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Full text of "The 9/11 Commission report [electronic resource] : final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States"

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1 



"WE HAVE 
SOME PLANES" 



Tuesday, September 11,2001, dawned temperate and nearly cloudless in 
the eastern United States. Millions of men and women readied themselves for 
work. Some made their way to the Twin Towers, the signature structures of the 
Wo rid Trade Center complex in New York City. Others went to Arlington,Vir- 
ginia, to the Pentagon. Across the Potomac River, the United States Congress 
was back in session. At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, people began to 
line up for a White House tour. In Sarasota, Florida, President George W Bush 
went for an early morning run. 

For those heading to an airport, weather conditions could not have been 
better for a safe and pleasant journey. Among the travelers were Mohamed Atta 
and Abdul Aziz al Omari, who arrived at the airport in Portland, Maine. 



1.1 INSIDE THE FOUR FLIGHTS 

Boarding the Flights 

Boston: American 11 and United 175. Atta and Omari boarded a 6:00 A.M. 

flight from Portland to Bostons Logan International Airport. 1 

When he checked in for his flight to Boston, Atta was selected by a com- 
puterized prescreening system known as CAPPS (Computer Assisted Passen- 
ger Prescreening System), created to identify passengers who should be 
subject to special security measures. Under security rules in place at the time, 
the only consequence of Atta s selection by CAPPS was that his checked bags 
were held off the plane until it was confirmed that he had boarded the air- 
craft. This did not hinder Atta 's plans. 2 

Atta and Omari arrived in Boston at 6:45. Seven minutes later, Atta appar- 
ently took a call from Marwan al Shehhi, a longtime colleague who was at 
another terminal at Logan Airport. They spoke for three minutes. 3 It would be 
their final conversation. 



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2 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

Between 6:45 and 7:40, Atta and Omari, along with Satam al Suqami,Wail 
al Shehri, and Waleed al Shehri, checked in and boarded American Airlines 
Flight 11, bound for Los Angeles. The flight was scheduled to depart at 7:45. 4 

In another Logan terminal, Shehhi, joined by Fayez Banihammad, Mohand 
al Shehri, Ahmed al Ghamdi, and Hamza al Ghamdi, checked in for United 
Airlines Flight 175, also bound for Los Angeles. A couple of Shehhi's colleagues 
were obviously unused to travel; according to the United ticket agent, they had 
trouble understanding the standard security questions, and she had to go over 
them slowly until they gave the routine, reassuring answers. 5 Their flight was 
scheduled to depart at 8:00. 

The security checkpoints through which passengers, including Atta and his 
colleagues, gained access to the American 11 gate were operated by Globe 
Security under a contract with American Airlines. In a different terminal, the 
single checkpoint through which passengers for United 175 passed was con- 
trolled by United Airlines, which had contracted with Huntleigh USA to per- 
form the screening. 6 

In passing through these checkpoints, each of the hijackers would have been 
screened by a walk-through metal detector calibrated to detect items with at 
least the metal content of a .22-caliber handgun. Anyone who might have set 
off that detector would have been screened with a hand wand — a procedure 
requiring the screener to identify the metal item or items that caused the alarm. 
In addition, an X-ray machine would have screened the hijackers' carry-on 
belongings. The screening was in place to identify and confiscate weapons and 
other items prohibited from being carried onto a commercial flight. 7 None of 
the checkpoint supervisors recalled the hijackers or reported anything suspi- 
cious regarding their screening. 8 

While Atta had been selected by CAPPS in Portland, three members of his 
hijacking team — Suqami,Wail al Shehri, and Waleed al Shehri — were selected 
in Boston. Their selection affected only the handling of their checked bags, not 
their screening at the checkpoint. All five men cleared the checkpoint and 
made their way to the gate for American 1 1 . Atta, Omari, and Suqami took 
their seats in business class (seats 8D, 8G, and 10B, respectively). The Shehri 
brothers had adjacent seats in row 2 (Wail in 2A,Waleed in 2B), in the first- 
class cabin. They boarded American 11 between 7:31 and 7:40. The aircraft 
pushed back from the gate at 7:40. 9 

Shehhi and his team, none of whom had been selected by CAPPS, boarded 
United 175 between 7:23 and 7:28 (Banihammad in 2A, Shehri in 2B, Shehhi 
in 6C, Hamza al Ghamdi in 9C, and Ahmed al Ghamdi in 9D). Their aircraft 
pushed back from the gate just before 8:00. 10 

Washington Dulles: American 77. Hundreds of miles southwest of Boston, 
at Dulles International Airport in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC, 
five more men were preparing to take their early morning flight. At 7: 15, a pair 



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"WE HAVE SOME PLANES" 3 

of them, Khalid al Mihdhar and Majed Moqed, checked in at the American 
Airlines ticket counter for Flight 77, bound for Los Angeles. Within the next 
20 minutes, they would be followed by Hani Hanjour and two brothers, Nawaf 
al Hazmi and Salem al Hazmi. 1 ' 

Hani Hanjour, Khalid al Mihdhar, and Majed Moqed were flagged by 
CAPPS.The Hazmi brothers were also selected for extra scrutiny by the air- 
line's customer service representative at the check-in counter. He did so 
because one of the brothers did not have photo identification nor could he 
understand English, and because the agent found both of the passengers to 
be suspicious. The only consequence of their selection was that their checked 
bags were held off the plane until it was confirmed that they had boarded 
the aircraft. 12 

All five hijackers passed through the Main Terminal's west security screen- 
ing checkpoint; United Airlines, which was the responsible air carrier, had 
contracted out the work to Argenbright Security. 13 The checkpoint featured 
closed-circuit television that recorded all passengers, including the hijackers, 
as they were screened. At 7:18, Mihdhar and Moqed entered the security 
checkpoint. 

Mihdhar and Moqed placed their carry-on bags on the belt of the X-ray 
machine and proceeded through the first metal detector. Both set off the alarm, 
and they were directed to a second metal detector. Mihdhar did not trigger the 
alarm and was permitted through the checkpoint. After Moqed set it off, a 
screener wanded him. He passed this inspection. 14 

About 20 minutes later, at 7:35, another passenger for Flight 77, Hani Han- 
jour, placed two carry-on bags on the X-ray belt in the Main Terminal's west 
checkpoint, and proceeded, without alarm, through the metal detector. A short 
time later, Nawaf and Salem al Hazmi entered the same checkpoint. Salem al 
Hazmi cleared the metal detector and was permitted through; Nawaf al Hazmi 
set off the alarms for both the first and second metal detectors and was then 
hand-wanded before being passed. In addition, his over-the-shoulder carry-on 
bag was swiped by an explosive trace detector and then passed. The video 
footage indicates that he was carrying an unidentified item in his back pocket, 
clipped to its rim. 15 

When the local civil aviation security office of the Federal Aviation Admin- 
istration (FAA) later investigated these security screening operations, the 
screeners recalled nothing out of the ordinary. They could not recall that any 
of the passengers they screened were CAPPS selectees. We asked a screening 
expert to review the videotape of the hand-wanding, and he found the qual- 
ity of the screener's work to have been "marginal at best." The screener should 
have "resolved" what set off the alarm; and in the case of both Moqed and 
Hazmi, it was clear that he did not. 16 

At 7:50, Majed Moqed and Khalid al Mihdhar boarded the flight and were 
seated in 12A and 12B in coach. Hani Hanjour, assigned to seat IB (first class), 



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4 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

soon followed. The Hazmi brothers, sitting in 5E and 5F, joined Hanjour in the 
first-class cabin. 17 

Newark: United 93. Between 7:03 and 7:39, Saeed al Ghanidi, Ahmed al 
Nanii, Ahmad al Haznawi, and Ziad Jarrah checked in at the United Airlines 
ticket counter for Flight 93, going to Los Angeles. Two checked bags; two did 
not. Haznawi was selected by CAPPS. His checked bag was screened for explo- 
sives and then loaded on the plane. 18 

The four men passed through the security checkpoint, owned by United 
Airlines and operated under contract by Argenbright Security. Like the check- 
points in Boston, it lacked closed-circuit television surveillance so there is no 
documentary evidence to indicate when the hijackers passed through the 
checkpoint, what alarms may have been triggered, or what security procedures 
were administered.The FAA interviewed the screeners later; none recalled any- 
thing unusual or suspicious. 19 

The four men boarded the plane between 7:39 and 7:48. All four had seats 
in the first-class cabin; their plane had no business-class section. Jarrah was in 
seat IB, closest to the cockpit; Nami was in 3C, Ghamdi in 3D, and Haznawi 
in 6B. 20 

The 19 men were aboard four transcontinental flights. 21 They were plan- 
ning to hijack these planes and turn them into large guided missiles, loaded 
with up to 1 1,400 gallons of jet fuel. By 8:00 A.M. on the morning ofTuesday, 
September 1 1, 2001, they had defeated all the security layers that America's civil 
aviation security system then had in place to prevent a hijacking. 

The Hijacking of American 11 

American Airlines Flight 1 1 provided nonstop service from Boston to Los 
Angeles. On September 11, Captain John Ogonowski and First Officer 
Thomas McGuinness piloted the Boeing 767. It carried its full capacity of nine 
flight attendants. Eighty-one passengers boarded the flight with them (includ- 
ing the five terrorists). 22 

The plane took off at 7:59. Just before 8:14, it had climbed to 26,000 feet, 
not quite its initial assigned cruising altitude of 29,000 feet. All communications 
and flight profile data were normal. About this time the "Fasten Seatbelt" sign 
would usually have been turned off and the flight attendants would have begun 
preparing for cabin service. 23 

At that same time, American 1 1 had its last routine communication with 
the ground when it acknowledged navigational instructions from the FAA's 
air traffic control (ATC) center in Boston. Sixteen seconds after that transmis- 
sion, ATC instructed the aircraft's pilots to climb to 35,000 feet. That message 
and all subsequent attempts to contact the flight were not acknowledged. 
From this and other evidence, we believe the hijacking began at 8:14 or 
shortly thereafter. 24 



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"WE HAVE SOME PLANES" 5 

Reports from two flight attendants in the coach cabin, Betty Ong and 
Madeline "Amy" Sweeney, tell us most of what we know about how the 
hijacking happened. As it began, some of the hijackers — most likely Wail al 
Shehri andWaleed al Shehri, who were seated in row 2 in first class — stabbed 
the two unarmed flight attendants who would have been preparing for cabin 
service. 25 

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. Ong 
speculated that they had "jammed their way" in. Perhaps the terrorists stabbed 
the flight attendants to get a cockpit key, to force one of them to open the cock- 
pit door, or to lure the captain or first officer out of the cockpit. Or the flight 
attendants may just have been in their way. 26 

At the same time or shortly thereafter, Atta — the only terrorist on board 
trained to fly a jet — would have moved to the cockpit from his business-class 
seat, possibly accompanied by Omari.As this was happening, passenger Daniel 
Lewin, who was seated in the row just behind Atta and Omari, was stabbed by 
one of the hijackers — probably Satam al Suqami, who was seated directly 
behind Lewin. Lewin had served four years as an officer in the Israeli military. 
He may have made an attempt to stop the hijackers in front of him, not real- 
izing that another was sitting behind him. 27 

The hijackers quickly gained control and sprayed Mace, pepper spray, or 
some other irritant in the first-class cabin, in order to force the passengers and 
flight attendants toward the rear of the plane. They claimed they had a bomb. 28 

About five minutes after the hijacking began, Betty Ong contacted the 
American Airlines Southeastern Reservations Office in Cary, North Carolina, 
via an AT&T airphone to report an emergency aboard the flight. This was the 
first of several occasions on 9/11 when flight attendants took action outside 
the scope of their training, which emphasized that in a hijacking, they were to 
communicate with the cockpit crew. The emergency call lasted approximately 
25 minutes, as Ong calmly and professionally relayed information about events 
taking place aboard the airplane to authorities on the ground. 29 

At 8:19, Ong reported: "The cockpit is 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." She then told of the stabbings of the two 
flight attendants. 30 

At 8:21, one of the American employees receiving Ong's call in North Car- 
olina, Nydia Gonzalez, alerted the American Airlines operations center in Fort 
Worth, Texas, reaching Craig Marquis, the manager on duty. Marquis soon real- 
ized this was an emergency and instructed the airline's dispatcher responsible 
for the flight to contact the cockpit. At 8:23, the dispatcher tried unsuccessfully 
to contact the aircraft. Six minutes later, the air traffic control specialist in Amer- 
ican's operations center contacted the FAA's Boston Air Traffic Control Center 
about the flight. The center was already aware of the problem. 31 



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6 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

Boston Center knew of a problem on the flight in part because just before 
8:25 the hijackers had attempted to communicate with the passengers. The 
microphone was keyed, and immediately one of the hijackers said, "Nobody 
move. Everything will be okay. If you try to make any moves, you'll endanger 
yourself and the airplane. Just stay quiet." Air traffic controllers heard the trans- 
mission; Ong did not.The hijackers probably did not know how to operate the 
cockpit radio communication system correctly, and thus inadvertently broad- 
cast their message over the air traffic control channel instead of the cabin 
public-address channel. Also at 8:25, and again at 8:29, Amy Sweeney got 
through to the American Flight Services Office in Boston but was cut off after 
she reported someone was hurt aboard the flight. Three minutes later, Sweeney 
was reconnected to the office and began relaying updates to the manager, 
Michael Woodward. 32 

At 8:26, Ong reported that the plane was "flying erratically." A minute later, 
Flight 11 turned south. American also began getting identifications of the 
hijackers, as Ong and then Sweeney passed on some of the seat numbers of 
those who had gained unauthorized access to the cockpit. 33 

Sweeney calmly reported on her line that the plane had been hijacked; a 
man in first class had his throat slashed; two flight attendants had been 
stabbed — one was seriously hurt and was on oxygen while the other's wounds 
seemed minor; a doctor had been requested; the flight attendants were unable 
to contact the cockpit; and there was a bomb in the cockpit. Sweeney told 
Woodward that she and Ong were trying to relay as much information as they 
could to people on the ground. 34 

At 8:38, Ong told Gonzalez that the plane was flying erratically again. 
Around this time Sweeney told Woodward that the hijackers were Middle East- 
erners, naming three of their seat numbers. One spoke very little English and 
one spoke excellent English. The hijackers had gained entry to the cockpit, and 
she did not know how. The aircraft was in a rapid descent. 35 

At 8:41, Sweeney toldWoodward that passengers in coach were under the 
impression that there was a routine medical emergency in first class. Other 
flight attendants were busy at duties such as getting medical supplies while Ong 
and Sweeney were reporting the events. 36 

At 8:41, in American's operations center, a colleague told Marquis that the 
air traffic controllers declared Flight 11a hijacking and "think he's [American 
11] headed toward Kennedy [airport in New York City]. They 're moving every- 
body out of the way.They seem to have him on a primary radar.They seem to 
think that he is descending." 37 

At 8:44, Gonzalez reported losing phone contact with Ong. About this 
same time Sweeney reported to Woodward, "Something is wrong. We are in a 
rapid descent . . . we are all over the place."Woodward asked Sweeney to look 
out the window to see if she could determine where they were. Sweeney 
responded: "We are flying low. We are flying very, very low. We are flying way 



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"WE HAVE SOME PLANES" 7 

too low." Seconds later she said, "Oh my God we are way too low." The phone 
call ended. 38 

At 8:46:40, American 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade 
Center in New York City. 39 All on board, along with an unknown number of 
people in the tower, were killed instantly. 

The Hijacking of United 175 

United Airlines Flight 175 was scheduled to depart for Los Angeles at 8:00. Cap- 
tain Victor Saracini and First Officer Michael Horrocks piloted the Boeing 767, 
which had seven flight attendants. Fifty-six passengers boarded the flight. 40 

United 175 pushed back from its gate at 7:58 and departed Logan Airport 
at 8: 14. By 8:33, it had reached its assigned cruising altitude of 31,000 feet. The 
flight attendants would have begun their cabin service. 41 

The flight had taken off just as American 1 1 was being hijacked, and at 8:42 
the United 175 flight crew completed their report on a "suspicious transmis- 
sion" overheard from another plane (which turned out to have been Flight 11) 
just after takeoff. This was United 175's last communication with the ground. 42 

The hijackers attacked sometime between 8:42 and 8:46. They 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 pas- 
senger). Both pilots had been killed (reported by one flight attendant). The eye- 
witness accounts came from calls made from the rear of the plane, from 
passengers originally seated further forward in the cabin, a sign that passengers 
and perhaps crew had been moved to the back of the aircraft. Given similari- 
ties to American 11 in hijacker seating and in eyewitness reports of tactics and 
weapons, as well as the contact between the presumed team leaders, Atta and 
Shehhi, we believe the tactics were similar on both flights. 43 

The first operational evidence that something was abnormal on United 
175 came at 8:47, when the aircraft changed beacon codes twice within a 
minute. At 8:51, the flight deviated from its assigned altitude, and a minute 
later New York air traffic controllers began repeatedly and unsuccessfully try- 
ing to contact it. 44 

At 8:52, in Easton, Connecticut, a man named Lee Hanson received a 
phone call from his son Peter, a passenger on United 175. His son told him: 
"I think they've taken over the cockpit — An attendant has been stabbed — 
and someone else up front may have been killed. The plane is making 
strange moves. Call United Airlines — Tell them it's Flight 175, Boston to LA." 
Lee Hanson then called the Easton Police Department and relayed what he 
had heard. 45 

Also at 8:52, a male flight attendant called a United office in San Francisco, 
reaching Marc Policastro.The flight attendant reported that the flight had been 
hijacked, both pilots had been killed, a flight attendant had been stabbed, and 



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8 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

the hijackers were probably flying the plane. The call lasted about two minutes, 
after -which Policastro and a colleague tried unsuccessfully to contact the 
flight. 46 

At 8:58, the flight took a heading toward New York City. 47 
At 8:59, Flight 175 passenger Brian David Sweeney tried to call his wife, 
Julie. He left a message on their home answering machine that the plane had 
been hijacked. He then called his mother, Louise Sweeney, told her the flight 
had been hijacked, and added that the passengers were thinking about storm- 
ing the cockpit to take control of the plane away from the hijackers. 48 
At 9:00, Lee Hanson received a second call from his son Peter: 

It's getting bad, Dad — A stewardess was stabbed — They seem to have 
knives and Mace — They said they have a bomb — It's getting very bad 
on the plane — Passengers are throwing up and getting sick — The 
plane is making jerky movements — I don't think the pilot is flying the 
plane — I think we are going down — I think they intend to go to 
Chicago or someplace and fly into a building — Don't worry, Dad — 
If it happens, it'll be very fast — My God, my God. 49 

The call ended abruptly. Lee Hanson had heard a woman scream just before 
it cut off. He turned on a television, and in her home so did Louise Sweeney. 
Both then saw the second aircraft hit the World Trade Center. 50 

At 9:03: 11, United Airlines Flight 175 struck the South Tower ofthe World 
Trade Center. 51 All on board, along with an unknown number of people in 
the tower, were killed instantly. 

The Hijacking of American 77 

American Airlines Flight 77 was scheduled to depart from Washington Dulles 
for Los Angeles at 8:10. The aircraft was a Boeing 757 piloted by Captain 
Charles F. Burlingame and First Officer David Charlebois. There were four 
flight attendants. On September 11, the flight carried 58 passengers. 52 

American 77 pushed back from its gate at 8:09 and took off at 8:20. At 8:46, 
the flight reached its assigned cruising altitude of 35,000 feet. Cabin service 
would have begun. At 8:51, American 77 transmitted its last routine radio com- 
munication. The hijacking began between 8:51 and 8:54. As on American 11 
and United 175, the hijackers used knives (reported by one passenger) and 
moved all the passengers (and possibly crew) to the rear ofthe aircraft (reported 
by one flight attendant and one passenger). Unlike the earlier flights, the Flight 
77 hijackers were reported by a passenger to have box cutters. Finally, a pas- 
senger reported that an announcement had been made by the "pilot" that the 
plane had been hijacked. Neither ofthe firsthand accounts mentioned any stab- 
bings or the threat or use of either a bomb or Mace, though both witnesses began 
the flight in the first-class cabin. 53 



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"WE HAVE SOME PLANES" 9 

At 8:54, the aircraft deviated from its assigned course, turning south. Two 
minutes later the transponder was turned off and even primary radar contact 
with the aircraft was lost. The Indianapolis Air Traffic Control Center repeat- 
edly tried and failed to contact the aircraft. American Airlines dispatchers also 
tried, without success. 54 

At 9:00, American Airlines Executive Vice President Gerard Arpey learned 
that communications had been lost with American 77. This was now the sec- 
ond American aircraft in trouble. He ordered all American Airlines flights in 
the Northeast that had not taken off to remain on the ground. Shortly before 
9:10, suspecting that American 77 had been hijacked, American headquarters 
concluded that the second aircraft to hit the World Trade Center might have 
been Flight 77. After learning that United Airlines was missing a plane, Amer- 
ican Airlines headquarters extended the ground stop nationwide. 55 

At 9:12, Renee May called her mother, Nancy May, in Las Vegas. She said 
her flight was being hijacked by six individuals who had moved them to the 
rear of the plane. She asked her mother to alert American Airlines. Nancy May 
and her husband promptly did so. 56 

At some point between 9:16 and 9:26, Barbara Olson called her husband, 
Ted Olson, the solicitor general of the United States. She reported that the 
flight had been hijacked, and the hijackers had knives and box cutters. She fur- 
ther indicated that the hijackers were not aware of her phone call, and that they 
had put all the passengers in the back of the plane. About a minute into the 
conversation, the call was cut off. Solicitor General Olson tried unsuccessfully 
to reach Attorney General John Ashcro ft. 57 

Shortly after the first call, Barbara Olson reached her husband again. She 
reported that the pilot had announced that the flight had been hijacked, and 
she asked her husband what she should tell the captain to do. Ted Olson asked 
for her location and she replied that the aircraft was then flying over houses. 
Another passenger told her they were traveling northeast. The Solicitor Gen- 
eral then informed his wife of the two previous hijackings and crashes. She did 
not display signs of panic and did not indicate any awareness of an impending 
crash. At that point, the second call was cut off 58 

At 9:29, the autopilot on American 77 was disengaged; the aircraft was at 
7,000 feet and approximately 38 miles west of the Pentagon. 59 At 9:32, con- 
trollers at the Dulles Terminal Radar Approach Control "observed a primary 
radar target tracking eastbound at a high rate of speed." This was later deter- 
mined to have been Flight 77. 

At 9:34, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport advised the Secret Ser- 
vice of an unknown aircraft heading in the direction of the White House. Amer- 
ican 77 was then 5 miles west-southwest of the Pentagon and began a 
330-degree turn. At the end of the turn, it was descending through 2,200 feet, 
pointed toward the Pentagon and downtown Washington.The hijacker pilot then 
advanced the throttles to maximum power and dove toward the Pentagon. 60 



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10 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

At 9:37:46, American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon, travel- 
ing at approximately 530 miles per hour. 61 All on board, as well as many civil- 
ian and military personnel in the building, were killed. 

The Battle for United 93 

At 8:42, United Airlines Flight 93 took off from Newark (New Jersey) Liberty 
International Airport bound for San Francisco.The aircraft was piloted by Cap- 
tain Jason Dahl and First Officer Leroy Homer, and there were five flight atten- 
dants. Thirty-seven passengers, including the hijackers, boarded the plane. 
Scheduled to depart the gate at 8:00, the Boeing 757 s takeoff was delayed 
because of the airport's typically heavy morning traffic. 62 

The hijackers had planned to take flights scheduled to depart at 7:45 (Amer- 
ican 11), 8:00 (United 175 and United 93), and 8:10 (American 77). Three of 
the flights had actually taken off within 10 to 15 minutes of their planned 
departure times. United 93 would ordinarily have taken off about 15 minutes 
after pulling away from the gate. When it left the ground at 8:42, the flight was 
running more than 25 minutes late. 63 

As United 93 left Newark, the flight's crew members were unaware of the 
hijacking of American 11. Around 9:00, the FAA, American, and United were 
facing the staggering realization of apparent multiple hijackings. At 9:03, they 
would see another aircraft strike the World Trade Center. Crisis managers at 
the FAA and the airlines did not yet act to warn other aircraft. 64 At the same 
time, Boston Center realized that a message transmitted just before 8:25 by the 
hijacker pilot of American 11 included the phrase, "We have some planes." 65 

No one at the FAA or the airlines that day had ever dealt with multiple 
hijackings. Such a plot had not been carried out anywhere in the world in more 
than 30 years, and never in the United States. As news of the hijackings filtered 
through the FAA and the airlines, it does not seem to have occurred to their 
leadership that they needed to alert other aircraft in the air that they too might 
be at risk. 66 

United 175 was hijacked between 8:42 and 8:46, and awareness of that 
hijacking began to spread after 8:51. American 77 was hijacked between 8:51 
and 8:54. By 9:00, FAA and airline officials began to comprehend that attack- 
ers were going after multiple aircraft. American Airlines' nationwide ground 
stop between 9:05 and 9:10 was followed by a United Airlines ground stop. 
FAA controllers at Boston Center, which had tracked the first two hijackings, 
requested at 9:07 that Herndon Command Center "get messages to airborne 
aircraft to increase security for the cockpit." There is no evidence that Hern- 
don took such action. Boston Center immediately began speculating about 
other aircraft that might be in danger, leading them to worry about a transcon- 
tinental flight — Delta 1989 — that in fact was not hijacked. At 9:19, the FAA's 
New England regional office called Herndon and asked that Cleveland Cen- 
ter advise Delta 1989 to use extra cockpit security 67 



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"WE HAVE SOME PLANES" 11 

Several FAA air traffic control officials told us it was the air carriers' respon- 
sibility to notify their planes of security problems. One senior FAA air traffic 
control manager said that it was simply not the FAA's place to order the air- 
lines what to tell their pilots. 68 We believe such statements do not reflect an 
adequate appreciation of the FAA's responsibility for the safety and security of 
civil aviation. 

The airlines bore responsibility, too. They were facing an escalating number 
of conflicting and, for the most part, erroneous reports about other flights, as 
well as a continuing lack of vital information from the FAA about the hijacked 
flights. We found no evidence, however, that American Airlines sent any cock- 
pit warnings to its aircraft on 9/11. United's first decisive action to notify its 
airborne aircraft to take defensive action did not come until 9:19, when a 
United flight dispatcher, Ed Ballinger, took the initiative to begin transmitting 
warnings to his 16 transcontinental flights: "Beware any cockpit intrusion — 
Two a/c [aircraft] hit World Trade Center." One of the flights that received 
the warning was United 93. Because Ballinger was still responsible for his 
other flights as well as Flight 175, his warning message was not transmitted to 
Flight 93 until 9:23. 69 

By all accounts, the first 46 minutes of Flight 93's cross-country trip pro- 
ceeded routinely. Radio communications from the plane were normal. Head- 
ing, speed, and altitude ran according to plan. At 9:24, Ballinger's warning to 
United 93 was received in the cockpit. Within two minutes, at 9:26, the pilot, 
Jason Dahl, responded with a note of puzzlement: "Ed, confirm latest mssg 
plz — -Jason." 70 

The hijackers attacked at 9:28. While traveling 35,000 feet above eastern 
Ohio, United 93 suddenly dropped 700 feet. Eleven seconds into the descent, 
the FAA's air traffic control center in Cleveland received the first of two radio 
transmissions from the aircraft. During the first broadcast, the captain or first 
officer could be heard declaring "Mayday" amid the sounds of a physical strug- 
gle in the cockpit. The second radio transmission, 35 seconds later, indicated 
that the fight was continuing. The captain or first officer could be heard shout- 
ing: "Hey get out of here — get out of here — get out of here." 71 

On the morning of 9/11, there were only 37 passengers on United 93 — 33 
in addition to the 4 hijackers. This was below the norm for Tuesday mornings 
during the summer of 2001. But there is no evidence that the hijackers manip- 
ulated passenger levels or purchased additional seats to facilitate their operation. 72 

The terrorists who hijacked three other commercial flights on 9/11 oper- 
ated in five-man teams. They initiated their cockpit takeover within 30 min- 
utes of takeoff. On Flight 93, however, the takeover took place 46 minutes after 
takeoff and there were only four hijackers. The operative likely intended to 
round out the team for this flight, Mohamed al Kahtani, had been refused entry 
by a suspicious immigration inspector at Florida's Orlando International Air- 
port in August. 73 



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12 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

Because several passengers on United 93 described three hijackers on the 
plane, not four, some have wondered whether one of the hijackers had been 
able to use the cockpit jump seat from the outset of the flight. FAA rules allow 
use of this seat by documented and approved individuals, usually air carrier or 
FAA personnel. We have found no evidence indicating that one of the hijack- 
ers, or anyone else, sat there on this flight. All the hijackers had assigned seats 
in first class, and they seem to have used them. We believe it is more likely that 
Jarrah, the crucial pilot-trained member of their team, remained seated and 
inconspicuous until after the cockpit was seized; and once inside, he would not 
have been visible to the passengers. 74 

At 9:32, a hijacker, probably Jarrah, made or attempted to make the follow- 
ing announcement to the passengers of Flight 93: "Ladies and Gentlemen: Here 
the captain, please sit down keep remaining sitting. We have a bomb on board. 
So, sit." The flight data recorder (also recovered) indicates that Jarrah then 
instructed the plane's autopilot to turn the aircraft around and head east. 75 

The cockpit voice recorder data indicate that a woman, most likely a flight 
attendant, was being held captive in the cockpit. She struggled with one of the 
hijackers who killed or otherwise silenced her. 76 

Shortly thereafter, the passengers and flight crew began a series of calls from 
GTE airphones and cellular phones. These calls between family, friends, and 
colleagues took place until the end of the flight and provided those on the 
ground with firsthand accounts. They enabled the passengers to gain critical 
information, including the news that two aircraft had slammed into the World 
Trade Center. 77 

At 9:39, the FAA's Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center overheard 
a second announcement indicating that there was a bomb on board, that the 
plane was returning to the airport, and that they should remain seated. 78 While 
it apparently was not heard by the passengers, this announcement, like those on 
Flight 11 and Flight 77, was intended to deceive them. Jarrah, like Atta earlier, 
may have inadvertently broadcast the message because he did not know how 
to operate the radio and the intercom. To our knowledge none of them had 
ever flown an actual airliner before. 

At least two callers from the flight reported that the hijackers knew that pas- 
sengers were making calls but did not seem to care. It is quite possible Jarrah 
knew of the success of the assault on the World Trade Center. He could have 
learned of this from messages being sent by United Airlines to the cockpits of 
its transcontinental flights, including Flight 93, warning of cockpit intrusion 
and telling of the New York attacks. But even without them, he would cer- 
tainly have understood that the attacks on the World Trade Center would 
already have unfolded, given Flight 93 s tardy departure from Newark. If Jar- 
rah did know that the passengers were making calls, it might not have occurred 
to him that they were certain to learn what had happened in New York, thereby 
defeating his attempts at deception. 79 



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"WE HAVE SOME PLANES" 13 

At least ten passengers and two crew members shared vital information with 
family, friends, colleagues, or others on the ground. All understood the plane 
had been hijacked. They said the hijackers wielded knives and claimed to have 
a bomb.The hijackers were wearing red bandanas, and they forced the passen- 
gers to the back of the aircraft. 80 

Callers reported that a passenger had been stabbed and that two people were 
lying on the floor of the cabin, injured or dead — possibly the captain and first 
officer. One caller reported that a flight attendant had been killed. 81 

One of the callers from United 93 also reported that he thought the hijack- 
ers might possess a gun. But none of the other callers reported the presence of 
a firearm. One recipient of a call from the aircraft recounted specifically ask- 
ing her caller whether the hijackers had guns. The passenger replied that he did 
not see one. No evidence of firearms or of their identifiable remains was found 
at the aircraft's crash site, and the cockpit voice recorder gives no indication of 
a gun being fired or mentioned at any time.We believe that if the hijackers had 
possessed a gun, they would have used it in the flight's last minutes as the pas- 
sengers fought back. 82 

Passengers on three flights reported the hijackers' claim of having a bomb. 
The FBI told us they found no trace of explosives at the crash sites. One of 
the passengers who mentioned a bomb expressed his belief that it was not real. 
Lacking any evidence that the hijackers attempted to smuggle such illegal 
items past the security screening checkpoints, we believe the bombs were 
probably fake. 83 

During at least five of the passengers' phone calls, information was shared 
about the attacks that had occurred earlier that morning at the World Trade 
Center. Five calls described the intent of passengers and surviving crew mem- 
bers to revolt against the hijackers. According to one call, they voted on 
whether to rush the terrorists in an attempt to retake the plane. They decided, 
and acted. 84 

At 9:57, the passenger assault began. Several passengers had terminated 
phone calls with loved ones in order to join the revolt. One of the callers 
ended her message as follows: "Everyone's running up to first class. I've got to 
go. Bye." 85 

The cockpit voice recorder captured the sounds of the passenger assault 
muffled by the intervening cockpit door. Some family members who listened 
to the recording report that they can hear the voice of a loved one among the 
din. We cannot identify whose voices can be heard. But the assault was sus- 
tained. 86 

In response, Jarrah immediately began to roll the airplane to the left and 
right, attempting to knock the passengers off balance. At 9:58:57, Jarrah told 
another hijacker in the cockpit to block the door. Jarrah continued to roll the 
airplane sharply left and right, but the assault continued. At 9:59:52, Jarrah 
changed tactics and pitched the nose of the airplane up and down to disrupt 



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14 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

the assault. The recorder captured the sounds of loud thumps, crashes, shouts, 
and breaking glasses and plates. At 1 0:00:03, Jarrah stabilized the airplane. 87 

Five seconds later, Jarrah asked, "Is that it? Shall we finish it off?" A hijacker 
responded, "No. Not yet. When they all come, we finish it off." The sounds of 
fighting continued outside the cockpit. Again, Jarrah pitched the nose of the 
aircraft up and down. At 10:00:26, a passenger in the background said, "In the 
cockpit. If we don't we'll die!" Sixteen seconds later, a passenger yelled, "Roll 
it! "Jarrah stopped the violent maneuvers at about 10:01:00 and said, "Allah is 
the greatest! Allah is the greatest!" He then asked another hijacker in the cock- 
pit,"Is that it? I mean, shall we put it down?" to which the other replied, "Yes, 
put it in it, and pull it down." 88 

The passengers continued their assault and at 10:02:23, a hijacker said,"Pull 
it down! Pull it down!"The hijackers remained at the controls but must have 
judged that the passengers were only seconds from overcoming them. The air- 
plane headed down; the control wheel was turned hard to the right. The air- 
plane rolled onto its back, and one of the hijackers began shouting "Allah is 
the greatest. Allah is the greatest." With the sounds of the passenger counter- 
attack continuing, the aircraft plowed into an empty field in Shanksville, Penn- 
sylvania, at 580 miles per hour, about 20 minutes' flying time from 
Washington, DC. 89 

Jarrah's objective was to crash his airliner into symbols of the American 
Republic, the Capitol or the White House. He was defeated by the alerted, 
unarmed passengers of United 93. 



1.2 IMPROVISING A HOMELAND DEFENSE 

The FAA and NORAD 

On 9/11, the defense of U.S. airspace depended on close interaction between 
two federal agencies: the FAA and the North American Aerospace Defense 
Command (NORAD). The most recent hijacking that involved U.S. air traf- 
fic controllers, FAA management, and military coordination had occurred in 
1993. 90 In order to understand how the two agencies interacted eight years 
later, we will review their missions, command and control structures, and work- 
ing relationship on the morning of 9/11. 

FAA Mission and Structure. As of September 11, 2001, the FAA was man- 
dated by law to regulate the safety and security of civil aviation. From an air 
traffic controller's perspective, that meant maintaining a safe distance between 
airborne aircraft. 91 

Many controllers work at the FAA's 22 Air Route Traffic Control Centers. 
They are grouped under regional offices and coordinate closely with the 
national Air Traffic Control System Command Center, located in Herndon, 



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'WE HAVE SOME PLANES'' 



15 




FAA Air Traffic Control Centers 




Continental Aerospace 
Command Region (CONR) 



* *s. 



Reporting structure, Northeast Air Defense Sector 

Graphics courtesy of ESRI 



Finall-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 16 



16 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

Virginia, which oversees daily traffic flow within the entire airspace system. 
FAA headquarters is ultimately responsible for the management of the 
National Airspace System. The Operations Center located at FAA headquarters 
receives notifications of incidents, including accidents and hijackings. 92 

FAA Control Centers often receive information and make operational deci- 
sions independently of one another. On 9/11, the four hijacked aircraft were 
monitored mainly by the centers in Boston, New York, Cleveland, and Indi- 
anapolis. Each center thus had part of the knowledge of what was going on 
across the system.What Boston knew was not necessarily known by centers in 
New York, Cleveland, or Indianapolis, or for that matter by the Command 
Center in Herndon or by FAA headquarters in Washington. 

Controllers track airliners such as the four aircraft hijacked on 9/1 1 primar- 
ily by watching the data from a signal emitted by each aircraft's transponder 
equipment. Those four planes, like all aircraft traveling above 10,000 feet, were 
required to emit a unique transponder signal while in flight. 93 

On 9/11, the terrorists turned off the transponders on three of the four 
hijacked aircraft. With its transponder off, it is possible, though more difficult, 
to track an aircraft by its primary radar returns. But unlike transponder data, 
primary radar returns do not show the aircraft's identity and altitude. Con- 
trollers at centers rely so heavily on transponder signals that they usually do not 
display primary radar returns on their radar scopes. But they can change the 
configuration of their scopes so they can see primary radar returns.They did this 
on 9/11 when the transponder signals for three of the aircraft disappeared. 94 

Before 9/11, it was not unheard of for a commercial aircraft to deviate 
slightly from its course, or for an FAA controller to lose radio contact with a 
pilot for a short period of time. A controller could also briefly lose a commer- 
cial aircraft's transponder signal, although this happened much less frequently. 
However, the simultaneous loss of radio and transponder signal would be a rare 
and alarming occurrence, and would normally indicate a catastrophic system 
failure or an aircraft crash. In all of these instances, the job of the controller was 
to reach out to the aircraft, the parent company of the aircraft, and other planes 
in the vicinity in an attempt to reestablish communications and set the aircraft 
back on course. Alarm bells would not start ringing until these efforts — which 
could take five minutes or more — were tried and had failed. 95 

NORAD Mission and Structure. NORAD is a binational command estab- 
lished in 1958 between the United States and Canada. Its mission was, and is, 
to defend the airspace of North America and protect the continent. That mis- 
sion does not distinguish between internal and external threats; but because 
NORAD was created to counter the Soviet threat, it came to define its job as 
defending against external attacks. 96 

The threat of Soviet bombers diminished significantly as the Cold War 
ended, and the number of NORAD alert sites was reduced from its Cold War 
high of 26. Some within the Pentagon argued in the 1990s that the alert sites 



Finall-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 17 



"WE HAVE SOME PLANES" 17 

should be eliminated entirely. In an effort to preserve their mission, members 
of the air defense community advocated the importance of air sovereignty 
against emerging "asymmetric threats" to the United States: drug smuggling, 
"non-state and state-sponsored terrorists," and the proliferation of weapons of 
mass destruction and ballistic missile technology. 97 

NORAD perceived the dominant threat to be from cruise missiles. Other 
threats were identified during the late 1990s, including terrorists' use of aircraft 
as weapons. Exercises were conducted to counter this threat, but they were not 
based on actual intelligence. In most instances, the main concern was the use 
of such aircraft to deliver weapons of mass destruction. 

Prior to 9/11, it was understood that an order to shoot down a commer- 
cial aircraft would have to be issued by the National Command Authority (a 
phrase used to describe the president and secretary of defense). Exercise plan- 
ners also assumed that the aircraft would originate from outside the United 
States, allowing time to identify the target and scramble interceptors. The threat 
of terrorists hijacking commercial airliners within the United States — and using 
them as guided missiles — was not recognized by NORAD before 9/1 1. 98 

Notwithstanding the identification of these emerging threats, by 9/11 there 
were only seven alert sites left in the United States, each with two fighter air- 
craft on alert. This led some NORAD commanders to worry that NORAD 
was not postured adequately to protect the United States. 99 

In the United States, NORAD is divided into three sectors. On 9/11, all 
the hijacked aircraft were in NORAD's Northeast Air Defense Sector (also 
known as NEADS), which is based in Rome, New York. That morning 
NEADS could call on two alert sites, each with one pair of ready fighters: Otis 
Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and Langley Air Force 
Base in Hampton,Virginia. 100 Other facilities, not on "alert," would need time 
to arm the fighters and organize crews. 

NEADS reported to the Continental U.S. NORAD Region (CONR) 
headquarters, in Panama City, Florida, which in turn reported to NORAD 
headquarters, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. 

Interagency Collaboration. The FAA and NORAD had developed proto- 
cols for working together in the event of a hijacking. As they existed on 9/11, 
the protocols for the FAA to obtain military assistance from NORAD 
required multiple levels of notification and approval at the highest levels of gov- 
ernment. 101 

FAA guidance to controllers on hijack procedures assumed that the aircraft 
pilot would notify the controller via radio or by "squawking" a transponder code 
of"7500" — the universal code for a hijack in progress. Controllers would notify 
their supervisors, who in turn would inform management all the way up to FAA 
headquarters in Washington. Headquarters had a hijack coordinator, who was the 
director of the FAA Office of Civil Aviation Security or his or her designate. 102 

If a hijack was confirmed, procedures called for the hijack coordinator on 



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18 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

duty to contact the Pentagon s National Military Command Center (NMCC) 
and to ask for a military escort aircraft to follow the flight, report anything 
unusual, and aid search and rescue in the event of an emergency. The NMCC 
would then seek approval from the Office of the Secretary of Defense to pro- 
vide military assistance. If approval was given, the orders would be transmitted 
down NORAD 's chain of command. 103 

The NMCC would keep the FAA hijack coordinator up to date and help 
the FAA centers coordinate directly with the military. NORAD would receive 
tracking information for the hijacked aircraft either from joint use radar or from 
the relevant FAA air traffic control facility. Every attempt would be made to 
have the hijacked aircraft squawk 7500 to help NORAD track it. 104 

The protocols did not contemplate an intercept. They assumed the fighter 
escort would be discreet, "vectored to a position five miles directly behind the 
hijacked aircraft," where it could perform its mission to monitor the aircraft's 
flight path. 105 

In sum, the protocols in place on 9/11 for the FAA and NORAD to 
respond to a hijacking presumed that 

• the hijacked aircraft would be readily identifiable and would not 
attempt to disappear; 

• there would be time to address the problem through the appropriate 
FAA and NORAD chains of command; and 

• the hijacking would take the traditional form: that is, it would not 
be a suicide hijacking designed to convert the aircraft into a guided 
missile. 

On the morning of 9/ 11, the existing protocol was unsuited in every respect 
for what was about to happen. 

American Airlines Flight 11 

FAA Awareness. Although the Boston Center air traffic controller realized at 
an early stage that there was something wrong with American 1 1 , he did not 
immediately interpret the plane's failure to respond as a sign that it had been 
hijacked. At 8:14, when the flight failed to heed his instruction to climb to 
35,000 feet, the controller repeatedly tried to raise the flight. He reached out 
to the pilot on the emergency frequency. Though there was no response, he 
kept trying to contact the aircraft. 106 

At 8:21, American 11 turned off its transponder, immediately degrading the 
information available about the aircraft. The controller told his supervisor that 
he thought something was seriously wrong with the plane, although neither 
suspected a hijacking. The supervisor instructed the controller to follow stan- 
dard procedures for handling a "no radio" aircraft. 107 



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"WE HAVE SOME PLANES" 19 

The controller checked to see if American Airlines could establish commu- 
nication with American 11. He became even more concerned as its route 
changed, moving into another sector's airspace. Controllers immediately began 
to move aircraft out of its path, and asked other aircraft in the vicinity to look 
for American ll. 108 

At 8:24:38, the following transmission came from American 11: 

American 11: We have some planes. Just stay quiet, and you'll be okay. 
We are returning to the airport. 

The controller only heard something unintelligible; he did not hear the spe- 
cific words "we have some planes." The next transmission came seconds later: 

American 1 1 : Nobody move. Everything will be okay. If you try to make 
any moves, you'll endanger yourself and the airplane. Just stay quiet. 109 

The controller told us that he then knew it was a hijacking. He alerted his 
supervisor, who assigned another controller to assist him. He redoubled his 
efforts to ascertain the flight's altitude. Because the controller didn't understand 
the initial transmission, the manager of Boston Center instructed his quality 
assurance specialist to "pull the tape" of the radio transmission, listen to it 
closely, and report back. 110 

Between 8:25 and 8:32, in accordance with the FAA protocol, Boston Cen- 
ter managers started notifying their chain of command that American 1 1 had 
been hijacked. At 8:28, Boston Center called the Command Center in Herndon 
to advise that it believed American 1 1 had been hijacked and was heading toward 
New York Center's airspace. 

By this time, American 11 had taken a dramatic turn to the south. At 8:32, 
the Command Center passed word of a possible hijacking to the Operations 
Center at FAA headquarters. The duty officer replied that security personnel 
at headquarters had just begun discussing the apparent hijack on a conference 
call with the New England regional office. FAA headquarters began to follow 
the hijack protocol but did not contact the NMCC to request a fighter 
escort. 111 

The Herndon Command Center immediately established a teleconfer- 
ence between Boston, New York, and Cleveland Centers so that Boston 
Center could help the others understand what was happening. 112 

At 8:34, the Boston Center controller received a third transmission from 
American 11: 

American 11: Nobody move please. We are going back to the airport. 
Don't try to make any stupid moves. 113 



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20 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

In the succeeding minutes, controllers were attempting to ascertain the alti- 
tude of the southbound flight. 114 

Military Notification and Response. Boston Center did not follow the 
protocol in seeking military assistance through the prescribed chain of com- 
mand. In addition to notifications within the FAA, Boston Center took the ini- 
tiative, at 8:34, to contact the military through the FAA's Cape Cod facility. 
The center also tried to contact a former alert site in Atlantic City, unaware it 
had been phased out. At 8:37:52, Boston Center reached NEADS. This was 
the first notification received by the military — at any level — that American 1 1 
had been hijacked: 115 

FAA: 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. 

NEADS: Is this real-world or exercise? 

FAA: No, this is not an exercise, not a test. 116 

NEADS ordered to battle stations the two F-15 alert aircraft at Otis Air 
Force Base in Falmouth, Massachusetts, 153 miles away from New York City. 
The air defense of America began with this call. 117 

At NEADS, the report of the hijacking was relayed immediately to Battle 
Commander Colonel Robert Marr. After ordering the Otis fighters to battle 
stations, Colonel Marr phoned Major General Larry Arnold, commanding 
general of the First Air Force and NORAD s Continental Region. Marr sought 
authorization to scramble the Otis fighters. General Arnold later recalled 
instructing Marr to "go ahead and scramble them, and we'll get authorities 
later." General Arnold then called NORAD headquarters to report. 118 

F-15 fighters were scrambled at 8:46 from Otis Air Force Base. But NEADS 
did not know where to send the alert fighter aircraft, and the officer directing 
the fighters pressed for more information: "I don't know where I'm scrambling 
these guys to. I need a direction, a destination." Because the hijackers had 
turned off the plane's transponder, NEADS personnel spent the next minutes 
searching their radar scopes for the primary radar return. American 1 1 struck 
the North Tower at 8:46. Shortly after 8:50, while NEADS personnel were still 
trying to locate the flight, word reached them that a plane had hit the World 
Trade Center. 119 

Radar data show the Otis fighters were airborne at 8:53. Lacking a target, 
they were vectored toward military-controlled airspace off the Long Island 
coast. To avoid New York area air traffic and uncertain about what to do, the 
fighters were brought down to military airspace to "hold as needed." From 9:09 
to 9:13, the Otis fighters stayed in this holding pattern. 120 



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"WE HAVE SOME PLANES" 21 

In summary, NEADS received notice of the hijacking nine minutes before 
it struck the North Tower. That nine minutes' notice before impact was the 
most the military would receive of any of the four hijackings. 121 

United Airlines Flight 175 

FAA Awareness. One of the last transmissions from United Airlines Flight 
175 is, in retrospect, chilling. By 8:40, controllers at the FAA's New York Cen- 
ter were seeking information on American 11. At approximately 8:42, shortly 
after entering New York Centers airspace, the pilot of United 175 broke in 
with the following transmission: 

UAL 175: New York UAL 175 heavy. 

FAA: UAL 175 go ahead. 

UAL 175: Yeah. 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. 

FAA: Oh, okay. I'll pass that along over here. 122 

Minutes later, United 175 turned southwest without clearance from air traf- 
fic control. At 8:47, seconds after the impact of American 11, United 175's 
transponder code changed, and then changed again. These changes were not 
noticed for several minutes, however, because the same New York Center con- 
troller was assigned to both American 11 and United 175. The controller knew 
American 1 1 was hijacked; he was focused on searching for it after the aircraft 
disappeared at 8:46. 123 

At 8:48, while the controller was still trying to locate American 1 1 , a New 
York Center manager provided the following report on a Command Center 
teleconference about American 11: 

Manager, New York Center: Okay. This is New York Center. We're 
watching the airplane. I also had conversation with American Air- 
lines, and they've told us that they believe that one of their stew- 
ardesses was stabbed and that there are people in the cockpit that 
have control of the aircraft, and that's all the information they have 
right now. 124 

The New York Center controller and manager were unaware that American 
1 1 had already crashed. 

At 8:51, the controller noticed the transponder change from United 175 and 
tried to contact the aircraft. There was no response. Beginning at 8:52, the con- 
troller made repeated attempts to reach the crew of United 175. Still no 
response. The controller checked his radio equipment and contacted another 



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22 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

controller at 8:53, saying that "we may have a hijack" and that he could not 
find the aircraft. 125 

Another commercial aircraft in the vicinity then radioed in with "reports 
over the radio of a commuter plane hitting the World Trade Center." The con- 
troller spent the next several minutes handing off the other flights on his scope 
to other controllers and moving aircraft out of the way of the unidentified air- 
craft (believed to be United 175) as it moved southwest and then turned 
northeast toward New York City. 126 

At about 8:55, the controller in charge notified a New York Center man- 
ager that she believed United 175 had also been hijacked. The manager tried 
to notify the regional managers and was told that they were discussing a 
hijacked aircraft (presumably American 1 1) and refused to be disturbed. At 8:58, 
the New York Center controller searching for United 175 told another New 
York controller "we might have a hijack over here, two of them." 127 

Between 9:01 and 9:02, a manager from New York Center told the Com- 
mand Center in Herndon: 

Manager, New York Center: We have several situations going on here. It's 
escalating big, big time. We need to get the military involved with us. . . . 
We're, we're involved with something else, we have other aircraft that 
may have a similar situation going on here. 128 

The "other aircraft" referred to by New York Center was United 175. Evi- 
dence indicates that this conversation was the only notice received by either 
FAA headquarters or the Herndon Command Center prior to the second crash 
that there had been a second hijacking. 

While the Command Center was told about this "other aircraft" at 9:01, 
New York Center contacted New York terminal approach control and asked 
for help in locating United 175. 

Terminal: I got somebody who keeps coasting but it looks like he's going 
into one of the small airports down there. 

Center: Hold on a second. I'm trying to bring him up here and get 
you — There he is right there. Hold on. 

Terminal: Got him just out of 9,500 — 9,000 now. 

Center: Do you know who he is? 

Terminal: We're just, we just we don't know who he is. We're just pick- 
ing him up now. 

Center (at 9:02): Alright. Heads up man, it looks like another one com- 
ing in. 129 

The controllers observed the plane in a rapid descent; the radar data termi- 
nated over Lower Manhattan. At 9:03, United 175 crashed into the South 

Tower. 130 



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"WE HAVE SOME PLANES" 23 

Meanwhile, a manager from Boston Center reported that they had deci- 
phered what they had heard in one of the first hijacker transmissions from 
American 11: 

Boston Center: Hey . . . you still there? 

New England Region: Yes, I am. 

Boston Center: ... as far as the tape, Bobby seemed to think the guy 
said that "we have planes." Now, I don't know if it was because it was 
the accent, or if there's more than one, but I'm gonna, I'm gonna 
reconfirm that for you, and I'll get back to you real quick. Okay? 

New England Region: Appreciate it. 

Unidentified Female Voice: They have what? 

Boston Center: Planes, as in plural. 

Boston Center: It sounds like, we're talking to New York, that there's 
another one aimed at the World Trade Center. 

New England Region: There's another aircraft? 

Boston Center: A second one just hit the Trade Center. 

New England Region: Okay. Yeah, we gotta get — we gotta alert the 
military real quick on this. 131 

Boston Center immediately advised the New England Region that it was 
going to stop all departures at airports under its control. At 9:05, Boston Cen- 
ter confirmed for both the FAA Command Center and the New England 
Region that the hijackers aboard American 11 said "we have planes." At the 
same time, New York Center declared "ATC zero" — meaning that aircraft were 
not permitted to depart from, arrive at, or travel through New York Center's 
airspace until further notice. 132 

Within minutes of the second impact, Boston Center instructed its con- 
trollers to inform all aircraft in its airspace of the events in New York and to 
advise aircraft to heighten cockpit security. Boston Center asked the Herndon 
Command Center to issue a similar cockpit security alert nationwide.We have 
found no evidence to suggest that the Command Center acted on this request 
or issued any type of cockpit security alert. 133 

Military Notification and Response. 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. The notice came at 
about the time the plane was hitting the South Tower. 134 

By 9:08, the mission crew commander at NEADS learned of the second 
explosion at the World Trade Center and decided against holding the fighters 
in military airspace away from Manhattan: 

Mission Crew Commander, NEADS: This is what I foresee that we 
probably need to do. We need to talk to FAA. We need to tell 'em if 



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24 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

this stuff is gonna keep on going, we need to take those fighters, put 
'em over Manhattan. That's best thing, that's the best play right now. 
So coordinate with the FAA.Tell 'em if there's more out there, which 
we don't know, let's get 'em over Manhattan. At least we got some kind 
of play. 135 

The FAA cleared the airspace. Radar data show that at 9:13, when the Otis 
fighters were about 115 miles away from the city, the fighters exited their hold- 
ing pattern and set a course direct for Manhattan. They arrived at 9:25 and 
established a combat air patrol (CAP) over the city. 136 

Because the Otis fighters had expended a great deal of fuel in flying first to 
military airspace and then to New York, the battle commanders were con- 
cerned about refueling. NEADS considered scrambling alert fighters from Lan- 
gley Air Force Base in Virginia to New York, to provide backup. The Langley 
fighters were placed on battle stations at 9:09. 137 NORAD had no indication 
that any other plane had been hijacked. 

American Airlines Flight 77 

FAA Awareness. American 77 began deviating from its flight plan at 8:54, 
with a slight turn toward the south. Two minutes later, it disappeared completely 
from radar at Indianapolis Center, which was controlling the flight. 138 

The controller tracking American 77 told us he noticed the aircraft turn- 
ing to the southwest, and then saw the data disappear. The controller looked 
for primary radar returns. He searched along the plane's projected flight path 
and the airspace to the southwest where it had started to turn. No primary tar- 
gets appeared. He tried the radios, first calling the aircraft directly, then the air- 
line. Again there was nothing. At this point, the Indianapolis controller had no 
knowledge of the situation in New York. He did not know that other aircraft 
had been hijacked. He believed American 77 had experienced serious electri- 
cal or mechanical failure, or both, and was gone. 139 

Shortly after 9:00, Indianapolis Center started notifying other agencies that 
American 77 was missing and had possibly crashed. At 9:08, Indianapolis Cen- 
ter asked Air Force Search and Rescue at Langley Air Force Base to look for a 
downed aircraft. The center also contacted the West Virginia State Police and 
asked whether any reports of a downed aircraft had been received. At 9:09, it 
reported the loss of contact to the FAA regional center, which passed this infor- 
mation to FAA headquarters at 9:24. 140 

By 9:20, Indianapolis Center learned that there were other hijacked aircraft, 
and began to doubt its initial assumption that American 77 had crashed. A dis- 
cussion of this concern between the manager at Indianapolis and the Com- 
mand Center in Herndon prompted it to notify some FAA field facilities that 
American 77 was lost. By 9:21, the Command Center, some FAA field facili- 
ties, and American Airlines had started to search for American 77. They feared 



Finall-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 25 



"WE HAVE SOME PLANES" 25 

it had been hijacked. At 9:25, the Command Center advised FAA headquar- 
ters of the situation. 141 

The failure to find a primary radar return for American 77 led us to inves- 
tigate this issue further. Radar reconstructions performed after 9/11 reveal that 
FAA radar equipment tracked the flight from the moment its transponder was 
turned off at 8:56. But for 8 minutes and 13 seconds, between 8:56 and 9:05, 
this primary radar information on American 77 was not displayed to controllers 
at Indianapolis Center. 142 The reasons are technical, arising from the way the 
software processed radar information, as well as from poor primary radar cov- 
erage where American 77 was flying. 

According to the radar reconstruction, American 77 reemerged as a primary 
target on Indianapolis Center radar scopes at 9:05, east of its last known posi- 
tion.The target remained in Indianapolis Center's airspace for another six min- 
utes, then crossed into the western portion ofWashington Center's airspace at 
9: 10. As Indianapolis Center continued searching for the aircraft, two managers 
and the controller responsible for American 77 looked to the west and south- 
west along the flight's projected path, not east — where the aircraft was now 
heading. Managers did not instruct other controllers at Indianapolis Center to 
turn on their primary radar coverage to join in the search for American 77. 143 

In sum, Indianapolis Center never saw Flight 77 turn around. By the time 
it reappeared in primary radar coverage, controllers had either stopped look- 
ing for the aircraft because they thought it had crashed or were looking toward 
the west. Although the Command Center learned Flight 77 was missing, nei- 
ther it nor FAA headquarters issued an all points bulletin to surrounding cen- 
ters to search for primary radar targets. American 77 traveled undetected for 
36 minutes on a course heading due east for Washington, D.C. 144 

By 9:25, FAA's Herndon Command Center and FAA headquarters knew 
two aircraft had crashed into theWorldTrade Center.They knew American 77 
was lost. At least some FAA officials in Boston Center and the New England 
Region knew that a hijacker on board American 11 had said "we have some 
planes." Concerns over the safety of other aircraft began to mount. A manager at 
the Herndon Command Center asked FAA headquarters if they wanted to order 
a "nationwide ground stop." While this was being discussed by executives at FAA 
headquarters, the Command Center ordered one at 9:25. 145 

The Command Center kept looking for American 77. At 9:21, it advised the 
Dulles terminal control facility, and Dulles urged its controllers to look for pri- 
mary targets. At 9:32, they found one. Several of the Dulles controllers 
"observed a primary radar target tracking eastbound at a high rate of speed" and 
notified Reagan National Airport. FAA personnel at both Reagan National and 
Dulles airports notified the Secret Service. The aircraft's identity or type was 
unknown. 146 

Reagan National controllers then vectored an unarmed National Guard C- 
130H cargo aircraft, which had just taken off en route to Minnesota, to iden- 



Finall-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 26 



26 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

tify and follow the suspicious aircraft. The C-130H pilot spotted it, identified 
it as a Boeing 757, attempted to follow its path, and at 9:38, seconds after 
impact, reported to the control tower: "looks like that aircraft crashed into the 
Pentagon sir." 147 

Military Notification and Response. NORAD heard nothing about the 
search for American 77. Instead, the NEADS air defenders heard renewed 
reports about a plane that no longer existed: American 11. 
At 9:21, NEADS received a report from the FAA: 

FAA: Military, Boston Center. I just had a report that American 1 1 is still 

in the air, and it's on its way towards — heading towards Washington. 
NEADS: Okay. American 11 is still in the air? 
FAA: Yes. 

NEADS: On its way towards Washington? 
FAA: That was another — it was evidently another aircraft that hit the 

tower. That's the latest report we have. 
NEADS: Okay. 
FAA: I'm going to try to confirm an ID for you, but I would assume 

he's somewhere over, uh, either New Jersey or somewhere further 

south. 
NEADS: Okay. So American 11 isn't the hijack at all then, right? 
FAA: No, he is a hijack. 
NEADS: He — American 11 is a hijack? 
FAA: Yes. 

NEADS: And he's heading into Washington? 
FAA: Yes. This could be a third aircraft. 148 

The mention of a "third aircraft" was not a reference to American 77. There 
was confusion at that moment in the FAA. Two planes had struck the World 
Trade Center, and Boston Center had heard from FAA headquarters in Wash- 
ington that American 1 1 was still airborne. We have been unable to identify the 
source of this mistaken FAA information. 

The NEADS technician who took this call from the FAA immediately 
passed the word to the mission crew commander, who reported to the 
NEADS battle commander: 

Mission Crew Commander, NEADS: Okay, uh, American Airlines is 
still airborne. Eleven, the first guy, he's heading towards Washington. 
Okay? I think we need to scramble Langley right now. And I'm gonna 
take the fighters from Otis, try to chase this guy down if I can find 
him. 14 " 



Finall-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 27 



"WE HAVE SOME PLANES" 27 

After consulting with NEADS command, the crew commander issued the 
order at 9:23: "Okay . . . scramble Langley. Head them towards the Washington 
area. . . . [I]f they're there then we'll run on them. . . .These guys are smart." 
That order was processed and transmitted to Langley Air Force Base at 9:24. 
Radar data show the Langley fighters airborne at 9:30. NEADS decided to 
keep the Otis fighters over New York. The heading of the Langley fighters was 
adjusted to send them to the Baltimore area. The mission crew commander 
explained to us that the purpose was to position the Langley fighters between 
the reported southbound American 11 and the nation's capital. 150 

At the suggestion of the Boston Center's military liaison, NEADS contacted 
the FAA's Washington Center to ask about American 11. In the course of the 
conversation, a Washington Center manager informed NEADS: "We're look- 
ing — we also lost American 77." The time was 9:34. 151 This was the first notice 
to the military that American 77 was missing, and it had come by chance. If 
NEADS had not placed that call, the NEADS air defenders would have 
received no information whatsoever that the flight was even missing, although 
the FAA had been searching for it. No one at FAA headquarters ever asked for 
military assistance with American 77. 

At 9:36, the FAA's Boston Center called NEADS and relayed the discovery 
about an unidentified aircraft closing in on Washington: "Latest report. Aircraft 
VFR [visual flight rules] six miles southeast of the White House. . . . Six, south- 
west. Six, southwest of the White House, deviating away." This startling news 
prompted the mission crew commander at NEADS to take immediate control 
of the airspace to clear a flight path for the Langley fighters: "Okay, we're going 
to turn it . . . crank it up. . . . Run them to the White House." He then discov- 
ered, to his surprise, that the Langley fighters were not headed north toward 
the Baltimore area as instructed, but east over the ocean."I don't care how many 
windows you break," he said. "Damn it. . . . Okay. Push them back." 152 

The Langley fighters were heading east, not north, for three reasons. First, 
unlike a normal scramble order, this order did not include a distance to the tar- 
get or the target's location. Second, a "generic" flight plan — prepared to get the 
aircraft airborne and out of local airspace quickly — incorrectly led the Lang- 
ley fighters to believe they were ordered to fly due east (090) for 60 miles. Third, 
the lead pilot and local FAA controller incorrectly assumed the flight plan 
instruction to go "090 for 60" superseded the original scramble order. 153 

After the 9:36 call to NEADS about the unidentified aircraft a few miles 
from the White House, the Langley fighters were ordered to Washington, DC. 
Controllers at NEADS located an unknown primary radar track, but "it kind 
of faded" over Washington. The time was 9:38. The Pentagon had been struck 
by American 77 at 9:37:46. The Langley fighters were about 150 miles away. 154 

Right after the Pentagon was hit, NEADS learned of another possible 
hijacked aircraft. It was an aircraft that in fact had not been hijacked at all. After 
the secondWorld Trade Center crash, Boston Center managers recognized that 



Finall-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 28 



28 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

both aircraft were transcontinental 767 jetliners that had departed Logan Air- 
port. Remembering the "we have some planes" remark, Boston Center 
guessed that Delta 1989 might also be hijacked. Boston Center called NEADS 
at 9:41 and identified Delta 1989, a 767 jet that had left Logan Airport for Las 
Vegas, as a possible hijack. NEADS warned the FAA's Cleveland Center to 
watch Delta 1989. The Command Center and FAA headquarters watched it 
too. During the course of the morning, there were multiple erroneous reports 
of hijacked aircraft. The report of American 11 heading south was the first; 
Delta 1989 was the second. 155 

NEADS never lost track of Delta 1989, and even ordered fighter aircraft 
from Ohio and Michigan to intercept it. The flight never turned off its 
transponder. NEADS soon learned that the aircraft was not hijacked, and 
tracked Delta 1989 as it reversed course over Toledo, headed east, and landed 
in Cleveland. 156 But another aircraft was heading toward Washington, an air- 
craft about which NORAD had heard nothing: United 93. 

United Airlines Flight 93 

FAA Awareness. At 9:27, after having been in the air for 45 minutes, United 
93 acknowledged a transmission from the Cleveland Center controller.This was 
the last normal contact the FAA had with the flight. 157 

Less than a minute later, the Cleveland controller and the pilots of aircraft 
in the vicinity heard "a radio transmission of unintelligible sounds of possible 
screaming or a struggle from an unknown origin." 158 

The controller responded, seconds later: "Somebody call Cleveland?" This 
was followed by a second radio transmission, with sounds of screaming. The 
Cleveland Center controllers began to try to identify the possible source of the 
transmissions, and noticed that United 93 had descended some 700 feet. The 
controller attempted again to raise United 93 several times, with no response. 
At 9:30, the controller began to poll the other flights on his frequency to deter- 
mine if they had heard the screaming; several said they had. 159 

At 9:32, a third radio transmission came over the frequency: "Keep remain- 
ing sitting. We have a bomb on board." The controller understood, but chose 
to respond: "Calling Cleveland Center, you're unreadable. Say again, slowly." 
He notified his supervisor, who passed the notice up the chain of command. 
By 9:34, word of the hijacking had reached FAA headquarters. 160 

FAA headquarters had by this time established an open line of communi- 
cation with the Command Center at Herndon and instructed it to poll all its 
centers about suspect aircraft.The Command Center executed the request and, 
a minute later, Cleveland Center reported that "United 93 may have a bomb 
on board." At 9:34, the Command Center relayed the information concerning 
United 93 to FAA headquarters. At approximately 9:36, Cleveland advised the 
Command Center that it was still tracking United 93 and specifically inquired 
whether someone had requested the military to launch fighter aircraft to inter- 
cept the aircraft. Cleveland even told the Command Center it was prepared to 



Finall-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 29 



"WE HAVE SOME PLANES" 29 

contact a nearby military base to make the request.The Command Center told 
Cleveland that FAA personnel well above them in the chain of command had 
to make the decision to seek military assistance and were working on the issue. 161 

Between 9:34 and 9:38, the Cleveland controller observed United 93 climb- 
ing to 40,700 feet and immediately moved several aircraft out its way.The con- 
troller continued to try to contact United 93, and asked whether the pilot could 
confirm that he had been hijacked. 162 There was no response. 

Then, at 9:39, a fourth radio transmission was heard from United 93: 

Ziad Jarrah: Uh, this is the captain. Would like you all to remain seated. 
There is a bomb on board and are going back to the airport, and to 
have our demands [unintelligible]. Please remain quiet. 

The controller responded: "United 93, understand you have a bomb on 
board. Go ahead." The flight did not respond. 163 

From 9:34 to 10:08, a Command Center facility manager provided frequent 
updates to Acting Deputy Administrator Monte Belger and other executives at 
FAA headquarters as United 93 headed toward Washington, D.C. At 9:41, 
Cleveland Center lost United 93 s transponder signal. The controller located 
it on primary radar, matched its position with visual sightings from other air- 
craft, and tracked the flight as it turned east, then south. 164 

At 9:42, the Command Center learned from news reports that a plane had 
struck the Pentagon.The Command Center's national operations manager, Ben 
Sliney, ordered all FAA facilities to instruct all aircraft to land at the nearest 
airport. This was an unprecedented order. The air traffic control system han- 
dled it with great skill, as about 4,500 commercial and general aviation aircraft 
soon landed without incident. 165 

At 9:46 the Command Center updated FAA headquarters that United 93 
was now "twenty-nine minutes out ofWashington, D.C." 

At 9:49, 13 minutes after Cleveland Center had asked about getting mili- 
tary help, the Command Center suggested that someone at headquarters should 
decide whether to request military assistance: 

FAA Headquarters: They're pulling Jeff away to go talk about United 

93. 
Command Center: Uh, do we want to think, uh, about scrambling 

aircraft? 
FAA Headquarters: Oh, God, I don't know. 
Command Center: Uh, that's a decision somebody's gonna have to 

make probably in the next ten minutes. 
FAA Headquarters: Uh, ya know everybody just left the room. 166 

At 9:53, FAA headquarters informed the Command Center that the deputy 
director for air traffic services was talking to Monte Belger about scrambling 



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30 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

aircraft. Then the Command Center informed headquarters that controllers 
had lost track of United 93 over the Pittsburgh area. Within seconds, the Com- 
mand Center received a visual report from another aircraft, and informed head- 
quarters that the aircraft was 20 miles northwest of Johnstown. United 93 was 
spotted by another aircraft, and, at 10:01, the Command Center advised FAA 
headquarters that one of the aircraft had seen United 93 "waving his wings." 
The aircraft had witnessed the hijackers' efforts to defeat the passengers' coun- 
terattack. 167 

United 93 crashed in Pennsylvania at 10:03:11, 125 miles from Washington, 
D.C. The precise crash time has been the subject of some dispute.The 10:03:11 
impact time is supported by previous National Transportation Safety Board 
analysis and by evidence from the Commission staff's analysis of radar, the flight 
data recorder, the cockpit voice recorder, infrared satellite data, and air traffic 
control transmissions. 168 

Five minutes later, the Command Center forwarded this update to head- 
quarters: 

Command Center: O.K. Uh, there is now on that United 93. 

FAA Headquarters: Yes. 

Command Center: There is a report of black smoke in the last position 
I gave you, fifteen miles south of Johnstown. 

FAA Headquarters: From the airplane or from the ground? 

Command Center: Uh, they're speculating it's from the aircraft. 

FAA Headquarters: Okay. 

Command Center: Uh, who, it hit the ground. That's what they're spec- 
ulating, that's speculation only. 169 

The aircraft that spotted the "black smoke" was the same unarmed Air 
National Guard cargo plane that had seen American 77 crash into the Penta- 
gon 27 minutes earlier. It had resumed its flight to Minnesota and saw the 
smoke from the crash of United 93, less than two minutes after the plane went 
down. At 10:17, the Command Center advised headquarters of its conclusion 
that United 93 had indeed crashed. 170 

Despite the discussions about military assistance, no one from FAA head- 
quarters requested military assistance regarding United 93. Nor did any man- 
ager at FAA headquarters pass any of the information it had about United 93 
to the military. 

Military Notification and Response. NEADS first received a call about 
United 93 from the military liaison at Cleveland Center at 10:07. Unaware that 
the aircraft had already crashed, Cleveland passed to NEADS the aircraft's last 
known latitude and longitude. NEADS was never able to locate United 93 on 
radar because it was already in the ground. 171 



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"WE HAVE SOME PLANES" 31 

At the same time, the NEADS mission crew commander was dealing with 
the arrival of the Langley fighters overWashington, D.C., sorting out what their 
orders were with respect to potential targets. Shortly after 10:10, and having 
no knowledge either that United 93 had been heading toward Washington or 
that it had crashed, he explicitly instructed the Langley fighters: "negative — 
negative clearance to shoot" aircraft over the nation's capital. 172 

The news of a reported bomb on board United 93 spread quickly at 
NEADS. The air defenders searched for United 93's primary radar return and 
tried to locate other fighters to scramble. NEADS called Washington Center 
to report: 

NEADS: I also want to give you a heads-up,Washington. 

FAA (DC): Go ahead. 

NEADS: United nine three, have you got information on that yet? 

FAA: Yeah, he's down. 

NEADS: He's down? 

FAA: Yes. 

NEADS: When did he land? 'Cause we have got confirmation — 

FAA: He did not land. 

NEADS: Oh, he's down? Down? 

FAA: Yes. Somewhere up northeast of Camp David. 

NEADS: Northeast of Camp David. 

FAA: That's the last report. They don't know exactly where. 173 

The time of notification of the crash of United 93 was 10:15. 174 The 
NEADS air defenders never located the flight or followed it on their radar 
scopes. The flight had already crashed by the time they learned it was hijacked. 

Clarifying the Record 

The defense of U.S. airspace on 9/11 was not conducted in accord with pre- 
existing training and protocols. It was improvised by civilians who had never 
handled a hijacked aircraft that attempted to disappear, and by a military unpre- 
pared for the transformation of commercial aircraft into weapons of mass 
destruction. As it turned out, the NEADS air defenders had nine minutes' 
notice on the first hijacked plane, no advance notice on the second, no advance 
notice on the third, and no advance notice on the fourth. 

We do not believe that the true picture of that morning reflects discredit on 
the operational personnel at NEADS or FAA facilities. NEADS commanders 
and officers actively sought out information, and made the best judgments they 
could on the basis of what they knew. Individual FAA controllers, facility man- 
agers, and Command Center managers thought outside the box in recommend- 
ing a nationwide alert, in ground-stopping local traffic, and, ultimately, in 
deciding to land all aircraft and executing that unprecedented order flawlessly. 



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32 



THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 



American Airlines Flight 11 

(AA 11) 

Boston to Los Angeles 



United Airlines Flight 175 

(UA 175) 

Boston to Los Angeles 




7:59 


Takeoff 


8 


14 


8:14 


Last routine radio 


8 


42 




communication; likely takeover 


8 


42 


8:19 


Flight attendant notifies AA of 


8 


47 




hijacking 


8 


52 


8:21 


Transponder is turned off 




8:23 


AA attempts to contact the 
cockpit 


8:54 


8:25 


Boston Center aware of 
hijacking 


8:55 


8:38 


Boston Center notifies NEADS 
of hijacking 


9:03 


8:46 


NEADS scrambles Otis fighter 
jets in search ofAA 11 


9:15 


8:46:40 


AA 1 1 crashes into 1 WTC 
(North Tower) 




8:53 


Otis fighter jets airborne 


9:20 


9:16 


AA headquarters aware that 
Flight 1 1 has crashed into 
WTC 




9:21 


Boston Center advises NEADS 
that AA 1 1 is airborne heading 
for Washington 




9:24 


NEADS scrambles Langley 
fighter jets in search of 






AA 11 







Takeoff 

Last radio communication 
-8:46 Likely takeover 

Transponder code changes 

Flight attendant notifies UA of 

hijacking 

UA attempts to contact the 

cockpit 

New York Center suspects 

hijacking 
: 1 1 Flight 1 75 crashes into 2 WT C 

(South Tower) 

New York Center advises 

NEADS that UA 175 was the 

second aircraft crashed into 

WTC 

UA headquarters aware that 

Flight 1 75 had crashed into 

WTC 



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'WE HAVE SOME PLANES'' 



33 



American Airlines Flight 77 

(AA 77) 

Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles 



United Airlines Flight 93 

(UA 93) 

Newark to San Francisco 




8:20 
8:51 



Takeoff 

Last routine radio 

communication 



8:51-8:54 Likely takeover 



8:54 

8:56 
9:05 

9:25 

9:32 



9:34 



9:37:46 



10:30 



Flight 77 makes unauthorized 
turn to south 
Transponder is turned off 
AA headquarters aware that 
Flight 77 is hijacked 
Herndon Command Center 
orders nationwide ground stop 
Dulles tower observes radar of 
fast-moving aircraft (later 
identified as AA 77) 
FAA advises NEADS that 
AA 77 is missing 
AA 77 crashes into the 
Pentagon 

AA headquarters confirms 
Flight 77 crash into Pentagon 



8:42 
9:24 



9:27 

9:28 
9:34 



9:36 

9:41 
9:57 
10:03: 

10:07 

10:15 



11 



Takeoff 

Flight 93 receives warning 
from UA about possible 
cockpit intrusion 
Last routine radio 
communication 
Likely takeover 
Herndon Command Center 
advises FAA headquarters that 
UA 93 is hijacked 
Flight attendant notifies UA of 
hijacking; UA attempts to 
contact the cockpit 
Transponder is turned off 
Passenger revolt begins 
Flight 93 crashes in field in 
Shanksville, PA 
Cleveland Center advises 
NEADS of UA 93 hijacking 
UA headquarters aware that 
Flight 93 has crashed in PA; 
Washington Center advises 
NEADS that Flight 93 has 
crashed in PA 



Finall-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 34 



34 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

More than the actual events, inaccurate government accounts of those events 
made it appear that the military was notified in time to respond to two of the 
hijackings, raising questions about the adequacy of the response.Those accounts 
had the effect of deflecting questions about the military's capacity to obtain 
timely and accurate information from its own sources. In addition, they over- 
stated the FAA's ability to provide the military with timely and useful informa- 
tion that morning. 

In public testimony before this Commission in May 2003, NORAD offi- 
cials stated that at 9:16, NEADS received hijack notification of United 93 from 
the FAA. 175 This statement was incorrect.There was no hijack to report at 9:16. 
United 93 was proceeding normally at that time. 

In this same public testimony, NORAD officials stated that at 9:24, 
NEADS received notification of the hijacking of American 77. 176 This state- 
ment was also incorrect. The notice NEADS received at 9:24 was that Amer- 
ican 11 had not hit the World Trade Center and was heading for Washington, 
DC. 177 

In their testimony and in other public accounts, NORAD officials also 
stated that the Langley fighters were scrambled to respond to the notifications 
about American 77, 178 United 93, or both. These statements were incorrect as 
well. The fighters were scrambled because of the report that American 11 was 
heading south, as is clear not just from taped conversations at NEADS but also 
from taped conversations at FAA centers; contemporaneous logs compiled at 
NEADS, Continental Region headquarters, and NORAD; and other records. 
Yet this response to a phantom aircraft was not recounted in a single public 
timeline or statement issued by the FAA or Department of Defense. The inac- 
curate accounts created the impression that the Langley scramble was a logical 
response to an actual hijacked aircraft. 

In fact, not only was the scramble prompted by the mistaken information 
about American 11, but NEADS never received notice that American 77 was 
hijacked. It was notified at 9:34 that American 77 was lost.Then, minutes later, 
NEADS was told that an unknown plane was 6 miles southwest of the White 
House. Only then did the already scrambled airplanes start moving directly 
toward Washington, DC. 

Thus the military did not have 14 minutes to respond to American 77, as 
testimony to the Commission in May 2003 suggested. It had at most one or 
two minutes to react to the unidentified plane approaching Washington, and 
the fighters were in the wrong place to be able to help.They had been respond- 
ing to a report about an aircraft that did not exist. 

Nor did the military have 47 minutes to respond to United 93, as would be 
implied by the account that it received notice of the flights hijacking at 9:16. 
By the time the military learned about the flight, it had crashed. 

We now turn to the role of national leadership in the events that morning. 



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"WE HAVE SOME PLANES" 35 

1.3 NATIONAL CRISIS MANAGEMENT 

When American 1 1 struck the Wo rid Trade Center at 8:46, no one in the White 
House or traveling with the President knew that it had been hijacked. While 
that information circulated within the FAA, we found no evidence that the 
hijacking was reported to any other agency in Washington before 8:46. 179 

Most federal agencies learned about the crash in New York from CNN. 180 
Within the FAA, the administrator, Jane Garvey, and her acting deputy, Monte 
Belger, had not been told of a confirmed hijacking before they learned from 
television that a plane had crashed. 181 Others in the agency were aware of it, 
as we explained earlier in this chapter. 

Inside the National Military Command Center, the deputy director of oper- 
ations and his assistant began notifying senior Pentagon officials of the inci- 
dent. At about 9:00, the senior NMCC operations officer reached out to the 
FAA operations center for information. Although the NMCC was advised of 
the hijacking of American 11, the scrambling of jets was not discussed. 182 

In Sarasota, Florida, the presidential motorcade was arriving at the Emma 
E. Booker Elementary School, where President Bush was to read to a class and 
talk about education. White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card told us he was 
standing with the President outside the classroom when Senior Advisor to the 
President Karl Rove first informed them that a small, twin-engine plane had 
crashed into the World Trade Center.The President's reaction was that the inci- 
dent must have been caused by pilot error. 183 

At 8:55, before entering the classroom, the President spoke to National 
Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, who was at the White House. She recalled 
first telling the President it was a twin-engine aircraft — and then a commer- 
cial aircraft — that had struck the World Trade Center, adding "that's all we know 
right now, Mr. President." 184 

At the White House,Vice President Dick Cheney had just sat down for a 
meeting when his assistant told him to turn on his television because a plane 
had struck the North Tower of theWorldTrade Center. The Vice President was 
wondering "how the hell could a plane hit theWorldTrade Center" when he 
saw the second aircraft strike the South Tower. 185 

Elsewhere in the White House, a series of 9:00 meetings was about to begin. 
In the absence of information that the crash was anything other than an acci- 
dent, the White House staff monitored the news as they went ahead with their 
regular schedules. 186 

The Agencies Confer 

When they learned a second plane had struck the World Trade Center, nearly 
everyone in the White House told us, they immediately knew it was not an 
accident. The Secret Service initiated a number of security enhancements 



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36 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

around the White House complex. The officials who issued these orders did 
not know that there were additional hijacked aircraft, or that one such aircraft 
was en route to Washington. These measures were precautionary steps taken 
because of the strikes in New York. 187 

The FAA and White House Teleconferences. The FAA, the White House, 
and the Defense Department each initiated a multiagency teleconference 
before 9:30. Because none of these teleconferences — at least before 10:00 — 
included the right officials from both the FAA and Defense Department, none 
succeeded in meaningfully coordinating the military and FAA response to the 
hijackings. 

At about 9:20, security personnel at FAA headquarters set up a hijacking 
teleconference with several agencies, including the Defense Department. The 
NMCC officer who participated told us that the call was monitored only peri- 
odically because the information was sporadic, it was of little value, and there were 
other important tasks. The FAA manager of the teleconference also remem- 
bered that the military participated only briefly before the Pentagon was hit. 
Both individuals agreed that the teleconference played no role in coordinating 
a response to the attacks of 9/ 11. Acting Deputy Administrator Belger was frus- 
trated to learn later in the morning that the military had not been on the call. 188 

At the White House, the video teleconference was conducted from the Sit- 
uation Room by Richard Clarke, a special assistant to the president long 
involved in counterterrorism. Logs indicate that it began at 9:25 and included 
the CIA; the FBI; the departments of State, Justice, and Defense; the FAA; and 
the White House shelter. The FAA and CIA joined at 9:40. The first topic 
addressed in the White House video teleconference — at about 9:40 — was the 
physical security of the President, the White House, and federal agencies. 
Immediately thereafter it was reported that a plane had hit the Pentagon. We 
found no evidence that video teleconference participants had any prior infor- 
mation that American 77 had been hijacked and was heading directly toward 
Washington. Indeed, it is not clear to us that the video teleconference was fully 
under way before 9:37, when the Pentagon was struck. 189 

Garvey, Belger, and other senior officials from FAA headquarters partici- 
pated in this video teleconference at various times. We do not know who from 
Defense participated, but we know that in the first hour none of the person- 
nel involved in managing the crisis did. And none of the information conveyed 
in the White House video teleconference, at least in the first hour, was being 
passed to the NMCC. As one witness recalled, "[It] was almost like there were 
parallel decisionmaking processes going on; one was a voice conference 
orchestrated by the NMCC . . . and then there was the [White House video 
teleconference]. . . . [I]n my mind they were competing venues for command 
and control and decisionmaking." 190 

At 10:03, the conference received reports of more missing aircraft, "2 pos- 



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"WE HAVE SOME PLANES" 37 

sibly 3 aloft," and learned of a combat air patrol over Washington. There was 
discussion of the need for rules of engagement. Clarke reported that they were 
asking the President for authority to shoot down aircraft. Confirmation of that 
authority came at 10:25, but the commands were already being conveyed in 
more direct contacts with the Pentagon. 191 

The Pentagon Teleconferences. Inside the National Military Command 
Center, the deputy director for operations immediately thought the second 
strike was a terrorist attack. The job of the NMCC in such an emergency is to 
gather the relevant parties and establish the chain of command between the 
National Command Authority — the president and the secretary of defense — 
and those who need to carry out their orders. 192 

On the morning of September 11, Secretary Rumsfeld was having break- 
fast at the Pentagon with a group of members of Congress. He then returned 
to his office for his daily intelligence briefing. The Secretary was informed of 
the second strike in New York during the briefing; he resumed the briefing 
while awaiting more information. After the Pentagon was struck, Secretary 
Rumsfeld went to the parking lot to assist with rescue efforts. 193 

Inside the NMCC, the deputy director for operations called for an all- 
purpose "significant event" conference. It began at 9:29, with a brief recap: two 
aircraft had struck the World Trade Center, there was a confirmed hijacking of 
American 1 1 , and Otis fighters had been scrambled.The FAA was asked to pro- 
vide an update, but the line was silent because the FAA had not been added to 
the call. A minute later, the deputy director stated that it had just been confirmed 
that American 11 was still airborne and heading toward D.C He directed the 
transition to an air threat conference call. NO RAD confirmed that American 
1 1 was airborne and heading toward Washington, relaying the erroneous FAA 
information already mentioned. The call then ended, at about 9:34. 194 

It resumed at 9:37 as an air threat conference call,* which lasted more than 
eight hours. The President,Vice President, Secretary of Defense, Vice Chairman 
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen 
Hadley all participated in this teleconference at various times, as did military 
personnel from the White House underground shelter and the President's mil- 
itary aide on Air Force One. 195 

Operators worked feverishly to include the FAA, but they had equipment 
problems and difficulty finding secure phone numbers. NORAD asked three 
times before 10:03 to confirm the presence of the FAA in the teleconference. 
The FAA representative who finally joined the call at 10:17 had no familiar- 
ity with or responsibility for hijackings, no access to decisionmakers, and none 
of the information available to senior FAA officials. 196 



* All times given for this conference call are estimates, which we and the Department of Defense believe to 
be accurate within a + 3 minute margin of error. 



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38 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

We found no evidence that, at this critical time, NORAD's top command- 
ers, in Florida or Cheyenne Mountain, coordinated with their counterparts at 
FAA headquarters to improve awareness and organize a common response. 
Lower-level officials improvised — for example, the FAA's Boston Center 
bypassed the chain of command and directly contacted NEADS after the first 
hijacking. But the highest-level Defense Department officials relied on the 
NMCC's air threat conference, in which the FAA did not participate for the 
first 48 minutes. 197 

At 9:39, the NMCC's deputy director for operations, a military officer, 
opened the call from the Pentagon, which had just been hit. He began: "An air 
attack against North America may be in progress. NORAD, what's the situa- 
tion?" NORAD said it had conflicting reports. Its latest information was "of a 
possible hijacked aircraft taking off out of JFK en route to Washington DC." 
The NMCC reported a crash into the mall side of the Pentagon and requested 
that the Secretary of Defense be added to the conference. 198 

At 9:44, NORAD briefed the conference on the possible hijacking of Delta 
1989. Two minutes later, staff reported that they were still trying to locate Sec- 
retary Rumsfeld and Vice Chairman Myers. The Vice Chairman joined the 
conference shortly before 10:00; the Secretary, shortly before 10:30. The Chair- 
man was out of the country. 199 

At 9:48, a representative from the White House shelter asked if there were 
any indications of another hijacked aircraft. The deputy director for operations 
mentioned the Delta flight and concluded that "that would be the fourth pos- 
sible hijack." At 9:49, the commander of NORAD directed all air sovereignty 
aircraft to battle stations, fully armed. 200 

At 9:59, an Air Force lieutenant colonel working in the White House Mil- 
itary Office joined the conference and stated he had just talked to Deputy 
National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley.The White House requested (1) the 
implementation of continuity of government measures, (2) fighter escorts for 
Air Force One, and (3) a fighter combat air patrol over Washington, DC. 201 

By 10:03, when United 93 crashed in Pennsylvania, there had been no 
mention of its hijacking and the FAA had not yet been added to the tele- 
conference. 202 

The President and the Vice President 

The President was seated in a classroom when, at 9:05, Andrew Card whispered 
to him: "A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack." The 
President told us his instinct was to project calm, not to have the country see 
an excited reaction at a moment of crisis. The press was standing behind the 
children; he saw their phones and pagers start to ring. The President felt he 
should project strength and calm until he could better understand what was 
happening. 203 

The President remained in the classroom for another five to seven minutes, 



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"WE HAVE SOME PLANES" 39 

while the children continued reading. He then returned to a holding room 
shortly before 9:15, -where he was briefed by staff and saw television coverage. 
He next spoke to Vice President Cheney, Dr. Rice, New York Governor George 
Pataki, and FBI Director Robert Mueller. He decided to make a brief state- 
ment from the school before leaving for the airport. The Secret Service told us 
they were anxious to move the President to a safer location, but did not think 
it imperative for him to run out the door. 204 

Between 9:15 and 9:30, the staff was busy arranging a return to Washington, 
while the President consulted his senior advisers about his remarks. No one in 
the traveling party had any information during this time that other aircraft were 
hijacked or missing. Staff was in contact with the White House Situation Room, 
but as far as we could determine, no one with the President was in contact with 
the Pentagon.The focus was on the President's statement to the nation.The only 
decision made during this time was to return to Washington. 205 

The President's motorcade departed at 9:35, and arrived at the airport 
between 9:42 and 9:45. During the ride the President learned about the attack 
on the Pentagon. He boarded the aircraft, asked the Secret Service about the 
safety of his family, and called the Vice President. According to notes of the 
call, at about 9:45 the President told the Vice President: "Sounds like we have 
a minor war going on here, I heard about the Pentagon. We're at war . . . some- 
body's going to pay" 206 

About this time, Card, the lead Secret Service agent, the President's military 
aide, and the pilot were conferring on a possible destination for Air Force One. 
The Secret Service agent felt strongly that the situation in Washington was too 
unstable for the President to return there, and Card agreed. The President 
strongly wanted to return to Washington and only grudgingly agreed to go 
elsewhere.The issue was still undecided when the President conferred with the 
Vice President at about the time Air Force One was taking off. The Vice Pres- 
ident recalled urging the President not to return to Washington. Air Force One 
departed at about 9:54 without any fixed destination. The objective was to get 
up in the air — as fast and as high as possible — and then decide where to go. 207 

At 9:33, the tower supervisor at Reagan National Airport picked up a 
hotline to the Secret Service and told the Service's operations center that 
"an aircraft [is] coming at you and not talking with us." This was the first 
specific report to the Secret Service of a direct threat to the White House. 
No move was made to evacuate the Vice President at this time. As the offi- 
cer who took the call explained, "[I was] about to push the alert button 
when the tower advised that the aircraft was turning south and approach- 
ing Reagan National Airport." 208 

American 77 began turning south, away from the White House, at 9:34. It 
continued heading south for roughly a minute, before turning west and begin- 
ning to circle back. This news prompted the Secret Service to order the imme- 
diate evacuation of the Vice President just before 9:36. Agents propelled him 



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40 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

out of his chair and told him he had to get to the bunker. The Vice President 
entered the underground tunnel leading to the shelter at 9:37. 209 

Once inside,Vice President Cheney and the agents paused in an area of the 
tunnel that had a secure phone, a bench, and television. The Vice President 
asked to speak to the President, but it took time for the call to be connected. 
He learned in the tunnel that the Pentagon had been hit, and he saw televi- 
sion coverage of smoke coming from the building. 210 

The Secret Service logged Mrs. Cheney's arrival at the White House at 9:52, 
and she joined her husband in the tunnel. According to contemporaneous 
notes, at 9:55 theVice President was still on the phone with the President advis- 
ing that three planes were missing and one had hit the Pentagon. We believe 
this is the same call in which the Vice President urged the President not to 
return to Washington. After the call ended, Mrs. Cheney and the Vice Presi- 
dent moved from the tunnel to the shelter conference room. 211 

United 93 and the Shootdown Order 

On the morning of 9/11, the President and Vice President stayed in contact 
not by an open line of communication but through a series of calls. The Pres- 
ident told us he was frustrated with the poor communications that morning. 
He could not reach key officials, including Secretary Rumsfeld, for a period of 
time.The line to the White House shelter conference room — and the Vice Pres- 
ident — kept cutting off. 212 

The Vice President remembered placing a call to the President just after 
entering the shelter conference room. There is conflicting evidence about 
when the Vice President arrived in the shelter conference room. We have con- 
cluded, from the available evidence, that the Vice President arrived in the room 
shortly before 10:00, perhaps at 9:58. TheVice President recalled being told,just 
after his arrival, that the Air Force was trying to establish a combat air patrol 
over Washington. 213 

TheVice President stated that he called the President to discuss the rules of 
engagement for the CAP. He recalled feeling that it did no good to establish 
the CAP unless the pilots had instructions on whether they were authorized 
to shoot if the plane would not divert. He said the President signed off on that 
concept. The President said he remembered such a conversation, and that it 
reminded him of when he had been an interceptor pilot.The President empha- 
sized to us that he had authorized the shootdown of hijacked aircraft. 214 

The Vice President's military aide told us he believed the Vice President 
spoke to the President just after entering the conference room, but he did not 
hear what they said. Rice, who entered the room shortly after theVice Presi- 
dent and sat next to him, remembered hearing him inform the President, "Sir, 
the CAPs are up. Sir, they're going to want to know what to do." Then she 
recalled hearing him say, "Yes sir." She believed this conversation occurred a 
few minutes, perhaps five, after they entered the conference room. 215 

We believe this call would have taken place sometime before 10:10 to 10:15. 



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"WE HAVE SOME PLANES" 41 

Among the sources that reflect other important events of that morning, there 
is no documentary evidence for this call, but the relevant sources are incom- 
plete. Others nearby who were taking notes, such as the Vice Presidents chief 
of staff, Scooter Libby, who sat next to him, and Mrs. Cheney, did not note a 
call between the President andVice President immediately after the Vice Pres- 
ident entered the conference room. 216 

At 10:02, the communicators in the shelter began receiving reports from 
the Secret Service of an inbound aircraft — presumably hijacked — heading 
toward Washington. That aircraft was United 93. The Secret Service was get- 
ting this information directly from the FAA.The FAA may have been track- 
ing the progress of United 93 on a display that showed its projected path to 
Washington, not its actual radar return.Thus, the Secret Service was relying on 
projections and was not aware the plane was already down in Pennsylvania. 217 

At some time between 10:10 and 10:15, a military aide told the Vice Pres- 
ident and others that the aircraft was 80 miles out. Vice President Cheney was 
asked for authority to engage the aircraft. 218 His reaction was described by 
Scooter Libby as quick and decisive, "in about the time it takes a batter to 
decide to swing." The Vice President authorized fighter aircraft to engage the 
inbound plane. He told us he based this authorization on his earlier conversa- 
tion with the President. The military aide returned a few minutes later, proba- 
bly between 10:12 and 10:18, and said the aircraft was 60 miles out. He again 
asked for authorization to engage. The Vice President again said yes. 219 

At the conference room table was White House Deputy Chief of Staff 
Joshua Bolten. Bolten watched the exchanges and, after what he called "a quiet 
moment," suggested that theVice President get in touch with the President and 
confirm the engage order. Bolten told us he wanted to make sure the Presi- 
dent was told that the Vice President had executed the order. He said he had 
not heard any prior discussion on the subject with the President. 220 

TheVice President was logged calling the President at 10:18 for a two- 
minute conversation that obtained the confirmation. On Air Force One, the 
President's press secretary was taking notes; Ari Fleischer recorded that at 
10:20, the President told him that he had authorized a shootdown of aircraft 
if necessary. 221 

Minutes went by and word arrived of an aircraft down in Pennsylvania. 
Those in the shelter wondered if the aircraft had been shot down pursuant to 
this authorization. 222 

At approximately 10:30, the shelter started receiving reports of another 
hijacked plane, this time only 5 to 10 miles out. Believing they had only a 
minute or two, theVice President again communicated the authorization to 
"engage or "take out" the aircraft. At 10:33, Hadley told the air threat confer- 
ence call: "I need to get word to Dick Myers that our reports are there's an 
inbound aircraft flying low 5 miles out. TheVice President's guidance was we 
need to take them out." 223 

Once again, there was no immediate information about the fate of the 



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42 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

inbound aircraft. In the apt description of one witness,"It drops below the radar 
screen and it's just continually hovering in your imagination; you don't know 
where it is or what happens to it." Eventually, the shelter received word that 
the alleged hijacker 5 miles away had been a medevac helicopter. 224 

Transmission of the Authorization from the White House 
to the Pilots 

The NMCC learned of United 93's hijacking at about 10:03. At this time the 
FAA had no contact with the military at the level of national command. The 
NMCC learned about United 93 from the White House. It, in turn, was 
informed by the Secret Service's contacts with the FAA. 225 

NO RAD had no information either. At 10:07, its representative on the air 
threat conference call stated that NORAD had "no indication of a hijack head- 
ing to DC at this time." 226 

Repeatedly between 10:14 and 10:19, a lieutenant colonel at the White 
House relayed to the NMCC that the Vice President had confirmed fighters 
were cleared to engage inbound aircraft if they could verify that the aircraft 
was hijacked. 227 

The commander of NORAD, General Ralph Eberhart, was en route to the 
NORAD operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, when the 
shootdown order was communicated on the air threat conference call. He told 
us that by the time he arrived, the order had already been passed down 
NO RAD 's chain of command. 228 

It is not clear how the shootdown order was communicated within 
NORAD. But we know that at 10:31, General Larry Arnold instructed his staff 
to broadcast the following over a NORAD instant messaging system: "10:31 
Vice president has cleared to us to intercept tracks of interest and shoot them 
down if they do not respond per [General Arnold]." 229 

In upstate New York, NEADS personnel first learned of the shootdown 
order from this message: 

Floor Leadership: You need to read this. . . .The Region Commander 

has declared that we can shoot down aircraft that do not respond to 

our direction. Copy that? 
Controllers: Copy that, sir. 
Floor Leadership: So if you're trying to divert somebody and he won't 

divert — 
Controllers: DO [Director of Operations] is saying no. 
Floor Leadership: No? It came over the chat. . . You got a conflict on 

that direction? 
Controllers: Right now no, but — 
Floor Leadership: Okay? Okay, you read that from the Vice President, 

right? Vice President has cleared. Vice President has cleared us to 



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"WE HAVE SOME PLANES" 43 

intercept traffic and shoot them down if they do not respond per 
[General Arnold]. 230 

In interviews with us, NEADS personnel expressed considerable confusion 
over the nature and effect of the order. 

The NEADS commander told us he did not pass along the order because 
he was unaware of its ramifications. Both the mission commander and the sen- 
ior weapons director indicated they did not pass the order to the fighters cir- 
cling Washington and New York because they were unsure how the pilots 
would, or should, proceed with this guidance. In short, while leaders in 
Washington believed that the fighters above them had been instructed to "take 
out" hostile aircraft, the only orders actually conveyed to the pilots were to "ID 
type and tail." 231 

In most cases, the chain of command authorizing the use of force runs from 
the president to the secretary of defense and from the secretary to the combat- 
ant commander. The President apparently spoke to Secretary Rumsfeld for the 
first time that morning shortly after 10:00. No one can recall the content of this 
conversation, but it was a brief call in which the subject of shootdown author- 
ity was not discussed. 232 

At 10:39, the Vice President updated the Secretary on the air threat 
conference: 

Vice President: There's been at least three instances here where we've 
had reports of aircraft approaching Washington — a couple were con- 
firmed hijack. And, pursuant to the President's instructions I gave 
authorization for them to be taken out. Hello? 

SecDef: Yes, I understand. Who did you give that direction to? 

Vice President: It was passed from here through the [operations] cen- 
ter at the White House, from the [shelter]. 

SecDef: OK, let me ask the question here. Has that directive been trans- 
mitted to the aircraft? 

Vice President: Yes, it has. 

SecDef: So we've got a couple of aircraft up there that have those 
instructions at this present time? 

Vice President: That is correct. And it's my understanding they've 
already taken a couple of aircraft out. 

SecDef: We can't confirm that. We're told that one aircraft is down but 
we do not have a pilot report that did it. 233 

As this exchange shows, Secretary Rumsfeld was not in the NMCC when 
the shootdown order was first conveyed. He went from the parking lot to his 
office (where he spoke to the President), then to the Executive Support Cen- 
ter, where he participated in the White House video teleconference. He moved 



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44 THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 

to the NMCC shortly before 10:30, in order to join Vice Chairman Myers. 
Secretary Rumsfeld told us he was just gaining situational awareness when he 
spoke with the Vice President at 10:39. His primary concern was ensuring that 
the pilots had a clear understanding of their rules of engagement. 234 

The Vice President was mistaken in his belief that shootdown authorization 
had been passed to the pilots flying at NORAD's direction. By 10:45 there was, 
however, another set of fighters circling Washington that had entirely different 
rules of engagement. These fighters, part of the 11 3th Wing of the District of 
Columbia Air National Guard, launched out of Andrews Air Force Base in 
Maryland in response to information passed to them by the Secret Service.The 
first of the Andrews fighters was airborne at 10:38. 235 

General David Wherley — the commander of the 1 13th Wing — reached out 
to the Secret Service after hearing secondhand reports that it wanted fighters 
airborne. A Secret Service agent had a phone in each ear, one connected to 
Wherley and the other to a fellow agent at the White House, relaying instruc- 
tions that the White House agent said he was getting from the Vice President. 
The guidance for Wherley was to send up the aircraft, with orders to protect 
the White House and take out any aircraft that threatened the Capitol. Gen- 
eral Wherley translated this in military terms to flying "weapons free" — that is, 
the decision to shoot rests in the cockpit, or in this case in the cockpit of the 
lead pilot. He passed these instructions to the pilots that launched at 10:42 and 
afterward. 236 

Thus, while the fighter pilots under NORAD direction who had scram- 
bled out of Langley never received any type of engagement order, the Andrews 
pilots were operating weapons free — a permissive rule of engagement. The 
President and the Vice President indicated to us they had not been aware that 
fighters had been scrambled out of Andrews, at the request of the Secret Ser- 
vice and outside the military chain of command. 237 There is no evidence that 
NORAD headquarters or military officials in the NMCC knew — during the 
morning of September 11 — that the Andrews planes were airborne and oper- 
ating under different rules of engagement. 

What If? 

NORAD officials have maintained consistently that had the passengers not 
caused United 93 to crash, the military would have prevented it from reach- 
ing Washington, DC. That conclusion is based on a version of events that we 
now know is incorrect. The Langley fighters were not scrambled in response 
to United 93; NORAD did not have 47 minutes to intercept the flight; 
NORAD did not even know the plane was hijacked until after it had crashed. 
It is appropriate, therefore, to reconsider whether United 93 would have been 
intercepted. 

Had it not crashed in Pennsylvania at 10:03, we estimate that United 93 



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"WE HAVE SOME PLANES" 45 

could not have reachedWashington any earlier than 10:13, and probably would 
have arrived before 10:23. There was only one set of fighters circling Washing- 
ton during that time frame — the Langley F- 16s. They were armed and under 
NORAD's control. After NEADS learned of the hijacking at 10:07, NORAD 
would have had from 6 to 16 minutes to locate the flight, receive authoriza- 
tion to shoot it down, and communicate the order to the pilots, who (in the 
same span) would have had to authenticate the order, intercept the flight, and 
execute the order. 238 

At that point in time, the Langley pilots did not know the threat they were 
facing, did not know where United 93 was located, and did not have shoot- 
down authorization. 

First, the Langley pilots were never briefed about the reason they were 
scrambled. As the lead pilot explained,"I reverted to the Russian threat. . . . I'm 
thinking cruise missile threat from the sea. You know you look down and see 
the Pentagon burning and I thought the bastards snuck one by us. . . . [Y]ou 
couldn't see any airplanes, and no one told us anything."The pilots knew their 
mission was to divert aircraft, but did not know that the threat came from 
hijacked airliners. 239 

Second, NEADS did not have accurate information on the location of 
United 93. Presumably FAA would have provided such information, but we 
do not know how long that would have taken, nor how long it would have 
taken NEADS to locate the target. 

Third, NEADS needed orders to pass to the pilots. At 10:10, the pilots over 
Washington were emphatically told, "negative clearance to shoot." Shootdown 
authority was first communicated to NEADS at 10:31. It is possible that 
NORAD commanders would have ordered a shootdown in the absence of the 
authorization communicated by the Vice President, but given the gravity of the 
decision to shoot down a commercial airliner, and NORAD's caution that a 
mistake not be made, we view this possibility as unlikely 240 

NORAD officials have maintained that they would have intercepted and 
shot down United 93. We are not so sure. We are sure that the nation owes a 
debt to the passengers of United 93. Their actions saved the lives of countless 
others, and may have saved either the Capitol or the White House from 
destruction. 

The details of what happened on the morning of September 11 are com- 
plex, but they play out a simple theme. NORAD and the FAA were unpre- 
pared for the type of attacks launched against the United States on September 
11, 2001. They struggled, under difficult circumstances, to improvise a home- 
land defense against an unprecedented challenge they had never before 
encountered and had never trained to meet. 

At 10:02 that morning, an assistant to the mission crew commander at 
NORAD's Northeast Air Defense Sector in Rome, New York, was working 



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46 



THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT 



with his colleagues on the floor of the command center. In a brief moment of 
reflection, he was recorded remarking that "This is a new type of war." 241 

He was, and is, right. But the conflict did not begin on 9/11. It had been 
publicly declared years earlier, most notably in a declaration faxed early in 1998 
to an Arabic-language newspaper in London. Few Americans had noticed it. 
The fax had been sent from thousands of miles away by the followers of a Saudi 
exile gathered in one of the most remote and impoverished countries on earth.