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On June 17, 2004, the commission's staff presented a moment-by-moment reconstruction of the hijackings from the perspective of air traffic controllers and the military.
|American Airlines Flight 11 - Boston to Los Angeles
8:14 Last routine radio communication; likely takeover
8:19 Flight attendant notifies AA of hijacking
8:21 Transponder is turned off
8:23 AA attempts to contact the cockpit
8:25 Boston Center aware of hijacking
8:38 Boston Center notifies NEADS of hijacking
8:46 NEADS scrambles Otis fighter jets in search of AA 11
8:46:40 AA 11 crashes into 1 WTC (North Tower)
8:53 Otis fighter jets airborne
9:16 AA headquarters aware that Flight 11 has crashed into WTC
9:21 Boston Center advises NEADS that AA 11 is airborne heading for Washington
9:24 NEADS scrambles Langley fighter jets in search of AA 11
From 9/11 Commission report
The report says that American Flight 11 took off from Boston at 8:00 a.m. At 8:24, air traffic controllers heard this transmission from the plane:
"We have some planes. Just stay quiet, and you'll be okay. We are returning to the airport."
The controller didn't understand the words "We have some planes," so the air traffic control center in Boston "pulled the tape" of the phone call to see if they could decipher what was said.
A few seconds later, another transmission came across:
"Nobody move," it said. "Everything will be okay. If you try to make any moves, you'll endanger yourself and the airplane. Just stay quiet."
The controller knew at that point that the plane was being hijacked.
The staff report says that under FAA protocol, air traffic controllers were supposed to let their supervisors know of a hijacking. The report of a hijacking would be communicated up through layers of management to FAA headquarters in Washington. Headquarters would tell the military. The military would get permission from the Secretary of Defense to launch a fighter plane. The fighter plane was supposed to follow the hijacked plane at a discreet distance to keep track of it - not to shoot it down.
The commission found that air traffic controllers for American 11 did alert headquarters - but they also broke with protocol and called the Northeast Air Defense Sector, known as NEADS. The commission heard audiotape of that call:
FAA: Hi. Boston Center TMU. We have a problem here. We have a hijacked aircraft headed towards New York, and we need you guys to - we need someone to scramble some F-16s or something up there, to help us out.
NEADS: Is this real-world or exercise?
FAA: No, this is not an exercise, not a test.
According to the report, "F-15 fighters were ordered scrambled at 8:46 from Otis Air Force Base. But NEADS did not know where to send the alert fighter aircraft. 'I don't know where I'm scrambling these guys to. I need a direction, a destination.'"
Continued: part 3