Tape of 9/11 Controllers Was Destroyed
By LESLIE MILLER
Associated Press Writer
May 7, 2004, 8:10 AM EDT
WASHINGTON -- Air traffic controllers who handled two of the hijacked flights on Sept. 11, 2001, recorded their experiences shortly after the planes crashed into the World Trade Center but a supervisor destroyed the tape, government investigators said Thursday.
A report by Transportation Department Inspector General Kenneth Mead said the manager for the New York-area air traffic control center asked the controllers to make the recordings a few hours after the crashes in belief they would be important for law enforcement.
Investigators never heard it. Sometime between December 2001 and February 2002, an unidentified Federal Aviation Administration quality assurance manager crushed the cassette case in his hand, cut the tape into small pieces and threw them away in multiple trash cans, the report said.
"We were told that nobody ever listened to, transcribed or duplicated the tape," Mead said in the report sent to Sen. John McCain. The Arizona Republican asked the inspector general to look into how well the agency was cooperating with the independent panel investigating the attacks.
Neither manager told anyone outside the center -- including their superiors and law enforcement officials -- about the tape's existence, the report said. The Sept. 11 commission learned of the tape during interviews with New York air traffic control center personnel between September and October.
The destruction occurred even though the FAA sent a directive three days after the hijackings: "Retain and secure until further notice ALL Administrative/Operational data and records. ... If a question arises whether or not you should retain the data, RETAIN IT."
Pentagon says 911 Interceptors flew:
TOO FAR, TOO SLOW, TOO LATE
It happens all the time. When a small private plane recently entered the 23-mile restricted ring around the U.S. Capitol, two F-16 interceptors were immediately launched from Andrews Air Force Base, just 10 miles away. In a similar episode, a pair of F-16 “Fighting Falcons” on 15-minute strip alert was airborne from Andrews just 11 minutes after being notified by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) of a Cessna straying towards the White House. [AP Nov11/03; CNN June20/02]
These were well-practiced routines. Between September 2000 and June 2001 the Pentagon launched fighters on 67 occasions to escort wayward aircraft. [FAA news release Aug/9/02; AP Aug13/02]
But on Sept 11, 2001, NORAD and the FAA ignored routine procedures and strict regulations. In response to a national emergency involving hijacked airliners as dangerous as cruise missiles, interceptors launched late from distant bases flew to defend their nation at a fraction of their top speeds. [NORAD news release Sept. 18/01]
WHAT NORAD KNEW
A recently resurfaced NORAD news bulletin released seven days after Sept. 11 explains that America’s aerial defenders were slow to counter rapidly developing air attacks because they didn’t hear from the FAA that American Airlines Flight 11 had been hijacked until 8:40 that fateful morning. [NORAD news release Sept. 18/01]
But at the National Military Command Center (NMCC) in the basement of the Pentagon, Air Force staff officers monitoring every inch of airspace over the northeastern seaboard would have caught that first hijacking when Flight 11’s identification transponder stopped transmitting at 8:20 - automatically triggering a radar alarm.
With their capability to monitor developing “situations” by tapping into military and civilian radars, U.S. military commanders would have also seen Flight 175 turn abruptly south 25 minutes later – just as they had watched on radar in October 1999 when pro golfer Payne Stewart's Learjet abruptly departed its flight path while enroute o Dallas. [CNN Oct26/1999]
In that legendary intercept, a fighter jet out of Tyndall, Florida was diverted from a training flight to escort the Lear, whose pilot had become incapacitated, trapping Stewart in the stratosphere. An F-16 was reportedly sitting off the left wingtip of Payne’s pilotless business jet within 19 minutes of the FAA alert. [ABC News Oct25/99]
If NORAD had been as quick to scramble or divert airborne fighters on Sept. 11, two “anti-terrorist” F-15’s on armed alert could have been sent south from Otis Air Force Base on Cape Cod. Flying at full afterburners without edging over the Atlantic to disperse their sonic footprint, two of the fastest fighters on the planet might have intercepted Flight 11 over the Hudson Rive six minutes from the World Trade Center..
Even launching on the FAA’s first alert, the Mach 2.5 fighters could have reached Flight 175 before it struck the South Tower.
NO HURRY SAYS NORAD
Instead, in a stunning admission that received little press scrutiny at the time, NORAD noted that for all interceptions flown against the hijackers on Sept. 11, “Flight times are calculated at 9 miles per minute or .9 Mach.” In other words, every interception flown by the world’s hottest air-combat aircraft was flown at less than a third of the planes’ top speed.
A Defense Department manual insists, "In the event of a hijacking, the NMCC will be notified by the most expeditious means by the FAA.” To make this happen, the Federal Aviation Administration permanently posts a liaison officer in the Pentagon air defense room. [CJCSI 3610.01A, June1/01]
Yet, according to NORAD, after air traffic controllers realized that Flight 11 had been hijacked, 38 vital minutes passed before a pair of F-15’s were scrambled from Otis. As they lifted off, American Airlines Flight 11 struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center, 153 air miles away as a Falcon flies. [NORAD Sept. 18/01]
United Airlines Flight 175 was still 20 minutes out.
“The F-15 pilots flew ''like a scalded ape, topping 500 mph but were unable to catch up to the airliner,” Maj. Gen. Paul Weaver later told reporters. [St. Augustine Times Sept16/01]
Scalded apes? Airliners fly at 500 mph. An F-15 can fly almost four-times faster.
STEP ON IT
One of the Otis intercept pilots dubbed “Duff”, later lamented: "We've been over the flight a thousand times in our minds and I don't know what we could have done to get there any quicker."
For starters, he and his wingman could have tried pushing their twin throttles fully forward. Instead of flying two-and-a-half times faster than a bullet, “Nasty” and “Duff” drove their expensive air superiority fighters at a leisurely 447-mph – supposedly to intercept a Boeing 767 flying 43 mph faster! Utilizing only 27% power, the F-15’s were “eight minutes/71 miles” away, according to NORAD, when Flight 175 struck the South Tower with 56 souls and more than ten tons of fuel onboard. [Christian Science Monitor Mar8/02]