Sunday, September 11, 2011
9/11 Air Defense Stand Down - How & Why it Happened
Mrs. Todd Beamer and the "Let's Roll" motto on 177th F-16
9-11 AIR DEFENSE STAND DOWN – How and Why it happened.
By William Kelly - email@example.com
Shortly before 8:30 AM on Tuesday morning, September 11th 2001, the telephone rang at the Pomona, New Jersey headquarters of the 177th Air National Guard wing at the Atlantic City Airport.
The caller, from Boston Center of the Federal Aviation Administration air traffic control, asked for jet fighters to be scrambled to intercept a hijacked airplane heading for New York City.
Unaware that the 177th New Jersey Air National Guard (NJANG) fighter wing was taken off alert status a few years earlier, the FAA Boston Center made the call, sending off one of the first warnings a few minutes after they realized there was a hijacking.
They were attempting to set off the first alarm to the last line of defense – the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD), scrambling jet fighters to protect the skies, but instead, they were put on hold.
That call came in 18 minutes before the first hijacked plane hit the North tower of the World Trade Center, a full half hour before the second hijacked plane hit the South tower, an hour before the Pentagon would be attacked and a full hour and a half before the final hijacked plane crashed in Pennsylvania. The significance of this misdirected emergency call has been overlooked, and what happened during those 18 minutes, before the world knew anything was wrong, has yet to be analytically examined.
The FAA officials at Boston Center, around the same time, also called Otis Air Force Base in Massachusetts, where two fighters were on alert that morning, but because the call came in outside the normal and official chain of command, they could not act on it.
As General Richard Meyers, USAF, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said during the 9-11 Commission hearings in Washington, “We are the last line of defense,” and the air forces should only come into play after the failure of all other lines – including the penetration of the country, evading airport security, breaching the cockpit and hijacking the plane, so the air defense failures are magnified by the failures of those before it.
177th MISSION STATUS – OFF ALERT
First let’s address the changing of the mission status of the 177th New Jersey Air National Guard (NJANG) wing that for decades, always had two planes on alert status that could launch within minutes and form a protective umbrella from New York State to Virginia.
Historically, the 177th NJANG began in September 1917 as the 199th Aero Squadron, an active duty training unit during World War I. In 1958 the 199th Fighter Squadron moved to Egg Harbor Township, N.J. and in 1962 was re-designated the 177th Tactical Fighter Group. Activated in 1961 during the Berlin crisis and in 1968 during the Pueblo incident, the 177th also served during Desert Storm and in Panama, but were most proud of their active alert status protecting the skies.
With 17 single-seat F-16C “Fighting Falcon” aircraft, the wing maintains its base in building on a 296 acre tract at the Atlantic City International Airport, which is also the home of the William Hughes FAA Technical Center, and is cleared for landings for Air Force One.
At the height of the Cold War a typical mission would be to intercept and escort Russian aircraft heading for Cuba, or escort an errant private pilot astray over the ocean. But after the fall of the Berlin Wall and Soviet Communism in Russia, the mission of the 177th changed and they were taken off alert status in October, 1998.
When the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force General Richard Meyers testified before the 9-11 Commission in March, 2004, Commissioner Jamie Gorelick asked him, “…You know 20/20 hindsight is perfect, but if I were sitting at the Pentagon and seeing the kinds of threats that were coming in that summer, I would say to myself, is business as usual appropriate? I mean, the question I have is whether you thought to say: Should we have defenses pre-positioned in a way that we don’t? We know that our forces, that our aircraft from NORAD came too late to the Pentagon.”
“Meyers: Sure, we changed our whole air defense posture at the end of the Cold War. We went from about 22 sites [on alert status] down to about 7, I believe, between the U.S. and Canada, purposely and at the direction of our senior leadership.”
So a subtle but profound change in military and defense policy occurred in 1997-1998 when the Defense Reform Initiative was enacted, and “designed to streamline the organizational structure and business practices of the Department of Defense.”
At the time the Air Force removed the ANG fighter wings from air defense alert missions and made them part of the general-purpose fighter force, reducing the number of dedicated air defense units from 10 in 1997 to four in 2001. These cuts were made as part of the “Quadrennial Defense Review” proposals of May, 1997.
As reported in the 1998 177th Annual Report: “As a result of NORAD tasking, the 177th FW began conversion to the general purpose F-16 mission on October 1 (1998). This action ended the wing’s 25-year association as part of NORAD’s alert force. During that tenure, the wing’s NORAD responsibility included providing air sovereignty of the mid-Atlantic between Long Island, New York and the Virginia Capes.
As of October 1, the wing extended into its extensive period of general-purpose fighter retraining. In the general-purpose F-16 role, the 177th will be capable of assuming a variety of air force missions to include overseas deployments and assignments to one of the newly created Air Expeditionary Force.”
NORAD WAR GAME EXERCISES
In the months leading up to September 11th, 2001, the 177th ran simulated and real bombing runs, live and ran simulated air-to-air missile training at Tyndal Air Force Base in Florida, the home of the First Tactical Air Force and Headquarters of the NORAD defense of the Northeast Sector of the continental United States.
The 177th also participated in Operation Stand Down, a community effort to assist homeless veterans, THAT through its name, infers the non-alert status of the deactivated wing.
On the morning of September 11th, the 177th was not a part of the NORAD defense command, which was engaged that day in an annual exercise – VIGILANT GUARDIAN, which mimicked a Cold War response to attacking Russian bombers.
At least one other emergency defense drill was being enacted on September 11th at the Washington D.C. Headquarters of the National Recon Office (NRO), which simulated an airplane crashing into the building. The idea of hijacked planes being used as missile weapons was a planned NORAD war game exercise that had yet to be executed, but it was being considered.
As General Meyers later testified at the June 17th, 2004 9-11 Commission public hearing, “Another exercise scheduled for November 2001 portrayed a terrorist threat to the Pentagon requiring evacuation of the facility and conducting operations from a relocation site. Additionally, Assistant Secretary of Defense Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict has sponsored a series of tabletop-seminar exercises since 1992, focused on the coordinated interagency response to terrorist threats, including domestic scenarios.” AMALGAM VIRGO 01 was a multi-service exercise to test the defense and response capabilities to a cruise missile attack on Tyndall AFB in June, 2001, when the 177th was STILL engaged in air-to-air missile practice.
One “domestic scenario,” as outlined by Tom Clancy in one of his novels, ends with a hijacked airliner piloted by a Kamakazi suicide pilot who plows the plane into the Capitol, killing the President and many members of Congress.
On September 11th, because the NORAD command was engaged in the VIGILANT GUARDIAN war game exercise, most of their officers and commanders were at their battle stations, although as they later testified, their focus and their radar was aimed outwards, and not geared for a domestic terrorist air attack from within.
In addition, the FBI, FAA and domestic law enforcement agencies were tasked with the primary response to a terrorist attack, not NORAD, and the pilots were not trained to respond to such a situation as being ordered to shoot down an unarmed commercial airliner with Americans on board. An order to do so would have to originate with the President, and go down the official chain of command, opposite the way the early warnings of hijacked planes went up the chain of command.
On the morning of September 11th, the entire air defense of North America was in the hands of 14 fighter pilots on alert at seven sites in the continental United States. As General Myers testified, “In accordance with Department of Defense (DoD) directives in effect on 9/11, NORAD was to monitor and report the actions of any hijacked aircraft, as requested by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). We had procedures for potential air hijackings, which were based on the premise that a hijacked aircraft would be used for ransom or political purposes, not as a weapon.”
As for the official take on events, General Myers said, “On the morning of 9/11, we were conducting a NORAD command post exercise and our headquarters and regions were postured for ‘wartime conditions.’ Six minutes prior to the first attack on the World Trade Center, the FAA informed NORAD of the potential hijack of American Airlines Flight 11. As events unfolded throughout the morning, NORAD responded immediately with fighters and appropriate airspace control measures. Unfortunately, due to the constraints of time and distance, we were unable to influence the tragic circumstances.”
FAA – DoD POLICIES FOR RESPONSE TO HIJACK SITUATIONS
According to Jack White, the Former Facility Manger, Air Traffic Control Systems Command Center (FAA), “The only manner in which I can address this topic is to write how I believe coordination should have taken place on September 11. The hijackings should have been reported by the controllers up their management chain to the regional operations centers. The regional operations centers should have passed the information to the Washington Operations Center. The Operations center should have advised the FAA official assigned the responsibility of coordinating military assistance. I cannot say that during the attacks of 9/11 my personal understanding of the process was crystal clear, but I did know that the request for military assistance had to come from headquarters.”
As Monte Belger, Former Acting Deputy Administrator (FAA), “Prior to 9/11, FAA’s traditional communication channel with the military during a crisis had been though the National Military Command Center (NMCC). They were always included in the communication net that was used to manage a hijack incident. When a hijacking was reported, FAA security personal activated a command center in the Washington Operations Center and a senior executive from the FAA’s security organization was responsible for managing the situation and the communication network with other government and industry agencies. FAA would frequently ask the military, though the NMCC, for airborne surveillance of the hijacked aircraft to monitor movements. On 9/11 FAA did not have formal dedicated communication channels directly to NORAD. Although the FAA had letters of agreement with DoD and the FBI which defined procedures to follow and roles and responsibilities, it became clear that the events of 9/11 went far beyond the scope of those existing agreements. In the HQ and the FAA field facilities we were reacting to a real scenario that had not been practiced or modeled. Decision makers were reacting quickly, and in my opinion professionally in an untested environment.”
TIMELINES BEGIN AT HIJACKING – NOT MILITARY NOTIFICATION
While most of the official and unofficial timelines begin around 8:40 AM (0840), when the military was officially notified, Boston FAA Center realized that something was wrong with American Airlines Flight 11 much earlier, around 8:2? AM (8:14 IS when the transponder was turned off, the pilot failed to acknowledge a request for it to be recycled, and a stranger came over the radio saying, “We have planes….” While the FAA air traffic controllers in Boston requested that the tape of that transmission be reviewed to be sure it said, “planes,” as in plural, it was apparent to some Boston controllers that a hijacking was in progress.
The 9-11 Commission staff has been reviewing the records and issuing Staff Reports on various issues, and according to Staff Statement #17, “Improvising Homeland Defense,” released during the Commission’s last public hearing on June 17, as soon as Boston Center realized that AA Flight 11 was hijacked they made two misdirected telephone calls that were outside of the official procedures.
“Boston Center did not follow the routine protocol in seeking military assistance through the prescribed chain of command. In addition to making notification within the FAA , Boston Center took the initiative, at 8:34, to contact the military through the FAA’s Cape Cod facility. They also tried to obtain assistance from a former alert site in Atlantic City, unaware it had been phased out. At 8:37:52, Boston Center reached NEADS (North East Air Defense System). This was the first notification received by the military – at any level – that American 11 had been hijacked.”
At 8:30 AM in Atlantic City, there are published reports [See: Mike Kelly, Bergen County, N.J. Record and James Bamford’s book ] that two F-16s were in the air, running practice bombing runs over the Jersey Pine Barrens. At the same time, two F-16s were on the tarmac, ready to take off for a bombing practice run at a target range in upstate New York.
A pilot known by his flying handle as “Gilligan” and his wingman were held at the end of the runway for an unusually long time, probably because the phone call from Boston Center began to circulate around their headquarters. The two pilots were ordered to return to base without having taken off, probably because of the Boston Center phone call.
NORAD General Paul Weaver officially explained that it didn’t scramble jet bases nearer to the hijacked planes because they used bases in the NORAD Defense network.
On the morning of September 11th, many of the top military command leaders were out of position to react properly. The President was enroute to a Florida elementary schoolroom, the General Shelton, the OUTGOING Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was flying to Europe, leaving his deputy, Air Force General Richard Myers in command. Myers was on Capitol Hill, meeting PRIVATELY with Congressman MAX CLELAND about his pending approval to take the chairman job.
At the National Military Command Center (NMCC), the War Room at the Pentagon, Brigadier General Montague “Que” Winfield, USA, had the day before requested to be relieved at 0830 on 9-11 by his deputy, Captain Charles J. Leidig, Jr., USN.
Because of the annual Vigilant Guardian command exercise being run that day, all of the other NORAD commanders were at their posts, General Ralph E. Eberhart, USAF at the Rome, New York headquarters of NEADS, Major General Larry Arnold, USAF (now retired) at the NORAD Region (CONR) at Tyndall AFB in Florida, and the principal NORAD commanders led by Gen Ralph E. Eberhart, in the Cheyenne Mountain battle center, Fort Peterson, Colorado.
At the FAA in Washington, as Jack White described to the 9-11 Commission, “Each business day, the ATCSSCC (Air Traffic Control Systems Command Center in Herndon, Virginia) operations and administrative managers conduct a review of the previous day’s operation. On September 11, 2001 this meeting was convened at 0830 EDT. At the time the meeting began, the ATCSSCC had already received reports of a hijacked aircraft. Subsequent, reports resulted in the termination of the meeting and the management team moving to the operations room.”
In the operations room at ATCSSCC near DC, White continued, “…I received a telephone call form the Deputy Director of Air Traffic. I took this call on the administrative phone at the first level supervisor position in the East area of specialization. During this call, I was ordered to remain on the line to facilitate instant communication. I remained on this ad hoc communication position for approximately five hours…”
Benedict Sliney reported in his statement to the 9-11 Commission, “At approximately 8:28 a.m. on September 11, 2001, I was informed by one of the supervisors on duty, that there existed the possibility that American Airlines Flight 11, Boston to Los Angeles, had been hijacked. Shortly after 8:30 a.m., I was further informed that the potential hijacking had been escalated by a report of violence to one of the crew members of the aircraft. A second possible hijack was then reported as United Airlines Flight 175, Boston to Los Angeles, was not responding to Boston Center. A report was received that a radio transmission, not attributed to a particular aircraft, on a Boston Center radio frequency was heard to the effect that, ‘…we have more planes.’…Initially and at the request of New York Center we issued a limited (first tier) ground stop for all traffic landing within or transitioning the New York Center airspace boundaries. Shortly thereafter this that ground stop was expanded to include all such traffic nationwide….”
After making fruitless calls to both Otis AFB in Cape Cod and the 177th NJANG at Atlantic City before 8:30 AM (probably at 8:24 AM), the FAA Boston Center air traffic controllers finally made the correct call to the Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) of NORAD in Rome, New York, where Tech. Sgt. Jeremy W. Powell took the call. He notified the commander of the base, Col. Robert K. Marr, Jr., who was engaged in VIGILANT GUARDIAN, and thinking it might be part of the war games asked, “Is this real world or is it part of the exercise?” He was told that it was not an exercise, or a drill.
Marr called Air Force General Larry Arnold, commander of the Continental U.S. NORAD Region (CONAR) at Tyndall AFB, Florida, told him of the suspected hijacked aircraft and suggested interceptors be scrambled. Arnold, a former pilot with the 177th in Atlantic City when it was on NORAD alert status, quickly ordered the alert jets at Otis to scramble, “we’ll get the approvals later,”
As Gen. Arnold later testified, “First thing that went through my mind was, ‘Is this part of the exercise?” Is this some kind of a screw-up?….I told them to scramble; we’ll get the clearances later.”
At the Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Lt. Col. Timothy “Duff” Duffy had already heard about the suspected hijackings from the errant phone call from the FAA Boston Center. Duffy and his wingman, Maj. Daniel “Nasty” Nash, had suited up and were walking to their planes, helmets in hand, when the order came in and the alarm was sounded.
As reported in Aviation Week [June 3, 2002 – William B. Scott, almost simultaneous with Marr’s call to Arnold at CONAR, the same hijack notification was being passed by phone to a NORAD command center deep inside Cheyenne Mountain near Colorado Springs, and the joint FAA/Defense Dept. Air Traffic Services Cell (ATS) co-located with the FAA’s ATC System Command Center in Herndon, Va.”
In the Pentagon at the National Military Command Center (NMCC), Navy Captain Charles J. Leidig, Jr. had taken over for Gen. Montague Winfield, USA, at 0830. He reported to the 9-11 Commission, “Shortly after assuming duty, I received the first report of a plane’s striking the World Trade Center. Some time after, I learned of the second plane’s collision with the World Trade Center. In response to these events, I convened a Significant Events Conference, which was subsequently upgraded to an Air Threat Conference. During the Air Threat Conference, Brigadier General Winfield relieved me [at approx. 1030] and reassumed duties as Deputy Director for Operations for the NMCC.”
Capt. Micahel H. Jellinek, a Canadian Navy officer was serving as NORAD command director that morning, with another Canadian, Maj. Gen. Eric A. Findley, who was working on the VIGILANT GUARDIAN exercise. Both approved the scramble of jet fighters
Unfortunately, due to the roll back in active alert bases, few planes were available. One non-alert ANG commander told Marr, “Give me 10 minutes and I can give you hot guns. Give me 30 minutes, and I’ll have heat-seekers (missiles). Give me an hour and I can give you slammers (Amraams).” Marr replied, “I want it all.”
Also offshore, were two Navy carriers in the North Atlantic, which were called and alerted by the deputy director to the mayor of New York City.
The official timeline and military response originally had the military notified at approximately 8:40 AM, with the scramble order issued at 0846, the precise time that AA11 impacted the North Tower of the World Trade Center and when the rest of the world suddenly became aware that something was happening.
However, at the 9-11 Commission public hearings in June in DC, a new scenario was introduced. Instead of the previous reports that the F-15s from Otis flew directly to New York City at supersonic speeds, it is now revealed that “Duffy” and “Nasty” had no set destination other than to a staging area over the ocean south of Long Island, New York, where they awaited further instructions.
Meanwhile, back on the ground at the Atlantic City International Airport HQ of the 177th NJANG, “Gilligan” and his wingmen reported in, and were called back from takeoff, both under the impression that a personal incident, a family accident or something had led to the order, something that had never occurred before. When they entered the HQ however, and saw the burning World Trade Center tower on television, their commander asked if they were willing to volunteer to go back up, once their planes had been properly rearmed with air-to-air missiles.
Both agreed, as did another pair of 177th pilots who were at the base. It was, according to “Gilligan,” one of the most frustrating and gut-wrenching experiences of his life.
On September 11th, 2001 Betsy Diaz, an armament specialist assigned to the 177th Fighter Wing was a part-time guardsman and civilian employee responsible for loading weapons. As she later reported to the Armed Forces Press Service, “It was weird. Our jets were on their way out to the flight line and, all of a sudden, they turned around. They called us on the radio and told us we had to come in. Then they told us what happened. We had to reconfigure our aircraft, started putting on live missiles.”
According to the story, “Everyone was in shock. People were excited. Things got hectic. ‘I personally tried not to pay attention to it because I didn’t want it to affect me while I was working. I just wanted to continue on my everyday mission. I didn’t want to think about what actually happened…It was amazing how everyone got together and there was no arguing. Everybody got straight, did what they had to do, and everything was set. We did it really fast and really smooth. It just went great.”
Except it wasn’t great for “Gilligan” and his wingman, who had to wait about 45 minutes for them to get the missiles, stored in an old nuclear bomb bunker at the other side of the 200 acre base, and lock them into position and the proper configuration on the planes.
In the meantime, United Airlines Flight 175 – Boston to Los Angeles was hijacked, FAA notified NEADS at 0840, additional Otis F-15s were scrambled,
and at 0902 (0905?) the South Tower of the World Trade Center was hit, making clear in no uncertain terms that the United States was under terrorist attack.
As detailed in the June 17th public hearing of the 9-11 Commission, UA Flight 175, once it was hijacked while heading west, was flown southeast, across the New Jersey Pine Barrens, four minutes from the 177th NJANG base, and within easy intercept range of the F-16s, had they been in the air.
At 0924, nearly an hour after Boston Center FAA called Otis and Atlantic City to put them on notice of the hijackings and requesting fighter jets be scrambled, the FAA notified NEADS that American Airlines Flight 175 Dulles to Los Angeles was hijacked, as well as United Flight 93 – Newark to San Francisco was in trouble.
At 9:37 AM, AA 77 hit the Pentagon, where Defense Secretary Rumsfield was sitting at his desk, and at 10:03 AM, UA 93 crashed in Western Pennsylvania.
Once in the air, “Gilligan” and his wingman were sent vector west, towards Pennsylvania, possibly to intercept UF 93, however they were then ordered to New York, where they were the first non-alert status fighter planes to reach ground zero. Other 177th NJANG planes were sent to Washington, D.C., where they were also the first non-alert status jet fighters at the scene over the capital.
Since September 11, 2001, Air Force General Richard Myers was promoted to the position of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Winfield was promoted to head the Joint POW/MP-CIL office, and Capt. Leidig has been promoted to admiral.
NORAD – FAA Timeline – per 911 Commission Final Report
06:00 am – Mohamed Atta and Abdul Aziz al Omari board flight from Portland, Maine to Boston’s Logan International Airport.
06:45 am – Atta and Omari arrive in Boston.
06:45-07:40 – Atta (Business class 8D) and Omari (8G), w/ Satam al Suqami (10B), Wail al Shehri (1st class 2A) and Waleed al Shehri (1st class 2B), check in and board American Airline Flight 11 (AA11), Boston-LA, scheduled to deparat 7:45 am. At another terminal Shehhi (2B), Fayez Banihammad (2A), Mohamd al Shehri (6C), Ahmed al Ghamdi (9D) and Hamza al Ghamdi (9C) check in for United Airlines Flight 175, Boston-LA, set for 08:00 am departure.
06:52 am – Atta takes a 3 minute call from Marwan al Shehhi at another terminal at Logan.
07:15 am – Khalid al Mihdhar (12B) and Majed Moqed (12A) check in at the American Airlines ticket counter at Washington Dulles Airport for Flight 77 (AA77), DC-LA, followed shortly thereafter by Hani Hanjour (1st C 1B) and brothers Nawaf al Hazmi (5E) and Salem al Hazmi (5E).
07:35 am – Hani Hanjour places two carry on bags on the x-ray belt in the Main Terminal’s west checkpoint, followed by Nawaf and Salem al Hazmi to AA77.
07:58 am – UA175 departs gate at Logan Boston-LA; Captain Victor Saracini; First Officer Michael Horrocks, seven flight attendants, fifty-six passengers.
07:59 am – American Airlines Flight 11 (AA11) takes off - Boston – LA. Captain John Ogonowski; First Officer Thomas McGuinness; 9 flight attendants, full capacity 81 passengers.
08:01 am – United Airlines 93 (UA93) leaves gate at Newark- San Fran. 41 min. delay and doesn’t take off until 08:42, unaware of other hijacking.
08:10 am – AA77 scheduled to depart DC Dulles for LA. Captain Charles F. Burlingame pilot; David Charlebois First Officer; four flight attendants, fifty-eight passengers.
08:13 am – AA11 acknowledges instruction f/ FAA Boston Center (in New Hampshire)
08:13:30 am – AA11 hijacked. Pilot John Ogonowski activates talk-back button, enabling Boston controllers to hear cockpit conversations.
08:14 am – United Airlines 175 UA175 takes off for Logan Boston-LA.
08:14 am – Hijacking of AA11 begins, cruising altitude 29,000 feet. Daniel Lewin, seated behind Atta and Omari, is stabbed by hijacker, most likely Satam al Suqami, seated directly behind Lewin, an Israeli military officer.
08:15 am – AA11 fails to acknowledge FAA Boston Center
O8:19 am – Flight attendant Betty Ong calls [Vanessa Minter] the AA Southeastern Reservations Office in Cary, N.C., via ATT airphone to report an emergency aboard the flight: “The cockpit is not answering, somebody’s stabbed in business class, I think there’s Mace – that we can’t breath – I don’t know, I think we’re getting hijacked.” Also two flight attendants stabbed.
08:20 am – AA11 turns of IFF (identify friend or foe) beacon signal.
08:20 am – AA77 takes off from Dulles IA DC – LA.
08:21 am – Boston air traffic controller reports to supervisor that something is seriously wrong. Follow SOP for “no radio” contact. AA11 off radar.
08:21 am – Vanessa Minter at AA North Carolina relays info to Craig Marquis, manager of AA ops center, Fort Worth, Texas. FBI logs onto call and tapes it. AA11 Flight attendant Amy Sweeney calls AA ground manager Michael Woodward, who takes notes.
“Listen and listen to me very carefully. I’m on Flight 11. The airplane has been hijacked.” Gives seat numbers to four of five hijackers of Middle East descent and reports that two flight attendants have been stabbed and a passenger’s throat slashed. Woodward quickly identifies all four including Mohamed Atta and Abdulaziz Alomari.
08:23 am – AA dispatcher unsuccessfully tires to contact AA11.
08:24:38 am – AA11 transmits “We have some planes. Just stay quiet, and you’ll be okay. We are returning to the airport” Then after a pause, “….Nobody move. Everything will be okay. If you try to make any moves, you’ll endanger yourself and the airplane. Just stay quiet.”
08:24:40 am – FAA Boston Center Air Traffic Control (BCATC) notifies superior that AA11 hijacked. Manager of BCATC orders the tape of transmission “pulled” to determine if the transmission said “Planes” – as in plural.
08:25 am - Amy Sweeney calls American Flight Services Office in Boston and reports someone aboard flight is hurt, but is cut off.
08:25 am – FAA BCATC, per protocol, begins notifying chain of command that AA11 hijacked.
08:26 am – Ong reports that the plane was “flying erratically.”
08:27 am – AA supervisor Nydia Gonzales begins to listen in to Ong-Minter call.
08:28 am – FAA Boston Center ATC notifies New York Center ATC that hijacked AA11 is entering it’s airspace, heading south.
08:29 am – AA11 fails to acknowledge AA Boston; AA dispatcher notifies FAA Boston Air Traffic Control Center, already aware of the problem, because of AA11 radio transmissions.
08:29 am – Amy Sweeney reconnected to the AA office and begins reports to manger Michael Woodward, including seat numbers of hijackers so he immediately obtains their names.
08:30 am – Brigadier Gen. Montague Winfield leaves the National Military Command Center (NMCC) – the War Room at the Pentagon, and is replaced by Navy Capt., per arrangement from the day before.
08:31 am – FAA Command Center tells FAA Operations Center at FAA HQ of possible hijackings.
08:31 am – FAA Boston Center notifies NORAD (Lt. Col. Dawne Deskins) of AA11 hijacking.
08:33 am – UA175 reaches cruising altitude of 31,000 feet. Flight attendants begin cabin service.
08:34 am – FAA Boston Center – Air traffic controller makes telephone calls outside of chain of command to Otis ANG and 177th NJANG in Atlantic City, requesting fighter interceptors, unaware that NJANG in Atlantic City had been taken off alert more than two years earlier.
8:34 am – Two F-16s from the 177th NJANG are reportedly in the air making making practice bombing runs over the New Jersey Pine Barrens, and two F-16s are on the tarmac ready to take off on a practice bombing mission in upstate New York. They are kept on the runway and eventually ordered not to take off and return to base. They arm with air-to-air missiles and prepare to go up once armed.
08:34 am – Third transmission from AA11: “Nobody move please. We are going back to the airport. Don’t try to make any stupid moves.”
08:37 – FAA Boston Center communicates with UA175 about AA11 and UA175 reports of suspicious transmissions. Last contact with UA175.
08:37:52 – FAA Boston Center notifies NORAD NEADS (North East Air Defense Sector) in Rome, New York : “Hi. Boston Center TMU, we have a problem here. We have a hijacked aircraft headed towards New York, and we need you guys to, we need someone to scramble some F-16s or something up there, help us out.”
08:38 am – NEADS responds: “Is this real-world or exercise?”
FAA: “No, this is not an exercise, not a test.”
08:40 am – AA77 handed off routinely from DC to Indianapolis Center.
0840 am – NEADS senior tech. Jeremy Powell calls Otis ANG to upgrade their “readiness posture.” Maj. Daniel Nash (“Nasty”) and Lt. Col. Timothy Duffy (“Duff”) are notified “by colleague” about hijacking.
08:41 am – American Airline’s Operations Center declares AA11 a hijacking.
08:42 am – United 93 (UA93) takes off from Newark, N.J. to LA. Jason Dahl Captain; Leroy Homer First Officer; five flight attendants, thirty-seven passengers.
08:42 am – UA175 reports “suspicious transmissions” from another airliner were received while taking off at 08:14. Last communication with ground.
08:43 am – 08:46 – UA175 hijacked, stabbing both pilots, two passengers and a flight attendant.
08:44 am – Gonzalez loses phone contact with Ong. Sweeney reports to Woodward, “Something is wrong. We are in rapid descent…we are all over the place…We are flying low. We are flying very, very low. We are flying way too low…Oh my God we are way too low.”
08:44 am – Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld at the Pentagon says of terrorism, “Let me tell ya, I’ve been around the block a few times. There will be another event. There will be another event.”
08:46 am – (approx.) UA93 hijacked.
08:46 am – AA77 reaches cruising altitude of 35,000 feet.
08:46:40 am – AA11 impacts World Trade Center 1 (WTC1 North Tower)
08:46 am – CIA Director Tenent is told of the WTC “attack” over breakfast with former Sen. David Boren. Tenent : “You know, this has bin Laden’s fingerprints all over it.”
08:46 am – Two F-15s scrambled Otis ANG, Falmouth, Mass (Cape Cod) 153 miles out.
08:46 am – Two F-16s assigned to Andrews AFB, flying bombing practice mission over North Carolina, recalled to DC, 207 miles away.
08:46 am – FAA opens telephone line with Secret Service.
08:46 am – NORAD Command Capt. Micahel Jellinek reports telephone links established with the National Military Command Center (NMCC)- the war room at the Pentagon, Canada command, theater commanders and federal emergency-response agencies.
08:47 am – UA175 changes transponder codes, which went unnoticed for several minutes
08:48 am – First news reports that plane has hit the WTC1. Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, Vice Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, learns of WTC1 crash from TV report before entering a meeting with Sen. Max Cleland on Capitol Hill.
08:48 am – FAA New York Center reports to FAA HQ Command Center (Herndon, Va) that American Airlines (Dallas, Tx) reported in that one of their flight stewards was stabbed and hijackers in cockpit, unaware AA11 had crashed into WTC1.
08:50 am – FAA Indianapolis Center radios AA77. Acknowledged, last transmission.
08:51 am – FAA New York Center notices UA175 code changed. No radio response, and flight deviating from assigned altitude.
08:51 am – AA77 makes last routine transmission.
08:51:30 – 08:54 – AA77 hijacking takes place.
08:52 am – Fighters airborne from Otis, ordered to staging area south of Long Island, NY and into a holding pattern.
08:52 am – Lee Hanson, in Easton, Conn. Receives call form son Peter on UA175, “I think they’ve taken over the cockpit – An attendant has been stabbed, and someone else up front may have been killed. The plane is making strange moves. Call United Airlines – Tell them it’s Flight 175, Boston to LA.” Hanson then calls Easton PD. Flight attendant on UA175 calls United office in San Francisco and tells Marc Policastro the flight has been hijacked, both pilots killed and flight attendant stabbed, and hijackers flying the plane.
08:53 am – FAA NYC air traffic controller reports “we may have a hijack” re:US175.
08:54 am – FAA Indy notices AA77 deviates from flight plan.
08:54 am – Capt. Deborah Loewer, director of the White House Situation Room, traveling with Bush in Florida, receives message from WHSR about WTC1, and she informs Bush.
08:55 am – FAA NYC air traffic control (a women) notifies manager US175 probably hijacked, but FAA regional managers, discussing AA11, “refuse to be disturbed.”
08:56 am – AA77 transponder turned off, now off radar. No radio response.
08:58 am – UA175 turns around and heads for NYC.
08:59 am – UA175 passenger Brian David Sweeney calls wife and leaves message on her answering machine, calls mother, tells her plane hijacked.
09:00 am – Lee Hanson gets second call from son Peter on UA175. “It’s getting bad, Dad – A stewardess was stabbed – They seem to have knives and Mace – They said they have a bomb – It’s getting very bad on the plane – Passengers are throwing up and getting sick – The plane is making jerking movements – I don’t think the pilot is flying the plane – I think we are going down – I think they intend to go to Chicago or someplace and fly into a building – Don’t worry Dad – If it happens it’ll be very fast – My God, my God.” Hanson heard a women scream before the phone call was cut off.
09:00 am – AA Ex. VP Geral Arpey learns that communication lost with AA77, the second AA plane in trouble. He orders all AA planes on the ground in the Northeast to remain on ground.
09:00 am – FAA Indy notifies other agencies AA77 missing, believed crashed.
09:00 am – Pentagon moves its alert status up one notch to Alpha, United warns all aircraft of potential cockpit intrusion, Flight 93 acknowledges.
09:01 am – NYC calls FAA HQ Command Center (Herndon) “We have several situations going on here. It’s escalating big, big time. We need to get the military involved with us….we’re, we’re involved with something else, we have other aircraft that may have a similar situation going on here.”
09:02 am – NYC Center: “Alright, heads up man, it looks like another one coming in.”
09:03:02 am – US175 impacts WTC2 (South Tower)
09:03 am – Bush enters Florida school.
09:03 am – Gen. M. Winfield, (absent from his station at NMCC) later said, “When the second aircraft flew into the second tower, it was at that point we realized that the seemingly unrelated hijackings that the FAA was dealing with were in fact a part of a coordinated terrorist attack on the United States.”
09:03 am – Secret Service agents carry VP Cheney into basement to underground bunker; calls Andrews AFB and requests F-16s CAP, but Andrews off alert, not battle ready and must arm planes with air-to-air missiles.
09:03 am – Boston Center reports they deciphered the transmission, “I’m gonna reconfirm with, with downstairs, but the, as far as the tape…seemed to think the guy said that ‘we have planes.’ Now I don’t know if it was the accent, or if there’s more than one, but I’m gonna reconfirm that for you, and I’ll get back to you real qick, Okay?”
09:03 – NORAD receives calls from fighter units, “What can we do to help?” Marr replies, “I want it all. Get to the phones. Call every major National Guard unit in the land. Prepare to put jets in the air. The nation is under attack!”
09:04 am - Boston Center: “A second one just hit the trade center.” New England Region: “Okay, yea, we gotta get – we gotta alert the military real quick on this.”
09:05 am – FAA New York Center declares ATC Zero, no aircraft permitted to depart from, arrive at or travel through New York Center airspace until further notice.
09:05 am – Boston Center radios all aircraft of New York situation and to secure cockpits
09:05 am – AA77 reemerges on FAA Indy Center radar, east of last known position.
09:07 am – FAA Boston ATC requests FAA Herndon Command Center “get messages to airborne aircraft to increase security for the cockpit.” No evidence Herndon did this.
09:08 am – FAA Indy Center notifies Langley and W.V. State PD of possible crash.
09:08 am – NEADS learns of WTC2 impact and sends F-16s to Manhattan. “This is what I forsee that we probably need to do. We need to talk to FAA. WE need to tell em’ if this stuff is gonna keep on going, we need to take those fighters, put ‘em over Manhattan. That’s the best thing, that’s the best play right now. So coordinate with the FAA. Tell ‘em if there’s more out there, which we don’t know, let’s get ‘em over Manhattan. At least we got some kind of play.”
09:09 am – Langley F-16s placed at battle stations.
09:10 am – AA77 reenters DC airspace.
09:10 am – AA orders all planes on the ground nationwide grounded.
09:12 am – Passenger Renee May calls mother, tells her to alert AA of hijacking.
09:16 am – FAA informs NORAD Flight 93 hijacked.
09:16 am – Passenger Barbara Olson calls her husband Ted Olson, solicitor general of US, reporting the flight AA77 has been hijacked. Call cut off.
09:20 am – FAA Indy learns of other hijacked aircraft.
09:21 am – FAA reports to NEADS “I just heard a report that AA77 is still in the air, and it’s on its way toward – heading towards Washington.”
09:21 am – NY Port Authority closes all bridges and tunnels in NYC.
09:23 am – UA93 notified to beef up cockpit security.
09:24 am – FAA HQ CC Notifies NEADS of hijacking of AA77 – Dulles – LA
09:24 am – Three F-16s scrambled from Langley AFB, Hampton, Va. Fly east to staging area over the ocean.
09:25 am – Combat Air Patrol (CAP) established over Manhattan. Fuel now low, Langley planes considered as back-up.
09:25 am – Barbara Olson, passenger on Flight 77, calls husband, Theodore Olson at Justice Dept. again, mentions hijackers used knives and box cutters. Ted Olson tells wife of other hijackings.
09:25 am – FAA orders grounding of all commercial air traffic.
09:27 am – Chaney and Rice, in WH bunker, are told that an airplane is 50 miles out, bearing in.
09:27 am – UA93 passenger Tom Burnett calls wife, “They already knifed a guy. There’s a bomb on board. Call the FBI.”
09:28 am – UA93 at 35,000 feet, drops 700 feet. “Mayday” broadcast amid sounds of physical struggle in the cockpit. “Hey get out of here – get out of here – get out of here.”
09:29 am – UA93 acknowledges ATC radio transmission. Last pilot contact.
09:29 am – AA77 auto-pilot disengaged at 7,000 feet, 38 miles west of Pentagon.
09:30 am – Radio transmission “Get out of here, get out of here!” Transponder from Flight 93 goes off.
09:30 am – Hijackers of Flight 77 tell the passengers to phone home because “they are all going to die,” by hitting the White House. Barbara Olson calls husband Ted a second time, five minutes after first call.
09:30 am – No radio response from UA93.
09:30 am – Radar tracks Flight 77 30 miles from DC.
09:30 am – FAA’s Emergency Operations Center is up and running.
09:30 am – Secret Service call Chris Stephenson, flight controller at Washington airport tower, re: unidentified plane heading for DC, and he makes visual contact as it flies by Crystal City, Virginia, 30 out of DC.
09:30 am – Three F-16s from the North Dakota ANG 119th fighter wing, stationed at Langley are airborne over the Atlantic Ocean – Maj. Brad Derrig, Capt. Craig Borgstrom and Maj. Dean Eckmann.
09:31 am – Flight 93 cockpit transmission of flight attendent “Don’t, Don’t Please, I don’t want to die,” shortly before she is stabbed.
09:32 am – UA93 radio transmission: (probably Jarrah) “Ladies and gentlemen: Here the captain, please sit down and keep remaining seating. We have a bomb on board. So sit.” UA93’s flight data recorder that was recovered indicates the autopilot was instructed to turn the flight around and head east. Voice data recorder indicates a struggling female flight steward was killed in the cockpit at this time.
09:32 am – New York Stock Exchange closes.
09:32 am – FAA Dulles DC ATC observes target (later determined to be AA77) tracking eastbound at high rate of speed, notify Reagan airport and Secret Service.
09:33 am – C-130H military cargo plane, taking off from Reagan DC to Minnesota, identifies incoming unknown target as an American Airlines Boeing 757.
09:34 am – Tom Burnett calls wife a second time, “They’re in the cockpit,” he said, as he checked the pulse of the knifed, dead man in seat 5B (Mark Rothenberg). She tells him about the WTC. “Oh my God, it’s a suicide mission.”
09:34 – FAA Command Center tells FAA HQ that UA175 may have bomb on board.
09:34 am – NEADS contacts FAA CC DC re: AA11, and FAA reports AA77 missing.
09:34 am – Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport advises Secret Service of unknown aircraft heading in the direction of the White House; AA77 5 miles west-south-west of the Pentagon.
09:35 am – AA77 flys across Captitol Parkway at 400 + mph, crosses the Pentagon at 7,000 feet, makes a high speed descending turn, spirals in almost a complete circle and drops the final 7,000 feet in two-and-a-half minutes.
09:36 am – FAA Boston calls NEADS “Latest report. Aircraft…six miles southeast of White House, deviating away.” NEADS: “Okay, we’re going to turn it, crank it up, run them to the White House.” When NEADS discovers that Langley F-16s staged over the ocean instead of heading north as expected, he ordered them to DC, “I don’t care how many windows you break, Damn it, Okay. Push them back.”
09:36 am – FAA Cleveland Center asks FAA Command Center whether someone had requested military to launch fighters to intercept UA93. Cleveland Center offers to contact nearby military base. “Command Center replies that FAA personnel well above them in the chain of command had to make that decision and were working on the issue.”
09:37 am – Flight 93 passenger Jeremy Glick calls wife, describes hijackers as Middle Eastern, Iranian looking, who put on read headbands and ran into the cockpit. She tells him about the WTC.
09:37 am – Radar image of AA77 disappears from screen, four minutes from White House, six miles from Pentagon.
09:37 am – Defense Secretary Rumsfield is in the Pentagon meeting with Rep. Cox, watching TV, and says, “Believe me, this isn’t over yet. There’s going to be another attack and it could be us.”
09:37:46 am – AA77 impacts Pentagon. (Langley fighters 150 miles away).
09:38:30 am – C-130H pilot : “Looks like that aircraft crashed into the Pentagon, sir.”
09:38 am – Secret Service calls Andrews, “Get in the air now!”
09:39 am – Rumsfield went downstairs, outside and sees a young women sitting on the ground, bleeding who says to him “she could see people holding, drips going into people, IV of some kind, and she said, something to the effect, if people would, if someone could bring that person over, I could hold it.” (huh?). (He helps people into ambulances until 10:30).
09:39 am – FAA’s Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center overhears second announcement about bomb on board and plane.
09:40 ? – F-16s from 177th NJANG are armed and scrambled, ordered vector West, towards Pennsylvania, then north to New York City. Others from the 177th are scrambled and sent to DC, the first non-alert air wing to arrive at both cities.
09:41am – UA93 transponder turned off. Lost on radar. Passengers and flight crew from UA93 make GET airphone and cellular phone calls to
09:41 am – Passenger on Flight 93 Marion Birtton calls a friend and reports that two people have been killed and the plane turned around.
09:42 am – Passenger Mark Bingham calls home.
09:42 am - FAA Command Center learns of Pentagon plane crash, FAA’s National Operations Manager Ben Sliney, orders nationwide shutdown of all commercial air traffic
09:43 am – Bush’s motorcade arrives at Sarasota airport AF1. He learns plane has hit Pentagon.
09:44 am - Three F-16s from Langley are five minutes out from DC, flying at 650 (top speed: 1500 mph), armed with Sidewinder heat seeking missles. The pilot “Honey” hears a garbled message about Flight 93, and “White House and important asset to protect.” Neither Honey nor another pilot, Lew, are never given shoot down orders.
09:45 am - Tom Burnett calls his wife a third time, she tells him about Pentagon. He doubts hijackers really have bomb, and “a group of us are making a plan.”
09:45 am - Passenger Tod Beamer speaks with phone operator Lisa Jefferson from the back of the plane and talks for about 15 minutes, with FBI listening in.
09:45 am – FAA National Operations Mgr. Ben Sliney orders nationwide commercial air traffic shutdown.
09:45 am – White House evacuated.
09:46 am –FAA Command Center updates FAA HQ that UA93 was “twenty-nine minutes out of Washington D.C.”
09:47 am – Flight 93 passenger Jeremy Glick is still on the phone with wife, and says that the passengers are taking a vote on whether to try to take back the plane, and all the men say yea.
09:48 am – Capitol building begins evacuation. House Speaker, third in line after Chaney, is still there.
09:49 am – Three F-16s from Langley arrive in DC airspace and set up a Combat Air Patrol (CAP) over the Capitol.
09:49 am – FAA Command Center suggests that someone at HQ should decide whether to request military assistance. FAA HQ : “…scrambling aircraft?…FAA CC: “Uh, God. I don’t know…Uh, that’s a decision somebody’s gonna have to make probably in the next ten minutes.” FAA HQ: “Uh, ya know, everybody just left the room.”
09:50 am – Three F-16s from Andrews (Maj. Billy Hutchison, Lt. Col. Marc H. “Sass” Sasseville, aka “Lucky” arrive to support CAP, but only one is armed.
09:50 am – Flight 93 passenger Sandra Bradshaw calls her husband. They are filling pitchers with hot water to use against the hijackers.
09:53 am – FAA HQ informs FAA CC that DD for ATS was talking to Dept. Adm. Monte Belger about scrambling aircraft. UA93 lost over Pittsburgh.
09:53 am – The National Security Agency (NSA) intercepts a phone call from a bin Laden operative in Afghanistan to the Republic of Georgia “heard good news,” and another target is to come.
09:54 am – FAA HQ informed that visual sighting of UA93 placed it 20 miles NW of Johnstown.
09:54 am – Tom Burnett calls wife fourth time. “I know we’re all going to die. There’s three of us who are going to do something about it. It’s up to us. I think we can do it. Don’t worry, we’re going to do something.” They were waiting until they were over a rural area.
09:56 am – Air Force One airborne – AF Col. Mark Tillman pilot. Bush talks to VP Cheney by phone. Cheney recommends that Bush authorize the military to shoot down any planes under the control of hijackers. “You bet.”
09:56 am – F-16 pilots are told over the radio by Secret Service “I want you to protect the White House at all costs.”
09:57 am - ? A military aid to VP Cheney asks, “There is a plane 80 miles out. There is a fighter in the area. Should we engage? Cheney, “Yes.”
09:57 am – Todd Beamer ends his phone conversation “You ready? Okay, Let’s roll.”
09:57 am – Passenger assault begins. Fighting reported outside the cockpit of Flight 93.
09:58 am – CeeCee Lyles on phone to husband tells him they are forcing their way into the cockpit. Sandy Bradshaw tells her husband, “Everyone’s running to first class, I’ve got to go, Bye.” Male passenger calls 911 from bathroom on the plane.
09:58 am – Two jet fighters from Selfridge Michigan ANG ordered after Flight 93, without any weapons.
09:59 am – The South Tower of the WTC collapses.
10:01 am – Visual contact with UA93 seen “waving wings,” radical gyrations.
10:01 am – FAA requests F-16s from Toledo, Ohio scrambled, though off alert.
10:02 am – Hijacker says “Pull it down! Pull it down!…Allah is the greatest. Allah is the greatest.”
10:03:11 am – UF93 impacts the ground in Western Pennsylvania.
10:04 am – C-130H that witnessed Pentagon crash, reports black smoke from UA93 crash site.
10:05 am – Flight 93 begins breaking up before crashing.
10:06 am – NORAD diverts an unarmed Michigan ANG fighter to Pennsylvania.
10:07 am – Military liaison to FAA Cleveland Center notifies NEADS UA93 hijacked, unaware it had crashed.
10:08 am – Bush informed of crash of Flight 93. “Did we shoot it down or did it crash?”
10:08 am – White House surrounded by armed guards.
10:10 am – All military forces ordered to Defcon Three – Delta (highest alert in 30 years)
10:15 am – FAA Command Center advises FAA HQ that UA93 crashed.
10:16 am – Toledo fighters take off – 16 minutes after being called.
12:16 pm – Benjamin Sliney (FAA) announces that the air is clear of all commercial air traffic, and no additional hijacked planes aloft.