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United Airlines temporarily loses communication with three of its aircraft. Andrew Studdert, United Airlines’ chief operating officer, will tell the 9/11 Commission that at around 10:00 a.m., the airline loses contact with Flight 399, Flight 415, and Flight 641. Persistent attempts to communicate with these “missing” aircraft are eventually successful. [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004] At 10:45 a.m., the FAA’s Cleveland Center will report that Flight 641 is on the ground at Detroit Metro Airport in Michigan. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001]
A Maryland State Police helicopter. [Source: Maryland State Police]Sergeant Ronald Galey, the pilot of a US Park Police helicopter responding to the attack on the Pentagon, asks the Maryland State Police to send medical evacuation (medevac) helicopters to help out at the crash scene, but is told, “No, we can’t respond,” apparently because the airspace has been shut down. [Rotor and Wing, 11/2001; US Naval Historical Center, 11/20/2001] Galey is flying one of the two Park Police Aviation Unit helicopters that arrived at the Pentagon within minutes of the attack there (see Shortly After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). His helicopter has been circling overhead while the other Park Police helicopter landed to conduct medical evacuations. They are currently the only helicopters to have arrived on the scene.
Pilot Wants More Helicopters to Assist at the Pentagon - Realizing that his helicopter cannot provide its current command and control function and conduct medical evacuations at the same time, Galey requests assistance from other departments that have helicopters equipped to transport injured patients. The first department he calls is the Maryland State Police. [US Naval Historical Center, 11/20/2001; McDonnell, 2004, pp. 20-22 ] The Maryland State Police Aviation Command owns 12 helicopters and most of its work involves medical transport, with its helicopters carrying injured patients to hospital. [Maryland State Police, 2/16/2003; Baltimore Sun, 3/7/2006] According to Galey, the unit has “the most resources for aircraft, medevac aircraft, that we knew were manned and ready to go.” However, Galey will later recall, in response to his request, “they came back and said, ‘No, we can’t respond.’”
Maryland Police Think They Cannot Launch Helicopters - When Galey is told that the unit cannot respond, he and the rest of his crew are “very shocked,” and, Galey will say, “[T]hat’s when we were starting to suspect there was something more to it.” According to later accounts, the unit cannot respond because the airspace has been shut down. [Rotor and Wing, 11/2001; US Naval Historical Center, 11/20/2001] (The FAA has issued a nationwide “ground stop” that prevents any aircraft from taking off (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and has also ordered that all airborne aircraft must land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure, 9/21/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 25, 29] Galey is currently unaware that the airspace has been shut down. However, the Maryland State Police helicopters should be able to respond all the same, because NORAD has told him, “The aircraft that you’re calling in, we’re going to allow to come in” (see (Shortly After 9:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). According to Galey, the Maryland State Police “just didn’t know [that] if we requested them they could come.”
Other Departments Send Helicopters - Galey then contacts MedStar at the Washington Hospital Center and AirCare at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Virginia. Each of them dispatches helicopters to the Pentagon. Galey will recall that these two departments “hadn’t gotten the word that the airspace was shut down, and since I’m the one who requested the aircraft and informed NORAD, NORAD allowed them to come in.” [Rotor and Wing, 11/2001; US Naval Historical Center, 11/20/2001] It is unclear exactly when Galey contacts the different departments. But according to the Arlington County After-Action Report, the helicopter that MedStar launches arrives at the Pentagon at around 10:18 a.m. Inova Fairfax Hospital launches one helicopter at “approximately 10:00 a.m.” and then sends a second helicopter to the Pentagon at around 10:40 a.m. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A-45 ]
Just after President Bush authorizes the military to shoot down threatening aircraft, he speaks with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld about this, according to some accounts. According to the Washington Post, Bush gave the shootdown authorization after taking off on Air Force One (see (Shortly After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). He then talks “to Rumsfeld to clarify the procedures military pilots should follow in trying to force an unresponsive plane to the ground before opening fire on it. First, pilots would seek to make radio contact with the other plane and tell the pilot to land at a specific location. If that failed, the pilots were to use visual signals. These included having the fighters fly in front of the other plane. If the plane continued heading toward what was seen as a significant target with apparently hostile intent, the US pilot would have the authority to shoot it down.” [Washington Post, 1/27/2002] Journalist and author Bill Sammon will give a similar account, saying that, having spoken with Vice President Dick Cheney soon after Air Force One took off, Bush “then explained the shootdown order to Donald Rumsfeld, who was at the still-burning Pentagon.” [Sammon, 2002, pp. 102] The 9/11 Commission will concur that the “president apparently spoke to Secretary Rumsfeld for the first time… shortly after 10:00.” However, contradicting earlier accounts, it will say, “No one can recall the content of this conversation, but it was a brief call in which the subject of shootdown authority was not discussed” (see (10:00 a.m.-10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). According to the Commission, furthermore, the phone call between Bush and Cheney where the president gives the shootdown authorization is not until 10:18 (see 10:18 a.m.-10:20 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 41 and 43] Bush’s senior adviser Karl Rove, who is on Air Force One with the president, will also say this critical call occurs “at about 10:20,” and add that, after it, Bush reports that he has just talked to Rumsfeld as well as Cheney. [MSNBC, 9/11/2002] Rumsfeld will indicate he first learns that shootdown authorization has been given from Cheney rather than Bush, telling the 9/11 Commission that the vice president “informed me of the president’s authorization to shoot down hostile aircraft” over the air threat conference call. [9/11 Commission, 3/23/2004] The conversation he is referring to does not occur until 10:39 a.m. (see 10:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 43]
Ian Sanderson. [Source: Rome Sentinel]Major Kevin Nasypany, the mission crew commander at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), complains about Lieutenant Colonel Ian Sanderson—an officer from the NEADS battle cab—spending time on the operations floor, where, Nasypany says, he has been “circumventing my system.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001] Sanderson is the NEADS Sector Operations Control Center (SOCC) director. He is also beginning his training as a fighter director on this day. [9/11 Commission, 10/29/2003 ] He is one of a number of senior personnel working in the battle cab, which is a glass-walled room overlooking the NEADS operations floor. [Filson, 2003, pp. 55; 9/11 Commission, 10/30/2003 ] However, he has also been spending time on the operations floor.
Director Is 'Circumventing My System' - Nasypany therefore now complains, “Got to get Ian [Sanderson] off the floor.” He adds that Sanderson has been “on it, circumventing my system here.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001] (As the mission crew commander (MCC), Nasypany is supposed to be in charge of the entire operations floor. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 25] ) He continues with his complaint, saying that Sanderson is “not an MCC” and so he “needs to stay up there” in the battle cab. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001]
Director Says He 'Did Not Interfere' - Despite Nasypany’s grievance that he has been “circumventing my system,” Sanderson will tell the 9/11 Commission that his “first inclination” after the first World Trade Center tower was hit had been to “step back and let everyone do their jobs.” He will say that in “wartime”—presumably referring to situations like the present crisis—“there really is no function for the SOCC director.” His role on this day is therefore, partly, “to stay out of everyone’s way.” Sanderson will also say he is “parental” to the NEADS personnel, and, in contrast with Nasypany’s complaint about him, will say he “did not interfere.”
Director Responsible for Recalling Off-Duty Personnel - The SOCC director, according to Sanderson, serves as “an internal look at the operations on the SOCC [operations] floor,” and “involves manning and procedures of floor operations.” On this day, Sanderson is responsible for ensuring that the operations floor has additional personnel, and for coordinating fighter jets from bases that are not NORAD assets. Sanderson will say he is “primarily concerned with calling back the operations personnel” who are off duty. [9/11 Commission, 10/29/2003 ]
Steve Lanoce. [Source: Gamezebo]A group of police officers tries to enter World Trade Center Building 7 in order to get out of the WTC plaza, but they find the door is locked and the building is on fire. The seven officers are members of New York Police Department’s Emergency Service Unit (ESU). They were about 60 yards north of the South Tower when it collapsed, at 9:59 a.m. (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001). When the dust began to clear, they made their way to the WTC plaza. But as they then tried to get out of the plaza, they found that every corner they ran to was blocked.
Officers Find the Door to WTC 7 Is Locked - The ESU officers now notice the bridge that leads from the plaza to WTC 7, and wonder if they can get out of the plaza by entering WTC 7 and then making their way down to the street below. [Tactical Edge, 6/2002 ; Appel, 2009, pp. 99-100] WTC 7, a 47-story office building, is located to the north of the Twin Towers. It is linked to the main WTC complex by a glass-enclosed pedestrian bridge at the third-floor level. [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 5/1/2002, pp. 5-2; National Institute of Standards and Technology, 11/2008, pp. 2] The officers walk across the bridge, but when they reach the door that leads into WTC 7 they find it is locked. “Why anyone would lock a door under these circumstances was anybody’s guess,” author Anthea Appel will later comment.
Officers Find WTC 7 Is on Fire - One officer, Steve Lanoce, decides to try to break the door. He takes out his handgun and fires a shot at the bottom glass pane of the door. The glass, however, turns out to be bullet-proof and cracks but does not break. Furthermore, Lanoce’s shot sets off the burglar alarm in WTC 7. Fortunately, Lanoce’s colleagues are able to kick in the cracked glass and create an opening large enough to crawl through. They find, though, that the building on the other side of the door is on fire and they have to jump back to avoid the flames. [Tactical Edge, 6/2002 ; Appel, 2009, pp. 99-100]
WTC 7 Suffered Only Minor Damage When the South Tower Collapsed - The cause of the fire in WTC 7 is unclear. The National Institute of Standards and Technology, which will investigate the collapse of WTC 7 that occurs later today (see (5:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001), will state that the building suffered only minor damage when the South Tower collapsed. “A few windows on lower floors of the south face of WTC 7 were broken, and dust and small debris were deposited in the third-floor lobby,” it will describe. However, it will add, “None of the large pieces of debris from [the South Tower] hit WTC 7 because of the large distance between the two buildings and there was no evidence of structural damage to WTC 7.” [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 11/2008, pp. 16] The ESU officers then notice a stream of people making their way out of the North Tower. They therefore abandon their plan to get out of the WTC complex and instead go to help evacuate the civilians from the tower. [Tactical Edge, 6/2002 ; Appel, 2009, pp. 101]
Clifford Allen. [Source: New York Daily News]Officers belonging to New York Police Department’s elite Emergency Service Unit (ESU) who are making their way out of the North Tower of the World Trade Center encounter a man of Middle Eastern appearance who is behaving very suspiciously and subsequently arrest him. [Appel, 2009, pp. 125-128] The ESU officers were on the 31st floor of the North Tower when the South Tower collapsed, at 9:59 a.m. (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001). A colleague who was outside at the time of the collapse promptly radioed them to say what had happened and instruct them to get out of the building. [9/11 Commission, 5/18/2004; PoliceOne, 9/9/2011]
Suspicious Man Is Apparently Slipping Back into the Tower - As the officers are making their way down the stairs, one of them, Detective Timothy Morley, overhears transmissions coming over the radios of the firefighters he passes about a “suspicious man” who has been ignoring the Fire Department’s orders and is “talking gibberish on his cell phone.” As they approach the 21st floor, Morley and his colleagues encounter this man. They see him watching firefighters going down the stairs and, once he is sure they have gone, slowly making his way into the stairwell. They find it odd that someone is apparently sneaking back into the building while it is being evacuated.
Man Refuses to Say Who He Is - Morley asks the man what he is doing. The man turns around and the ESU officers see that he is about 40 years old, is well dressed, wearing a suit and tie, and has an olive complexion, dark hair, and dark eyes. They think he looks Middle Eastern. He is holding a leather valise in front of him. Morley asks him, “Do you work here?” but the man just stands still and says nothing. Morley then asks, “Who are you?” and again the man says nothing. Suddenly, the man opens his valise and pulls out a white, fluffy, stuffed toy rabbit and shoves it into Morley’s face. Another officer, David Norman, knocks the toy rabbit out of the man’s hand and onto the floor.
Officers Think the Man's Phone May Be a Detonator Device - A few firefighters who are coming down the stairs see the man and ask the ESU officers: “What’d we got? A terrorist?” In response, the man says, menacingly: “You want to know who I am? Let me show you.” He then reaches for a cell phone that is hooked to his belt. Seeing the man’s fingers just an inch from the phone’s keypad, Morley shouts out, “You’re not pressin’ any buttons!” Concerned that the cell phone might be a detonator device, Morley, Norman, and another ESU officer, Clifford Allen, snatch it off the man and toss it onto the floor.
Senior Officer Wants the Man to Be Taken out of the Tower - By this time, more people have come down the stairs and are watching the commotion. Among them are two civilians who work on the 65th floor. Someone asks them if they recognize the suspicious man. They have a good look at him and say, “He’s not from that floor,” referring to the 21st floor. Deciding now that the man doesn’t belong in the building, ESU Lieutenant Venton Hollifield orders: “Get this guy outta here. We’ll find out what he is and who he is later.” A Port Authority Police Department sergeant who is on the stairs starts gathering up the man’s belongings, but when he goes to pick up the toy rabbit, Morley orders him to leave it where it is.
Man Goes into a Rage and Is Then Arrested - The ESU officers then start escorting the man down the stairs. But a couple of flights down, he goes into a rage and tries to get past them to run back upstairs. He starts swearing while flailing his arms, and punching and kicking at the officers. The officers are easily able to restrain him, but at this point Hollifield instructs Morley to arrest him. Morley does so and handcuffs the man behind his back. The man then quietens down and everyone is able to continue down the stairs. But occasionally the man makes an outrageous statement. For example, he says, “I was a soldier in my country” and when he is asked what his country is, he replies, “The Ukraine,” even though he doesn’t look Ukrainian.
Man Laughs When He Sees the Destruction outside the Tower - When the ESU officers reach the plaza level, they see the devastation caused by the collapse of the South Tower through the windows. But while everyone else is shocked at what they see, the suspicious man giggles and says: “Look at the fire. Nice, nice fire.” [Appel, 2009, pp. 125-129] Morley and Hollifield will escort the man away from their colleagues and eventually pass him on to the FBI. However, a man in a dark suit—apparently some kind of government agent—will subsequently instruct Morley to keep quiet about the strange man he’d arrested in the North Tower (see After 10:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Appel, 2009, pp. 131, 173-175] Curiously, considering that the suspicious man threatened the ESU officers with a toy stuffed rabbit, a week later, the New York State Police will be warned that terrorists might try to get bombs onto commercial planes by hiding them inside stuffed toys. But the man’s toy rabbit will never be recovered from the rubble of the North Tower and therefore is not examined to see if it contains explosives. [Appel, 2009, pp. 340]
Abu Laila. [Source: Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine]The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), a radical Palestinian group, denies responsibility for the terrorist attacks in the US after an Arab television station said it admitted responsibility for them. [Los Angeles Times, 9/12/2001; Poynter Institute, 9/2/2002] At around 9:43 a.m., Abu Dhabi television reported that it had received a call from the DFLP, claiming responsibility for crashing the planes into the World Trade Center (see (9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [BBC, 9/12/2001] Now, however, a spokesman for the DFLP denies that the group was behind the attacks. [Poynter Institute, 9/2/2002] The spokesman who issues the denial at this time is apparently Qais Abdel Rahim, the leader of the DFLP. Speaking from the West Bank, Rahim says his group condemns the attacks. “We are not responsible for this type of terror attack. We are against it,” he says. [Associated Press, 9/11/2001; Liverpool Daily Post, 9/12/2001]
Group's Leaders Are Unaware of the Attacks - DFLP officials will subsequently review the group’s worldwide operations to see if the group has any links to the attacks. “I called all the DFLP offices outside Palestine; I made sure they had no connection to the attacks—or even to the media reports,” Abu Laila, a senior figure in the DFLP, will later recall. The group’s leaders will tell him that “they were not even aware of the attacks.”
Official Statement Will Deny Responsibility for the Attacks - The DFLP will issue an official statement later today, denying responsibility for the attacks in the US. [Ma'an News Agency, 9/11/2011] “The Democratic Front rejects any kind of operation outside of the land of occupied Palestine, away from the immediate battlefield confronting the occupation forces and the armed settlers,” the statement will say. The DFLP will blame the false attribution of responsibility on “the Israeli security intelligence agencies,” which, it will state, “are trying to frame us.” These agencies, according to the statement, “orchestrated the set-up to criminalize our struggle because of our fidelity to this struggle, and our sophisticated way of organizing under the leadership of the working class and the progressive people of Palestine.” [Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, 9/11/2001]
Experts Believe that Palestinian Groups Are Not to Blame - Most experts in the US will agree that “no Palestinian faction has the wherewithal to carry out such a coordinated and well-executed series of attacks” as have occurred today, according to the Los Angeles Times. [Los Angeles Times, 9/12/2001] One expert, Eli Carmon of the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center’s counterterrorism department, will say it is unlikely that any Palestinian groups are involved. “They have a lot to lose because America would react very harshly against the Palestinians,” he will say. [Irish Examiner, 9/11/2001] “The DFLP does not even confront Israel; how would it confront the US?” Laila will comment. [Ma'an News Agency, 9/11/2011]
William Zika. [Source: William Zika]Inspector Joseph Morris, a commanding officer with the Port Authority Police Department (PAPD), gives the order to move the PAPD’s mobile command post further away from the World Trade Center and thereby likely prevents those in it being killed or seriously injured when the North Tower collapses. [Keegan and Davis, 2006, pp. 100-101] The mobile command post is a vehicle the size of a bus that was dispatched from the PAPD’s headquarters in Jersey City when word reached there about the crash at the North Tower (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). It arrived near the Twin Towers at around 9:30 a.m. and was parked just north of the intersection of West and Vesey Streets, next to Building 6 of the WTC. [Urban Hazards Forum, 1/2002 ; Accardi, 3/7/2002 ; Keegan and Davis, 2006, pp. 8, 100] After the South Tower collapsed (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001), Port Authority personnel gathered at the vehicle to regroup.
Police Captain Says the North Tower Will Collapse - At some point, Captain Anthony Whitaker, the PAPD commanding officer at the WTC, comes to the mobile command post and warns that the North Tower is in danger of collapsing, like the South Tower did. [9/11 Commission, 5/18/2004 ] He is convinced that the North Tower is “about to come down any minute,” he will later recall. [Murphy, 2002, pp. 187] He approaches Morris outside the vehicle and urgently tells him that “the area is not safe, because [the North Tower] is coming down.” [9/11 Commission, 11/10/2003] Presumably in response to Whitaker’s warning, Morris decides that the vehicle needs to be moved to somewhere safer. “I knew that the mobile command post must be moved north on West Street,” he will state. [9/11 Commission, 5/18/2004 ] He gets into the vehicle and gives the order, “Move the command post.”
Instruction Is Given to Move the Command Bus - Those in the vehicle groan in frustration when they hear Morris’s order, since “[p]eople were in motion, the command post was almost operational, [and] no one wanted to disconnect everything and start all over,” according to a book by Lieutenant William Keegan of the PAPD. But Morris ignores their objections, points to a location on a map of the city, and says, “Move it there.” [9/11 Commission, 11/10/2003; Keegan and Davis, 2006, pp. 100]
Fire Trucks Move to Allow the Vehicle to Drive Away - Sergeant William Zika, who is at the mobile command post with Morris, talks with Police Officer Frank Accardi, the vehicle’s driver, and Police Officer Thomas Kennedy “about moving the bus further north to a safer location.” [Zika, 3/9/2002] But before they can start the vehicle, Accardi and Kennedy have to clean its air filter, which became clogged with debris when the South Tower collapsed. [Merrill, 2011, pp. 232; Law Officer, 8/16/2011] Meanwhile, Whitaker starts yelling at the fire trucks parked nearby to free up space so the vehicle can get away. [Murphy, 2002, pp. 187]
Moving the Command Bus Reportedly Saves Lives - Accardi then starts the mobile command post, moves it north, and parks it on West Street, between Murray and Chambers Streets. The North Tower of the WTC will collapse while the vehicle is at this location, at 10:28 a.m. (see 10:28 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Accardi, 3/7/2002 ; 9/11 Commission, 11/10/2003; 9/11 Commission, 5/18/2004 ] The tower will crush Building 6 of the WTC, “covering the exact spot where the command post had stood with tons of debris,” Keegan will write. This will mean that Morris’s order to move the vehicle “prevented the deaths of everyone in the PAPD command post,” according to Keegan. [Keegan and Davis, 2006, pp. 100-101]
Space view of New York on 9/11/01 [Source: NASA]The commander of the International Space Station, Frank Culbertson, is informed of the 9/11 attacks by NASA’s ground control. The station is orbiting the earth at a distance of about 300 miles. In addition to Culbertson, the station is manned by two Russian cosmonauts, Vladimir Dezhurov and Mikhail Tyurin. Culbertson quickly determines that the station will soon fly over New England. He positions himself with video and photographic equipment to record what he can see from space. One of his pictures, apparently taken after the collapse of both towers, shows a plume of smoke rising tens of miles into the sky. Vladimir Dezhurov will later take part in a televised debate during which he will apparently express skepticism about the US government’s version of the attacks (see September 12, 2008). [National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), 9/12/2001; CNN, 10/15/2001; New York Times, 11/27/2001; Guardian, 9/11/2002]
Some time after the first WTC tower collapse, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke orders all landmark buildings and all federal buildings in the US evacuated. He also orders all harbors and borders closed. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 14-15] The Sears Tower in Chicago begins evacuation around 10:02 a.m. Other prominent buildings are slower to evacuate. [Ottawa Citizen, 9/11/2001]
Throughout the day of 9/11 and after, members of the public in New York City experience significant communications problems, particularly with cell phones. “In the aftermath [of the attacks], and for several days afterwards, cellular phone services were either not working or were severely overloaded.” [SatNews, 10/19/2001] As Time magazine reports, “Lines formed, at least 20 people long, at all pay phones, because cell phones were not working.” [Time, 9/14/2001] (Reportedly, though, the 911 system is not disrupted.) Later accounts will suggest that an increased volume of phone calls being made in response to the attacks may have overloaded networks. Within minutes of the first attack, according to the New York Times, there were “tens of millions of [phone] calls—many from worried relatives and friends—that threatened to clog the system.” [New York Times, 9/20/2001] The call volume of Verizon Communications, which has its main regional switching station across the street from the World Trade Center, reaches twice its normal daily rate of 115 million calls in New York City. “And although it remained operational, the wireless network experienced massive congestion that prevented most calls from getting through. During the peak of the chaos, Verizon experienced nearly 100 percent more traffic than normal on its nationwide wireless network.” [Verton, 2003, pp. 148] Some of the communications problems in the New York area are later attributed to physical damage to the infrastructure. A report by the Mineta Transportation Institute will summarize, “The collapse of the World Trade Center towers knocked out Verizon’s switching center in Lower Manhattan and severely damaged the infrastructure for cellular telephones. Telephone communications for NYPD Command and Control was also destroyed in the attack. As a consequence, cell phone service was subsequently overloaded. NYC Transit lost a key portion of its fiber-optic network in one tunnel.” [Jenkins and Edwards-Winslow, 9/2003, pp. 33] Similar communication problems are also experienced around Washington, DC, and some top government officials are affected (see (After 8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). According to one government official, the nation was “deaf, dumb, and blind” for much of the day. [Verton, 2003, pp. 151]
Shortly after arriving at Washington’s Dulles Airport, from which Flight 77 took off, the FBI confiscates a security tape from a checkpoint through which the hijackers passed before boarding the plane. Airport security manager Ed Nelson will later say: “They pulled the tape right away.… They brought me to look at it. They went right to the first hijacker on the tape and identified him. They knew who the hijackers were out of hundreds of people going through the checkpoints. They would go ‘roll and stop it’ and showed me each of the hijackers.… It boggles my mind that they had already had the hijackers identified.… Both metal detectors were open at that time, and lots of traffic was moving through. So picking people out is hard.… I wanted to know how they had that kind of information. So fast. It didn’t make sense to me.” [Trento and Trento, 2006, pp. 37] Some of the hijackers are identified on the passenger manifests around this time (see (9:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and this knowledge is disseminated in the US intelligence community (see (After 10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Richard Dearlove. [Source: Daily Express]CIA Director George Tenet later recalls that, at some unspecified time during this day, a commercial passenger jet on its way to Britain behaves suspiciously, raising fears that al-Qaeda might have launched a two-continent attack. Aircraft are equipped with a device called a transponder, which transmits information to controllers on the ground, such as the plane’s flight number, altitude and speed. But this plane is emitting all kinds of “squawks,” with its transponder going off and on. Tenet calls Richard Dearlove, his counterpart at the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), to inform him of what is going on. Eventually, according to Tenet, the problem is resolved, and it turns out to have been caused simply by the transponder being faulty. [Washington Post, 9/17/2001; Tenet, 2007, pp. 166]
John McWethy. [Source: Steve Fenn / ABC]ABC News correspondent John McWethy was at the Pentagon at the time it was hit. [Newsweek, 9/24/2001] At some later time, an army general he knows offers to take him in closer to the crash site. McWethy recalls: “I got in very close, got a look early on at the bad stuff. I could not, however, see any plane wreckage—it was well inside and had been, basically, vaporized.” [Gilbert et al., 2002, pp. 187] The following day, Arlington County Fire Chief Ed Plaugher will similarly tell reporters: “[T]here are some small pieces of aircraft visible from the interior during this firefighting operation… but not large sections. In other words, there’s no fuselage sections and that sort of thing.” [US Department of Defense, 9/12/2001] According to the Defense Department’s book about the Pentagon attack: “The front part of the relatively weak fuselage [of Flight 77] disintegrated, but the mid-section and tail-end continued moving for another fraction of a second.… The chain of destruction resulted in parts of the plane ending up inside the Pentagon in reverse of the order they had entered it, with the tail-end of the airliner penetrating the greatest distance into the building.” [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 17] Navy Lt. Kevin Shaeffer reportedly sees a “chunk of the 757’s nose cone and front landing gear” in the service road between the Pentagon’s B and C Rings. [Virginian-Pilot, 9/9/2002] Other witnesses say they see a large airplane tire. [Office of Medical History, 9/2004, pp. 117-118; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 54] Army Staff Sgt. Mark Williams, whose search and rescue team enters the Pentagon less than four hours after the attack, recalls seeing “the scorched bodies of several airline passengers… still strapped into their seats” inside the building. [USA Today, 9/13/2001]
Rudy Washington. [Source: Congress of Racial Equality]After being caught in the dust plume when the WTC’s South Tower collapses at 9:59, Rudy Washington, who is one of Rudolph Giuliani’s deputy mayors, heads to City Hall, where he coordinates the city’s emergency response to the attacks. He is in contact with New York Governor George Pataki, high-ranking New York Police Department officers, and Navy Admiral Robert Natter, the commander of the US Atlantic Fleet (see (Shortly After 9:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001). He orders the closing of bridges. (Though, according to some accounts, the New York Port Authority ordered all bridges to be closed earlier on, at 9:21 (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001).) As New York Daily News columnist Stanley Crouch later describes, Washington also finds “heavy machinery to get downtown for the cleanup and got the Navy to guard against a seaborne attack. He evacuated City Hall, which shook like crazy when the second tower fell. He gathered people who could give medical help, gave the order to find lights that could be used at Ground Zero and worked out new phone communications, since power was being lost. Accompanied by city engineers, he went into the streets around the fallen towers, testing the ground to make sure it would hold when the heavy equipment came in.” Washington’s efforts at developing an emergency strategy are reportedly aided by what he learned at an anti-terrorist training session chaired by counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke and held at the WTC, in preparation for the millennium celebration (see (Late 1999)). Stanley Crouch later credits Rudy Washington with having “ran New York for the first few hours after the attack during a period when Giuliani was thought to have been killed inside the first building that went down.” [New York Daily News, 5/20/2004] During the initial hours following the attacks, between around 9:50 a.m. and midday, Mayor Giuliani is moving around between a series of temporary command posts (see (9:50 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (After 10:28 a.m.-12:00 pm.) September 11, 2001).
David Addington. [Source: David Bohrer / White House]According to an in-depth examination by the Washington Post, within hours of the 9/11 attacks, Vice President Dick Cheney begins working to secure additional powers for the White House. Cheney had plans in place to begin acquiring these powers for the executive branch before the attacks, but had not begun to execute them.
Gathering the Team - David Addington, Cheney’s general counsel and legal adviser, had been walking home after having to leave the now-evacuated Eisenhower Executive Office Building. He receives a message from the White House telling him to turn around, because the vice president needs him. After Addington joins Cheney in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the East Wing of the White House, the pair reportedly begin “contemplating the founding question of the legal revolution to come: What extraordinary powers will the president need for his response?” Later in the day, Addington connects by secure video with Timothy Flanigan, the deputy White House counsel, who is in the White House Situation Room. John Yoo, the deputy chief of the Office of Legal Counsel, is also patched in from the Justice Department’s command center. White House counsel Alberto Gonzales joins them later. This forms the core legal team that Cheney will oversee after the terrorist attacks. Associate White House counsel Bradford Berenson will later recall: “Addington, Flanigan and Gonzales were really a triumvirate. [Yoo] was a supporting player.” Addington dominates the group. Gonzales is there primarily because of his relationship with President Bush. He is not, Yoo will later recall, “a law-of-war expert and [doesn’t] have very developed views.” Along with these allies, Cheney will provide what the Washington Post calls “the rationale and political muscle to drive far-reaching legal changes through the White House, the Justice Department, and the Pentagon,” which will free the president to fight the war on terror, “as he saw fit.”
Drafting the AUMF - The team begins drafting the document that will become the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF—see October 10, 2002) passed by Congress for the assault on Afghanistan. In the words of the group, the president is authorized “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States.”
Extraordinarily Broad Language - The language is extraordinarily broad; Yoo will later explain that they chose such sweeping language because “this war was so different, you can’t predict what might come up.” The AUMF draft is the first of numerous attempts to secure broad powers for the presidency, most justified by the 9/11 attacks. The Washington Post will later report, “In fact, the triumvirate knew very well what would come next: the interception—without a warrant—of communications to and from the United States” (see September 25, 2001). [CNN, 9/11/2001; CNN, 9/12/2001; Unger, 2007, pp. 220-221; Washington Post, 6/24/2007]
Bill Wright. [Source: WTAE-TV]Bill Wright is piloting a small plane when an air traffic controller asks him to look around outside his window, according to his later claims. Wright sees Flight 93 three miles away—close enough that he can see the United Airlines colors. Air traffic control asks him the plane’s altitude, and then commands him to get away from the plane and land immediately. Wright sees the plane rock back and forth three or four times before he flies from the area. He will later say, “That’s one of the first things that went through my mind when they told us to get as far away from it as fast as we could—that either they were expecting it to blow up or they were going to shoot it down, but that’s pure speculation.” [Pittsburgh Channel, 9/19/2001] According to the 9/11 Commission, the FAA Command Center tells FAA headquarters that a nearby plane has seen Flight 93 “waving his wings.” The Commission will say, “The aircraft had witnessed the radical gyrations in what we believe was the hijackers’ effort to defeat the passenger assault.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] This presumably is a reference to Wright.
Dorothy Garcia. [Source: Darryl Bush / San Francisco Chronicle]Andrew Garcia, a passenger on Flight 93, makes a phone call to his wife, Dorothy Garcia, but is quickly cut off and does not call again. [Longman, 2002, pp. 190-191; Discovery Channel, 2005] Garcia, a 62-year-old businessman from Portola Valley in the San Francisco Bay Area, calls his wife on his cell phone. He is only able to get out one word, her name “Dorothy.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/14/2001; Sun (Sunnyvale), 9/26/2001; San Francisco Chronicle, 12/27/2001] According to Garcia’s son, the line then “got staticky and faded out.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/14/2001]
NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) contacts an Air National Guard unit in Toledo, Ohio, and requests that it launch two fighter jets in response to the attacks. [WTOL, 9/11/2006; Lynn Spencer, 2008; Spencer, 2008, pp. 178]
First Time that Unit Has Answered a NORAD Request - The 180th Fighter Wing of the Ohio Air National Guard is based at Toledo Express Airport. It has 20 F-16 fighter jets and about three dozen pilots. [Toledo Blade, 12/9/2001] Its “primary mission” is “to provide combat ready F-16C and support units capable of deploying worldwide in minimum response time.” [180th Fighter Wing, 9/19/2001; GlobalSecurity (.org.), 10/21/2001] The unit is not one of NORAD’s seven alert facilities around the US, and this is believed to be the first time it has ever answered a request for help from NORAD. [Airman, 12/1999; Toledo Blade, 12/9/2001]
Call due to Concern over Delta 1989 - According to author Lynn Spencer, a weapons technician at NEADS makes the call to the 180th FW due to concerns about Delta Air Lines Flight 1989, which is incorrectly thought to have been hijacked (see 9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 177-178] NEADS has already contacted units in Minnesota and Michigan about this aircraft (see (Shortly After 9:41 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (9:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 1/23/2004 ; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] The weapons technician calls the Toledo unit after Master Sergeant Joe McCain gives an update across the NEADS operations floor: “Delta 89! Hard right turn!” According to Spencer, the weapons technician knows the 180th FW is much better positioned than the Selfridge unit’s fighters are to reach Delta 1989. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 178]
NORAD Commander Gives Different Explanation - But according to Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental United States NORAD Region, the weapons technician’s call might also be in response to concerns over Flight 93. Arnold will say that NEADS calls the 180th FW “because we thought [Flight] 93 or Delta Flight 1989 might be headed toward Chicago.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 71] Two Toledo pilots who initially answer the call from NEADS appear to believe the call is a joke, but their wing commander then picks up the line and responds appropriately (see 10:01 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 178-179]
Unit Prepared for Crisis Like This - Although it is not one of NORAD’s alert facilities, Lt. Col. Gary Chudzinski, a former commander of the 180th FW, will later comment that the Toledo unit has always been aware that it could be alerted to crises such as the current one, “but you just don’t expect it.” According to General Paul Sullivan, who heads all Ohio Air National Guard units, the 180th FW’s pilots practice “air interception,” but a typical mission focuses on either a plane ferrying drugs or enemy fighters approaching America’s coasts. [Airman, 12/1999; Toledo Blade, 12/9/2001] Two 180th FW jets will take off from the Toledo unit at 10:17 a.m. (see 10:17 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Toledo Blade, 12/9/2001; WTOL, 9/11/2006]
Air traffic controllers at the Cleveland Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) remain suspicious of Delta Air Lines Flight 1989 as it is coming in to land at Cleveland Hopkins Airport, due to the pilot’s failure to use an important standard term in his communications with them. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/16/2001] A TRACON is an FAA facility that guides aircraft approaching or departing an airport. Flights coming in to land will subsequently be passed on to the airport’s air traffic control tower once they are within five miles of the airport and below 2,500 feet. [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/24/2006] The Cleveland TRACON is in contact with Delta 1989 as it descends from 9,000 feet down to 3,000 feet. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/16/2001] Delta 1989, a Boeing 767 out of Boston, is mistakenly suspected of being hijacked (see 9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (Shortly After 9:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and has been instructed to land as soon as possible in Cleveland (see (9:42 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 8/13/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 27-28; Spencer, 2008, pp. 167-168; USA Today, 9/11/2008]
Pilot Does Not Use Term 'Heavy' - A detailed timeline provided by the Cleveland Airport control tower shortly after 9/11 will describe, “One anomaly that perpetuated concern by approach controllers in the face of constant information that there was nothing going on with [Delta 1989] was that the pilot never used the HEAVY designator in his communications.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/16/2001] The term “heavy” alerts controllers to provide extra spacing behind very large aircraft, which are above a certain weight, because these aircraft generate significant wake turbulence. [USA Today, 6/1/2005; USA Today, 5/22/2006]
Controllers Skeptical of Delta 1989's Security - While the TRACON controllers use the “heavy” designator, “the pilot [of Delta 1989] did not respond with it.” The control tower’s timeline will state that, while this detail “may seem minor,” it “should not be overlooked. The use of HEAVY in the terminal environment is of the highest importance. Increased separation standards are required, and misapplication of separation standards can be disastrous. For pilots, not referring to a heavy aircraft as HEAVY is tantamount to calling a doctor ‘Mister.’” As a result, “This omission, along with all of the other information flying around, kept everyone alert and skeptical of the security of the flight.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/16/2001]
Pilots from the 180th Fighter Wing who are called to service on 9/11. [Source: WTOL]Two fighter pilots with a Toledo, Ohio, military unit that answer a call from NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), requesting assistance in response to the morning’s attacks, respond as if they think the call is a joke. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 178-179] The pilots belong to the 180th Fighter Wing of the Ohio Air National Guard, which is based at Toledo Express Airport. [GlobalSecurity (.org), 1/1/2002; WTOL, 9/11/2006]
Pilot Puzzled by Call - When a weapons technician at NEADS contacts the Toledo unit, his call is answered by F-16 pilot Ed Rinke. The weapons technician says, “We need you to scramble two airplanes right now.” However, according to author Lynn Spencer, “to Rinke, the order makes no sense.” The Toledo unit “is not an alert squadron and does not report to NEADS.” Rinke is only a part-time pilot, and thinks someone more suitable should be taking the call. He shouts down the hall: “Hey, we’ve got a phone call at the duty desk. Some guy wants us to launch alert fighters!” Pilot Scott Reed responds: “What? We don’t do that!” Pushing the phone toward Reed, Rinke says: “You take it! It’s somebody on drugs.”
Second Pilot Tells NEADS It Is Calling 'the Wrong People' - After Reed takes the phone, the weapons technician repeats his request, saying, “Major Reed, we need you to scramble two airplanes.” Yet Reed sounds as baffled as Rinke had been. He answers: “You’re calling Toledo, Ohio. Do you not understand who you’re calling here? Who are you trying to call, because you are obviously calling the wrong people. This is Toledo. We don’t have any alert birds. This is Toledo. Do you understand that?”
Commander Takes Call, Orders Launch - Fortunately, the two pilots’ wing commander then takes over the call and responds to it more appropriately. Within minutes, according to Spencer, he will instruct Reed and Rinke to take off in two F-16s. Rinke reportedly thinks to himself, “Things must be really bad if NEADS is launching Toledo on an active air scramble!” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 178-179] The Toledo Blade will later comment, “Toledo’s response on Sept. 11 is believed to be the first time the unit has answered a call from the North American Aerospace Defense Command.” Two 180th Fighter Wing jets will take off from the Toledo unit at 10:17 a.m., but accounts will conflict over who the pilots are (see 10:17 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Toledo Blade, 12/9/2001; WTOL, 9/11/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 179]
At the instruction of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage sends a cable out around the world saying the US government is still functioning. [US Department of State, 9/8/2006] Having recently arrived at the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House (see (Shortly Before 9:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001), the first thing that occurs to Rice, she will later say, is that it is important to get a cable out to all diplomatic posts around the world, to say the United States government has “not been decapitated by this attack.… I thought to myself, we need to let everybody know that we’re still up and running.” [MSNBC, 9/11/2002] She therefore tells her deputy, Stephen Hadley, to call Armitage at the State Department, and urge him to send a cable to all overseas posts with this message. [BBC Radio 4, 8/1/2002 ; Bumiller, 2007, pp. xvi]
Secret Service emergency response team officers patrolling the South Lawn of the White House. [Source: Associated Press]Laura Bush, the president’s wife, is escorted out of the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, DC, by members of the Secret Service with their guns drawn, to be driven away to a secure location. [National Journal, 8/31/2002; Bush, 2010, pp. 200] People began evacuating from the Russell Senate Office Building and the nearby Capitol building at 9:48 a.m., apparently due to concerns that a plane was heading toward Capitol Hill (see 9:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Associated Press, 9/11/2001; Associated Press, 8/21/2002; CNN, 9/11/2006] While Bush and her staff were waiting for the Secret Service emergency response team to arrive and take them away from the Russell Office Building, they stayed in the office of Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) (see (9:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Emergency Response Team Arrives with Guns Drawn - Secret Service agents collect the first lady from Gregg’s office at “[s]ometime after 10:00 a.m.,” Bush will later recall. [Bush, 2010, pp. 200] Bush usually travels with four Secret Service agents. [Kessler, 2006, pp. 136; Kessler, 2009, pp. 181] But her usual agents are now joined by “an additional Secret Service detail and an emergency response team, dressed in black tactical clothing like a SWAT force and moving with guns drawn.” As Bush is being hurried through the hallways, past panicked staffers leaving their offices, members of the emergency response team escorting her shout, “Get back!” and cover her every move with their guns. [Bush, 2010, pp. 200]
First Lady Escorted to Her Limousine - Noelia Rodriguez, the first lady’s press secretary, will recall that she and several other members of Bush’s staff reach Bush’s limousine before the first lady does. While they are waiting there, they chat excitedly, asking each other: “What could this be? Where are we going? What’s next?” But the driver instructs them to be quiet, saying, “Ladies, this is a time to pay attention.” “Just then,” Rodriguez will say, “what seemed like two dozen of these ninja guys surrounded the car—Secret Service agents all dressed in black. Mrs. Bush then got in the car.” [National Journal, 8/31/2002] Bush will describe, “We reached the underground entrance; the doors on the motorcade slammed shut, and we sped off.” [Bush, 2010, pp. 200]
Motorcade Delayed before Leaving Capitol Hill - However, Bush and those accompanying her reportedly face a delay as they are about to drive off. Ashleigh Adams, the first lady’s deputy press secretary, will describe, “At one point, we were all going to leave, and then Mrs. Bush got out of the motorcade and they [presumably members of the Secret Service] told us to stay in the staff van.” At this point, Adams will say, “Everyone was distraught” and they “didn’t know what was going on.” She will add: “We knew something was going on in DC, because we could see people running around. A lot of us were under the impression that there were car bombs going off throughout the city.” Bush and those accompanying her leave Capitol Hill at 10:10 a.m., according to Rodriguez. [National Journal, 8/31/2002] Bush’s Secret Service agents say they are going to take everyone to a secure location. This turns out to be the Secret Service headquarters in Washington (see (10:10 a.m.-10:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Kessler, 2006, pp. 136]
An aircraft that is in Sarasota, Florida, in support of President Bush’s visit there takes off with people and equipment on board shortly after Air Force One leaves Sarasota, and will eventually make its way back to Washington, DC. [Marist Magazine, 10/2002] Air Force One took off from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport with Bush on board at around 9:54 a.m. (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 1/27/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 39] Members of the president’s entourage who have stayed behind in Sarasota subsequently load the second aircraft with vehicles and other items. The aircraft would normally be used just to transport people back to Washington. But Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Herman, a senior presidential communications officer, will later recall that all of the presidential limousines “and a bunch of equipment we had which I can’t really discuss” are loaded onto it. The aircraft then takes off from the Sarasota airport “not too long after the president got airborne.” Those on the aircraft, as well as Herman, include members of the Secret Service and Major Paul Montanus, one of the president’s military aides. Herman will not say where the aircraft goes, or why, after it leaves Sarasota. “Obviously we were in the air for a reason, for any contingency,” he will say. “Basically we could have gone to any city or county or location in the United States, and landed and supported the president at that location.” Herman will add that the flight “became a special mission.” The aircraft will land at Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, “about 15 minutes after the president,” according to Herman. [Marist Magazine, 10/2002] This would mean it lands at around 6:45 p.m. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 127; Rove, 2010, pp. 263]
The headquarters of the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC. [Source: Vornado / Charles E. Smith]David Frum, a speechwriter for President Bush, spends an hour on the phone with Richard Perle, the chairman of the Defense Policy Board, and Perle tells him the president needs to say he will hold not just terrorists but also the nations that harbor them responsible for the morning’s attacks. [Vanity Fair, 7/2003] Frum is currently at the headquarters of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) think tank in Washington, DC, while Perle is at his vacation home in the south of France. [Packer, 2005, pp. 40] Frum went to the AEI headquarters after he was evacuated from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next to the White House (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). On the way, he was joined by John McConnell, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief speechwriter. After they arrived at the AEI headquarters, sometime after 10:00 a.m., Chris DeMuth, AEI’s president, offered the two men the use of offices, telephones, and Internet connections. [Frum, 2003, pp. 115-117]
Frum and Perle Discuss Attacks and How the US Should Respond - Frum therefore talks over the phone with Perle for about an hour. [Vanity Fair, 7/2003] “We had a very long conversation,” Frum will later recall, “and touched on a lot of things: where [the attacks] had come from and the mistakes of the past, things to be avoided.” The thing that emerges “most clearly” from the conversation, according to Frum, is how important it is for the president to “make it clear at the start: this was not going to be more law enforcement—they were not going to be indicting these terrorists—that this was to be understood as war.” [PBS Frontline, 7/7/2004] Therefore, Perle says to Frum, “Whatever else the president says, he must make clear that he’s holding responsible not just terrorists but whoever harbors those terrorists.” [Vanity Fair, 7/2003]
Speechwriters Leave AEI to Join Other White House Staffers - Frum and McConnell will subsequently leave the AEI headquarters and head to the DaimlerChrysler building in Washington, where dozens of White House employees go to continue their work. There, the two men will work on a statement for Bush to deliver when he returns to the capital. [Frum, 2003, pp. 117-118, 120; Politico, 9/9/2011] After he arrives back at the White House, Bush will give a speech to the nation from the Oval Office (see 8:30 p.m. September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/12/2001; Washington Post, 1/27/2002] The speech Frum and McConnell work on, however, will have been discarded, with the president using something different. [PBS Frontline, 7/7/2004] But Bush will say in his speech that America “will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.” [US President, 9/17/2001] Referring to the speech, journalist and author George Packer will comment: “Bush followed Perle’s advice to the word and then expanded on it: The rest of the world was either with America or with the terrorists.” [Packer, 2005, pp. 40]
General Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, talks over the phone with General Richard Myers, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who is at the Pentagon, and is given information about the Pentagon attack and the military’s response to the terrorist attacks. Shelton took off at 7:15 a.m. to fly to Europe for a NATO conference (see 7:15 a.m. September 11, 2001). He learned of the attacks in New York while his plane was over the Atlantic Ocean, and has just been told of a “big explosion at the Pentagon” (see (8:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
First Report Is of a Hand Grenade Going Off at Pentagon - Shelton heads to the communications console just behind the plane’s cockpit. From there, he talks over a secure, encrypted phone line with Myers, who is in the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon. Myers updates Shelton on what is known about the explosion at the Pentagon. He says the first report is that a hand grenade went off in the Pentagon parking lot.
Myers Updates Shelton on Military Response to Attacks - Myers then gives Shelton a complete status report. He says: “We’ve transitioned the SIEC [significant event conference] into an air threat conference call, which is in progress as we speak (see 9:29 a.m.-9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 9:37 a.m.-9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). FAA has requested that NORAD take over control of US airspace. Fighters have scrambled to escort Air Force One (see (After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and we’re sending AWACS up to provide further monitoring (see Before 9:55 a.m. September 11, 2001). We’ve escalated to Threatcon Delta and are about to launch the NAOC [National Airborne Operations Center plane]. Bases around the world are locked tight, [Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul] Wolfowitz has been relocated to Site R (see (11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001), plus, [Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen] Hadley has requested we implement full ‘Continuity of Government measures’ (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001), and we are proceeding along those lines.”
Myers Says Plane Hit the Pentagon - Myers is then interrupted by some commotion in the background. When he returns to the line, he tells Shelton, “Okay, we just got the word: the prior report was incorrect; it was not a hand grenade that exploded, it was another commercial airline that struck the Pentagon.” He then continues with his status report, saying, “[P]er the president, we’ve gone weapons free in the event of a hijacked aircraft or one that threatens the White House.” [Giesemann, 2008, pp. 20, 22-24; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 430-433]
Shelton Wants to Return to Washington - Myers will tell the 9/11 Commission that after he arrives at the NMCC—presumably referring to the time of this phone call—he “recommended General Shelton return to Washington, DC.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004 ] But Shelton will recall that he tells Myers, “I need you to call Ed Eberhart [General Ralph Eberhart, the commander of NORAD] at NORAD and let him know that we’re coming back [to Washington] on Speckled Trout [the nickname of the plane he is on], and tell him that I would consider it a personal favor if he would see to it that the chairman and his crew are not shot down on their way back to Andrews.” Myers confirms, “Will do.” According to Shelton, his plane is called back 10 minutes later “with confirmation that we had been officially cleared to fly through the shutdown airspace.” [Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 433] But according to Captain Rob Pedersen, the flight navigator on Shelton’s plane, it is several hours before the plane is cleared to enter the US airspace (see (After 9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 ] The plane will therefore only land at Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, at 4:40 p.m. (see 4:40 p.m. September 11, 2001) and Shelton will only arrive at the NMCC an hour after that (see 5:40 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001 ; Myers, 2009, pp. 159] The exact time of the call between Shelton and Myers is unclear, though it would be at some time after about 10:00 a.m., when Myers arrives at the NMCC (see (Between 9:55 a.m. and 10:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 38]
United Airlines official Sandy Rogers calls Ellen King at the FAA’s Command Center to discuss Flight 93. The timing of the call is not known specifically, although it appears to be after the Pentagon was hit and could not be long after Flight 93 is thought to have crashed, which is shortly after 10:00 a.m. (see (10:03 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Rogers tells King that Flight 93 has been hijacked, and King responds, “Oh God… thank you,” indicating she was previously unaware of the hijacking. However, the FAA had been aware of the situation since a few minutes after the hijacking took place (see (9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). Rogers also says: “It’s over Hagerstown now and you’re not aware of it. It’s heading toward Washington, DC, and we are under a threat of a hijacking on board and this flight is out of our control now heading toward Washington, DC.” Rogers states that United Airlines is “advising the military” about the plane and King also says that the FAA will do the same. [Federal Aviation Administration, 10/14/2003, pp. 37-39 ] However, there are no other reports of Flight 93 ever being over Hagerstown, which is in Maryland. Flight 93 is said to crash in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and is thought never to reach Maryland. There will be some—apparently mistaken—reports that the plane is still airborne after it is thought to have crashed (see (Between 10:10 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 10:10 a.m.-10:11 a.m. September 11, 2001), and this may be another such report.
According to the 9/11 Commission, a Flight 93 hijacker says, “Pull it down! Pull it down!” The airplane rolls onto its back as one of the hijackers shouts, “Allah o akbar! Allah o akbar!” The commission comments, “The hijackers remained at the controls but must have judged that the passengers were only seconds from overcoming them.” Presumably the plane crashes seconds later. [San Francisco Chronicle, 7/23/2004] However, there are questions as to whether the voice recording actually ends at this time. Furthermore, there is a near complete disconnect between these quotes and the quotes given in previous accounts of what the cockpit recording revealed (see (9:57 a.m. and After) September 11, 2001). For instance, in other accounts, passenger voices saying, “Give it to me!,”
“I’m injured,” and “Roll it up” or “Lift it up” are heard just before the recording ends. [Observer, 12/2/2001; Newsweek, 12/3/2001; Longman, 2002, pp. 270-271; MSNBC, 7/30/2002; Daily Telegraph, 7/31/2002]
Vice President Cheney and other leaders now in the White House bunker begin receiving reports from the Secret Service of a presumably hijacked aircraft heading toward Washington. The Secret Service is getting this information about Flight 93 through links to the FAA. However, they are looking at a projected path, not an actual radar return, so they do not realize that the plane crashes minutes later. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]
Flight 93’s transponder, which was switched off after Flight 93 was hijacked, is turned back on just before the plane crashes, thereby revealing the plane’s altitude to air traffic controllers at the FAA’s Cleveland Center. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001; MSNBC, 9/11/2002] A transponder is a device that sends a plane’s identifying information, speed, and altitude to controllers’ radar screens. [Washington Post, 9/16/2001] Flight 93’s transponder was switched off at around 9:40 a.m. (see (9:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001), although Cleveland Center controllers have still been able to follow Flight 93 on “primary radar,” which shows less information about a flight (see (9:41 a.m.-10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1/8/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 29; Cleveland Plain Dealer, 7/3/2011]
Plane Shown to Be Flying at 8,200 Feet - Flight 93’s transponder is reactivated at 10:02 a.m. and 50 seconds, and then stays on for “approximately 20 seconds,” according to “information from the flight data” provided to the FBI later today by Rick Kettell, the manager of the Cleveland Center. After the transponder is turned back on, Flight 93’s radar track is observed by Cleveland Center controllers Linda Justice and Stacey Taylor. The information from the transponder shows them that Flight 93 is at an altitude of 8,200 feet. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 9/16/2001 ; 9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003 ]
Plane Soon Disappears from Radar Screens - Flight 93 will crash into the ground at 10:03 a.m. and 11 seconds, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, less than 30 seconds after the transponder is reactivated (see (10:03 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 30] Cleveland Center controllers will see the plane completely disappear from their radar screens around that time. [MSNBC, 9/11/2002] A Cleveland Center controller will then report, apparently over an FAA teleconference, that Flight 93’s transponder “came on briefly and then it went back off with the primary, and now we’ve lost him completely.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001] “I had two radar hits on [Flight 93],” Taylor will recall, adding that she then “lost the primary target on [Flight 93] and we suspected it had gone down.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/16/2001 ] The reason Flight 93’s transponder is switched back on just before the plane crashes is unclear. Taylor will comment, a year after 9/11: “That’s something we’ve always wanted to know. Why did the transponder come back on?” She will say Cleveland Center controllers wondered this because they believed that “the hijackers had shut it off so that they couldn’t be tracked.” [MSNBC, 9/11/2002]
The NORAD representative on the Pentagon’s air threat conference call reports that General Ralph Eberhart, the commander in chief of NORAD, has declared “concern” for the crisis that is taking place. At around 9:39 a.m., the NORAD representative said over the conference call that “[n]o assessment for the overall air situation” had been given by NORAD at that point (see (9:39 a.m.) September 11, 2001). But now he says an assessment has been issued. He reports over the conference call: “At this time, CINC [commander in chief] NORAD”—meaning Eberhart—“has declared an assessment of concern for the air events does hold. I say again, an assessment of concern does hold for the air events.” [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001; US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001 ] Eberhart will tell the 9/11 Commission that at NORAD, he alone would be responsible for making an assessment of concern. He will say that at around 9:40 a.m. to 9:45 a.m., he received a lot of pressure from personnel at NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center to say that “yes,” he did assess concern. If he makes an assessment of concern, Eberhart will comment, it triggers a “Defcon surge.” What he means by a “Defcon surge” is unclear. [9/11 Commission, 3/1/2004] (The military’s defense readiness condition (Defcon) will in fact be raised to Defcon 3, on the orders of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, at 10:52 a.m. (see (10:43 a.m.-10:52 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 326; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 131] ) Eberhart will also say that an assessment of concern is “tied basically to a foreign attack” and making it triggers a number of consequences that, among other things, would impact Russia. [9/11 Commission, 3/1/2004]
According to the 9/11 Commission, the NMCC learns about the Flight 93 hijacking at this time. Since the FAA has not yet been patched in to the NMCC’s conference call, the news comes from the White House. The White House learned about it from the Secret Service, and the Secret Service learned about it from the FAA. NORAD apparently is still unaware. Four minutes later, a NORAD representative on the conference call states, “NORAD has no indication of a hijack heading to Washington, D.C., at this time.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]
Smoke rising, minutes after Flight 93 crashes in Pennsylvania. [Source: CNN]Exactly when Flight 93 crashes is unclear. According to NORAD, Flight 93 crashes at 10:03 a.m. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001] The 9/11 Commission gives an exact time of 11 seconds after 10:03 a.m. It will claim this “time is supported by evidence from the staff’s radar analysis, the flight data recorder, NTSB [National Transportation Safety Board] analysis, and infrared satellite data.” It does note that “[t]he precise crash time has been the subject of some dispute.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] However, a seismic study authorized by the US Army and drafted by scientists Won-Young Kim and Gerald Baum to determine when the plane crashed will conclude that the crash happened at 10:06:05 a.m. [Kim and Baum, 2002 ; San Francisco Chronicle, 12/9/2002] The discrepancy is so puzzling that the Philadelphia Daily News will publish an article on the issue, titled “Three-Minute Discrepancy in Tape.” This notes that leading seismologists agree on the 10:06 a.m. time, give or take a couple of seconds. [Philadelphia Daily News, 9/16/2002] The New York Observer will note that, in addition to the seismology study, “The FAA gives a crash time of 10:07 a.m. In addition, the New York Times, drawing on flight controllers in more than one FAA facility, put the time at 10:10 a.m. Up to a seven-minute discrepancy? In terms of an air disaster, seven minutes is close to an eternity. The way our nation has historically treated any airline tragedy is to pair up recordings from the cockpit and air traffic control and parse the timeline down to the hundredths of a second. However, as [former Inspector General of the Transportation Department] Mary Schiavo points out, ‘We don’t have an NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) investigation here, and they ordinarily dissect the timeline to the thousandth of a second.’” [New York Observer, 2/15/2004]
The FBI is reportedly in “chaos,” in particular because its Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG) is stranded away from Washington, DC, being instead in California for a major training exercise. The CIRG would normally coordinate the FBI’s rapid response to a crisis incident, such as a terrorist attack. [NBC 4, 9/11/2001; Darling, 2010, pp. 73-75] But NBC News reports that the FBI has been “operating a massive exercise from their hostage rescue unit. All of their top teams, about 50 personnel, helicopters, equipment, [have been] in Monterey, California, for the last two days, scheduled to fly back today commercially. So all of those people are out of place.” [NBC 4, 9/11/2001] USA Today will add that the day’s attacks are “so unexpected that a joint FBI/CIA anti-terrorist task force that specifically prepared for this type of disaster was on a training exercise in Monterey.” [USA Today, 9/11/2001] NBC News concludes: “It’s fair to say, according to sources that we’ve talked to here at NBC, that the FBI rescue operations and other FBI operations are really in chaos right now, because they can’t reach their officials in New York, all of their phone lines are down. And now you’ve got all of their special experts on this stuck in Monterey, California.… So they are seriously out of pocket, and there is a real breakdown of the FBI anti-terror coordination team, which is of course the principal team that would lead any effort.” [NBC 4, 9/11/2001] The US politics website evote.com will similarly conclude, “[J]ust as the worst terrorist act was being committed on American lives and property, the chief federal agency responsible for preventing such crimes was being AWOL.” [Evote [.com], 9/11/2001] The CIRG arrived in California the previous day for a week of special weapons and tactics (SWAT)-related field training (see September 10, 2001). Its members will be flown back to Washington around late afternoon on a specially arranged flight (see Late Afternoon September 11, 2001). [Darling, 2010, pp. 75-76]
Several local people believe they hear a missile overhead just before Flight 93 goes down. Barry Lichty, a US Navy veteran and mayor of Indian Lake Borough (just to the east of where Flight 93 crashes), is watching television with his wife. He says he hears “a loud roar above the house that sounded like a missile.… Shortly thereafter, we heard an explosion and a tremor. My first reaction, as a former utility employee, was that maybe someone shot a missile into the substation.” He says Flight 93 “did not come over my house. I don’t know what we heard.” [Kashurba, 2002, pp. 158-159] Joe Wilt, who lives a quarter-mile from the crash site, hears a “whistling like a missile, then a loud boom.” He says, “The first thing I thought it was, was a missile.” [Boston Globe, 9/12/2001; Washington Post, 9/12/2001] And Ernie Stuhl, the mayor of Shanksville, later says, “I know of two people - I will not mention names - that heard a missile. They both live very close, within a couple of hundred yards.… This one fellow’s served in Vietnam and he says he’s heard them, and he heard one that day.” [Philadelphia Daily News, 11/18/2001] Officials will emphatically deny that Flight 93 was shot down, as some people later suggest (see September 14, 2001). [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 9/14/2001; Longman, 2002, pp. 264] However, a number of witnesses report seeing a small, white jet plane near the crash site, around the time Flight 93 reportedly goes down (see (Before and After 10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Numerous eyewitnesses see and hear Flight 93 just before its crash:
Terry Butler, at Stoystown: He sees the plane come out of the clouds, low to the ground. “It was moving like you wouldn’t believe. Next thing I knew it makes a heck of a sharp, right-hand turn.” It banks to the right and appears to be trying to climb to clear one of the ridges, but it continues to turn to the right and then veers behind a ridge. About a second later it crashes. [St. Petersburg Times, 9/12/2001]
Accounts of the plane making strange noises -
Laura Temyer of Hooversville: “I didn’t see the plane but I heard the plane’s engine. Then I heard a loud thump that echoed off the hills and then I heard the plane’s engine. I heard two more loud thumps and didn’t hear the plane’s engine anymore after that.” (She insists that people she knows in state law enforcement have privately told her the plane was shot down, and that decompression sucked objects from the aircraft, explaining why there was a wide debris field.) [Philadelphia Daily News, 11/15/2001]
Charles Sturtz, a half-mile from the crash site: The plane is heading southeast and has its engines running. No smoke can be seen. “It was really roaring, you know. Like it was trying to go someplace, I guess.” [WPXI 11 (Pittsburgh), 9/13/2001]
Michael Merringer, two miles from the crash site: “I heard the engine gun two different times and then I heard a loud bang…” [Associated Press, 9/12/2001]
Tim Lensbouer, 300 yards away: “I heard it for ten or 15 seconds and it sounded like it was going full bore.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/12/2001]
Accounts of the plane flying upside down -
Rob Kimmel, several miles from the crash site: He sees it fly overhead, banking hard to the right. It is 200 feet or less off the ground as it crests a hill to the southeast. “I saw the top of the plane, not the bottom.” [Longman, 2002, pp. 210-211] Eric Peterson of Lambertsville: He sees a plane flying overhead unusually low. The plane seemed to be turning end-over-end as it dropped out of sight behind a tree line. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/12/2001]
Bob Blair of Stoystown: He sees the plane spiraling and flying upside down, not much higher than the treetops, before crashing. [Daily American, 9/12/2001]
Accounts of a sudden plunge and more strange sounds -
An unnamed witness says he hears two loud bangs before watching the plane take a downward turn of nearly 90 degrees. [News Channel 5 (Cleveland), 9/11/2001]
Tom Fritz, about a quarter-mile from the crash site: He hears a sound that “wasn’t quite right” and looks up in the sky. “It dropped all of a sudden, like a stone,” going “so fast that you couldn’t even make out what color it was.” [St. Petersburg Times, 9/12/2001]
Terry Butler, a few miles north of Lambertsville: “It dropped out of the clouds.” The plane rose slightly, trying to gain altitude, then “it just went flip to the right and then straight down.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/12/2001]
Lee Purbaugh, 300 yards away: “There was an incredibly loud rumbling sound and there it was, right there, right above my head—maybe 50 feet up.… I saw it rock from side to side then, suddenly, it dipped and dived, nose first, with a huge explosion, into the ground. I knew immediately that no one could possibly have survived.” [Independent, 8/13/2002]
Upside down and a sudden plunge -
Linda Shepley: She hears a loud bang and sees the plane bank to the side. [ABC News, 9/11/2001] She sees the plane wobbling right and left, at a low altitude of roughly 2,500 feet, when suddenly the right wing dips straight down, and the plane plunges into the earth. She says she has an unobstructed view of Flight 93’s final two minutes. [Philadelphia Daily News, 11/15/2001]
Kelly Leverknight in Stony Creek Township of Shanksville: “There was no smoke, it just went straight down. I saw the belly of the plane.” It sounds like it is flying low, and it’s heading east. [Daily American, 9/12/2001; St. Petersburg Times, 9/12/2001]
Tim Thornsberg, working in a nearby strip mine: “It came in low over the trees and started wobbling. Then it just rolled over and was flying upside down for a few seconds… and then it kind of stalled and did a nose dive over the trees.” [WPXI 11 (Pittsburgh), 9/13/2001] Some claim that these witness accounts support the idea that Flight 93 is hit by a missile. [Philadelphia Daily News, 11/15/2001] While this theory certainly can be disputed, it is worth noting that some passenger planes hit by missiles continued to fly erratically for several minutes before crashing. For instance, a Korean Airline 747 was hit by two Russian missiles in 1983, yet continued to fly for two more minutes. [Korean Air, 8/31/1983] Kelly Leverknight, whose home is a couple of miles from the Flight 93 crash site, adds that planes going overhead are nothing unusual here because the area is a “military flight corridor.” [Daily American, 9/12/2001]
Entity Tags: Terry Butler, Kelly Leverknight, Eric Peterson, Linda Shepley, Lee Purbaugh, Rob Kimmel, Tim Thornsberg, Michael Merringer, Tim Lensbouer, Tom Fritz, Bob Blair, Laura Temyer, Charles Sturtz
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Flight 93 apparently starts to break up before it crashes, because debris is found very far away from the crash site. [Philadelphia Daily News, 11/15/2001] The plane is generally obliterated upon landing, except for one half-ton piece of engine found some distance away. Some reports indicate that the engine piece was found over a mile away. [Independent, 8/13/2002] The FBI reportedly acknowledges that this piece was found “a considerable distance” from the crash site. [Philadelphia Daily News, 11/15/2001] Later, the FBI will cordon off a three-mile wide area around the crash, as well as another area six to eight miles from the initial crash site. [CNN, 9/13/2001] One story calls what happened to this engine “intriguing, because the heat-seeking, air-to-air Sidewinder missiles aboard an F-16 would likely target one of the Boeing 757’s two large engines.” [Philadelphia Daily News, 11/15/2001] Smaller debris fields are also found two, three, and eight miles away from the main crash site. [Independent, 8/13/2002; Mirror, 9/12/2002] Eight miles away, local media quote residents speaking of a second plane in the area and burning debris falling from the sky. [Reuters, 9/13/2001] Residents outside Shanksville reported “discovering clothing, books, papers, and what appeared to be human remains. Some residents said they collected bags-full of items to be turned over to investigators. Others reported what appeared to be crash debris floating in Indian Lake, nearly six miles from the immediate crash scene. Workers at Indian Lake Marina said that they saw a cloud of confetti-like debris descend on the lake and nearby farms minutes after hearing the explosion…” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/13/2001] Moments after the crash, Carol Delasko initially thinks someone had blown up a boat on Indian Lake: “It just looked like confetti raining down all over the air above the lake.” [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 9/14/2001] Investigators say that far-off wreckage “probably was spread by the cloud created when the plane crashed and dispersed by a ten mph southeasterly wind.” [News Journal (Wilmington, DE), 9/16/2001] However, much of the wreckage is found sooner than that wind could have carried it, and not always southeast.
John Fleegle, a manager at the Indian Lake Marina about 1.5 miles from where Flight 93 crashes, is indoors with some colleagues, watching the televised coverage of the World Trade Center attack. Then, as he later describes, “All of a sudden the lights flickered and we joked that maybe they were coming for us. Then we heard engines screaming close overhead. The building shook. We ran out, heard the explosion and saw a fireball mushroom,” following the crash. When he later describes this incident while on a training course in Atlanta, Fleegle will be told that what happened means Flight 93 “was shot down.” A man there who says he is a retired Air Force officer will tell Fleegle, “[W]hen your lights flickered, [it was because] they zap the radar frequency on everything before they shoot. Your lights didn’t flicker from the impact—your lights flickered because they zapped the radar system before they shot it.” However, William “Buck” Kernan, a retired four-star Army general, will dispute this claim, saying, “[R]egarding an aircraft engaging an airborne target having an electrical disruption on the ground, no, this would not be a result of lock on or any electromagnetic pulsing.” He will suggest it is “possible that overpressure from explosions could momentarily disrupt microwave connections or cause sensations on ground relays, wiring, etc.” that might result in the lights having flickered. [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 9/14/2001; Lappe and Marshall, 2004, pp. 35-36] But, consistent with Fleegle’s allegation, a number of local residents—including military veterans—say they heard the sound of a missile overhead just before the time of the crash (see Just Before 10:06 a.m. September 11, 2001). Another local resident, Val McClatchey, will report her lights and phone going out around the time of the crash. [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 9/11/2002] According to Barry Lichty, the mayor of Indian Lake Borough, the town’s electricity goes out around this time. He later learns that the plane crash had disrupted service to the borough. [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 9/12/2001] Interestingly, one alternative theory later suggested is that Flight 93 could have been brought down using “electromagnetic interference” (see August 13, 2002). The US Air Force and Pentagon have in fact “conducted extensive research on ‘electronic warfare applications’ with the possible capacity intentionally to disrupt the mechanisms of an airplane in such a way as to provoke, for example, an uncontrollable dive.” [Independent, 8/13/2002]
Shortly after 9/11, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) will say the nearest fighter jets to Flight 93 at the time it crashes are the F-16s from Langley Air Force Base that are flying a combat air patrol over Washington, DC (see (Between 9:49 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 34] Other accounts will conflict over whether or not there are any fighter jets near Flight 93 when it goes down:
Two days after the attacks, it will be reported that an unnamed New England air traffic controller has ignored a ban on controllers speaking to the media, and this controller claims “that an F-16 fighter closely pursued Flight 93.… [T]he F-16 made 360-degree turns to remain close to the commercial jet.” The controller adds that the fighter pilot “must’ve seen the whole thing.” He reportedly learned this from speaking to controllers who were closer to the crash. [Telegraph (Nashua), 9/12/2001; Associated Press, 9/13/2001]
Five days after the attacks, on September 16, CBS News will report that two F-16s are tailing Flight 93 and are within 60 miles of it when it goes down. [CBS News, 9/16/2001; Independent, 8/13/2002]
But, also on September 16, Major General Paul Weaver, the director of the Air National Guard, will say that no military planes were sent after Flight 93. [Seattle Times, 9/16/2001]
In April 2002, Anthony Kuczynski will tell the University of St. Thomas’s weekly newspaper that he had flown toward Pittsburgh alongside two F-16s on 9/11. He says he was piloting an E-3 Sentry AWACS plane, which has advanced radar and surveillance equipment that can be used to direct fighter jets to their targets. He was just about to intercept Flight 93 when it crashed. He says, “I was given direct orders to shoot down an airliner.” (E-3s are unarmed, so, if this account is accurate, the order presumably applied to the fighters Kuczynski was accompanying.) [St. Thomas Aquin, 4/12/2002; US Air Force, 11/20/2009]
A year after the attacks, ABC News will report that the “closest fighters” to Flight 93 when it crashes “are two F-16 pilots on a training mission from Selfridge Air National Guard Base” near Detroit, Michigan. These are ordered after Flight 93, according to some accounts, even though they are unarmed. [ABC News, 8/30/2002; ABC News, 9/11/2002] However, other accounts will state that these jets are in fact ordered to intercept another aircraft, Delta 1989, or are simply told to return to their base (see (9:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (9:56 a.m.-10:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 28; Mount Clemens-Clinton-Harrison Journal, 9/6/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 178]
Stacey Taylor, an air traffic controller at the FAA’s Cleveland Center, will claim not to have seen any fighter jets on radar around the area of the crash. [MSNBC, 9/11/2002]
Five years after 9/11, Bill Keaton, a Cleveland Center controller who tracked Flight 93 as it flew eastward (see (9:41 a.m.-10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001), will be asked whether there were fighter jets in the vicinity of the plane when it crashed. He will reply, “[T]hat goes beyond the scope of what I can comment on.” (Air traffic controllers reportedly can lose their security clearances if they discuss the movements of military aircraft.) [Cleveland Free Times, 9/6/2006]
The military liaison at the FAA’s Cleveland Center calls NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) and alerts it to the hijacked Flight 93. According to the 9/11 Commission, this is the first notification NEADS receives about Flight 93, but it comes too late, since the plane has already crashed (see (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 30; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 46]
'Bomb on Board' Flight 93 - At 10:05 a.m., the military liaison at the Cleveland Center, who is unaware that Flight 93 has just crashed, calls NEADS to inform it that Flight 93 is heading toward Washington, DC. Even though communicating with NEADS is not one of his responsibilities, he wants to make sure it is in the loop. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 224] At NEADS, the call is answered by Tech Sergeant Shelley Watson. Shortly into the call, at 10:07, the military liaison tells her: “We got a United 93 out here. Are you aware of that?” He continues, “That has a bomb on board.” Watson asks: “A bomb on board? And this is confirmed? You have a mode three [beacon code], sir?” The military liaison replies, “No, we lost his transponder” (see (9:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The news about Flight 93 is shouted out to Major Kevin Nasypany, the NEADS mission crew commander. Nasypany responds: “Gimme the call sign. Gimme the whole nine yards.… Let’s get some info, real quick. They got a bomb?”
Liaison Wants Fighters Sent toward Flight 93 - The military liaison continues, asking Watson if NEADS scrambled fighter jets in response to Delta 1989, an aircraft that was mistakenly reported as having been hijacked (see (9:28 a.m.-9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). Watson replies: “We did. Out of Selfridge and Toledo” (see (9:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 10:01 a.m. September 11, 2001), and says these jets are airborne. When the military liaison asks if the fighters can be directed to where Flight 93 is, Watson asks him if the Cleveland Center has latitude and longitude coordinates for this aircraft. The military liaison replies that he has not got this information available right now. All he knows is that Flight 93 has “got a confirmed bomb on board… and right now, his last known position was in the Westmoreland area.… Which is… in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, area.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]
NEADS Searches on Radar - The news of a bomb on board Flight 93 spreads quickly at NEADS, and personnel there search for the aircraft’s primary return on their radar screens. But because the plane has already crashed, they will be unable to locate it. NEADS will only learn that Flight 93 has crashed at 10:15 a.m., during a call with the FAA’s Washington Center (see 10:15 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 30-31]
FAA Failed to Notify Military Earlier - The Cleveland Center’s notification to NEADS about Flight 93 comes 39 minutes after the plane was hijacked (see (9:28 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and 33 minutes after FAA headquarters was alerted to the hijacking (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 11, 28] At the time NEADS is alerted to Flight 93, NORAD is similarly uninformed about this aircraft, according to the 9/11 Commission. The Commission will state, “At 10:07, its representative on the air threat conference call stated that NORAD had ‘no indication of a hijack heading to DC at this time.’” According to the Commission, the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon learned about the Flight 93 hijacking slightly earlier on, at 10:03 a.m. (see 10:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). However, the NMCC was notified by the White House, not the FAA. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 42] A former senior FAA executive, speaking on condition of anonymity, will later try to explain why it takes the FAA so long to alert NEADS to Flight 93. He will say, “Our whole procedures prior to 9/11 were that you turned everything [regarding a hijacking] over to the FBI.” [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] Yet military instructions contradict this, stating, “In the event of a hijacking, the NMCC will be notified by the most expeditious means by the FAA.” [US Department of Defense, 7/31/1997 ; US Department of Defense, 6/1/2001 ]
NORAD Commanders Claim Earlier Awareness of Flight 93 - Two senior NORAD officials will contradict the 9/11 Commission’s conclusion, and claim they were aware of Flight 93 well before it crashed (see Shortly Before 9:36 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (9:36 a.m.-10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 68, 71-73] Colonel Robert Marr, the NEADS battle commander, will tell the Commission that, while the flight was still airborne, “his focus was on UAL 93, which was circling over Chicago,” and he “distinctly remembers watching the flight UAL 93 come west, and turn over Cleveland.” [9/11 Commission, 10/27/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 1/23/2004 ] Major General Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental US NORAD Region, will recall, “[W]e watched the [Flight] 93 track as it meandered around the Ohio-Pennsylvania area and started to turn south toward DC.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 71]
The air traffic control tower at Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, DC, broadcasts regular warnings over radio that any aircraft entering the restricted airspace around the capital will be shot down, even though, according to the 9/11 Commission, the president does not authorize the shooting down of threatening aircraft until 10:18 a.m. [9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 41] The Andrews control tower begins broadcasting warning messages over the Air Traffic Information System (ATIS) at 10:05 a.m. [9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 ] The ATIS is an automatic information system over which “[p]re-recorded airfield advisory information is automatically transmitted at timed intervals over the airways on a specific frequency.” [US Air Force, 10/1/1999 ]
Planes Told They Could Be 'Shot Down' - A 9/11 Commission document summarizing key transmissions from the Andrews tower will show that warning messages are broadcast about once or twice every 10 minutes. The messages, which are all quite similar, include: “No fly notice. Remain clear of Andrews Class B airspace or you will be shot down,” and, “Any aircraft monitoring Andrews Approach Control frequency: remain clear of Andrews Class B airspace or you will be shot down.” [9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004] (Class B airspace is restricted airspace in which no one is supposed to fly without a working transponder and permission from an air traffic controller. The airspace around much of Washington is designated Class B airspace. [Washington Post, 9/12/2001; New York Times, 9/29/2001] )
Fighter Pilots Hear Warning - At least one of the warning messages is heard by District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) fighter pilots who launch from Andrews Air Force Base at 10:42 a.m. (see 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001) and by pilots launched from Langley Air Force Base by NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) earlier on (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). DCANG pilots Marc Sasseville and Heather Penney Garcia are flying at low altitude over Washington, while the three Langley pilots are above them at around 20,000 feet. Although they are on different radio frequencies, both sets of pilots hear a message over a shared channel: “Attention all aircraft monitoring Andrews tower frequency. Andrews and Class Bravo airspace is closed. No general aviation aircraft are permitted to enter Class Bravo airspace. Any infractions will be shot down.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 82]
Officers Hear Warning - The warning messages are also heard by DCANG officers at Andrews. After hearing that violators of the Washington airspace will be shot down, Brigadier General David Wherley thinks to himself, “I guess that will be us doing the shooting.” [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; Vogel, 2007, pp. 446] Apparently referring to the warnings from the Andrews tower, Lieutenant Colonel Phil Thompson will later recall: “We kind of winced at that, because there are plenty of hard reasons to not shoot somebody down. We were really in an ID posture—and trying to really be careful.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002]
Shootdown Not Authorized until 10:18 - Although the first of the warnings is broadcast at 10:05 a.m., President Bush only gives authorization for hostile aircraft to be shot down at 10:18 a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission, in a phone call with Vice President Dick Cheney (see 10:18 a.m.-10:20 a.m. September 11, 2001). Furthermore, NEADS only learns that NORAD has been given clearance to shoot down threatening aircraft at 10:31 a.m. (see 10:31 a.m. September 11, 2001). The 9/11 Commission document of Andrews tower transmissions will show that the warnings are broadcast until at least 11:05 a.m., although presumably they continue after that. [9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 41-42]
Looking straight down onto the Flight 93 crash site. North is to the top. Note the impact point north of the road, and the burned trees to the south of it. [Source: FBI]A second plane, described “as a small, white jet with rear engines and no discernible markings,” is seen by at least ten witnesses flying low and in erratic patterns, not much above treetop level, over the crash site within minutes of United Flight 93 crashing. [Independent, 8/13/2002]
Lee Purbaugh: “I didn’t get a good look but it was white and it circled the area about twice and then it flew off over the horizon.” [Mirror, 9/12/2002]
Susan Mcelwain: Less than a minute before the Flight 93 crash rocked the countryside, she sees a small white jet with rear engines and no discernible markings swoop low over her minivan near an intersection and disappear over a hilltop, nearly clipping the tops of trees lining the ridge. [Bergen Record, 9/14/2001] She later adds, “There’s no way I imagined this plane—it was so low it was virtually on top of me. It was white with no markings but it was definitely military, it just had that look. It had two rear engines, a big fin on the back like a spoiler on the back of a car and with two upright fins at the side. I haven’t found one like it on the Internet. It definitely wasn’t one of those executive jets. The FBI came and talked to me and said there was no plane around.… But I saw it and it was there before the crash and it was 40 feet above my head. They did not want my story—nobody here did.” [Mirror, 9/12/2002]
John Fleegle and two work colleagues arrive at the crash site “before any fireman or paramedics or anybody.” According to Fleegle, “When we got there, there was a plane flying up above and he was smart, he flew straight for the sun so you couldn’t look at it and see exactly what type of plane, if it was a fighter or what it was.” However, Fleegle claims the plane “was decent sized. It wasn’t just a little private jet or something like that, from what we could see.” [Lappe and Marshall, 2004, pp. 35-36]
Dennis Decker and/or Rick Chaney, say: “As soon as we looked up [after hearing the Flight 93 crash], we saw a midsized jet flying low and fast. It appeared to make a loop or part of a circle, and then it turned fast and headed out.” Decker and Chaney described the plane as a Learjet type, with engines mounted near the tail and painted white with no identifying markings. “It was a jet plane, and it had to be flying real close when that 757 went down. If I was the FBI, I’d find out who was driving that plane.” [Bergen Record, 9/14/2001]
Kathy Blades, who is staying about quarter of a mile from the impact site, runs outside after the crash and sees a jet, “with sleek back wings and an angled cockpit,” race overhead. [Philadelphia Daily News, 11/18/2001]
Anna Ruth Fisher says, “After the crash, another jet went near over to look.” Her mother, Anna B. Fisher, adds, “We were looking at the smoke cloud when we saw the jets circling up there.” [Kashurba, 2002, pp. 27]
Jim Brandt sees a small plane with no markings stay about one or two minutes over the crash site before leaving. [Pittsburgh Channel, 9/12/2001]
Bob Page sees a large plane circling the crash site for about two or three minutes, before climbing almost vertically into the sky. He cannot see what kind of plane it is or if there are any markings on it, but says, “It sure wasn’t no puddle jumper.” [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 9/12/2001]
Tom Spinelli: “I saw the white plane. It was flying around all over the place like it was looking for something. I saw it before and after the crash.” [Mirror, 9/12/2002]
The FBI later claims this was a Fairchild Falcon 20 business jet, directed after the crash to fly from 37,000 feet to 5,000 feet and obtain the coordinates for the crash site to help rescuers (see 10:07 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Pittsburgh Channel, 9/15/2001; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/16/2001] The FBI also says there was a C-130 military cargo aircraft flying at 24,000 feet about 17 miles away (see 10:08 a.m. September 11, 2001), but that plane wasn’t armed and had no role in the crash. [Pittsburgh Channel, 9/15/2001; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/16/2001] Note that this is the same C-130 that flies very close to Flight 77 right as that planes crashes into the Pentagon (see 9.36 a.m. September 11, 2001).
Entity Tags: Anna B Fisher, Dennis Decker, Anna Ruth Fisher, Bob Page, Susan Mcelwain, Kathy Blades, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Fleegle, Tom Spinelli, Lee Purbaugh, Jim Brandt, Rick Chaney
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Tape recordings of the operations floor at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) indicate that some military personnel are uncertain whether a training exercise that was being conducted on this day has been canceled. NEADS has been participating in a major exercise called Vigilant Guardian. [Newhouse News Service, 1/25/2002] This was reportedly called off “shortly after” the second WTC tower was hit at 9:03 (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Airman, 3/2002] But at 10:06, someone calls NEADS and asks, “Is the exercise knocked off?” to which they are told, “Yes.” Two minutes later, a member of the NEADS staff is heard saying, “If this is an exercise input, this is a good one.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001] It is around this time that NEADS is first alerted to Flight 93 (although this plane has already crashed) (see 10:05 a.m.-10:08 a.m. September 11, 2001) and also hears a report of an unidentified aircraft over the White House (see 10:07 a.m. September 11, 2001). So presumably it is one of these incidents that is considered a possible “exercise input,” meaning a simulated scenario. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]
The military liaison at the FAA’s Cleveland Center is informed that Flight 93 has been hijacked and is given information about its location. It is unclear when the liaison first receives this information, but it must happen before 10:07, as he telephones NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) at this time to pass on the information (see 10:05 a.m.-10:08 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 30] Military liaison officers at the FAA’s Command Center are also said to be informed of the hijacking of Flight 93 (see After 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001).
Flight 93 crashed in the Pennsylvania countryside. Resue vehicles arrive in the distance. [Source: Keith Srakocic/ Associated Press]Flight 93 crashes into an empty field just north of the Somerset County Airport, about 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, 124 miles or 15 minutes from Washington, D.C. Presumably, hijackers Ziad Jarrah, Ahmed Alhaznawi, Ahmed Alnami, Saeed Alghamdi, and all the plane’s passengers are killed instantly. [CNN, 9/12/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; Guardian, 10/17/2001; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/28/2001; USA Today, 8/13/2002; Associated Press, 8/21/2002; MSNBC, 9/3/2002] The point of impact is a reclaimed coal mine, known locally as the Diamond T Mine, that was reportedly abandoned in 1996. [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 9/12/2001; St. Petersburg Times, 9/12/2001; Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 9/11/2002] Being “reclaimed” means the earth had been excavated down to the coal seam, the coal removed, and then the earth replaced and planted over. [Kashurba, 2002, pp. 121] A US Army authorized seismic study times the crash at five seconds after 10:06 a.m. [Kim and Baum, 2002 ; San Francisco Chronicle, 12/9/2002] As mentioned previously, the timing of this crash is disputed and it may well occur at 10:03 a.m., 10:07 a.m., or 10:10 a.m.
The local structure most severely damaged when Flight 93 crashes in rural Pennsylvania is a stone cottage, an estimated 1,000 feet from the crash site. Located within thick trees, the cottage belongs to Barry Hoover who is away at work at the time of the crash. Reportedly, “every window and door” has been “blown off and obliterated, its ceilings and floor tiles had been blasted loose and much of the interior was wrecked.” Hoover describes it as “like what you see after a tornado or hurricane goes through—a total ruin.” The garage adjacent to it has its door blown off by the shockwave from the crash. According to Somerset County Solicitor Dan Rullo, “The way it was described to me was that it must have been blown up, the springs snapped, and it came back upside down.” The surrounding area is scattered with remains and debris. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/14/2001; Kashurba, 2002, pp. 122; Washington Post, 5/12/2002]
A local resident is able to take the only photo showing the Flight 93 crash in the seconds after the plane went down. Val McClatchey lives just over a mile away from the crash site. [Wall Street Journal, 9/12/2006] She is at home watching television when she hears the surge of a plane engine, sees a silver flash outside, and then hears a loud boom that causes her house to shake. Luckily she has her new digital camera ready by her door. She was planning to photograph a friend who had promised to fly over in a helicopter on this day. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 6/29/2003; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 8/6/2006; Tribune-Democrat (Johnstown), 9/9/2006] She grabs it and from her front porch manages to take a picture of the smoke cloud rising into the sky, “approximately five seconds after impact,” she says. [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 9/11/2002; Windsor Park Stories, 3/23/2003] Her photo will appear in numerous newspapers and magazines. According to the FBI, it is the only known image taken within seconds of the crash. Considering the sparsely populated area in which Flight 93 went down, Pittsburgh FBI agent Jeff Killeen calls it “one-of-a-kind.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 8/6/2006; Tribune-Democrat (Johnstown), 9/9/2006; Wall Street Journal, 9/12/2006]
A helicopter flying above the burning World Trade Center. [Source: History Channel]Minutes after the collapse of the south WTC tower, police helicopters fly near the North Tower to check on its condition. The pilot of one helicopter radios, “About 15 floors down from the top, it looks like its glowing red,” and adds, “It’s inevitable.” Seconds later, another helicopter pilot reports, “I don’t think this has too much longer to go. I would evacuate all people within the area of that second building.” While these warnings are relayed to police officers, fire and rescue personnel do not hear them, as they operate on a different radio system. [New York Times, 7/7/2002; Inter Press Service, 8/25/2005; National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 224] The North Tower will collapse 21 minutes later (see 10:28 a.m. September 11, 2001).
The Flight 93 crater later in the morning. Notice the destruction of the airplane is nearly total. [Source: Associated Press]Numerous individuals who see the Flight 93 crash site describe a lack of plane wreckage:
Jon Meyer, a reporter with WJAC-TV, says, “I was able to get right up to the edge of the crater.… All I saw was a crater filled with small, charred plane parts. Nothing that would even tell you that it was the plane.… There were no suitcases, no recognizable plane parts, no body parts. The crater was about 30 to 35 feet deep.” [Newseum et al., 2002, pp. 148]
According to Mark Stahl, who goes to the crash scene, “There’s a crater gouged in the earth, the plane is pretty much disintegrated. There’s nothing left but scorched trees.” [Associated Press, 9/11/2001]
Frank Monaco of the Pennsylvania State Police says, “If you would go down there, it would look like a trash heap. There’s nothing but tiny pieces of debris. It’s just littered with small pieces.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/12/2001]
Scott Spangler, a photographer with a local newspaper, says, “I didn’t think I was in the right place. I was looking for a wing or a tail. There was nothing, just this pit.… I was looking for anything that said tail, wing, plane, metal. There was nothing.” [Newseum et al., 2002, pp. 149]
According to Ron Delano, a local who rushes to the scene after hearing about the crash, “If they hadn’t told us a plane had wrecked, you wouldn’t have known. It looked like it hit and disintegrated.” [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 9/12/2001]
Gabrielle DeRose, a news anchor with KDKA-TV, views the crash site from a hill overlooking it. She says, “It was very disturbing to think all the remains just disintegrated…. There were no large pieces of airplane, no human remains, no baggage.” [Sylvester and Huffman, 2002, pp. 160-161]
Local assistant volunteer fire chief Rick King, who sees the crater at the crash site, says, “Never in my wildest dreams did I think half the plane was down there.” King sends his men into the woods to search for the plane’s fuselage, but they keep coming back and telling him, “Rick. There’s nothing.” [Longman, 2002, pp. 216]
Bob Craig of the FBI’s evidence-gathering team later explains what is supposed to have occurred: “Turn the picture of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center on its side, and, for all intents and purposes, the face of the building is the strip mine in Shanksville [where Flight 93 crashed].” [Longman, 2002, pp. 260] When the plane’s two black boxes are later discovered (see September 13-14, 2001), they are reportedly found 15 and 25 feet inside the crater. [Longman, 2002, pp. 217; Washington Post, 5/12/2002]
At some unspecified time after when Flight 93 crashed, CIA Director George Tenet receives the passenger lists for the hijacked planes. He is currently in the CIA’s printing plant, after having evacuated the agency’s headquarters building (see (9:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). An analyst from the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (CTC) has raced across to the plant with the list, and says, “Some of these guys on one of the planes are the ones we’ve been looking for in the last few weeks.” He specifically points at the names Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi (two of the alleged Flight 77 hijackers). According to Tenet, this is “the first time we had absolute proof of what I had been virtually certain of from the moment I heard about the attacks: we were in the middle of an al-Qaeda plot.” Tenet will later say that after the CTC had first “requested passenger lists from the planes that had been turned into weapons that morning… the initial response from some parts of the bureaucracy (which parts since mercifully forgotten) was that the manifests could not be shared with CIA. There were privacy issues involved.” They were only obtained after some “gentle reasoning, and a few four-letter words.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 167] The agency that provided these lists to the CTC may have been the Customs Office of Intelligence. According to Robert Bonner, the commissioner-designate of US Customs, “through an evaluation of data related to the passengers manifest for the four terrorist hijacked aircraft, Customs Office of Intelligence was able to identify the likely terrorist hijackers. Within 45 minutes of the attacks, Customs forwarded the passenger lists with the names of the victims and 19 probable hijackers to the FBI and the intelligence community” (see (11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004] Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will claim he was told as early as 9:59 a.m. that the FBI had received the passenger manifests from the airlines (see (9:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Clarke, 2004, pp. 13-14]
At some unspecified time, apparently relatively soon after Flight 93 crashed, Vice President Dick Cheney calls CIA Director George Tenet and asks him if he is anticipating any further attacks. Tenet replies, “No. My judgment is that they’re done for the day.” Tenet will later explain his reasoning behind this judgment: “There was a lull in the action, and to me that was telling.… I had no data to go on. But the pattern of spectacular multiple attacks within a very tight attack window was consistent with what we knew of al-Qaeda’s modus operandi based on the East African embassy attacks and others. Events happened within a strict timeline, and then they were done.” Yet at 10 a.m., Tenet had wanted the CIA headquarters evacuated, following reports that several airplanes were not responding to communications and were perhaps heading toward Washington. A large number of the CIA’s workforce had therefore been sent home (see (9:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Tenet, 2007, pp. 164 and 167] And according to recordings of the operations floor at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) later obtained by Vanity Fair magazine, “inside NEADS there was no sense that the attack was over with the crash of United 93; instead, the alarms go on and on. False reports of hijackings, and real responses, continue well into the afternoon” (see 10:15 a.m. and After September 11, 2001). [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] Tenet and his staff will return to the CIA headquarters building at around 1 p.m. after having earlier evacuated to the CIA’s printing plant nearby. By that time, Tenet will say, “The danger was over for the day, in our estimation.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 168]
Falcon 20 business jet. [Source: Portuguese Air Force]According to some accounts, following a request from the FAA’s Cleveland Center, a Fairchild Falcon 20 business jet reports seeing puffs of smoke in the area of Flight 93’s last known position. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/16/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 ] The FBI later says the business jet was within 20 miles of Flight 93 when it crashed, at an altitude of 37,000 feet, and on its way to Johnstown. It was asked to descend to 5,000 feet to help locate the crash site for the benefit of the responding emergency crews. [Pittsburgh Channel, 9/15/2001] Stacey Taylor appears to be the Cleveland Center controller who made the request. She later recalls: “I had another airplane [other than Flight 93] that I was working. And I told him, I said, ‘Sir,’ I said, ‘I think we have an aircraft down.’ I said, ‘This is entirely up to you, but if you’d be willing to fly over the last place that we spotted this airplane—and see if you can see anything.‘… So he flew over and at first he didn’t see anything and then he said, ‘We see a great big plume or a cloud of smoke.’” [MSNBC, 9/9/2006] The business jet belongs to VF Corp, a Greensboro, North Carolina clothing firm. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/16/2001] According to David Newell, VF Corp’s director of aviation and travel, Cleveland Center contacted the plane’s copilot Yates Gladwell when it was at an altitude “in the neighborhood of 3,000 to 4,000 ft,” rather than 37,000 feet, as claimed by the FBI. He will add: “They got down within 1,500 ft. of the ground when they circled. They saw a hole in the ground with smoke coming out of it. They pinpointed the location and then continued on.” [Popular Mechanics, 3/2005] This incident occurs around 40 minutes after the FAA initiated a nationwide ground stop, which required planes in the air to land as soon as reasonable (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Time, 9/14/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 25] The FBI will claim the VF Corp business jet is probably the plane some witnesses on the ground see up above, shortly after the crash of Flight 93 (see (Before and After 10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Pittsburgh Channel, 9/15/2001] However, at least two witnesses say they saw a plane overhead even before the time of the Flight 93 crash, and one of them describes it as “definitely military,” rather than a business jet. Also, some will describe it as flying much lower than the Falcon 20 was—just “40 feet above my head,” according to one witness. [Bergen Record, 9/14/2001; Mirror, 9/12/2002]
Hank Krakowski. [Source: Unisys]After seeing Flight 93’s radar track stopping over Pennsylvania, a senior United Airlines official contacts an airport in that area and receives confirmation of what appears to be an airplane crash nearby. Along with other United Airlines managers, Hank Krakowski, United’s director of flight operations, has just been watching Flight 93 on a large screen in the crisis center at the airline’s headquarters, outside Chicago (see (9:36 a.m.-10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). A dispatcher has determined the plane’s last position was south of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, so Krakowski tries phoning the Johnstown airport. However, due to an apparent power failure, there is no reply. He has to call the airport manager’s cell phone number. He asks the manager: “We might have a plane down in your area there. See anything unusual?” The manager reports a black smoke plume visible about 30 miles to the south of the airport. Krakowski thinks, “We just watched one of our airplanes crash.” [Longman, 2002, pp. 214; USA Today, 8/13/2002] Therefore, by 10:15 a.m. according to the 9/11 Commission, United Airlines headquarters has “confirmed that an aircraft [has] crashed near Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and [it] believed that this was Flight 93.” [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 47]
Paper debris found in New Baltimore, six miles from the crash site. [Source: Steve Mellon / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette] (click image to enlarge)Despite the apparent lack of plane wreckage and human remains at the Flight 93 crash site (see (After 10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 10:45 a.m. September 11, 2001), a large amount of paper debris is found there, mostly intact. Faye Hahn, an EMT who responds to the initial call for help, finds “pieces of mail” everywhere. [McCall, 2002, pp. 31-32] Roger Bailey of the Somerset Volunteer Fire Department finds mail “scattered everywhere” around the site. He says, “I guess there were 5,000 pounds of mail on board.” [Kashurba, 2002, pp. 38] Some envelopes are burned, but others are undamaged. Flight 93 had reportedly been carrying a cargo of thousands of pounds of US mail. [Longman, 2002, pp. 213-214] Whether this is later examined as crime scene evidence is unclear: According to Bailey, over subsequent days, whenever a lot of this mail has been recovered, the post office will be called and a truck will come to take it away. Several of the first responders at the crash site also see an unscorched bible lying open on the ground, about 15 yards from the crash crater. [Kashurba, 2002, pp. 43, 110 and 129; Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 6/13/2006] Local coroner Wallace Miller will later come across a second bible at the warehouse where the Flight 93 victims’ belongings are kept. [Washington Post, 5/12/2002] Other paper debris rains down on the nearby Indian Lake Marina (see (Before 10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). According to witness Tom Spinelli, this is “mainly mail,” and also includes “bits of in-flight magazine.” [Mirror, 9/12/2002] Other paper items will be recovered from the crash site in the following days. These include a fragment of Ziad Jarrah’s passport and a business card linking al-Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui to the 9/11 hijackers. [CNN, 8/1/2002; Washington Post, 9/25/2002] A flight crew log book and an in-flight manual belonging to Lorraine Bay, a flight attendant on Flight 93, will also be recovered. [National Museum of American History, 9/20/2003]
NEADS personnel who are on duty the morning of 9/11. [Source: Vanity Fair] (click image to enlarge)One of the pilots that took off from Langley Air Force Base (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001) calls NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) to relay information he has received about an aircraft over the White House, and is promptly instructed to intercept this aircraft. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]
Borgstrom Wants Instructions - The three F-16s that took off from Langley Air Force Base are now flying in the Baltimore-Washington area. They have just heard a warning over the radio that errant aircraft will be shot down, and received an instruction from the Secret Service to protect the White House (see (10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The FAA’s Washington Center also notified them of a suspicious aircraft flying at high speed toward the White House. In response, pilot Craig Borgstrom radios NEADS and asks weapons director Steve Citino for instructions on what to do. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 222-223] Borgstrom says: “Baltimore [the Washington Center] is saying something about an aircraft over the White House. Any words?” Citino replies: “Negative. Stand by,” and then relays Borgstrom’s message to Major James Fox, the leader of the NEADS weapons team. Fox then notifies Major Kevin Nasypany, the NEADS mission crew commander, of the aircraft over the White House.
Ordered to Intercept - Instinctively, Nasypany responds, “Intercept!” and he then elaborates, “Intercept and divert that aircraft away from there.” Citino passes this instruction to the Langley fighters, telling them their mission is to “intercept aircraft over White House. Use FAA for guidance.” Fox then adds: “Divert the aircraft away from the White House. Intercept and divert it.” Borgstrom confirms the order, saying, “Divert the aircraft.”
Unidentified Aircraft a False Alarm - As the F-16s head for the White House, the NEADS controllers are unable to find the building on their dated equipment, and also have trouble communicating with the Langley pilots. NEADS personnel speculate that the unidentified object is probably just a helicopter or smoke from the burning Pentagon. Minutes later, the suspect aircraft will be realized to probably be one of the Langley fighters, mistakenly reported by a Washington Center air traffic controller who was unaware of the military’s scrambles. Citino will comment: “That was cool. We intercepted our own guys.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is told by White House Situation Room Deputy Director Ralph Seigler, “Secret Service reports a hostile aircraft ten minutes out.” Two minutes later, he is given an update: “Hostile aircraft eight minutes out.” In actual fact, when Flight 93 crashed at 10:06 a.m., it was still about 15 minutes away from Washington. Clarke is also told that there are 3,900 aircraft still in the air over the continental US (which is roughly accurate); four of those aircraft are believed to be piloted by terrorists (which is inaccurate by this time). Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman Richard Myers then reports: “We have three F-16s from Langley over the Pentagon. Andrews is launching fighters from the DC Air National Guard. We have fighters aloft from the Michigan Air National Guard, moving east toward a potential hostile over Pennsylvania. Six fighters from Tyndall and Ellington are en route to rendezvous with Air Force One over Florida. They will escort it to Barksdale.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; Clarke, 2004, pp. 8-9] However, fighters do not meet up with Air Force One until about an hour later (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Franklin Miller, a senior national security official who is working alongside Clarke on 9/11, and another official who is also in the Situation Room, will later fail to recall hearing any warning that a plane could be only minutes away. [New York Times, 3/30/2004] The time of this incident is unstated, but the Michigan fighters are not diverted until after 10:06 a.m. (see (After 10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). If it takes place after 10:06 a.m., this would parallel similar warnings about Flight 93 after it has already crashed provided to Vice President Dick Cheney elsewhere in the White House (see (Between 10:10 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
The FAA’s Cleveland Center receives a number of bomb threats. The Cleveland Center, which had the last contact with Flight 93 before it crashed, receives the first of these bomb threats at 10:07 a.m., according to an FAA report published in 2002. Then, at 10:17 a.m., the report will state, the center says over an FAA teleconference that it is “receiving a bomb threat,” although it is unclear if this is a second threat or a reference to the earlier one. At 10:21 a.m., the center reports over the teleconference that it has received “two more” bomb threats. [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. S-17, S-19 ] The Cleveland Center will subsequently be searched and found to be secure. It is unclear whether the search is made in response to the bomb threats. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/19/2001, pp. 6-7 ] Newsweek will later report, “Officials suspect that the bomb threats [on September 11] were intended to add to the chaos, distracting controllers from tracking the hijacked planes.” [Newsweek, 9/22/2001] However, the Washington Post will subsequently state that according to FAA officials, “reports of multiple threats were apparently the result of confusion during the early hours of the investigation and miscommunication in the Federal Aviation Administration.” [Washington Post, 9/27/2001] The Cleveland Center is evacuated at around 10:17 a.m. (see (10:17 a.m.) September 11, 2001), although this is in response to a report of a suspicious aircraft flying above it rather than the bomb threats. [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. S-19 ; Newsnet5, 8/12/2002; Associated Press, 8/15/2002]
The FAA’s Cleveland Center, which had the last contact with Flight 93 before it crashed, suggests that no distress signal indicating a plane crash has occurred was picked up at the time Flight 93 went down. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001] Flight 93 reportedly crashed in rural Pennsylvania at 10:03 a.m. (see (10:03 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [National Transportation Safety Board, 2/19/2002 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 30; USA Today, 9/11/2008] An air traffic controller at the Cleveland Center now says, apparently over an FAA teleconference, that someone has reported seeing black smoke in the vicinity of Flight 93’s last known position, near Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The controller then says, “We’re trying to see if we can get an ELT check.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001] An “ELT” is an emergency locator transmitter, a device carried on most general aviation aircraft in the US that is designed to automatically start transmitting a distress signal if a plane should crash, so as to help search and rescue efforts in locating the downed aircraft. [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/23/1990; Federal Aviation Administration, 7/12/2001; Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, 1/22/2009] The Cleveland Center controller’s information, as an FAA timeline will later state, therefore indicates that “[n]o ELT” signal has been picked up in the area where Flight 93 apparently crashed “at this time.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001] Someone at the FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, acknowledges the controller’s communication, responding, “Copy that, Command Center.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001] Whether anyone will subsequently report picking up an ELT signal in the area where Flight 93 apparently crashed is unclear. Major Allan Knox, who works at the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, which is “the contact for credible” ELT signals, will tell the 9/11 Commission that he “does not recall an ELT detection being brought to his attention” today. [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 10/6/2003 ] However, an ELT signal was picked up in the New York area by the pilot of an aircraft minutes before Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center (see 8:44 a.m. September 11, 2001) and another ELT signal was picked up in the New York area by the same pilot minutes before Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower (see 8:58 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001 ; New York Times, 10/16/2001]
Wells Morrison is the supervisory special agent in charge of the FBI’s Mon Valley Resident Agency, a satellite of the bureau’s Pittsburgh field office. [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 4/13/2003] He receives a call informing him that a plane has crashed in Somerset County. Another phone call informs him that Westmoreland County 911 received a call saying a plane had been hijacked. (This is the call believed to have been from Flight 93 passenger Edward Felt (see 9:58 a.m. September 11, 2001).) He sends an agent out, who quickly seizes the tape of the call from the emergency dispatchers. Morrison also has agents sent to the Flight 93 crash site and subsequently goes there himself, being one of the first FBI agents to arrive at the scene. [Washington Post, 9/12/2001; Kashurba, 2002, pp. 109-110] Patrick Madigan of the Pennsylvania State Police, who arrives at the crash site around 10:20 a.m., says the first FBI agent gets there soon after him. Initially, four or five FBI agents will be there. [Department of the Army and the Air Force National Guard Bureau, 2002 ; Kashurba, 2002, pp. 60 and 110] In the subsequent days, about 150 agents will be involved in the recovery effort (see (September 11-27, 2001)). [Longman, 2002, pp. 259] As it is a crime scene, the FBI is in charge of the Flight 93 crash site and the subsequent investigation. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 11/4/2001; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2/17/2002]
President Bush is told that Flight 93 crashed a few minutes after it happened, but the exact timing of this notice is unclear. Because of Vice President Cheney’s earlier order, he asks, “Did we shoot it down or did it crash?” Several hours later, he is assured that it crashed. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002]
According to Newsweek, “shortly after the suicide attacks,” US intelligence picks up communications among bin Laden associates relaying the message: “we’ve hit the targets.” [Newsweek, 9/13/2001]
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is told by an aide, “United 93 is down, crashed outside of Pittsburgh. It’s odd. Appears not to have hit anything much on the ground.” The timing of this event is unclear. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 14-15]
According to the 9/11 Commission, the FAA Command Center reports to FAA headquarters at this time that Flight 93 has crashed in the Pennsylvania countryside. “It hit the ground. That’s what they’re speculating, that’s speculation only.” The Command Center confirms that Flight 93 crashed at 10:17 a.m. [Guardian, 10/17/2001; MSNBC, 9/11/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]
Lt. Col. Steve O’Brien standing in front of a C-130. [Source: CBC]Cleveland Center air traffic controller Stacey Taylor has asked a nearby C-130 pilot to look at Flight 93’s last position and see if he can find anything. Remarkably, this C-130 pilot, Lt. Col. Steve O’Brien, is the same pilot who was asked by air traffic control to observe Flight 77 as it crashed into the Pentagon earlier on (see 9.36 a.m. September 11, 2001). O’Brien tells Taylor that he saw smoke from the crash shortly after the hijacked plane went down. [Guardian, 10/17/2001; MSNBC, 9/11/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] An article in the London Independent will later suggest that Flight 93 might have been brought down by the US military using “electronic warfare applications” that can disrupt the mechanisms of an airplane (See August 13, 2002); it will refer to this C-130, since “in 1995 the Air Force installed ‘electronic suites’ in at least 28 of its C-130s—capable, among other things, of emitting lethal jamming signals.” [Independent, 8/13/2002]
Two senior NORAD officials, Colonel Robert Marr and Major General Larry Arnold, have to address the possibility of issuing shootdown authorization to fighter jets under their command, after a report is received about an aircraft over the White House. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 224-225]
Aircraft over White House - Marr, the battle commander at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) in Rome, New York, is in the NEADS battle cab. On the NEADS operations floor, mission crew commander Major Kevin Nasypany has just learned of a report of an aircraft flying over the White House (see 10:07 a.m. September 11, 2001), and now talks to Marr over the phone. Nasypany asks: “Okay, did you hear that? Aircraft over the White House. What’s the word? Intercept and what else?” Marr has a phone to each ear and does not hear what Nasypany says. Nasypany therefore repeats, “Aircraft… over… the White House!” pausing on each word for emphasis. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 224]
Commanders Discuss Shootdown Order - The news of an aircraft over the White House forces Marr and Arnold, with whom he has been communicating, to address the issue of authorizing the shooting down of aircraft. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 225] Arnold, the commander of NORAD’s Continental US Region (CONR), is at the CONR air operations center at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida. [Code One Magazine, 1/2002] According to author Lynn Spencer, he has not yet received any instructions from his higher-ups regarding shootdown authorization. “He talked to Major General Rick Findley,” who is at NORAD’s operations center in Colorado, “and asked him to get shootdown authority from the vice president, but he’s still heard nothing back.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 225]
Arnold Possibly Authorizes Shootdown - Arnold will later tell author Leslie Filson that he has “the authority in case of an emergency to declare a target hostile and shoot it down under an emergency condition.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 75] But according to Vanity Fair, he only passes the current request for rules of engagement further up his chain of command. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] However, Spencer will claim otherwise, stating, “In light of the imminent attack on the White House,” Arnold “decides he will exercise the authority he has to protect the nation in an emergency.” He tells Marr: “We will intercept and attempt to divert. If we can’t, then we’ll shoot it down.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 225]
Alleged Shootdown Authorization Not Passed On - Minutes later, though, Nasypany will tell his staff that the pilots that took off from Langley Air Force Base (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001) have “negative clearance to shoot” aircraft over Washington (see 10:10 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 31] And according to the 9/11 Commission, NEADS only learns that NORAD has been given clearance to shoot down threatening aircraft at 10:31 a.m., and even then it does not pass this order along to the fighter pilots under its command (see 10:31 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 42-43]
Dick Cheney in the White House bunker, speaking to administration officials including (from left) Joshua Bolten, Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin (standing), Condoleezza Rice and I. Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby. [Source: David Bohrer / White House] (click image to enlarge)The Secret Service, viewing projected path information about Flight 93, rather than actual radar returns, does not realize that Flight 93 has already crashed. Based on this erroneous information, a military aide tells Vice President Dick Cheney and others in the White House bunker that the plane is 80 miles away from Washington. Cheney is asked for authority to engage the plane, and he quickly provides it. The aide returns a few minutes later and says the plane is 60 miles out. Cheney again gives authorization to engage. A few minutes later and presumably after the flight has crashed or been shot down, deputy White House chief of staff Josh Bolten suggests Cheney contact President Bush to confirm the engage order. Bolten later tells the 9/11 Commission that he had not heard any prior discussion on the topic with Bush, and wanted to make sure Bush knew. Apparently, Cheney calls Bush and obtains confirmation (see 10:18 a.m.-10:20 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] However, there is controversy over whether Bush approved a shootdown before this incident or whether Cheney gave himself the authority to make the decision on the spot. As Newsweek notes, it is a moot point in one sense, since the decision was made on false data and there is no plane to shoot down. [Newsweek, 6/20/2004]
Unaware the aircraft has crashed, United Airlines flight dispatcher Ed Ballinger instructs Flight 93 not to divert to Washington. At 10:10, he sends a text message to Flight 93, stating: “Don’t divert to DC. Not an option.” A minute later, he resends this same message to it. [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 46] Someone on Flight 93 had contacted the FAA at 9:30, requesting a new flight plan with the destination of Washington (see 9:30 a.m. September 11, 2001), and at 9:55 the pilot hijacker reprogrammed the plane’s navigational system for the new destination of Washington’s Reagan National Airport (see 9:55 a.m. September 11, 2001). United Airlines will not confirm that Flight 93 has crashed until around 10:15 (see (10:07 a.m.-10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and will notify its employees of this at 10:17 (see 10:17 a.m. September 11, 2001).
The mission crew commander at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) tells members of his staff that the fighter jets launched from Langley Air Force Base (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001) have “negative clearance to shoot” aircraft over Washington. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2003; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 226-227]
Marr Does Not Pass on Authorization - NEADS battle commander Colonel Robert Marr has just been talking on the phone with Major General Larry Arnold, the commander of NORAD’s Continental US Region, and the two men have discussed whether fighters should be authorized to shoot down hostile aircraft (see (10:08 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). According to author Lynn Spencer, Arnold told Marr that if a suspicious aircraft cannot be diverted, “then we’ll shoot it down.” However, this is not the instruction that Marr then passes on to Major Kevin Nasypany, the NEADS mission crew commander. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 225-227] Marr will later tell the 9/11 Commission that at this time, he “may have had the authority” to order a plane shot down, “but he never gave [Nasypany] clearance to fire.” Marr “does not believe at this point there was a clearance to ‘kill.’” [9/11 Commission, 1/23/2004 ]
Order Issued: 'Negative Clearance to Fire' - Nasypany relays the instructions Marr gives him to those on the operations floor, saying: “Negative. Negative clearance to shoot.” He then adds: “ID. Type. Tail.” This means the orders are for fighter jets to identify aircraft by their type and tail number, and nothing more. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 46-47; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] About a minute later, Nasypany’s instructions will be passed to the Langley pilots (see 10:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2003]
US military installations are placed on the highest state of alert, known as Force Protection Condition Delta (FPCON Delta), in response to the terrorist attacks in New York and at the Pentagon. The raised threat level applies to every US military installation across the country and around the world, and every member of the US armed forces. [Associated Press, 9/11/2001; US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001; New York Times, 9/12/2001] Measures that are taken once FPCON Delta has been declared include placing more guards on duty at installations, having all vehicles on installations identified, and having all personnel positively identified. Additionally, all suitcases, briefcases, and packages brought into an installation must be searched. [Slate, 9/12/2001]
Rumsfeld and Myers Decide to Raise FPCON - The decision to raise the force protection condition is apparently made by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and/or acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers. Rumsfeld will tell the 9/11 Commission that after he arrives at the Pentagon’s National Military Command Center (NMCC) (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001), he and Myers “discussed, and I recommended… increasing the force protection level.” [9/11 Commission, 3/23/2004] Myers will later write that after he arrives at the NMCC (see (Between 9:55 a.m. and 10:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001), he “recommended that all American military commands and units worldwide go to [FPCON] Delta.” He will add: “Terrorists had staged major attacks in New York and Washington. Although we did not yet have reliable intelligence on when and where they would strike next, it seemed likely that they would.” [Myers, 2009, pp. 153] But White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke will write that he gave the instruction to raise the force protection condition, at around 9:30 a.m. (see (9:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Clarke, 2004, pp. 5-6]
Conflicting Times Given for Raising of FPCON - The exact time at which the force protection condition is raised is unclear. CNN’s Barbara Starr will report that “all US military forces [are] ordered to Condition Delta” at 10:10 a.m. [CNN, 9/4/2002] However, other evidence indicates the force protection condition is raised at a later time, around 10:35 a.m. Rumsfeld only enters the NMCC at about 10:30 a.m., indicating it is raised after that time. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 43-44] And at 10:38 a.m., after Vice President Dick Cheney asks him on the air threat conference call if US forces are on “heightened alert,” Rumsfeld will reply, “Yes,” and say they are at FPCON Delta. [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001 ]
Some Areas Already at FPCON Delta - Although the entire US military is now under the same FPCON level, usually, different locations can have different FPCON levels. [Slate, 9/12/2001] US forces in some parts of the world, particularly the Middle East and the Persian Gulf region, are in fact already at FPCON Delta. [New York Times, 9/12/2001] (The force protection condition was raised in those areas in late June, after intelligence reports suggested that terrorists might attack American military or civilian targets in the region (see June 21, 2001). [Los Angeles Times, 6/23/2001; National Public Radio, 5/23/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 257] ) Shortly after the force protection condition is raised, Rumsfeld will order that the defense readiness condition also be raised (see (10:43 a.m.-10:52 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 326, 554]
Five Possible Force Protection Conditions - The force protection condition is a “chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff-approved standard for identification of, and recommended responses to, terrorist threats against US personnel and facilities,” according to the Department of Defense. [US Department of Defense, 11/8/2011 ] It was created in June 2001 and replaced the “terrorist threat condition,” or “Threatcon.” [Los Angeles Times, 1/22/2002] There are five possible force protection conditions. The lowest, FPCON Normal, means no threat of terrorist activity is present. The other conditions are Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, up to the highest, FPCON Delta, which means a terrorist attack has occurred or intelligence has been received indicating that action against a specific location is likely. [Associated Press, 9/11/2001; Slate, 9/12/2001]
Andi Ball. [Source: White House]Laura Bush, the president’s wife, and her entourage are driven from Capitol Hill to the Secret Service headquarters in Washington, DC, for their own security, but their journey is slowed by the heavy traffic. [Woodward, 2002, pp. 17; National Journal, 8/31/2002; Kessler, 2006, pp. 136; Bush, 2010, pp. 200-201] Bush has been at the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, where she was originally scheduled to testify before a Senate committee. [CNN, 9/12/2001; Woodward, 2002, pp. 16-17] Her Secret Service agents have said they are going to take the first lady and her staff to a secure location. [Kessler, 2006, pp. 136] After the Secret Service emergency response team arrived for her, Bush was escorted out of the Russell Senate Office Building and to her limousine (see (Shortly After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Bush and those accompanying her leave Capitol Hill at 10:10 a.m., according to Noelia Rodriguez, the first lady’s press secretary.
Agents with Guns Drawn Protect Motorcade - Secret Service agents protect Bush’s motorcade with their guns as it heads to the secure location. Ashleigh Adams, the first lady’s deputy press secretary, will later recall, “It felt like we were in a war, because the Secret Service was driving next to the motorcade and they were hanging out of the windows with their machine guns out.” She will add that she has “been around the agents” before, but has “never seen them with their guns.”
Motorcade Delayed by Traffic - However, the motorcade is slowed by the heavy traffic. Bush will describe, “Outside our convoy windows, the city streets were clogged with people evacuating their workplaces and trying to reach their own homes.” Rodriguez will say, “In the car, we seemed to be going in slow motion.” [National Journal, 8/31/2002; Bush, 2010, pp. 200] “The traffic was so bad that everything was stopped,” Andi Ball, Bush’s chief of staff, will recall. One of the Secret Service agents escorting Bush and her staff will later say a car sideswiped them during the journey.
Secure Location Is Secret Service Headquarters - The “secure location” that Bush and her staff are being taken to turns out to be the Secret Service headquarters. [Kessler, 2006, pp. 136] The Secret Service headquarters, according to journalist and author Ronald Kessler, is “an anonymous nine-story tan brick building on H Street at Ninth Street NW in Washington.” [Kessler, 2009, pp. 23] It is located a few blocks from the White House. After the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) it was reinforced to survive a large-scale blast. Bush and her entourage arrive there through an underground entrance. [Washington Post, 8/23/2009; Bush, 2010, pp. 200-201]
Journey Reportedly Takes 45 Minutes - The exact time they arrive at is unclear. According to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, “In the traffic jam from the Capitol, it took 45 minutes to get [Bush] to Secret Service headquarters.” This would mean the first lady arrives there at around 10:55 a.m. [Woodward, 2002, pp. 17] However, Bush will write that she watches the North Tower of the World Trade Center collapsing “live in front of my eyes,” on a screen at the headquarters. [Bush, 2010, pp. 201] If this is correct, she must arrive at the headquarters sometime before 10:28 a.m., when the North Tower comes down (see 10:28 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 311] White House spokespeople will refuse to disclose where the first lady has been taken to, only saying she is at a “secure location.” [Associated Press, 9/11/2001; CNN, 9/12/2001; CNN, 9/11/2002]
Air Force One, the president’s plane, changes course and heads west instead of north toward Washington, DC, but it currently has no specific destination. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 325] Washington had been Air Force One’s original destination. [White House, 8/29/2002; Lompoc Record, 9/11/2011] And President Bush has been anxious to return to the capital. [White House, 8/12/2002; White House, 8/16/2002] But when it took off from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport in Florida (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001), Air Force One had no fixed destination. There has been a discussion between the plane’s pilot, the lead Secret Service agent on the plane, Bush’s military aide, and Bush’s chief of staff, about where to go, and it was decided that Washington was too unsafe to be their destination (see (9:55 a.m.-10:04 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 39] This decision is now passed on to the president.
President Notified of Decision to Change Course - In his 2010 memoir, Bush will recall that “[s]hortly after we took off from Sarasota,” Andrew Card, his chief of staff, and Edward Marinzel, the lead Secret Service agent, “said conditions in Washington were too volatile, the danger of attack too high. The FAA believed six planes had been hijacked, meaning three more could be in the air.” [Bush, 2010, pp. 130] Card tells Bush: “We’ve got to let the dust settle before we go back. We’ve got to find out what’s going on.” [White House, 8/16/2002] Bush tells Card and Marinzel he is “not going to let terrorists scare me away.” He says: “I’m the president. And we’re going to Washington.” However, Card and Marinzel refuse to back down. [Bush, 2010, pp. 130] Finally, “Bush reluctantly acceded” to their advice, and so “Air Force One changed course and began heading due west,” according to the 9/11 Commission Report. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 325] Bush wants to know where they are now going. Card tells him that their new destination is still being decided. [White House, 8/16/2002]
Plane Turns West within '20 Minutes of Takeoff' - Air Force One begins heading west “at about 10:10,” according to the 9/11 Commission Report. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 325] A reporter who is traveling on Air Force One at this time will write that the plane “suddenly veered west” within “perhaps 20 minutes of takeoff,” meaning before 10:15 a.m. Describing the plane’s initial route after taking off, this reporter will write, “Assuming that a direct flight from Sarasota to Barksdale Air Force Base [in Louisiana] would have taken us over the Gulf of Mexico, we can conclude that we flew east (to within sight of the Atlantic Ocean), then north, then west.” [USA Today, 9/11/2001] However, a few accounts will claim that Air Force One continues flying toward Washington at this time, and only changes course and heads west at around 10:45 a.m. (see (10:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 108-109; Washington Post, 1/27/2002; National Journal, 8/31/2002] At around 10:20 a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission Report, Barksdale Air Force Base will be identified “as an appropriate interim destination,” and so Air Force One heads toward there (see (10:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 325]
Michael Gould. [Source: US Air Force]Officials in NORAD’s operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, are notified that an aircraft out of San Diego, California, may be hijacked and could be targeting Cheyenne Mountain. [BBC, 9/1/2002; Grant, 2004, pp. 26] The FBI warns NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center (CMOC) “that a flight originating in San Diego might be hijacked and headed for a target in Colorado,” according to Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002] According to an official Air Force report on the war on terrorism, the CMOC is told that the flight is “headed to Denver,” and Brigadier General Michael Gould, the commander of the CMOC, then realizes there are “plenty” of targets near Denver, “from the Air Force bases around Colorado Springs to downtown Denver or even Cheyenne Mountain.” [Grant, 2004, pp. 26]
Cheyenne Mountain Is the Plane's Target - According to other accounts, Cheyenne Mountain specifically is believed to be the plane’s intended target. [Washington Post, 7/29/2006] Brigadier General Jim Hunter, the vice commander of the CMOC, will later recall that the operations center receives intelligence that “there might be another airliner airborne from a city in the United States,” which has reportedly “been hijacked near San Diego,” and the plane’s target is “specifically Cheyenne Mountain.”
Threat Reportedly Leads to the Blast Doors Being Shut - The Regina Leader-Post will point out, “Protected by 2,600 feet of granite, the NORAD command center and hundreds of personnel in their green flight suits were actually in the safest place in North America.” Hunter will comment, “They could have driven airliners into that mountain all day.” [BBC, 9/1/2002; Regina Leader-Post, 9/12/2011] But, according to some accounts, the concern about the suspicious plane is what leads to the 25-ton blast doors to the CMOC being closed for the first time ever in a real-world, non-exercise event (see (10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Toronto Star, 12/9/2001; BBC, 9/1/2002; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/9/2011]
Suspicious Flight Is a False Alarm - The suspect aircraft eventually identifies itself and lands uneventfully. But, Gould will recall, NORAD starts “expanding our focus away from just the northeast corridor” of the US and also begins “considering other critical infrastructure, [such as] nuclear power plants.” Gould will add, “We’re just thinking, ‘What kind of damage could an airliner full of fuel do?’” [Grant, 2004, pp. 26] Later on today, CMOC personnel will be informed that a truck, or a number of trucks, carrying Arab-looking men is heading their way, but the apparent threat will turn out to be a false alarm (see (Shortly After 1:05 p.m.) September 11, 2001). “We were receiving all kinds of input from everybody,” Lieutenant Colonel William Glover, the commander of NORAD’s Air Warning Center, will comment. Every rumor is treated as a potential threat. “It didn’t make sense, but those phone calls were happening,” Glover will say. [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; BBC, 9/1/2002]
A weapons director at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) informs the fighter jets launched from Langley Air Force Base (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001) that they do not have permission to shoot down aircraft over Washington, though he is delayed in giving this instruction due to communications problems. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2003; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 45; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 227]
Citino Cannot Reach Borgstrom - Major Kevin Nasypany, the NEADS mission crew commander, has just told his staff that the Langley fighters have “negative clearance to shoot,” and the orders from higher headquarters are that the jets are to identify aircraft by their type and tail number, and nothing more (see 10:10 a.m. September 11, 2001). Now Master Sergeant Steve Citino, a NEADS weapons director, tries relaying these instructions to Captain Craig Borgstrom, one of the three Langley pilots. However, he cannot get through to him over the radio. According to author Lynn Spencer, this is because the “reception is weak over the Washington area, and NEADS loses the ability to communicate whenever [Borgstrom] flies below a certain altitude.” Citino complains to Major James Fox, the leader of the weapons team: “I can’t talk to ‘em. They’re too low.” [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 227]
Citino Issues Instructions - Finally, about a minute after receiving the instructions from Nasypany, Citino reaches Borgstrom. He tells him, “Reiterating, mission is ID by type… divert if necessary.” Borgstrom acknowledges this instruction, telling Citino, “Quit 2-6 copies.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2003] When two of the Langley pilots later discuss this day’s events at a news conference, they will say they “never received explicit orders to fire on incoming planes perceived to be hostile.” [New York Times, 11/15/2001]
Someone from the 174th Fighter Wing, which is based at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base near Syracuse, NY, calls NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) and speaks with Major Kevin Nasypany, the mission crew commander there. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001] Earlier on, shortly after seeing the second plane hitting the World Trade Center at 9:03, a commander of the 174th Fighter Wing called NEADS to offer fighter jets to help (see (After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). They’d said: “Give me ten [minutes] and I can give you hot guns. Give me 30 [minutes] and I’ll have heat-seeker [missiles]. Give me an hour and I can give you slammers.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; News 10 Now, 9/12/2006] Yet, now, more than an hour after the second attack, these fighters have still not been launched. Syracuse tells Nasypany, “I’ve got guys that’ll be launching in about 15 minutes.” Despite the earlier promise to have heat-seekers and slammers on the planes, Syracuse says: “We’ve got hot guns. That’s all I’ve got.” Nasypany says: “I’ve got another possible aircraft with a bomb on board. It’s in Pennsylvania, York, approximate area.” He adds that there is “another one, that’s possibly at Cleveland area.” These aircraft, he says, are United Airlines Flight 93 and Delta ‘89, respectively. (Although Flight 93 has already crashed, NEADS apparently does not learn of this until 10:15 (see 10:15 a.m. September 11, 2001).) NEADS was alerted to Delta Flight 1989 at 9:41, and mistakenly suspects it has been hijacked (see 9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). Syracuse says: “I’ve got two jets right now. Do you need more than two?” After NEADS requests another two, Syracuse replies, “Get four set up, yep.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001] According to the Syracuse Post-Standard, the first fighters to launch from Hancock Field are two F-16s that take off at 10:42 a.m. A further three take off at about 1:30 p.m., and two more launch around 3:55 p.m. (see 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Post-Standard (Syracuse), 9/12/2001]
An officer at NORAD’s operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, calls NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) and asks it to stop “exercise inputs” being sent to the operations center.
NORAD Calls Chief of Exercises at NEADS - The NORAD officer, a “Captain Taylor,” calls NEADS, where the phone is answered by Captain Brian Nagel. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001] Nagel is chief of NEADS live exercises. [Filson, 2003, pp. 74] After introducing himself, Taylor says, “What we need you to do right now is to terminate all exercise inputs coming into Cheyenne Mountain.” Nagel gives Taylor an extension number and suggests that he call it to get the exercise inputs stopped. Taylor replies, “I’ll do that.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001] According to an article in Vanity Fair, “inputs” are simulated scenarios that are put into play for training exercises. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] NORAD has been conducting a major exercise this morning called Vigilant Guardian (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Arkin, 2005, pp. 545]
Exercise Includes Simulated Radar Information - Taylor is presumably referring specifically to false tracks that have been transmitted onto NORAD radar screens for the exercise. NORAD has the capability to inject simulated material, including mass attacks, into the system during exercises, “as though it was being sensed for the first time by a radar site.” [US Department of Defense, 1/15/1999] All of the operations personnel at NEADS have been instructed to “have their sim switches turned ‘on’” (presumably to allow simulated information to appear on their radar screens) from September 6 until the end of Vigilant Guardian, on September 13. An information page on the exercise stated that a “sim test track will be in place and forward told [i.e. transferred to a higher level of command] to both NORAD and CONR,” NORAD’s Continental United States Region. [Northeast Air Defense Sector, 8/23/2001]
Exercise Supposedly Called Off Earlier - More than 50 members of the battle staff at the NORAD operations center have been participating in Vigilant Guardian this morning. [Airman, 3/2002; 9/11 Commission, 3/1/2004 ] Some accounts will claim this exercise was canceled shortly after 9:03 a.m., when the second World Trade Center tower was hit (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Airman, 3/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 59] And a report in the Toronto Star will state, “Any simulated information” for the exercise was “purged from the [radar] screens” at the operations center shortly before the second tower was hit (see (9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Toronto Star, 12/9/2001] But a member of staff at NEADS complained at 9:30 a.m. about simulated material still appearing on radar screens there, and at 9:34 a.m. the NEADS surveillance technicians were instructed to turn off their “sim switches” (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 2004]
The 9/11 Commission later concludes that if Flight 93 had not crashed, it would probably have reached Washington around this time. The commission notes that there are only three fighters over Washington at this time, all from Langley, Virginia. However, the pilots of these fighters were never briefed about why they were scrambled. As the lead pilot explained, “I reverted to the Russian threat… I’m thinking cruise missile threat from the sea. You know, you look down and see the Pentagon burning and I thought the b_stards snuck one by us.… You couldn’t see any airplanes, and no one told us anything.” The pilots knew their mission was to identify and divert aircraft flying within a certain radius of Washington, but did not know that the threat came from hijacked planes. In addition, the commission notes that NEADS did not know where Flight 93 was when it crashed, and wonders if they would have determined its location and passed it on the pilots before the plane reached Washington. They conclude, “NORAD officials have maintained that they would have intercepted and shot down United 93. We are not so sure.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]
Michael Irwin. [Source: Publicity photo]Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gould, a military aide who is accompanying President Bush on his visit to Florida, makes a call requesting a fighter escort and other assets to support Air Force One as it flies away from Sarasota. Gould, who has tactical control of all the military assets that support the president, including presidential aircraft, was with Bush on Air Force One when the plane took off from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). He has talked with Colonel Mark Tillman, Air Force One’s pilot, about the plane’s ability to evade other aircraft. “At this point we don’t know the scope of this attack and what’s in front of us,” Gould will later recall. Gould will say that because he “thought there was a threat,” he makes a phone call and asks for three things: fighter jets to escort Air Force One, a refueling plane, and an AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System plane) to provide the ability to “see” around the president’s plane.
Request Relayed over Conference Call - Gould will say, in 2011, that he calls the Pentagon to make this request. [Lompoc Record, 9/11/2011; Santa Barbara News-Press, 9/11/2011] However, other evidence indicates that he contacts the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House with the request, and the request is then passed on to the Pentagon over the air threat conference call. A transcript of the air threat conference call shows that at 10:14 a.m., Colonel Michael Irwin, the director of operations for the White House Military Office, who is in the PEOC, says he has “just talked to [the] mil aide” on Air Force One, and then adds: “We’d like AWACS over Louisiana. We’d like fighter escort.” [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001 ]
Fighters and AWACS Later Accompany Air Force One - An AWACS on a training mission off the coast of Florida is directed toward Air Force One and will accompany it all the way to Washington, DC (see Before 9:55 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Code One Magazine, 1/2002] Fighters will also arrive to escort the president’s plane. However, it will be over an hour before they reach it (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 9/11/2001] It is unclear if and when a refueling plane reaches Air Force One.
The first of three District of Columbia Air National Guard F-16s that was away on a training mission at the time of the attacks in New York lands back at its base just outside Washington, DC, but does not take off again to defend the capital. The fighter jet is being piloted by Eric Haagenson. [9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004] It belongs to the 121st Fighter Squadron, part of the 113th Wing of the DC Air National Guard, which is based at Andrews Air Force Base, 10 miles from Washington. [District of Columbia Air National Guard, 7/24/2001; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; GlobalSecurity (.org), 8/21/2005] Along with two other jets, it took off from Andrews at 8:36 a.m. for a routine training mission about 200 miles away, over North Carolina (see 8:36 a.m. September 11, 2001).
Denied Entry into Andrews Airspace - Haagenson apparently headed back to base earlier than the other aircraft with him over North Carolina because he was so low on fuel. Major Billy Hutchison, the flight lead of the F-16s on the training mission, learned over radio that Haagenson was then “being denied entry to airspace over Andrews” Air Force Base. [9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/8/2004 ] This was presumably because airspace restrictions had been implemented around Washington: The supervisor of flying with Haagenson’s unit had been concerned that such restrictions would be put into effect after he’d learned of the second attack on the World Trade Center. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 122-123] Hutchison therefore instructed Haagenson to go to Pawtucket, Rhode Island (presumably to land at an airfield there), because he was so low on fuel, so that he would not run out. [9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004] But by 10:14 a.m., Haagenson has been cleared to land at Andrews, and touches down at the base. [9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004]
Haagenson Does Not Take Off Again - Hutchison will later recall that Haagenson “didn’t go back up” into the air after landing at Andrews, “because he was a brand new pilot.” The training mission he returned from “was his first flight outside an instructional arena.” The other two F-16s that were with him, piloted by Hutchison and Lou Campbell, will land at Andrews at 10:36 a.m., but Hutchison will be instructed to take off again immediately (see (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004]
A lieutenant colonel at the White House repeatedly relays to the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon that Vice President Dick Cheney has confirmed that fighter jets are cleared to engage an inbound aircraft if they can verify that the aircraft is hijacked. The lieutenant colonel notifies the NMCC of the authorization over the air threat conference call (see 9:29 a.m.-9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). Cheney, who is in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, said at sometime between 10:10 and 10:15 that fighters could engage an aircraft that was reportedly approaching Washington (see (Between 10:10 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, it is only when Cheney calls President Bush at 10:18 a.m. that Bush confirms the shootdown order (see 10:18 a.m.-10:20 a.m. September 11, 2001). The shootdown order will be received by NORAD, and then, at 10:31 a.m., sent out to its three air defense sectors in the continental US (see 10:31 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 41-42; Spencer, 2008, pp. 240]
According to the 9/11 Commission, NEADS calls Washington flight control at this time. Asked about Flight 93, flight control responds, “He’s down.” It is clarified that the plane crashed “somewhere up northeast of Camp David.… That’s the last report. They don’t know exactly where.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] The crash site is in fact about 85 miles northwest of Camp David. [Associated Press, 9/11/2001]
A message is put out on NORAD’s computer chat system, notifying its three air defense sectors in the US that peacetime rules of engagement (ROE) still apply, which means fighter jets are not permitted to shoot down hostile aircraft. As a 9/11 Commission memorandum will later describe, on the chat log it is reiterated at this time “that the defensive posture [is] still peacetime ROE.” The person or organization that issues this message is unstated. NORAD’s computer chat system allows those with the proper access to communicate with each other, similarly to the way members of the public do in Internet chat rooms. The NORAD system includes three main chat rooms. The message about the current rules of engagement goes out in the chat room for the Continental US NORAD Region (CONR). This is where CONR’s three sectors—including the Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), which has been coordinating the military’s response to the hijackings—communicate with each other. [9/11 Commission, 1/22/2004 ; Spencer, 2008, pp. 139] It is not until 10:31 a.m. that Major General Larry Arnold, the CONR commander, will issue an instruction over the chat system, stating that NORAD has been cleared to shoot down threatening aircraft (see 10:31 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 42]
David Wherley. [Source: US Air Force]Brigadier General David Wherley, the commander of the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG), finally receives specific instructions from the Secret Service for his fighter jets to follow when they launch over Washington, and is told they can use “whatever force is necessary” to prevent another aircraft hitting a building. [9/11 Commission, 8/28/2003; Vogel, 2007, pp. 446; Spencer, 2008, pp. 218]
Instructions Received within 'Half-Hour' of Request - Wherley phoned the Secret Service’s White House Joint Operations Center after arriving at the headquarters of the DCANG’s 121st Fighter Squadron at Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington (see (Shortly After 9:39 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The agent he talked to requested that DCANG fighters be sent up over the capital, but Wherley asked for more specific instructions (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Secret Service agents at the White House have been working hard to get these. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 184-185, 218] According to the Washington Post, “within a half-hour,” Wherley receives “oral instructions from the White House giving the pilots extraordinary discretion to shoot down any threatening aircraft.” [Washington Post, 4/8/2002]
Jets May Use 'Whatever Force Is Necessary' - Wherley had been talking to Secret Service agent Kenneth Beauchamp, but these instructions are given to him by Becky Ediger, the deputy special agent in charge of the Presidential Protective Division, who now comes on the line. Ediger says the instructions have come directly from Vice President Dick Cheney. She tells Wherley: “We want you to intercept and turn away any airplane that attempts to fly within 20 miles of the Washington area. If you are not able to turn them away, use whatever force is necessary to keep them from hitting any buildings downtown.”
Wherley Wants to Talk to Military - Wherley asks if there is anybody in a uniform—i.e. from the military—with Ediger that he could talk to. Ediger alludes to a Navy captain who is busy with other things, but says no one from the military is available. Although the instructions he has been given are not in military terms, Wherley feels they are understandable enough. [Peabody Gazette-Bulletin, 2/12/2003; 9/11 Commission, 8/28/2003; Spencer, 2008, pp. 218] According to the 9/11 Commission, Wherley translates Ediger’s instructions in military terms to flying “weapons free,” meaning “the decision to shoot rests in the cockpit, or in this case in the cockpit of the lead pilot.” He will pass these instructions to the DCANG pilots that take off at 10:42 a.m. and after (see 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 44]
Instructions Coming from Cheney - Wherley will later say that Ediger is “standing next to the vice president” during their call. [Filson, 2003, pp. 79] However, the 9/11 Commission will apparently state differently, saying a “Secret Service agent” (presumably Ediger) has “a phone in each ear, one connected to Wherley and the other to a fellow agent at the White House, relaying instructions that the White House agent said he was getting from the vice president.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 44]
White House Denies Cheney Involvement - In 2004, Secret Service officials will confirm that its agents’ actions relating to the DCANG on September 11 are ordered by Cheney. The agency will issue a statement, clarifying, “The Secret Service is not authorized to, nor did it, direct the activation or launch of Department of Defense aviation assets.” But two unnamed White House officials that are involved in the emergency response to the attacks will say the Secret Service acts on its own. An official speaking on behalf of Cheney will say he doesn’t know whether the vice president directed Secret Service agents to call the DCANG, and he would not be able to find out. [Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2004 ] The 9/11 Commission will state that both Cheney and President Bush “indicated to us they had not been aware that fighters had been scrambled out of Andrews, at the request of the Secret Service and outside the military chain of command.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 44]
Wherley Wants More Information - Wherley still has questions about the rules of engagement for his fighter jets, which will subsequently be answered by a Secret Service agent at the White House, possibly Ediger (see (Between 10:16 a.m. and 10:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/28/2003]
Logo of the 1st Fighter Wing. [Source: US Air Force]The 1st Fighter Wing at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, notifies NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) that it is unable to provide fighter jets to escort the president’s plane, Air Force One, because a lieutenant general at the Air Combat Command (ACC) has instructed the wing to stand by. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 239-240] The White House has requested a fighter escort for Air Force One (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001), and officers at the headquarters of the Continental US NORAD Region in Florida have been calling around to find any available jets that might be able to provide that escort, irrespective of what branch of the military they belong to. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 38; Spencer, 2008, pp. 239]
Wing Told to Stand By - As a result, a colonel from the 1st Fighter Wing now calls NEADS. He says that although his unit would love to help, the lieutenant general at ACC has told it to stand by, as, technically, the wing belongs to ACC, not NORAD. Author Lynn Spencer will comment, “In times of war, commanders can waive a significant amount of the military bureaucracy and make such decisions.” However, “they are assuming an enormous personal responsibility if they do so and something terribly wrong happens.” Personnel at NEADS are thus “reminded of the military bureaucracy governing orders and authorizations.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 239-240]
Wing's F-15s Take Off Following Attacks - F-15s from the 1st Fighter Wing will take off later on—“within two hours” of the terrorist attacks, according to one account—to provide “protection for the National Command Authority and the rest of the nation’s civilian and military leadership,” and to patrol the skies of the East Coast. [Air Force Association, 10/2/2002; Langley Air Force Base, 1/2005; 1st Fighter Association, 3/14/2006] Eventually, fighters from Ellington Field in Texas and elsewhere will escort Air Force One (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Code One Magazine, 1/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 87]
ACC Is Air Force's Combat Arm - The ACC, which is headquartered at Langley Air Force Base, is the main combat arm of the US Air Force, and is responsible for supplying forces to regional military commanders around the world. [Virginian-Pilot, 9/20/2001; US Air Force, 2/26/2010] The 1st Fighter Wing is the “host unit” at Langley, and, as such, operates and maintains one of the largest fighter bases in the ACC. It includes three fighter squadrons, which fly the F-15 Eagle fighter jet. [Virginian-Pilot, 9/20/2001; Langley Air Force Base, 11/2003; Air Force Print News, 11/9/2006]
Dutchess County Airport. [Source: Phillip Capper]Tom White, a New York air traffic controller, incorrectly reports over an FAA teleconference that the first aircraft to hit the World Trade Center appears to have been a Sikorsky helicopter. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 1/2/2002 ; 9/11 Commission, 5/21/2004] White is an operations manager at the FAA’s New York Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) in Westbury, Long Island. [9/11 Commission, 12/15/2003 ] He says over the FAA teleconference that the Sikorsky helicopter had been heading south from Poughkeepsie, New York, and appeared to hit the WTC at 8:27 a.m. (see 8:27 a.m. September 11, 2001)—nearly 20 minutes before the first crash there actually took place (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001).
TRACON Previously Said Small Plane Hit the WTC - About 20 minutes earlier, someone from the TRACON—presumably White—suggested over the teleconference that the first aircraft to hit the WTC was a small twin-engine plane. At around 9:55 a.m. they said: “I think we’ve identified the location of a departure point for aircraft number one [presumably a reference to the plane that hit the North Tower]. At approximately 12:03 Zulu time [i.e. 8:03 a.m. Eastern time], aircraft number one appears to have departed Poughkeepsie airport and established a southerly heading at a speed of about 160 knots [i.e. 184 miles per hour]. The profile looks like it might be a light twin.” Asked if they had any more information, the TRACON employee replied: “I tried to get in touch with Poughkeepsie tower. However, the phone lines are overloaded and the circuits are busy.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001] The “Poughkeepsie airport” the helicopter took off from is presumably Dutchess County Airport. Sikorsky bases a fleet of its S-76 helicopters at Dutchess County Airport, which it dispatches to the New York metro areas as needed. [Site Selection, 5/2000; Aviation International News, 8/1/2003] Poughkeepsie is about 70 miles north of New York City. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2/3/2008]
Radar Information Suggests Helicopter Hit WTC - White now gives an update over the FAA teleconference, and suggests the first aircraft to hit the WTC was in fact a helicopter. He says: “We tracked a Sikorsky helicopter… from Poughkeepsie to the Trade Center. It appeared to fly into the Trade Center at 12:27 [Zulu time, or 8:27 a.m. Eastern time]. That is preliminary information.” White then clarifies that this conclusion has been reached partly through replaying radar data. He says: “[T]he only target that we saw in the vicinity of the Trade Center at 12:27, to fly into the Trade Center, we, we played the radar and tracked it up through Westchester and Stewart. We had a departure off a Poughkeepsie at 12:03. The tower says the only thing they had southbound at that time was a Sikorsky helicopter, which is consistent with the speed that we followed it down.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001]
Long Delay before False Information Is Corrected - The New York TRACON’s reports about a helicopter or small plane hitting the WTC are subsequently confirmed to be mistaken. However it apparently takes several hours before the erroneous information is corrected. David LaCates, the deputy operations manager at the FAA’s New York Center, will tell the 9/11 Commission that “he did hear rumors that the aircraft that struck the WTC was in fact a small airplane from Poughkeepsie,” and he “believes this rumor persisted for over an hour.” [9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003 ] According to one FAA chronology of this day’s events, it is only at 1:00 p.m. that the “Sikorsky helicopter” is “now believed not to have hit the WTC.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 1/2/2002 ] Another FAA chronology will state that at 1:04 p.m. it is reported that the Sikorsky helicopter “landed 20 minutes early, normal GE run at 12:28Z [i.e. 8:28 a.m. Eastern time] to WTC.” (It is unclear what is meant by “normal GE run.”) [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001]
With reports of another airplane headed toward Washingon, fire and rescue workers were directed to temporarily move away from the Pentagon. [Source: Jon Culberson]At around 10:15 a.m., fire and rescue workers at the Pentagon in response to the attack there are evacuated away from the site, due to a warning of another hijacked aircraft flying towards Washington, DC, currently 20 minutes away. The warning is passed on by Special Agent Chris Combs, the FBI’s representative at the Pentagon crash site. Assistant Fire Chief James Schwartz then orders the fire and rescue personnel to evacuate to a highway overpass several hundred yards from the Pentagon. Combs receives the information about the inbound aircraft from the FBI’s Washington Field Office, which is in direct contact with the FAA. He then confirms it with the control tower at Washington’s Reagan National Airport. According to a report put out by the government of Arlington County, Virginia, updates are announced of the approaching aircraft “until the last warning when [it] went below radar coverage in Pennsylvania, an estimated 4 minutes flying time from the Pentagon.” [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A16 and A30 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 315] Yet if the timing of this account is correct, the approaching plane could not have been Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania considerably earlier (see (10:03 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Finally, Combs is informed by Jim Rice, his boss at the Washington Field Office, “You’re all clear.” Rice adds, incorrectly, “The plane hit Camp David.” [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 131] At 10:38, firefighters and rescue workers are allowed to return to the Pentagon and resume their activities. [Fire Engineering, 11/2002] There will be two more evacuations of the Pentagon site in the following 24 hours, also due to false alarms over reports of unidentified inbound aircraft (see (2:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001 and (10:00 a.m.) September 12, 2001).
Blast doors at NORAD’s operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado. [Source: Eugene Chavez]The massive doors leading to NORAD’s operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, designed to protect the center from a nuclear blast, are closed for the first time ever in a real-world, non-exercise event, though the reason for this is unclear. [Toronto Star, 12/9/2001; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; BBC, 9/1/2002; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/9/2011] The two steel blast doors, one third of a mile inside the mountain, guard the heart of NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center (CMOC) and are intended to seal the complex to protect it from a nuclear strike. The doors are three feet thick, more than 10 feet high, and each weigh 25 tons. During an attack, they can swing shut in 30 to 40 seconds. [Airman, 1/1996; Nation, 5/5/2008; Colorado Springs Gazette, 5/10/2008]
Doors Are Shut for the First Time, except for Exercises - Air Force officer William Astore will later recall that when he worked inside Cheyenne Mountain between 1985 and 1988, the blast doors were kept open, “except, of course, during ‘exercises,’ when the mountain ‘buttoned up’ its self-contained world.” [Nation, 5/5/2008] Now is the first time since the CMOC opened in 1966 that the blast doors have been shut because of a real-world, non-exercise event. Lieutenant Colonel Steven Armstrong, NORAD’s chief of plans and forces, who is in the CMOC on this day, will later comment, “The fact that we closed the blast doors… was a significant event.” [Toronto Star, 12/9/2001; Colorado Springs Gazette, 6/14/2004; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/9/2011]
Accounts Conflict over Why the Doors Are Closed - The reason the blast doors are shut is unclear. According to the Toronto Star, they are closed because “no one yet knew who was behind the attack—or what else might be en route.” [Toronto Star, 12/9/2001] But Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine will report that “NORAD commanders ordered [the] massive steel doors be closed” after “someone—possibly President Bush—ordered the military to a Force Protection Condition Delta wartime posture” (see (Between 10:10 a.m. and 10:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002] Other reports will say the doors are shut due to a report the CMOC received about an aircraft that is incorrectly suspected of being hijacked and targeting Cheyenne Mountain (see (10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [BBC, 9/1/2002; Grant, 2004, pp. 26; Colorado Springs Gazette, 6/14/2004; Washington Post, 7/29/2006] A NORAD representative on the Pentagon’s air threat conference call will report over the conference call that the blast doors are in fact shut in response to information received at the CMOC about a number of suspicious trucks that are supposedly heading toward the CMOC (see (Shortly After 1:05 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001]
Doors Are Re-Opened Four Hours Later - The blast doors will be re-opened four hours after they are shut, “when officials learned the threat was bogus,” according to the Colorado Springs Gazette. [Colorado Springs Gazette, 6/14/2004]
Less than 30 seconds after hearing that Flight 93 has crashed, NEADS receives a call informing it of yet another suspected hijacking in its area. Although the skies will be clear of all commercial and private aircraft soon after midday, false reports of hijackings will continue well into the afternoon. For hours, fighters above New York and Washington DC (and later Chicago and Boston) will race around intercepting suspicious aircraft. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]
Two Pentagon police officers see people—some of them members of the military—stealing crash debris from in front of the Pentagon. After the Pentagon was hit, Lt. Robbie Turner had been helping the injured at a triage area. When, at around 10:15 a.m., reports are received of a possible second plane heading for the Pentagon (see (10:15 a.m.-10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001), he sets about evacuating people away from there. As this is going on, he later recalls: “[W]e had to try to collect up evidence, as much of the evidence as we possibly could. Take pictures of it or whatever.” However, some people are apparently trying to steal plane debris from the road in front of the Pentagon. According to Turner, “[W]e had to try to stop other people from pilfering the wreckage because, believe it or not, there were people—military personnel involved—you know, included, rather, that was picking up the wreckage of the plane from off the highway as we were running away.” [Library of Congress, 12/3/2001] Later on in the day, around 3:00 p.m., another Pentagon police officer, Roosevelt Roberts Jr., is called to the heliport near where the Pentagon was hit, and remains there for the next 13 hours. He will recall that, during this time, “we had a lot of people vandalizing, stealing evidence.” He does not specify who these people are, or what this “evidence” is that is being stolen and vandalized. [Library of Congress, 11/30/2001]
Brigadier General David Wherley, the commander of the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG), talks to a Secret Service agent at the White House regarding some questions he has about the rules of engagement for his fighter jets. [9/11 Commission, 8/28/2003] Wherley, who is at the headquarters of the DCANG’s 121st Fighter Squadron at Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, has been talking over the phone with Becky Ediger, a senior Secret Service agent at the White House, and told his fighters can use “whatever force is necessary” to prevent an aircraft crashing into a building in the capital (see (10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2004 ; Vogel, 2007, pp. 445-446; Spencer, 2008, pp. 218]
Wherley Concerned about Rules of Engagement - As Wherley will later tell the 9/11 Commission, he still has “some questions about rules of engagement” that his jets are supposed to follow. He “finally” speaks with a Secret Service agent who answers his concerns. (From the account Wherley gives to the 9/11 Commission, it is unclear if this agent is Ediger, or someone else.) The agent confirms that DCANG fighters are free to engage aircraft if they cannot successfully be diverted. This seems clear enough to Wherley, and, like the previous instructions he received, he interprets it as flying “weapons free,” meaning the decision whether his jets shoot down a threatening aircraft rests with the lead pilot.
Agent Possibly Standing next to Cheney - Wherley will tell the 9/11 Commission that the agent he talks to at this time is “standing next to the vice president.” [9/11 Commission, 8/28/2003; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 44] If correct, this would mean they are in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, where Vice President Dick Cheney was evacuated to earlier on (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [ABC News, 9/14/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 39-40]
In the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta track numerous suspicious aircraft. Mineta will recall that, even after the time Flight 93 went down in Pennsylvania: “we still had these unaccounted for aircraft. So the question was where are they and who are the targets for that?” He says that, at “about 10:30, 11 o’clock in the morning,” they are aware of “about seven or eight unaccounted-for aircraft.” [MSNBC, 9/11/2002] Rice will describe: “There were false reports of planes, unidentified planes, squawking all over the place. We were doing many, many things, but we would write down on a yellow pad that these numbers are still out there.” [Bumiller, 2007, pp. xv] She recalls, “[F]or several hours the most difficult thing is that we didn’t know what else was coming because there were planes still in the air, we were trying to ground civil aviation, there were still planes in the air, some were supposedly not responding properly to command to go to the ground.” [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/11/2002]
Andy Studdert, the chief operating officer of United Airlines, sends out an operational alert message to the airline’s personnel, informing them of the crash of Flight 93. The message states: “UAL 93-11 EWR-SFO has been involved in an accident. Crisis center has been activated.” [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 47] Along with other United Airlines managers, Studdert watched Flight 93’s radar track as it came to a halt on a screen in the airline’s crisis center, at its headquarters outside Chicago (see (9:36 a.m.-10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). By 10:15, United had learned from the manager of the Johnstown airport in Pennsylvania of a plume of smoke rising up in the area where Flight 93 crashed (see (10:07 a.m.-10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Longman, 2002, pp. 77 and 214]
F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft at the 180th Fighter Wing. [Source: Jodi Joice / US Air Force]Two F-16 fighter jets take off from a military unit in Toledo, Ohio, in response to the morning’s attacks, but accounts will conflict over what their mission is and who the pilots are. [Toledo Blade, 12/9/2001; Filson, 2003, pp. 71; WTOL, 9/11/2006] The 180th Fighter Wing of the Ohio Air National Guard is based at Toledo Express Airport. Although the unit is not one of NORAD’s seven alert facilities around the US, it has recently received a call from NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), requesting that it launch two of its fighters (see 10:01 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Airman, 12/1999; Toledo Blade, 12/9/2001; WTOL, 9/11/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 178-179] The 180th Maintenance Squadron, which is responsible for maintaining the unit’s aircraft and equipment, was also contacted, and has loaded the F-16s’ guns with 500 rounds of 20-caliber ammunition. [180th Fighter Wing, 9/19/2001; WTOL, 9/11/2006]
Jets Head East - The two F-16s, which were being set up for training missions, now take off and head east. [Toledo Blade, 12/9/2001] According to author Lynn Spencer, they are piloted by Scott Reed and Ed Rinke. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 179] However, a local television station will report that the pilots are Scott Reed and Keith Newell. [WTOL, 9/11/2006]
Mission Unclear - It is unclear what role the two jets play in defending the nation. Toledo Air National Guard officials will later refuse to talk about this morning’s events, even in the general terms permitted by the military. [Toledo Blade, 12/9/2001] According to Spencer, NEADS wanted the 180th FW jets to respond to Delta Air Lines Flight 1989, which is incorrectly thought to have been hijacked and will land in Cleveland at around 10:18 (see (10:18 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The 9/11 Commission will similarly say the Toledo jets are ordered to intercept Delta 1989. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/16/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 27-28; Spencer, 2008, pp. 177-178] But Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental United States NORAD Region, will say the 180th FW was contacted “because we thought [Flight] 93 or Delta Flight 1989 might be headed toward Chicago.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 71] NEADS battle commander Colonel Robert Marr will say the two F-16s “never had a track close enough that they were directed to engage. [But] if a valid direction had come from the appropriate level to engage a target, or shoot down a target at some time, they could have done that.”
Response Is 'Very Quick' - Marr will describe the 180th FW’s response to NEADS’s request for assistance as “very, very, very quick.” [Toledo Blade, 12/9/2001] However, the fourth hijacked aircraft, Flight 93, has already crashed by the time the two jets take off (see (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 30]
A representative of the FAA finally joins an emergency teleconference being conducted by the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon, after NMCC personnel have repeatedly been unable to connect the FAA to the conference. In response to the terrorist attacks, the NMCC began a “significant event conference” at 9:29 a.m., to gather and disseminate information from government agencies (see 9:29 a.m.-9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001), and eight minutes later upgraded this to an “air threat conference” (see 9:37 a.m.-9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). However, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, because of “equipment problems and difficulty finding secure phone numbers,” operators at the NMCC have been unable to connect the FAA to the conference (see (9:29 a.m.-12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/21/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37]
FAA Representative Has 'No Situational Awareness' - The air threat conference is now joined by FAA employee Rayford Brooks. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 463] Brooks is on duty in the Central Altitude Reservation Function (CARF) at the FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia. This office is responsible for processing and separating altitude reservations, and coordinates military requests for priority airspace activity with FAA facilities and international agencies. [9/11 Commission, 4/5/2004; 9/11 Commission, 4/15/2004] However, Brooks has “no familiarity with or responsibility for hijackings, no access to decisionmakers, and none of the information available to senior FAA officials,” according to the 9/11 Commission Report. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37] Brooks will later recall having had “no situational awareness” of the current crisis. He only arrived at the Command Center at around 9:30 a.m. and had not been listening to the radio while driving to work. Those on the Command Center floor have not given him any instructions regarding the NMCC conference or other operational matters.
Brooks on Conference instead of Military Cell Officer - Brooks will tell the 9/11 Commission that the Air Traffic Services Cell (ATSC)—a small office located next to the CARF at the Command Center, manned by military reservists (see (Between 9:04 a.m. and 9:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001)—has asked the CARF to monitor the NMCC’s air threat conference on its behalf for three or four hours, because the ATSC does not have a working STU-III secure phone. [9/11 Commission, 4/15/2004] (A chronology of the ATSC’s actions on this day will state that the keys for the ATSC’s secure phones are recalibrated at some point, and these phones then “worked fine.” [US Air Force, 9/11/2001] )
NORAD and FAA Leaders out of Contact - Three times before 10:03 a.m., when the last hijacked plane reportedly crashed (see (10:03 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001), NORAD asked for confirmation of the FAA’s presence on the NMCC’s conference, so the FAA could provide an update on the hijackings, but the FAA had not been connected at those times. As a result of the FAA’s absence from the conference, the leaders of NORAD and the FAA have effectively been out of contact with each other. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37-38]
FAA's Absence Caused Confusion over Identities of Hijacked Planes - General Richard Myers, the acting chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will later write that the lack of communication between the NMCC and the FAA has contributed to confusion at the NMCC over the flight numbers of the aircraft that were hijacked. However, according to Myers, the NMCC could not contact the FAA over ordinary phone lines because “[t]errorists who could hijack aircraft so readily could probably also eavesdrop on unsecured phone lines.” [Myers, 2009, pp. 153]
Air traffic controllers at the FAA’s Cleveland Center. [Source: Paul M. Walsh]Most members of staff at the FAA’s Cleveland Center are evacuated from the facility, due to a report of a small aircraft flying erratically above the center. [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. S-19 ; Newsnet5, 8/12/2002; Associated Press, 8/15/2002] The Cleveland Center, in Oberlin, Ohio, had the last contact with Flight 93 before it crashed. [Associated Press, 6/15/2002] The center’s air traffic controllers have been working on clearing the skies over the US after FAA facilities were ordered to instruct all aircraft to land at the nearest airport (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Newsnet5, 8/12/2002; Lake County News-Herald, 9/10/2011]
Operations Manager Orders Evacuation - The police in Oberlin now contact the Cleveland Center and warn it about a small plane that is still airborne and circling above the facility. As a result, the decision is made to evacuate the center. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001, pp. 9 ; Associated Press, 8/15/2002; Cleveland Plain Dealer, 7/3/2011] The order to evacuate is apparently given by Leo Wolbers, the center’s operations manager. Wolbers will later recall, “[W]e made the decision to evacuate all non-essential personnel and get as many controllers out as possible.” He will say that he gathers together the supervisors at the center “to make sure they all knew to tell their controllers to get the planes down as quickly and safely as possible, and then leave the center.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/19/2001, pp. 6-7 ; 9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003 ] Non-essential personnel are sent home, while essential personnel who leave the building go to the parking lot. By 10:30 a.m., the facility will be running on a skeleton crew of eight controllers and eight supervisors.
Center Considered a Possible Terrorist Target - The Cleveland Center is evacuated “because someone feared the facility could be targeted for a terrorist attack,” according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/12/2001, pp. 70 ; Cleveland Plain Dealer, 7/3/2011] But Bill Keaton, a controller at the center, thinks to himself that “the evacuation [is] a little silly.” He will comment: “Though Cleveland Center might be a great strategic target, it was an awful terrorist target. Most people have no idea what goes on at a [air traffic control] center, and the terrorists were striking symbolic targets… the World Trade Center, the Pentagon.” [Lorain Morning Journal, 9/11/2011]
Center Is Searched - Around the time it is being evacuated, the Cleveland Center is receiving a number of bomb threats (see 10:07 a.m.-10:21 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. S-17, S-19 ] Possibly in response to these, the building is searched, apparently during the period when many of its employees are outside in the parking lot. Wolbers will recall, “After we got all of our aircraft on the ground, we went to one person in each area until the building was searched and found to be secure.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/19/2001, pp. 6-7 ] Around two hours after the evacuation, employees who left the building but have not gone home will go back inside and return to their posts. By then, though, the airspace will be empty, apart from some military aircraft, and so the controllers will have little to do. [Cleveland Plain Dealer, 7/3/2011]
Identity of Plane Unknown - The suspicious aircraft that prompted the evacuation is not identified. Rick Kettell, the manager of the Cleveland Center, will recall that it “flew off to the north and we lost radar on it.” Eleven months after 9/11, the FAA will reportedly still be investigating what the plane was and what it was doing. [Newsnet5, 8/12/2002]
In a phone call with Vice President Dick Cheney, President Bush authorizes the military to shoot down hostile aircraft. Minutes earlier, in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, a military aide had asked Cheney for the authority to engage what appeared to be an inbound aircraft, and Cheney had promptly given it (see (Between 10:10 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). During a subsequent quiet moment, deputy White House chief of staff Josh Bolten, who is also in the PEOC, suggested to Cheney that he contact the president to confirm the engage order. Therefore at 10:18 a.m., according to White House logs, Cheney calls Bush, who is on board Air Force One, and speaks with him for two minutes. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer notes that at 10:20 a.m., Bush informs him that he has authorized the shootdown of aircraft, if necessary. According to the 9/11 Commission, “Fleischer’s 10:20 note is the first mention of shootdown authority.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 41 and 465] Bush’s senior adviser Karl Rove, who is also on Air Force One, gives a similar account, later telling NBC News that “at about 10:20,” Bush goes from his office into the private cabin in front of it, “and took a phone call, and came back in and said that he had talked to the vice president and to the secretary of defense and gave the authorization that [the] military could shoot down any planes not under control of their crews that were gearing critical targets.” [MSNBC, 9/11/2002] But other accounts indicate the president gives the shootdown authorization earlier than this. Bush and Cheney will claim that Bush gives the authorization during a call estimated to occur between about 10:00 and 10:15 (see (Between 10:00 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 40] Similarly, according to journalists Bob Woodward and Bill Sammon, Bush gives it in a call with Cheney soon after 9:56, when Air Force One takes off (see (Shortly After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 102; Woodward, 2002, pp. 17-18; Washington Post, 1/27/2002] Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke says it is given even earlier. He states that, at some point between about 9:38 and 9:56, he is instructed to tell the Pentagon it has authorization from the president to shoot down hostile aircraft (see (9:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [ABC News, 11/29/2003; Clarke, 2004, pp. 8]
An aircraft at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. [Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer]Delta Air Lines Flight 1989, a Boeing 767 out of Boston that is wrongly suspected of being hijacked (see 9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (Shortly After 9:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001), lands at Cleveland Hopkins Airport in Ohio, and is directed to a remote area of the airport. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/16/2001; USA Today, 8/13/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 27-28; WKYC, 9/11/2006]
Plane Flies Long Path toward Airport - Delta Air Lines had been concerned about Flight 1989, and ordered it to land as soon as possible in Cleveland (see (9:42 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 167; USA Today, 9/11/2008] As it was heading in to land, air traffic controllers instructed Delta 1989 to follow a trajectory that initially took it far past Cleveland Airport. Unknown to the plane’s pilots, the controllers incorrectly believe the flight has been hijacked and contains a bomb, and they were therefore making time to evacuate the airport before the plane landed (see (9:50 a.m. and After) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 191]
Plane Directed to Remote Area - Once Delta 1989 is on the ground, the Cleveland Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) informs the FAA’s Cleveland Center that Delta 1989 is “on the ground at 1418,” where “1418” means 10:18 a.m. Cleveland Center asks, “Very safely too, I hope?” The TRACON responds that the plane is being taken to the bomb area to check. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/16/2001] Delta 1989 is directed to “taxi left onto taxiway Bravo and wait there.” This taxiway leads to a remote part of the airport that is far away from the terminal. The pilot does as instructed. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 229]
Passengers Not Allowed Off - The pilots radio the airport’s air traffic control tower and say: “Just to make sure we don’t have any misunderstandings here, our flaps are up, we are landing only as a precaution at the company’s request. You understand that?” They ask if they are going to get to their gate soon, but the controller responds that city authorities are in charge and he believes people will be coming to search the aircraft. The controller advises that city authorities have said to keep the plane’s passengers on the aircraft for now. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/16/2001] The passengers and crew will have to remain on board for perhaps a couple of hours, until FBI agents allow them off (see 11:28 a.m.-12:23 p.m. September 11, 2001). [WKYC, 9/11/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 270-271]
Conflicting Reports of Landing Time - Subsequent accounts will give conflicting times for when Delta 1989 lands at Cleveland Airport. According to a detailed timeline provided by the airport’s control tower, the aircraft is “on the ground” at 10:18 a.m. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/16/2001] Several accounts will give similar landing times of between 10:05 a.m. and 10:10 a.m. [Federal Aviation Administration, 1/2/2002 ; USA Today, 8/13/2002] But a NORAD official will tell the 9/11 Commission that Delta 1989 landed at 9:47 a.m. [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003] Other accounts will say it lands at between 10:33 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. [Associated Press, 9/11/2001; Associated Press, 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 ]
An air traffic controller at the FAA’s Boston Center is concerned about an unidentified aircraft flying in from the east, approaching Cape Cod. Colin Scoggins, the military liaison at the Boston Center in Nashua, New Hampshire, has noticed the large, slow-moving target on his radar screen. It is just off the coast and heading directly for Boston. Concerned as to what the aircraft is, he phones the Fleet Area Control and Surveillance Facility in Virginia Beach, Virginia. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 242] The facility, known by its call sign, “Giant Killer,” is the Navy air traffic control agency that handles all over-water military operations. [New York Times, 2/10/1997; Spencer, 2008, pp. 143] Scoggins says: “We have a large, slow-moving target approaching Cape Cod and heading for Boston. Do you have it? What is it?” The person at Giant Killer only replies, “We’re looking,” and then mentions, “We’ve got a fleet of ships heading toward the northeast and an Aegis cruiser [a high-tech warship] on the way.” Scoggins is worried that Giant Killer is unable to specifically identify the target he is seeing on his radar screen. It appears to be flying straight toward the Boston Center. He thinks to himself, “If I wanted to use airliners to attack a country, I would take out their air traffic control facilities!” Scoggins continues watching the suspicious aircraft on his radar screen. Shortly afterward, the Boston Center will be evacuated after the FAA’s New England regional office calls it and reports an unidentified aircraft heading toward the facility (see (Shortly After 10:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 242-243] This is apparently a different aircraft to the one Scoggins is tracking. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/20/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002 ] Whether the plane Scoggins is tracking is ever identified is unclear.
Jon Treacy. [Source: US Air Force]Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, receives the order from NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) to launch all its available fighter jets.
Commander Briefs Pilots - A number of Otis pilots that were recalled from a training mission about an hour earlier (see (9:25 a.m.-9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and other pilots that have recently come to the base from their homes are gathered in front of the operations desk. Squadron commander Lieutenant Colonel Jon Treacy tells them: “This is what we know. This is clearly a national emergency. Two aircraft have been hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center. The Pentagon has been attacked. We need to get all our jets ready to go because we’re not sure where this is heading. We have information that there are more coming.” He instructs the pilots: “You must be prepared to meet any surprise.… You may be taking out an airliner. You must engage. You cannot fail. Our nation is relying on us.” He gives them their assignments, saying whether they are required to fly now or whether they will be needed later on, to take over when other pilots have landed.
Launch Order Received - Just after Treacy finishes giving his briefing, someone comes into the room yelling out that NEADS has called the base with important orders. The person says, “We have to get everything we have airborne now!” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 244-245] NEADS started contacting Air National Guard bases around the Northeast US by about 10:00 a.m., with the instruction to get their fighters airborne (see (Between 9:50 a.m. and 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Toledo Blade, 12/9/2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 180]
Pilots Head Out, but Most Jets Not Yet Armed - Treacy yells at his men, “Go, go, go!” and then the pilots run out to their aircraft. But, according to author Lynn Spencer, since the time the group of pilots returned from their training mission, “there has not been time to do much more than fuel their jets.” Most of the base’s fighters “are still unarmed. Despite the furious pace of the weapons handlers, only a handful of jets have been uploaded with some armament.” The first two F-15s that take off from Otis Air Base in response to the NEADS order will both be unarmed (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 245-246] Another two F-15s will take off shortly after them with their guns loaded, but one of them will have only one missile loaded instead of two (see (Shortly After 10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Cape Cod Times, 9/11/2006; Richard, 2010, pp. 15-16, 18] Two F-15s that are kept on alert at Otis Air Base took off at 8:46 a.m. in response to the hijacking of Flight 11 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20]
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