[star]The American Mind[star]

June 18, 2004

Tracking the Planes

The Sep. 11 Commission isn't a complete waste despite the partisan circuses some of their public hearings turned out to be. Here's what we've learned about the U.S. air defense on that fateful day:


  • The country isn't blanketed with radar coverage.
    Shortly after 9:00 a.m., Indianapolis Center started notifying other agencies that American 77 was missing and had possibly crashed. At 9:08 a.m., Indianapolis Center contacted Air Force Search and Rescue at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, and told them to look out for a downed aircraft. Indianapolis Center never saw Flight 77 turn around. By the time it reappeared in primary radar coverage, controllers had either stopped looking for the aircraft because they thought it had crashed or were looking toward the west. Ö American 77 traveled undetected for 36 minutes on a course heading due east for Washington, D.C.

  • Air traffic controllers and the military never expected a situation where more than one airplane was hijacked simultaneously. The Air Force planned to defend against fighters and bombers attacking from outside the U.S. not passenger planes attacking from within. While controllers were trying to find American 11, the first plane to hit the World Trade Center, United Airlines Flight 175, the second plane to his the WTC, switched its transponder code twice without notice. The same controller that was suppose to watch United 175 was also to watch American 11.

    Furthermore, with such a novel attack, the FAA was didn't even ask for military help about United 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania. Twelve minutes after the Pentagon was hit and over one hour since American 11 hit the WTC the Command Center finally "suggested that someone at headquarters should decide whether to request military assistance" about United 93. Thirteen minutes earlier, Cleveland Center which was watching United 93 offered to call a local military base. Fortunately, heroes on that flight forced the plane to crash in a field instead of Washington, D.C.

  • The FAA didn't have anyone watching the news. At 8:46 a.m. American 11 hit the WTC. At 9:03 a.m. United 175 then slammed into the WTC. At 9:08 a.m., over twenty minutes after the first crash, " Indianapolis Center contacted Air Force Search and Rescue at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, and told them to look out for a downed aircraft." Either no one knew there was at least one incident in New York City, or no one put two and two together. By 9:42 a.m. the FAA's Command Center "learned from television news reports that a plane had struck the Pentagon."

  • There was no communication between regional FAA centers. All information went to the Command Center in Virginia. Think of a spoke and wheel. It appears Indianapolis Center didn't know American 11 was missing or hijacked. There was no central flight data repository where Boston Center could let all other centers know there was a problem with one of their planes. It then didn't pique controllers' suspicion when American 77, the plane that hit the Pentagon, changed its flight plan and disappeared from radar. It took over a half hour for the FAA to gather and think about the two crashed planes and the one missing one. The agency ordered a "nationwide ground stop." American hit the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m., twelve minutes after the stop order.

"Tracking the Flights Hijacked on 9/11" [via Hit & Run]

Posted by Sean Hackbarth in Terrorism at 10:35 PM | Comments (0)