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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Officials at Cleveland Center rush word to Washington: Hijackers have
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
And why shouldn't they believe that, after all that has happened already
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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?
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
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
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
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
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,''
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
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
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
''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
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.