Force Base to the flight line on September 11. [Source: Corensa Brooks / District of Columbia Air National Guard]Munitions workers with the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) unload bullets and missiles from storage sheds, and work toward getting fighter jets armed to launch in response to the attacks, but even by 10:42 a.m., when two pilots take off, no jets have been armed with missiles. (Filson 2003, pp. 78, 82)
Ordered to Prepare Jets - The munitions crew with the 113th Wing of the DC Air National Guard at Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, has been ordered to uncrate missiles and bring them across the base, while the unit’s maintenance officer has been told to prepare fighters for take off (see (Shortly After 9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Scott 9/9/2002; Filson 2003, pp. 78; 9/11 Commission 3/8/2004 pdf file; Spencer 2008, pp. 157) According to author Lynn Spencer, the unit’s “war-reserve missiles… are never touched, but are kept operational and in minimal numbers for non-alert wings like the DC Guard to allow for contingencies such as this.” (Spencer 2008, pp. 156)
Commander Anticipated Order - Colonel Don Mozley, the commander of the 113th Logistics Group, had been anticipating the order to get jets armed and ready to fly, and so has already instructed his weapons officer to “break out the AIM-9s and start building them up.” The missiles need to be transported across the base from its far side, which will take time. (Scott 9/9/2002)
Missiles Unloaded onto Trailer - The munitions crew unloads bullets and AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles from storage sheds onto a flatbed trailer. Senior Master Sergeant David Bowman, the 113th Wing munitions supervisor, will later recall: “There were six of us there and we had 28 missiles to unload, and they each have three components. And if you drop one, you can’t use it anymore. We were doing it as fast as we could, because for all we knew the terrorists were getting ready to hit us.” Another officer will say the crew prepares the missiles “really fast,” but “we didn’t do it unsafely.”
45 Minutes to Get Missiles across Base - However, the trailer that carries the missiles has a maximum speed of 25 miles per hour and needs a security escort. It takes 45 minutes before the weapons crew has brought missiles across the base to the flight line, where aircraft park. Usually it takes much longer—three hours—to bring weapons from the storage sheds and load them onto fighter jets, according to two senior officers with the unit. Once the missiles have been carried across the base, it takes “no more than 10 minutes” to load each one onto an aircraft, according to one of those officers.
Jets Loaded with Ammo after Exercise - The arming of the fighter jets is apparently speeded up because one of the munitions staff had thought to load the jets with ammunition after members of the 113th Wing recently came back from a training exercise. (Filson 2003, pp. 78, 84; Rasmussen 9/18/2003; Spencer 2008, pp. 157) Three days earlier, members of the wing returned to Andrews after spending two weeks in Nevada for the “Red Flag” exercise (see Late August-September 8, 2001). (Vogel 4/8/2002; Spencer 2008, pp. 156) Master Sergeant Joseph Proctor, one of the unit’s “weapons guys,” had decided to take a load crew and put some ammunition in the jets brought back from Nevada, as these were empty following the exercise. According to Captain Brandon Rasmussen, a pilot with the unit, Proctor’s reason for doing this was so “they wouldn’t be in a rush on Tuesday morning [i.e. September 11],” and “he was thinking local flying and just to help us out a little bit.” Rasmussen will later thank Proctor because of the benefit his actions have on the unit’s response to the attacks, telling him, “If you hadn’t have done that we’d been dead in the water.” (Rasmussen 9/18/2003)
Jets Not Fully Armed at 10:42 - Yet in spite of actions like these, even by 10:42 a.m. on September 11, two F-16s that take off from Andrews have not yet been armed with missiles (see 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Filson 2003, pp. 82) Chief Master Sergeant Roy Belknap, the 113th Wing production superintendent, will later recall: “We had two air-to-air birds on the ramp… that already had ammo in them. We launched those first two with only hot guns. By then, we had missiles rolling up, so we loaded those other two airplanes while the pilots were sitting in the cockpit.” (Scott 9/9/2002) Those aircraft, the first jets to take off with missiles as well as guns, will launch at 11:11 a.m. (see 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Filson 2003, pp. 84; 9/11 Commission 2004; 9/11 Commission 2/17/2004)

David Canoles.David Canoles. [Source: C-SPAN]Officials at FAA headquarters in Washington, DC, follow an unidentified aircraft—presumably Flight 77—that is approaching the capital as its progress is reported over a teleconference. (Levin, Adams, and Morrison 8/12/2002; Freni 2003, pp. 34) Air traffic controllers at the Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) at Washington Dulles International Airport noticed the track of an aircraft flying rapidly east toward Washington on their radar screens at 9:32 a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission Report (see 9:32 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 25) Since then, the operations supervisor at the TRACON has been providing continuous updates over an FAA teleconference. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 pdf file) At FAA headquarters, David Canoles, the FAA’s manager of air traffic evaluations and investigations, is participating in the teleconference and listens as the operations supervisor reports a “fast-moving target moving towards Washington.” The operations supervisor keeps describing the location of the aircraft. “Six miles from the White House,” they say, followed by, “Five miles from the White House.” Canoles realizes the aircraft is virtually on top of FAA headquarters and wonders if his building is its target. He instructs his colleague, Jeffrey Loague, to see if he can spot the aircraft out the window of the adjacent office. Canoles hears the operations supervisor reporting, “The aircraft is circling; it’s turning away from the White House” (see 9:34 a.m.- 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001), followed by, “It’s gone,” when the aircraft disappears from radar. Meanwhile, Loague notices the aircraft out of the window as it descends toward the Pentagon, according to author Pamela Freni. “I see something!” he yells. He describes the plane’s progress as it loses altitude and then disappears behind the buildings that surround the Pentagon. “Oh, my God!” he utters, when he then sees smoke rising into the air. (Levin, Adams, and Morrison 8/12/2002; Freni 2003, pp. 34-35; 9/11 Commission 3/25/2004) However, according to other accounts, Logue apparently does not report seeing the aircraft descending. Instead, he returns to the room after it crashes and tells Canoles only that he has seen smoke coming from the Pentagon. (ABC News 8/12/2002; 9/11 Commission 3/25/2004)

A contract crew has been installing furniture in the southwest perimeter of the Pentagon. Construction workers are currently doing the final touching up, after more than three years of renovation work on this area of the building, and some Defense Department employees are already moving into their new office spaces. But the wife of one crew member phones her husband after seeing footage of the attacks in New York on CNN and says she feels he is in danger at the Pentagon. Hearing of the attacks, the crew leader instructs his 23 workers to abandon what they are doing and evacuate. Moments later, as they are crossing the parking lot, they see the airliner crash into the exact area of the Pentagon they had just left. (Cahlink 5/1/2002; Freni 2003, pp. 43-44) There is no evidence that anyone else in the Pentagon evacuates the building before it is struck (see Before 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Adcock, Donovan, and Gordon 9/23/2001) Another report, which appears to be describing the same incident, says the construction crew evacuates for a different reason: to discuss security with a customer in the parking lot. (Ryan 9/14/2001)

A number of witnesses see a helicopter flying near the Pentagon in the minutes before the attack there.
bullet Jeffrey Mark Parsons, an assistant chief patrol agent with the United States Border Patrol, sees a blue and white helicopter that appears as if it is coming in to land, from a window on the 17th floor of the hotel he is staying at, near the Pentagon. Parsons will later recall that two or three minutes before the Pentagon attack occurs: “I saw [the helicopter] circle… between the hotel and the Pentagon, going toward the landing pad [at the Pentagon] where that airliner ultimately hit. And I thought that he landed on the pad.” Parsons will say the helicopter flies in at “a weird angle,” and recall that he has been staying at the Marriott Residence Inn in Arlington for almost a month, but has “never seen a helicopter approach the Pentagon from that direction before.” He will recognize the helicopter as a Huey because he has flown Hueys and knows they make “a very distinct sound.” According to John Darrell Sherwood, a Navy historian who interviews Parsons about the incident, the helicopter belongs to the US Park Police and has been instructed to intercept the aircraft that subsequently hits the Pentagon (see Shortly Before 9:35 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Parsons 12/13/2001; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 258)
bullet A senior Air Force officer who is somewhere outside the Pentagon also sees a helicopter circling the Pentagon around this time, although he believes it to be a US military helicopter. Shortly after the Pentagon attack, the unnamed officer will tell a CNN reporter that the helicopter “disappeared behind the building where the helicopter landing zone is… and he then saw [a] fireball go into the sky” when the Pentagon is hit. (CNN 9/11/2001)
bullet Jennifer Reichert, who is stuck in traffic on Route 27 in front of the Pentagon, will describe that just before the attack, “A helicopter takes off from the heliport at the Pentagon.” She will add: “Minutes—maybe seconds—later, I hear it: American Airlines Flight 77 screams toward the Pentagon. The explosion [of the crash] shakes my car.” (Washington Post 9/5/2002)
bullet Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Denny Watson, his CIA briefer, who are in Rumsfeld’s office at the Pentagon, see a helicopter flying very close to the building, outside the window of the office, and then pulling away just before the building is attacked (see Shortly Before 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Priess 2016, pp. 244-245)
Perhaps due to the presence of this helicopter in the area, some people will initially think the attack on the Pentagon involves a helicopter hitting the building. Captain William Durm, the commander of the Pentagon’s Triservice Dental Clinic, will head to the building’s center courtyard shortly after the Pentagon is hit. Someone there will tell him a helicopter has hit the other side of the building. (Office of Medical History 9/2004, pp. 11) Some early news reports will suggest a helicopter crashed into the Pentagon. (Thomas Crosbie Media 9/11/2001; Geisler 9/2/2002) One report will claim that “one aircraft and a helicopter have crashed into the Pentagon.” (Airline Industry Information 9/11/2001) Vice President Dick Cheney will tell NBC’s Meet the Press that “the first reports on the Pentagon attack suggested a helicopter” hit the building. (Cheney 9/16/2001) The Guardian will report that one witness claims the explosion that occurs when the Pentagon is hit blows up a helicopter circling overhead. (Borger et al. 9/12/2001) New York Times columnist William Safire will report that, at approximately this time, Cheney is told that either another plane or “a helicopter loaded with explosives” is heading for the White House. (Safire 9/13/2001)

Sergeant William Lagasse.Sergeant William Lagasse. [Source: Citizen Investigation Team]Several police officers and firefighters see the low-flying Flight 77 as it approaches the Pentagon and crashes. They quickly report this to their own agencies or to the Arlington County Emergency Communications Center (ECC), which is the focal point of all police and fire 911 calls for the county. (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 66)
bullet Arlington County Police Department Corporal Barry Foust is stopped at traffic lights less than two miles from the Pentagon, and spots the aircraft flying low, then sees a plume of smoke. (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 13) He immediately calls the ECC and calmly reports: “I think we just had an airplane crash east of here. Must be in the District area.” (Cohn and Cho 9/17/2001; Associated Press 9/18/2001; US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002, pp. C6 pdf file)
bullet Police Motorcycle Officer Richard Cox is standing near a diner less than a mile from the Pentagon. Hearing a sudden roar, he turns and reportedly sees the plane “directly overhead… no more than a hundred feet off the ground.” (Vogel 2007, pp. 427) He calls the ECC and reports, “It’s an American Airlines plane headed eastbound over the [Columbia] Pike, possibly headed for the Pentagon.” (Cohn and Cho 9/17/2001; Associated Press 9/18/2001; US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002, pp. C6 pdf file)
bullet Fire Captain Steve McCoy and his crew are traveling north on Interstate 395 in ACFD Engine 101, for a training session in Crystal City. McCoy reportedly sees “a commercial airliner in steep descent, banking sharply to its right before disappearing beyond the horizon,” followed by “a tremendous explosion” and “a massive plume of smoke and fire.” He immediately radioes ECC and reports, “We got a plane down, it looks like in the Crystal City area by the 14th Street Bridge.” Being aware of the attacks on the World Trade Center, he advises that the FBI should be notified, as this is a possible terrorist attack. (US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002, pp. A4 pdf file; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 66)
bullet Officer Mark Bright of the Defense Protective Service (DPS)—the Pentagon’s police force—is manning the security booth at the Pentagon’s Mall entrance, when he hears a loud noise. He will recall: “I saw the plane at the Navy Annex area [a few hundred yards from the Pentagon]. I knew it was going to strike the building because it was very, very low—at the height of the street lights.” As soon as he sees it hit the Pentagon he radioes in his report of the attack, and then speeds in his police cruiser to the crash site, becoming the first officer there. (Garamone 9/24/2001; Thomas-Lester 10/25/2001; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 152)
bullet Sergeant William Lagasse, also a member of the DPS, is filling up his patrol car at a gas station near the Pentagon. He recalls that he sees an “American Airlines 757… approximately 100 feet above the ground level, maybe 60 feet in front of me.” He watches the plane crash into the Pentagon. His first reaction is to call the DPS Communications Center and state, “An aircraft has just flown into the side of the building.” He then grabs his medical bag and dashes to the crash scene. (Thomas-Lester 10/25/2001; Lagasse 12/4/2001)
bullet Alan Wallace and Mark Skipper of the Fort Myer Fire Department are manning the fire station by the Pentagon heliport, and are outside checking their truck. Wallace glances up and sees the plane coming at them, and the two men then dive for cover (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). Wallace promptly radioes the fire department headquarters at Fort Myer, and reports that an airliner has hit the west side of the Pentagon. (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 65)
Partly due to these calls, many emergency responders quickly learn of the crash and are able to arrive at the Pentagon within minutes of it (see 9:40 a.m.-9:43 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 66) Some fire and rescue units from Arlington County and elsewhere also respond—self-dispatching from stations or diverting from other destinations—after hearing Captain McCoy’s radio message to the ECC. (US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002, pp. A4 pdf file)

In response to an emergency 911 telephone call, the Arlington County Emergency Communications Center dispatches several units to deal with an apartment fire at 1003 Wilson Boulevard in Rosslyn, Virginia—within the vicinity of the Pentagon. Because this fire is in a high-rise building, nine different fire and medical service units are dispatched. However, the first engine crew to arrive radios to the other units that the fire has gone out. Consequently, by “sheer coincidence,” at the time when the Pentagon is hit, there are a significant number of available fire and medical service units already on the road nearby. (US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002, pp. A9 pdf file; Eversburg 11/2002) Assistant Chief James Schwartz of the Arlington County Fire Department will later recall that, around this time, firefighters are dispatched in response to an alarm at the high-rise USA Today complex in Rosslyn (see (Shortly Before 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The address of the complex is 1000 and 1110 Wilson Boulevard, suggesting this is in fact the same incident as the “apartment fire” at 1003 Wilson Boulevard. (Lohr 9/7/2001; Schwartz 2008) Furthermore, apparently around this same time, soldiers from a bomb ordnance disposal unit at Fort Belvoir, 12 miles south of the Pentagon, are on their way to do a sweep of the Pentagon heliport, ready for the expected arrival of the president there at around midday (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 64-65)

Colin Scoggins, the military liaison at the FAA’s Boston Center, calls NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) to report a low-flying airliner he has spotted six miles southeast of the White House. He can offer no details regarding its identity. The plane is reportedly Flight 77, but as it has its transponder turned off, no one realizes this at the time. The news of the plane “sets off a frenzy.” Major Kevin Nasypany orders Major James Fox, head of the NEADS weapons team, “Get your fighters there as soon as possible!” Staff Sergeant William Huckabone says, “Ma’am, we are going AFIO [emergency military control of the fighters] right now with Quit 2-5 [the Langley Air Force Base fighters]” (see 9:36 a.m. September 11, 2001), and adds, “They are going direct Washington.” (Bronner 8/1/2006) The Langley fighters will arrive over Washington some time around 10 a.m. (see (Between 9:49 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

An air traffic controller in the tower at Reagan National Airport.An air traffic controller in the tower at Reagan National Airport. [Source: Rob Ballenger / NPR]An air traffic controller in the Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) at Washington’s Reagan National Airport calls the airport’s control tower and alerts it to an unidentified aircraft that is approaching and heading in the direction of the White House. (Spencer 2008, pp. 145-146, 158) The TRACON was recently contacted by controllers at Washington Dulles International Airport and notified of this aircraft, which is later determined to be Flight 77 (see (9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Phillips 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 33) TRACON controllers have watched it on radar as it traveled almost 10 miles south of the airport, and then turned back toward Washington.
TRACON Calls Tower - A controller in the TRACON now phones Chris Stephenson, the supervisor in the Reagan Airport control tower, and says to him, “See in the sky, five miles west of you?” Stephenson thinks he has identified the target the controller is referring to on his radar screen, but it is the wrong one. The controller clarifies: “No! The ‘LOOK’ tag! See the ‘LOOK’ tag? It’s a 757! Do you see anything out there?” Stephenson then looks out of the window and can see the plane, now less than a mile away, coming in fast. (Spencer 2008, pp. 158) He sees it turning to the right and descending. (Levin 8/11/2002) A tour group from FAA headquarters is currently looking around the tower, and Stephenson promptly orders its members to “get out” of there (see (9:32 a.m.-9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Time of First Notification Unclear - According to author Lynn Spencer, Stephenson was unaware of the approaching aircraft prior to this call from the TRACON. (Spencer 2008, pp. 157-158) But USA Today will claim he received a call at “[a]bout 9:30” from the Secret Service, telling him an unidentified aircraft was speeding toward Washington (9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Levin 8/11/2002) Furthermore, after the Reagan TRACON was alerted to the aircraft, departure controller Dan Creedon quickly attached a data box to its radar track with the word “LOOK” in it, which would allow other controllers—including those in the control tower—to quickly spot it and track it on their screens. Why Stephenson had not noticed this is unclear. (9/11 Commission 7/28/2003 pdf file; Spencer 2008, pp. 145-146)

According to most accounts, the two fighter jets launched from Otis Air National Guard Base in response to the hijacked Flight 11 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001) never receive an order from the military to shoot down hostile aircraft. However, one account will suggest otherwise. (Dennehy 8/21/2002; Filson 2003, pp. 70; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 42-44; Viser 9/11/2005) According to the 9/11 Commission, personnel at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) learn that NORAD has been cleared to shoot down threatening aircraft at 10:31 a.m., but they do not pass this order on to the fighter pilots (see 10:31 a.m. September 11, 2001). The only order conveyed to the pilots is to “ID type and tail” of hostile aircraft. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 42-43) In 2005, the Boston Globe will report that the two Otis pilots, Major Daniel Nash and Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Duffy, “stressed that they never had orders to shoot down any of the [hijacked] planes.” (Viser 9/11/2005) However, in October 2002, Duffy will tell author Leslie Filson that, while flying over Manhattan, he and Nash “were given clearance to kill over their radio frequencies, but to this day aren’t sure who gave that order. Was it NEADS or a civilian air traffic controller?” (Filson 2003, pp. 70, 89) At around 9:35 a.m., NEADS radioed Duffy to check he would be prepared to shoot down a hijacked aircraft (see (9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Spencer 2008, pp. 153) And at some point, a civilian air traffic controller tells the two Otis pilots that if another plane is hijacked, it will have to be shot down (see (9:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Dennehy 8/21/2002)

Dr. Thomas Mayer.Dr. Thomas Mayer. [Source: Studer Group]The air traffic control tower at Washington Dulles International Airport notifies Inova Fairfax Hospital—the largest hospital in Northern Virginia—that a hijacked aircraft is missing. It passes this information to Dr. Thomas Mayer, the chair of the hospital’s emergency department. (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 117) At around 9:32 a.m., air traffic controllers at the FAA’s terminal control facility at Dulles had “observed a primary radar target,” later determined to be Flight 77, “tracking eastbound at a high rate of speed” (see 9:32 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 25; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 33) Mayer will later recall: “We knew that something was headed towards the national capital area. We didn’t know where. But we knew we needed to get ready. So we immediately went on disaster planning mode.” (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 117) The Arlington County After-Action Report indicates the hospital in fact initiates its disaster plan earlier than Mayer suggests, stating: “Inova Fairfax Hospital activated its disaster plan following reports of the World Trade Center attacks. Subsequently, the hospital received emergency notification of a missing airliner from the Washington Dulles International Airport tower.” The hospital cancels elective surgeries until 6:00 p.m. and makes eight trauma teams available within 20 minutes. The regular emergency room is relocated to an alternate site, and nearly 100 nurses and doctors prepare to respond in the event of an attack in the Washington Metropolitan Area. (US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002, pp. B3 pdf file) Due to the strategic importance of the region, Inova Fairfax and the other hospitals and clinics in the Washington area are particularly well prepared for mass casualty incidents. They regularly conduct drills to practice for chemical or biological attacks. (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 115)

Government buildings in Washington, DC, are not evacuated prior to the attack on the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. As CNN will later describe, even after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the FAA’s warning to the military of a hijacked aircraft apparently heading toward Washington (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001), “the federal government failed to make any move to evacuate the White House, Capitol, State Department, or the Pentagon.” (Plante 9/16/2001) Although a slow evacuation of the White House begins at around 9:20 a.m. (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001), it is not until 9:45 a.m. that the Secret Service orders people to run from there (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (CNN 9/11/2001; CNN 9/12/2001; ABC News 9/11/2002) Other government buildings, including the Capitol (see 9:48 a.m. September 11, 2001), the Justice Department, the State Department, and the Supreme Court, will not be evacuated until between 9:45 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. (US News and World Report 9/14/2001; US Department of State 8/15/2002) Robert Bonner, who was recently nominated as Commissioner of Customs, will estimate that he was evacuated from the Treasury Department at “about 9:35 a.m.” (9/11 Commission 1/26/2004; Bonner 9/20/2004) But other accounts will say the Treasury Department was not evacuated until after the Pentagon attack. (Crutsinger 9/11/2001; Reuters 9/11/2001; Dam 9/11/2002) Furthermore, journalist and author Robert Draper will describe, even after the State and Treasury Departments have been evacuated, “no agents thought to take charge of the Commerce Department, which housed 5,000 employees.” (Draper 2007, pp. 143) According to CNN, prior to the Pentagon attack: “[N]either the FAA, NORAD, nor any other federal government organ made any effort to evacuate the buildings in Washington. Officials at the Pentagon said that no mechanism existed within the US government to notify various departments and agencies under such circumstances [as occur today].” (Plante 9/16/2001)

NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) declares “AFIO” (Authorization for Interceptor Operations) for Washington airspace, giving the military authority over the FAA for that airspace, and directs the fighter jets launched from Langley Air Force Base (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001) toward the White House. (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 33; Spencer 2008, pp. 113, 150) Colin Scoggins, the military liaison at the FAA’s Boston Center, has just called to report an unidentified aircraft closing in on Washington, DC, which is currently six miles southeast of the White House (see 9:36 a.m. September 11, 2001).
Nasypany Declares AFIO - Major Kevin Nasypany, the NEADS mission crew commander, is unaware that the F-16s he scrambled from Langley Air Force Base are heading out to sea rather than going north toward the Baltimore area (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). He therefore orders Major James Fox, the leader of the NEADS weapons team, to direct the Langley jets toward the White House, telling him: “I got an aircraft six miles east of the White House! Get your fighters there as soon as possible!” Fox asks, “Do you want us to declare AFIO?” Nasypany replies, “Take [the Langley fighters] and run ‘em to the White House,” and adds, “I want AFIO right now!” (Spencer 2008, pp. 150) Declaring AFIO gives the military emergency authority to enter FAA-controlled airspace without permission, and means that NORAD assumes responsibility for ensuring that its fighter jets see and avoid all aircraft in that airspace. NEADS has already declared AFIO for New York airspace (see (9:12 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Federal Aviation Administration 2/19/2004, pp. 4-12-1 - 4-12-2; Spencer 2008, pp. 113) Now it does the same for Washington airspace. Fox tells the members of his weapons team: “We’re going direct [to] DC with my guys. Tell Giant Killer that we’re going AFIO!” (Spencer 2008, pp. 150) (“Giant Killer” is the call sign for the Fleet Area Control and Surveillance Facility in Virginia Beach, Virginia—the Navy air traffic control agency that handles all over-water military operations. (Wald 2/10/1997; Spencer 2008, pp. 143) )
NEADS Unable to Contact Langley Jets - Master Sergeant Steve Citino, the NEADS weapons director, tries calling Langley pilot Major Dean Eckmann to inform him of the AFIO declaration, but receives no response. According to author Lynn Spencer, the Langley jets are not yet in NEADS’s radio range. Meanwhile, NEADS Staff Sergeant William Huckabone calls Giant Killer and notifies it: “Ma’am, we are going AFIO right now with Quit 2-5 [the Langley fighters]. They are going direct [to] Washington.” But the controller only offers modest reassurance that the Langley jets will be given the appropriate clearance to enter Washington airspace, responding, “We’re handing ‘em off to [the FAA’s Washington] Center right now.” Huckabone retorts: “Ma’am, we need that expedited right now! We need to contact them on 234.6.… Do you understand?”
NEADS Reaches Langley Jets - As soon as the Langley jets enter radio range, Citino makes contact with pilot Craig Borgstrom and instructs him, “Squawk quad-sevens and head 010!” This means the pilots should dial the code for AFIO—7777—into their planes’ transponders. Borgstrom radios fellow pilot Eckmann and passes on this instruction. According to Spencer: “The declaration of AFIO startles Eckmann. He has never, in all his years of flying, received such an order. He’s only heard about it and, to him, it means no less than the start of World War III.” (Spencer 2008, pp. 150-151) At 9:37 a.m., when the Pentagon is hit, the Langley jets have flown nearly 60 miles out over the ocean and are 150 miles from Washington (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 27; Spencer 2008, pp. 151)

The District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) at Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, receives a call from the Secret Service at its White House Joint Operations Center (JOC), requesting armed fighter jets over the capital.
JOC Calls DC Air National Guard - Major Daniel Caine is the supervisor of flying with the 113th Wing of the DC Air National Guard at Andrews, and is currently at the operations desk, where a Secret Service agent recently called him and asked if the DCANG could launch fighters. The agent then told Caine to stand by and said someone else would call (see (Shortly After 9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Now the phone rings, and Caine answers it. The caller, from the JOC, asks for armed fighter jets over Washington. Caine is unsure how the JOC has got the operations desk phone number. He will later speculate that it got it from Secret Service agent Kenneth Beauchamp, who he’d contacted earlier on (see (Between 9:05 a.m. and 9:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Caine Possibly Hears Cheney in Background - The name of the caller is unstated. However, Caine believes he can hear Vice President Dick Cheney’s voice in the background. He will tell author Lesley Filson: “I could hear plain as day the vice president talking in the background. That’s basically where we got the execute order. It was ‘VFR [visual flight rules] direct.’” He will later tell the 9/11 Commission that he “thought, but would not swear to it, that he heard the vice president’s voice in the background.”
Caine Learns of Pentagon Attack - Around this time, Caine learns that the Pentagon has been hit. Even though the Pentagon is just 10 miles from Andrews Air Force Base, he will later recall that he only learns of the attack from news reports, and “no other source.” The result of learning this, according to Caine, is that “the intensity level increased even more.” (Filson 2003, pp. 76, 78; 9/11 Commission 3/8/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 3/11/2004 pdf file)
Commander Arrives, Takes over Call - At some point during Caine’s call with the JOC, apparently soon after the Pentagon attack, Brigadier General David Wherley, the commander of the DC Air National Guard, finally arrives at the headquarters of the 121st Fighter Squadron, where Caine and his colleagues are (see (Shortly After 9:39 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (The 121st Fighter Squadron is part of the 113th Wing of the DCANG.) At this time, Caine has a phone to each ear. He passes the phone with the call from the JOC to Wherley, saying, “Boss… here, you take this one!” He passes the other to Lieutenant Colonel Phil Thompson, the chief of safety for the 113th Wing. Caine has decided he is going to fly, and so Thompson will be replacing him as the unit’s supervisor of flying. Caine then goes to join the other pilots that are suiting up, ready to take off in their jets. (Scott 9/9/2002; Filson 2003, pp. 78-79; 9/11 Commission 3/8/2004 pdf file; Spencer 2008, pp. 184) Caine will take off from Andrews at 11:11 a.m. (see 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Filson 2003, pp. 84; 9/11 Commission 2004; 9/11 Commission 2/17/2004)

A typical C-130.A typical C-130. [Source: US Air Force Reserve Command]Washington’s Reagan National Airport air traffic control instructs a military C-130 cargo plane that has just departed Andrews Air Force Base to intercept Flight 77 and identify it. (Wald and Sack 10/16/2001; Ellison 10/17/2001) Remarkably, this C-130 is the same C-130 that will be 17 miles from Flight 93 when it later crashes into the Pennsylvania countryside (see 10:08 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Pittsburgh Channel 9/15/2001; Sternberg 9/11/2002) The pilot, Lt. Col. Steve O’Brien, will claim that he took off around 9:30 a.m., planning to return to Minnesota after dropping supplies off in the Caribbean. He will describe his close encounter: “When air traffic control asked me if we had him [Flight 77] in sight, I told him that was an understatement—by then, he had pretty much filled our windscreen. Then he made a pretty aggressive turn so he was moving right in front of us, a mile and a half, two miles away. I said we had him in sight, then the controller asked me what kind of plane it was. That caught us up, because normally they have all that information. The controller didn’t seem to know anything.” O’Brien reports that the plane is either a 757 or 767 and its silver fuselage means it is probably an American Airlines plane. “They told us to turn and follow that aircraft—in 20 plus years of flying, I’ve never been asked to do something like that.” (Sternberg 9/11/2002) O’Brien and his crew, Maj. Robert Schumacher and flight engineer Master Sgt. Jeffrey Rosenthal, are unaware of the attacks in New York. Schumacher will say that, after being directed to follow Flight 77, he first thought that the plane was having technical difficulties, “that the pilots were really just trying to fly the airplane, and get it on the ground safely.” After the impact, O’Brien tunes in to a news broadcast, but is surprised to hear about a second crash in New York, not at the Pentagon. He will recall: “The first thing we heard on there was ‘We’re now hearing about a second airplane hitting the World Trade Center.’ That was not what we were expecting to hear. We were expecting to hear about an airplane impacting the Pentagon… and the light goes on, and it’s like, ‘Oh my God, the nation’s under attack!’” (Catlin 5/31/2004) The 9/11 Commission will report that O’Brien specifically identifies the hijacked plane as a Boeing 757. Seconds after impact, he reports to the Washington tower, “Looks like that aircraft crashed into the Pentagon, sir.” (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004)

William Douglas Crowder.William Douglas Crowder. [Source: US Navy]A senior Navy officer at the Pentagon is told in a phone call that another hijacked aircraft is heading toward Washington, DC, and yet he tells a colleague who also receives this news to keep the information to himself. (Toti 10/10/2001) Rear Admiral William Douglas Crowder is the executive assistant to Admiral William Fallon, the vice chief of naval operations. (US Department of Defense 9/26/2001; Toti 9/2002) He is working in Fallon’s office, on the fourth floor of the Pentagon’s E-ring. (Toti 10/10/2001; Washington Post 11/17/2006) Fallon is currently down the hall, in the office of Admiral Vern Clark, the chief of naval operations. Those in Fallon’s office are aware of the attacks on the World Trade Center, and have speculated that if this is an organized attack, then Washington, and specifically the Pentagon, is a likely target (see (8:48 a.m.-9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Crowder Told of Plane Approaching Washington - Crowder now answers a call from the Navy Command Center, which is on the first floor of the Pentagon’s southwest face. His deputy, Commander David Radi, listens in on the call, as he is required to. Captain William Toti, the special assistant to the vice chief of naval operations, will later describe what Crowder is told. Toti will recall, “I was not listening in, but the gist of the conversation was there’s another airplane that’s been hijacked that’s heading towards Washington.” (Toti 10/10/2001) (An intelligence unit located within the Navy Command Center was recently notified of “indications of another aircraft that’s been hijacked” and that is “heading out to DC” (see Shortly Before 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Harnden 9/11/2002) ) Crowder replies to the caller, “Okay, got it.”
Crowder Instructs Deputy to Keep Information Secret - Radi appears afraid. Presumably referring to the office staff’s prediction of a possible attack on the Pentagon, he says: “Holy sh_t. Captain Toti, it’s coming true.” Crowder runs out of the office to go and tell Fallon what he has just learned. But as he is heading out, he calls back to Radi: “That’s close hold. Don’t tell anybody what you just heard.” Toti will comment, “Remember that Crowder and Radi are the only two people who heard” about the approaching hijacked plane. Just then, the Pentagon is hit: “Not 30 seconds after Crowder hangs up and runs out the door,” Toti will recall, “we hear the airplane, the jet engines, and feel impact. The building shook like an earthquake. We heard the explosion.” (Toti 10/10/2001) No steps have been taken to evacuate the Pentagon or alert its workers before the building is hit (see Before 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Vogel 2007, pp. 429)
Officer Finds Crowder's Order 'Peculiar' - In an interview a month later, Toti will reflect: “In retrospect, I wonder what the hell was close hold about that fact that there was a hijacked airplane coming in towards the Pentagon. If anything, it would have been nice to alert people of that.” He will add that he has not asked Crowder “why he said that,” but says Crowder’s instruction to Radi “stuck out in [my] mind at the time as kind of a peculiar thing to say.”
Officer Told Not to Go to Command Center - Toti’s life is likely saved because, just before the call about the approaching plane is received, Crowder told him not to go to the Navy Command Center—a part of the Pentagon that suffers serious damage when the building is hit. After seeing the burning WTC on television, Toti had been uncomfortable that his office had not received any information about what was going on from the Command Center. After “a few minutes of hearing nothing,” he had suggested to Crowder “that I go to the ops center to see if they had any information we should pass to senior Navy leadership.” But, as Toti was heading out the door toward the Command Center, Crowder instructed him: “Wait, give them another minute. If they don’t call by then, you can go down.” Toti therefore returned to his desk. “Just then,” Toti will recall, Crowder receives the call from the Command Center about the hijacked plane approaching Washington. (Toti 10/10/2001; Toti 9/2002) Much of the Navy Command Center is destroyed when the Pentagon is hit (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001), and 42 of the 50 people working in it are killed. (Leiby 1/20/2002; Kennedy 6/2003) Toti will say that Crowder “probably saved my life.” (Toti 10/10/2001)

At NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), members of staff spot the radar track for an aircraft—later reported to be Flight 77—flying over Washington, DC and approaching the White House. (Seely 1/25/2002; Filson 2003, pp. 65; Spencer 2008, pp. 151) Around this time, Colin Scoggins, the military liaison at the FAA’s Boston Center, has called NEADS to report an unidentified aircraft six miles southeast of the White House (see 9:36 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Bronner 8/1/2006)
Deskins Sees Aircraft Circling and Disappear - Lt. Col. Dawne Deskins has noticed a suspicious track on the radar scope. She will later recall: “I had the scope focused in on the DC area and got blips of this aircraft that appeared to be going in a turn around DC. It was going fast for where it was located and I remember looking at the guy next to me and saying, ’What is that?’” (Filson 2003, pp. 65)
Tracker Spots Aircraft - One of the tracker technicians also thinks he has spotted the aircraft on radar, just a few miles south of the White House and heading north, but then loses it. He calls out: “Right here, right here, right here! I got him. I got him!” NEADS mission crew commander Major Kevin Nasypany says, “Get me coordinates!” and then picks up the phone to quickly brief Colonel Robert Marr in the NEADS battle cab. (Bronner 8/1/2006; Spencer 2008, pp. 151)

The Marriott Residence Inn in Arlington, Virginia.The Marriott Residence Inn in Arlington, Virginia. [Source: Marriott International]An American Airlines plane takes off from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, flying toward the Pentagon, just before the Pentagon attack occurs, according to a witness who says he sees the plane out the window of his hotel room.
Plane Takes Off toward Pentagon - Jeffrey Mark Parsons, an assistant chief patrol agent with the United States Border Patrol, is staying on the 17th floor of the Marriott Residence Inn in Arlington, Virginia. When later interviewed by Navy historian John Darrell Sherwood about his experiences of the 9/11 attacks, Parsons will recall: “I was looking out my window. I have a perfect view of Reagan National Airport. An American Airlines plane had just taken off, I mean, not 30 seconds before this plane [Flight 77] hit the Pentagon.” Parsons will add that the American Airlines plane is “taking off to the north, to the, different than the normal way. In other words, they were taking off toward the Pentagon.” (Parsons 12/13/2001; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 258) Reagan National Airport is less than a mile from the Pentagon. (Adair and Garza 10/3/2001) Parsons will continue, “Well, this American Airlines plane had just taken off, I mean it couldn’t have been a minute, 30 seconds before this plane [Flight 77] hit the Pentagon.” (Parsons 12/13/2001) Flight 77 hits the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001) and, like the plane Parsons sees, is an American Airlines aircraft. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 10)
American Airlines and Reagan Airport Planes Supposedly Grounded - And yet Chris Stephenson, the supervisor in the Reagan National Airport control tower, reportedly stopped takeoffs from Reagan Airport in the minutes after 9:03 a.m., when Flight 175 hit the World Trade Center (see (9:04 a.m.-9:11 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Levin 8/11/2002) And at 9:00 a.m., American Airlines ordered all its aircraft in the Northeast United States that had not yet taken off to remain on the ground (see Between 9:00 a.m. and 9:10 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 30) Furthermore, the FAA ordered a nationwide ground stop at around 9:26 a.m., which was supposed to prevent any aircraft taking off across the US (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure 9/21/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 25) Parsons will ask Sherwood if anyone has interviewed the pilot of the American Airlines plane he saw taking off, since that pilot must have witnessed the attack on the Pentagon. Sherwood will answer no, but add, “[T]hat’s another good lead for either myself or one of the other people to follow up on.” Whether the pilot is ever identified or interviewed is unknown. (Parsons 12/13/2001)

The air traffic control tower at an Army airfield near the Pentagon receives a call from someone at Washington’s Reagan National Airport—presumably an air traffic controller—who instructs it to recall all its aircraft. (Exempt 11/14/2001 pdf file) Davison Army Airfield is at Fort Belvoir, 12 miles south of the Pentagon. The 12th Aviation Battalion, which is the Military District of Washington’s aviation support unit, is stationed there. This includes three helicopter companies that fly UH-1 “Huey” and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. (Military District of Washington 8/2000)
Airfield Told to Land All Aircraft 'Very Quickly' - According to a supervisor of air traffic control at Davison Airfield who is currently in the airfield’s control tower, shortly before the time when the Pentagon is hit a controller at his facility receives the call from Reagan Airport telling them to recall all their air traffic. The supervisor, who will say that the caller is “going crazy,” takes over the call. The caller then tells him to “recall all your traffic. Just make sure that everybody lands.… [H]e was like, telling us, everybody that you got outside, bring them in and land them quickly, very quickly.” The supervisor tells him, “Give me a reason and I’ll do it,” but the caller responds, “I can’t tell you the reason, but you need to do this.” (Exempt 11/14/2001 pdf file) (At around 9:32 a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission, Washington’s Dulles Airport notified Reagan Airport of a “radar target tracking eastbound at a high rate of speed” toward Washington (see 9:32 a.m. September 11, 2001), so it is plausible that this is what has prompted Reagan Airport to call the Davison control tower. (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 33) )
Davison Airfield Recalls Its Aircraft - After the caller hangs up, the supervisor at Davison Airfield instructs the air traffic controller at his facility to “tell everybody to come in.” The controller then starts “recalling everybody that just departed,” and the supervisor approves “for them to make it straight in, the helicopters to land straight in without using the regular traffic pattern.” The control tower recalls its aircraft individually, rather than putting out a single broadcast telling all aircraft to return to the airfield. The supervisor will recall: “[E]verybody was coming in. And at that time when everybody was coming in… I was like thinking, why? Why do they want to recall everybody? That means that something is going on.” While the control tower is still recalling its aircraft, the supervisor looks out of a window to the northeast, and notices a large black cloud of smoke in the area of the Pentagon, the result of the attack there. (Exempt 11/14/2001 pdf file) It is unclear what aircraft from Davison Airfield are airborne and recalled to base. But a 12th Aviation Battalion helicopter and its crew that are always on standby for “contingency” missions have been away this morning, conducting a traffic survey (see Early Morning September 11, 2001). They are presumably recalled at this time, if not beforehand. (Exempt 11/14/2001 pdf file)

Representative Christopher Cox (R-CA) will later claim he is still meeting with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at this time. They are still discussing missile defense, apparently completely oblivious of the approaching Flight 77. Watching television coverage from New York City, Rumsfeld says to Cox: “Believe me, this isn’t over yet. There’s going to be another attack, and it could be us.” According to the Daily Telegraph, Flight 77 hits the building “moments later.” (Langley 12/16/2001) In another telling, Cox will claim that Rumsfeld says: “If we remain vulnerable to missile attack, a terrorist group or rogue state that demonstrates the capacity to strike the US or its allies from long range could have the power to hold our entire country hostage to nuclear or other blackmail. And let me tell you, I’ve been around the block a few times. There will be another event.” Rumsfeld repeats this sentence for emphasis. According to Cox, “Within minutes of that utterance, Rumsfeld’s words proved tragically prophetic.” Cox also claims, “I escaped just minutes before the building was hit.” (Office of Representative Christopher Cox 9/11/2001) However, Rumsfeld will claim that this meeting with Cox ended before the second World Trade Center crash, which occurred at 9:03 a.m. Cox himself will say that after being told of that crash, “[Rumsfeld] sped off, as did I.” Cox will say he immediately headed to his car, making it impossible for him to still be in the Pentagon “just minutes before” it is hit. (Theimer 9/11/2001) Another account will put Rumsfeld’s “I’ve been around the block a few times. There will be another event” comment two minutes before the first WTC crash at 8:46 a.m., when Rumsfeld reportedly made other predictive comments. (Woodward 9/16/2001)

Dan Shanower.Dan Shanower. [Source: Family photo / Associated Press]Petty Officer Jason Lhuillier is on duty at the Chief of Naval Operations Intelligence Plot (CNO-IP). This small intelligence unit is located within the Navy Command Center at the Pentagon, on the first floor of the building’s southwest face. Since learning of the second plane hitting the WTC, he and his colleagues have been trying to build the intelligence picture, liaising with such agencies as the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency. Shortly before the Pentagon is struck, Lhuillier receives a phone call from the National Military Joint Intelligence Center (NMJIC). (Becker, Vogel, and Ruane 9/16/2001; Leiby 1/20/2002; Harnden 9/11/2002) Like the National Military Command Center (NMCC), the NMJIC is located in the Joint Staff area of the Pentagon. It constantly monitors worldwide developments for any looming crises that might require US involvement. (Blazar 9/25/1997; Joint Chiefs of Staff 2/6/2006) The caller informs Lhuillier, “We’ve got indications of another aircraft that’s been hijacked. It’s heading out to DC.” (Harnden 9/11/2002) The caller may possibly be referring to the same incorrect report that was received by the NMCC at around 9:30 a.m., that Flight 11 is still airborne and heading toward Washington (see 9:29 a.m.-9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 37) Lhuillier then interrupts a meeting between Commander Dan Shanower, who is in charge of the CNO-IP, and six others, to tell them about this third plane. Commander David Radi, an aide to Admiral William Fallon, the vice chief of naval operations, is in his Pentagon office about 100 yards from the CNO-IP. He has also heard fragmentary reports about another hijacked plane heading towards Washington, and that fighter jets are being scrambled. He calls the CNO-IP for more information, but is only told, “We’re working on it.” Radi later recalls that he’d wondered where the plane might be heading: “I’m thinking to myself, ‘Well, the Pentagon, the White House or the Capitol.’” Within minutes, the Pentagon is struck. The CNO-IP will be destroyed in the impact, and seven people working in it will be killed. (Leiby 1/20/2002; Arlington County Police Department 2/21/2002; Harnden 9/11/2002)

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Denny Watson, his CIA briefer, see a helicopter flying very close to the Pentagon, just outside the window of Rumsfeld’s office, shortly before the Pentagon is attacked. (Priess 2016, pp. 244-245) Watson has been giving Rumsfeld his daily intelligence briefing in his office at the Pentagon and they are both aware of the crashes at the World Trade Center (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 37; Rumsfeld 2011, pp. 335) Rumsfeld is skimming through a copy of the President’s Daily Brief when the sound of a helicopter outside causes him to stop what he is doing. The helicopter, which is blue and white, is “hovering so close to the window that I could see what one of the men in it looked like,” Watson will later recall. He has “dark hair, a beard and a mustache, and reflector sunglasses.” Rumsfeld and Watson talk about how easy it would be for the pilot to turn the helicopter and crash into Rumsfeld’s office. Finally, the helicopter pulls away from the Pentagon. As it does, Rumsfeld and Watson feel the building shake due to it being attacked (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Priess 2016, pp. 244-245) A number of other people will recall seeing a helicopter flying close to the Pentagon around this time (see (9:35 a.m.-9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (CNN 9/11/2001; Washington Post 9/5/2002) One of them, Jeffrey Mark Parsons, will describe the helicopter he sees as being blue and white, so it is presumably the helicopter that Rumsfeld and Watson see. The helicopter belongs to the US Park Police and its pilot has been directed to try and intercept a plane, presumably Flight 77, that was approaching the Pentagon, according to US Navy historian John Darrell Sherwood (see Shortly Before 9:35 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Parsons 12/13/2001)

Diagram showing the area of impact at the Pentagon. The Navy Command Center is highlighted in red.Diagram showing the area of impact at the Pentagon. The Navy Command Center is highlighted in red. [Source: Washington Post] (click image to enlarge)Edward Earhart, Matthew Flocco, and their supervisor Lt. Nancy McKeown are inside the Pentagon, watching the televised footage of the burning World Trade Center. They belong to a small meteorological unit based in the Navy Command Center, located on the first floor of the building’s southwest face. McKeown asks her two young aides to bring up New York on the computer because the Command Center is going to send some fighter jets there, in case there is another attack on the city. She orders them to program weather updates for military aircraft converging on New York. However, very soon after this, the Command Center is directly impacted when the Pentagon is hit, and both Flocco and Earhart are killed. (Becker, Vogel, and Ruane 9/16/2001; McConnell 9/2002; CNN 9/8/2002; Riley 4/12/2006) Ronald Vauk, the watch commander in the Navy Command Center, is on the phone trying to get more fighters scrambled at the time the Pentagon is hit, though news reports say he wants them to protect Washington, not New York. (John Hopkins Magazine 11/2001; Clines 11/17/2001; Shane 9/11/2002) At 9:24 a.m., NORAD had ordered fighters at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia to scramble (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001), though these will not arrive over the Pentagon until after it is hit (see (Between 9:49 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) According to Lt. Kevin Shaeffer, who works in the Command Center, just prior to the attack on the Pentagon, the watch section and watch leaders in the center are actively engaged in logging and recording the events going on in New York. He later says, “they all responded in exactly the way they were trained,” and, “Had the Command Center not been destroyed it surely would have been able to provide the highest levels of our Navy leadership with updates as to exactly what was occurring.” (Chips 3/2003)

Steve Pennington.Steve Pennington. [Source: Chesapeake and Midlantic Marketing]Two recently installed security cameras outside the Pentagon capture the building being hit, but the images they take will turn out to be of poor quality. (Burns 5/17/2006; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 161) The cameras are located at a checkpoint north of the crash site that visitors to the Pentagon go through and usually focus on the drivers of the vehicles that come in and out. They are reportedly the only security cameras at the Pentagon that capture the building being hit (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001 and Shortly After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (CNN 5/20/2006; Austin and Pennington 11/9/2006 pdf file; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 161)
Video System Was Switched on Early for Testing - It is fortunate that the cameras film the crash. The Pentagon has an elaborate new, centralized, digital video recording system that was only installed a few weeks ago and is not yet government property. It should not be on now, but workers started running it early to capture data for testing purposes. Steve Pennington, a private consultant responsible for the Pentagon’s security cameras, will later recall that, along with Brian Austin, the maintenance team chief responsible for the cameras, a colleague called Greg Goff, and a couple of other people, he “decided to turn it on a few days before [9/11], not knowing that something was going to occur.” “It was purely happenstance that the system happened to be running [on 9/11], because it wasn’t supposed to be running for another month,” Pennington will comment. However, since the system is only being tested, the cameras are running at a slower rate than they normally would and therefore capture less information. Whereas they usually record at a rate of either 3.75 or 7.5 images per second, they are currently recording just one image per second.
Government Will Initially Withhold the Captured Video - On September 12, the footage of the crash captured by the cameras will be put onto CDs and copies will be provided to the FBI, the secretary of defense’s office, and the Joint Operations Center at Fort Myer (see September 12, 2001). (Austin and Pennington 11/9/2006 pdf file) Subsequently, the US government will initially refuse to make public the footage because it is going to be used as evidence in the trial of al-Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui. It will finally be released in May 2006 (see May 16, 2006). However, five frames from one of the tapes will be released unofficially in March 2002 (see March 7, 2002). (Markon 5/17/2006; CNN 5/20/2006) The images of the crash captured by the cameras will turn out to be of poor quality, though. The Associated Press will describe the plane shown hitting the building as “a thin white blur.” (Burns 5/17/2006) John Jester, chief of the Defense Protective Service, will similarly describe it as “just a blur.” “You can see a bit of tail, a plane sliding across the ground, and a huge explosion,” he will say. (Jester 1/31/2006 pdf file)

When Flight 77 hits the Pentagon, it misses the parts of the building known to house the military’s most senior leaders. Journalist and author Steve Vogel later says, “The hijackers had not hit the River or Mall sides” of the building, “where the senior military leadership had been concentrated since 1942.” At the time of the attack, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is “sitting in the same third-floor office above the River entrance as every secretary of defense since Louis Johnson in 1949, a location that had been a matter of public record all that time. The joint chiefs and all the service secretaries were arrayed in various prime E-Ring offices on the River and Mall sides.” Furthermore, “All the command centers save the Navy’s were on the River or Mall sides; the National Military Command Center could have been decimated as the Navy Command Center was, a disaster that could have effectively shut down the Pentagon as the first American war of the twenty-first century began.” Instead, the area hit comprises Army accounting offices, the Navy Command Center, and the Defense Intelligence Agency’s comptroller’s office. (Vogel 2007, pp. 431 and 449-450) Due to recent renovation work, many offices in that section of the Pentagon are currently empty. (Government Executive 9/11/2001)

Many security cameras at the Pentagon that could have captured the building being hit are currently switched off or have been taken down due to construction work that is taking place and therefore do not film the attack. (Austin and Pennington 11/9/2006 pdf file; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 244) The attack occurs “close to the Pentagon’s heliport, an area that normally would be under 24-hour security surveillance, including video monitoring,” the Washington Times will later note. (Gertz and Scarborough 9/21/2001) “There are a lot of cameras within the facility at any one time,” Steve Pennington, a private consultant responsible for the Pentagon’s security cameras, will comment. However, due to renovation work that is being carried out on the Pentagon, many cameras close to where the attack occurs are currently out of use. Some cameras have been taken down temporarily. “There were cameras on poles at the other end, along the roadway, but they were down for construction projects or being changed out during the process,” Pennington will recall. Other cameras that would normally focus on the area where the crash occurs have been switched off. “Because that area was being renovated, a lot of the connectivity of these cameras and the infrastructure that allowed those cameras to be connected back to the building had been removed or destroyed, so they weren’t capturing images and offering fields of view,” Pennington will say. (Austin and Pennington 11/9/2006 pdf file) Furthermore, a number of cameras near the area of impact are either destroyed or lose connectivity when the crash occurs (see Shortly After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Jester 1/31/2006 pdf file; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 152-153) Two recently installed cameras north of the crash site are apparently the only Pentagon security cameras that capture the building being hit (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (CNN 5/20/2006; Austin and Pennington 11/9/2006 pdf file; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 161)

The strike on the Pentagon does not generate a clear seismic signal. A study by the Maryland Geological Survey will state, “We analyzed seismic records from five stations in the northeastern United States, ranging from 63 to 350 km from the Pentagon. Despite detailed analysis of the data, we could not find a clear seismic signal. Even the closest station… did not record the impact. We concluded that the plane impact to the Pentagon generated relatively weak seismic signals.” The study, which is conducted at the request of the Army, states that there are seismic signals for the two planes impacting the World Trade Center and for the Flight 93 crash in Pennsylvania, which allow times to be determined for these events. (Kim and Baum 2002 pdf file)

Barbara Riggs.Barbara Riggs. [Source: Miles B. Norman / Elmira Star-Gazette]Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke learns of an aircraft heading toward the White House. Clarke, who is in the White House Situation Room, is passed a note by Secret Service Director Brian Stafford, which says, “Radar shows aircraft headed this way.” (Clarke 2004, pp. 7) Around this time, the FAA’s Boston Center is reporting a low-flying aircraft six miles southeast of the White House (see 9:36 a.m. September 11, 2001), so this is presumably the same airliner to which Stafford’s note refers. (Bronner 8/1/2006) Clarke later comments that the Secret Service is aware of the approaching plane because it has “a system that allowed them to see what FAA’s radar was seeing.” (Clarke 2004, pp. 7) Secret Service agent Barbara Riggs, who is in the agency’s Washington headquarters, will later corroborate this, recalling: “Through monitoring radar and activating an open line with the FAA, the Secret Service was able to receive real time information about… hijacked aircraft. We were tracking two hijacked aircraft as they approached Washington, DC, and our assumption was that the White House was a target.” (PCCW Newsletter 3/2006) Stafford informs Clarke that he is going to evacuate the White House complex. (This evacuation appears to take place at around 9:45 (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001).) Those in the Situation Room are then informed that there has been an explosion at the Pentagon, and soon after that a plane has hit it. (Clarke 2004, pp. 7)

A C-130 transport plane that has been sent to follow Flight 77 (see 9.36 a.m. September 11, 2001) is trailing only a short distance behind the plane as it crashes. This curious C-130, originally bound for Minnesota, is the same C-130 that will be 17 miles from Flight 93 when it later crashes into the Pennsylvania countryside (see 10:08 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Pittsburgh Channel 9/15/2001; Sternberg 9/11/2002) A number of people see this plane fly remarkably close to Flight 77:
bullet Kelly Knowles says that seconds after seeing Flight 77 pass, she sees a “second plane that seemed to be chasing the first [pass] over at a slightly different angle.” (Scanlon 9/15/2001)
bullet Keith Wheelhouse says the second plane is a C-130; two other witnesses are not certain. (Scanlon 9/15/2001) Wheelhouse “believes it flew directly above the American Airlines jet, as if to prevent two planes from appearing on radar, while at the same time guiding the jet toward the Pentagon.” As Flight 77 descends toward the Pentagon, the second plane veers off west. (Scanlon 9/14/2001)
bullet USA Today reporter Vin Narayanan, who sees the Pentagon explosion, later says, “I hopped out of my car after the jet exploded, nearly oblivious to a second jet hovering in the skies.” (Narayanan 9/17/2001)
bullet USA Today Editor Joel Sucherman sees a second plane but gives few details. (Dodge 9/13/2001)
bullet Brian Kennedy, press secretary for a Congressman, and others also see a second plane. (Doyle 9/15/2001)
bullet An unnamed worker at Arlington National Cemetery, which is about a mile from the Pentagon, will recall that “a mysterious second plane was circling the area when the first one attacked the Pentagon.” (Gibb 12/20/2001)
bullet An interment foreman at Arlington Cemetery also sees a second plane. He will recall: “There was a second plane behind it.… It appeared to be a cargo plane… mostly white.… I think it was somebody who observed him [Flight 77] and was following him and saw where he was going or what was going on… he was probably behind that far and when he saw [the explosion], he banked it back hard and went back the other way.” (History 12/13/2001 pdf file)
bullet John O’Keefe is driving in his car when he sees the Pentagon crash. He will recall: “The first thing I did was pull over onto the shoulder, and when I got out of the car I saw another plane flying over my head.… Then the plane—it looked like a C-130 cargo plane—started turning away from the Pentagon, it did a complete turnaround.” (New York Law Journal 9/12/2001)
bullet Phillip Thompson, a former Marine, is sitting in traffic when he witnesses the crash of Flight 77 and then sees a cargo plane overhead. He will recall that, following the Flight 77 crash, “a gray C-130 flew overhead, setting off a new round of panic. I tried to reassure people that the plane was not a threat.” (Thompson 9/22/2001)
The pilot of the C-130, Lieutenant Colonel Steve O’Brien, will later be interviewed, but his account differs from the on-the-ground eyewitnesses. He will claim that just before the explosion, “With all of the East Coast haze, I had a hard time picking him out,” implying he is not nearby. He also says that just after the explosion, “I could see the outline of the Pentagon,” again implying he is not nearby. He then asks “the controller whether [I] should set up a low orbit around the building,” but he is told “to get out of the area as quickly as possible.” He will add, “I took the plane once through the plume of smoke and thought if this was a terrorist attack, it probably wasn’t a good idea to be flying through that plume.” (Sternberg 9/11/2002)

At some time after the second attack in New York, Richard Myers, the acting chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, receives a call from NORAD Commander Ralph Eberhart. According to his own account, Myers is on Capitol Hill, where he has been meeting with Senator Max Cleland (D-GA). Apparently soon after he leaves this meeting, his military aide, Army Captain Chris Donahue, hands him a cell phone on which Eberhart is calling. Myers will later comment, “In this emergency, I had to forgo the luxury of a secure encrypted red switch phone and use Donahue’s cell.” Myers will recall that Eberhart “said, you know, we’ve got several hijack codes, meaning that the transponders in the aircraft are talking to the ground, and they’re saying we’re under, we’re being hijacked, several hijack codes in the system, and we’re responding with, with fighter aircraft.” (Rhem 10/23/2001; Myers 9/11/2002; Myers 2009, pp. 8-9) (However, none of the pilots of the four hijacked flights this morning keyed the emergency four-digit code that would indicate a hijacking into their plane’s transponder (see (8:13 a.m.-9:28 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (CNN 9/11/2001) It is therefore unclear what “hijack codes” Eberhart is referring to.) Eberhart also tells Myers, “The decision I’m going to make is, we’re going to land everybody, and we’ll sort it out when we get them on the ground.” (Myers 6/29/2006) He is presumably referring to a plan called SCATANA, which clears the skies and gives the military control over US airspace. However, Eberhart does not implement this until around 11:00 a.m. (see (11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) It is unclear exactly when this call takes place, but it appears to be just before the time the Pentagon is hit, or just before Myers is informed of the Pentagon attack. (Myers 9/11/2002; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004; Myers 6/29/2006; Garamone 9/8/2006) In his 2009 memoirs, Myers will place it after he is informed of the second attack on the World Trade Center (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001), but not give a specific time. (Myers 2009, pp. 8-9) Cleland will confirm that Myers meets with him on this morning, and is with him up to the time of the Pentagon attack, or shortly before. (US Congress 9/13/2001; CNN 11/20/2001; Baxter and Galloway 6/16/2003) However, according to counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, Myers is back at the Pentagon speaking over a video conference around 10 minutes before the Pentagon is struck (see 9:28 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Clarke 2004, pp. 5)

A typical F-16.A typical F-16. [Source: NORAD]Accounts differ as to how far from Washington the F-16 fighters scrambled from Langley are when Flight 77 crashes. The Langley, Virginia, base is 129 miles from Washington. NORAD originally claimed that, at the time of the crash, the fighters are 105 miles away, despite having taken off seven minutes earlier. (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/18/2001) The 9/11 Commission claims that at 9:36 a.m., NEADS discovers that Flight 77 is only a few miles from the White House and is dismayed to find the fighters have headed east over the ocean. They are ordered to Washington immediately, but are still about 150 miles away. This is farther away than the base from which they took off. (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) The F-16 pilot codenamed Honey (who is apparently Captain Craig Borgstrom) offers a different explanation. As previously mentioned, he says they are flying toward New York, when they see a black column of smoke coming from Washington, about 30 or 40 miles to the west. He is then asked over the radio by NEADS if he can confirm the Pentagon is burning. He confirms it. He says that the mission of the Langley pilots at this time is clear: to keep all airplanes away from Washington. The F-16s are then ordered to set up a defensive perimeter above Washington. (Longman 2002, pp. 76; Filson 2003, pp. 66; Sheehy 2/15/2004) The maximum speed of an F-16 is 1,500 mph. (Associated Press 6/16/2000) Had the fighters traveled straight to Washington at 1,300 mph, they would have reached Washington at least one minute before Flight 77. Furthermore, at the time the Pentagon is hit, according to Craig Borgstrom, he and the other Langley pilots are hearing a lot of chatter over their radios, but nothing about airliners crashing into buildings. He says they are “all three on different frequencies… and [are] getting orders from a lot of different people.” (Filson 2003, pp. 66)

The Pentagon explodes. 
The Pentagon explodes. [Source: Donley/ Sipa]Flight 77 crashes into the Pentagon. All 64 people on the plane are killed. A hundred-and-twenty-four people working in the building are killed, and a further victim will die in hospital several days later. Hijackers Hani Hanjour, Khalid Almihdhar, Majed Moqed, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi presumably are killed instantly. (Typically, they are not included in the death counts.) (CNN 9/17/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/18/2001; Ellison 10/17/2001; Vogel 11/21/2001; Levin, Adams, and Morrison 8/12/2002; Associated Press 8/21/2002; MSNBC 9/3/2002; ABC News 9/11/2002; CBS 9/11/2002) Flight 77 hits the first floor of the Pentagon’s west wall. The impact and the resulting explosion heavily damage the building’s three outer rings. The path of destruction cuts through Army accounting offices on the outer E Ring, the Navy Command Center on the D Ring, and the Defense Intelligence Agency’s comptroller’s office on the C Ring. (Vogel 2007, pp. 431 and 449) Flight 77 strikes the only side of the Pentagon that had recently been renovated—it was “within days of being totally [renovated].” (US Department of Defense 9/15/2001) “It was the only area of the Pentagon with a sprinkler system, and it had been reconstructed with a web of steel columns and bars to withstand bomb blasts. The area struck by the plane also had blast-resistant windows—two inches thick and 2,500 pounds each—that stayed intact during the crash and fire. While perhaps, 4,500 people normally would have been working in the hardest-hit areas, because of the renovation work only about 800 were there.” More than 25,000 people work at the Pentagon. (Schrader 9/16/2001) Furthermore, the plane hits an area that has no basement. As journalist Steve Vogel later points out, “If there had been one under the first floor, its occupants could easily have been trapped by fire and killed when the upper floors collapsed.” (Vogel 2007, pp. 450)

Internet researchers have put together this image showing how an object the size of a jumbo jet clips a number of light poles and then destroys columns inside the Pentagon. [From  website]
Internet researchers have put together this image showing how an object the size of a jumbo jet clips a number of light poles and then destroys columns inside the Pentagon. [From website] [Source: Eric Bart] (click image to enlarge)Fireman Alan Wallace is busy with a safety crew at the Pentagon’s heliport pad. As Wallace is walking in front of the Pentagon, he looks up and sees Flight 77 coming straight at him. It is about 25 feet off the ground, with no landing wheels visible, a few hundred yards away, and closing fast. He runs about 30 feet and dives under a nearby van. (Maranis 9/21/2001) The plane is traveling at about 460 mph, and flying so low that it clips the tops of streetlights. (CBS News 9/21/2001) Using the radio in the van, he calls his fire chief at nearby Fort Myer and says, “We have had a commercial carrier crash into the west side of the Pentagon at the heliport, Washington Boulevard side. The crew is OK. The airplane was a 757 Boeing or a 320 Airbus.” (Alessi and Sprengelmeyer 8/1/2002)

Marc Sasseville.Marc Sasseville. [Source: CBC]Four pilots with the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) at Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, finally receive authorization to get airborne in their fighter jets, and are given instructions on their mission. The pilots are Lieutenant Colonel Marc Sasseville, Lieutenant Heather Penney Garcia, Captain Brandon Rasmussen, and Major Daniel Caine.
Pilot Waiting 'for Somebody to Task Me with Something' - Rasmussen will later recall that, although he and his colleagues at the unit had been aware of the attacks in New York, it is only after the Pentagon is hit (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001) that “we knew that we were going to be sticking around home and being quite busy.” And until the pilots are authorized to take off, he is “just kind of standing back, waiting for somebody to task me with something.” He will recall, “I was just waiting at the ops desk for someone to say, ‘Okay, we’ve been cleared to take off and go.’”
Sasseville Briefs Other Pilots - Rasmussen says that, after Sasseville and Caine receive authorization from their wing commander to get airborne and to use missiles, Sasseville, who is the acting operations group commander, looks at Penney Garcia and says, “You’re flying with me, and [Caine] you’re flying with [Rasmussen], do suit up and get out there as quick as possible.” According to another account, Sasseville gives his three fellow pilots a short briefing, telling them: “I have no idea what’s going on, but we’re flying. Here’s our frequency. We’ll split up the area as we have to. Just defend as required. We’ll talk about the rest in the air.” (Scott 9/9/2002; Filson 2003, pp. 82-84; Rasmussen 9/18/2003) Sasseville will recall, “There wasn’t a whole hell of a lot to talk about, because we didn’t know what was going on.” (Vogel 2007, pp. 446)
Pilots Prepare to Fly - According to Rasmussen: “We were relieved to actually be given permission to go up and do something instead of feeling totally helpless. I mean we are fighter pilots, just like guard dogs chomping at the bit ready to go.” The four pilots run down the hallway and throw on their gear, grabbing their helmets, g-suits, and parachute harnesses, before heading to the operations desk to get their aircraft assignments. (Scott 9/9/2002; Rasmussen 9/18/2003)
Commander Gives Instructions - According to author Leslie Filson, before Sasseville and Penney Garcia head to their jets, Brigadier General David Wherley, the commander of the DC Air National Guard, gives them instructions, regarding their mission. As Wherley will later recall, “My translation of the rules [of engagement] to [Sasseville] was, ‘You have weapons free flight-lead control.’” (Filson 2003, pp. 82) “Weapons free” means the decision whether to shoot at a hostile aircraft rests with the lead pilot. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 44) Wherley says, “Do you understand what I’m asking you to do?” and both pilots respond, “Yes.” Wherley then tells them to be careful. “It was important for them to understand that this was weapons free,” he will recall. (Filson 2003, pp. 82) However, Sasseville will tell the 9/11 Commission that he does not remember receiving the rules of engagement he is supposed to follow until later on, after he has taken off. (9/11 Commission 3/8/2004 pdf file)
Jets Don't Launch until 10:42 and After - The exact times when the four pilots are authorized to get airborne and receive their mission instructions are unclear. But Sasseville and Penney Garcia will take off from Andrews at 10:42 a.m., with their planes armed only with guns, and no missiles (see 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001). Rasmussen and Caine take off at 11:11 a.m., by which time their jets have been armed with missiles (see 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Filson 2003, pp. 82-84; 9/11 Commission 2004)

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)

Secret Service with automatic weapons directing people away from the White House.Secret Service with automatic weapons directing people away from the White House. [Source: Associated Press]The White House is evacuated after the Secret Service receives what the Associated Press describes as a credible threat of a terrorist attack against it. (Associated Press 2001 pdf file; CNN 9/11/2001; CNN 9/12/2001) Minutes earlier, in the White House Situation Room, Secret Service Director Brian Stafford informed counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke that an aircraft was heading in their direction, and said he was going to order the evacuation of the White House (see (9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Clarke 2004, pp. 7) The Secret Service learned of this aircraft by monitoring radar and over an open line with the FAA (the “hijack net”), which enable them to receive real time information about the hijacked aircraft. The Secret Service, which has been using an air surveillance system called Tigerwall for some time (see (September 2000 and after)), tracks both American 77 and United 93 as they approach Washington and assumes the White House is a target. Secret Service agent Barbara Riggs will later say, “The Secret Service prepared to defend the facility,” although the precise nature of the preparations is unclear. (New York Times 9/12/2001; MSNBC 9/22/2001; Langley 12/16/2001; Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002; Associated Press 8/21/2002; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004; PCCW Newsletter 3/2006) A slow and orderly evacuation of the White House had in fact begun earlier on (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). But now the Secret Service orders people to run so as to evacuate faster. (CNN 9/11/2001; ABC News 9/11/2002)

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.” (Levin, Adams, and Morrison 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). (Mccartney and Carey 10/15/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 10)

American Airlines issues a statement confirming that it has lost two of its aircraft in “tragic incidents this morning.” The statement identifies the aircraft as “Flight 11, a Boeing 767 en route from Boston to Los Angeles,” and “Flight 77, a Boeing 757 operating from Washington Dulles to Los Angeles.” The statement adds, “Because of the heightened security due to the nature of today’s events, American said it is working closely with US government authorities and will not release more information at this time.” (Associated Press 2001 pdf file; Associated Press 9/11/2001; CNN 9/12/2001) Flight 11 hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m. (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001) and Flight 77 hit the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004)

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