Sunday, September 30, 2012

Reflections on my visit to the American Cemetery at Coleville Sur Mer - Normandy, France

I took a trip this summer to France. What a terrific experience we had and what a wonderful time with friends and family. We saw so many things worth seeing there, but for me the single reason, the single motivation for all of the expense and trouble of travel was just one thing... to walk on Omaha Beach... to stand on the sand of that beach in Normandy France and see where the allied troops landed on that fateful day in history. I needed to see it for myself. It was on my bucket list. Our bus brought us there, arriving via the highway access at the west end of the beach. We got off of the bus and walked down and stood on the beach. Dog/Green Sector... that's what the allies called this place. If you have seen the movie, "Saving Private Ryan", this is where they landed. It was a killing field on June 6, 1944.


I collected some sand to take home with me. Some of the sand that I collected was for a WWII veteran who had landed on this beach that day. It was my honor and privilege to meet him and present him with this memento and talk with him a little about his experiences there. Thanks Bill. Thanks for sharing your experiences with me. Thanks for the chance to get to know you. Thanks for your service to your country and to the people who you liberated in that terrible war, and to the generations who live in freedom today because of your service.

After leaving Omaha Beach we drove to the American Cemetery at Colleville Sur Mer. It overlooks those same beaches where so many young men died that day.

I wrote this piece after my visit there.

God Forgive Us

We come by bus to see them. We walk among them and stare at the names and we take some pictures and then we get back on the bus and go to see the next sight. Lots more to see today, got to get to the next attraction before the gift shop closes.
When we are gone there is nothing but silence. They cannot speak. They have no voices. They lost them when the breath left their bodies. If they could speak what would they say to us, I wonder? What would they ask of us? What would the dead say to the living? Would they ask to go with us? Would they ask to share our lives, since theirs have been taken from them?
They cannot leave. They must stay here. They must stay behind, remaining here among the perfectly manicured lawns, perfect symmetry, rows and rows, perfectly aligned, perfectly placed in elevation, lines so straight, pleasing to the eye.
Too perfect… too clean…too sanitized… too much order for my liking. As I stand looking at them, studying them, I sense something that is not there, something that should be there. Something is missing. Then it dawns on me. The missing piece… actually, it’s the missing color. There’s plenty of green, a sea of green grass, laid out like a bright green velvet carpet. The crosses are white, so white that they’re almost iridescent as the sun shines down on them, overwhelming in their geometry, forming intricate intersecting patterns in white marble. Then I see it. I see it with my mind, not with my eye. There is no red. There is no red anywhere! Not a spot, not a blush of crimson anywhere. Shouldn’t there be some red? Maybe just one little rose bush, or a spot of red somewhere in this immaculate field of green and white? Shouldn’t we be reminded of the blood that was shed here in this place… on these shores? Should we not acknowledge their suffering, their shredded bodies, their blood, which drenched the beaches of this place, which soaked into the rich soil of this Normandy? Not my place to wonder I suppose, but I wonder nonetheless.
God makes things. He is the maker. He made this grass, and these trees. He made this land. He made us. What do we make? What does man make? We make wars. We make graves. Man, can we make graves… perfect rows of graves, beautiful graves. Not much to be proud of in that… great grave makers, we.
These graves, each one of them represents a hole in space and time. A hole… an empty place where there use to be a life, a young man’s life. There are nine thousand three hundred and eighty seven of them here. Nine thousand three hundred and eighty seven empty places. Nine thousand three hundred and eighty seven holes that cannot be filled again. Their fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters and wives and sons and daughters have to rebuild their own lives around these holes, these empty places. They have to try to mend the fabric of their torn lives, lives which have been ripped apart. Nine thousand three hundred and eighty seven times a thousand… tears shed. Nine thousand three hundred and eighty seven young men who will never get married, or be dads, or coach little league, or make a million dollars, or go broke trying to make a million dollars, or hold their granddaughters on their lap, or just stretch and yawn and remember how great it is to be alive on a warm, sunny summer morning. Their lives are gone. They were taken from them, and with them was taken every accomplishment, every achievement, every gift and talent that they brought to the world, or would have brought to the world. What a drain on the wealth of the world.  All of the potentials that their lives held were wiped away, drained away as they bled out on the beach, or as they lie in a ditch by a hedge-row with their guts spilled out on the ground in front of them. Not nearly so neat their deaths… not nearly so neat as these rows of white crosses on these manicured lawns.
Such shallow regard we give them. We spend a few moments, snap a few pictures, and maybe say a prayer… God forgive us for not praying if we come to this place! Then we get back on the bus and we leave them behind. God forgive us for forgetting them. God forgive us for not remembering them every day. God forgive us for not taking a part of them with us wherever we go. God forgive us for not living our lives for them, and in honor of them. God forgive us for taking for granted our liberty, our freedom. God forgive us.

M.J. Smith

June 19, 2012



Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Remembering 9/11

I attended the dedication ceremony for a 9/11 memorial at the Chandler Fire Department Headquarters this morning. I heard very very meaningful prayers and very meaningful remembrances of that day. It has been 11 years since that terrible  day... eleven 9/11's have passed since those aircraft were taken and turned into weapons of destruction.

Do you remember where you were that day? What you were doing that morning? If you were alive, I'm sure that you do remember. We watched the horrible images on the television, mesmerized and baffled by the images.

I was the operations manager for Chandler Municipal Airport on September 11, 2001. Mostly what I remember about that day is chaos and confusion. We were unsure how to react to this situation. No one had ever experienced anything like this. What measures should we take? Secure the aircraft. That part was obvious. People had taken control of aircraft and used them to murder thousands of people. We would later learn that some of these people had trained for their mission of terror at local flight schools. I directed staff to secure all of the access gates on the airport. We posted a guard at a single vehicle gate for access. All access to the aircraft ramps at Chandler Airport now went through a single point, and in order to gain access you had to show an airport security card to prove that you were authorized to enter. Without such ID you were sent to the admin. office at the terminal to plead your case. There was much grumbling of course. Airport management was criticized for over reacting. Let them complain. We weren't going to let anyone near aircraft at Chandler Muni. without credentials. It soon became a moot issue anyway. By mid-day we had heard from the FAA and from our own air traffic control tower that all air traffic in the continental United States was being grounded. Airspace was closed to all civil aviation, that means every aircraft that is not a military aircraft is prohibited to fly in U.S. Airspace. Unprecedented.

I took my turn manning the access gate during the hours and coming days. I remember looking up at the sky... at the pale blue Arizona sky. I remember seeing high altitude contrails, probably two or three miles up, and realizing that they must be our own fighter jets flying missions over our country. They were the only planes up there. It was creepy. That's where I was on 9/11. I'll never forget those hours and those days.

I have posted one of the best 9/11 articles ever written from the perspective of the aviation community. It tells the story of that day  from the positions of air traffic personnel and pilots and aviation officials.

We should remember that day. We should remember all of those who died in those aircraft and in the World Trade Center, and in the Pentagon, and in that field in Pennsylvania. We should remember all of the soldiers and sailors and marines who have fought and those who have died fighting the war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in secret places that we will never hear about. We should remember the fire fighters and policemen who climbed those stairwells at the twin towers, trying to save lives, knowing that their own lives were at stake. We should remember the loved ones that are left behind and whose lives will never be the same because of the events of that day. We should remember. We should remember them and thank God for them all, and ask Go to bless them all.


Amid terror, a drastic decision: Clear the skies

By H. Darr Beiser

Capt. Jim Hosking is stunned as he reads the message from the cockpit

printer aboard United Flight 890. On most days, messages sent to the

Boeing 747 are ordinary: maintenance items or reports of bad weather. On

this day, Sept. 11, before sunrise over the Pacific Ocean, the warning

is unlike any he has seen.

Hijackings? Terrorist attack? Taking off from Narita, Japan, just hours

before, Hosking, 56, looked forward to heading home to Los Angeles,

where his wife would be waiting.

But reading the message, sent at 9:37 a.m. Eastern Time, the pilot of 34

years wonders: What the hell happened down there?

And then, even more chilling:

What's going to happen up here?

''SHUT DOWN ALL ACCESS TO FLIGHT DECK.'' In the cabin behind him sit 243

passengers -- all of them strangers to Hosking. He turns toward first

officer Doug Price. ''Get out the crash ax,'' Hosking tells him.

At the Federal Aviation Administration's command center in Herndon, Va.,

air traffic managers also struggle to make sense of what's happening.

Already, terrorists have deliberately flown two jets into the World

Trade Center. The hijackings are unlike anything anyone has seen. In the

past, hijackers commandeered passenger jets for political reasons.

Pilots were told to cooperate with them, to take the hijackers wherever

they wanted to go.

Today, the hijackers don't want to go anywhere. They just want the jets.

At the FAA's command center, managers can think of only one way to stop

them. Minutes after another jet smashes into the Pentagon at 9:38 a.m.,

the managers issue an unprecedented order to the nation's air traffic


Empty the skies.

Land every flight.


No one can be certain how difficult this task will prove.

But for an air traffic control system sometimes paralyzed by a patch of

bad weather, the order seems overwhelming. Almost 4,500 planes will have

to land within hours, many at airports hundreds of miles from where they

were headed.

The situation could be worse. On this day, the weather is pristine over

most of the nation. And the early hour means most West Coast flights

haven't even taken off.

Still, the skies have never been emptied before, and controllers, pilots

and aviation officials have never faced such pressure. Rerouting so many

flights seems a logistical nightmare with no margin for error.

And no one knows how many terrorists might still be in the air. During

these hours, those who run the nation's aviation system will come to

believe as many as 11 flights have been hijacked.

This is the story of the four most critical hours in aviation history --

an ordeal that began at 8:15 a.m., when the first indication that

something was wrong came during a telephone call to American Airlines.

8:15 a.m. ET

3,624 planes in the sky

Intruders in the cockpit

The call doesn't make any sense. Not at first.

At American Airlines' operations center in Fort Worth, manager Craig

Marquis talks to a reservations agent in North Carolina. The agent isn't

sure what to do.

On another line, the agent is speaking with a flight attendant who's in

the air but can't reach the pilots on her jet. The agent wants to

transfer the call to Marquis but the phone system won't let her. So she

begins to relay messages coming from the back of American Flight 11, a

Boeing 767 heading from Boston to Los Angeles.

Aboard, flight attendant Betty Ong tells what's unfolding.

Marquis, a blunt-spoken veteran, isn't sure what to make of the call. Is

the woman even a flight attendant? he wonders. He checks his computer as

he listens on the phone. There she is. Betty Ong. And she is on that


Ong can't contact the pilots, the agent says. That's why she's calling.

Why doesn't she just walk up to the cockpit and bang on the door? But as

he listens -- as Ong, in hushed tones, tells of a passenger dead and a

crewmember dying, of the jet's erratic path and intruders in the cockpit

-- Marquis realizes that Ong can do little.

The flight has been hijacked.

As Marquis, 45, considers what he can do, air traffic controllers at the

FAA's Boston Center reach the same conclusion. Flight 11 has stopped

talking. Its pilots don't respond to calls; its transponder signal has

disappeared. Worse, controllers report hearing a man with a strange

accent in the cockpit.

''We have some planes,'' he says through an open mike. ''Just stay quiet

and you will be OK.''

Could more hijackers be out there?

In the FAA's command center in Herndon, Ben Sliney learns of the radio

transmission. The words will haunt him all morning. ''We have some


Some? How many?

Sept. 11 is Sliney's first day on the job as national operations

manager, the chess master of the air traffic system. The New Yorker, a

lawyer who once sued the FAA on behalf of air traffic controllers, now

walks the floor of the center -- a room that resembles NASA's Mission


Loud and forceful, Sliney fits the mold of others there. After managers

at the center were criticized for not taking enough action to prevent

record flight delays in 1999, the specialists were urged to speak freely

during crises. That way, those in charge would have the information they

needed to make sound decisions. On this day, that policy will be put to

the test, and the center is deafening, like the New York Stock Exchange

when everyone's trying to sell.

''We have some planes . . . ''

Sliney can't shake the words. Are there more hijackers out there?

8:30 a.m. 3,786 planes

''Wow, look at that!''

In the FAA's largest air traffic facility in New York state -- a

warehouse-like structure on Long Island, an hour east of Manhattan --

manager Mike McCormick rushes to the banks of radar screens where

controllers are trying to track Flight 11.

The former Marine presses his cordless phone to one ear as he talks to

officials at other facilities in the New York area. But the other ear is

doing most of the listening -- to the radio reports of pilots who are

watching the jet's progress.

Over New York, Flight 11 has begun to descend. Not into JFK or LaGuardia

or Newark International Airport but into the city itself.

It must have electrical problems, he thinks. That's probably why the

transponder is off. McCormick calls another air traffic center that

hands off flights to New York's three major airports. Flight 11, he

warns, might try an emergency landing.

In Fort Worth, Gerard Arpey, American Airline's vice president for

operations, hears about the Ong call and the strange transmissions from

Flight 11. In his 20 years with American, Arpey, 43, has grown used to

stories about misbehaving passengers -- the drunks and disorderlies that

airlines encounter. But this, he thinks, this seems more than that. This

sounds real.

He tries to reach his boss, CEO Don Carty, but Carty isn't in yet. Then

he heads to the airline's command center, where top operations officials

gather only in the event of an emergency. They're all here, Arpey thinks

as he walks through the door.

All but Craig Marquis.

Just down the hall, in the airline's operations center, Marquis hasn't

left the phone. Still listening to the relayed words of Ong, he works to

calculate how much fuel the jet carries. That way, he may be able to

predict where the hijackers will take the flight. But at 8:46 a.m., the

North Carolina agent abruptly loses Ong's call. Marquis' calculations no

longer matter.

At Newark's tower, just across the Hudson River from Manhattan,

controller Rick Tepper, 41, stands at a console behind a group of other


There, he answers phones and troubleshoots problems. He and the other

controllers often wear jeans and polo shirts. The attire belies their

intense work ethic.

When Tepper looks past the controllers, he sees it out the window: a

mushroom cloud rising from the World Trade Center's north tower.

''Wow! Look at that,'' he says to no one in particular. Flames shoot

from the building. ''How are they going to put that out?''

He didn't see what caused the explosion, but on the chance that it was a

plane, he begins calling airports nearby.

''Did you lose anybody?'' he asks over and over. No one has.

Then, a phone rings: the ''shout line,'' set up for speedy calls among

controllers in the region. Tepper answers. ''We've lost an aircraft over

Manhattan,'' someone at the New York center says. ''Can you see anything

out your window?''

''No, I don't see anything . . . '' Tepper pauses. ''But one of the

towers, one of the trade towers, is on fire.

''I'll call you back.''

9 a.m. 4,205 planes

''This is not a drill!''

At the New York center, McCormick struggles to keep up with the barrage

of information, most of it annoyingly vague.

That must have been American 11, McCormick thinks. Could it be


Just three days before, celebrating his 45th birthday, he had taken his

8-year-old son Nicholas to the Trade Center. There they stood, toes

touching one tower, peering toward the sky.

Now he tries to figure out why an airliner would've hit the building.

Just before American disappeared, controllers heard an emergency beacon.

From what? McCormick wonders. And controllers can't find a helicopter

that has disappeared from radar over the city. Did it hit the Trade

Center, too?

In Herndon, national operations manager Sliney receives word from

officials in New York: A small plane has crashed into the Trade Center.

One of the room's 10-by-14-foot TV monitors comes to life with CNN.

Black smoke gushes from the north tower. The hole is huge. And the


That was no small plane, Sliney thinks.

At United Airlines headquarters outside Chicago, Andy Studdert rushes to

the airline's crisis center, a windowless room with a large screen on

one wall. To those who work there, the room resembles the bridge on Star

Trek's starship Enterprise.

''Confirm American into the Trade Center!''

Workers don't need to look up to recognize the booming baritone of

Studdert, 45, the airline's chief operating officer.

Ten days earlier, he had popped a surprise drill on the staff. He told

them a flight over the Pacific had suffered a potentially disastrous

engine failure and radio contact had been lost. For 30 minutes, workers

believed the story. Then Studdert told them the truth.

On this day, he makes certain everyone knows the stakes. ''This is not a

drill!'' he shouts, but the staff already knows.

What they are about to tell Studdert is even worse than what brought

their boss to the crisis center. Controllers have lost radio contact

with a second flight -- a United jet that, like American Flight 11, took

off from Boston bound for Los Angeles.

On the giant screen at the front of the room, airline workers can only

watch as United Flight 175, northwest of New York, heads toward


Then . . . it vanishes.

''There was another one!''

In the Newark tower, the shout line rings again.

Where's United Flight 175? ''Can you see him out the window?'' the

caller asks Tepper, the Newark controller.

Beyond the New Jersey shipyards, Tepper spots the jet flying north, up

the Hudson River. His eyes track it toward the Manhattan skyline. It's

moving fast. Too fast. And rocking. Its nose points down in a dive and

now it's banking left and then right and moving as Tepper has never seen

a jet move and then it starts to level and . . . .

''Oh my God! He just hit the building,'' Tepper tells the caller.

In Herndon, a shout: ''There was another one!'' and the giant TV monitor

glows orange from the fireball. Scores of workers gasp, as if sucking

the air from the room.

It can't be a second one. At the New York control center, McCormick's

deputy, Bruce Barrett, sits incredulous at the watch desk, the

facility's nerve center.

For a moment, Barrett can think only of his daughter, Carissa, who works

in lower Manhattan. Could she be visiting someone at the Trade Center?

Then he sweeps the thought from his mind. Stay calm, he tells himself.

Someone has to. Controllers who had been watching TV in the break room

are rushing onto the floor. They saw the jet hit the other tower. Is

there really any question what he should do?

''We're declaring ATC zero,'' he tells air traffic managers. McCormick

approves the order. Clear the skies over the region.

If they have overreacted, the decision could ruin both their careers.

But after what they just witnessed, they give little thought to asking

for permission. A call to Washington could take minutes, and they aren't

sure they have that long. They aren't certain of anything, except that

they need to do something.

A handful of managers spread the word to controllers. It doesn't seem

like enough, Barrett thinks, but it's the most he can do.

The time: 9:03 a.m.

A radical decision

On its face, the order seems incredible. Not a single flight in or out

of New York? Some of the nation's biggest airports shut down?

Controllers had gone to ''air traffic control zero'' before, but only

when their radar shut down or their radio transmitters went silent. The

planes kept flying then, and controllers in other centers guided them.

This time, ATC zero means something far more drastic. It means emptying

the skies -- something that has never been attempted. And not just the

skies over Manhattan. Controllers must clear the air from southern New

England to Maryland, from Long Island to central Pennsylvania -- every

mile of the region they control.

The move reverberates through almost every part of the nation.

Controllers from Cleveland to Corpus Christi must reroute jets headed to

the region and put some in holding patterns.

In the windowless room of the New York control center, Barrett, at 56

one of the facility's most senior managers, scans the faces of the other

managers. Most pride themselves on their macho, can-do attitudes. Cool

under pressure. Calm during the worst. But this . . . who has prepared

for this? In the dim light, Barrett sees that they're looking at him

strangely, as though they can't believe what he's saying.

One controller begins to sob and shake. ''I don't understand how come

I'm reacting like this,'' the controller says. It reminds Barrett of the

traumatized troops he saw as a photojournalist in Vietnam.

You're scared, Barrett thinks, but he can't afford to be. He needs to

concentrate. To focus. But his phone! It won't stop ringing. Everyone

wants to know what's going on, including his wife, Denise. She asks

about their daughter.

''I don't have time to talk to you,'' Barrett tells her. ''Just call and

find out if she's OK.''

The white board

At the FAA's command center in Herndon, attention shifts from the

weather maps and the radar displays.

The new focus: a white dry-erase board propped at the front of the room.

On it, staffers have begun to scribble the call letters of every flight

that controllers around the nation fear might be in the hands of


Weather experts and the specialists who normally work on reducing flight

delays have been drafted to investigate. They badger airlines to find

out whether anyone knows what's happening aboard a number of flights. On

this day, the routine glitches of the air traffic system -- a missed

radio call, even a pilot who seems uncooperative -- raise suspicions.

Unless a controller or airline official can assure them the glitch is

simply routine -- that the captain is responding and everyone is safe --

the flight's letters won't be crossed out.

The phone bridges between air traffic facilities have become emergency

hotlines of sorts, and the reports of possible hijackings -- many of

them sketchy -- flow at a frenetic pace.

As Sliney, the operation's manager, moves around the room, a handful of

air traffic specialists follow. Together, they have decades of

experience, and no one hesitates to share an opinion. But without good

information, Sliney knows that any decision might be risky. Amid the

shouts and chatter and conflicting reports, he reminds himself: Don't

jump to conclusions. Sort it out.

Now, during a massive conference call among air traffic facilities,

officials in Herndon learn about a third jet that might be in the hands

of hijackers: American Airlines Flight 77, bound for Los Angeles.

The jet departed from Washington's Dulles International Airport. It

stopped talking to controllers somewhere near the Ohio-Kentucky border.

Moments later, it disappeared from radar. Its call letters join the list

on the white board -- a list that will eventually swell to 11.

But why? What is this about? Across the nation, controllers and airline

and aviation officials struggle to understand.

These weren't typical hijackings. Terrorists weren't seeking political

asylum or a trip to Havana. They were using the two jets as guided

missiles. They meant to hit the World Trade Center. No question about


Most of the pilots in the air don't know what has happened. Or why. How

could they? Officials on the ground are still trying to make sense of


Pilots have always been trained to cooperate with terrorists, to do

whatever they want in order to save lives. That means a crew probably

won't fight back, at least not at first. And who knows how many other

flights have terrorists aboard?

Again, Sliney hears them: the words that came from Flight 11.

''We have some planes.''

9:15 a.m. 4,360 planes

Unprecedented decisions

From the moment air traffic managers McCormick and Barrett start to

clear the airspace over New York, government and airline officials

across the nation -- almost in unison -- begin to take similar,

unprecedented steps.

In Fort Worth, American operations managers huddle, talking breathlessly

about their options. They already have lost one flight. And now, Flight

77 has disappeared. Do they have a choice?

Manager Marquis' voice booms over the loudspeaker. ''Anything that

hasn't taken off in the Northeast,'' he says, ''don't take off.''

At the FAA's command center in Herndon, officials worry about what might

be unfolding. Maybe there's another wave of hijacked jets coming off the

West Coast. And what about the international flights?

The center halts takeoffs of all flights bound for New York and New

England. Then officials stop takeoffs for any flight headed to

Washington, D.C. Moments later, they freeze takeoffs headed to Los

Angeles, the destination of the two hijacked flights that crashed into

the Trade Center. Then to San Francisco.

The orders will keep hundreds of flights on the ground. As in surgery,

each step clamps shut another artery of the air traffic system.

But the moves aren't strong enough for some of the air traffic

specialists at the center, who bombard Sliney with advice.

''Just stop everything! Just stop it!''

The words ring true to Sliney. It doesn't matter who said them -- with

the noise in the room, it's hard even to know. But stopping everything,

he thinks. That makes sense.

At 9:25 a.m., with Flight 77 still unaccounted for, Sliney issues

another order that no one has ever given: full groundstop. No commercial

or private flight in the country is allowed to take off.

The decision is sweeping, but Sliney has no doubt he has made the right

call. And if he's wrong? At least he has erred on the side of safety. If

higher-ups want to second-guess him, so be it. He has left the agency

before to practice law, and he knows if he has to depart again -- if

someone thinks he's screwed up -- he can leave with no regrets.

What he doesn't know -- what no one knows -- is how crucial this order

to ground planes will prove when controllers are asked later to clear

the skies.

9:25 a.m. 4,452 planes

Watch and wait

In the New York control center, Bruce Barrett wonders what lies ahead.

Scores of overseas flights are heading to New York. Though many are

hours from landing, rerouting them from the now-closed airspace will be

far more difficult than clearing the skies over the area had been.

Over land, controllers can see jets on radar and reach them by radio.

But those tools are useless beyond a 200-mile band near the shoreline.

The New York center's oceanic controllers must use a complicated system

to guide jets. They estimate a jet's position and issue commands to a

private company, which relays them to the jet. If the jet doesn't follow

a command, controllers might never know.

Barrett already has told the oceanic supervisor to turn every jet away

from U.S. airspace. The primary option: Canada.

''Are you sure this is where we want to go?'' the supervisor asked.

Yes, he was certain. But now, he learns that Canadian authorities are

not. An official there tells the supervisor that Canada cannot accept

all the arrivals streaming across the North Atlantic.

''Just be emphatic,'' Barrett tells the supervisor, ''and tell them

they're not coming here.''


In Herndon, Sliney considers his options. Do something. Make a decision.

That's the credo of the air traffic controller. Make a decision.

But what? What should he do? Already, they have stopped takeoffs

nationwide. What else can they do? Land every plane?

Throughout the morning, few had agreed what the right move was.

Officials in Herndon initially questioned whether managers in New York

had overstepped their authority when they cleared the airspace there.

But all of the moves had proved right. And now, a consensus is building:

They should land every plane.

Then, just before 9:30 a.m., a report comes from a controller at

Washington Dulles International Airport. She has a jet on radar, heading

toward Washington and without a transponder signal to identify it. It's

flying fast, she says: almost 500 mph. And it's heading straight for the

heart of the city. Could it be American Flight 77?

The FAA warns the Secret Service. Fighter jets from Langley Air Force

Base in Virginia race toward Washington. They won't get there in time.

'Get to the nearest airport'

On his way to the office in Fort Worth, Don Carty, American's CEO, talks

on his cellphone. Flight 77 has vanished, he is told.

He was at home when Flight 11 hit the Trade Center. The TV in the

kitchen was on. ''Could that be your airplane?'' his wife asked. Her

face went pale.

Carty, 55, told her no. No, of course not; it couldn't have been. But

even he didn't believe what he was saying. By the time Carty reaches the

office, a jet is bearing down on Washington. Is it Flight 77? A

groundstop will keep flights from taking off. But what about the ones in

the air? he wonders.

At the airline's operations center in Fort Worth, vice president Arpey

takes charge. ''I think we better get everything on the deck,'' Arpey

says. What the hell am I doing? he thinks, but Carty concurs when he

arrives minutes later.

''Do it,'' he says, and Arpey puts the order out to land every American


At United headquarters in Elk Grove, Ill., operations head Studdert

issues a similar order: ''Tell them to get to the nearest airport they


Before this day, no airline has ordered all of its planes from the sky.

'Where's it going?'

At FAA headquarters, less than a half-mile from the White House and

Capitol, Dave Canoles paces before a speakerphone.

The head of air traffic investigations, Canoles has set up phone

connections with air traffic facilities. As different regions come on

the line, the reports of suspicious planes accumulate. We might be at

war by afternoon, Canoles thinks. The FAA had better be ready. Already,

some air traffic centers had considered evacuating. Canoles told them to

stay put.

Now, about 9:35 a.m., he and others on the conference call listen as an

official watching a radarscope tracks the progress of the jet heading

for Washington.

Canoles sends an investigator who works for him to an adjoining office

with a view to the west. ''See if you can spot it,'' he tells him.

''Six miles from the White House,'' a voice on the phone says.

Canoles glances outside, through a window facing north. He wonders if he

and his co-workers are in danger. At 500 mph, the jet is traveling a

mile every seven seconds.

''Five miles from the White House.''

No way the FAA is a target, Canoles thinks. It can't be.

''Four miles from the White House.''

They'd never choose to hit us. No way.

''The aircraft is circling. It's turning away from the White House.''

Where? Where's it going?

Then: ''It's gone.''

In the adjoining office, the investigator spots smoke to the west of the


The jet has hit the Pentagon. The time: 9:38 a.m.

'Order everyone to land'

For the last 30 minutes, since the second Trade Center tower was hit,

Sliney has considered bringing every flight down. Now, the manager in

charge of the nation's air traffic system is certain.

He has no time to consult with FAA officials in Washington.

The skies are filled with guided missiles, he thinks. Filled with them.

The words he cannot shake have proved true. The hijackers did have more


''Order everyone to land! Regardless of destination!'' Sliney shouts.

Twenty feet away, his boss, Linda Schuessler, simply nods. She had

organized the command center earlier that day, trying to create order

from the chaos so Sliney could focus on what had to be done.

''OK, let's get them on the ground!'' Sliney booms.

Within seconds, specialists pass the order on to facilities across the

country. For the first time in history, the government has ordered every

commercial and private plane from the sky.

9:45 a.m. 3,949 planes

A misunderstanding

In Washington, FAA Administrator Jane Garvey and her deputy, Monte

Belger, have been moving back and forth between a secret operations

center and their offices.

Throughout the morning, staffers have kept Garvey and Belger apprised of

Sliney's decisions.

Now, they tell them of the order to clear the skies. With little

discussion, the FAA leaders approve.

Minutes later, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta calls from a

bunker beneath the White House, where he has joined Vice President

Cheney. Belger explains that the FAA plans to land each plane at the

closest airport, regardless of its destination.

Mineta concurs. FAA staffers, following the conversation over the

speakerphone with Belger, pump their fists. Then the conversation sours.

Mineta asks exactly what the order means.

Belger says pilots will retain some discretion. All the FAA deputy means

is that under long-standing aviation regulations, pilots always have

some discretion in the event of an emergency aboard their aircraft. But

the secretary assumes the FAA is not being tough enough. ''F--- pilot

discretion,'' Mineta says. ''Monte, bring down all the planes.''

Ready for a fight

Aboard United Flight 890 over the Pacific, Capt. Hosking and another

pilot, Doug Price, wait anxiously for news.

A third pilot, ''Flash'' Blackman, sleeps in the bunkroom in the cockpit

of the 747, unaware of what's unfolding.

''Why don't we just let him sleep?'' Hosking suggests. Price, set for

the next break, agrees.

''I couldn't go to sleep if I wanted to,'' Hosking says.

The message about the hijackings arrived only minutes ago, but the two

already have decided: Hijackers are aboard their flight.

They don't know that for sure. But they decide to believe it, if only to

keep the jet safe. For years, they had been instructed to cooperate with

hijackers. No longer. This time, they won't give up without a fight, not

when they know someone might try to hijack the jet.

Quickly, they wedge their bags between a jump seat and the flimsy

cockpit door. The door opens inward and, with the suitcases there, no

one can budge it. Not without a lot of effort.

And if someone does manage to get through the cockpit door?

Price will be waiting as Hosking flies the jet. He has the cockpit's

hatchet-sized crash ax in hand, along with orders to use it.

''If someone tries to come in that door, I don't want you to hurt him,''

Hosking says. ''Kill him.''

No one sure if hijackers were on board

Crews armed themselves with knives, wine bottles. Aboard Delta Flight

1989, Capt. Paul Werner learns of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks from

his cockpit radio. The time: about 9:15 a.m.

Werner, 54, figures the planes that hit the World Trade Center must be

small ones -- not passenger jets like the Boeing 767 he commands.

He has no idea what the FBI and air traffic controllers suspect: that

terrorists plan to hijack his flight next.

Shortly after the second attack on the Trade Center at 9:03 a.m., FBI

agents called an air traffic facility in Ohio that was tracking Flight

1989. Watch what the Delta flight does, agents told controllers at

Cleveland Center.

Controllers there had already been watching.

Like the FBI, they realized that the Delta flight had taken off from

Boston just minutes after American Flight 11 and United Flight 175 --

the two jets that crashed into the Trade Center towers. The similarities

didn't end there.

All three jets were Boeing 767s.

All were bound for Los Angeles.

All were heavy with fuel.

On this day, as Werner flies west over Pennsylvania, the similarities

can't be dismissed.

Now about 9:30 a.m., controllers hear words that seem to confirm their

worst fears. They hear shouting as Flight 1989 approaches the Ohio

border. Then they hear a voice: ''Get out of there!'' Then what sounds

like a scuffle.

Minutes later, a new voice, this one with a heavy accent: ''Ladies and

gentlemen, here it's the captain. Please sit down. Keep remaining

sitting. We have a bomb aboard.''

No one who hears those words believes they are coming from Werner. Not

with such a heavy accent. No way. Rather, the transmission seems to be

from a hijacker who unwittingly spoke over the radio when he meant to

address passengers.

Officials at Cleveland Center rush word to Washington: Hijackers have

another flight.

At the Federal Aviation Administration's command center in Herndon, Va.,

Delta Flight 1989 joins a growing list of suspicious jets. Some of their

flight numbers will be scrawled on a white dry-erase board throughout

the morning. Eventually, the list will grow to 11.

One, a TWA flight, refuses to land in Pittsburgh and wants to fly on

toward Washington. Another, a Midwest Express flight, disappears from

radar over West Virginia. And three jets over the Atlantic Ocean are

sending out distress signals, the Coast Guard reports.

Top managers at the FAA's command center fear the worst: Jets all over

the country -- including some over the oceans -- are being hijacked. One

after another.

And why shouldn't they believe that, after all that has happened already

this morning?

After the first two jets were hijacked and flown into the World Trade

Center, FAA managers had directed all planes out of New York airspace.

Next they had stopped takeoffs nationwide. Minutes after a third jet hit

the Pentagon, they had ordered controllers nationwide to undertake the

most massive effort in aviation history: clearing the skies.

Now they face an unprecedented challenge. They must land as fast as

possible almost 4,500 planes in or headed toward U.S. airspace. Their

goal is to bring 350,000 passengers and crew safely to the ground. But

the order carries with it another prospect.

By ordering all jets to land, controllers may discover more planes that

don't respond.

Jets that are in the hands of terrorists.

Jets the U.S. military might have to shoot down.

No one has ever contemplated such a scenario. Not since the days of the

Cold War have controllers even simulated landing the fleet. The plan

then was called SCATANA, an acronym for ''security control of air

traffic and navigation aids.'' Its intent: to empty the skies and give

control of the nation's airspace to the military in the event of an

attack by the Soviet Union.

Now, controllers must do much the same thing but with one major

difference: During the Cold War, the threat would have been a Soviet

fighter or missile. Today, a passenger jet might hold the enemy, and any

plane could be a missile.

During the frantic hours after the order to ground the fleet is issued,

controllers will reroute at least 1,300 flights. They will land 48

planes, on average, each minute. Another hijacked jet will crash in

Pennsylvania after passengers fight terrorists who took over the jet. A

SWAT team will await the landing of another.

These minutes -- from the time the order is issued until noon Eastern

Time -- will prove the most critical of the day for controllers, air

traffic officials, pilots and crews. They need to know quickly if each

flight is safe.

Each missed radio call and every odd transmission will prompt them to

worry: How many other flights have been hijacked?

9:45 a.m. ET:

3,949 planes in the air

Mistake realized


Controllers at Cleveland Center can't raise United Flight 93, a Boeing

757 flying over Ohio.

Perhaps the strange radio transmissions -- the reference to a bomb and

the heavy accent of a ''captain'' -- hadn't come from the Delta flight.

Maybe Capt. Werner's Flight 1989 is fine after all.

At least, that's the way it seems to the controllers. The United flight

had been just 25 miles ahead of the Delta flight when the radio

transmissions came through -- close enough to account for the confusion.

Then, at 9:35 a.m., the United jet had climbed unexpectedly and turned

back, over Ohio, toward the Delta flight. Then . . .

Silence. The United flight stopped talking.

It must be United that's hijacked.

When controllers ordered Werner to change course to avoid Flight 93, he

had complied quickly. Yes, Delta Flight 1989 must be fine.

But now . . . what's this?

The Delta flight wants to land in Cleveland? And the captain's request

comes before he can know that the FAA wants every flight down. On this

day, the fact that the pilot requests to be rerouted before he is

ordered to land seems suspicious. Why the urgency?

Controllers don't know that Delta officials, also concerned about the

flight, have ordered Werner to land in Cleveland. They continue to send

messages to Werner. In code, they ask him if all is OK. Yes, he responds

time and again. He doesn't know why they're so worried.

And now, preparing for landing, Werner has more important things to

worry about. He was too close to Cleveland when he got the order to

land. So he loops back, over Michigan, and heads toward the city.

As the jet begins its descent, another message comes through. Busy,

Werner fails to respond.

On the ground, controllers in Cleveland Center grow alarmed. Why didn't

he respond? Have both jets -- the United and the Delta flights -- been


As a SWAT team gathers on the tarmac in Cleveland, controllers and

airline dispatchers around the nation continue to contact hundreds of


Each receives the warning: Terrorists might be aboard.

Protect the cockpit

The steak knives. Get the steak knives. And the crash ax. And wine! Full

bottles of wine.

Aboard hundreds of flights, pilots and crews begin a quiet scramble for

makeshift weapons. Just minutes before, they heard radio reports or

received word through their cockpit computers about the hijackings and

Trade Center crashes.

What they don't know, what no one on the ground can tell them, is

whether their flights may be next.

The pilots need to protect the cockpit. But with what?

They don't want to alarm passengers. More important, they don't want

terrorists to know that they know, to know that they'll be waiting, even

if it is with only cutlery, a cockpit hatchet and a year-old chardonnay.

Over the Atlantic Ocean, the crew aboard United Flight 963 learns of the

attacks from the BBC. Four hours remain on the flight from Munich to

Washington, D.C. Two off-duty pilots are summoned to the cockpit and

stationed outside. One tucks an unopened bottle of wine beneath a

blanket. A flight attendant rolls the beverage cart in front of the

cockpit door.

Aboard American Flight 71, now over Greenland, the captain tells flight

attendants to gather steak knives from first class. The knives seem

hopelessly inadequate, especially if hijackers have guns, but what

choice do they have?

On American Flight 84 from Frankfurt to Chicago, Marcia Wilks, a flight

attendant for more than 30 years, is dispatched to the back of the jet.

Her job: to look for terrorists. On her way, she gathers the other

crewmembers to tell them what she knows.

''We're not going home to Chicago today,'' she says.

A spunky Boston native, Wilks joined American in the late 1960s, bored

with typing briefs for a lawyer and intrigued by the planes that flew

past her office window. She wanted to see the world, and what better way

than to fly? She even had a feel for the job; her father once worked for

an airline.

Now, she resolves that on this day she will behave no differently from

any other. Maintain service. That's what they always say during

training. Maintain service.

When the pilot receives word to fly to Toronto instead of Chicago, he

tells passengers the jet will have to stop in Canada because a

crewmember is sick.

''How long will we be there?'' a passenger asks Wilks. ''Are we going to

miss our connections?'' another asks.

''It won't be long. Don't worry,'' she says over and over. Each time,

she feels shame.

Oh my God, what you don't know, she thinks. You don't know what's

happened to the world. Wait until we open the door.

She can't shake the thoughts as she lies down for a break in the back of

the jet. She closes her eyes, but she doesn't sleep. She prays for the

world she expects to find when -- if -- her flight lands.

What will it be like?

9:55 a.m. 3,520 planes

What's the target?

>From aboard United Flight 93, a handful of passengers contact family and

friends by cellphone. What they learn -- that three jets have already

been hijacked and crashed into buildings -- will prompt one of the most

heroic efforts of the day. Within moments, they will rush the cockpit to

try to regain control of the jet.

On the ground, controllers know nothing of their plans. They became

convinced the flight was hijacked when it turned back toward the east

over Ohio. But they have no idea where the hijackers plan to take the


At first, the jet flew toward Pittsburgh -- so low to the ground that

controllers at Pittsburgh International Airport fled. They feared the

jet might be headed for them.

Then Flight 93 turned south. Toward Washington. Toward the White House?

The Capitol? Or maybe Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland?

In the FAA's command center in Herndon, workers are concerned. ''Are we

secure here?'' one asks Ben Sliney, the man in charge of overseeing the

nation's airspace.

Sliney answers quickly and firmly. ''Yes. We've taken measures to

increase our security.''

In truth, he has no idea. He sidles back to where officials are gathered

around his desk. ''What have we done to increase security?'' he asks


But like the others who remain at their posts, Sliney and controllers

around the nation realize their safety is secondary. Some try to steal

away to make calls home, but they know they must continue to work.

Thousands of jets remain in the sky; more could be in danger.

In Cleveland Center, controllers still wonder why the Delta captain

failed to respond to their coded message. In Washington, the fears are

even more pronounced. As they watch on radar as Flight 93 heads toward

them, they can't help worrying: What is its target?

10:05 a.m. 2,985 planes

Shoot it down?

At United Airline's crisis center, a solitary blip glows red on a big

screen. It transfixes Hank Krakowski, the airline's flight operations

director. Although the airline still has hundreds of flights in the air,

officials at the airline's headquarters outside Chicago choose to

illuminate only the path of Flight 93 on the status board.

Are they gonna have to shoot it down? he wonders.

A 737 captain who flies vintage fighter planes at air shows, Krakowski,

47, isn't the only one wondering. Military jets already are closing on

the Boeing 767 as it barrels toward Washington.

Then, at 10:06 a.m., the blip stops moving over Pennsylvania.

''Latitude and longitude,'' Krakowski snaps. The coordinates put the jet

at Johnstown, Pa., about 120 miles from the nation's capital.

Krakowski picks up the phone and is patched through to the Johnstown

airport. No answer.

No answer? How can there not be an answer?

A staffer finds the cellphone number for the airport manager. Krakowski

tries again. ''We might have a plane down in your area there,'' he says

calmly. ''See anything unusual?''

The answer is the one Krakowski fears. A black column of smoke rises

from a field due south of the airport, near the town of Shanksville, the

manager tells him. Krakowski feels numb as he looks at the screen. We

just watched one of our airplanes crash.

But at least the jet hadn't reached Washington. No one would have to

shoot it down.

10:30 a.m. 1,505 planes

Flight quarantined

On a remote taxiway at Hopkins International Airport in Cleveland, Delta

Flight 1989 is quarantined.

Since early reports that a bomb, then hijackers, might be aboard, Delta

CEO Leo Mullin, 58, had nervously tracked the flight from the company's

headquarters in Atlanta. Every five minutes, a new report came in. None

seemed clear.

Still, the flight landed uneventfully in Cleveland at 10:10 a.m.

But what now? Mullin wonders.

For two hours, passengers and crew will stay aboard the jet. Cautiously,

federal investigators will talk with Capt. Werner through an open

cockpit window. Finally, they will board the flight and interview its

passengers and crew.

Not until midafternoon will Mullin learn the flight never was in danger.

No bomb, no hijackers.

On United Flight 890, Capt. Jim Hosking remains more than an hour from

North America, more than an hour from knowing whether terrorists are

somewhere in the cabin. The message about the hijackings had come an

hour earlier, while the flight was over the Pacific. He had been headed

from Japan to Los Angeles, also the destination for three of the

hijacked flights.

Then came orders to fly to Canada, where some 250 flights have been

rerouted. Now, he's bound for Vancouver, British Columbia. He elects to

tell the passengers nothing.


They won't notice where they're going anyway, he reasons. Not until the

flight is close to landing. . . . Unless they're looking at the maps.


On the in-flight TVs, passengers can tune to a channel that shows the

course of the flight. Hosking pulls the circuit breaker to disconnect

the channel. Other pilots aboard other flights do the same. Passengers

will be blind to where their flights are headed. As far as they know,

nothing is amiss.

10:45 a.m. 1,081 planes

Deploying the snowplows

At one of the world's busiest airports, Chicago's O'Hare International,

passengers who came expecting to catch flights now crowd the turnstiles

at the airport's train station, trying to leave.

The lines stretch so long that Patrick Harney, a city transportation

official, calls the transit authority and pleads with officials there to

let passengers board for free. ''A lot of people just want to get out,''

he explains.

Many aren't even certain why they're being herded from the airport so

fast. After the first Trade Center attack, the airport authority shut

off the TVs in every concourse. The practice was adopted years ago, at

the request of airline officials who knew news of any crash would

unnerve travelers.
But airport officials are watching. As more details stream in -- the

second tower of the Trade Center fell just minutes ago -- authorities

begin a response that seems more befitting a blizzard than a terrorist


Workers stand ready to set up 2,000 cots set aside for travelers

stranded during snowstorms. Outside, along the airport's edges, O'Hare's

187 snowplows are deployed as roadblocks. They encircle the base of the

control tower, their blades pointed toward anything that might approach.


11 a.m. 923 planes

Rumors and relief

When is this going to end?

And what more can she do?

Throughout the morning, FAA Administrator Jane Garvey has witnessed the

most painful hours in the agency's history.


She and her deputy, Monte Belger, approved orders to close airspace over

major cities. Then they approved stopping takeoffs nationwide. When

Flight 77 hit the Pentagon at 9:38 a.m., they seconded the decision of

managers in Herndon to order every flight to land.


But the reports of more suspicious flights didn't stop.


A bomb is reported aboard a United Airlines jet that just landed in

Rockford, Ill. Another jet disappears from radar and might have crashed

in Kentucky.


The reports are so serious that Garvey notifies the White House that

there has been another crash. Only later does she learn the reports are



Now, almost 1,000 planes remain in the air. And at FAA headquarters in

Washington, Garvey and Belger try to focus on what to do next. Still,

they can't avoid another thought: Whoever hijacked the four jets that

crashed somehow got past the airport security forces they oversee.


What could we have done? Garvey thinks. What did we miss?


In Belger's office, the phone rings. It's the Herndon command center.

For once it's good news. Every commercial flight in U.S. airspace --

about a quarter of the planes still in the air -- is within 40 miles of

its destination. The others are still over the oceans, and many are

heading toward Canada. But at least all the flights over the United

States are accounted for and complying with controllers.


''Thank God,'' Garvey says.


For the first time this morning, she takes a moment alone to call her

family in Massachusetts.

11:30 a.m. 758 planes

A battle won

It seems small consolation, but Ben Sliney can't help thinking it: At

least no one has run into anything in a couple hours.

When he accepted the job overseeing the nation's airspace a few months

earlier, Sliney wanted to be sure he had the power to do the job as he

saw fit.

''What is the limit of my authority?'' he asked the man who had promoted

him. ''Unlimited,'' he was told.

Weeks later, as Sliney orders every flight to land on his first day on

the job, he recalls the conversation.

He expects questions and complaints from his colleagues. But there are


At this time on most days, the screen at the command center is choked

with so many green flight markers that the East Coast is almost

obscured. Now, Sliney watches as a mere hundred commercial and private

flights fly over the lower 48 states.

The skies seem manageable.

Then, an aide tells him about a serious car accident in Georgia. The

pilot of a rescue helicopter is begging for permission to pick up

someone who is critically injured.

''If it was my family lying in a wreck on the highway, I would hope you

would let him go,'' the aide tells him.

All morning, Sliney has refused to make exceptions. Three times he

ordered a jet carrying Attorney General John Ashcroft, who was heading

to Washington, to land. I can't be sure who's on that jet, Sliney

reasoned. The nation's top law enforcement official won't make it back

to the capitol until afternoon.

Sliney knew that decision could have political consequences. But this

one could mean life or death. Do I have the authority to do this?

Sliney knows he can't wait. He tells the aide to give permission to

launch the helicopter. There's been enough death today. Maybe he can

save a life.

Noon 669 planes

A safe landing

Capt. Hosking begins to direct his jet into Vancouver. Though he's only

minutes from landing, he still isn't sure all is safe. If hijackers have

been waiting until the jet is close to its destination, something still

may happen.

But what can he do? The cockpit door has been barricaded and his first

officer still has the crash ax out.

As the snow-covered peaks of the Canadian Rockies come into view, one of

the flight attendants calls the cockpit. ''Where are we going?'' Even

she doesn't know.

''I can't tell you,'' Hosking says. ''And don't call back anymore.''

They land just after noon Eastern Time. Hosking taxis the jet to a

remote runway near other airliners rerouted to Vancouver.

Not until he shuts off the engines does he reach for his handset. He

pushes the button that turns on the jet's public-address system, but he

doesn't say a word.

What can I say? How do I tell them?

He recalls how he felt when he heard the news. How he wondered what had

happened, how none of it had made any sense. He still isn't sure what to

tell those in the back of the jet. He knows so little himself. What he's

sure of is that they've made it. Perhaps that's what's most important.

Perhaps that's the way to start.

They are safe, and so are thousands of other flights that have made it

to the ground. Yes, that's what they should know. That's what he will

tell them first.

His voice quavers: ''The experienced fliers in the cabin know we're not

in Los Angeles. . . . ''

On this day, it is the best he can offer.