The Alleged Hijackings - Excerpts From the Terror Timeline

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Disclaimer: Not everything listed in the Terror Timeline is true, or "actually happened". In fact, since it includes primarily mainstream media sources it more than likely includes a fair amount of propaganda and disinformation. It is up to the discerning reader to separate fact from fiction, the truth from the cover-up.

NORAD begins Operation Northern Vigilance. For this military operation, it deploys fighters to Alaska and Northern Canada to monitor a Russian air force exercise in the Russian Arctic and North Pacific Ocean, scheduled for September 10 to September 14. The Russian exercise involves its bombers staging a mock attack against NATO planes that are supposedly planning an assault on Russia. [BBC, 2001, pp. 161; NORAD, 9/9/2001; Washington Times, 9/11/2001] The NORAD fighters are due to stay in Alaska and Canada until the end of the Russian exercise. At some time between 10:32 a.m. and 11:45 a.m. on 9/11, Russian President Vladimir Putin will call the White House to say the Russians are voluntarily halting their exercise. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002] It is unknown from which bases NORAD sends fighters for Operation Northern Vigilance, and how many US military personnel are involved. However, in December 2000, it took similar action—called Operation Northern Denial—in response to a “smaller scale” Russian “long-range aviation activity in northern Russia and the Arctic.” More than 350 American and Canadian military personnel were involved on that occasion. [Canadian Chief of Defense Staff, 5/30/2001, pp. 6 pdf file; NORAD, 9/9/2001]

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), which is responsible for detecting and responding to any attack on the mainland United States, is in the early stages of a major training exercise called Vigilant Guardian that is to take place off the shores of the northeastern US and Canada. The exercise is not scheduled to really take off until the following day, September 11 (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001), but simulated intelligence briefings and meetings are now being held to set the stage for the mock engagements to come. According to author Lynn Spencer, Vigilant Guardian “is the kind of war game that the Russians usually respond to, even in this post-Cold War era.” The Russians have in fact announced that they will be deploying aircraft to several of their “Northern Tier” bases on September 11. Russian jets have penetrated North American airspace during previous NORAD exercises, and Colonel Robert Marr, the commander of NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), has prepared for them to do so again during the current exercise. If this happens, armed US fighter jets will intercept the Russian aircraft and escort them back to their own territory. In case there is any confrontation, Marr has ordered that his alert fighter jets be loaded with additional fuel and weapons. According to Spencer, on September 11, all alert fighters will be “loaded with live missiles in anticipation of any show of force that might be needed to respond to the Russians.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 3-5] NORAD has already announced that it is deploying fighters to Alaska and Northern Canada to monitor a Russian air force exercise being conducted in the Russian Arctic and North Pacific Ocean throughout this week (see September 9-11, 2001). [BBC, 2001, pp. 161; NORAD, 9/9/2001] According to the 9/11 Commission, the Vigilant Guardian exercise will in fact postulate “a bomber attack from the former Soviet Union.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 458]

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. [GlobalSecurity (.org), 4/14/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 41; Arkin, 2005, pp. 545] 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; Ottawa Citizen, 9/11/2002] 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.; GlobalSecurity (.org), 4/14/2002; Arkin, 2005, pp. 545] 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] However, at NEADS, most of the dozen or so staff on the operations floor have no idea what the exercise is going to entail and are ready for anything. [Utica Observer-Dispatch, 8/5/2004]
NORAD Fully Staffed and Alert - NORAD is currently running a real-world operation named Operation Northern Vigilance (see September 9-11, 2001). It may also be conducting a field training exercise calling Amalgam Warrior on this morning (see 9:28 a.m. September 11, 2001). 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).

In the event of a hijacking, all airline pilots are trained to key an emergency four-digit code into their plane’s transponder. This would surreptitiously alert air traffic controllers, causing the letters “HJCK” to appear on their screens. [CNN, 9/13/2001; Newsday, 9/13/2001; News (Portugal), 8/3/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 17-18] The action, which pilots should take the moment a hijack situation is known, only takes seconds to perform. [Christian Science Monitor, 9/12/2001; CNN, 9/12/2001] Yet during the hijackings of flights 11, 175, 77, and 93, none of the pilots do this. [CNN, 9/11/2001]

 

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]

(Between 8:13 a.m. and 8:21 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Flight 11 Transponder Turned Off

Shortly after air traffic controllers ask Flight 11 to climb to 35,000 feet, its transponder stops transmitting. A transponder is an electronic device that identifies a plane on a controller’s screen and gives its exact location and altitude. Among other vital functions, it is also used to transmit a four-digit emergency hijack code. Flight control manager Glenn Michael later says, “We considered it at that time to be a possible hijacking.” [Christian Science Monitor, 9/13/2001; MSNBC, 9/15/2001; Associated Press, 8/12/2002] Initial stories after 9/11 suggest the transponder is turned off around 8:13 a.m., but Pete Zalewski, the air traffic controller handling the flight, later says the transponder is turned off at 8:20 a.m. [MSNBC, 9/11/2002] The 9/11 Commission places it at 8:21 a.m. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Colonel Robert Marr, head of NEADS, claims the transponder is turned off some time after 8:30 a.m. where the Flight 11 hijack was first detected a.m. [ABC News, 9/11/2002]

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 pdf file] 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 pdf file; 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. [Associated Press, 9/13/2001; Telegraph (Nashua), 9/13/2001]

After Flight 11 fails to respond to an instruction from air traffic control to climb to 35,000 feet (see 8:13 a.m. September 11, 2001), the controller handling it, Pete Zalewski, tries to regain contact with the aircraft. Over the following ten minutes, he makes numerous attempts but without success. (Zalewski says he makes 12 attempts; the 9/11 Commission says nine.) He tries reaching the pilot on the emergency frequency. Zalewski later recalls that initially, “I was just thinking that it was, you know, maybe they—pilots weren’t paying attention, or there’s something wrong with the frequency.… And at first it was pretty much, you know, ‘American 11,’ you know, ‘are you paying attention? Are you listening?’ And there was still no response.” He says, “I went back to the previous sector to see if the pilot had accidentally flipped the switch back over on the—on the radio.” But as Zalewski is repeatedly unable to get any response from Flight 11, he recalls, “I even began to get more concerned.” However, Zalewski claims, it is not until he sees the plane’s transponder go off at around 8:21 that he suspects something is “seriously wrong,” and calls his supervisor for assistance (see (8:21 a.m.) September 11, 2001). And it is not until about 8:25 that he realizes for sure that he is dealing with a hijacking (see (8:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001). It is only then that Boston Center starts notifying its chain of command that Flight 11 has been hijacked (see 8:25 a.m. September 11, 2001). [New York Times, 10/16/2001; MSNBC, 9/11/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 18; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 7 and 10-11 pdf file]

8:14 a.m. September 11, 2001: Flight 175 Takes Off 16 Minutes Late

Flight 175 takes off from Boston’s Logan Airport, 16 minutes after its scheduled 7:58 departure time. [Washington Post, 9/12/2001; CNN, 9/17/2001; Guardian, 10/17/2001; Associated Press, 8/21/2002; Newsday, 9/10/2002]

Two Boston flight controllers, Pete Zalewski and Lino Martins, discuss the fact that Flight 11 cannot be contacted. Zalewski says to Martins, “He won’t answer you. He’s nordo [no radio] roger thanks.” [CNN, 9/17/2001; New York Times, 10/16/2001; Guardian, 10/17/2001; MSNBC, 9/11/2002]

According to a computer presentation put forward as evidence in the 2006 trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, an unknown person—or persons—makes four calls from Flight 11. These are at 08:16:50, 08:20:11, 08:25:31, and 08:28:33. The calls do not appear to have gone through properly: they are each described as “On button pressed, no call made.” Though the trial exhibit identifies the caller(s) only as “Unknown Caller,” other evidence suggests that at least one of the calls is made by—or on behalf of—Sara Low, who is one of the plane’s flight attendants. Her father, Mike Low, later says he learned from FBI records that his daughter had given her childhood home phone number in Arkansas to another of the flight attendants, Amy Sweeney, for her to report the hijacking. Low speculates that the reason his daughter gave this particular number was that she had just moved home, and so, in the stress of the hijacking, her childhood phone number was the only one she could remember. The Moussaoui trial presentation lists Sweeney as making five calls from the plane. However, it says these are all to the American Airlines office at Boston’s Logan Airport. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006; New York Times, 9/4/2007] Sara Low lets Sweeney use her father’s calling card in order to make these five calls from an Airfone (see 8:22 a.m. September 11, 2001). [New York Observer, 6/20/2004]

8:19 a.m. September 11, 2001: Flight 11 Attendant Ong Phones in Hijack Report, Officials Doubt Validity

Flight 11 attendant Betty Ong calls Vanessa Minter, an American Airlines reservations agent at its Southeastern Reservations Office in Cary, North Carolina, using a seatback Airfone from the back of the plane. Ong speaks to Minter and another employee, Winston Sadler, for about two minutes. Then, at 8:21 a.m., supervisor Nydia Gonzalez is patched in to the call as well. Ong says, “The cockpit’s not answering. Somebody’s stabbed in business class and… I think there’s mace… that we can’t breathe. I don’t know, I think we’re getting hijacked.” Asked what flight she is on, she mistakenly answers, “Flight 12,” though a minute later she corrects this, saying, “I’m number three on Flight 11.” She continues, “And the cockpit is not answering their phone. And there’s somebody stabbed in business class. And there’s… we can’t breathe in business class. Somebody’s got mace or something… I’m sitting in the back. Somebody’s coming back from business. If you can hold on for one second, they’re coming back.” As this quote shows, other flight attendants relay information from the front of the airplane to Ong sitting in the back, and she periodically waits for updates. She goes on, “I think the guys are up there [in the cockpit]. They might have gone there—jammed the way up there, or something. Nobody can call the cockpit. We can’t even get inside.” Ong’s emergency call will last about 25 minutes, being cut off around 8:44 a.m. (see (8:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, the recently installed recording system at the American Airlines reservations center contains a default time limit, and consequently only the first four minutes of it will be recorded. Gonzalez later testifies that Ong was “calm, professional and in control” all through the call. [Betty Ong, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004; New York Observer, 2/15/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 5 and 453; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 8-9 pdf file] 9/11 Commissioner Bob Kerrey, who will hear more recordings than are made public, later says that some officials on the ground greeted Ong’s account skeptically: “They did not believe her. They said, ‘Are you sure?’ They asked her to confirm that it wasn’t air-rage. Our people on the ground were not prepared for a hijacking.” [New York Times, 4/18/2004 Sources: Bob Kerrey]

8:20 a.m. September 11, 2001: American Airlines Dispatcher Learns of Problem With Flight 11

At the American Airlines operations center in Fort Worth, Texas, the flight dispatcher responsible for transatlantic flights receives a communication from an American Airlines flight traveling from Seattle to Boston, informing her that air traffic control has asked the aircraft to try and contact Flight 11. Under FAA rules, dispatchers licensed by the agency are responsible for following aircraft in flight. Once a plane is in the air, a dispatcher must monitor its progress, relay safety information to the captain, and handle any problems. American Airlines assigns a dispatcher to each of its flights. This is the first indication the dispatcher receives notice of any problem on Flight 11. [Dallas Morning News, 6/13/2002; Sydney Morning Herald, 6/14/2002; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 9 and 86 pdf file] However, Flight 11 is not a transatlantic flight, so why this particular dispatcher is notified is unclear.

 

8:20 a.m. September 11, 2001: Flight 11 IFF Signal Transmission Stops

Flight 11 stops transmitting its IFF (identify friend or foe) beacon signal. [CNN, 9/17/2001]

 

(8:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Flight 11 Veers Off Course

Flight 11 starts to veer dramatically off course. It now heads in a northwesterly direction toward Albany, New York. [MSNBC, 9/11/2002]

According to some reports, Boston flight control decides that Flight 11 has probably been hijacked, but apparently, it does not notify other flight control centers for another five minutes, and does not notify NORAD for approximately 20 minutes. [New York Times, 9/15/2001; Newsday, 9/23/2001] ABC News will later say, “There doesn’t seem to have been alarm bells going off, [flight] controllers getting on with law enforcement or the military. There’s a gap there that will have to be investigated.” [ABC News, 9/14/2001] (Note the conflicting account at 8:21 a.m. (see (8:21 a.m.) September 11, 2001)

(8:21 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Flight 11 Attendant Ong’s Hijacking Account Forwarded to American Airlines Operations Center

Nydia Gonzalez, an American Airlines supervisor with expertise on security matters, is patched in to a call with flight attendant Betty Ong on Flight 11. [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004] At 8:21 a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission (or 8:27 a.m., according to the Wall Street Journal), Gonzalez calls Craig Marquis, a manager at the American Airlines System Operations Control (SOC) in Fort Worth, Texas. Gonzalez holds the phone to Ong to one ear, and the phone to Marquis to the other. [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001; New York Observer, 2/15/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 5; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 9 pdf file] Marquis quickly says, “I’m assuming they’ve declared an emergency. Let me get ATC [air traffic control] on here. Stand by.… Okay, we’re contacting the flight crew now and we’re… we’re also contacting ATC.” Gonzalez relays that Ong is saying the hijackers from seats 2A and 2B are in the cockpit with the pilots, and that there are no doctors on board. Gonzalez talks to Marquis continuously until Flight 11 crashes. While only the first four minutes of Ong’s call from Flight 11 are recorded by American Airlines (see 8:19 a.m. September 11, 2001), all of Gonzalez’s call to Marquis will be recorded. Four minutes, of what is apparently a compilation from it, are later played before the 9/11 Commission. [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004]

(8:21 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Boston Controller Suspects Something Seriously Wrong with Flight 11, but NORAD Not Notified

Boston flight controller Pete Zalewski, handling Flight 11, sees that the flight is off course and that the plane has turned off both transponder and radio. Zalewski later claims he turns to his supervisor and says, “Would you please come over here? I think something is seriously wrong with this plane. I don’t know what. It’s either mechanical, electrical, I think, but I’m not sure.” When asked if he suspected a hijacking at this point, he replies, “Absolutely not. No way.” According to the 9/11 Commission, “the supervisor instructed the controller [presumably Zalewski] to follow standard operating procedures for handling a ‘no radio’ aircraft once the controller told the supervisor the transponder had been turned off.” Another flight controller, Tom Roberts, has another nearby American Airlines Flight try to contact Flight 11. There is still no response. The flight is now “drastically off course” but NORAD is still not notified. [MSNBC, 9/11/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Note that this response contradicts flight control manager Glenn Michael’s assertion that Flight 11 was considered a possible hijacking as soon as the transponder was discovered turned off.

8:22 a.m. September 11, 2001: Flight 11 Attendant Sweeney Phones in Hijacking Details

Flight 11 attendant Amy (Madeline) Sweeney borrows a calling card from flight attendant Sara Low and uses an Airfone to try to call the American Airlines flight services office at Boston’s Logan Airport. She makes her first attempt at 8:22 a.m., but this quickly disconnects, as does a second attempt at 8:24. Further attempts at 8:25 and 8:29 are cut off after she reports someone hurt on the flight. The respondent to the call mistakenly thinks Sweeney’s flight number that she reports is 12. Hearing there is a problem with an American Airlines plane, Michael Woodward, an American Airlines flight service manager, goes to American’s gate area at the airport with a colleague, and realizes Flight 12 has not yet departed. He returns to the office to try to clarify the situation, then takes the phone and speaks to Sweeney himself. Because Woodward and Sweeney are friends, he does not have to verify the call is not a hoax. The call is not recorded, but Woodward takes detailed notes. According to the 9/11 Commission, the call between them lasts about 12 minutes, from 8:32 a.m. to 8:44 a.m. Accounts prior to the 9/11 Commission report spoke of one continuous call from around 8:20. [ABC News, 7/18/2002; New York Observer, 2/15/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 453] Sweeney calmly tells Woodward, “Listen, and listen to me very carefully. I’m on Flight 11. The airplane has been hijacked.” [ABC News, 7/18/2002] According to one account, she gives him the seat locations of three hijackers: 9D, 9G, and 10B. She says they are all of Middle Eastern descent, and one speaks English very well. [New York Observer, 2/15/2004] Another account states that she identifies four hijackers (but still not the five said to be on the plane), and notes that not all the seats she gave matched up with the seats assigned to the hijackers on their tickets. [Los Angeles Times, 9/20/2001; ABC News, 7/18/2002] She says she cannot contact the cockpit, and does not believe the pilots are flying the plane any longer. [New York Observer, 2/15/2004] According to a later Los Angeles Times report, “Even as she was relating details about the hijackers, the men were storming the front of the plane and ‘had just gained access to the cockpit,’” (Note that Sweeney witnesses the storming of the cockpit at least seven minutes after radio contact from Flight 11 stops and at least one of the hijackers begins taking control of the cockpit.) [Los Angeles Times, 9/20/2001] She says the hijackers have stabbed the two first-class flight attendants, Barbara Arestegui and Karen Martin. She adds, “A hijacker cut the throat of a business-class passenger [later identified as Daniel Lewin], and he appears to be dead (see (8:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001).” She also says the hijackers have brought a bomb into the cockpit. Woodward asks Sweeney, “How do you know it’s a bomb?” She answers, “Because the hijackers showed me a bomb.” She describes its yellow and red wires. Sweeney continues talking with Woodward until Flight 11 crashes. [Boston Globe, 11/23/2001; New York Observer, 2/15/2004]

(Between 8:22 a.m. and 8:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Sweeney’s Call Reaches American Headquarters, but Managers Cover Up the News

  

American Airlines Flight service manager Michael Woodward is listening to Flight 11 attendant Amy Sweeney on the telephone, and he wants to pass on the information he is hearing from her. Since there is no tape recorder, he calls Nancy Wyatt, the supervisor of pursers at Logan Airport. Holding telephones in both hands, he repeats to Wyatt everything that Sweeney is saying to him. Wyatt in turn simultaneously transmits his account to the airline’s Fort Worth, Texas, headquarters. The conversation between Wyatt and managers at headquarters is recorded. All vital details from Sweeney’s call reach American Airlines’ top management almost instantly. However, according to victims’ relatives who later hear this recording, the two managers at headquarters immediately begin discussing a cover-up of the hijacking details. They say, “don’t spread this around. Keep it close,” “Keep it quiet,” and “Let’s keep this among ourselves. What else can we find out from our own sources about what’s going on?” One former American Airlines employee who has also heard this recording recalls, “In Fort Worth, two managers in SOC [Systems Operations Control] were sitting beside each other and hearing it. They were both saying, ‘Do not pass this along. Let’s keep it right here. Keep it among the five of us.’” Apparently, this decision prevents early and clear evidence of a hijacking from being shared during the crisis. Gerard Arpey, American Airlines’ executive vice president for operations, soon hears details of the hijacking from flight attendant Betty Ong’s phone call (see 8:19 a.m. September 11, 2001) at 8:30 a.m. (see (8:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001), but apparently, he does not learn of Sweeney’s call until much later. Victims’ relatives will later question whether lives could have been saved if only this information had been quickly shared with other airplanes. [New York Observer, 6/20/2004]

8:23 a.m.-8:25 a.m. September 11, 2001: American Airlines Operations Center Tries to Contact Flight 11, But Gets No Response

At 8:23 a.m., a flight dispatcher at the American Airlines operations center in Fort Worth, Texas sends an ACARS text message to Flight 11. ACARS, meaning Aircraft Communications and Reporting System, is an e-mail system enabling company personnel on the ground to rapidly communicate with those in the cockpit of an in-flight aircraft. The message says, “Good morning… ATC [air traffic control] looking for you on [radio frequency] 135.32.” No response is received from Flight 11. Two minutes later, an American Airlines air traffic control specialist at the operations center sends another ACARS message to Flight 11. This says, “Plz contact Boston Center ASAP… They have lost radio contact and your transponder signal.” Again, no response is received from the plane. Subsequent ACARS messages also receive no reply. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 9-10 pdf file]

8:24 a.m. 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 pdf file] 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, 8/13/2002] Boston Center will receive a third transmission from Flight 11 about ten minutes later (see (8:34 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

(Before 8:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Hijackers Identified by Seat Locations

Having been told by flight attendant Amy Sweeney the seat locations of three hijackers (see 8:22 a.m. September 11, 2001), American Airlines Flight service manager Michael Woodward orders a colleague at Boston’s Logan Airport to look up those seat locations on the reservations computer. The names, addresses, phone numbers, and credit cards of these hijackers are quickly identified: Abdulaziz Alomari is in 9G, Mohamed Atta is in 9D, and Satam Al Suqami is in 10B. 9/11 Commissioner Bob Kerrey notes that from this information, American Airlines officials monitoring the call would probably have known or assumed right away that the hijacking was connected to al-Qaeda. [ABC News, 7/18/2002; New York Observer, 2/15/2004]

(8:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Boston Realizes with Certainty that Flight 11 Has Been Hijacked

According to Terry Biggio, the operations manager at the FAA’s Boston Center, the center initially thought Flight 11 “was a catastrophic electrical failure and… was diverting to New York” (see (8:21 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 10/19/2002] However, at about 8:24 a.m., controllers heard two radio transmissions from it, with the voice of a hijacker declaring, “We have some planes” (see 8:24 a.m. September 11, 2001). Pete Zalewski, who is handling Flight 11, says that after the second of these: “I immediately knew something was very wrong. And I knew it was a hijack.” He alerts his supervisor. Lino Martins, another Boston air traffic controller, says, “the supervisor came over, and that’s when we realized something was serious.” [Christian Science Monitor, 9/13/2001; MSNBC, 9/11/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] However, two senior FAA officials—Bill Peacock and David Canoles—later say that the hijacker transmissions were not attributed to a flight, so controllers didn’t know their origin. [Washington Times, 9/11/2002] An early FAA report will similarly refer to them as having come “from an unknown origin.” But right away, the center begins notifying the chain of command that a suspected hijacking is taking place (see 8:25 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file] However, some reports claim that controllers decided Flight 11 was probably hijacked earlier than this, by about 8:20 a.m. (see (8:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

(8:25 a.m.-8:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Military Liaison Arrives Late at Boston Center, Learns of First Hijacking

Colin Scoggins, the military liaison at the FAA’s Boston Center, arrives at work an hour late and is informed of the hijacking of Flight 11. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/20/2001; WAMU, 8/3/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 32-33] Scoggins is an experienced air traffic controller and specializes in airspace, procedures, and military operations. He is responsible for managing operating agreements between the Boston Center and other air traffic control facilities, and between Boston Center and the military. He is also responsible for generating the military schedules that keep FAA facilities synchronized with military airspace requirements, and has therefore developed personal relationships with most of the military units in his region. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 32-33]
Arrives One Hour Late - In a 2006 radio interview, Scoggins will recall that he arrives at work one hour late, saying, “That morning I actually came in, took an hour early on the front of my shift, so I didn’t get in until 8:30.” [WAMU, 8/3/2006] But in a statement that will be provided to the 9/11 Commission, he says he arrives at the Boston Center slightly earlier, at “about 8:25 a.m.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/20/2001] When he enters the building, a colleague tells him about the hijacking of Flight 11. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 33]
Heads to Credit Union - Rather than going immediately to help deal with the hijacking, Scoggins heads to the credit union at the center. He will recall, “I wasn’t in a rush because when hijacks do occur, sometimes too many people try to get involved, but instead they just get in the way.”
Mentions that Hijacked Plane Could Hit a Building - When he gets to the credit union, Scoggins decides he should go to the center’s traffic management unit, to make sure that fighter jets are launched in response to the hijacking. As he will later recall, he says to an employee at the credit union that “if it really came to it,” and fighter jets “had to stop the hijack from hitting a building or something, there wasn’t much [the fighters] could do.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/20/2001]
Updated on Hijacking - Scoggins then heads to the center’s operational floor, arriving there at about 8:35. [WAMU, 8/3/2006; Griffin, 2007, pp. 335] He goes to the traffic management unit and the desk of Daniel Bueno, who is the unit’s supervisor. Bueno brings Scoggins up to date on the details of the hijacking. He tells him: “It sounds real. We heard a Mideastern or Arabic voice on radio. They’ve also turned off the transponder to prevent the hijack code from appearing.” Bueno says the Boston Center controllers are still tracking the primary radar return for Flight 11, but they lack information on its altitude. According to author Lynn Spencer, it occurs to Scoggins that NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) might be able to provide altitude information for Flight 11, “because the FAA radar system filters out certain altitude information that NEADS gets.” He will therefore phone NEADS as soon as he arrives at his station (see (8:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 33]

8:25 a.m. September 11, 2001: Boston Flight Control Tells Other Centers About Hijack, But Not NORAD

Boston flight control reportedly “notifies several air traffic control centers that a hijack is taking place.” [Guardian, 10/17/2001] This is immediately after Boston controllers heard a transmission from Flight 11, declaring, “We have some planes” (see 8:24 a.m. September 11, 2001), and would be consistent with a claim later made to the 9/11 Commission by Mike Canavan, the FAA’s associate administrator for civil aviation security. He says, “[M]y experience as soon as you know you had a hijacked aircraft, you notify everyone.… [W]hen you finally find out, yes, we do have a problem, then… the standard notification is it kind of gets broadcast out to all the regions.” [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003] An early FAA report will say only that Boston controllers begin “inter-facility coordination” with New York air traffic control at this time [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file] , but the New York Times reports that controllers at Washington Center also know “about the hijacking of the first plane to crash, even before it hit the World Trade Center.” [New York Times, 9/13/2001] However, the Indianapolis flight controller monitoring Flight 77 claims to not know about this or Flight 175’s hijacking twenty minutes later at 8:56 a.m. (see 8:56 a.m. September 11, 2001). Additionally, the flight controllers at New York City’s La Guardia airport are never told about the hijacked planes and learn about them from watching the news. [Bergen Record, 1/4/2004] Boston Center also begins notifying the FAA chain of command of the suspected Flight 11 hijacking at this time (see 8:25 a.m. September 11, 2001), but it does not notify NORAD for another 6-15 minutes, depending on the account (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

 

8:25 a.m. September 11, 2001: Boston Center Starts Notifying Chain of Command

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 (see 8:28 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 11 pdf file] 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).

(After 8:14 a.m.-8:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Flight 11 Pilot Repeatedly Pushes Talk Back Button

At some unknown point after the hijacking begins, Flight 11’s talkback button is activated, which enables Boston flight controllers to hear what is being said in the cockpit. It is unclear whether John Ogonowski, the pilot, activates the talkback button, or whether a hijacker accidentally does so when he takes over the cockpit. A controller later says, “The button [is] being pushed intermittently most of the way to New York.” An article later notes that “his ability to do so also indicates that he [is] in the driver’s seat much of the way” to the WTC. Such transmissions continue until about 8:38 a.m. [Christian Science Monitor, 9/13/2001; MSNBC, 9/15/2001] However, Ogonowski fails to punch a four-digit emergency code into the plane’s transponder, which pilots are taught to do the moment a hijack situation is known (see (8:13 a.m.-9:28 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Christian Science Monitor, 9/12/2001; CNN, 9/13/2001; Boston Globe, 11/23/2001]

8:37 a.m.-8:38 a.m. September 11, 2001: American Airlines Reports that Flight 11 Is a Confirmed Hijacking

American Airlines manager Craig Marquis is talking to Nydia Gonzalez, who in turn is talking to flight attendant Betty Ong on Flight 11. Marquis tells Gonzalez, “We contacted air traffic control, they are going to handle this as a confirmed hijacking. So they’re moving all the traffic out of this aircraft’s way.… He turned his transponder off, so we don’t have a definitive altitude for him. We’re just going by… They seem to think that they have him on a primary radar. They seem to think that he is descending.” [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004] Boston air traffic control had in fact begun notifying its chain of command that Flight 11 was a suspected hijacking at around 8:25 (see 8:25 a.m. September 11, 2001).

8:37 a.m. September 11, 2001: Flight 175 Pilots Asked to Look for Flight 11

Flight controllers ask the United Airlines Flight 175 pilots to look for a lost American Airlines plane 10 miles to the south—a reference to Flight 11. They respond that they can see it. They are told to keep away from it. [Guardian, 10/17/2001; Boston Globe, 11/23/2001; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Apparently, Flight 175 is not told Flight 11 has been hijacked. Flight 175 itself is hijacked a few minutes later (see 8:41 a.m.-8:42 a.m. September 11, 2001).

(8:37 a.m.) 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 pdf file] 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 (see (8:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). 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 pdf file; 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; Newsday, 9/10/2002; 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 (see (Between 8:13 a.m. and 8:21 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and 24 minutes after the plane’s pilots made their last radio contact (see 8:13 a.m. September 11, 2001). [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 (see 8:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20; Spencer, 2008, pp. 22]

(8:38 a.m.-8:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001: NORAD Personnel Mistake Hijacking for Part of an Exercise

When the FAA’s Boston Center first contacts NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) to notify it of the hijacking of Flight 11 (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001), personnel there initially mistake the hijacking for a simulation as part of an exercise.
bullet Lieutenant Colonel Dawne Deskins, mission crew chief for the Vigilant Guardian exercise currently taking place (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001), will later say that initially she and everybody else at NEADS think the call from Boston Center is part of Vigilant Guardian. [Newhouse News Service, 1/25/2002] Although most of the personnel on the NEADS operations floor have no idea what the day’s exercise is supposed to entail, most previous major NORAD exercises included a hijack scenario. [USA Today, 4/18/2004; Utica Observer-Dispatch, 8/5/2004] The day’s exercise is in fact scheduled to include a simulated hijacking later on. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]
bullet Major Kevin Nasypany, the NEADS mission crew commander, had helped design the day’s exercise. Thinking the reported hijacking is part of it, he actually says out loud, “The hijack’s not supposed to be for another hour.” [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]
bullet In the ID section, at the back right corner of the NEADS operations floor, technicians Stacia Rountree, Shelley Watson, and Maureen Dooley react to the news. Dooley, the leader of the ID section, tells the other members of her team: “We have a hijack going on. Get your checklists. The exercise is on” (see (8:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Rountree asks, “Is that real-world?” Dooley confirms, “Real-world hijack.” Watson says, “Cool!” [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 25]
bullet When NEADS Commander Robert Marr sees his personnel reacting to the news of the hijacking (see (8:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001), he reportedly thinks the day’s exercise “is kicking off with a lively, unexpected twist.” Even when a colleague informs him, “It’s a hijacking, and this is real life, not part of the exercise,” Marr thinks: “This is an interesting start to the exercise. This ‘real-world’ mixed in with today’s simex [simulated exercise] will keep [my staff members] on their toes.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 26]
bullet Major General Larry Arnold, who is at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, also later says that when he first hears of the hijacking, in the minutes after NEADS is alerted to it, “The first thing that went through my mind was, is this part of the exercise? Is this some kind of a screw-up?” [ABC News, 9/11/2002; 9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003] According to author Lynn Spencer: “Even as NORAD’s commander for the continental United States, Arnold is not privy to everything concerning the exercise. The simex is meant to test commanders also, to make sure that their war machine is operating as it should.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 38]
bullet At 8:43 a.m., Major James Fox, the leader of the NEADS weapons team, comments, “I’ve never seen so much real-world stuff happen during an exercise.” [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]

Shortly After 8:37 a.m. September 11, 2001: NEADS Staff Unable to Locate Hijacked Planes on Radar Screens

Members of staff at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) have difficulty locating Flight 11 and other aircraft on their radar screens.
bullet Lt. Col. Dawne Deskins of NEADS will say that when the FAA first calls and reports the first hijacking (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001), “He [FAA] gave me the latitude and longitude of that track… [but] there was nothing there.” [Fox News, 9/8/2002]
bullet Colin Scoggins, the military liaison at the FAA’s Boston Center, later recalls: “I was giving NEADS accurate location information on at least five instances where AA 11 was, yet they could never identify him.… I originally gave them an F/R/D, which is a fix/radial/distance from a known location; they could not identify the target. They requested latitude/longitudes, which I gave them; they still could not identify the AA 11.… I gave them 20 [miles] south of Albany heading south at a high rate of speed, 600 knots, then another call at 50 south of Albany.” [Griffin, 2007, pp. 47]
bullet Master Sergeant Kevin Foster and Staff Sergeant Mark Rose, also working at NEADS this morning, later complain about their inability to locate the hijacked planes. After being informed of the first hijacking, reportedly: “As they had practiced countless times before, the NEADS team quickly began searching their [radar] screens for the plane. Because they had been informed its transponder was off, they knew to look for a tiny dash instead of the usual dot. But radar systems also use such lines to indicate weather patterns, so NEADS personnel began urgently clicking their computer cursors on each stray line to see if information indicating an aircraft would appear.” Yet, after receiving further calls indicating more hijackings, “the inability to find the hijacked planes on the radar, despite their best efforts, was difficult.” According to Foster, “We were trying to find the tracks, and not being able to was very frustrating.” [Utica Observer-Dispatch, 8/5/2004]
bullet NEADS Staff Sergeant Larry Thornton will recall: “Once we were called by the FAA, we could find split-second hits on what we thought we were looking for. But the area was so congested and it was incredibly difficult to find. We were looking for little dash marks in a pile of clutter and a pile of aircraft on a two-dimensional scope.” Each fluorescent green pulsating dot on their radar scopes represents an airplane, and there are thousands currently airborne, especially over the busy northeast US. [Filson, 2003, pp. 56]

Shortly After 8:37 a.m. September 11, 2001: Otis Commander Phones NEADS for Authorization to Launch Fighters

Following a call from the FAA’s Boston Center to the the FAA’s Cape Cod facility reporting the possible hijacking of Flight 11 (see 8:34 a.m. September 11, 2001), and a subsequent call from the Cape Cod facility to Otis Air National Guard Base (see (Shortly After 8:34 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Lt. Col. Jon Treacy, commander of the 101st Fighter Squadron at Otis, phones NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) to report the FAA’s request for help and get authorization to launch fighters. By now though, the FAA has already gotten through to NEADS itself, and reported the hijacking (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 50]

(8:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Boston Center Military Liaison Updates NEADS on Flight 11

Colin Scoggins, the military liaison at the FAA’s Boston Center, makes a brief phone call to NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) to see if it has been able to find any further information about Flight 11. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 32-33] Boston Center has just alerted NEADS to the hijacking of Flight 11 (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20] Scoggins asks the ID technician who answers his call, “Have you identified the radar target for American 11?” The ID tech says they are still searching for it. Scoggins then tells her that Flight 11 is “50 miles south of Albany,” but, according to author Lynn Spencer, this information “won’t be of much help to NEADS Surveillance,” because “[t]heir monochromic displays aren’t even capable of showing the outline of states, much less those of cities like Albany or New York.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 33] (However, despite this supposed inadequate capability, NEADS is reportedly able to spot Flight 11 shortly before it crashes into the World Trade Center (see 8:45 a.m.-8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), locating its radar track “going down the Hudson Valley, straight in from the north toward New York.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 56] ) As NEADS has no new information to offer him, Scoggins quickly ends the call. According to Spencer’s account, this is the first time Scoggins calls NEADS this morning, after arriving at the Boston Center minutes earlier (see (8:25 a.m.-8:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 33] But according to a description Scoggins gives to author David Ray Griffin in 2007, it appears that this is his second call, after an initial call at around 8:35 (see (8:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Scoggins will tell Griffin that he first called NEADS to inform it that Flight 11 was “20 [miles] south of Albany heading south at a high rate of speed, 600 knots,” and then he makes “another call at 50 [miles] south of Albany.” [Griffin, 2007, pp. 47]

(8:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001: NEADS Sergeant Passes on News of Hijacking to Colleagues

At NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), the technical sergeant who has been notified of the suspected hijacking of Flight 11 passes on this news to colleagues of his on the NEADS operations floor. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 25] The FAA’s Boston Center has just called NEADS to report “a hijacked aircraft headed towards New York,” and has requested that fighter jets be launched in response (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20] Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Powell, who answers this call, reportedly “bolts up and turns toward the ID section behind him on the ops floor.” He says, “We’ve got a hijack going on!” Master Sergeant Maureen Dooley, the leader of the ID section, mistakenly thinks this is part of the day’s training exercise (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and tells the other members of her team: “We have a hijack going on. Get your checklists. The exercise is on.” But Powell then clarifies: “No, you don’t understand. We have a no-shit hijack!” Sitting next to Dooley is Master Sergeant Joe McCain, the NEADS mission crew commander technician, who gets on the paging system and calls for the mission crew commander (MCC), Major Kevin Nasypany, to come to the operations floor immediately. Nasypany is in charge of the operations floor and needs to know if anything important is happening. He arrives moments later and learns of the hijacking. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 25-26 and 40]

(8:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Flight 11 Pilot Stops Activating Talk Back Button

The talkback button on Flight 11, which has been periodically activated since around 8:14 a.m., stops around this time. Some have suggested that this indicates that the hijackers replace pilot John Ogonowski at this time. [Christian Science Monitor, 9/13/2001; MSNBC, 9/15/2001]

(8:38 a.m.-8:52 a.m.) September 11, 2001: NEADS Calls NORAD Public Affairs Officer

Lt. Col. Dawne Deskins of NEADS twice calls Major Don Arias, the 1st Air Force and Continental United States NORAD Region public affairs officer, who is at the 1st Air Force public affairs office at Tyndall Air Force, Florida. She first calls him after NEADS is informed of the hijacking of Flight 11 (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). She says that NEADS has “a hijacked plane—no, not the simulation—likely heading for JFK [International Airport in New York City].” [Newhouse News Service, 1/25/2002] The “simulation” refers to a NORAD air defense exercise, presumably Vigilant Guardian, that Arias is involved in. Deskins informs him that fighters are going to be launched after the aircraft. Arias then starts working on a public statement about the incident, but soon after sees the smoking WTC tower on CNN. He says that he thinks, “Wow, I bet that’s the hijacked plane.” [Florida State Times, 11/2001; Airman, 9/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 122] Minutes after the crash, Deskins calls Arias again and tells him, “We think the aircraft that just hit the World Trade Center was American Airlines Flight 11.” According to Deskins, Arias responds, “Oh, God. My brother works in the World Trade Center.” [Newhouse News Service, 1/25/2002; ABC News, 9/11/2002; Bamford, 2004, pp. 13-14] Arias will quickly contact his brother (see (8:53 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

8:38 a.m. and After September 11, 2001: NEADS Technicians Try Locating Flight 11, but Reportedly Hindered by Outdated Equipment

Technicians at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) try frantically to locate Flight 11 on their radar scopes, but are supposedly hindered by their outdated equipment. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 31-32] NEADS has just been alerted to the hijacking of Flight 11 (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20] Its technicians realize they need to find the location of the hijacked plane quickly, so that the weapons team will be able to pass this information on to any fighter jets that are launched after it.
Locating Flight 11 Is a 'Grueling Process' - Author Lynn Spencer will later explain: “To identify American 11, the surveillance and ID techs must go through a grueling process. Their radar scopes are filled with hundreds of radar returns not just from aircraft but from weather systems, ground interference, and what’s called anomalous propagation—false returns caused by conditions in the atmosphere, or by such obstructions as flocks of birds. The technicians must first determine which radar data on their screens is for aircraft, which they do by monitoring its movement, which is distinctive for planes. The technician must observe for at least 36 seconds to a minute just to confirm that a blip is in fact an aircraft track. The tech must attach what’s called a tactical display number to it, which tells the computer to start tracking and identifying the target. If the target is in fact a plane, then over a period of 12-20 seconds, the computer will start to generate information on the track: heading, speed, altitude, latitude, longitude, and the identifying information being transmitted by the transponder.” However, Flight 11’s transponder has been switched off (see (Between 8:13 a.m. and 8:21 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Therefore, “With the hundreds of pieces of radar data filling their screens, and little information as to the location of the flight,” the task of locating it “is daunting.”
Radar Equipment Supposedly Unsuitable - Spencer will suggest that trying to locate Flight 11 is made more difficult because the radar equipment at NEADS is outdated and unsuited to the task at hand. She writes: “[T]he NEADS radar equipment is different from that used by air traffic controllers. It’s much older, developed in the 1970s and brought into use by NEADS in the early 1980s. The system was designed to monitor the shoreline for incoming high-altitude threats: missiles coming from across the ocean. Slow and cumbersome, and not nearly as user friendly as more modern equipment, the NEADS monochromic radar displays are not designed to take internal FAA radar data or to identify radar tracks originating from inside the United States. The system offers little, if any, such low-level coverage over the country.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 31-32] Several of the NEADS personnel will later complain of their inability to locate Flight 11 on their scopes (see Shortly After 8:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). But Master Sergeant Joe McCain, the mission crew commander technician at NEADS, believes he has located Flight 11 on the radar screen just before it crashes into the World Trade Center (see 8:45 a.m.-8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001).

(After 8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001: NORAD Scramble Order Moves Through Official and Unofficial Channels

NORAD gives the command to scramble fighters after Flight 11 after receiving Boston’s call (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Lieutenant Colonel Dawne Deskins at NEADS tells Colonel Robert Marr, head of NEADS, “I have FAA on the phone, the shout line, Boston [flight control]. They said they have a hijacked aircraft.” Marr then calls Major General Larry Arnold at the Continental US NORAD Region (CONR) headquarters at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida. Arnold is just coming out of a teleconference with the NORAD staff, and is handed a note informing him of the possible hijacking, and relaying Marr’s request that he call him immediately. He goes downstairs and picks up the phone, and Marr tells him, “Boss, I need to scramble [fighters at] Otis [Air National Guard Base].” Arnold recalls, “I said go ahead and scramble them, and we’ll get the authorities later.” Arnold then calls the operations deputy at NORAD’s Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado headquarters to report. The operations deputy tells him, “Yeah, we’ll work this with the National Military Command Center. Go ahead and scramble the aircraft.” [ABC News, 9/11/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 56; 9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Upon receiving this authorization from Larry Arnold, NEADS orders the scramble and then calls Canadian Captain Mike Jellinek at NORAD’s operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, in order to get NORAD commander in chief approval for it (see (8.46 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002] Yet, according to the 1st Air Force’s own book about 9/11, the “sector commander [at NEADS] would have authority to scramble the airplanes.” Military controllers at NEADS are only a hot line call away from the pilots on immediate alert. [Filson, 2003, pp. 50-52] Why NEADS calls the CONR headquarters at Tyndall, then NORAD’s Colorado operations center, to get authorization to launch fighters after Flight 11, is unclear.

8:39 a.m. September 11, 2001: Flight 11 Flies Over Nuclear Power Station

While flying south along the Hudson River, Flight 11 passes almost directly over the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Buchanan, NY, about 30 miles north of New York City. [New York Times, 4/4/2002; Bergen Record, 4/7/2002] The New Yorker will later comment, “An attack on a nuclear power plant would seem to fulfill, almost perfectly, al-Qaeda’s objective of using America’s technology against it,” and the New York Times will report, “Everyone within at least a 50-mile radius would be in danger if something terrible happened at Indian Point. That 50-mile radius contains more than 7 percent of the entire population of the United States—20 million people.” [New York Times, 4/4/2002; New Yorker, 2/24/2003] Mohamed Atta supposedly earlier considered targeting a nuclear facility on 9/11, but the other suicide pilots did not like the idea (see Between July 9 and July 16, 2001).

8:40 a.m. September 11, 2001: NEADS Learns of Threat to Flight 11 Cockpit

One of the ID technicians at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) calls the FAA’s Boston Center, and learns that there have been “threats in the cockpit” of Flight 11. The communications team at NEADS is currently trying to quickly find out all they can about the hijacked plane, such as its flight number, tail number, and where it is. ID tech Shelley Watson calls the management desk at the Boston Center, which had alerted NEADS to the hijacking minutes earlier (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001), wanting to make sure she has all the information that is available on Flight 11. Her call is answered by Boston Center’s military liaison, Colin Scoggins. Scoggins tells Watson: “He’s being hijacked. The pilot’s having a hard time talking to the… I mean, we don’t know. We don’t know where he’s goin’. He’s heading towards Kennedy [International Airport in New York City]. He’s… 35 miles north of Kennedy now at 367 knots. We have no idea where he’s goin’ or what his intentions are.” Scoggins says, “I guess there’s been some threats in the cockpit,” and adds, “We’ll call you right back as soon as we know more info.” Master Sergeant Maureen Dooley is standing over Watson, relaying any pertinent information she hears to Major Kevin Nasypany. She calls to him, “Okay, he said threat to the cockpit!” [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 34]

(Between 8:40 a.m. and 8:46 a.m.) September 11, 2001: NEADS Calls Atlantic City Unit, but Phone Is Not Answered

Colin Scoggins, the military liaison at the FAA’s Boston Center, calls NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) and suggests that it contact a military unit at Atlantic City, New Jersey. However, when NEADS tries phoning the unit, the call is not answered.
Scoggins Notices Otis Jets Not Yet Launched - Scoggins had called NEADS at around 8:38 a.m., regarding the hijacked Flight 11 (see (8:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). A few minutes after this, he notices that fighter jets have not yet launched from Otis Air National Guard Base, at Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and calls NEADS again. He suggests that it should try to get jets launched from Atlantic City. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 32-34] Atlantic City International Airport is the home of the 177th Fighter Wing of the New Jersey Air National Guard. [GlobalSecurity (.org), 10/29/2001] As author Lynn Spencer will describe, Scoggins “knows that Atlantic City is no longer an alert facility, but he also knows that they launch F-16s for training flights every morning at nine. He figures that the pilots are probably already in their planes and ready to go. They’re unarmed, but they’re a lot closer to New York City than the Otis fighters on Cape Cod, and the military serves only a monitoring purpose in hijacking anyway.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 33-34] Two F-16s from the 177th Fighter Wing are in fact already airborne and performing their training mission, and are just a few minutes flying time from New York City (see 8:46 a.m.-9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Bergen Record, 12/5/2003] Scoggins will later recount: “I requested that we take from Atlantic City very early in the [morning], not launch from the ground but those already airborne in Warning Area 107 [a training area] if they were there, which I believe they were.” He will add that the 177th Fighter Wing does not “have an intercept mission; it was taken away a long time ago. [But] NEADS could have called them and asked them to cancel their [training] mission and divert.” [Griffin, 2007]
NEADS Tries Unsuccessfully to Contact Unit - The NEADS technician who takes Scoggins’s call follows his advice, and tries to call the unit at Atlantic City. He calls the only number he has for it, which is the number NEADS had previously called when it wanted to scramble 177th Fighter Wing F-16s until 1998, back when they were part of NORAD’s alert force. The number connects the technician directly to the highly secured command post. However, no one answers the phone. According to Spencer: “[T]hese days, the command post is more of a highly secured storage area, opened just once a month for drill weekends. The phone rings and rings.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 34] The FAA’s Boston Center also attempted to call the Atlantic City unit, apparently several minutes earlier (see (8:34 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The outcome of that call is unstated. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20]

At NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), a huddle of people is gathered around one of the radar scopes. NEADS Commander Robert Marr initially thinks this hubbub is due to the NORAD training exercise (presumably Vigilant Guardian) that is taking place on this day (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). He will later recall: “I’ve seen many exercises… and as I saw that huddle I said, ‘There’s got to be something wrong, something is happening here.’ You usually see that whenever they find a track on the scope that looks unusual; it’s usually an indicator that something is getting ready to kick off.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 55] According to author Lynn Spencer, Marr thinks the day’s exercise “is kicking off with a lively, unexpected twist.… His bet is that his simulations team has started off the exercise by throwing out a ‘heart attack card’ to see how the troops respond to a first-aid call from a fellow soldier, testing their first responder training.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 26] He sends Lt. Colonel Dawne Deskins, the regional mission crew commander for the exercise, to check out what is going on. [Filson, 2003, pp. 55] Deskins speaks briefly over the phone with the FAA’s Boston Center about the Flight 11 hijacking (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 26] She then runs back to the “battle cab”—the glass-walled room that overlooks the NEADS operations floor—and speaks to Marr with urgency in her voice. [Filson, 2003, pp. 55] She tells him: “It’s a hijacking, and this is real life, not part of the exercise. And it appears that the plane is heading toward New York City.” Although Deskins has specifically stated, “not part of the exercise,” Marr reportedly thinks, “This is an interesting start to the exercise.” According to Spencer, he thinks “This ‘real-world’ mixed in with today’s simex [simulated exercise] will keep [his staff members] on their toes.” Regardless of whether the crisis is real or not, Marr decides to instruct that the two alert F-15s at Otis Air National Guard Base be ordered to battle stations (see (8:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 26-27]

(Between 8:40 a.m. and 8:54 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Boston Center Military Liaison Calls New York Center with Report about Flight 11; Timing Unclear

Colin Scoggins, the military liaison at the FAA’s Boston Center, calls the FAA’s New York Center but is quickly cut off when the air traffic controller who answers says the center is busy dealing with a hijacking. According to author Lynn Spencer, Scoggins “calls New York Center to notify them that American 11 appears to be descending toward New York, most likely to land at JFK” International Airport. But the controller who takes the call snaps at him: “We’re too busy to talk. We’re working a hijack,” and then hangs up. According to Spencer, the New York Center controller is referring to Flight 175, but “Scoggins just figures that he’s talking about American 11. He has no idea that a second airliner is in crisis.” However, the timing of this call is unclear. If it is made while Flight 11 is descending toward New York, this would mean it occurs in the minutes before 8:46, when Flight 11 crashes (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). But in Spencer’s account, the call is made just after New York Center controller Dave Bottiglia notices that Flight 175’s transponder code has changed and he calls out to another controller, “I can’t get a hold of UAL 175 at all right now and I don’t know where he went to” (see 8:51 a.m.-8:53 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 48-49] The transcript of radio communications between the New York Center and Flight 175 shows that this would mean Scoggins’s call occurs around 8:53 a.m.-8:54 a.m., about seven minutes after Flight 11 crashes. [New York Times, 10/16/2001]

(8:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001: FAA Manager Ben Sliney Begins Responding to Hijacking

At the FAA’s Herndon Command Center, the national operations manager, Ben Sliney, learns more details of the hijacking of Flight 11, and becomes involved with the emergency response to it. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 21] A supervisor at the Command Center informed Sliney of the suspected hijacking at just before 8:30 (see 8:28 a.m. September 11, 2001). Soon after, the supervisor interrupted a meeting Sliney was in, to tell him American Airlines had called to report the deteriorating situation on Flight 11 (see 8:30 a.m.-8:40 a.m. September 11, 2001).
Sliney Receives More Details - Sliney heads to the center’s operations floor, where the supervisor gives him further details of the call from American Airlines, including information about flight attendant Betty Ong’s phone call from Flight 11 (see 8:19 a.m. September 11, 2001). The supervisor says the plane’s transponder has been switched off (see (Between 8:13 a.m. and 8:21 a.m.) September 11, 2001), which means no flight data is showing on the screens of air traffic controllers, and the latest information from the FAA’s Boston Center is that Flight 11 has turned south, and is now 35 miles north of New York City. On one of the large screens at the front of the Command Center that shows flight trajectories, Sliney can see that the track for Flight 11 is in “ghost.” This means that, because no transponder data is being received, the computer is displaying track information based on previously stored track data.
Sliney Seeks Information, Requests Teleconference - Sliney instructs his staff to contact facilities along the path the flight appears to be on, to find if anyone is in contact with it or tracking it. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 1 and 19-21] He will later recall, “I figured we’d try to get the people on the ground, the towers in the area, the police departments, anyone we could get to give us information on where this flight was.” [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/10/2006] Sliney then requests a teleconference between the FAA’s Boston Center, New York Center, and FAA headquarters in Washington, so they can share information about the flight in real time. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 21] The Command Center has already initiated a teleconference between the Boston, New York, and Cleveland Centers, immediately after it was notified of the suspected Flight 11 hijacking. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 11 pdf file] However, Sliney apparently does not request military assistance. According to author Lynn Spencer, “The higher echelons at headquarters in Washington will make the determination as to the necessity of military assistance in dealing with the hijacking.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 21]

8:40 a.m. September 11, 2001: Flight 175 Enters New York Center’s Airspace, Makes Radio Contact

Flight 175 passes from the airspace of the FAA’s Boston Center to the airspace of the New York Center, which is in Ronkonkoma, New York. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 20 pdf file] New York Center air traffic controller Dave Bottiglia takes over monitoring the flight from Boston Center controller John Hartling (see (8:34 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Flight 175 waits nearly 45 seconds to check in with Bottiglia. According to author Lynn Spencer, this is “rather long, and Bottiglia is just about to call the plane.” But then Captain Victor Saracini, the pilot of Flight 175, makes radio contact, saying, “New York, United 175 heavy.” [Gregor, 12/21/2001 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 36]

(8:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Fighter Pilots Unofficially Told to Get Ready to Scramble After Flight 11

Major Daniel Nash (codenamed Nasty) and Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Duffy (codenamed Duff) are the two F-15 pilots who would scramble after Flight 11. Apparently, they get several informal calls warning to get ready. According to Nash, at this time, a colleague at the Otis Air National Guard Base tells him that a flight out of Boston has been hijacked, and that he should be on alert. [Cape Cod Times, 8/21/2002] NEADS senior technician Jeremy Powell (informed about the hijacking at 8:37 a.m.), says that he telephones Otis Air National Guard Base soon thereafter to tell it to upgrade its “readiness posture.” [Newhouse News Service, 1/25/2002] Boston flight control had tried calling the Otis base directly at 8:34 a.m., although the result of that call remains unclear. Duffy recalls being warned: “I was just standing up by the ops desk and I was told I had a phone call. I asked who it was and they said the [Boston] tower calling and something about a hijacking. It was Flight American 11, a 767, out of Boston going to California. At the time we ran in and got suited up.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; Cape Cod Times, 8/21/2002; BBC, 9/1/2002] At NEADS, the mission crew commander Major Kevin Nasypany orders his Weapons Team, which controls the fighters, to put the Otis planes on “battle stations.” This means the two “alert” pilots are “jolted into action by a piercing ‘battle horn.’ They run to their jets, climb up, strap in, and do everything they need to do to get ready to fly short of starting the engines.” [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] NEADS Commander Robert Marr is also reported as having ordered the Otis pilots to battle stations. [Filson, 2003, pp. 55; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20] Duffy confirms, “Halfway to the jets, we got ‘battle stations’… which means to get ready for action.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002] The actual scramble order does not come until the pilots are already waiting in the fighters: “We went out, we hopped in the jets and we were ready to go—standby for a scramble order if we were going to get one.” [BBC, 9/1/2002] Duffy continues, “I briefed Nasty on the information I had about the American Airlines Flight. About four-five minutes later, we got the scramble order and took off.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002] However, the official notification to scramble these fighters does not come until 8:46 a.m. The six-minute (or more) delay between unofficial and official notification has not been explained.

8:41 a.m.-8:42 a.m. September 11, 2001: Flight 175 Reports ‘Suspicious Transmission’ Heard over Radio as It Departed Airport

Just after Flight 175 enters the airspace of the FAA’s New York Center (see 8:40 a.m. September 11, 2001), its pilot reports to the air traffic controller now managing the flight a suspicious transmission he had heard on departing Boston’s Logan Airport. The pilot, Captain Victor Saracini, tells the controller, Dave Bottiglia: “We figured we’d wait to go to your center. Ah, we heard a suspicious transmission on our departure out of Boston, ah, with someone, ah, it sounded like someone keyed the mikes and said, ah, ‘Everyone, ah, stay in your seats.’” [New York Times, 10/16/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 21; Spencer, 2008, pp. 36] Saracini is presumably referring to one of the three radio transmissions from Flight 11, where the voice of a hijacker could be heard (see 8:24 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (8:34 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, none of these had included the hijacker telling people to stay in their seats, as Saracini describes, although the second and third transmissions included the hijacker telling the passengers, “Nobody move.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 19] Bottiglia responds: “Oh, okay. I’ll pass that along.” Referring to the fact that this was the end of the transmission he heard, Saracini adds, “It cut out,” and then asks Bottiglia, “Did you copy that?” [Gregor, 12/21/2001 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 36-37] This is the last radio transmission from Flight 175. The 9/11 Commission will conclude that the plane is hijacked within the next four minutes (see (Between 8:42 a.m. and 8:46 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 20 pdf file] According to author Lynn Spencer, since controllers are only given information on a need-to-know basis, Bottiglia was unaware there were problems with Flight 11, which has not yet entered his airspace. He touches his computer screen to connect to the hotline for his sector controller, and then reports: “UAL 175 just came on my frequency and he said he heard a suspicious transmission when they were leaving Boston. ‘Everybody stay in your seats’—that’s what he heard… just to let you know.” [New York Times, 10/16/2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 36-37]

8:41 a.m. September 11, 2001: FAA, Unusually, Does Not Contact United Airlines about Communications from Flight 175

 Senior United Airlines personnel are, unusually, not informed about air traffic control communications with Flight 175. At 8:41, the pilots of United Airlines 175 report to air traffic controllers that they heard “a suspicious transmission” from another aircraft on their departure out of Boston (see 8:41 a.m.-8:42 a.m. September 11, 2001). Yet this information is not passed on to personnel at the United Airlines System Operations Control (SOC) center, just outside Chicago. Rich Miles, the manager there, will later tell the 9/11 Commission that, “though he normally received relevant information about United flights from FAA air traffic control, on September 11, 2001, he did not recall receiving information about any air traffic control communications with or from Flight 175, including the 8:41 a.m. report.” None of the other senior United Airlines officials at the SOC on this morning are told of the 8:41 communication, although they will tell the 9/11 Commission that air traffic controllers will “first and foremost” communicate directly with pilots. Furthermore, these officials will recall, “they never received any communication… from the FAA or the air traffic control system advising United to contact its aircraft about the hijackings.” The 9/11 Commission will not offer any explanation for this lack of communication between the FAA and United Airlines. [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 20 pdf file]

(Between 8:42 a.m. and 8:46 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Hijackers Take Over Flight 175

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 pdf file] 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. [Associated Press, 9/13/2001; Telegraph (Nashua), 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 (see 8:46 a.m.-8:47 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 7]

(8:41 a.m.) September 11, 2001: New York Center Controller Informed Flight 11 Is Suspected Hijack, Then Follows It on Radar

After Flight 11 appears on his radar screen, Dave Bottiglia, an air traffic controller at the FAA’s New York Center, is informed that this aircraft is suspected of having been hijacked. Flight 175 entered Bottiglia’s airspace not long before this (see 8:40 a.m. September 11, 2001). [MSNBC, 9/11/2002; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 20 pdf file] Its pilot has just told Bottiglia about the “suspicious transmission” (presumably from Flight 11) he heard while departing Boston airport (see 8:41 a.m.-8:42 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Gregor, 12/21/2001 pdf file] Seconds later, Flight 11 also enters the area Bottiglia is monitoring and its target appears on his radar screen. The controller sitting next to Bottiglia gets up and points to the radar blip. He says: “You see this target here? This is American 11. Boston Center thinks it’s a hijack.” Bottiglia will later recall that his initial thought about Flight 11, based on this information, is that the hijackers “were probably going to Cuba.” As its transponder has been turned off (see (Between 8:13 a.m. and 8:21 a.m.) September 11, 2001), he has no altitude information for Flight 11, but can tell from the radar scope that it appears to be descending. According to author Lynn Spencer: “Even without a transponder, controller radars calculate ground speed for all radar targets, and when a plane is descending, the ground speed decreases. The flight had been ‘grounding’ 600 knots, and now it has decreased to 320.” Bottiglia follows Flight 11’s target on his radar screen until it disappears over New York City. [MSNBC, 9/11/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 37] Because he is focused on Flight 11, Bottiglia will not notice when Flight 175’s transponder code changes at 8:47 (see 8:46 a.m.-8:47 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 21; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 21 pdf file] The New York Center was first notified of Flight 11’s hijacking at 8:25 a.m. (see 8:25 a.m. September 11, 2001), though this information was not passed on to Bottiglia. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 36-37]

(8:42 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Flight 93 Takes Off 41 Minutes Late

Flight 93 takes off from Newark International Airport, bound for San Francisco, California. It leaves 41 minutes late because of heavy runway traffic. [Newsweek, 9/22/2001; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/28/2001; Associated Press, 8/21/2002; MSNBC, 9/3/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]

(Shortly After 8:42 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Flights 11 and 175 Nearly Crash into Each Other

According to an employee at the FAA’s Boston Center in Nashua, New Hampshire, Flight 11 and Flight 175 nearly crash into each other while heading toward their targets in New York. The unnamed employee says, “The two aircraft got too close to each other down by Stewart” International Airport, which is in New Windsor, NY, about 55 miles north of New York City. Describing the incident, the Nashua Telegraph says that the terrorists “nearly had their plans dashed when the two planes almost collided.” [Associated Press, 9/13/2001; Telegraph (Nashua), 9/13/2001; United Press International, 9/13/2001] It is unclear exactly when this incident occurs, though it is presumably shortly after 8:42, when Flight 175 has its last communication with air traffic control. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 7]

8:43 a.m. 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; Associated Press, 8/19/2002; Newsday, 9/10/2002] 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 (see (9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [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 (see 8:46 a.m.-8:47 a.m. September 11, 2001), 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]

8:44 a.m. September 11, 2001: Other Pilots Notice Flight 175’s Emergency Signal

The pilot of US Airlines Flight 583 tells an unidentified flight controller, regarding Flight 175, “I just picked up an ELT [emergency locator transmitter] on 121.5. It was brief but it went off.” The controller responds, “O.K. they said it’s confirmed believe it or not as a thing, We’re not sure yet…” One minute later, another pilot says, “We picked up that ELT, too, but it’s very faint.” [New York Times, 10/16/2001] Flight 175 appears to have been the only trigger of any emergency signal on 9/11. It is possible the ELT came from Flight 11 instead.

(Before 8:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001: American Airlines Tells Crisis Center and Company Leaders of Hijacking, but Not Other Pilots

At American Airlines’ System Operations Control (SOC) in Fort Worth, the Command Center is activated. This is a dedicated crisis response facility, located on the floor above the SOC floor, and used in the event of an emergency. In it, top operations officials focus on gathering together as much information about Flight 11 as possible. A page is sent to American’s top executives and operations personnel: “Confirmed hijacking Flight 11.” However, pilots on other American flights apparently are not notified. Top managers gathered at the Command Center watch the radar blip of Flight 11 until it disappears over New York City. [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001; USA Today, 8/13/2002; 9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004]

(8:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Flight Attendant Betty Ong’s Call to American Airlines Ends

For the last 25 minutes, Flight 11 attendant Betty Ong has been speaking by Airfone to three employees at the American Airlines Southeastern Reservations Office in Cary, North Carolina (see 8:19 a.m. September 11, 2001). As Flight 11 approaches New York and the World Trade Center, it appears to be quiet on board. Vanessa Minter, one of the employees receiving Ong’s call, later recalls, “You didn’t hear hysteria in the background. You didn’t hear people screaming.” In a composed voice, Ong repeatedly says, “Pray for us. Pray for us.” Minter and Nydia Gonzalez, the reservations office supervisor, assure her they are praying. Seconds later, the line goes dead. [ABC News, 7/18/2002; Pacific News Service, 9/8/2004] At 8:44 a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission, Gonzalez confirms, “I think we might have lost her.” [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 14 pdf file] Amy Sweeney, another Flight 11 attendant, has also made an emergency phone call from the plane. This also ends at 8:44 a.m. (see (8:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

(8:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Flight 11 Attendant Calm as End Approaches

Flight attendant Amy Sweeney is still on the phone with American Airlines flight services manager Michael Woodward, describing conditions on Flight 11. The plane is nearing New York City, but the coach section passengers are still quiet, apparently unaware a hijacking is in progress. Sweeney reports, “Something is wrong. We are in a rapid descent… we are all over the place.” Woodward asks her to look out of the window and see if she can tell where they are. According to ABC News, she replies, “I see the water. I see the buildings. I see buildings.” She tells him the plane is flying very low. Then she takes a slow, deep breath and slowly, calmly says, “Oh my God!” According to Woodward’s account to the 9/11 Commission, Sweeney’s reply is, “We are flying low. We are flying very, very low. We are flying way too low.” Seconds later, she adds, “Oh my God, we are way too low.” These are her last words. Then Woodward hears a “very, very loud static on the other end.” Sweeney’s call has ended at about 8:44, according to the 9/11 Commission, two minutes before her plane crashes into the WTC. [Los Angeles Times, 9/20/2001; ABC News, 7/18/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 6-7 and 453] At 8:45 a.m., Nancy Wyatt, an American Airlines employee who has been listening to the call between Woodward and Sweeney, reports to the airline’s System Operations Control (SOC) in Fort Worth. Contradicting the later claims by Woodward that Sweeney was calm to the end, Wyatt tells the SOC that she had “started screaming and saying something’s wrong.” Wyatt adds that Woodward “thinks he might be disconnected [from Sweeney]. Okay, we just lost connection.” [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 14 and 88 pdf file] Betty Ong, another flight attendant, has also made an emergency phone call from Flight 11. This is also terminated around this time (see (8:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

8:45 a.m.-8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001: NEADS Technician Locates Flight 11 on Radar Screen, Then Sees It Disappear over New York

Master Sergeant Joe McCain, the mission crew commander technician at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), believes he has located Flight 11 on the radar screen and then watches it disappear over New York, but he does not realize it has crashed. McCain is on the phone with Colin Scoggins, the military liaison at the FAA’s Boston Center. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 40-41] NEADS personnel have been unable to locate Flight 11 on their radar screens (see Shortly After 8:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Utica Observer-Dispatch, 8/5/2004]
McCain Locates Fast-Moving Aircraft - Now McCain believes he has found Flight 11, flying about 20 miles north of Manhattan. According to author Lynn Spencer, he “knows that planes tend to fly very specific routes, like highways in the sky, and this particular target seems not to be on any of those regular routes. It’s also very fast moving.” McCain tells Scoggins, “I’ve got a search target that seems to be on an odd heading here,” and then describes its location. Scoggins notices the target, but this is not Flight 11. Scoggins then realizes that Flight 11 is right behind the target McCain has identified, and yells to him: “There’s a target four miles behind it, that’s the one! That’s American 11!” McCain responds, “I’ve got it!” The aircraft is 16 miles north of New York’s JFK International Airport, and heading down the Hudson River valley. NEADS has no altitude for it, but the aircraft is clearly traveling very fast. After hanging up the phone, McCain calls out its coordinates to everyone on the NEADS operations floor. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 40] McCain will later recall: “It’s very unusual to find a search target, which is a plane with its transponder turned off, in that area. This plane was headed toward New York going faster than the average Cessna and was no doubt a jet aircraft. We had many clues. The plane was fast and heading in an unusual direction with no beacon. We had raw data only. Everything just kind of fit.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 56-57] (The identity of the other fast-moving aircraft McCain had noticed, four miles ahead of Flight 11, is unstated.)
Flight 11 Disappears from Radar - Less than a minute after McCain locates the track for Flight 11, it disappears. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 41] McCain will recall, “We watched that track until it faded over New York City and right after that someone came out of the break room and said the World Trade Center had been hit.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 57] However, McCain supposedly does not realize that the plane he had spotted has crashed into the WTC. According to Spencer: “[H]e knows only that the blip he has struggled so mightily to locate has now vanished. He figures that the plane has descended below his radar coverage area to land at JFK. The fact that the plane was flying much too fast for landing does not hit him; the concept that the plane might have been intentionally crashed is simply too far outside his realm of experience.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 41]

(8:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Air Traffic Control Centers Receive False Bomb Threats?

CNN reports that, while Flight 11 is heading toward the World Trade Center, “[S]ources say there were bomb threats called in to air traffic control centers adding to the chaos.” One center receiving such threats is the FAA’s Boston Center, which handles air traffic over New England and monitors flights 11 and 175. Cleveland Center, which will monitor Flight 93, receives similar threats. Whether other centers are threatened is unstated. According to Newsweek, “Officials suspect that the bomb threats were intended to add to the chaos, distracting controllers from tracking the hijacked planes.” [Newsweek, 9/22/2001; CNN, 9/30/2001] Yet, just weeks after 9/11, the Washington Post will claim, “Federal aviation officials no longer believe that accomplices of the hijackers made phony bomb threats to confuse air traffic controllers on Sept. 11. Sources said reports of multiple threats were apparently the result of confusion during the early hours of the investigation and miscommunication in the Federal Aviation Administration.” [Washington Post, 9/27/2001]

Immediately after ordering the scrambling of fighters after Flight 11, NEADS calls Canadian Captain Mike Jellinek at NORAD’s operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado. It informs him that the FAA is reporting a hijacking and requesting NORAD support, and asks for NORAD commander-in-chief approval for the scramble. [Toronto Star, 12/9/2001; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002] The Cheyenne Mountain operations center “provides warning of ballistic missile or air attacks against North America.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 11/27/1999] Its role is to “fuse every critical piece of information NORAD has into a concise and crystalline snapshot,” and the mandate of its staff is “to respond to any threat in the skies over Canada and the United States.” [Toronto Star, 12/9/2001; Ottawa Citizen, 9/11/2002] This is apparently the first time it becomes aware of the morning’s emergency. Mike Jellinek is sitting near Canadian Major General Rick Findley, NORAD’s director of combat operations, who has just completed the night shift. Findley’s staff is “already on high alert” because of Vigilant Guardian and Operation Northern Vigilance, a training exercise and a NORAD operation that are currently in progress. According to some accounts, Findley quickly gives Jellinek “thumbs up” approval for the sending of the fighters after Flight 11. However, Findley tells CNN that after learning of the hijacking, “I just kind of asked the question, OK, folks, open up our checklist, follow our NORAD instruction, which included, at that time, to ask in either Ottawa or Washington is it OK if we use NORAD fighters to escort a potential hijacked aircraft?” Findley also later states, “At that point all we thought was we’ve got an airplane hijacked and we were going to provide an escort as requested. We certainly didn’t know it was going to play out as it did.” [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 11/27/2001; Toronto Star, 12/9/2001; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; Ottawa Citizen, 9/11/2002; Canadian Press, 9/10/2006; CNN, 9/11/2006] Findley remains in charge of the NORAD operations center. His staff feeds information to NORAD Commander-in-Chief Ralph Eberhart, and Findley himself is in phone contact with Eberhart several times during the crisis. Eberhart is in his office at NORAD headquarters, at nearby Peterson Air Force Base, but will relocate to Cheyenne Mountain later in the morning (see (Between 9:35 a.m. and 10:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Calgary Herald, 10/1/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 465; Legion Magazine, 11/2004]

8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001: Boston Center Notices Flight 11 Disappear from Its Radar Screens, Does Not Realize It Has Crashed

Flight 11 disappears from primary radar four seconds before it hits the North Tower of the World Trade Center (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), according to an FAA timeline. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file] At the FAA’s Boston Center, Colin Scoggins, the center’s military liaison, notices the loss of the plane’s primary radar track. As the center only monitors high-level air traffic, its radar information does not pick up aircraft below 1,500 feet. But Scoggins does not realize Flight 11 has crashed. The Boston Center’s last known position for the plane before it disappears is nine miles northeast of New York’s JFK International Airport. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 49]

8:46 a.m.-9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001: New Jersey Air National Guard Fighters away on Training Mission, Unaware of Attacks in New York

At the time of the attacks on the World Trade Center, two F-16 fighter jets are performing a training mission just eight minutes flying time away from New York, but the pilots are unaware of the crisis taking place. The two jets belong to the 177th Fighter Wing of the New Jersey Air National Guard, which is based at Atlantic City International Airport. [GlobalSecurity (.org), 10/29/2001; Bergen Record, 12/5/2003] F-16s at Atlantic City are involved in scheduled training missions every day, and their first mission is usually between 8:30 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. [Griffin, 2007, pp. 62] The two fighter jets are unarmed and performing practice bombing runs over a section of the Pine Barrens in New Jersey that is designated for military drills. The pilots are unaware of the attacks in New York. They will not be called back to base until shortly after the second WTC tower is hit, and will then have their training munitions replaced with live air-to-air missiles. At the time of the second attack, another two jets from the 177th FW are preparing to take off for routine bombing training, but they too have their mission canceled (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). No jets will take off from Atlantic City in response to the attacks until after 9:37, when the Pentagon is hit. [Code One Magazine, 10/2002; Bergen Record, 12/5/2003]
NEADS and FAA Tried Contacting 177th Fighter Wing - Colin Scoggins, the military liaison at the FAA’s Boston Center, is aware that the 177th FW launches F-16s for training flights every morning around this time, and suggested to NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) that it contact Atlantic City to use these jets in response to the hijacked Flight 11. However, when NEADS tried phoning the unit, its call was not answered (see (Between 8:40 a.m. and 8:46 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Griffin, 2007, pp. 62; Spencer, 2008, pp. 33-34] Apparently around 8:34 a.m., the Boston Center also attempted to contact the Atlantic City unit, but the outcome of that call is unclear (see (8:34 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20]
F-16s Might Have Prevented Attacks on WTC - Author Peter Lance will later point out that, had the two Atlantic City F-16s flying over the Pine Barrens “been notified by the FAA at 8:34… they could have reached the Twin Towers by 8:42 a.m.,” four minutes before Flight 11 hit the North Tower (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). “Even unarmed, and without a shootdown order, they might have been able to take defensive action to prevent the big 767 from crashing into the tower. In any case, the fighters would certainly have been on patrol and able to interdict UA 175, which didn’t hit the South Tower until 9:03 a.m.” [Lance, 2004, pp. 230-231] Yet despite the crucial role these two fighters could have played, the 9/11 Commission Report will make no mention of them. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004] Pointing out the irony of having the two F-16s so near to Manhattan yet with such an unrelated mission, 177th Fighter Wing public affairs officer Lt. Luz Aponte will later remark, “Isn’t that something?” [Bergen Record, 12/5/2003]

8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001: Flight 11 Hits the North Tower of the World Trade Center

Flight 11 slams into the WTC North Tower (Building 1). Seismic records pinpoint the crash at 26 seconds after 8:46 a.m. [CNN, 9/12/2001; New York Times, 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; USA Today, 8/13/2002; Associated Press, 8/21/2002; Newsday, 9/10/2002; New York Times, 9/11/2002] The NIST report states the crash time to be 8:46:30. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 19 pdf file] 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 (see 8:57 a.m. September 11, 2001). [New York Times, 9/11/2002] 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 pdf file] 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 (see October 2002-October 2005), severs 35 of the building’s 236 perimeter columns and damages another two. The damage to the South Tower’s perimeter will be similar (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 5-9, 20, 22 pdf file] 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 pdf file] 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 pdf file] 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 pdf file] 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 (see October 23, 2002 and October 19, 2004). 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 pdf file] 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 (see (October 2002-October 2005)) 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 (see April 5, 2005), but only performs 15 tests on fireproofing samples (see October 26, 2005). [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 23 pdf file] According to NIST, more fireproofing is stripped from the South Tower (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001).

(8.46 a.m.) September 11, 2001: NORAD Operations Center Receives First Notification of Hijacking; Approves Launching of Fighters

Immediately after ordering the scrambling of fighters after Flight 11, NEADS calls Canadian Captain Mike Jellinek at NORAD’s operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado. It informs him that the FAA is reporting a hijacking and requesting NORAD support, and asks for NORAD commander-in-chief approval for the scramble. [Toronto Star, 12/9/2001; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002] The Cheyenne Mountain operations center “provides warning of ballistic missile or air attacks against North America.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 11/27/1999] Its role is to “fuse every critical piece of information NORAD has into a concise and crystalline snapshot,” and the mandate of its staff is “to respond to any threat in the skies over Canada and the United States.” [Toronto Star, 12/9/2001; Ottawa Citizen, 9/11/2002] This is apparently the first time it becomes aware of the morning’s emergency. Mike Jellinek is sitting near Canadian Major General Rick Findley, NORAD’s director of combat operations, who has just completed the night shift. Findley’s staff is “already on high alert” because of Vigilant Guardian and Operation Northern Vigilance, a training exercise and a NORAD operation that are currently in progress. According to some accounts, Findley quickly gives Jellinek “thumbs up” approval for the sending of the fighters after Flight 11. However, Findley tells CNN that after learning of the hijacking, “I just kind of asked the question, OK, folks, open up our checklist, follow our NORAD instruction, which included, at that time, to ask in either Ottawa or Washington is it OK if we use NORAD fighters to escort a potential hijacked aircraft?” Findley also later states, “At that point all we thought was we’ve got an airplane hijacked and we were going to provide an escort as requested. We certainly didn’t know it was going to play out as it did.” [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 11/27/2001; Toronto Star, 12/9/2001; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; Ottawa Citizen, 9/11/2002; Canadian Press, 9/10/2006; CNN, 9/11/2006] Findley remains in charge of the NORAD operations center. His staff feeds information to NORAD Commander-in-Chief Ralph Eberhart, and Findley himself is in phone contact with Eberhart several times during the crisis. Eberhart is in his office at NORAD headquarters, at nearby Peterson Air Force Base, but will relocate to Cheyenne Mountain later in the morning (see (Between 9:35 a.m. and 10:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Calgary Herald, 10/1/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 465; Legion Magazine, 11/2004]

8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001: First WTC Attack Recorded on Video, but Not Broadcast Until Evening

Two French documentary filmmakers are filming a documentary on New York City firefighters about ten blocks from the WTC. One of them hears a roar, looks up, and captures a distant image of the first WTC crash. They continue shooting footage nonstop for many hours, and their footage is first shown that evening on CNN. [New York Times, 1/12/2002] President Bush later claims that he sees the first attack live on television, but this is technically impossible, as there was no live news footage of the attack. [Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2004 pdf file]

8:46 a.m.-8:47 a.m. September 11, 2001: Flight 175 Changes Transponder Signal but Remains Easily Traceable

Flight 175 stops transmitting its transponder signal. It is currently flying near the New Jersey-Pennsylvania border. [Guardian, 10/17/2001; Newsday, 9/10/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] However, the transponder is turned off for only about 30 seconds, and then comes back on as a signal that is not designated for any plane on this day. Then, within the space of a minute, it is changed to another new code. But New York Center air traffic computers do not correlate either of these new transponder codes with Flight 175. Consequently, according to an early FAA report, “the secondary radar return (transponder) indicating aircraft speed, altitude, and flight information began to coast and was no longer associated with the primary radar return.” Therefore, while controllers are able “to track the intruder easily… they couldn’t identify it.” However, Dave Bottiglia, the New York Center air traffic controller responsible for Flight 175, is currently trying to locate the already-crashed Flight 11, and therefore supposedly does not notice the transponder code changes on Flight 175 until 8:51 a.m. (see 8:51 a.m.-8:53 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file; Washington Post, 9/17/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 21 pdf file] According to a “Flight Path Study” by the National Transportation Safety Board, the change of Flight 175’s transponder code is the “first indication of deviation from normal routine.” [National Transportation Safety Board, 2/19/2002 pdf file]

8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001: Otis Fighters Launched toward Flight 11

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. (see 8:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). [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. (see (Shortly After 8:34 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [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. (see 8:53 a.m. September 11, 2001) 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]

(After 8:46 a.m.) September 11, 2001: FAA Establishes Open Telephone Line with the Secret Service

Shortly after the WTC is hit, the FAA opens a telephone line with the Secret Service to keep the White House informed of all events. [ [Sources: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney] A few days later, Vice President Cheney will state, “The Secret Service has an arrangement with the FAA. They had open lines after the World Trade Center was…” (He stopped himself before finishing the sentence.) [MSNBC, 9/16/2001]

Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001: Newark Airport Controllers Contact Other FAA Facilities about Burning WTC

At the air traffic control tower at Newark International Airport in New Jersey, controllers see the smoke coming from the World Trade Center in the distance and start calling other FAA facilities in the area about this. Controller Rick Tepper looks out the window of the tower across the Hudson River at New York City, and sees the huge cloud of smoke coming from the North Tower, which Flight 11 has crashed into it. He points this out to fellow controller Greg Callahan. In his office at the tower, Bob Varcadipane, the supervisor there, starts receiving a flood of phone calls reporting that a small aircraft has hit the WTC. According to author Lynn Spencer, “The assumption is that only a small plane could have gone so badly off course.” The Newark tower controllers start calling the towers at JFK, La Guardia, and Teterboro Airports, along with other air traffic control facilities in the area, to see if any of them has lost an aircraft. But none say they have; they have not yet been informed of the crash and are shocked at what they see when told to look out their windows at the burning WTC. Varcadipane calls the FAA’s New York Center to find out if they know whose plane hit the Twin Towers. He is told: “No, but Boston Center lost an airplane. They lost an American 767.” Varcadipane wonders if this 767 is the plane that hit the WTC, and says back: “I have a burning building and you have a missing airplane. This is very coincidental.” According to NBC: “a horrific realization dawns on controllers. American Flight 11, still missing from radar, finally has been found.” Word of the plane’s fate subsequently “quickly travels throughout the air traffic control world.” [MSNBC, 9/11/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 41-42] However, the FAA’s Indianapolis Center, which handles Flight 77, will reportedly not learn of the first hijackings until around 9:20 a.m. (see (9:20 a.m.-9:21 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 32 pdf file]

After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001: Navy Officials Monitor Events at Antiterrorist Alert Center

Within moments of the attack in New York, the US Navy’s Antiterrorist Alert Center (ATAC) goes to full alert. ATAC is located at the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) headquarters in southeast Washington, DC, across the Potomac River from the Pentagon. [US Naval Criminal Investigative Service, n.d.; US Department of the Navy, 2/2002 pdf file; CNN, 8/27/2002] Established in 1983, it was the first 24-hour terrorism watch center in the US intelligence community. [US Naval Criminal Investigative Service, n.d.] In it, top Navy officials are now monitoring the day’s events. According to CNN—which gains access to a video recording of the center during the attacks—just before the Pentagon is hit, these officials are “concerned attacks on Washington could be next.” After the attack on the Pentagon, the Navy’s top leaders will start arriving at the center (see After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [CNN, 8/27/2002]

(Shortly After 8:46 a.m.) 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 (see 8:40 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (8:42 a.m.-8:46 a.m.) September 11, 2001). 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 (see 8:51 a.m.-8:53 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 21 pdf file]
'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. (see 8:43 a.m. September 11, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001]

After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001: Software Company Reconstructs Paths of Four Hijacked Planes

A Fairfax, Virginia company that makes computer software that tracks and records the flight paths of planes helps media companies and airlines to reconstruct the paths of all four of the hijacked aircraft. [Washington Business Journal, 9/11/2001; Washington Post, 9/13/2001] Flight Explorer sells an Internet-accessible application that provides constantly updated information on the positions of aircraft in flight. It uses radar feeds that the FAA collects from control centers across the US. [Business Wire, 6/16/2000; St. Petersburg Times, 8/12/2001] All of Flight Explorer’s employees begin sorting through its data “after the first crash [of Flight 11] was reported,” so presumably this is at around 8:50 a.m. Whether any particular agency, such as the FAA, requests this or they do it of their own initiative is unknown. Although there are some 4,000 planes in the air above the US at the time of the attacks, the company is quickly able to pinpoint the paths of all four hijacked aircraft. It then creates charts and animated videos of the four flights’ actual and intended routes. About 12 news agencies, including all the major networks, request these animated illustrations. [Washington Business Journal, 9/11/2001; Washington Post, 9/13/2001] Flight Explorer is apparently unhindered by the fact that flights 11 and 93 have their transponders turned off during the hijackings. Its reconstruction of Flight 77’s path ends, however, at 8:57, around the time that aircraft’s transponder goes off and it disappears from controllers’ radar screens (see (8:56 a.m.-9:05 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Yet the 9/11 Commission will later say that, despite this disappearance, “Radar reconstructions performed after 9/11 reveal that FAA radar equipment tracked the flight from the moment its transponder was turned off.” Why the Flight Explorer illustration does not therefore show the rest of Flight 77’s journey is not clear. [AVweb, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Until a few years back, Flight Explorer was the only company that recorded flight paths. Since the 1999 death of golfer Payne Stewart (see October 25, 1999) the FAA has also been recording these paths. [Washington Business Journal, 9/11/2001] The final report of the 9/11 Commission will make no mention of the Flight Explorer flight path recordings. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 222]

(Between 8:48 a.m. and 9:09 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Langley Air Force Base Pilots Learn of WTC Crash

At Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, the operations manager with the unit that is involved in NORAD’s air defense mission first learns that a plane has hit the World Trade Center in a phone call from his fiancée. He then receives a call from the unit’s intelligence officer, who warns that the pilots at Langley need to “get ready.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 116-117]
Manager Learns of Attack - The alert unit at Langley Air Force Base is a small detachment from the North Dakota Air National Guard’s 119th Fighter Wing, which is based in Fargo, ND. [New York Times, 11/15/2001; Associated Press, 12/27/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 114] Captain Craig Borgstrom is its operations manager. In the event of an order to scramble the unit’s two F-16s that are kept on “alert,” his job would be to man the battle cab and serve as the supervisor of flying (SOF), being responsible for getting any necessary information about the mission to the pilots. Borgstrom’s fiancée, Jen, calls him at the base and asks, “Did you hear that some airplane just ran into the World Trade Center?” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 116; Tampa Tribune, 6/8/2008] This is the first that Borgstrom has heard about the attack. [Longman, 2002, pp. 63] He replies, “Probably some idiot out sightseeing or someone trying to commit suicide in a Cessna 172,” but Jen tells him, “It’s a pretty big fire for a small airplane.”
Intelligence Officer Warns, 'Get Ready' - The chief enlisted manager then enters Borgstrom’s office and informs him that Darrin Anderson, the unit’s intelligence officer, is on the phone from the wing’s base in Fargo, “and needs to talk to you right away.” Borgstrom heads to the main reception desk and takes the call. After asking if Borgstrom is aware of what happened in New York, Anderson tells him, “[W]e think there might be more to this, so you guys get ready.” Borgstrom tells the chief enlisted manager about this call and then heads out toward the alert hangars.
Pilot Learns of Attack - Meanwhile, in one of the hangars, the crew chief goes upstairs with some information for Major Dean Eckmann, who is one of the pilots on alert duty. Eckmann is unaware of events in New York. When his crew chief informs him a plane has hit the WTC, he replies: “Poor, dumb sucker. I hope no one in the building got hurt.” Before Eckmann has a chance to switch on the television to check the news, a Klaxon horn sounds, indicating that the two alert pilots at Langley are to go to “battle stations.” [Longman, 2002, pp. 64; Spencer, 2008, pp. 116-117] According to the 9/11 Commission, this battle stations signal occurs at 9:09 a.m. (see (9:09 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 24] Eckmann, along with Borgstrom and another of the unit’s pilots, will take off in order to defend Washington, DC at 9:30 a.m. (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 16 pdf file; Rip Chord, 12/31/2006]

(8:48 a.m.) September 11, 2001: NORAD’s Colorado Operations Center Sees WTC Television Footage

Canadian Air Force Major General Rick Findley is in charge of the battle staff at NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado operations center. He has just completed a 14-hour night shift, and the center is in the middle of a shift change. According to Findley, “As the phones were beginning to ring, someone said, ‘Sir, you might want to look at that.’ I looked up and there was the CNN image of the World Trade Center. There was a hole in the side of one of the buildings.” CNN broadcasts this footage starting at 8:48 a.m. An as-yet unidentified person reportedly tells Findley that it was a small plane, who responded, “I said the hole’s too big for a small airplane.… I asked if it was the hijacked aircraft. I was scratching my head, wondering if it was another aircraft altogether.” [Calgary Herald, 10/1/2001; Canadian Press, 9/10/2006]

Soon after 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001: FBI Arrives at Boston Air Traffic Control Center

The FBI arrives at the FAA’s Boston Center, in Nashua, New Hampshire, “minutes after Flight 11 crashed into the World Trade Center,” and seizes tape recordings of radio transmissions from the hijacked plane. Boston Center handled Flight 11, and recorded intermittent radio transmissions from its cockpit (see (After 8:14 a.m.-8:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Christian Science Monitor, 9/13/2001] According to FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown, the FAA has to turn over all its records from 9/11 to the FBI immediately afterwards. She says it is not unusual for the FAA to turn over its records after a major disaster, but normally this is to the National Transportation Safety Board, not the FBI. [Griffin, 2004, pp. 185]

(8:50 a.m.) 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 (see (Before 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). 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 Authority, 10/14/2003, pp. 3-10 pdf file] If these accounts are correct, it means someone at NORAD should learn about Flight 77 when it deviates from its course (see (8:54 a.m.) September 11, 2001). 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 (see (Shortly After 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

(8:51 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Air Traffic Controller Watches Flight 175 Suddenly Climb 3,000 Feet, NEADS Not Contacted

The air traffic controller at the FAA’s New York Center who is responsible for monitoring Flight 175 sees the now-hijacked plane on his radar screen making a sharp turn (see (8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and is astonished as it rapidly climbs 3,000 feet. [National Transportation Safety Board, 2/19/2002 pdf file; The Learning Channel, 2005] Around this time, the controller, Dave Bottiglia, first notices that Flight 175’s transponder code has changed (see 8:51 a.m.-8:53 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 21 pdf file] As he will later recall: “As I’m watching, United 175 makes a hard left-hand turn and starts climbing. Not only did he make a sharp turn, but he also climbed 3,000 feet in a matter of approximately one minute, which is a very fast rate of climb.” Bottiglia will add, “This is something that we have never seen before.” He immediately turns to the manager at the New York Center and says, “I believe I just lost United 175.” [The Learning Channel, 2005] Yet, according to the 9/11 Commission, the center does not alert NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) to Flight 175 until 9:03 a.m. (see (9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 23]

8:51 a.m. September 11, 2001: NEADS Learns of Plane Hitting WTC, Informs FAA’s New York Center

Technicians on the operations floor at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) receive what is apparently their first notification that a plane has hit the World Trade Center, in a phone call from the FAA’s Boston Center. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] NEADS ID technicians are currently trying to locate Flight 11, when they are called by Colin Scoggins, the military liaison at the Boston Center. ID tech Stacia Rountree answers the call. In response to Scoggins’s information, Rountree says to her colleagues, “A plane just hit the World Trade Center.” She asks Scoggins, “Was it American 11?” He tells her this is not confirmed. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 50] Another of the ID techs, Shelley Watson, starts murmuring in response to the news: “Oh my God. Oh God. Oh my God.” [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] A computer maintenance technician then runs onto the operations floor and announces that CNN is broadcasting that a 737 has hit the WTC. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 51]
NEADS Calls New York Center - Master Sergeant Maureen Dooley, the leader of the ID techs, tells Watson: “Update New York! See if they lost altitude on that plane altogether.” Watson immediately calls the FAA’s New York Center and asks, “Did you just hear the information regarding the World Trade Center?” When the person who answers her call says no, Watson explains, “Being hit by an aircraft.” The person at New York Center says, “You’re kidding,” but Watson adds, “It’s on the world news.” [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] One of the NEADS technicians is finally able to display the live CNN coverage on one of the 15-foot screens at the front of the room. People stare in silence at the footage of the burning North Tower. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 51]

8:51 a.m.-8:53 a.m. 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]

(8:52 a.m.) September 11, 2001: New York Controller Tracks Flight 175 into New York, NEADS Not Alerted

Mike McCormick, the head of the FAA’s New York Center, sees the coverage of the first World Trade Center attack on CNN. He assumes that Flight 175, which he is tracking on his radar screen, is also headed into the WTC. He will recall: “Probably one of the most difficult moments of my life was the 11 minutes from the point I watched that aircraft, when we first lost communications until the point that aircraft hit the World Trade Center. For those 11 minutes, I knew, we knew, what was going to happen, and that was difficult.” [CNN, 8/12/2002] Yet, according to the 9/11 Commission, the New York Center will not notify NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) about Flight 175 until around the time it crashes, at 9:03 a.m. (see (9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 23]

8:55 a.m.-8:57 a.m. September 11, 2001: Confusion at NEADS over Identity of Plane that Hit WTC

Rumors have started circulating through the civilian air traffic system that the plane that hit the World Trade Center was a small Cessna. There is increasing confusion on the operations floor at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) as to whether it was really Flight 11. ID tech Stacia Rountree is on the phone with Colin Scoggins, a civilian manager who is the military liaison at the FAA’s Boston Center. Scoggins initially seems to confirm that the plane was Flight 11, saying: “Yeah, he crashed into the World Trade Center.… [D]isregard the tail number [given earlier for American 11].” When Rountree asks, “He did crash into the World Trade Center?” Scoggins replies, “[T]hat’s what we believe, yes.” However, an unidentified male staff member at NEADS overhears, and queries: “I never heard them say American Airlines Flight 11 hit the World Trade Center. I heard it was a civilian aircraft.” Master Sergeant Maureen Dooley takes the phone from Rountree and asks Scoggins, “[A]re you giving confirmation that American 11 was the one?” Apparently contradicting what he’d previously said, Scoggins replies: “No, we’re not gonna confirm that at this time. We just know an aircraft crashed in.… The last [radar sighting] we have was about 15 miles east of JFK [International Airport in New York City], or eight miles east of JFK was our last primary hit. He did slow down in speed… and then we lost ‘em.” [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] This confusion will continue later on, when NEADS will be misinformed that Flight 11 is still airborne (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001).

(8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Flight 175 Nearly Collides with Two Other Planes

Flight 175 almost collides in mid-air with at least two other planes as it descends towards Manhattan. At the FAA’s New York Center, air traffic controller Chris Tucker sees it turn toward the path of Delta Flight 2315, a Boeing 737 heading southwest at 28,000 feet. He tells the Delta pilot: “Traffic 2 o’clock. Ten miles. I think he’s been hijacked. I don’t know his intentions. Take any evasive action necessary.” The Delta plane begins to turn to get out of the way, but Flight 175 turns as well. According to the Washington Post, the two planes’ radar targets actually merge on the radar screen. Controller Dave Bottiglia later says, “It was a terrifying moment just to watch the two airplanes miss by less than, I think it was 200 feet.” Shortly after this near miss, Flight 175 almost collides with US Airways Flight 542, another 737, flying just below and four miles behind Delta 2315. This plane’s onboard collision alert system sounds an alarm as Flight 175 comes closer and closer to it. Its pilot descends, managing to avoid a collision. According to an early FAA report, after this incident, several New York air traffic controllers speculate that the unknown aircraft heading towards New York City—only later confirmed to be Flight 175—is an emergency and is heading for an airport to land. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file; Washington Post, 9/17/2001; Newsday, 9/10/2002; MSNBC, 9/11/2002; Associated Press, 9/12/2002] Earlier on, Flight 175 nearly collided with Flight 11 (see (Shortly After 8:42 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and minutes later it will narrowly avoid another collision, with Midwest Airlines Flight 7 (see (9:01 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

(8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001: FAA’s New York Center Believes Flight 175 Has Been Hijacked, but NEADS Reportedly Not Informed

The head air traffic controller at the FAA’s New York Center notifies a manager at the facility that she believes Flight 175 has been hijacked. The manager tries to notify regional managers about this, but cannot reach them because they are discussing the hijacking of Flight 11 and refuse to be disturbed. However, even though the controller managing Flight 175 said, “we may have a hijack” at 8:53 a.m. (see 8:51 a.m.-8:53 a.m. September 11, 2001), the 9/11 Commission will conclude that NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) is not notified about the aircraft until 9:03 a.m. (see (9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] The Commission’s account will conflict with previous accounts that state that NEADS was notified of the Flight 175 hijacking at 8:43 a.m. (see 8:43 a.m. September 11, 2001). The head of the New York Center, Mike McCormick, has already decided at 8:52 a.m. that Flight 175 has been hijacked and is on a suicide run to New York City (see (8:52 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [CNN, 8/12/2002]

(8:57 a.m.-9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Air Traffic Controllers Watch Flight 175 on Radar as It Heads into New York

About a half-dozen air traffic controllers at the FAA’s New York Center in Ronkonkoma, NY, watch Flight 175 on the radar screen in its final minutes, as it approaches Manhattan. [National Transportation Safety Board, 2/19/2002 pdf file; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] Flight 175 is marked on the screen with the letter “I” for “intruder.” Initially, those at the center think it might be heading for Newark Airport, maybe for an emergency landing there. But controller Jim Bohleber says, “No, he’s too fast and low, he’ll never make Newark.” [Newsday, 9/10/2002] The controllers start speculating what Flight 175 is aiming for, with one of them guessing the Statue of Liberty. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] They are astonished at the extraordinary rate at which it is descending (see (8:58 a.m.-9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). A controller counts down its altitude, “Eight, six, four” thousand feet, and then says, “My god, he’s in the ground in the next step.” But someone else at the center says, “No, that’s the Trade Center right there.” [The Learning Channel, 2005] But, according to the 9/11 Commission, the New York Center does not notify NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) about Flight 175 until 9:03 a.m., the same time as it crashes into the South Tower (see (9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 23] Workers at the crisis center at United Airlines’ headquarters outside Chicago, also closely watch Flight 175 head into New York City on radar. [USA Today, 8/13/2002]

(8:58 a.m.-9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Controllers Watch Flight 175 Descending 10,000 Feet per Minute

Air traffic controllers at the FAA’s New York Center who are watching Flight 175 on the radar screen (see (8:57 a.m.-9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001) see the aircraft descending at an astonishing rate of up to 10,000 feet per minute. [The Learning Channel, 2005] From 8:58 a.m., Flight 175 is constantly descending toward New York. [National Transportation Safety Board, 2/19/2002 pdf file] One of the New York Center controllers, Jim Bohleber, is looking at his radar scope and calls out the plane’s rate of descent every 12 seconds, each time the screen updates, saying: “It’s six thousand feet a minute. Now it’s eight. Now ten.” [Newsday, 9/10/2002; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] Dave Bottiglia, the controller responsible for monitoring Flight 175, will later comment that 10,000 feet per minute is “absolutely unheard of for a commercial jet. It is unbelievable for the passengers in the back to withstand that type of force as they’re descending. [The hijackers are] actually nosing the airplane down and doing what I would call a ‘power dive.’” [The Learning Channel, 2005] While Flight 175 is in this rapid descent, it heads directly into the paths of several other aircraft, and narrowly avoids a mid-air collision with flight Midex 7 (see (9:01 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 73-76]

As he learns of the two plane crashes in New York, a director at Boston’s Logan Airport—from where the two crashed aircraft took off—contacts the airlines to request the passenger manifests for these flights. At around 9:00 a.m., Ed Freni, who is Logan’s director of aviation operations, has just been informed that a plane—believed to be from his airport—has hit the World Trade Center, and another plane from the airport is missing (see (8:50 a.m.-9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). He calls the American Airlines station in Logan’s Terminal B. A friend of his there tells him they are concerned about American Airlines Flight 11. The friend says Amy Sweeney, one of its flight attendants, called from the air (see 8:22 a.m. September 11, 2001), said they were flying low over Manhattan, and then her line went dead (see (8:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Freni asks to be faxed a copy of the manifest for Flight 11. The manifest holds the names of passengers on an aircraft by seat number. If there is an accident, it allows officials to begin contacting next of kin. At 9:05, he arrives at the Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport) aviation office on the 18th floor of the FAA control tower at Logan, where he has arranged to meet John Duval, the airport’s deputy director of operations. Freni sees on television the footage of the South Tower being hit just two minutes earlier. He calls his contacts at various airlines at Logan and learns that United Airlines is concerned about its Flight 175. He asks United to fax him the manifest for this plane. According to author Tom Murphy, Freni will receive the manifests for Flight 11 and Flight 175 at 9:30 a.m. (see 9:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). Meanwhile, Duval is talking with FAA officials further up in the control tower. They tell him: “United 175 came from here. We lost contact at 8:43.” [Murphy, 2006, pp. 33-35]

The FAA’s New York Center informs the air traffic control coordinator at United Airlines’ headquarters, outside Chicago, that Flight 175 is missing from radar. Although Flight 175’s transponder signal changed at around 8:47 (see 8:46 a.m.-8:47 a.m. September 11, 2001), according to the 9/11 Commission the air traffic controller handling the flight only noticed the change at 8:51 (see 8:51 a.m.-8:53 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 21-22 pdf file]

(9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Northern Vigilance Operation Canceled; False Blips Purged from Radar Screens

For the past two days, NORAD has had fighters deployed to Alaska and Northern Canada. They are there for a real-world maneuver called Operation Northern Vigilance, tasked with monitoring a Russian air force exercise being conducted in the Russian Arctic all this week (see September 9-11, 2001). [NORAD, 9/9/2001] At its operations center deep inside Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, NORAD is also reportedly at “full ‘battle staff’ levels for a major annual exercise that tests every facet of the organization.” Canadian Captain Mike Jellinek is one hour into his shift, overseeing the operations center, when he is contacted by NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), based in Rome, NY: The FAA believes there is a hijacking in progress and is asking NORAD for support. As the Toronto Star reports, “In a flash, Operation Northern Vigilance is called off. Any simulated information, what’s known as an ‘inject,’ is purged from the screens.” [Toronto Star, 12/9/2001] NORAD has the capacity to inject simulated material, including mass attacks, during exercises, “as though it was being sensed for the first time by a radar site.” [US Department of Defense, 1/14/1999] However, Northern Vigilance is a military operation, not a training exercise. [NORAD, 9/9/2001; US Congress, 3/11/2005] So presumably the “simulated information” is part of a NORAD exercise currently taking place, such as Vigilant Guardian (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Therefore, many minutes into the real 9/11 attacks, there may have been false radar blips causing confusion among NORAD personnel. Additional details, such as whose radar screens have false blips and over what duration, are unknown. The Russians, after seeing the attacks on New York and Washington on television, will quickly communicate that they are canceling their Russian Arctic exercise. [Toronto Star, 12/9/2001; National Post, 10/19/2002]

(9:01 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Flight 175 Almost Collides with Another Aircraft

Just one or two minutes before it crashes into the World Trade Center, Flight 175 narrowly avoids a mid-air collision with another commercial aircraft. [TMJ4, 6/25/2008] Midwest Airlines Flight 7 (Midex 7) is a DC-9 jet bound from Milwaukee to New York’s La Guardia Airport, with about 30 passengers and five crew members on board. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 6/24/2008] Pilot Gerald Earwood and co-pilot Eric Fjelstad have been concerned at the unusually slow radio responses they have been receiving from New York air traffic controllers. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 56-57 and 61-62] As they are approaching La Guardia from the southwest, Earwood is again frustrated as he awaits the controller’s response to his latest transmission. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 6/24/2008]
Instructed to Turn Left - Suddenly, the voice of a panicked controller comes over the radio: “Midex 7, are you with me? Midex 7, Midex 7, are you with me?” Unknown to Earwood, controllers have noticed that Flight 175 is now flying directly at his plane at over 500 miles per hour. Earwood replies, “Midex 7 is with you out of 7 for 4,000,” meaning he has just passed through 7,000 feet in his descent to his assigned altitude of 4,000 feet. The controller orders: “Roger, Midex 7, turn left now! Head two-four-zero degrees now, as quick as you can!” The pilots of Midex 7 begin a standard 30-degrees-of-bank turn. But even though they are doing exactly what they have been ordered to, the controller continues, “Left turn, Midex, left turn!” Several seconds later, the controller restates his order: “Midex 7, tighten it up! Roll left! Now! Now! Now!” Earwood looks out of the window for the plane he is meant to be avoiding, but cannot see anything.
Narrowly Avoids Collision - As Midex 7 is completing its left turn, the controller comes back over the radio even more panicked than before, ordering: ”Roll right, Midex! Roll right as hard as you can! Keep it tight, Midex. Roll hard right! Now! Now!” Midex 7 complies with the instruction, but Earwood is wondering where the plane is that he is trying to avoid. At the FAA’s New York Center, air traffic controllers watch as the radar returns for Flight 175 and Midex 7 get so close that they appear to merge on the screens. Finally, Flight 175 continues its rapid descent toward New York, after having narrowly avoided a collision. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 74-77] Midex 7 returns to its approach to La Guardia Airport, and then Earwood overhears a radio transmission from another pilot, who reports that a second plane has hit the World Trade Center. Earwood will later estimate that Flight 175 crashes into the South Tower 60 to 90 seconds after its near-collision with Midex 7. He sees the fireball coming from the tower, but does not immediately connect it with the aircraft he has just avoided. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 6/24/2008] Minutes earlier, Flight 175 almost collided with at least two other planes as it descended toward Manhattan (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and prior to that it had almost collided with Flight 11 (see (Shortly After 8:42 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Telegraph (Nashua), 9/13/2001; Washington Post, 9/17/2001] The incident with Midex 7 will not come to light until 2008, when it is described in the book Touching History: The Untold Story of the Drama that Unfolded in the Skies Over America on 9/11, by Lynn Spencer. [TMJ4, 6/25/2008]

(Shortly Before 9:02 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Boston Center Military Liaison Learns of Second Hijacking over FAA Teleconference

Colin Scoggins, the military liaison at the FAA’s Boston Center, learns from an FAA teleconference that there is a second hijacked plane over the US. He has previously called the FAA’s New York Center and was told, “We’re working a hijack,” but mistakenly thought the controller was referring to Flight 11 (see (Between 8:40 a.m. and 8:54 a.m.) September 11, 2001). According to author Lynn Spencer, Scoggins now hears on the FAA headquarters’ hijack teleconference of the second hijacked airliner, Flight 175. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 48-49 and 82] Spencer’s account is consistent with a May 2003 statement by the FAA, according to which the FAA established its teleconference “[w]ithin minutes after the first aircraft hit the World Trade Center” (see (8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003] But the 9/11 Commission will claim that the FAA headquarters’ hijacking teleconference is only established at “about 9:20” (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 36] According to Spencer, Scoggins assumes that NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) is also on the FAA teleconference and is receiving the same information that he is about the second hijacking. However, the “FAA headquarters’ teleconference is between air traffic control facilities, the [FAA] Command Center, the Defense Department, and several other agencies; NORAD is not looped in.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 82] Although the FAA will claim that the “Air Force liaison to the FAA immediately joined the FAA headquarters [teleconference] and established contact with NORAD on a separate line,” the Air Force liaison will subsequently claim she only joins the teleconference after 9:37 a.m., when the Pentagon is hit (see (Shortly After 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003; US Department of Transportation, 8/31/2006 pdf file] Even though Scoggins assumes NEADS is already aware of the information, he will subsequently call it with the news of the second hijacking (see (9:02 a.m.-9:07 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 82].

(9 a.m[?]September 11, 2001: United Airlines Dispatcher and Air Traffic Control Coordinator Try Contacting Flight 175

At the United Airlines System Operations Control (SOC) center outside Chicago, flight dispatcher Ed Ballinger learns that Flight 175 is suspected as being hijacked, and then sends text messages to try and make contact with it. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 23-24 pdf file] The SOC center has just been contacted by the United Airlines maintenance office in San Francisco, about a call it received from an attendant on Flight 175, who had reported that their plane had been hijacked (see Shortly Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/2001] Subsequently, around 9:01 or 9:02, a dispatch manager at the SOC goes to Ballinger’s desk and informs him of the details of this call. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 23 pdf file] Ballinger is the flight dispatcher responsible for United’s aircraft flying from the East Coast to the West Coast, which include Flight 175 (and also Flight 93). [Chicago Daily Herald, 4/14/2004] At 9:03, he sends an ACARS message to Flight 175: “How is the ride. Anything dispatch can do for you.” (ACARS is an e-mail system that enables personnel on the ground to rapidly communicate with those in the cockpit of an aircraft.) At the same time, the United Airlines air traffic control coordinator also sends an ACARS message to the flight: “NY approach lookin for ya on [frequency] 127.4.” Just after 9:03, unaware it has now crashed into the World Trade Center, Ballinger and the air traffic control coordinator re-send these ACARS messages to Flight 175. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 9 and 23-24 pdf file] Twenty minutes later, Ballinger will remain unaware that Flight 175 has crashed and still be trying to contact it by ACARS (see 9:23 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 26 pdf file] All airlines have a staff of dispatchers like Ballinger who, under FAA rules, are responsible for monitoring aircraft in flight. They follow each flight’s progress, relay safety information, and handle any problems that arise. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 14 and 35] United Airlines dispatchers typically monitor up to two dozen flights at once. [Longman, 2002, pp. 68] Ballinger has 16 transcontinental flights taking off early this morning that he is responsible for. [New York Observer, 6/20/2004]

(9:01 a.m.) September 11, 2001: FAA’s New York Center Tells FAA Command Center about Flight 175 Hijack

In a conference call, Peter Mulligan, a manager at the FAA’s New York Center, tells the FAA Command Center in Herndon, Virginia: “We have several situations going here. It’s escalating big, big time. We need to get the military involved with us.” [Federal Aviation Authority, 10/14/2003, pp. 15 pdf file] This is apparently a reference to the hijacking of Flight 175. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 22]
Manager Gives No Details of Aircraft - Mulligan does not initially give any details of the hijacked aircraft, such as its flight number, position, or heading, but soon leaves the phone to inform his military liaison of the hijack (see 9:01 a.m.-9:02 a.m. September 11, 2001). After about one minute, Mulligan comes back on the phone, says that the liaison has been notified, and adds: “We’re involved in something else. We have other aircraft that may have a similar situation going on here.” Again, he provides no detailed information about the second hijacked plane, whose number does not appear to be communicated to the FAA’s Command Center before it crashes. [Federal Aviation Authority, 10/14/2003, pp. 16-18 pdf file]
9/11 Commission Confused - According to the transcript of the 9/11 Commission hearing at which a recording of the teleconference is played, it is the Herndon Command Center that says, “We’re involved with something else, we have other aircraft that may have a similar situation going on here.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] This version, which indicates the Command Center already knows about the hijacking of Flight 175 when Mulligan passes on the notification, is subsequently picked up by some media. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004; American RadioWorks, 9/2/2004; CBC, 9/12/2006] However, this will be altered in the Commission’s final report, which attributes the “We’re involved with something else” statement to Mulligan. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 22] The transcript of the call on which this section of the report is based indicates that the statement is actually made by Mulligan and that the 9/11 Commission is therefore only correcting an initial error it made at the hearing in its final report. [Federal Aviation Authority, 10/14/2003, pp. 18 pdf file]

(Before 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Special FAA-Military Link Fails to Help Communication Problems

At some point before the second WTC crash, the FAA Command Center sets up a teleconference with FAA facilities in the New York area. Also on the same floor of the same building is “the military cell”—the Air Traffic Services Cell (ATSC)—created by the FAA and the Defense Department to coordinate priority aircraft movement during warfare or emergencies if needed. “The Pentagon staffs it only three days per month for refresher training, but September 11 happen[s] to be one of those days.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 12/17/2001] There are three officers in the ATSC at the time of the attacks: Col. John Czabaranek, Lt. Col. Michael-Anne Cherry, and Maj. Kevin Bridges. According to the FAA’s Deputy Director of Air Traffic Control Jeff Griffith, these officers become “immediately involved in coordinating FAA… Command Center actions with military elements.” Additionally, just six weeks earlier the cell had been given a secure Internet terminal to access SIPRNET, the military’s classified computer network, and other hardware, allowing it to “immediately look at NORAD and [Defense Deptartment] plans as they evolved” and “greatly enhancing the movement of vital information.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/10/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/9/2004 pdf file] The 9/11 Commission later determines that communication between the FAA and the military is extremely poor. It is unclear why this connection, which the 9/11 Commission fails to mention, does not help.

(9:01 a.m.) September 11, 2001: La Guardia Flight Controllers and Port Authority Unaware of Hijackings

An unidentified woman in the La Guardia control tower speaks to a Port Authority police officer. La Guardia is one of two major New York City airports. The Port Authority patrols both the WTC and the city’s airports. The woman asks the officer what has happened at the WTC, and the officer replies that he has learned from the news that a plane crashed into it. [New York Times, 12/30/2003] Around the same time, one flight controller in the tower says to another, “But you don’t know anything.” The other responds, “We don’t know. We’re looking at it on Channel 5 right now.” [Bergen Record, 1/4/2004] “Nothing on the [later released transcripts] shows that the La Guardia controllers knew that the planes flying into their airspace had been seized by terrorists, or that military aircraft were screaming in pursuit over the Hudson River.” Port Authority officials appear to be equally oblivious. [New York Times, 12/30/2003]

(9:01 a.m.) September 11, 2001: FAA’s New York Center Informs TRACON Controllers about Flight 175

The FAA’s New York Center contacts the New York Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) and asks for help in locating Flight 175. Different air traffic controllers scan different altitudes, and TRACON controllers only deal with low-flying planes. These controllers have remained uninformed about the fate of Flight 11 until about now. “We had 90 to 120 seconds; it wasn’t any 18 minutes,” one controller wil later recall, referring to the actual elapsed time between the two crashes. Another controller will say of Flights 11 and 175: “They dove into the airspace. By the time anybody saw anything, it was over.” [New York Times, 9/13/2001; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]

9:01 a.m.-9:02 a.m. September 11, 2001: Military Liaison at New York Center Informed of Flight 175 Hijacking; Says Responding Fighters Are in the Air

The military liaison at the FAA’s New York Center is reportedly told that Flight 175 has been hijacked. The information is passed on to the liaison by New York Center manager Peter Mulligan. In an apparent reference to the hijacking on a phone bridge with other air traffic control facilities, Mulligan first says the situation is escalating (see (9:01 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and adds, “Just get me somebody who has the authority to get military in the air now.” Mulligan then drops out of the teleconference for a short while, but returns and says: “It’s OK. I’ve got it taken care of over here. I got… my military guy. We got some interceptors in the air.” [Federal Aviation Authority, 10/14/2003, pp. 15-17 pdf file] According to the 9/11 Commission Report, Mulligan says this between 9:01 and 9:02. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 22] A person at the New York Center then calls NEADS at 9:03 (see (9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Presumably, this is the military liaison Mulligan just informed of the hijacking.

(9:02 a.m.-9:07 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Boston Center Military Liaison Calls NEADS about Second Hijacking

Moments before Flight 175 crashes into the World Trade Center, Colin Scoggins, the military liaison at the FAA’s Boston Center, calls NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) to notify it that there is a second hijacked aircraft over the US. Scoggins learned of the second hijacking on the FAA headquarters’ hijack teleconference (see (Shortly Before 9:02 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and senses that he should call NEADS with this latest information. According to author Lynn Spencer, Scoggins “imagines that he must be one of dozens of FAA facilities flooding [NEADS] with phone calls. What he doesn’t know is that his is in fact the only one giving them information about the flights this morning, other than the coverage on CNN.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 82] However, the 9/11 Commission will say that NEADS also learns of the second hijacking around this time from the FAA’s New York Center, stating, “The first indication that the NORAD air defenders had of the second hijacked aircraft, United 175, came in a phone call from New York Center to NEADS at 9:03” (see (9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 23] Just after Scoggins reports the second hijacking to NEADS, those on the NEADS operations floor see the live television coverage of Flight 175 hitting the South Tower on a screen at the front of the room. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 82] Apparently, Scoggins’s phone call continues for several minutes: According to the 9/11 Commission, “Between 9:04 a.m. and 9:07 a.m., the NEADS identification technicians were on the phone with FAA Boston Center seeking further information on Flight 175 when Boston Center confirmed a second crash at the World Trade Center.” [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 24 pdf file]

(9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001: FAA’s New York Center First Informs NEADS that Flight 175 Has Been Hijacked, 9/11 Commission Will Claim

The 9/11 Commission will later conclude that the FAA’s New York Center tells NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) that Flight 175 has been hijacked at this time. The Commission will refer to this as “the first indication that the NORAD air defenders had of the second hijacked aircraft.” The notification is apparently received from the military liaison at the New York Center (see 9:01 a.m.-9:02 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]
NEADS Technician Announces 'Second Possible Hijack' - Tape recordings of the NEADS operations floor will reveal ID tech Stacia Rountree answering the call from the New York Center, and saying out loud, “They have a second possible hijack!” [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] Colonel Robert Marr, the NEADS battle commander, will claim he first learns that an aircraft other than Flight 11 has been hijacked when he sees Flight 175 crash into the World Trade Center on television. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002] Lieutenant Colonel Dawne Deskins will claim that when she sees Flight 175 hitting the South Tower on television, “we didn’t even know there was a second hijack.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 59]
Conflicting Accounts - However, these accounts contradict NORAD’s claim that it makes shortly after 9/11 that NEADS was first notified about Flight 175 at 8:43 a.m. (see 8:43 a.m. September 11, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001] Additionally, as Flight 175 crashes into the WTC, Canadian Captain Mike Jellinek, who is working at NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado operations center, is on the phone with NEADS. He sees the crash live on television and asks NEADS, “Was that the hijacked aircraft you were dealing with?” The reply is yes. (However, it is unclear whether Jellinek is referring to Flight 175 or to the smoke coming from the crash of Flight 11.) [Toronto Star, 12/9/2001] If the 9/11 Commission’s account is correct, several questions remain unanswered. Flight 175 lost radio contact at 8:42 a.m. (see 8:41 a.m.-8:42 a.m. September 11, 2001) and changed transponder signals at 8:47 a.m. (see 8:46 a.m.-8:47 a.m. September 11, 2001); an air traffic controller declared it possibly hijacked sometime between 8:46 a.m. and 8:53 a.m. (see (Shortly After 8:46 a.m.) September 11, 2001); and an air traffic control manager called it hijacked at 8:55 a.m.(see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The Commission will not explain why the New York Center waits 10 to 16 minutes before warning NEADS that Flight 175 is possibly hijacked. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]

(9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001: NORAD Phones Start Ringing ‘Like Crazy’

In the NORAD operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, workers see the second aircraft crashing into the World Trade Center live on television. [Gazette (Colorado Springs), 10/7/2001] Major General Rick Findley, NORAD’s director of operations, later says that he now realizes “it was not an accident but a coordinated attack.” Then, he recalls, “At about that moment in time, every phone in this cab, and every phone over in the command center, and every phone in all the centers in this building were ringing off the hook.” Master Corporal Daniel Milne, the emergency action controller in the operations center, will similarly recall, “The feeling was total disbelief. Then the phones started ringing like crazy.” [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/11/2002; Legion Magazine, 11/2004] It is unclear what causes all the phones to simultaneously ring. According to Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine, after the second tower is hit, “Calls from fighter units… started pouring into NORAD and sector operations centers, asking, ‘What can we do to help?’” (see (After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001) [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002] So this could be one factor. Also, a 1996 article in Airman magazine had quoted Stacey Knott, a technician in the NORAD operations center. She’d said, “Things can be pretty quiet in here.” However, “One of the busiest times is during exercises. This room fills up.… The phones are ringing off the hook, and I’ve got phones in each hand.” [Airman, 1996] On this morning, those in Cheyenne Mountain are in fact participating in a major exercise called Vigilant Guardian. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; CNN, 9/11/2006] This is reportedly only canceled “shortly after” the second attack (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001) [Airman, 3/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 59] So it is plausible that this is also a factor in causing all the phones to suddenly ring. A similar thing appears to occur in the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon. According to a news article based on the recollections of two officers who are there, after the second plane hits the WTC, “Phones in the center began ringing off the hook.” [American Forces Press Service, 9/7/2006] Rick Findley later suggests that all the ringing phones are not a hindrance for NORAD, claiming, “The good news is we had lots of people here and we already had an operational architecture. We already had the command and control, the network, the phones, the data links. Everything was already in place that enabled us to react to the situation.” [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/11/2002]

9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001: FAA Command Center Learns of Hijackers’ ‘We Have Some Planes’ Communication

At the FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, manager John White learns of the communication apparently made by a hijacker on Flight 11, stating “We have some planes” (see 8:24 a.m. September 11, 2001), and quickly notifies the national operations manager of this. Terry Biggio, the operations manager at the FAA’s Boston Center, is relaying all the information he has about Flight 11 to the Command Center’s teleconference. In the conference room at the Command Center, White is listening in. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 79-80] Because the air traffic controller monitoring Flight 11 had not understood the “We have some planes” hijacker communication, the Boston Center’s quality assurance specialist had been instructed to “pull the tape” of the transmission, listen to it carefully, and then report back. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 19] Having learned that the specialist has deciphered the transmission, Biggio now relays the details of it over the teleconference. Seconds later, those at the Command Center see Flight 175 crashing into the South Tower of the World Trade live on CNN. White promptly dispatches a manager to pass on the details of the transmission to Ben Sliney, the national operations manager at the Command Center (see 9:06 a.m. and After September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 79-80] The FAA’s New England regional office also learns of the “We have some planes” communication at this time (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 23 pdf file]

9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001: Flight 175 Crashes into WTC South Tower; Millions Watch Live on Television

Flight 175 hits the South Tower of the World Trade Center (Tower Two). Seismic records pinpoint the time at six seconds before 9:03 a.m. (rounded to 9:03 a.m.). [New York Times, 9/12/2001; CNN, 9/12/2001; CNN, 9/17/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; USA Today, 12/20/2001; Federal Emergency Management Agency, 5/1/2002, pp. 1-10; Associated Press, 8/21/2002; USA Today, 9/2/2002; New York Times, 9/11/2002] According to the NIST report, the crash time is 9:02:59. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 38 pdf file] According to the 9/11 Commission Report, the crash time is 9:03:11. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 8] Millions watch the crash live on television. The plane strikes the 77th through 85th floors in the 110-story building. Approximately 100 people are killed or injured in the initial impact; 600 people in the tower eventually die. The death toll is far lower than in the North Tower because about two-thirds of the South Tower’s occupants have evacuated the building in the 17 minutes since the first tower was struck. [USA Today, 12/20/2001; National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 5-9, 41 pdf file] The combined death toll from the two towers is estimated at 2,819, not including the hijackers. [Associated Press, 8/21/2002] The impact severs some columns on the south side of the South Tower. Each of the Twin Towers 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 is traveling at an estimated speed of around 500 mph (see October 2002-October 2005), severs 33 of the building’s 236 perimeter columns and damages another one. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 39 pdf file] The perimeter columns bear about half of the tower’s weight, so the damage to them reduces the tower’s ability to bear gravity loads by about 7.1 percent. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 6 pdf file] 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 be able to damage the core even after crashing through the exterior wall (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 107 pdf file] According to NIST’s base case model, five of the core columns are severed and another five suffer some damage. [National Institute of Standards & Technology, 9/2005, pp. 235 pdf file] This may reduce the tower’s ability to bear loads by a further approximately 8 percent, meaning that the aircraft impact accounted for a loss of about 15 percent of the building’s strength. This damage will be cited as an event contributing to the building’s collapse after 9/11 (see October 23, 2002 and October 19, 2004). NIST’s base case estimate of damage to the North Tower’s core will be similar, even though the aircraft impact there was dissimilar (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). Flight 11 hit the North Tower’s core head on, whereas Flight 175 only hits the corner of the South Tower’s core. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 20-23, 38-41 pdf file] In addition, some of the fireproofing on the steel columns and trusses may be dislodged (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [National Institute of Standards & Technology, 9/2005, pp. xxxvi, 83 pdf file] Photographs and videos of the towers will not show the state of fireproofing inside the buildings, but the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will try to estimate the damage to fireproofing using a series of computer models. Its severe case model (see (October 2002-October 2005)) will predict that 39 of the 47 core columns are stripped of their fireproofing on one or more floors and that fireproofing is stripped from trusses covering 80,000 ft2 of floor area, the equivalent of about two floors. NIST will say that the loss of fireproofing is a major cause of the collapse (see April 5, 2005), but only performs 15 tests on fireproofing samples (see October 26, 2005). [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 41 pdf file] According to NIST, less fireproofing is stripped from the North Tower (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001).

9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001: Newark Controllers Watch Flight 175 Hit WTC

Air traffic controllers at Newark International Airport in New Jersey are on the phone with controllers at the FAA’s New York Center and are asked to find Flight 175 from their windows. They see it and watch in horror as it drops the last 5,000 feet and crashes into the World Trade Center. Controller Rick Tepper will recall: “He was in a hard right bank, diving very steeply and very fast. And he—as he was coming up the Hudson River, he—he made another hard left turn and—just heading for downtown Manhattan.… You could see that he was trying to line himself up on the tower. Just before he hit the tower, he almost leveled it out and just—just hit the building.” Newark tower immediately calls the FAA’s Herndon Command Center and says it will not land any more airplanes in Newark, in an effort to keep aircraft away from New York City. This is the first step in shutting down the national airspace system. [MSNBC, 9/11/2002]