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Fireman Mike Kehoe heads upstairs while others flee downstairs. Kehoe luckily survived the building collapses. [Source: John Labriola]In the lobby of Building 7 of the WTC, EMS Division Chief John Peruggia is in discussion with Fire Department Captain Richard Rotanz and a representative from the Department of Buildings. As Peruggia later describes, “It was brought to my attention, it was believed that the structural damage that was suffered to the [Twin] Towers was quite significant and they were very confident that the building’s stability was compromised and they felt that the North Tower was in danger of a near imminent collapse.” Peruggia grabs EMT Richard Zarrillo and tells him to pass on the message “that the buildings have been compromised, we need to evacuate, they’re going to collapse.” Zarrillo heads out to the fire command post, situated in front of 3 World Financial, the American Express Building, where he relays this message to several senior firefighters. He says, “OEM says the buildings are going to collapse; we need to get out.” (OEM is the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management, which has its headquarters in WTC 7.) Fire Chief Pete Ganci’s response is, “who the f___ told you that?” Seconds later, they hear the noise of the South Tower as it collapses. [City of New York, 10/23/2001; City of New York, 10/25/2001; City of New York, 10/25/2001; City of New York, 11/9/2001] Others also appear to have been aware of the imminent danger. Fire Chief Joseph Pfeifer, who is at the command post in the lobby of the North Tower, says, “Right before the South Tower collapsed, I noticed a lot of people just left the lobby, and I heard we had a crew of all different people, high-level people in government, everybody was gone, almost like they had information that we didn’t have.” He says some of them are moving to a new command post across the street. [City of New York, 10/23/2001; Firehouse Magazine, 4/2002; Dwyer and Flynn, 2005, pp. 214] Mayor Giuliani also says he receives a prior warning of the first collapse, while at his temporary headquarters at 75 Barclay Street (see (Before 9:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Large amounts of gold are stored in vaults in the massive basement below the WTC, and some of this is being transported through the basement this morning. Several weeks later, recovery workers will discover hundreds of ingots in a service tunnel below WTC 5, along with a ten-wheel lorry and some cars (which were, presumably, transporting the gold) (see (Mid-October-mid November 2001)). The lorry and cars had been crushed by falling steel, but no bodies will be reported found with them, so presumably they were abandoned before the first WTC collapse, at 9:59 a.m. [New York Daily News, 10/31/2001; London Times, 11/1/2001]
Since around 9:54, Flight 93 passenger Elizabeth Wainio has been speaking by phone with her stepmother Esther Heymann (see (9:54 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 44] Wainio ends her call saying, “They’re getting ready to break into the cockpit. I have to go. I love you. Good-bye.” She then hangs up. [Longman, 2002, pp. 172] The 9/11 Commission concludes that the passengers’ revolt against the hijackers that Wainio is referring to begins at 9:57 a.m. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 45] Yet according to journalist and author Jere Longman, Wainio’s call lasts 11 minutes, and ends at “just past ten” o’clock, which is several minutes after the revolt starts. [Longman, 2002, pp. 171-172] In fact, if Wainio’s call began around 9:54, as is officially claimed, and lasts 11 minutes, it would end around 10:05. This is after official accounts claim Flight 93 crashed, but before the crash time of 10:06 later provided by an analysis of seismic records (see (10:03 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, according to the 9/11 Commission and a summary of passenger phone calls presented at the 2006 Zacarias Moussaoui trial, Wainio’s call only lasts four-and-a-half minutes. This would mean it ends just shortly after the passenger revolt begins. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; Kim and Baum, 2002 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 30; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 44 and 46; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006]
[Source: Family photo]CeeCee Lyles says to her husband, “Aah, it feels like the plane’s going down.” Her husband Lorne says, “What’s that?” She replies, “I think they’re going to do it. they’re forcing their way into the cockpit” (an alternate version says, “they’re getting ready to force their way into the cockpit”). A little later she screams, then says, “they’re doing it! they’re doing it! they’re doing it!” Her husband hears more screaming in the background, then he hears a “whooshing sound, a sound like wind,” then more screaming, and then the call breaks off. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/28/2001; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/28/2001; Longman, 2002, pp. 180]
McChord Air Force Base. [Source: Michel Teiten]Major Kevin Nasypany, the mission crew commander at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), calls NORAD’s Western Air Defense Sector (WADS), which is at McChord Air Force Base in Washington State, to request assistance. He says: “I’d like to… steal some aircraft out of Fargo from you guys.… Bring up the weapons too, if possible,” to which WADS replies: “Yep, ok. We will do that.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001] The three F-16s launched from Langley Air Force Base at 9:30 (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001) are in fact from the North Dakota Air National Guard’s 119th Fighter Wing, which, though based at Fargo, ND, has had a detachment of two F-16s on alert at Langley since late 2000. However, these are under the command of NEADS, not WADS. [Virginian-Pilot, 9/22/2001; New York Times, 10/16/2001; McChord Air Museum, 2007] It is therefore not clear what specific fighters are now being referred to when Nasypany speaks of the “aircraft out of Fargo,” nor is it clear if and when these planes are launched. Colonel John Cromwell, the commander of WADS, will later recall that he calls every fighter wing commander west of the Mississippi, and by midday (3:00 p.m. ET) has more than 100 fighter jets on alert. [News Tribune (Tacoma, WA), 6/3/2006]
[Source: Family photo]An emergency call is received at the 911 center in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, from Edward Felt, a passenger on Flight 93. [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 9/8/2002] Felt makes the 911 call using his cell phone. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 45; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006] It is answered by dispatcher John Shaw, on a line at the center specifically for incoming cell phone calls. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/12/2001 ; Longman, 2002, pp. 193] Glenn Cramer, a supervisor at the 911 center, hears Shaw responding to the caller, “You are what hijacked?” and consequently picks up a phone that allows him to listen in on the rest of Felt’s call. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/12/2001 ; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/7/2001]
Call Center Workers Mishear Name - Felt identifies himself. Shaw and Cramer apparently mishear, and both will recall that he says his name is “Ed Wart.” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001 ; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/12/2001 ] (The FBI will initially refuse to disclose the caller’s name to the press, but he is later revealed to have been Edward Felt, a 41-year-old engineer from New Jersey. [Washington Post, 9/12/2001; Longman, 2002, pp. 194; New York Times, 3/27/2002] ) Felt says, “We are being hijacked, we are being hijacked!” He repeatedly states that his call is not a hoax. [ABC News, 9/11/2001; Associated Press, 9/11/2001] He says the passengers need help immediately. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001 ]
Felt Answers Questions about His Flight, but Does Not Describe Hijackers - Shaw asks Felt standard questions, such as where is he? What type of plane is he on? And what has happened? [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/11/2002] Felt tells Shaw his cell phone number and says he is on United Airlines Flight 93 from Newark to San Francisco. [Longman, 2002, pp. 193-194; Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 9/11/2002; United States of America v. Zacarias Moussaoui, a/k/a Shaqil, a/k/a Abu Khalid al Sahrawi, Defendant., 4/11/2006 ] He says he is locked in the bathroom of the plane, but does not say if this is its front or rear bathroom. He does not say anything about how many hijackers are on board, nor make any statements about any weapons the hijackers may possess. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/12/2001 ] Nor does he mention any attempt by the passengers to regain control of the plane. [Longman, 2002, pp. 196]
Felt Describes 'Lots of Passengers,' though Plane Is Mostly Empty - Shaw will recall to the FBI that Felt tells him the plane is loaded with numerous passengers. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001 ] Glenn Cramer will similarly tell the FBI that Felt describes “lots of passengers” on board. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/12/2001 ] Yet there are only 37 passengers (including the four hijackers) on Flight 93, constituting just 20 percent of its passenger capacity of 182. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 36] Felt says: “We’re going down. We’re going down.” [New York Times, 3/27/2002; Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 9/11/2002] Cramer will say that Felt describes an explosion on the aircraft and smoke coming from it, but others—including Shaw—will deny this (see (Between 9:58 a.m. and 9:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Associated Press, 9/11/2001; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/12/2001 ; Longman, 2002, pp. 264; Valley News Dispatch, 9/11/2002]
Call Ends after One Minute - Shaw will tell the FBI the call lasts “less than five minutes” before the line disconnects. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001 ] According to other accounts, it lasts just over one minute. [Dayton Daily News, 9/12/2001; Longman, 2002, pp. 197; Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 9/8/2002; Valley News Dispatch, 9/11/2002] After the call ends, other employees at the Westmoreland County 911 center are instructed to notify the FBI and the FAA about it. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/12/2001 ] When the FBI arrives at the center, it will immediately take possession of the tape of Felt’s call. [Washington Post, 9/12/2001; Philadelphia Daily News, 11/15/2001]
According to an emergency call center supervisor who listens in on the call, when passenger Edward Felt phones 911 from Flight 93 to report that his plane has been hijacked, he says he has heard an explosion and sees smoke coming from the plane. But others will explicitly deny this. [Associated Press, 9/11/2001; New York Times, 3/27/2002] Felt called 911 on his cell phone at 9:58 a.m., and talks to a dispatcher at the 911 center in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania (see 9:58 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Longman, 2002, pp. 193; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 45]
Said to Mention Explosion - Glenn Cramer, a supervisor at the center, listens in on the call on a separate line. The following day, he will tell the FBI that Felt said “some sort of explosion had occurred aboard the aircraft,” and “that there was white smoke somewhere on the plane.” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/12/2001 ; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/7/2001] Cramer will similarly tell the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Felt said he “did hear some sort of an explosion and saw white smoke coming from the plane, but he didn’t know where.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/12/2001] Some people will later cite this account as evidence that Flight 93 was shot down by the military to prevent it reaching its target, or was brought down when a bomb on board went off. [Philadelphia Daily News, 11/15/2001; New York Times, 3/27/2002; Independent, 8/13/2002; Mirror, 9/12/2002; Philadelphia Daily News, 9/16/2002]
Account Disputed - However, others dispute Cramer’s account. John Shaw, the dispatcher who Felt talks to, will apparently make no mention of Felt reporting an explosion or smoke when he is interviewed by the FBI later in the day. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001 ] And, in 2002, Shaw will state specifically that Felt made no mention of any explosion or smoke. “Didn’t happen,” he will say. Sandra Felt, the wife of Edward Felt, will hear the recording of the 911 call and subsequently also say her husband did not mention an explosion or smoke. [Longman, 2002, pp. 264; New York Times, 3/27/2002; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 4/21/2002; Valley News Dispatch, 9/11/2002] Authorities will not explain Cramer’s contradictory account, and in September 2002 Britain’s Daily Mirror will report, “Glenn Cramer has now been gagged by the FBI.” [Philadelphia Daily News, 11/15/2001; Mirror, 9/12/2002]
According to New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s 9/11 Commission testimony in 2004, about one minute before the first WTC tower falls, he is able to reach the White House by phone. Speaking to Chris Henick, deputy political director to President Bush, Giuliani learns the Pentagon has been hit and he asks about fighter cover over New York City. Henick replies, “The jets were dispatched 12 minutes ago and they should be there very shortly, and they should be able to defend you against further attack.” [9/11 Commission, 5/19/2004] If this is true, it means fighters scramble from the Otis base around 9:46 a.m., not at 8:52 a.m., as most other accounts have claimed. While Giuliani’s account may seem wildly off, it is consistent with reports shortly after 9/11. In the first few days, acting Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers, and a NORAD spokesman, Marine Corps Major Mike Snyder, claimed no fighters were scrambled anywhere until after the Pentagon was hit. [US Congress, 9/13/2001; Boston Globe, 9/15/2001] This story only changed on the evening of September 14, 2001, when CBS reported, “contrary to early reports, US Air Force jets did get into the air on Tuesday while the attacks were under way.” [CBS News, 9/14/2001]
People inside the World Trade Center flee down a stairway. [Source: Shannon Stapleton]Almost all the occupants of the South Tower who are able to evacuate the building have done so and have crossed the street to safety. Only 11 occupants who were below the impact floors are still in the building when it collapses. However, 619 building occupants in or above the impact zone have either already died or perish in the collapse, as do many emergency workers. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. xxxix, 44] Most workers in the North Tower also leave the building before it collapses (see 10:27 a.m. September 11, 2001).
Lynne Cheney conferring with Dick Cheney in the early afternoon on 9/11. [Source: David Bohrer / White House]Vice President Dick Cheney, accompanied by his wife, enters the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC), a bunker below the East Wing of the White House, after being evacuated from his office by the Secret Service. [Newsweek, 12/30/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 39-40] Secret Service agents hurried Cheney out of his office in the West Wing of the White House at around 9:36 a.m., according to some accounts (see (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001), although other accounts will suggest he was evacuated from there at around 9:03 a.m. (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [New York Times, 9/13/2001; ABC News, 9/14/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 39-40; Gellman, 2008, pp. 115] Cheney paused in an underground tunnel leading to the PEOC (see (9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001), where he talked on the phone with President Bush (see (9:45 a.m.-9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and was joined by his wife, Lynne Cheney, after she arrived at the White House (see (9:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 40]
Cheney and Wife Go into Conference Room - After he finishes his call with the president, the vice president goes with his wife into the PEOC. [Cheney and Cheney, 2011, pp. 2] They pass through a small communications studio and then turn left into a larger conference room. [Gellman, 2008, pp. 116] There is “conflicting evidence” about when Cheney arrives in the conference room, according to the 9/11 Commission Report. The 9/11 Commission will conclude, however, that he enters it “shortly before 10:00, perhaps at 9:58.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 40]
Cheney Now in a Position to 'Receive Reports' and 'Make Decisions' - In the middle of the conference room, according to journalist and author Stephen Hayes, “is a rectangular wood table, long enough to seat 16 people comfortably. At several places around the table, drawers contain a white telephone for secure communications. A second row of chairs along the wall provides room for support staff.” The vice president takes his place at the center of the table. [Hayes, 2007, pp. 337-338] Cheney will describe: “On the wall across from me were two large television screens and a camera for videoconferencing. A side wall contained another video camera and two more TV screens.” [Cheney and Cheney, 2011, pp. 2] He will comment that in the conference room, he is “in a position to be able to see all the stuff coming in, receive reports, and then make decisions in terms of acting with it.” [Meet the Press, 9/16/2001]
Cheney Starts 'Working the Problem' - Cheney will recall that shortly after he enters the conference room, he watches the first World Trade Center tower collapsing on television (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001). Then, he will say, he “plugged in and start[ed] working the phones and working the problem.” [White House, 11/19/2001] A short time after he enters the PEOC, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, Cheney will talk over the phone with the president (see (Between 10:00 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 40]
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice enters the underground tunnel leading to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC)—the bunker below the White House—where she encounters Vice President Dick Cheney, and then heads into the PEOC. Rice has been escorted down from the White House Situation Room by Carl Truscott, the Secret Service special agent in charge of the presidential protective division, who told her she had to go to the PEOC (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [United States Secret Service, 10/1/2001; White House, 8/6/2002] Before she left the Situation Room, Rice briefly talked on the phone with President Bush (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [White House, 8/2/2002; White House, 8/6/2002]
Rice Meets Cheney in Underground Tunnel - When Rice and Truscott enter the underground tunnel that leads to the PEOC, they encounter Cheney and his wife, Lynne Cheney, along with one of Cheney’s Secret Service agents. [United States Secret Service, 10/1/2001] Cheney was being taken to the PEOC by his Secret Service agents (see (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001, but stopped in an area of the underground tunnel where there is a secure telephone, in order to speak to Bush (see (9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (9:45 a.m.-9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Lynne Cheney joined him there after she arrived at the White House (see (9:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 39-40] Cheney is still on the phone with Bush when Truscott and Rice meet him. Truscott advises the group assembled in the tunnel to move on to the PEOC. [United States Secret Service, 10/1/2001]
Rice Heads into the PEOC - Rice subsequently goes from the tunnel into the PEOC, although the exact time when she does so is unclear. She enters the PEOC “shortly after the vice president,” according to the 9/11 Commission Report, which will state that Cheney arrives in the PEOC at around 9:58 a.m. (see (9:58 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 40] Rice must enter the PEOC before 9:59 a.m., since she is there at the time the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapses, as will be confirmed by a photo taken at that time (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Newsweek, 12/30/2001; Bumiller, 2007, pp. xiii; Washington Post, 6/24/2007]
Rice Calls Relatives in Alabama - In the PEOC, Rice takes a seat next to Cheney. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 40; Bumiller, 2007, pp. xiii] The first thing she does after arriving, according to some accounts, is call her aunt and uncle in Birmingham, Alabama, to tell them to inform her family that she is okay. [White House, 10/24/2001; O, the Oprah Magazine, 2/1/2002; White House, 8/2/2002; New York Times, 9/11/2002] But other accounts will say she called them just before she headed out from the Situation Room. [White House, 11/1/2001; White House, 8/7/2002; Associated Press, 9/9/2002; Bumiller, 2007, pp. xiii]
James Nieckarz. [Source: Maryknoll Mission Archives]Police officers order members of the public to get away from the World Trade Center, telling them the Twin Towers are in danger of collapsing. Shanthy Nambiar, a reporter for BridgeNews in New York, is standing on Vesey Street, beneath Building 7 of the WTC. She hears someone shout, “You guys shouldn’t be in this area.” She will later recall, “Police officers ordered people to start fleeing the area, saying the towers were in danger of collapse.” She runs north one block and then sees the South Tower coming down (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Casey, 2001, pp. 156] Priest Father James Nieckarz is also standing outside Building 7 around this time. He will recall that a couple of police officers come along, shouting out to everyone on the street: “Everyone run to the north. The tower is shaking and may come down.” Nieckarz goes around Building 7 and then, as he is walking north, hears “a loud rumbling roar” behind him as the South Tower collapses. [Salon, 9/12/2001; United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 9/2003, pp. 15] Why the police officers encountered by Nambiar and Nieckarz believe the Twin Towers are in danger of collapsing is unclear. Although a New York City Police Department (NYPD) helicopter has reported “large pieces” falling from the South Tower (see (9:49 a.m.) September 11, 2001), the 9/11 Commission Report will state, “Prior to 9:59, no NYPD helicopter pilot predicted that either tower would collapse.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 304]
The South Tower of the World Trade Center collapses. [Source: Associated Press]The South Tower of the World Trade Center tilts to the southeast and then collapses. It was hit by Flight 175 at 9:03 a.m., 56 minutes earlier (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 9/12/2001; New York Times, 9/12/2001; MSNBC, 9/22/2001; USA Today, 12/20/2001; Associated Press, 8/21/2002; ABC News, 9/11/2002; National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 44] The first sign of the collapse is visible on floor 82. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 87] The angle of the tilt will be disputed after 9/11 (see September-November 2005), as will the time it takes the towers to fall to the ground (see September 12, 2001-September 2005). [Scientific American, 10/9/2001; Eagar and Musso, 12/2001; PBS Nova, 5/2002; National Institute of Standards and Technology, 8/30/2006]
Numerous witnesses, including firefighters and other rescue workers, hear explosions at the start of, and during, the collapse of the south WTC tower. Some of them report hearing a single explosion:
Jeff Birnbaum: “There was an explosion and the whole top leaned toward us and started coming down.” [Electrical Wholesaling, 2/1/2002]
Battalion Chief John Sudnik: “[W]e heard a loud explosion or what sounded like a loud explosion and looked up and I saw Tower Two start coming down.” [City of New York, 11/7/2001]
Firefighter Edward Kennedy hears “a tremendous boom, explosion… and the top of the building was coming down at us.” [City of New York, 1/17/2002]
Firefighter Edward Sheehey hears “an explosion, looked up, and the building started to collapse.” [City of New York, 12/4/2001]
Battalion Chief Thomas Vallebuona: “I heard ‘boom,’ an exploding sound, a real loud bang. I looked up, and I could see the Trade Center starting to come down.” [City of New York, 1/2/2002]
EMT Julio Marrero: “I heard a loud bang. We looked up, and we just saw the building starting to collapse.” [City of New York, 10/25/2001]
Other witnesses report hearing multiple explosions:
Journalist Pete Hamill: “We heard snapping sounds, pops, little explosions, and then the walls bulged out, and we heard a sound like an avalanche.” [New York Daily News, 9/11/2001]
Police officer Sue Keane, who is an Army veteran, is located in the north WTC tower: “[I]t sounded like bombs going off. That’s when the explosions happened.… It started to get dark, then all of a sudden there was this massive explosion.” [Hagen and Carouba, 2002, pp. 65]
Firefighter Keith Murphy, who is in the lobby of the North Tower: “[T]he first thing that happened, which I still think is strange to me, the lights went out.… I had heard right before the lights went out, I had heard a distant boom boom boom, sounded like three explosions.… At the time, I would have said they sounded like bombs, but it was boom boom boom and then the lights all go out.… I would say about 3, 4 seconds, all of a sudden this tremendous roar.” [City of New York, 12/5/2001]
Firefighter Craig Carlsen hears “explosions coming from building two, the South Tower. It seemed like it took forever, but there were about ten explosions.… We then realized the building started to come down.” [City of New York, 1/25/2002]
Firefighter Thomas Turilli, who is in the lobby of the North Tower: “[A]ll of a sudden you just heard like it almost actually that day sounded like bombs going off, like boom, boom, boom, like seven or eight, and then just a huge wind gust just came… It just seemed like a huge explosion.” [City of New York, 1/17/2002]
Firefighter Stephen Viola: “[T]hat’s when the South Tower collapsed, and it sounded like a bunch of explosions. You heard like loud booms.” [City of New York, 1/10/2002]
Firefighter Lance Lizzul: “[W]e heard some bangs. That made us look up, and that’s when the first Trade Center came down.” [City of New York, 12/10/2001]
Paramedic Kevin Darnowski: “I heard three explosions, and then we heard like groaning and grinding, and Tower Two started to come down.” [City of New York, 11/9/2001]
However, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which conducts a three-year study of the WTC collapses, will subsequently claim it found “no corroborating evidence for alternative hypotheses suggesting that the WTC towers were brought down by controlled demolition using explosives” (see October 26, 2005). [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 146]
Entity Tags: Julio Marrero, Stephen Viola, John Sudnik, Craig Carlsen, Ed Kennedy, Keith Murphy, Kevin Darnowski, Pete Hamill, Edward Sheehey, World Trade Center, Lance Lizzul, Thomas Vallebuona, Sue Keane, Jeff Birnbaum, Thomas Turilli
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Deputy Fire Commissioner Thomas Fitzpatrick. [Source: City of New York]Numerous witnesses to the collapse of the south WTC tower think it resembles a demolition using explosives. Some initially believe this is what is occurring:
Reporter John Bussey watches the collapse from the Wall Street Journal’s offices across the street from the WTC. He says, “I… looked up out of the office window to see what seemed like perfectly synchronized explosions coming from each floor, spewing glass and metal outward. One after the other, from top to bottom, with a fraction of a second between, the floors blew to pieces.” [Wall Street Journal, 9/12/2001]
Deputy Fire Commissioner Thomas Fitzpatrick: “I remember seeing, it looked like sparkling around one specific layer of the building.… Then the building started to come down. My initial reaction was that this was exactly the way it looks when they show you those implosions on TV.” [City of New York, 10/1/2001]
Assistant Fire Commissioner Stephen Gregory: “I saw low-level flashes. In my conversation with Lieutenant Evangelista… he questioned me and asked me if I saw low-level flashes in front of the building, and I agreed with him… I saw a flash flash flash and then it looked like the building came down.… You know like when they demolish a building, how when they blow up a building, when it falls down? That’s what I thought I saw.” [City of New York, 10/3/2001]
Firefighter Richard Banaciski: “It seemed like on television they blow up these buildings. It seemed like it was going all the way around like a belt, all these explosions.” [City of New York, 12/6/2001]
Firefighter Joseph Meola: “As we are looking up at the building, what I saw was, it looked like the building was blowing out on all four sides. We actually heard the pops.… You thought it was just blowing out.” [City of New York, 12/11/2001]
Fire Chief Frank Cruthers: “[T]here was what appeared to be at first an explosion. It appeared at the very top, simultaneously from all four sides, materials shot out horizontally. And then there seemed to be a momentary delay before you could see the beginning of the collapse.” [City of New York, 10/31/2001]
Battalion Chief Brian Dixon: “I was watching the fire… the lowest floor of fire in the South Tower actually looked like someone had planted explosives around it because the whole bottom I could see—I could see two sides of it and the other side—it just looked like that floor blew out.… I thought, geez, this looks like an explosion up there, it blew out.” [City of New York, 10/25/2001]
Firefighter Timothy Burke: “Then the building popped, lower than the fire… I was going oh, my god, there is secondary device because the way the building popped I thought it was an explosion.” [City of New York, 1/22/2002]
Firefighter Edward Cachia: “It actually gave at a lower floor, not the floor where the plane hit, because we originally had thought there was like an internal detonation explosives because it went in succession, boom, boom, boom, boom, and then the tower came down.” [City of New York, 12/6/2001]
Firefighter Kenneth Rogers: “[T]here was an explosion in the South Tower… I kept watching. Floor after floor after floor. One floor under another after another and when it hit about the fifth floor, I figured it was a bomb, because it looked like a synchronized deliberate kind of thing.” [City of New York, 12/10/2001]
Reporter Beth Fertig: “The tower went down perfectly straight, as if a demolition crew had imploded it. I wondered if it was being brought down deliberately.” [Gilbert et al., 2002, pp. 78]
Paramedic Daniel Rivera: “[D]o you ever see professional demolition where they set the charges on certain floors and then you hear ‘Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop’? That’s exactly what—because I thought it was that.” [City of New York, 10/10/2001]
Battalion Chief Dominick DeRubbio: “It was weird how it started to come down. It looked like it was a timed explosion.” [City of New York, 10/12/2001]
The Guardian will report that police on the scene said the collapse “looked almost like a ‘planned implosion’ designed to catch bystanders watching from the street.” [Guardian, 9/12/2001]
However, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which conducts a three-year study of the WTC collapses, will reject suggestions that the WTC towers were brought down with explosives (see August 30, 2006). CTV will assert, “[F]lashes of light that seemed to indicate bombs detonating were not explosions. They were pockets of airs being forced out of windows as the sagging floors pushed downward.” [CTV, 9/12/2006]
Entity Tags: Stephen Gregory, Edward Cachia, Dominick DeRubbio, Beth Fertig, Frank Cruthers, John Bussey, Richard Banaciski, Kenneth Rogers, World Trade Center, Joseph Meola, Timothy Burke, Brian Dixon, Daniel Rivera, Thomas Fitzpatrick
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
A GTE Airfone recovered from the debris of Flight 93 in Pennsylvania. [Source: Smithsonian National Museum of American History]After Flight 93 passenger Todd Beamer has finished speaking to GTE customer service supervisor Lisa Jefferson (see Shortly Before 9:58 a.m. September 11, 2001), he puts down the seatback phone he has been talking on but leaves the line connected. Jefferson continues listening until after the time the plane crashes, yet does not hear any sound when the crash occurs. As she later recalls, “I was still on the line and the plane took a dive and by then, it just went silent. I held on until after the plane crashed—probably about 15 minutes longer and I never heard a crash—it just went silent because—I can’t explain it. We didn’t lose a connection because there’s a different sound that you use. It’s a squealing sound when you lose a connection. I never lost connection, but it just went silent.” She says that soon afterwards, “they had announced over the radio that United Airlines Flight 93 had just crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and a guy put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Lisa, you can release the line now. That was his plane.‘… [E]ventually I gave in and I hung the phone up.” [Beliefnet (.com), 2006] According to a summary of the passenger phone calls presented at the 2006 trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, Beamer’s call lasts for “3,925 seconds.” As it began just before 9:44 a.m., this would mean it ends around 10:49 a.m. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006]
The World Trade Center twin towers collapse—the south tower at 9:59 a.m. and the north tower half an hour later at 10:28 a.m. [CNN, 9/12/2001; New York Times, 9/12/2001; New York Times, 9/12/2001; Washington Post, 9/12/2001; MSNBC, 9/22/2001; Associated Press, 8/21/2002] The collapses create huge dust clouds that roll through the streets of Lower Manhattan, breaking windows and forcing dust and debris into the interior of surrounding buildings.
Composition of dust - Chemicals and materials present in the billowing clouds include pulverized plaster, paint, foam, glass fibers and fragments, fiberglass, cement, vermiculite (used as a fire retardant instead of asbestos), chrysotile asbestos, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls, polychlorinated dibenzodioxins, polychlorinated dibenzofurans, pesticides, phthalate esters, brominated diphenyl ethers, cotton fibers and lint, tarry and charred wood, soot, rubber, paper and plastic. [Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Online, 9/15/2001; CNN, 11/4/2001; Lioy et al., 7/2002; US Geological Survey, 10/2002 ] The dust has an extremely high pH. [US Geological Survey, 11/27/2001; St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 2/10/2002]
Distribution of dust and debris - The debris will be distributed very unevenly throughout the city because of their varying weights. Dusts containing relatively heavy components, such as pulverized concrete and glass, will settle near the World Trade Center, whereas dust containing lighter components, like asbestos, will fall to the ground in greater relative concentrations at a further distance. Heavy metals—including zinc, strontium, lead and aluminum—will also be deposited a relatively large distance away from the disaster site. [Lioy et al., 7/2002; US Geological Survey, 10/2002 ; Jenkins, 7/4/2003 ]
Composition of smoke/debris plume - Combustible materials buried in the rubble of the towers provides fuel for a fire that will burn until December. Many of the materials are made of substances that when burned release highly toxic fumes. According to Thomas Cahill, a professor of physics and engineering,
“The debris pile acted like a chemical factory. It cooked together the components and the buildings and their contents, including enormous numbers of computers, and gave off gases of toxic metals, acids, and organics for at least six weeks.” [BBC, 9/10/2003; Reuters, 9/11/2003]
The two towers contained as many as 50,000 personal computers, each containing small amounts of mercury and about 4 lbs of lead. The towers also contained roughly 300 mainframe computers. [Nordgren, Goldstein, and Izeman, 2/2002 ; Kupferman, 2003 ]
Thousands of fluorescent lamps in the buildings contained mercury. [Nordgren, Goldstein, and Izeman, 2/2002 ; Kupferman, 2003 ]
Thousands of chairs and other office furniture contained chemicals like polybrominated diphenyl ethers, which pose dangers similar to PCBs. [Nordgren, Goldstein, and Izeman, 2/2002 ]
Several of the WTC’s tenants are known to have had toxic materials on site. For example, there was a Secret Service shooting range that kept millions of rounds of lead ammunition on hand. And a US Customs lab had in its inventory thousands of pounds of arsenic, lead, mercury, chromium, and other toxic substances. [Kupferman, 2003 ]
Other products in the buildings included synthetic fabrics, plastics, laminates, the di-electric fluids that encase electrical cables, capacitors, electrical cable insulation and transformers. The toxins resulting from the combustion of these materials include toxic lead, volatile organic compounds, dioxins (see December 27, 2002), mercury, nickel, vandium, sulphur, PAHs, PCBs and furans. [Nordgren, Goldstein, and Izeman, 2/2002 ]
Distribution of smoke/debris plume - The aerosol plume will move from the WTC site in Lower Manhattan directly over Brooklyn where it will drop much of its toxic debris, contaminating the neighborhoods of Brooklyn Heights, DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, Park Slope and beyond. New York City Council member David Yassky, who is in Brooklyn campaigning on this day, will later recount in an interview with Newsday, “There was a film of dust on everything—on cars, stores, everywhere in Brooklyn Heights. If you were there, as I was, you saw several hours of debris rain down on your neighborhood.” [Newsday, 8/23/2002; Newsday, 9/30/2002]
Employees at CIA headquarters are aware that Flight 93 is unaccounted for, and assume their building is its intended target. This is according to CIA contractor Billy Waugh, who is currently doing some work for the agency and is at its Langley headquarters at the time of the attacks. In a 2004 book, Waugh will describe: “We had witnessed the hits on the World Trade Center and knew the hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 remained unaccounted for. It was a widespread assumption within the building that this flight was headed straight for us in the CIA headquarters.” [Waugh and Keown, 2004, pp. 293-294] At around 10:00 a.m., much of CIA headquarters is evacuated, following reports of unresponsive aircraft possibly heading toward Washington (see (9:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Tenet, 2007, pp. 164] Waugh recalls, “There was no panic, just an understanding that those in my division needed to walk to the west parking lot, away from the buildings, and await the inevitable impact.” He adds that, “Upon hearing that Flight 93 had gone down in a Pennsylvania field, a couple of us returned to the HQ building to pick up any necessary gear.” [Waugh and Keown, 2004, pp. 294] The 9/11 Commission will state that Flight 93’s intended target is either the Capitol building or the White House, not CIA headquarters. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 14] However, in 2006 MSNBC will note, “to this day, the ultimate target of the terrorists on this aircraft has never been confirmed.” [MSNBC, 9/12/2006]
According to the 9/11 Commission: “An Air Force lieutenant colonel working in the White House Military Office [joins] the [NMCC’s air threat] conference and state[s] that he had just talked to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. The White House request[s]: (1) the implementation of Continuity of Government measures, (2) fighter escorts for Air Force One, and (3) the establishment of a fighter combat air patrol over Washington, DC.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke gave the order to implement the Continuity of Government plan a few minutes earlier, from inside the White House Situation Room (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Before that, he had requested a fighter escort for Air Force One (see (Between 9:30 a.m. and 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and combat air patrols over all major US cities (not just Washington), according to his own recollection (see (Between 9:38 a.m. and 9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Clarke, 2004, pp. 7-8]
An F-16 flies over New York City on September 12, 2001. Smoke is still rising from the World Trade Center.
[Source: Air National Guard]An air traffic controller at the FAA’s New York Center radios the pilots launched from Otis Air National Guard Base in response to Flight 11 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001) and tells them they may have to take out a hijacked aircraft. One of the two Otis pilots, Major Daniel Nash, will later recall, “The New York controller did come over the radio and say if we have another hijacked aircraft we’re going to have to shoot it down.” [BBC, 9/1/2002] However, he will add that this is just “an off-the-cuff statement.” [Cape Cod Times, 8/21/2002] It is unclear at what time this communication occurs, though a BBC documentary will place it at about the time the South Tower collapses, which would be around 9:59 a.m. [BBC, 9/1/2002] NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) has already radioed one of the Otis pilots to check that he is prepared to shoot down a hijacked aircraft (see (9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 153] But according to most accounts, the two pilots never receive an order from the military to shoot down hostile aircraft (see (After 9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 43; Boston Globe, 9/11/2005]
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani will become well known for his walking press conferences in the middle of the 9/11 crisis. [Source: Time Magazine/ Salient Stills]Between 9:25 a.m. and 9:45 a.m., one senior New York fire chief recommends to the Fire Department Chief of Department that there might be a WTC collapse in a few hours, and, therefore, fire units probably shouldn’t ascend much above the sixtieth floor (presumably this assumes the collapse would be gradual so those on lower floors would still have time to evacuate). This advice is not followed or not passed on. Apparently, no other senior fire chiefs mention or foresee the possibility of the WTC towers falling. [9/11 Commission, 5/19/2004] However, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani later recounts, “I went down to the scene and we set up headquarters at 75 Barclay Street, which was right there, with the police commissioner, the fire commissioner, the head of emergency management, and we were operating out of there when we were told that the World Trade Center was going to collapse. And it did collapse before we could actually get out of the building, so we were trapped in the building for ten, 15 minutes, and finally found an exit and got out, walked north, and took a lot of people with us.” [ABC News, 9/11/2001] As can be seen by another account of similar events, this happens before the first WTC tower falls, not the second. [9/11 Commission, 5/19/2004] It is not clear who tells Giuliani to evacuate when no fire chiefs were considering the possibility of an imminent collapse. However, an EMT is also given a message around this time, warning that the towers are going to collapse. The origin of this information is apparently the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management, so this may also have been from where Giuliani heard of the imminent collapse (see (Before 9:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Dick Cheney and senior staff witness the collapse of the WTC South Tower. Directly behind Cheney are Norman Mineta and I. Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice stands behind Cheney’s left shoulder. [Source: David Bohrer / White House]In the conference room of the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC), Vice President Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and their aides watch the South Tower collapsing on television. [Newsweek, 12/31/2001] Cheney will later say that the WTC coming down “was a shock to everybody—it certainly was to me.” [PBS, 9/9/2002] However, if he is indeed shocked, this is not how Cheney appears to others in the room. One witness who is present will later recall that, as the South Tower collapses, there is “a groan in the room that I won’t forget, ever. It seemed like one groan from everyone.” However, Cheney makes no sound, but closes his eyes for a long, slow blink. The witness says, “I remember turning my head and looking at the vice president, and his expression never changed.” [Washington Post, 6/24/2007] According to Mary Matalin, a counselor to the vice president, Cheney says nothing in response to the collapse, but “he emoted in a way that he emotes, which was to stop.” [CNN, 9/11/2002; CNN, 9/11/2002] When he is told that a casualty estimate ranges well into the thousands, the vice president reportedly just nods grimly. [Newsweek, 12/31/2001] According to the Washington Post, three people who are present say they see no sign now or later “of the profound psychological transformation that has often been imputed to Cheney.” What they see is “extraordinary self-containment and a rapid shift of focus to the machinery of power. While others assessed casualties and the work of ‘first responders,’ Cheney began planning for a conflict that would call upon lawyers as often as soldiers and spies.” He will promptly begin assembling the legal team that subsequently assists him in expanding presidential power (see (After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 6/24/2007]
JFK International Airport. [Source: Eheik, via Wikimedia Commons]The two F-15 fighter jets launched from Otis Air National Guard Base in response to the hijacked Flight 11 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001) are about 15 miles from the World Trade Center, flying over New York’s JFK International Airport, when the first WTC tower collapses. [Cape Cod Times, 8/21/2002; Filson, 10/22/2002; Walling, 2015, pp. 12] From 9:09 a.m. to 9:13 a.m., the fighters flew in a “holding pattern” in military-controlled airspace over the Atlantic Ocean (see 9:09 a.m.-9:13 a.m. September 11, 2001). At 9:13 a.m., they left their holding pattern and flew directly toward Manhattan (see 9:13 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20, 24] However, the fighters are 15 miles away from the WTC 46 minutes later, when the South Tower collapses (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Cape Cod Times, 8/21/2002] “When the first tower collapsed, we were headed away from Manhattan over [JFK Airport],” Major Daniel Nash, the pilot of one of the fighters, will later recall. [Filson, 10/2/2002] “When we turned around, all we saw was Lower Manhattan covered in dust and debris,” he will say. [Cape Cod Times, 8/21/2002] The other fighter is escorting a Delta Air Lines plane into JFK Airport at this time. Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Duffy, its pilot, will recall that as he is escorting the plane, “I just remember seeing some, some motion out of the corner of my eye and all I could see was a tan cloud that was over southern Manhattan.” [Fox News, 9/8/2011; WCAI, 9/9/2011] Duffy says to Nash over the radio, “It looks like the building collapsed.” Nash thinks, “There were just tens of thousands of people killed.” “I thought it was the start of World War III,” he will comment. [Cape Cod Times, 8/21/2002] The two Otis fighters arrived over Manhattan at 9:25 a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission Report (see 9:25 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 24] However, the accounts of numerous witnesses on the ground will indicate that they arrive over Manhattan sometime after 10:00 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.-10:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is told in private by Dale Watson, the head of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division: “We got the passenger manifests from the airlines. We recognize some names, Dick. They’re al-Qaeda.” Clarke asks, “How the f_ck did they get on board then?” Watson replies: “Hey, don’t shoot the messenger, friend. CIA forgot to tell us about them.” As they are talking about this, they see the first WTC tower collapse on television. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 13-14] Some hijacker names, including Mohamed Atta’s, were identified on a reservations computer over an hour earlier (see (Shortly After 8:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Scientists who work for the US Geological Survey watch the World Trade Center towers collapse on their television sets. “We sat at home, watched that gray-white cloud roll over Lower Manhattan, and knew damned well that the dust was going to hurt a lot of people,” Gregg Swayze, a USGS geophysicist, will later tell the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I knew we had the best technology in the world to determine precisely what was in that dust.” [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 2/10/2002] Swayze and other USGS scientists quickly get to work making arrangements to use USGS and NASA equipment to determine the composition of the dust clouds (see September 12, 2001).
Counterterrorist Center logo. [Source: CIA]At around 10 a.m., following reports that several aircraft were not responding to communications and could be heading toward Washington, CIA Director George Tenet orders the evacuation of the CIA headquarters building in Langley, Virginia (see (9:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, Cofer Black, the director of the Counterterrorist Center (CTC), is unhappy about this and tells Tenet, “Sir, we’re going to have to exempt CTC from this because we need to have our people working the computers.” The CTC, according to the Los Angeles Times, is “the nerve center for the CIA’s effort to disrupt and deter terrorist groups and their state sponsors.” About 200 employees are currently working in it. Eight of them are in the Global Response Center on the sixth floor of the building, monitoring the latest intelligence on terrorism throughout the world. The rest are in a windowless facility low down in the building. When Tenet points out that the Global Response Center staff will be at risk, Black responds, “They have the key function to play in a crisis like this. This is exactly why we have the Global Response Center.” When Tenet points out, “They could die,” Black replies, “Well, sir, then they’re just going to have to die.” After pausing, Tenet agrees, “You’re absolutely right.” Tenet later says, “Now that we were under attack, the Counterterrorist Center, with its vast data banks and sophisticated communications systems, was more vital than ever. Even as we were discussing going or staying, CTC was sending out a global alert to our stations around the world, ordering them to go to their liaison services and agents to collect every shred of information they could lay their hands on.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/12/2001; Woodward, 2002, pp. 8-9; Tenet, 2007, pp. 164-165]
Ray Downey. [Source: Unknown]When the WTC’s South Tower collapses, Father John Delendick—one of New York Fire Department’s chaplains—runs down a ramp to the garages below the nearby World Financial Center, to escape the dust cloud. He speaks there with Fire Chief Ray Downey, and asks him if the jet fuel from the plane had blown up, causing the collapse. [City of New York, 12/6/2001] Downey is in fact a renowned expert on building collapses. Robert Ingram, a battalion chief in the New York Fire Department later refers to him as “the premiere collapse expert in the country.” [US Congress. Senate. Committee on Commerce, 10/11/2001 ] 9/11 Commissioner Timothy Roemer calls Downey a “very, very respected expert on building collapse.” [9/11 Commission, 5/18/2004] And Fire Chief Mike Antonucci, who is a best friend of Downey’s, says he “was probably the most knowledgeable person on building collapses there was. That was his [hobby], to study building collapses—what affected the engineering of buildings, how they [would] weaken and how he could respond and stay safe.” [Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, 9/7/2006] In response to Delendick’s question, Downey replies that, “at that point he thought there were bombs up there because [the collapse] was too even.” [City of New York, 12/6/2001] Earlier on, Downey told other fire chiefs responding at the WTC that he was worried about “explosive devices” in the Twin Towers “that could hurt the firemen” (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). He is killed when the North Tower collapses at 10:28 a.m. [New York Times, 9/9/2005]
When a housekeeper at the Park Inn in Boston, where 9/11 hijackers Wail and Waleed Alshehri stayed before the attacks, attempts to clean their room, a “male of foreign descent” tells her she should not clean it yet and should return in the early afternoon, as someone is still asleep there. The hijackers are thought to have left the hotel and checked in for their flights several hours previously (see (6:20 a.m.-7:48 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The male’s identity is unknown and the housekeeper’s story appears to confuse the FBI, as an entry about it in an FBI timeline drafted after the attacks ends with five question marks. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 292 ]
Someone falling from the WTC. Well over 50 jumped or fell from the North Tower, none from the South Tower. [Source: Associated Press]At some point between the collapse of the two WTC towers, it is claimed that fire chiefs order the firefighters to come down. It has not been reported exactly who issued this order or when. Witnesses claim that scores of firefighters, unaware of the danger, were resting on lower floors in the minutes before the second tower collapsed. “Some firefighters who managed to get out said they had no idea the other building had already fallen, and said that they thought that few of those who perished knew.” At least 121 firefighters in the remaining tower die. The Fire Department blames a faulty radio repeater. However, the Port Authority claims later transcripts of radio communications show the repeaters worked. [New York Times, 11/9/2002]
Based on information from the plane’s flight data recorder, the National Transportation Safety Board will later determine that Flight 93’s autopilot is turned off at “about 10:00,” and remains off for the flight’s final minutes. [National Transportation Safety Board, 2/13/2002 ] Phil Bradshaw, whose wife is an attendant on Flight 93, will later hear the plane’s cockpit voice recording. Being a pilot himself, he recognizes on it the sound of the alarm that goes off when the autopilot is disconnected. [News and Record (Piedmont Triad, NC), 9/11/2002] CNN’s Kelli Arena will hear the recording during the 2006 Zacarias Moussaoui trial and will report that, shortly after this alarm sounds, “Another alarm goes off.” [CNN, 4/12/2006] According to journalist and author Jere Longman, as well as the alarm set off when the autopilot was disconnected, another alarm “would have sounded because the plane was traveling at five hundred seventy-five miles an hour in the final minutes, far exceeding the design limits of four hundred twenty-five miles an hour below twenty thousand feet and two hundred eighty-seven miles an hour below ten thousand feet.” [Longman, 2002, pp. 208] So presumably this is the second alarm described by Arena.
Dick Cheney talking to Condoleezza Rice. [Source: David Bohrer / White House] (click image to enlarge)According to the 9/11 Commission, Vice President Dick Cheney is told that the Air Force is trying to establish a combat air patrol (CAP) over Washington. Cheney, who is in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, then calls President Bush on Air Force One to discuss the rules of engagement for this CAP. Cheney later tells the 9/11 Commission that he’d felt “it did no good to establish the CAP unless the pilots had instructions on whether they were authorized to shoot if the plane would not divert.” He recalls that “the president signed off on that concept.” Bush will recall this phone call and emphasize to the 9/11 Commission that, during it, he had authorized the shootdown of hijacked aircraft. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who is in the PEOC with Cheney, will tell the Commission she recalls hearing Cheney inform the president: “Sir, the CAPs are up. Sir, they’re going to want to know what to do.” Then she hears Cheney say, “Yes sir.” However, as the Commission will later note, “Among the sources that reflect other important events that morning there is no documentary evidence for this call, although the relevant sources are incomplete” (see (Mid 2004)). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 40-41] Reportedly, some members of the Commission’s staff will not believe this call between Bush and Cheney ever took place. [Newsweek, 6/20/2004] Cheney phones Bush at 10:18 (see 10:18 a.m.-10:20 a.m. September 11, 2001). According to the 9/11 Commission, it is in fact during that call that Bush authorizes the military to shoot down threatening aircraft. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 41]
Robert Natter. [Source: CBS]Rudy Washington, who is one of Rudolph Giuliani’s deputy mayors, had earlier on called Admiral Robert Natter, the commander of the US Atlantic Fleet at Norfolk Naval Station, Virginia, and requested air cover over New York (see (Between 8:46 a.m. and 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). After the WTC’s South Tower collapses at 9:59, Washington heads to City Hall, where he again communicates with Natter. Natter informs him that the Pentagon has been hit, and says he has now gotten permission from NORAD to send some fighter jets over the city. [New York Daily News, 5/20/2004] However, when exactly these jets are launched and when they arrive over New York is unstated. Patrick Burns, who is currently at the Norfolk Naval Station for his two-week Naval Reserve obligation, later recalls, “Air cover was already up with Navy jets out of Naval Air Station Oceana.” Naval Air Station Oceana, in Virginia Beach, Virginia, is home to F-14 Tomcat and F/A-18 Hornet fighters. But Burns does not state a time for when these fighters are airborne. [Virginian-Pilot, 9/22/2001; Digital Journalist, 10/2001; Notre Dame Magazine, 4/2007] The 9/11 Commission Report will make no mention of any Naval fighters. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004]
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld returns from the Pentagon crash site “by shortly before or after 10:00 a.m.” Then he has “one or more calls in my office, one of which was with the president,” according to his testimony before the 9/11 Commission. [9/11 Commission, 3/23/2004] The commission later concludes that Rumsfeld’s call with President Bush has little impact: “No one can recall any content beyond a general request to alert forces.” The possibility of shooting down hijacked planes is not mentioned. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Rumsfeld then goes to the Executive Support Center (ESC) located near his office, arriving there at around 10:15 a.m. In the ESC already are Stephen Cambone, Rumsfeld’s closest aide, Larry Di Rita, Rumsfeld’s personal chief of staff, and Victoria Clarke, the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs. Rumsfeld had instructed Di Rita and Clarke to go to the ESC and wait for him there when they’d come to his office soon after the second WTC tower was hit at 9:03 A.M. (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Presently, Rumsfeld gives them their first confirmation that a plane hit the Pentagon, saying, “I’m quite sure it was a plane and I’m pretty sure it’s a large plane.” According to Clarke, he pulls out a yellow legal pad and writes down three categories, “by which his thinking would be organized the rest of the day: what we needed to do immediately, what would have to be underway quickly, and what the military response would be.” [Clarke, 2006, pp. 221-222; Cockburn, 2007, pp. 5-6] The Executive Support Center has secure video facilities, and while there, Rumsfeld participates in the White House video teleconference. This is the video conference that counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke claims Rumsfeld is a part of much of the morning (see (9:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Then at around 10:30 a.m., he moves on to the National Military Command Center NMCC, located next door to the ESC (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Times, 2/23/2004; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 43-44] Those in the NMCC are apparently unaware of Rumsfeld’s whereabouts during the half-hour from 10 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.: Brigadier General Montague Winfield later recalls, “For 30 minutes we couldn’t find him. And just as we began to worry, he walked into the door of the [NMCC].” [ABC News, 9/11/2002]
A security officer for one of the businesses in Building 7 of the World Trade Center (WTC 7) goes up WTC 7 and subsequently becomes trapped on its seventh floor. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 109-110; National Institute of Standards and Technology, 11/2008, pp. 298-299 ] Although most people were evacuated from the building around the time the South Tower was hit, if not earlier (see (9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001), after the South Tower collapses at 9:59 a.m. the security officer heads up to a floor in the 40s in WTC 7, reportedly to check that all his personnel have left. (The name of the company he works for is unstated.) He is initially accompanied by a police officer, but at around the 10th floor this officer has difficulty breathing, and so goes back down and exits the building. When the North Tower collapses at 10:28 a.m., WTC 7 shakes and the stairwell goes dark. The security officer, who has reached the 30th floor by this time, heads back down the stairs. When he reaches the 23rd floor, where the headquarters of New York’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) is located, he opens the door to check for any members of staff that might still be there, but finds the area filled with smoke. (The OEM was evacuated at about 9:30 a.m., if not earlier (see (Soon After 8:46 a.m.-9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001).) He then continues down to the seventh floor, where he has to stop because he is unable to see or breathe. He is able to break a window, and calls for help. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 11/2008, pp. 298-299 ] At around 12:10 to 12:15 p.m., firefighters will enter the building and rescue the security officer, escorting him down the stairs and out of the building. They will also rescue two men who are trapped on the eighth floor (see 12:10 p.m.-12:15 p.m. September 11, 2001). [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 6/2004 ; National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 110]
The pilots that took off from Langley Air Force Base (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001) hear a warning over radio that errant aircraft will be shot down, and receive an instruction from the Secret Service to protect the White House. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 222-223]
Pilots Learn of FAA Order - The three Langley fighter jets have now reached the Baltimore-Washington area. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 222] The pilots hear over their radios that the FAA has ordered all civilian aircraft to land. [New York Times, 10/16/2001] (The FAA issued this instruction at around 9:45 a.m. (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. 29] )
Borgstrom Hears Shootdown Warning - The three pilots are all on different radio frequencies, but are able to communicate between themselves on their auxiliary frequency. According to author Lynn Spencer, one of them, Captain Craig Borgstrom, hears a message over the emergency radio frequency that is in response to the FAA’s recent order: “Attention all aircraft! Attention all aircraft! You are ordered to land at the nearest suitable airport. All aircraft must land immediately. Violators will be shot down.” The source of this message is unstated. [Filson, 2003, pp. 66; Spencer, 2008, pp. 222-223] (Author Leslie Filson will describe the Langley pilots hearing what is apparently a separate but similar message later on, some time after 10:42 a.m. (see 10:05 a.m.-11:05 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 82] )
Instructed to Protect the White House - Around the time Borgstrom hears this, Major Dean Eckmann, the lead Langley pilot, is on the radio with the FAA’s Washington Center. A Secret Service agent has arrived there and wants to talk to him. [Filson, 2003, pp. 68; Spencer, 2008, pp. 222-223] Eckmann then receives a garbled message over his radio, which is difficult to make out. [New York Times, 11/15/2001] The message is, “Protect the house.” Eckmann will later recall, “I took it to mean protect the White House.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 68] He notifies the two other pilots—Borgstrom and Major Brad Derrig—of this message. He tells them, “I think I just talked to the Secret Service, but I’m not sure.” [New York Times, 11/15/2001]
Possible Shootdown Order? - According to Spencer, this message means that “Unknown to NEADS” (NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector), Eckmann has been “given shootdown authority directly from the Secret Service, bypassing the military chain of command.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 223] But Borgstrom and Derrig will later say they “never received explicit orders to fire on incoming planes perceived to be hostile.” [New York Times, 11/15/2001] Borgstrom radios NEADS weapons director Steve Citino and asks for specific instructions about what to do (see 10:07 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 223] According to the 9/11 Commission, NEADS will only learn 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]
NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) receives a call from a NORAD unit in Canada, reporting another suspected hijacked aircraft that is heading south from Canada, across the border toward Washington, DC. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]
Aircraft Reported on Chat System - A member of staff at NEADS relays to their colleagues that the aircraft is from an “unknown departure airport, heading towards Washington,” but they do not “know any codes or anything” else about it. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001] Another member of staff at NEADS calls the Canadian unit for more information. A Lance Corporal Nicholson there says only that he has seen “something on the chat” about a “possible” aircraft. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001] (Nicholson is presumably referring to NORAD’s computer chat system. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 139] )
Fighter Unit Contacted - According to author Lynn Spencer, NEADS battle commander Colonel Robert Marr contacts a military unit in Syracuse, New York, to get fighter jets sent after the suspicious flight. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 223] However, the first jets to launch from Syracuse will not take off until 10:42 a.m. (see 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Post-Standard (Syracuse), 9/12/2001]
Report Is a False Alarm - The suspected hijacking is soon revealed to be a false alarm. Nicholson will call from Canada and tell NEADS: “Be advised… that our [intelligence team] is not assessing that there is an actual aircraft problem. It’s just that there could be problems from our area.… There’s no actual aircraft that we suspect as being a danger.” He will add that his intelligence people “haven’t got any particular aircraft in mind.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]
Numerous Erroneous Reports - This is one of the numerous mistaken reports of hijackings received during the course of the morning (see (9:09 a.m. and After) September 11, 2001). According to Vanity Fair: “In the barrage of information and misinformation, it becomes increasingly difficult for the controllers [at NEADS] to keep count of how many suspected hijackings are pending. So far, it is known that three have hit buildings, but given the uncertainty about the fates of American 11 and American 77—no one knows yet that this is the plane that hit the Pentagon—the sense at NEADS is that there are possibly three hijacked jets still out there, and who knows how many more yet to be reported.” At the time NEADS is informed of the suspicious aircraft coming in from Canada, “no one on the military side is aware that United 93 has been hijacked.” [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]
Logo of the 148th Fighter Wing. [Source: Air National Guard]Although the White House has requested a fighter escort for Air Force One (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001), fighter jets that are kept on alert at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida reportedly fail to launch in order to accompany the president’s plane after it takes off from Sarasota, Florida (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 87; St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 38]
Fighters on 'Battle Stations' but Not Launched - The 148th Fighter Wing of the Minnesota Air National Guard has a full time active duty detachment at Tyndall Air Force Base, near Panama City. [Filson, 1999; US Air Force, 2004; GlobalSecurity (.org), 8/21/2005] This unit serves as one of NORAD’s seven “alert” sites around the US, which all have a pair of fighter jets on the runway, armed, fueled, and ready to take off within minutes if called upon. [Airman, 12/1999; Air Force Magazine, 2/2002; Bergen Record, 12/5/2003] But, according to the 1st Air Force’s book about 9/11, although NORAD’s Southeast Air Defense Sector (SEADS) puts the alert jets at Tyndall on “battle stations,” it does not launch them. The jets’ pilots sit “in their cockpits awaiting word to go, but Air Force One moved so quickly they were never scrambled.” Instead, F-16s from Ellington Field in Texas are scrambled, and escort Air Force One to Barksdale Air Force Base (see (After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 87] However, in a 2002 interview, Major General Larry Arnold, the commanding general of NORAD’s Continental US Region, will claim that after NORAD is told “just to follow the president” on Air Force One, it “scrambled available airplanes from Tyndall and then from Ellington in Houston, Texas. The Ellington F-16s chased Air Force One and landed with the president at Barksdale AFB in Louisiana.” [Code One Magazine, 1/2002]
Other Alert Fighters in Florida Not Launched - NORAD also keeps two fighters on alert at Homestead Air Reserve Base, near Miami, Florida, but it is unclear whether these are scrambled after Air Force One, and apparently they never accompany the president’s plane (see (10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Philip Melanson, an expert on the Secret Service, will later comment: “I can’t imagine by what glitch the protection was not provided to Air Force One as soon as it took off. I would have thought there’d be something in place whereby one phone call from the head of the security detail would get the fighters in the air immediately.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 87; St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004]
An F-15 Eagle from the 125th Fighter Wing. [Source: Shaun Withers / US Air Force]Fighter jets belonging to a military unit in Jacksonville, Florida, launch to escort Air Force One after it takes off from Sarasota, Florida (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001), some accounts will later indicate. [New York Times, 9/16/2001; Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001] However, other accounts will indicate that these jets, if launched, never reach the president’s plane. [Code One Magazine, 1/2002; CBS News, 9/11/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 255]
Fighters Reportedly Launched - The New York Times will report that at 10:41 a.m., Air Force One is “headed toward Jacksonville to meet jets scrambled to give the presidential jet its own air cover.” [New York Times, 9/16/2001] And, according to a report in the Daily Telegraph, after Air Force One climbs to 40,000 feet, it is “joined by an escort of F-16 fighters from a base near Jacksonville.” [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001] These reports are presumably referring to jets belonging to the 125th Fighter Wing, a unit of the Florida Air National Guard located at Jacksonville International Airport. The wing keeps two F-15s on alert at Homestead Air Reserve Base, near Miami, ready for immediate takeoff, as part of NORAD’s air sovereignty mission. [Airman, 12/1999; GlobalSecurity (.org), 8/21/2005; Florida Air National Guard, 2009]
Fighters Likely Launched from Homestead - If 125th Fighter Wing jets are scrambled to accompany Air Force One, it appears they would be the unit’s F-15s on alert at Homestead, rather than its fighters at Jacksonville Airport. Major Charles Chambers, who is at the National Military Command Center at the Pentagon, will state within a week of the attacks, “Fighters had been scrambled from Homestead [Air Reserve Base] and were escorting Air Force One westward.” [US Department of Defense, 9/2001] In contrast, at Jacksonville International Airport, according to a 2007 report in the Florida Times-Union, “Within hours of the 2001 terrorist attacks, the wing’s aircraft were sitting on a JIA runway ready for the order to scramble.” [Florida Times-Union, 9/15/2007] And an account published by the Florida Air National Guard will only say, “On Sept. 11, 2001, several loaded F-15 aircraft lined Runway 13/31 [at Jacksonville Airport] for the first time in history.” [Eagle's Eye, 2007 ]
Fighters Apparently Do Not Reach Air Force One - Most accounts will contradict Chambers’ claim that, if indeed 125th Fighter Wing jets are scrambled toward the president’s plane, they are subsequently “escorting Air Force One westward.” According to the 1st Air Force’s book about 9/11, it is in fact “[f]our F-16s from the 147th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard,” that accompany Air Force One “from the panhandle of Florida to Barksdale Air Force Base.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 87] CBS News will report that the first fighters to reach Air Force One are two F-16s from the 147th Fighter Wing (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [CBS News, 9/11/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 255] And Major General Larry Arnold, the commanding general of NORAD’s Continental US Region, will only say that 147th Fighter Wing F-16s “chased Air Force One and landed with the president at Barksdale AFB in Louisiana,” making no mention of any 125th Fighter Wing jets being scrambled. [Code One Magazine, 1/2002] At NORAD’s other alert site in Florida besides Homestead—a unit at Tyndall Air Force Base—the two alert fighters are put on “battle stations,” but apparently do not take off to escort Air Force One (see (10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 87]
Members of Congress who are assembled at the headquarters of the Capitol Police in Washington, DC receive regular briefings from police officers, but these reveal little more than what is being reported in the news. [Washington Post, 9/12/2001] After being evacuated from the Capitol building, many members of Congress go to the Capitol Police headquarters, located a block and a half away (see (9:55 a.m. and After) September 11, 2001). [Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 110-112] Throughout the day, several hundred of them go there, though some Congressional leaders are moved to a secure bunker outside Washington around late morning or early afternoon (see (Between Late Morning and Early Afternoon) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 1/27/2002; CNN, 9/11/2002] According to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), the police headquarters becomes “Congress’s central command center for the rest of the day.” [Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 112] But, CNN will report, “In a place where power means knowing things, nobody knew very much.” Deputy Chief James Rohan of the Capitol Police later describes, “There was somebody [at the headquarters] had brought out a little four inch black and white TV with just an antenna stick on it, plugged it in, and they were getting all their information from the networks from this tiny little TV.” [CNN, 9/11/2002] The Senate and House members at the headquarters receive hourly briefings from Capitol Police officers. But, according to the Washington Post, “lawmakers privately described the sessions as ‘rudimentary,’ offering few details beyond published reports.” [Washington Post, 9/12/2001] According to Daschle, who is among those moved to the secure bunker outside Washington, members of Congress who remain at the police headquarters spend the day “crammed into several conference rooms and offices, working the telephones and watching the TV monitors for developing news,” though he gives no specific details of what they do. [Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 112] Late in the afternoon, about 50 of them speak by phone with the Congressional leaders at the secure bunker (see (5:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001), and during the evening, many of them will join the leaders on the steps of the Capitol building for a press conference (see 7:24 p.m. September 11, 2001).
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]
Hijackers in the cockpit of Flight 93 react to the passengers who are apparently trying to retake control of the aircraft and one of them appears to ask if they should fly the plane into the ground. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 45-46] Passengers on the flight have apparently been trying to force their way into the cockpit, using a food cart as a shield (see 9:57 a.m.-9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Observer, 12/2/2001; Longman, 2002, pp. 270-271]
Hijacker Asks if He Should 'Finish It Off' - The cockpit voice recording from the plane will later reveal that, in response to this, a hijacker in the cockpit apparently suggests crashing the plane into the ground. Speaking in Arabic, he asks: “Is that it? Shall we finish it off?” Another hijacker in the cockpit replies: “No. Not yet. When they all come, we finish it off!”
Passengers Try to Get into the Cockpit - Seconds later, a male passenger shouts: “Ah! I’m injured.” A hijacker then exclaims: “Oh Allah! Oh Allah! Oh gracious!” A male passenger apparently instructs those with him to continue trying to force their way into the cockpit. “In the cockpit,” he shouts, adding, “If we don’t, we’ll die!” A hijacker then makes some unusual statements. He says: “Up, down. Up, down, in the cockpit. The cockpit. Up, down.” He adds, “Saeed, up, down!” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 12/4/2003; McMillan, 2014, pp. 103-104] “Saeed” is presumably Saeed Alghamdi, one of the alleged hijackers of Flight 93. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 35]
Hijacker Again Suggests Crashing the Plane - The cockpit voice recorder then picks up the sound of a male passenger, in the distance, giving the instruction, “Roll it!” He is possibly talking about rolling the food cart forward, journalist and author Tom McMillan will suggest. This is followed by the sound of glasses and plates breaking. A hijacker then apparently starts praying, saying: “Allah is the greatest! Allah is the greatest!” He then appears to suggest crashing the plane into the ground again. “Is that it? I mean, shall we pull it down?” he asks. “Yes, put it in it and pull it down,” another hijacker replies.
Hijacker Says to Shut Off the Oxygen Supply - One of the hijackers then suggests that they turn off the oxygen supply to the cabin, saying: “Cut off the oxygen! Cut off the oxygen! Cut off the oxygen! Cut off the oxygen!” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 12/4/2003; McMillan, 2014, pp. 104] (However, cutting off the oxygen below an altitude of 10,000 feet would have little or no effect on the passengers, aviation officials will comment. [Longman, 2002, pp. 271] ) About 20 seconds later, he makes more unusual statements, saying: “Up, down. Up, down. Up, down.”
Passengers Continue Their Assault - Within the next 20 seconds, the cockpit voice recorder picks up the sounds of loud crashes, snaps, loud grunts, and a male passenger shouting, “Ah!” A passenger then issues some commands. “Go! Go!” they say. “Move! Move!” they shout. A male passenger—perhaps the same person—then yells loudly, “Turn it up!” What they mean by this is unclear. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 12/4/2003; McMillan, 2014, pp. 104] The passengers will apparently continue to struggle against the hijackers until the plane crashes, at 10:03 a.m. (see 10:02 a.m.-10:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 46]
Jay Kopstein. [Source: Jay Kopstein]Richard Ohlsen, an employee at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region II office in Lower Manhattan, goes to the headquarters of the New York Police Department (NYPD), but is initially denied entry into the building and, once inside, experiences various difficulties as he tries to respond to the terrorist attacks. Following the second crash at the World Trade Center, the FEMA office was unable to communicate with Office of Emergency Management personnel in WTC Building 7 and so Ohlsen was told to go to WTC 7 to act as a liaison there (see (After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). As he was on his way out, though, the South Tower of the WTC collapsed (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001).
FEMA Employee Is Denied Entry into the Police Headquarters - Consequently, instead of going to the WTC site, Ohlsen heads to the command center at NYPD headquarters, at One Police Plaza. When he arrives at NYPD headquarters, however, officers refuse to let him in because they do not recognize his FEMA identification as being official. Fortunately, Jay Kopstein, an inspector with the NYPD who happens to be passing by, recognizes him and takes him up to the command center.
Employee Lacks Priority Access to the Phone Network - Ohlsen’s problems continue, however, after he arrives there. Ohlsen does not have with him a special GETS (Government Emergency Telecommunications Service) phone card, which gives government and emergency workers priority to make phone calls during a crisis. Consequently, when he wants to reach FEMA headquarters in Washington, DC, he has to contact it through the normal collect call procedures, even though this is a national emergency. And when he does get through, he is told that responsibility for dealing with the attacks in New York has been transferred to FEMA’s Region I office in Massachusetts, as part of the agency’s standard continuity of operations procedures, and so all requests are meant to go through there.
Officials Refuse to Open an Equipment Cache - Ohlsen also runs into difficulty when he asks for an equipment cache that contains personal protective gear and search and rescue equipment for New York City’s urban search and rescue team to be opened. He is incredulous when, in light of the current situation, officials with the New York City Fire Department, which maintains the cache, refuse his request, supposedly because no one from the federal government has authorized the use of the equipment. Ohlsen apparently persists and eventually gets the cache opened, since he will later describe this setback as “the first problem he was able to resolve” after arriving at the command center. [9/11 Commission, 3/16/2004 ; Graff, 2017, pp. 343-344]
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]
Rich Gibaldi. [Source: Rich Gibaldi]Colonel Ed Boyle, director of intelligence for the Air Combat Command (ACC), and Colonel Rich Gibaldi, another senior Air Force intelligence officer, are ordered to return to Langley Air Force Base in Virginia to get the Predator drone, a remotely controlled, unmanned plane, ready to deploy over Afghanistan. Boyle spent part of the summer organizing an expanded “expeditionary intelligence squadron” to fly Predators over Afghanistan for the CIA, beginning on September 25, but he has recently had time for some other business. He and Gibaldi flew to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, where, yesterday, they attended some meetings.
Officers Learned of the Attacks While Driving to an Army Base - The two officers learned of the attacks on the World Trade Center this morning as they were driving from there to Fort Huachuca, an Army base in southern Arizona, where they were going to attend a change of command ceremony. They heard of the crashes on the car radio. After hearing about the second one, Boyle told his colleague, “We’ve got a problem.” The officers arrived at Fort Huachuca within half an hour.
Officer Was Told to Return to Langley Air Force Base - While they were at the gate, Boyle’s cell phone rang. On the other end of the line was Lieutenant General Donald Cook, acting commander of the ACC, calling from ACC headquarters at Langley Air Force Base. After Boyle said where he and Gibaldi were, Cook told him to get back to Langley Air Force Base as soon as possible and ordered him to call back from a secure phone. Boyle was unable to use a secure phone at Fort Huachuca. But with the ceremony there canceled in response to the terrorist attacks, he and Gibaldi apparently left the base promptly to head back to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.
Commander Asks about Getting Drones Airborne - Now, as they are driving to Davis-Monthan, Boyle calls Cook and explains that it will be some time before he can call from a secure phone. Cook then tells him he will need to get Predator drones ready for use as soon as possible. “You need to get your butt back here,” he says. He adds that General John Jumper, the Air Force chief of staff, “wants to know when you can be operational and flying.”
Officer Is Told the White House Wants Drones over Afghanistan - After Boyle and Gibaldi arrive back at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Boyle finds a secure phone and calls Cook. [Whittle, 2014, pp. 232-233, 236] Cook received a call earlier this morning in which he was told the White House wanted to know when Predators could be deployed (see (Before 9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Air and Space Magazine, 3/2015] He now tells Boyle about this call, saying the White House wants to know how soon the Air Force can get three Predators, armed with Hellfire missiles, over Afghanistan. Boyle and Gibaldi will subsequently have to drive the long distance from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base to Langley Air Force Base, and will arrive at Langley early on the morning of September 14. [Whittle, 2014, pp. 236, 238-239] The first Predator mission over Afghanistan will take place on September 18 and on October 7, the first day of the war in Afghanistan, the first armed Predator mission will be flown (see September 18-October 7, 2001 and October 7, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004 ; Grimes, 2014, pp. 335]
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.
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]
Passengers on Flight 93 continue struggling against the hijackers as they try to retake control of the plane, up to the point when the plane crashes. The passengers have been carrying out a sustained attempt to force their way into the cockpit and, in response, one of the hijackers apparently suggested flying the plane into the ground (see 9:57 a.m.-9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 10:00 a.m.-10:02 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 13-14]
Hijackers Possibly Fight over the Plane's Controls - The cockpit voice recording from the plane will later reveal that a hijacker in the cockpit, speaking in Arabic, now gives the instruction: “Down, down. Pull it down! Pull it down!” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 12/4/2003; McMillan, 2014, pp. 104] At this point, the 9/11 Commission Report will comment, the hijackers are still “at the controls, but must have judged that the passengers were only seconds from overcoming them.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 14] The hijacker then shouts, “Down!” A hijacker, possibly the same one, exclaims: “Hey! Hey!” He then says: “Give it to me. Give it to me. Give it to me. Give it to me. Give it to me. Give it to me. Give it to me. Give it to me.” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 12/4/2003; McMillan, 2014, pp. 104-105] This indicates that the hijackers might be fighting among themselves over the plane’s controls, Newsweek will suggest. [Newsweek, 12/3/2001]
Loud Air Noise Is Heard in the Cockpit - Over about the next 20 seconds, the cockpit voice recorder picks up the sounds of grunting and loud air noise. A hijacker then prays, saying: “Allah is the greatest! Allah is the greatest! Allah is the greatest! Allah is the greatest! Allah is the greatest!” The sound of a struggle is picked up by the cockpit voice recorder and a male passenger shouts loudly, “No!”
Passengers Are Apparently in the Cockpit When the Plane Crashes - While some people are screaming, a hijacker whispers: “Allah is the greatest! Allah is the greatest! Allah is the greatest! Allah is the greatest!” Finally, at 10:03 a.m. and 10 seconds, everything goes silent and the cockpit voice recording ends. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 12/4/2003; McMillan, 2014, pp. 105] Flight 93 crashes in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, one second later, according to the 9/11 Commission Report (see (10:03 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 14, 30] In the final moments of the struggle, voices that previously seemed muffled and distant on the cockpit voice recording suddenly become clearer, according to relatives of Flight 93’s passengers who will hear the recording in 2002 (see April 18, 2002). These relatives will see this as evidence that passengers made it into the cockpit before the plane crashed. [Longman, 2002, pp. 271; MSNBC, 7/30/2002]
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]
Roger Cressey. [Source: Publicity photo]Roger Cressey, the deputy for counterterrorism on the National Security Council, suggests activating the Emergency Alert System (EAS) to address the nation, but no one with him knows what could be said to calm the public. [Graff, 2017, pp. 341] Cressey is one of about a dozen people who remained in the White House Situation Room after most staffers evacuated from the White House (see (Shortly After 9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Clarke, 2004, pp. 10; Daily Telegraph, 9/10/2010] Apparently sometime shortly after Ralph Seigler, the Situation Room deputy director, reported that the Secret Service was saying a hostile aircraft was approaching Washington, DC (see (After 10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Cressey proposes to his colleagues that they activate the EAS to give a message to the American public. However, Richard Clarke, the White House counterterrorism chief, promptly rejects his suggestion. “And have them say what?” Clarke asks. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 9]
Alert System Is Not Used in Response to Today's Attacks - The EAS, known as the Emergency Broadcast System until the 1990s, was created in 1951 as part of America’s response to the threat of nuclear attack. It serves as a tool for the president and others to warn the American public about emergency situations. However, it is not activated at any point today in response to the terrorist attacks. Richard Rudman, chairman of the EAS National Advisory Committee, will later justify this, explaining that the EAS is intended to alert the public to the danger before an incident occurs, not afterward. “Some events really do serve as their own alerts and warnings,” he will comment. Referring to today’s attacks, he will say, “With the immediate live media coverage, the need for an EAS warning was lessened.” One broadcast engineer will say that activating the EAS after the first hijacked plane crashed into the World Trade Center (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001) might have caused more harm than good. “At that point, it could have stirred up even more panic,” the engineer will say. [Radio World, 9/26/2001; Moore, 8/13/2004, pp. 1 ]
Paula Pluta, a resident of Stonycreek Township, Pennsylvania, sees Flight 93 crashing behind some trees about 1,500 yards from her home and then calls 9-1-1, becoming the first person to call the emergency services to report the crash. [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 9/12/2001; East Bay Times, 9/10/2005] Pluta is at her home, watching television, unaware of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and at the Pentagon. Everything has been quiet and normal. Suddenly, though, her house starts to vibrate, and things in it start rattling and shaking. She hears a roar coming from the skies above her that gets louder and louder. “I heard this noise like a dive bomber; you know, one of those planes they use in war,” she will later recall. When she looks out the living room window, though, she sees nothing unusual outside. She then goes out onto the front porch. From there, she sees a “silver streak” plummeting toward the ground at an angle of about 45 degrees. “It looked like a silver bullet,” she will describe. [Los Angeles Times, 9/12/2001; McMillan, 2014, pp. 106; Friends of Flight 93 National Memorial, 3/17/2016] Flight 93 crashes into the ground at 10:03 a.m. (see (10:03 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [New York Times, 9/9/2011; National Park Service, 5/2013, pp. 13 ] Pluta is unable to see the impact, since the plane disappears behind a line of trees before hitting the ground, but she feels the ground shaking when the plane crashes. “It hit so hard that it almost took my feet out from underneath me,” she will recall. [Los Angeles Times, 9/12/2001; McMillan, 2014, pp. 106; Friends of Flight 93 National Memorial, 3/17/2016] She also sees a huge fireball about 150 feet up in the air and a plume of smoke coming from behind the trees. [Chicago Tribune, 9/12/2001; National Park Service, 3/2017, pp. 15 ] The explosion damages the outside of her home. Pluta notices that a garage door has buckled and a latched window has been sucked open. She immediately calls 9-1-1 to report the incident. “Oh my God!” she tells the operator. “There was an airplane crash here!” She is the first of about 20 local residents to report the crash of Flight 93 to the authorities. She will promptly head to the site where the crash occurred and be surprised at the lack of wreckage there (see (After 10:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 9/12/2001; McMillan, 2014, pp. 106-107; Friends of Flight 93 National Memorial, 3/17/2016]
The Flight 93 crash site. [Source: Associated Press]Numerous individuals who see the Flight 93 crash site notice a lack of plane wreckage there:
Jon Meyer, a reporter with WJAC-TV, will later describe: “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 will comment: “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, will recall: “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]
Paula Pluta, a local resident who headed to the site promptly after the crash occurred, will describe seeing “[j]ust a big crater that looked… like something had gone into it, and it rolled the dirt up around and buried itself.” “I’m looking around for plane wreckage and there’s nothing,” she will recall, adding: “I just stood there in amazement. Where did this thing go?” [McMillan, 2014, pp. 107]
Dave Berkebile, another local resident, arrives at the site shortly after Pluta does. However, he cannot see any large airplane parts there. “The biggest chunk of debris he identified,” according to journalist and author Tom McMillan, “was a cooling unit that was maybe eight inches by 12 inches.” [McMillan, 2014, pp. 107]
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 will comment: “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, will say, “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 will explain what is supposed to have happened when Flight 93 hit the ground. “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],” he will say. [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]
Entity Tags: Mark Stahl, Paula Pluta, Ron Delano, Jon Meyer, William Robert Craig, Rick King, Gabrielle DeRose, Scott Spangler, Dave Berkebile, Frank Monaco
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Thomas O’Connor. [Source: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review]Members of the public are observed removing—or trying to remove—debris from the crash site shortly after Flight 93 goes down and some of them are arrested for doing so. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/18/2009; Thompson, 2017, pp. 6-7] Flight 93 apparently crashed in a field in rural Pennsylvania at 10:03 a.m. (see (10:03 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 30] Emergency responders soon start arriving at the crash site. “Almost as quickly,” however, according to author J. William Thompson, “legions of curiosity seekers and souvenir hunters showed up.” The “dozens of souvenir hunters” who converge on the scene are observed “stuffing objects in their shirts.” [Thompson, 2017, pp. 6-7] Sergeant Thomas O’Connor and Corporal Ronald Zona of the Pennsylvania State Police are among the first people to arrive. During their first few hours at the site, they have to prevent “souvenir hunters from coming near the downed plane,” according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. While doing so, they make several arrests. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/18/2009; PAMatters (.com), 9/10/2011] Eventually, a security perimeter will be set up to protect the site and only authorized personnel will be allowed through it. [McMillan, 2014, pp. 131; Thompson, 2017, pp. 27-28] But two “curiosity seekers,” one of them on an all-terrain vehicle, will be arrested later today for trying to get through the perimeter. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/12/2001] People are similarly observed removing—or trying to remove—wreckage from the crash site at the Pentagon, following the attack there (see (After 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Library of Congress, 11/30/2001; Library of Congress, 12/3/2001]
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, 9/22/2015]
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).
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]
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