Key Events of 9/11 (74)
(5:43 am) September 11, 2001: 9/11 Hijackers Check in at Portland Airport; Atta Becomes Angry with Ticket Agent
9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta and Abdulaziz Alomari check in at the US Airways counter at Portland International Jetport. [PORTLAND PRESS HERALD, 10/5/2001; FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION, 10/5/2001] They are wearing ties and jackets. Atta checks in two bags, Alomari none. Atta is randomly selected for additional security scrutiny by the FAA’s Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS) (see 6:20 a.m.-7:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). However, the only consequence is that his checked bags will be held off the plane until it is confirmed that he has boarded. [9/11 COMMISSION, 7/24/2004, PP. 1; 9/11 COMMISSION, 8/26/2004, PP. 2; CNN, 3/3/2006] Noting that their flight is soon due to leave, the ticket agent who checks them in, Michael Tuohey, says, “You’re cutting it close.” [PORTLAND PRESS HERALD, 3/6/2005] Tuohey thinks the pair seems unusual. He notices they both have $2,500 first-class, one-way tickets. He later comments, “You don’t see many of those.” Atta looks “like a walking corpse. He looked so angry.” In contrast, Tuohey will say, Alomari can barely speak English and has “a goofy smile, I can’t believe he knew he was going to die that day.” Tuohey will later recount, “I thought they looked like two Arab terrorists but then I berated myself for the stereotype and did nothing.” [PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 2/24/2005; MIRROR, 9/11/2005; CNN, 3/3/2006] Atta becomes angry when Tuohey informs him he will have to check in again in Boston. He complains that he was assured he would have a “one-step check-in.” [9/11 COMMISSION, 8/26/2004, PP. 2; ASSOCIATED PRESS, 3/7/2005] Tuohey will be recalled to work later in the day to speak to an FBI agent about his encounter with Atta and Alomari. He is shown video footage of them passing through the airport’s security checkpoint upstairs. Although recognizing the two men, he notices that in the video they are no longer wearing the jackets and ties they’d had on when checking in just minutes before. He assumes they must have taken these off and tucked them into their carry-on baggage. He is also informed that the security camera behind his own desk, which should have captured the two hijackers, has in fact been out of order for some time. [PORTLAND PRESS HERALD, 3/6/2005; CNN, 3/3/2006]
9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta and Abdulaziz Alomari’s flight from Portland to Boston takes off. Their plane, Colgan Air Flight 5930, is a 19-seat Beechcraft 1900. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 3] Fellow passengers Vincent Meisner and Roger Quirion will later say Atta and Alomari board separately, keep quiet, and do not draw attention to themselves. [Washington Post, 9/16/2001] Quirion, says: “They struck me as business travelers. They were sitting down, talking, seems like they were going over some paperwork.” [CBS News, 10/12/2001]
(6:20 am - 7:48 am) September 11, 2001: Hijackers Arrive at Airports and Board Flights; Computer Screening Program Fails to Stop Them
Since 1998, the FAA has required air carriers to implement a program called the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS). This identifies those passengers who might be a security risk, based upon suspicious behavior such as buying one-way tickets or paying with cash. CAPPS also randomly assigns some passengers to receive additional security scrutiny. If a particular passenger has been designated as a “selectee,” this information is transmitted to the airport’s check-in counter, where a code is printed on their boarding pass. At the airport’s security checkpoints, selectees are subjected to additional security measures. [US News and World Report, 4/1/2002; 9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004; US Congress, 3/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 2, 85]
Their baggage is to be screened for explosives or held off the plane until they have boarded. Supposedly, the thinking behind this is that someone smuggling a bomb onto a plane won’t get onto that same flight. According to the 9/11 Commission, nine of the 19 hijackers are flagged by the CAPPS system before boarding Flights 11, 175, 77, and 93. [Washington Post, 1/28/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 84; United States of America v. Zacarias Moussaoui, a/k/a Shaqil, a/k/a Abu Khalid al Sahrawi, Defendant, 3/6/2006]
In addition, Mohamed Atta was selected when he checked in at the airport in Portland, for his earlier connecting flight to Boston (see 5:33 a.m.-5:40 a.m. September 11, 2001). All of the hijackers subsequently pass through security checkpoints before boarding their flights. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 1-4]
Lieutenant Colonel Dawne Deskins and other day shift employees at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) in Rome, NY, start their workday. NORAD is conducting a week-long, large-scale exercise called Vigilant Guardian. [Newhouse News Service, 1/25/2002] Deskins is regional mission crew chief for the Vigilant Guardian exercise. [ABC News, 9/11/2002]
Exercise Includes Simulated Attack on the US - Vigilant Guardian is described as “an exercise that would pose an imaginary crisis to North American Air Defense outposts nationwide”; as a “simulated air war”; and as “an air defense exercise simulating an attack on the United States.” According to the 9/11 Commission, it “postulated a bomber attack from the former Soviet Union.” [Newhouse News Service, 1/25/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 55 and 122; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 458] Vigilant Guardian is described as being held annually, and is one of NORAD’s four major annual exercises. [Filson, 2003, pp. 41; Arkin, 2005, pp. 545; GlobalSecurity (.org), 4/27/2005] However, one report says it takes place semi-annually. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002] Accounts by participants vary on whether 9/11 is the second, third, or fourth day of the exercise. [Code One Magazine, 1/2002; Newhouse News Service, 1/25/2002] Vigilant Guardian is a command post exercise (CPX), and in at least some previous years was conducted in conjunction with Stratcom’s Global Guardian exercise and a US Space Command exercise called Apollo Guardian. [US Congress, n.d.; Arkin, 2005, pp. 545; GlobalSecurity (.org), 4/27/2005] All of NORAD is participating in Vigilant Guardian on 9/11. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002]
Exercise Includes Simulated Hijacking - Vanity Fair reports that the “day’s exercise” (presumably Vigilant Guardian) is “designed to run a range of scenarios, including a ‘traditional’ simulated hijack in which politically motivated perpetrators commandeer an aircraft, land on a Cuba-like island, and seek asylum.” [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]
NORAD Fully Staffed and Alert - NORAD is currently running a real-world operation named Operation Northern Vigilance, and may also be conducting a field training exercise called Amalgam Warrior. NORAD is thus fully staffed and alert, and senior officers are manning stations throughout the US. The entire chain of command will be in place and ready when the first hijacking is reported. An article later says, “In retrospect, the exercise would prove to be a serendipitous enabler of a rapid military response to terrorist attacks on September 11.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; Bergen Record, 12/5/2003] Colonel Robert Marr, in charge of NEADS, will say: “We had the fighters with a little more gas on board. A few more weapons on board.” [ABC News, 9/11/2002] However, Deskins and other NORAD officials later are initially confused about whether the 9/11 attacks are real or part of the exercise (see 8:38 a.m.-8:43 a.m. September 11, 2001).
The last routine communication takes place between air traffic control and the pilots of Flight 11 at 8:13 and 29 seconds. Boston Center air traffic controller Pete Zalewski is handling the flight, and instructs it to turn 20 degrees to the right. Pilot John Ogonowski immediately acknowledges the instruction, but seconds later he fails to respond to a command to climb to 35,000 feet. Zalewski repeatedly tries to reach the pilot over the next ten minutes, even using the emergency frequency, but gets no response (see 8:14 a.m.-8:24 a.m. September 11, 2001). The 9/11 Commission concludes that Flight 11 is hijacked at 8:14, or shortly afterwards (see 8:14 a.m. September 11, 2001). [New York Times, 10/16/2001; MSNBC, 9/11/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 4]
The 9/11 Commission will later conclude that Flight 11 is hijacked at 8:14 or shortly after. It will state, “Information supplied by eyewitness accounts indicates that the hijackers initiated and sustained their command of the aircraft using knives (as reported by two flight attendants); violence, including stabbing and slashing (as reported by two flight attendants); the threat of violence (as indicated by a hijacker in radio transmissions received by air traffic control); Mace (reported by one flight attendant); the threat of a bomb, either fake or real (reported by one flight attendant); and deception about their intentions (as indicated by a hijacker in a radio transmission received by air traffic control).” [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 8] The Commission says, “We do not know exactly how the hijackers gained access to the cockpit; FAA rules required that the doors remain closed and locked during flight.… Perhaps the terrorists stabbed the flight attendants to get a cockpit key, to force one of them to open the cockpit door, or to lure the captain or first officer out of the cockpit. Or the flight attendants may just have been in their way.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 5 Pilots are trained to handle hijackings by staying calm, complying with any requests, and, if possible, dialing an emergency four-digit code on their plane’s transponder. It only takes a few seconds to dial this code. [CNN, 9/12/2001] Yet, as the Boston Globe notes, “It appears that the hijackers’ entry was surprising enough that the pilots did not have a chance to broadcast a traditional distress call” (see 8:13 a.m.-9:28 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Boston Globe, 11/23/2001] The Los Angeles Times reports that, when flight attendant Amy Sweeney makes a phone call from the plane, she says the hijackers have “just gained access to the cockpit.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/20/2001] Yet her first attempted call is not until 8:22, and, according to official accounts, her first call that stays connected is at 8:25, well past when the 9/11 Commission says the hijacker takeover occurs. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 9-10; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006] According to an employee at the FAA’s Boston Center, Flight 11 is hijacked while it is over Gardner, Massachusetts, about 45 miles northwest of Boston. [Telegraph (Nashua), 9/12/2001; Associated Press, 9/13/2001]
Betty Ong, a flight attendant on Flight 11, begins relaying information about the trouble on her plane to employees at the American Airlines Southeastern Reservations Office in Cary, North Carolina. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 5] Ong has just called the reservations office to report the hijacking of Flight 11, and is on the line with two employees there: Vanessa Minter and Winston Sadler. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/12/2001, pp. 38-41; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 453]
Ong Describes Hijacking but Gives Wrong Flight Number - Ong tells Minter and Sadler: “The cockpit’s not answering, somebody’s stabbed in business class, and I think there’s Mace, that we can’t breathe.… I think we’re getting hijacked.” Sadler asks Ong what flight she is on and Ong replies, incorrectly, “Flight 12.” She says her plane just left Boston and is supposed to go to Los Angeles, and the pilots are not answering the phone in the cockpit. She says she is in the jump seat, 3R, which is at the back of the plane, behind the coach section. [American Airlines, 9/11/2001, pp. 3-6; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 6, 8] However, Amy Sweeney, another flight attendant who makes a call from Flight 11, is in the next-to-last row of passenger seats in the coach section of the plane, and she will say that Ong is sitting next to her (see 8:32 a.m.-8:44 a.m. September 11, 2001). [New York Observer, 2/15/2004; New York Observer, 6/20/2004; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 11]
Ong Says Two Flight Attendants Stabbed - Sadler asks Ong her name and she replies: “My name is Betty Ong. I’m number three [flight attendant] on Flight 11.” She says the number one flight attendant and the number five flight attendant have been stabbed. [American Airlines, 9/11/2001, pp. 3-6] These two attendants are Barbara Arestegui and Karen Martin. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 6] Ong says, “Nobody knows who stabbed who and we can’t even get up to business class right now, ‘cause nobody can breathe.” She also says: “We can’t get into the cockpit. The door won’t open.” [American Airlines, 9/11/2001, pp. 3-6] Sadler takes notes of the call, using his computer “scratch pad.” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/12/2001, pp. 42-44] He notifies Ong of this, saying, “I’m taking it down, all the information.” He tells Ong, “We’re also, you know, of course, recording this.” [American Airlines, 9/11/2001, pp. 3-6]
Ong Receiving Details of Hijacking from Colleague - During the entire conversation, Sadler will later recall, Ong seems to be talking to someone in the background and receiving information from them. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/12/2001, pp. 42-44] This person is presumably Sara Low, another of the flight attendants, who was assigned to the front of the plane and so would have witnessed the hijacking when it happened. [Associated Press, 3/5/2009; New York Daily News, 3/6/2009; Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 9/11/2011] Ong will keep repeating herself during the call, Minter will recall, such as repeatedly mentioning the stabbings on her plane. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/12/2001, pp. 38-41] Nydia Gonzalez, a supervisor at the reservations office, has been alerted to the call and will soon join it. [9/11 Commission, 11/19/2003; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 453]
(8:24 am) September 11, 2001: Boston Air Traffic Controllers Hear Flight 11 Hijacker Say, 'We Have Some Planes,' but Uncertain of Origin of Transmission
Because the talkback button on Flight 11 has been activated, Boston Center air traffic controllers can hear a hijacker on board say to the passengers: “We have some planes. Just stay quiet and you’ll be OK. We are returning to the airport.” [Boston Globe, 11/23/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 19 Air traffic controller Pete Zalewski recognizes this as a foreign, Middle Eastern-sounding voice, but does not make out the specific words “we have some planes.” He responds, “Who’s trying to call me?” Seconds later, in the next transmission, the hijacker continues: “Nobody move. Everything will be OK. If you try to make any moves you’ll endanger yourself and the airplane. Just stay quiet.” [New York Times, 10/16/2001; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004; MSNBC, 9/9/2006] Bill Peacock, the FAA director of air traffic services, later claims, “We didn’t know where the transmission came from, what was said and who said it.” David Canoles, the FAA’s manager of air traffic evaluations and investigations, adds: “The broadcast wasn’t attributed to a flight. Nobody gave a flight number.” [Washington Times, 9/11/2002] Similarly, an early FAA report will state that both these transmissions came from “an unknown origin.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001] Zalewski asks for an assistant to help listen to the transmissions coming from the plane, and puts its frequency on speakers so others at Boston Center can hear. Because Zalewski didn’t understand the initial hijacker communication from Flight 11, the manager of Boston Center instructs the center’s quality assurance specialist to “pull the tape” of the transmission, listen to it carefully, and then report back. They do this, and by about 9:03 a.m. a Boston manager will report having deciphered what was said in the first hijacker transmission (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004; MSNBC, 9/9/2006] Fellow Boston controller Don Jeffroy also hears the tape of the hijacker transmissions, though he doesn’t state at what time. He says: “I heard exactly what Pete [Zalewski] heard. And we had to actually listen to it a couple of times just to make sure that we were hearing what we heard.” [MSNBC, 9/11/2002] At some point, Ben Sliney, the national operations manager at the FAA’s Herndon Command Center, gets word of the “We have some planes” message, and later says the phrase haunts him all morning. American Airlines Executive Vice President for Operations Gerard Arpey is also informed of the “strange transmissions from Flight 11” at some point prior to when it crashes at 8:46 a.m. [USA Today, 8/12/2002] Boston Center will receive a third transmission from Flight 11 about ten minutes later (see 8:34 a.m. September 11, 2001).
Boston flight control begins notifying the chain of command that a suspected hijacking of Flight 11 is in progress. Those notified include the center’s own facility manager, the FAA’s New England Regional Operations Center (ROC) in Burlington, Massachusetts, and the FAA Command Center in Herndon, Virginia. [Federal Aviation Administration; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 11] According to the 9/11 Commission, this is consistent with FAA protocol: “From interviews of controllers at various FAA centers, we learned that an air traffic controller’s first response to an aircraft incident is to notify a supervisor, who then notifies the traffic management unit and the operations manager in charge. The FAA center next notifies the appropriate regional operations center (ROC), which in turn contacts FAA headquarters.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 458] But according to Ben Sliney, the national operations manager at the FAA’s Command Center, “the protocol was in place that the center that reported the hijacking would notify the military.… I go back to 1964, where I began my air traffic career, and they have always followed the same protocol.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Yet Boston Center supposedly will not contact NORAD about Flight 11 until about 12 minutes later (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Already about ten minutes have passed since controllers first noticed a loss of contact with Flight 11 (see 8:15 a.m. September 11, 2001). Boston reportedly also contacts several other air traffic control centers about the suspected hijacking at this time (see 8:25 a.m. September 11, 2001).
(8:30 am) September 11, 2001: US Military Holding 'Practice Armageddon' Nationwide Training Exercise
As the 9/11 attacks are taking place, a large military training exercise called Global Guardian is taking place. Global Guardian is an annual exercise sponsored by US Strategic Command (Stratcom) in cooperation with US Space Command and NORAD. One military author defines Stratcom as “the single US military command responsible for the day-to-day readiness of America’s nuclear forces.” [Arkin, 2005, pp. 59]
Exercise Tests Military’s Ability to Fight a Nuclear War - Global Guardian is a global readiness exercise involving all Stratcom forces and aims to test Stratcom’s ability to fight a nuclear war. It is one of many “practice Armageddons” that the US military routinely stages. [Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 11/1/1997; Associated Press, 2/21/2002] It links with a number of other military exercises, including Crown Vigilance (an Air Combat Command exercise), Apollo Guardian (a US Space Command exercise), and the NORAD exercises Vigilant Guardian and Amalgam Warrior. [US Department of Defense, 5/1997; GlobalSecurity (.org), 4/27/2005] Global Guardian is both a command post and a field training exercise, and is based around a fictitious scenario designed to test the ability of Stratcom and its component forces to deter a military attack against the US. Hundreds of military personnel are involved. [US Congress, n.d.; Collins Center Update, 12/1999] The exercise involves “a lot of the elements of what ultimately would be the nuclear command and control system in support of a national emergency,” according to Admiral Richard Mies, the commander in chief of Stratcom. It includes an “exercise secretary of defense” and “an exercise president.” Mies will say that because of the exercise, “A lot of [Stratcom’s] command and control systems that, in peacetime, are normally not on alert were at a much, much higher state of alert [on September 11] and we had a number of aircraft, manned control aircraft that were airborne that were simulating their wartime roles.” [NET News, 12/27/2011]
Exercise Normally Held in October or November - According to a 1998 Internet article by the British American Security Information Council—an independent research organization—Global Guardian is held in October or November each year. [Kristensen, 10/1998] In his book Code Names, NBC News military analyst William Arkin dates this exercise for October 22-31, 2001. [Arkin, 2005, pp. 379] A military newspaper reported in March 2001 that Global Guardian was scheduled for October 2001. [Space Observer, 3/23/2001, pp. 2] If this is correct, then some time after March, the exercise must have been rescheduled for early September.
Exercise Includes a ‘Computer Network Attack’ - Furthermore, a 1998 Defense Department newsletter reported that for several years Stratcom had been incorporating a computer network attack (CNA) into Global Guardian. The attack involved Stratcom “red team” members and other organizations acting as enemy agents, and included attempts to penetrate the command using the Internet and a “bad” insider who had access to a key command and control system. The attackers “war dialed” the phones to tie them up and sent faxes to numerous fax machines throughout the Command. They also claimed they were able to shut down Stratcom’s systems. Reportedly, Stratcom planned to increase the level of computer network attack in future Global Guardian exercises. [IAnewsletter, 6/1998] It is unclear if a computer network attack is incorporated into Global Guardian in 2001.
(8:32 am - 8:44 am) September 11, 2001: Flight 11 Attendant Amy Sweeney Talks on Phone with Airline Manager at Logan Airport, Gives Details of Hijacking
Amy Sweeney, a flight attendant on Flight 11, reaches the American Airlines flight services office at Logan International Airport in Boston for the third time, and, in a phone call lasting 12 or 13 minutes, gives details of the trouble on her plane to a manager there. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 11; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006] Sweeney has already called the flight services office two times and provided employees there with details of the hijacking of Flight 11, but both calls were cut off after a short time.
Manager Takes Over Answering Call - At 8:32 a.m., Sweeney reaches the office for the third time. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 6; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006] The call is answered by James Sayer, a staff assistant. But Sayer tells Michael Woodward, an American Airlines flight services manager at Logan Airport, that the caller is Sweeney, and Woodward then takes over the call. Woodward is friends with Sweeney and has known her personally for 10 years. Furthermore, Woodward will tell the 9/11 Commission, Sayer is not trained to handle emergency calls. Woodward asks Sweeney, “Amy, sweetie, what’s going on?” She replies, “Listen to me very, very carefully.” Realizing that Sweeney is going to give him important information, Woodward immediately begins taking notes.
Sweeney Provides Details of Hijacking - Woodward will tell the 9/11 Commission that, in a matter-of-fact and official manner, Sweeney then describes to him the trouble on her plane. She says she is sitting in the back of the aircraft next to Betty Ong, another flight attendant, and the two of them are trying to relay as much information as they can to people on the ground. She says her plane has been hijacked, a man in first class had his throat slashed, and two flight attendants—Karen Martin and Barbara Arestegui—have been stabbed. Sweeney says that Martin isn’t doing very well and is on oxygen, but Arestegui is less seriously injured and seems to be alright. She says the hijackers have gained entry into the cockpit, though she doesn’t say how they did this, and there is a bomb in the cockpit. She makes no comments about the condition of the pilots, but says the flight attendants are unable to contact the cockpit. Later in the conversation, she says she doesn’t think the original pilot is in control of the plane, because they are flying “all over the place.” [9/11 Commission, 1/25/2004; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 11-12]
Sweeney Gives Seat Numbers of Hijackers - Sweeney apparently believes there are only three hijackers on Flight 11. She tells Woodward that the people who hijacked her plane were in seats 9D, 9G, and 10B. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001, pp. 5-6; 9/11 Commission, 1/25/2004; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 14] However, apart from seat 10B, these are different seats to those assigned to the hijackers on the tickets they purchased. [Los Angeles Times, 9/20/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 2] Sweeney tells Woodward that the hijackers are of Middle Eastern descent. She says one of them spoke excellent English and another spoke very little English. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/13/2001, pp. 1-2; 9/11 Commission, 1/25/2004]
Doctor or Nurse Requested - Woodward will say, when he is first questioned by the FBI about Sweeney’s call, that Sweeney tells him that a doctor and nurse are caring for the passenger who had his throat slashed. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001, pp. 5-6] But Ong, who is on the phone with employees at the American Airlines Southeastern Reservations Office in North Carolina, says there are no doctors on Flight 11. [American Airlines, 9/11/2001, pp. 7-19; 9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004] However, in a second interview with the FBI and in his interview with the 9/11 Commission, Woodward will say only that a doctor or nurse has been paged.
Woodward Gives Contradictory Accounts of Type of Phone Used - Woodward hears no noise in the background during his conversation with Sweeney. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/13/2001, pp. 1-2; 9/11 Commission, 1/25/2004] The information Sweeney provides about the hijacking has been given to her by Sara Low, a flight attendant who was assigned to the front of Flight 11 and so would have witnessed the hijacking when it happened. [Boston Herald, 12/15/2008; Associated Press, 3/5/2009] In interviews with the FBI, Woodward will say that Sweeney makes the call using an Airfone, or that he is unsure whether she uses an Airfone or a cell phone. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001, pp. 5-6; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/13/2001, pp. 1-2] But he will tell the 9/11 Commission that she makes the call on a cell phone. [9/11 Commission, 1/25/2004] However, the FBI will state that Sweeney is using an Airfone. [9/11 Commission, 2004, pp. 4; New York Observer, 6/20/2004; Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 9/11/2011] There is no tape machine in the flight services office, and so her call is not recorded. [9/11 Commission, 1/25/2004; New York Observer, 6/20/2004]
Airline Contacted about Call - At 8:40 a.m., one of Woodward’s colleagues in the flight services office calls the American Airlines System Operations Control center in Fort Worth, Texas, and passes on to it the information that Sweeney is providing to Woodward. Sweeney’s call ends after 12 or 13 minutes. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 11, 14; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006]
(8:37 am) September 11, 2001: Boston Center Notifies NEADS of Hijacking, against Normal Procedures; Accounts Conflict over Timing
The FAA’s Boston Center calls NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) in Rome, NY, to alert it to the suspected hijacking of Flight 11. According to the 9/11 Commission, this is “the first notification received by the military “at any level” that American 11 had been hijacked.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 13] The call is made by Joseph Cooper, an air traffic controller at the Boston Center, and answered by Jeremy Powell, a technical sergeant on the NEADS operations floor. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 25] Beginning the call, Cooper says: “Hi. Boston Center TMU [traffic management unit], 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.” Powell replies, “Is this real-world or exercise?” Cooper answers, “No, this is not an exercise, not a test.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20] Shortly into the call, Powell passes the phone on to Lieutenant Colonel Dawne Deskins. Deskins identifies herself to Cooper, and he tells her, “We have a hijacked aircraft and I need you to get some sort of fighters out here to help us out.” [Newhouse News Service, 1/25/2002; ABC News, 9/11/2002; Bamford, 2004, pp. 8; Spencer, 2008, pp. 26]
Military Claims Call Goes against Procedure - The 1st Air Force’s official history of the response to the 9/11 attacks will later suggest that Boston Center is not following normal procedures when it makes this call to NEADS. It states: “If normal procedures had taken place Powell probably wouldn’t have taken that phone call. Normally, the FAA would have contacted officials at the Pentagon’s National Military Command Center who would have contacted the North American Aerospace Defense Command. The secretary of defense would have had to approve the use of military assets to assist in a hijacking, always considered a law enforcement issue.” The only explanation it gives for this departure from protocol is that “nothing was normal on Sept. 11, 2001, and many say the traditional chain of command went by the wayside to get the job done.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 51]
Accounts Conflict over Time of Call - There will be some conflict between different accounts, as to when this vital call from Boston Center to NEADS occurs. An ABC News documentary will indicate it is made as early as 8:31 a.m. [ABC News, 9/11/2002] Another ABC News report will state, “Shortly after 8:30 a.m., behind the scenes, word of a possible hijacking [reaches] various stations of NORAD.” [ABC News, 9/14/2002] NEADS logs indicate the call occurs at 8:40 a.m., and NORAD will report this as the time of the call in a press release on September 18, 2001. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001] The 8:40 time will be widely reported in the media prior to the 9/11 Commission’s 2004 report. [Associated Press, 8/21/2002; BBC, 9/1/2002; CNN, 9/11/2002] But tape recordings of the NEADS operations floor that are referred to in the 9/11 Commission Report place the call at 8:37 and 52 seconds. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] If the 8:37 a.m. time is correct, this would mean that air traffic controllers have failed to successfully notify the military until approximately 12 minutes after they became certain that Flight 11 had been hijacked (see 8:25 a.m. September 11, 2001), 16 minutes after Flight 11’s transponder signal was lost, and 24 minutes after the plane’s pilots made their last radio contact. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] At 8:34, the Boston Center tried contacting the military through the FAA’s Cape Cod facility, which is located on Otis Air National Guard Base, but was told that it needed to call NEADS. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20; Spencer, 2008, pp. 22]
According to the 9/11 Commission, Flight 175 is hijacked some time between 8:42 “when its flight crew make their last communication with the ground” and 8:46. The Commission describes that the hijackers “used knives (as reported by two passengers and a flight attendant), Mace (reported by one passenger), and the threat of a bomb (reported by the same passenger). They stabbed members of the flight crew (reported by a flight attendant and one passenger). Both pilots had been killed (reported by one flight attendant).” These witness accounts come from phone calls made from the rear of the plane, from passengers who’d been assigned seats in the front or middle of the cabin. According to the Commission, this is “a sign that passengers and perhaps crew [are] moved to the back of the aircraft.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 7; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 20] An employee at the FAA’s Boston Center later says the hijacking occurs when Flight 175 is above Albany, NY, about 140 miles north of New York City. [Telegraph (Nashua), 9/12/2001; Associated Press, 9/13/2001] The first “operational evidence” that something is wrong is at 8:47, when Flight 175’s transponder code changes twice within a minute. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 7]
(8:43 am) September 11, 2001: NORAD Reportedly Notified that Flight 175 Has Been Hijacked, 9/11 Commission Will Dispute This
After 9/11, NORAD and other sources will claim that NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) is notified at this time that Flight 175 has been hijacked. [Washington Post, 9/12/2001; CNN, 9/17/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001] However, the FAA’s New York Center, which is handling Flight 175, first alerts its military liaison about the hijacking at around 9:01 (see 9:01 a.m.-9:02 a.m. September 11, 2001). In addition, according to the 9/11 Commission, NEADS is not informed until two minutes later. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] According to the Commission, the first “operational evidence” that there is something wrong on Flight 175 is not until 8:47, when its transponder code changes, and it is not until 8:53 that the air traffic controller handling it concludes that Flight 175 may be hijacked (see 8:51 a.m.-8:53 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 7, 21-22]
(8:43 am) September 11, 2001: Airline Reservations Office Loses Contact with Flight 11 Attendant Betty Ong
Employees at the American Airlines Southeastern Reservations Office in Cary, North Carolina, lose communication with Betty Ong, a flight attendant on the hijacked Flight 11. [American Airlines, 9/11/2001, pp. 20-22; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 5-6]
Ong Stops Responding to Questions - For about the last 25 minutes, Ong has been on the phone with a number of employees at the reservations office, and has been providing them with information about the trouble on her plane. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 8] But now she stops responding to their communications. Nydia Gonzalez, one of the reservations office employees, continues questioning Ong. She says: “What’s going on Betty? Betty, talk to me. Betty, are you there? Betty?” Receiving no response, she asks her colleague Winston Sadler, who is also participating in the call, “Do you think we lost her?” On another phone line, Gonzalez immediately notifies a manager at the American Airlines System Operations Control center in Texas that contact with Ong has been lost. [American Airlines, 9/11/2001, pp. 20-22; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 14]
Ong Asked Airline Employees to ‘Pray for Us’ - Toward the end of the call, Ong said repeatedly to the reservations office employees: “Pray for us. Pray for us.” [ABC News, 7/18/2002] Gonzalez will say in an interview later today that Ong’s final words, before the call ends, were, “Oh my God, the flight, it’s going down, it’s going down.” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001, pp. 1-8] But in a subsequent interview, she will say that before the call ends, Ong “started to cry” and then her final words were, “Oh God, oh God, what is going on?” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/12/2001, pp. 69-71] The reservations office employees have lost communication with Ong by 8:44 a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission Report. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 6] But according to a summary of phone calls from the hijacked flights presented at the 2006 trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, the call from Ong began at 8:18 a.m. and 47 seconds, and lasts exactly 27 minutes, meaning it ends at 8:45 a.m. and 47 seconds. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006] Flight 11 will crash into the World Trade Center less than a minute after that, at 8:46 a.m. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 7]
(8:44 am) September 11, 2001: Flight 11 Attendant Amy Sweeney Gives Updates over the Phone as Plane Approaches WTC
Amy Sweeney, a flight attendant on Flight 11, gives updates over the phone to Michael Woodward, an American Airlines flight services manager at Logan International Airport in Boston, as her plane approaches the World Trade Center, and then, after she reports that the plane is flying “very, very low,” the line goes dead. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/13/2001, pp. 1-2; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 6-7] Sweeney has been on the phone with the American Airlines flight services office at Logan Airport since 8:32 a.m., describing to Woodward the trouble on her plane (see 8:32 a.m.-8:44 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 11]
Sweeney Says Plane Is ‘in a Rapid Descent’ - She now tells Woodward: “Something is wrong. We are in a rapid descent.” She says her plane is flying “all over the place.” [9/11 Commission, 1/25/2004; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 14] Around this time, Woodward tells Nancy Wyatt, another employee in the flight services office, that Sweeney has “started screaming that there’s something wrong with the airplane.” He adds: “In other words [the original pilot is] not flying the airplane. They’re not flying the airplane.” [American Airlines, 9/11/2001, pp. 34-41]
Sweeney Says Plane Is Flying ‘Very Low’ - Woodward asks Sweeney to look out of the window to see if she can determine where her plane is. [9/11 Commission, 1/25/2004; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 14] In an interview with the FBI a couple of days later, Woodward will say that Sweeney tells him: “I see water. I see buildings. We’re very, very low. Oh my God.” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/13/2001, pp. 1-2] In 2004, he will give a slightly different account, telling the 9/11 Commission that Sweeney says: “We are flying low. We are flying very, very low. We are flying way too low.” Seconds later she says, “Oh my God, we are way too low.” [9/11 Commission, 1/25/2004; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 14] Sweeney says “Oh my God” after taking “a very slow, deep breath,” Woodward will tell ABC News. She says these final words ”[v]ery slowly, very calmly, very quietly. It wasn’t in panic,” Woodward will say.
Call Suddenly Cut Off - Woodward then hears what he will describe as “very, very loud static on the other end” of the line. [ABC News, 7/18/2002] After a short time, the line goes dead. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/13/2001, pp. 1-2] Woodward looks up from the phone and tells everyone else in the office that the line has died. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/13/2001, pp. 3-4] Wyatt is on the phone with Ray Howland, an employee at the American Airlines System Operations Control center in Fort Worth, Texas, and has been passing on to him the information that Sweeney was providing to Woodward. She now informs Howland, “Okay, we just lost connection” with Sweeney. [American Airlines, 9/11/2001, pp. 34-41; Rutgers Law Review, 9/7/2011, pp. 14]
Flight Services Office Personnel Learn of Crash at WTC - Shortly after Sweeney’s call is cut off, Woodward’s operational manager, Craig Kopetz, will enter the flight services office and say that a plane has just crashed into the WTC. Woodward will not initially connect this news with the crisis he has been dealing with. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/13/2001, pp. 1-2; ABC News, 7/18/2002] Those in the flight services office will then go to their command center. “Approximately 15 minutes later,” according to Elizabeth Williams, one of Woodward’s colleagues, the group will realize that “Flight 11 was the same flight which crashed into the WTC.” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/13/2001, pp. 3-4] The call between Sweeney and Woodward lasts “approximately 12 minutes” and ends at around 8:44 a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission. [9/11 Commission, 2004, pp. 4; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 11, 14] But according to a summary of phone calls from the hijacked flights presented at the 2006 trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, the call began at 8:32 a.m. and 39 seconds, and lasts 13 minutes and 13 seconds, meaning it ends at 8:45 a.m. and 52 seconds. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006] Flight 11 crashes into the WTC less than a minute later, at 8:46 a.m. (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 7]
(8:46 am) September 11, 2001: New York Center Air Traffic Controllers Notice Problems with Flight 175
After being focused on Flight 11, Dave Bottiglia, an air traffic controller at the FAA’s New York Center, first notices problems with Flight 175. [MSNBC, 9/11/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 21] Both Flight 11 and Flight 175 have been in the airspace that Bottiglia is responsible for monitoring. Bottiglia has just watched Flight 11’s radar blip disappear, which means the plane has dipped below his radar’s coverage area, so is below 2,000 feet. But he does not yet realize it has crashed. He says aloud, “Well, we know he’s not high altitude anymore.” [MSNBC, 9/11/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 37] Around this time, Flight 175’s transponder changes twice in the space of a minute (see 8:46 a.m.-8:47 a.m. September 11, 2001).
Conflicting Accounts - According to MSNBC, “within seconds” of losing Flight 11’s blip, “Bottiglia has another unexpected problem.” While looking for Flight 11, he realizes that Flight 175 is also missing, and “instinctively… knows the two [planes] are somehow related.” He asks another controller to take over all of his other planes. [MSNBC, 9/11/2002] But according to the 9/11 Commission’s account, Bottiglia is still trying to locate Flight 11 after it crashes, and so it is not until 8:51 a.m. that he notices the problem with Flight 175. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 21]
‘An Intruder over Allentown’ - Around the time Flight 175 changes its transponder code, air traffic controller Curt Applegate, who is sitting at the radar bank next to Bottiglia’s, sees a blip that might be the missing Flight 11. He shouts out: “Look. There’s an intruder over Allentown.” According to the Washington Post, “In air traffic jargon, an ‘intruder’ is a plane with an operating transponder that has entered restricted airspace without permission.” In fact, it is the missing Flight 175. [Washington Post, 9/17/2001; MSNBC, 9/11/2002] However, these accounts make no mention of NORAD being notified about the problems with Flight 175 at this time. But according to a NORAD timeline released shortly after 9/11, NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) was alerted about Flight 175 by the FAA several minutes earlier, at 8:43 a.m. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001]
Flight 11 slams into the WTC North Tower (Building 1). Hijackers Mohamed Atta Waleed Alshehri, Wail Alshehri, Abdulaziz Alomari, and Satam Al Suqami presumably are killed instantly, and many more in the tower will die over the next few hours. Seismic records pinpoint the crash at 26 seconds after 8:46 a.m. [CNN, 9/12/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; USA Today, 12/20/2001; Federal Emergency Management Agency, 5/1/2002, pp. 1-10; New York Times, 5/26/2002; USA Today, 8/12/2002; Associated Press, 8/21/2002; Newsday, 9/10/2002] The NIST report states the crash time to be 8:46:30. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 19] The 9/11 Commission Report states the crash time to be 8:46:40. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 7] Investigators believe the plane still has about 10,000 gallons of fuel. [New York Times, 5/26/2002] The plane strikes the 93rd through 99th floors in the 110-story building. No one above the crash line survives; approximately 1,360 people die. Below the crash line, approximately 72 die and more than 4,000 survive. Both towers are slightly less than half full at the time of the attack, with between 5,000 to 7,000 people in each tower. This number is lower than expected. Many office workers have not yet shown up to work, and tourists to the observation deck opening at 9:30 A.M. have yet to arrive. [USA Today, 12/20/2001; National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 20-22] The impact severs some columns on the north side of the North Tower. Each tower is designed as a “tube-in-tube” structure and the steel columns which support its weight are arranged around the perimeter and in the core. The plane, which weighs 283,600 lb and is traveling at an estimated speed of around 430 mph, severs 35 of the building’s 236 perimeter columns and damages another two. The damage to the South Tower’s perimeter will be similar. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 5-9, 20, 22] The perimeter columns bear about half of the tower’s weight, so this damage reduces its ability to bear gravity loads by about 7.5 percent. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 6] The actual damage to the 47 core columns is not known, as there are no photographs or videos of it, but there will be much speculation about this after 9/11. It will be suggested that some parts of the aircraft may have damaged the core even after crashing through the exterior wall. According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST): “Moving at 500 mph, an engine broke any exterior column it hit. If the engine missed the floor slab, the majority of the engine core remained intact and had enough residual momentum to sever a core column upon direct impact.” [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 107] According to NIST’s base case computer model, three of the core columns are severed and another ten suffer some damage. [National Institute of Standards & Technology, 9/2005, pp. 189] If this is accurate, it means that the impact damage to the core reduces the Tower’s strength by another approximately 7.5 percent, meaning that the building loses about 15 percent of its strength in total. This damage will be cited after 9/11 by NIST and others researchers as an event contributing to the building’s collapse. In addition, some of the fireproofing on the steel columns and trusses may be dislodged. The original fireproofing on the fire floors was mostly Blazeshield DC/F, but some of the fireproofing on the flooring has recently been upgraded to Blazeshield II, which is about 20 percent denser and 20 percent more adhesive. [National Institute of Standards & Technology, 9/2005, pp. xxxvi, 83] Photographs and videos of the towers will not show the state of fireproofing inside the buildings, but NIST will estimate the damage to it using a computer model. Its severe case model will predict that 43 of the 47 core columns are stripped of their fireproofing on one or more floors and that fireproofing is stripped from trusses covering 60,000 ft2 of floor area, the equivalent of about one and a half floors. NIST will say that the loss of fireproofing is a major cause of the collapse, but only performs 15 tests on fireproofing samples. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 23] According to NIST, more fireproofing is stripped from the South Tower (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001).
Larry Di Rita, a special assistant to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, has sent a note to Rumsfeld to inform him of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center. Although some initial reports suggest the WTC may have been hit by just a small plane, according to Victoria Clarke, the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, “Even in the accidental crash scenario, the military might be involved in some way. Rumsfeld needed to know.” Rumsfeld, who is currently hosting a breakfast meeting with several members of Congress, later acknowledges having received this note. Yet apparently he does nothing in response. He recalls, “Everyone assumed it was an accident, the way it was described.” He says only that “we adjourned the meeting, and I went in to get my CIA briefing.” [US Department of Defense, 12/5/2001; 9/11 Commission, 3/23/2004; Clarke, 2006, pp. 217-218; Vogel, 2007, pp. 428]
Two F-15 fighter jets are scrambled from Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, which is 153 miles from New York City. The fighters are launched in response to the hijacked Flight 11, but this plane is already crashing into the World Trade Center at this time (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 9/15/2001; CNN, 9/17/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]
Delay - The FAA’s Boston Center alerted NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) to the hijacking of Flight 11 and requested that fighter jets be scrambled at just before 8:38 a.m. (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001), but the mission crew commander at NEADS only instructed the leader of his weapons team to launch the Otis fighters at 8:45 a.m. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]
Otis Aircraft Head to Runway - As soon as the pilots at Otis Air Base are strapped into their aircraft, the green light directing them to launch goes on. They start their engines and taxi out of the hangar to the nearest runway. One of the pilots, Lt. Col. Timothy Duffy, radios his command post for guidance, asking, “Do you have words?” The response he gets is, “Possible hijack, American Flight 11, 737, flight level 290 [29,000 feet], over JFK [International Airport in New York City].” (This flight information is partly incorrect, since American 11 is a 767, not a 737.) According to the Cape Cod Times, the jets will be up in the air before their radar kicks in. [Cape Cod Times, 8/21/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 42] The Otis pilots have already been preparing for the scramble order to come since learning of the hijacking from the FAA’s Cape Cod facility, some time shortly after 8:34 a.m.. [BBC, 9/1/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 27-30] Their jets are reportedly not airborne until seven minutes after being scrambled, at 8:53 a.m. and there will be conflicting accounts of what their original destination is (see 8:53 a.m.-9:05 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]
(8:48 am - 8:55 am) September 11, 2001: Members of the President's Staff Learn of the Crash at the WTC, but Bush Is Not Informed
White House officials and reporters who are traveling with President Bush in Florida learn that a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center while they are being driven to the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, but Bush is not notified about the crash at this time. [White House, 8/12/2002; St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004; Rochester Review, 9/2004] A number of senior officials who are together in a van learn about the crash as their vehicle is pulling into the school’s driveway. Those in the van include White House press secretary Ari Fleischer; White House communications director Dan Bartlett; Bush’s senior adviser, Karl Rove; Bush’s CIA briefer, Mike Morell; and White House photographer Eric Draper. [White House, 8/12/2002; Fleischer, 2005, pp. 138; Studies in Intelligence, 9/2006]
Press Secretary Is Contacted by an Assistant - Fleischer is alerted to the crash by Brian Bravo, an assistant in the White House press office. Bravo learned what happened when he was called by a friend in New York who had seen Flight 11 hitting the WTC, at 8:46 a.m. (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), and then saw the television coverage of the incident. In response, he sent a pager message to Fleischer, simply stating, “A plane has hit the World Trade Center.” [White House, 8/8/2002; Fleischer, 2005, pp. 138; Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016] After seeing the message, Fleischer exclaims: “Oh, my God! I don’t believe it! A plane just hit the World Trade Center.” [Albuquerque Tribune, 9/10/2002; Bamford, 2004, pp. 17] He turns to Morell and asks the CIA officer if he knows anything about the incident. Morell says no and that he will make some calls to try and find out more. He will call the CIA’s operations center to see what people there know (see Shortly Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Studies in Intelligence, 9/2006; Morell and Harlow, 2015, pp. 47-48]
Other Officials Receive Calls from the White House - Around the time Fleischer is alerted to the crash, Rove is called from the White House by his assistant, Susan Ralston, who tells him what happened at the WTC (see 8:55 a.m. September 11, 2001). [New Yorker, 9/25/2001; Filipinas, 2/2004] And Bartlett receives a call from his assistant at the White House, who tells him: “There’s just been an incredible accident or something. A plane has hit the World Trade Center.” [White House, 8/12/2002]
Military Officers Are Called about the Crash - In another vehicle in the motorcade, Navy Captain Deborah Loewer, the director of the White House Situation Room, receives a call from Rob Hargis, the senior duty officer in the Situation Room, alerting her to the crash. [Dayton Daily News, 8/17/2003; McClatchy Newspapers, 8/29/2011; Priess, 2016, pp. 239-240] Meanwhile, as his vehicle is arriving at the school, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Herman, a senior presidential communications officer assigned to the White House, is contacted by his operations center, and notified that a plane has struck one of the Twin Towers and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice wants to talk on the phone with the president. [Marist Magazine, 10/2002]
Members of the Press Are Alerted to the Crash - Members of the press traveling in the motorcade also learn about the crash during the journey to the school. Reporter Richard Keil is told what happened when he talks on the phone with a friend who has seen the coverage of the incident on television. Keil then passes on the news to the other reporters and photographers in the press van. And Kia Baskerville, a CBS News White House producer, receives a call on her cell phone from a producer who tells her about the crash. [CBS News, 8/19/2002; Rochester Review, 9/2004]
President Is Not Told about the Crash - And yet, while these people are alerted to the crash, Bush reportedly is not called about it at this time and he will only be told what has happened after he arrives at the school (see 8:55 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (Shortly After 8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004; Rove, 2010, pp. 249-250; Priess, 2016, pp. 240] This is despite the fact that his limousine is “bristling with communications gear,” according to the Los Angeles Times. [Los Angeles Times, 1/24/2001] “In the presidential limo, the communications system is almost duplicative of the White House,” author Philip Melanson will note. [St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004] “Yet despite having a secure STU-III phone next to him… and an entire national security staff at the White House,” author James Bamford will comment, “it appears that the president of the United States knew less than tens of millions of other people in every part of the country who were watching the attack as it unfolded.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 17] “It mystifies me why they didn’t call the president,” Robert Plunket, a reporter who is waiting for the president at the school, will remark. “He’s totally surrounded by state-of-the-art communications equipment and nobody tells him.” [St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004]
(8:50 am) September 11, 2001: FAA Establishes Phone Bridges, Including with the Military, Earlier than Claimed by 9/11 Commission
According to a statement by two high-level FAA officials, “Within minutes after the first aircraft hit the World Trade Center, the FAA immediately established several phone bridges [i.e., telephone conference calls] that included FAA field facilities, the FAA command center, FAA headquarters, [Defense Department], the Secret Service, and other government agencies.” The FAA shares “real-time information on the phone bridges about the unfolding events, including information about loss of communication with aircraft, loss of transponder signals, unauthorized changes in course, and other actions being taken by all the flights of interest, including Flight 77. Other parties on the phone bridges in turn shared information about actions they were taken.” The statement says, “The US Air Force liaison to the FAA immediately joined the FAA headquarters phone bridge and established contact with NORAD on a separate line.” [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003] Another account says the phone bridges are “quickly established” by the Air Traffic Services Cell (ATSC). This is a small office at the FAA’s Herndon Command Center, which is staffed by three military officers at the time of the attacks. It serves as the center’s liaison with the military. According to Aviation Week and Space Technology, the phone bridges link “key players, such as NORAD’s command center, area defense sectors, key FAA personnel, airline operations, and the NMCC.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/10/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] According to an FAA transcript of employee conversations on 9/11, one of the phone bridges, between the FAA Command Center, the operations center at FAA headquarters, and air traffic control centers in Boston and New York, begins before Flight 11 hits the World Trade Center at 8:46 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 10/14/2003, pp. 3-10] If these accounts are correct, it means someone at NORAD should learn about Flight 77 when it deviates from its course. However, the 9/11 Commission will later claim that the FAA teleconference is established about 30 minutes later (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The Air Force liaison to the FAA will claim she only joins it after the Pentagon is hit.
(8:51 am - 8:53 am) September 11, 2001: Air Traffic Controller Declares Flight 175 as Possibly Hijacked
According to the 9/11 Commission, Dave Bottiglia, the air traffic controller handling Flight 175, only notices now that this flight’s transponder signal has changed (see 8:46 a.m.-8:47 a.m. September 11, 2001). Bottiglia asks Flight 175 to return to its proper transponder code. There is no response. Beginning at 8:52 a.m., he makes repeated attempts to contact it, but there is still no response. Bottiglia contacts another controller at 8:53 a.m., and says: “We may have a hijack. We have some problems over here right now. I can’t get a hold of UAL 175 at all right now and I don’t know where he went to.” [New York Times, 10/16/2001; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004; Spencer, 2008, pp. 48] This account apparently conflicts with earlier accounts that claim NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) was notified at 8:43 a.m. that Flight 175 had been hijacked (see 8:43 a.m. September 11, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001]
The 9/11 Commission says the hijacking of Flight 77 takes place between 8:51 a.m., when the plane transmits its last routine radio communication, and 8:54 a.m., when it deviates from its assigned course. Based on phone calls made from the plane by flight attendant Renee May and passenger Barbara Olson, the commission concludes that the hijackers “initiated and sustained their command of the aircraft using knives and box cutters… and moved all of the passengers (and possibly crew) to the rear of the aircraft.” It adds, “Neither of the firsthand accounts to come from Flight 77… mentioned any actual use of violence (e.g., stabbings) or the threat or use of either a bomb or Mace.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 8-9; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 29] People who knew Charles Burlingame, the pilot of Flight 77, will later contend that it would have required a difficult struggle for the hijackers to gain control of the plane from him. [Washington Post, 9/11/2002] Burlingame was a military man who’d flown Navy jets for eight years, served several tours at the Navy’s elite Top Gun school, and been in the Naval Reserve for 17 years. [Associated Press, 12/6/2001] His sister, Debra Burlingame, says, “This was a guy that’s been through SERE [Survival Evasion Resistance Escape] school in the Navy and had very tough psychological and physical preparation.” [Journal News (Westchester), 12/30/2003] Admiral Timothy Keating, who was a classmate of Burlingame’s from the Navy and a flight school friend, says, “I was in a plebe summer boxing match with Chick, and he pounded me.… Chick was really tough, and the terrorists had to perform some inhumane act to get him out of that cockpit, I guarantee you.” [CNN, 5/16/2006] Yet the five alleged hijackers do not appear to have been the kinds of people that would be a particularly dangerous opponent. Pilot Hani Hanjour was skinny and barely over 5 feet tall. [Washington Post, 10/15/2001] And according to the 9/11 Commission, the “so-called muscle hijackers actually were not physically imposing,” with the majority of them being between 5 feet 5 and 5 feet 7 in height, “and slender in build.” [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004] Senator John Warner (R-VA) later says “the examination of his remains… indicated Captain Burlingame was in a struggle and died before the crash, doing his best to save lives on the aircraft and on the ground.” [Washington Post, 12/8/2001]
(8:53 am - 9:05 am) September 11, 2001: Otis Fighters Head toward New York Area; Accounts Conflict over Exact Destination
The two F-15 fighter jets launched from Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod respond to the hijacking of Flight 11, but there will be conflicting accounts regarding their initial destination. The fighters were scrambled at 8:46 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), and are airborne by 8:53 (see 8:53 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20]
Flying toward New York City - News reports shortly after 9/11 will say that, after taking off, the Otis fighters begin “racing towards New York City.” [CNN, 9/14/2001; Cape Cod Times, 9/15/2001] Other news reports similarly say they initially head toward New York City. [Washington Post, 9/12/2001; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; Fox News, 9/8/2002] Major General Larry Arnold, the commanding general of NORAD’s Continental Region, will say the fighters are “coming to New York.” [[MSNBC, 9/23/2001]; Slate, 1/16/2002] Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Duffy, the lead Otis pilot, tells the BBC, “When we took off we started climbing a 280-heading, basically towards New York City.” [BBC, 9/1/2002] In one account, Duffy recalls that, after launching, he calls for the location of his target and is told, “Your contact’s over Kennedy,” meaning New York’s JFK International Airport. Duffy will add, ”[W]e started heading right down to Long Island, basically.” [ABC News, 9/11/2002; Bamford, 2004, pp. 15] In another account, he says that he and the other Otis pilot, Major Daniel Nash, “climbed up, [and] we were supersonic going down to Long Island.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 57]
Without a Target, Heading for Military Airspace - According to some accounts, however, the two Otis fighters do not initially head toward Manhattan. Major James Fox, the leader of the weapons team at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), will later recall: “We had no idea where [Flight 11] was. We just knew it was over land, so we scrambled [the Otis fighters] towards land.” [Newhouse News Service, 1/25/2002] The 9/11 Commission will conclude that, after taking off, because they are “Lacking a target,” the fighters are “vectored toward military-controlled airspace off the Long Island coast.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20] Colonel Robert Marr, the battle commander at NEADS, says that when the Otis fighters took off, his “intent was to scramble [them] to military airspace while we found out what was going on.” He says that, before 9:03 a.m. when the second World Trade Center tower is hit, the fighters are “heading down south toward Whiskey 105 and we don’t really have a mission for them at this point.” Whiskey 105 is military training airspace southeast of Long Island, a few minutes flying time from New York City. [Filson, 2003, pp. 56 and 58-59]
To New York, Then Redirected to Military Airspace - Other accounts will say the Otis fighters initially head toward New York City, but are subsequently redirected to the military airspace off Long Island (see 8:54 a.m.-8:55 a.m. September 11, 2001). According to author Lynn Spencer, after taking off, Duffy and Nash fly “supersonic toward New York for approximately 15 minutes.” But just after the second WTC tower is hit, Duffy suggests to the weapons controller at NEADS that the two fighters head to the Whiskey 105 training airspace off Long Island, and that is where they then go. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 83-85] Tape recordings of the NEADS operations floor will reveal that, at 8:45 a.m., Major Kevin Nasypany, the facility’s mission crew commander, gave Major Fox a coordinate north of New York City, and told him to “Head [the Otis jets] in that direction” (see 8:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). Then, at 8:52, he told one of his staff members, “Send ‘em to New York City still” (see 8:53 a.m. September 11, 2001). But, according to Vanity Fair, shortly after the second tower is hit, the NEADS weapons technicians get “pushback” from civilian FAA controllers, who are “afraid of fast-moving fighters colliding with a passenger plane,” so the two fighters are directed to a “holding area” just off the coast, near Long Island (see 9:09 a.m.-9:13 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] Accounts are also unclear regarding what speed the Otis jets fly at after taking off (see (8:53 a.m.-9:05 a.m.) September 11, 2001).