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Alhazmi and Almihdhar
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American Airlines Flight 77


Project: Complete 911 Timeline

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7:18 a.m.: Hijack Suspects Set Off Airport Alarms; Allowed to Board Anyway

Hijackers in a Dulles Airport, Washington, security checkpoint, from left to right: Nawaf Alhazmi gets searched, Khalid Almihdhar, and Hani Hanjour. This picture of Hanjour doesn't seem to have much resemblance to the thin Hanjour in other photos.
According to a security video apparently viewed by the 9/11 Commission, Flight 77 hijackers Majed Moqed and Khalid Almihdhar pass through a security checkpoint at Washington's Dulles International Airport. They are selected by the CAPPS program for closer inspection. While their carry-on bags fail to set off any alarms, both set off alarms when passing through the magnetometer. They are directed to a second magnetometer. Almihdhar passes, but Moqed fails again. He is subjected to a personal screening with a metal detection hand wand. This time he is cleared and he is permitted to pass through the checkpoint. The 9/11 Commission later concludes that Almihdhar's passport was “suspicious” and could have been linked to al-Qaeda upon inspection, but it has not been explained why or how. [9/11 Commission Report, 1/27/04; Baltimore Sun, 1/27/04]

7:35 a.m.: More Hijackers Have Checkpoint Problems; Allowed to Board Anyway

Hijacker brothers Salem (white shirt) and Nawaf Alhazmi (dark shirt) pass through security in Dulles Airport in Washington.
According to the 9/11 Commission's review of airport security footage, the remaining three Flight 77 hijackers pass through a security checkpoint at Dulles Airport. Hani Hanjour is selected for further inspection by the CAPPS program. His two carry-on bags fail to set off any alarms. One minute later, Nawaf Alhazmi and Salem Alhazmi enter the same checkpoint. They are selected for further inspection because one of them does not have photo identification nor is able to understand English and a security agent finds both of them suspicious. [San Francisco Chronicle, 7/23/04] Salem Alhazmi successfully clears the magnetometer, and he is permitted through the checkpoint. Nawaf Alhazmi sets off the alarms for both the first and second magnetometers. He is subsequently subjected to a personal screening with a metal detection hand wand. He finally passes. His shoulder strap carry-on bag is swiped by an explosive trace detector and returned without further inspection. The 9/11 Commission later concludes that the Alhazmi brothers' passports had suspicious indicators, and that they could have been linked to al-Qaeda upon closer inspection. [9/11 Commission Report, 1/27/04; Baltimore Sun, 1/27/04] To date, video footage of the Flight 77 hijackers has been released to the public, but none of the footage of other hijackers going through security has been.

(8:20 a.m.): Flight 77 Takes Off 10 Minutes Late

       Flight 77 departs Dulles International Airport near Washington, ten minutes after its 8:10 scheduled departure time. [CNN, 9/17/01; Washington Post, 9/12/01; Guardian, 10/17/01; 9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04; Associated Press, 8/19/02 (B)]

8:25 a.m.: Boston Flight Control Tells Other Centers About Hijack, but Not NORAD

       The Guardian reports that Boston flight control “notifies several air traffic control centers that a hijack is taking place.” But it does not notify NORAD for another 6-15 minutes, depending on the account. [Guardian, 10/17/01] However, the Indianapolis flight controller monitoring Flight 77 claims to not know about this or Flight 175's hijacking twenty minutes later at 8:56 a.m. Additionally, the flight controllers at New York City's La Guardia airport are never told about the hijacked planes and learn about them from watching the news. [Bergen Record, 1/4/04]

8:46 a.m.: Fighters Are Training over North Carolina; Not Recalled to Washington Until Much Later

       At the time of the first WTC crash, three F-16s assigned to Andrews Air Force Base, ten miles from Washington, are flying an air-to-ground training mission on a range in North Carolina, 207 miles away. Eventually they are recalled to Andrews, but they do not begin patrolling Washington until 10:45 a.m. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/02] F-16s can travel at a maximum speed of 1,500 mph. [Associated Press, 6/16/00] Traveling even at 1,100 mph (the speed NORAD Major General Larry Arnold says two fighters from Massachusetts travel toward Flight 175 [MSNBC, 9/23/01 (C); Slate, 1/16/02] ), at least one of the F-16s could have returned to Washington within ten minutes and started patrolling the skies well before 9:00 a.m.

8:50 a.m.: Last Radio Contact with Flight 77

       The last radio contact with Flight 77 is made when a pilot asks for clearance to fly higher. However, six minutes later, the plane fails to respond to a routine instruction. Presumably, it is hijacked during that time. Indianapolis flight control center is handling the plane by this time. [Guardian, 10/17/01; Boston Globe, 11/23/01; New York Times, 10/16/01; 9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04]

(8:54 a.m.): Flight 77 Veers Off Course

       Flight 77 from Washington begins to go off course over southern Ohio, turning to the southwest. [Washington Post, 9/12/01; Newsday, 9/23/01; 9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04]

(8:56 a.m.): Flight 77 Transponder Signal Disappears; NORAD Not Informed

       Flight 77's transponder signal is turned off at this time. [Guardian, 10/17/01; Boston Globe, 11/23/01; Newsday, 9/23/01] According to the 9/11 Commission, the Indianapolis flight controller in charge of the flight has watched it go off course and head southwest before the signal disappears. He looks for primary radar signals along its projected flight path as well as in the airspace where it has started to turn. He cannot find the plane. He tries contacting the plane but gets no answer. “ ‘American 77, Indy,’ the controller said, over and over. ‘American 77, Indy, radio check. How do you read?’ By 8:56 a.m., it was evident that Flight 77 was lost.” [New York Times, 10/16/01] The controller has not been told about any other hijacked planes. (Other centers have been notified about the Flight 11 hijacking more than 20 minutes earlier at 8:25 a.m. [Guardian, 10/17/01] ) He assumes Flight 77 has experienced electrical or mechanical failure. [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04] Apparently, American Airlines headquarters and the Pentagon's NMCC are notified that Flight 77 is off course with its radio and transponder not working, but NORAD is not notified at this time. [9/11 Commission Report, 1/27/04]

(8:56-9:05 a.m.): Flight 77 Disappears from Radar Screens

       According to the 9/11 Commission, “Radar reconstructions performed after 9/11 reveal that FAA radar equipment tracked [Flight 77] from the moment its transponder was turned off at 8:56 [am.].” However, for eight minutes and 13 seconds, this primary radar data is not displayed to Indianapolis flight controllers. “The reasons are technical, arising from the way the software processed radar information, as well as from poor primary radar coverage where American 77 was flying.” [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04] Apparently, a radar tower in West Virginia doesn't have primary radar. [Washington Post, 11/3/01] But the 9/11 Commission notes that other centers had primary radars that covered the missing areas, yet they weren't asked to do a primary radar search. [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04]

(After 8:56-9:24 a.m.): Pentagon Emergency Center Knows Flight 77 Is Hijacked; NORAD Not Notified?

       The New York Times reports, “During the hour or so that American Airlines Flight 77 [is] under the control of hijackers, up to the moment it struck the west side of the Pentagon, military officials in [the Pentagon's NMCC] [are] urgently talking to law enforcement and air traffic control officials about what to do.” [New York Times, 9/15/01 (C)] Yet, although the Pentagon's NMCC reportedly knows of the hijacking, NORAD reportedly is not notified until 9:24 a.m. by some accounts, and not notified at all by others. [NORAD, 9/18/01; 9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04]

(9:00 a.m.): Clarke Alerted to Crisis, Immediately Activates CSG

       Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is at a conference three blocks from the White House when a telephone call alerts him to the crisis. He runs to his car. He responds, “Activate the CSG on secure video. I'll be there in less than five.” The CSG is the Counterterrorism and Security Group, comprising the leaders of the government's counterterrorism and security agencies. Clarke hurriedly drives to the White House. [Clarke, 2004, pp 1]

(Before 9:00 a.m.): American Airlines Learns of Flight 77 Problems; Cancels All Flight Take Offs in the Northeast; NORAD Not Notified

       American Airlines headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas, learns that Flight 77 is not responding to radio calls, is not emitting a transponder signal, and flight control has lost its location since 8:56 a.m. [9/11 Commission Report, 1/27/04] According to the Wall Street Journal, a call from the FAA roughly says that Flight 77 has “turned off its transponder and turned around. Controllers [have] lost radio communications with the plane. Without hearing from anyone on the plane, American [doesn't] know its location.” Airline executive Gerard Arpey gives an order to stop all American flight take-offs in the Northeast. Within minutes, American gets word that United also has lost contact with a missing airliner (presumably Flight 175). When reports of the second WTC come through after 9:03 a.m., one manager recalls mistakenly shouting, “How did 77 get to New York and we didn't know it?” [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/01]

(After 9:00 a.m.): Indianapolis Flight Control Issues Alert to Look for Flight 77; FAA and NORAD Not Notified

       According to the 9/11 Commission, shortly after 9:00 a.m., Indianapolis flight control begins to notify other government agencies that American 77 is missing and has possibly crashed. For instance, at 9:08 a.m., Indianapolis contacts Air Force Search and Rescue at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, and tells them to look out for a downed aircraft. They also contact the West Virginia State Police, and ask whether they have any reports of a downed aircraft. However, they apparently do not notify the FAA or NORAD. [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04]

(9:00 a.m.): Northern Vigilance Exercise Canceled; False Radar Blips Purged from Radar Screens

A soldier monitors a NORAD radar screen.
Deep below Cheyenne Mountain at NORAD headquarters in Colorado, NORAD is at “full battle staff” levels for a major annual exercise, Operation Northern Vigilance, which tests every facet of the organization. This military exercise, which began two days earlier, deploys fighters to Alaska and Northern Canada to monitor a Russian air force exercise in the Russian arctic. Canadian Captain Mike Jellinek is one hour into his shift, overseeing the Colorado command center, when he learns the FAA believes there is a hijacking in progress and is asking NORAD for support. Northern Vigilance is called off. As the Toronto Star reports, “Any simulated information, what's known as an ‘inject,’ is purged from the [radar] screens.” [NORAD, 9/9/01; Toledo Blade, 12/9/01] Therefore, many minutes into the real 9/11 attack, there may have been false radar blips causing confusion. Additional details, such as whose radar screens had false blips, or from when to when, are unknown. According to Jellinek, the Northern Vigilance is canceled just a minute or two before the second WTC crash at 9:03 a.m. The Russians, having seen the second WTC crash on television, quickly communicate that they are canceling their Russian arctic exercise. [Toledo Blade, 12/9/01; National Post, 10/19/02]

(9:03-9:08 a.m.): Flight Control Managers Ban Aircraft Around New York and Washington

       In a series of stages, flight control managers ban aircraft from flying near the cities targeted by the hijackers. All takeoffs and landings in New York City are halted within a minute of the Flight 175 crash, without asking for permission from Washington. Boston and Newark flight control centers follow suit in the next few minutes. Around 9:08 a.m., departures nationwide heading to or through New York and Boston airspace are canceled. [Associated Press, 8/12/02; Newsday, 9/10/02; Associated Press, 8/19/02 (B); USA Today, 8/13/02] Mike McCormick, head of a Long Island, New York, air traffic control center, makes the decision without consulting any superiors. [ABC News, 8/12/02] In addition, “a few minutes” after 9:03 a.m., all takeoffs from Washington are stopped. [USA Today, 8/12/02; USA Today, 8/13/02]

(After 9:03 a.m.): Rice Learns of Second Attack; Goes to Basement Bunker

       National Security Adviser Rice has just started her daily national security staff meeting at 9:00 a.m. Shortly after 9:03 a.m., an aide hands her a note saying a second plane has hit the WTC. Rice later claims that she thinks, “This is a terrorist attack,” and then leaves the meeting, quickly walking to the White House Situation Room. [Newsweek, 12/31/01] However, according to counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, Rice leaves the meeting for Vice President Cheney's office. Clarke meets her there a few minutes later and only then does she go down to the basement bunker. [Clarke, 2004, pp 1-2]

9:03 a.m.: Flight 175 Crashes into WTC South Tower; Millions Watch Live on Television

Flight 175 an instant before it hits the WTC south tower.
Flight 175 hits the South Tower of the World Trade Center (Tower Two). Seismic records pinpoint the time at six seconds before 9:03 a.m. (rounded to 9:03 a.m.). [CNN, 9/17/01; NORAD, 9/18/01; New York Times, 9/12/01; CNN, 9/12/01; Associated Press, 8/19/02 (B); USA Today, 9/3/02; New York Times, 9/11/02; USA Today, 12/20/01] Millions watch the crash live on television. The plane strikes the 78th through 84th floors in the 110-story building. Approximately 100 people are killed or injured in the initial impact; 600 people in the tower eventually die. All but four of those killed work above the crash point. The death toll is far lower than in the North Tower because about two-thirds of the South Tower's occupants have evacuated the building in the 17 minutes since the first tower was struck. [USA Today, 12/20/01] The combined death toll from the two towers is estimated at 2,819, not including the hijackers. [Associated Press, 8/19/02 (B)]

(After 9:03 a.m.): Air Base Commanders Offer to Help NORAD; Timing of Acceptance Unclear

NEADS commander Robert Marr.
Shortly after the second WTC crash, calls from fighter units begin “pouring into NORAD and sector operations centers, asking, ‘What can we do to help?’ ” In Syracuse, New York, an Air National Guard commander tells NEADS commander Robert Marr, “Give me ten [minutes] and I can give you hot guns. Give me 30 [minutes] and I'll have heat-seeker [missiles]. Give me an hour and I can give you slammers [Amraams].” Marr replies, “I want it all.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/02] Reportedly, Marr says, “Get to the phones. Call every Air National Guard unit in the land. Prepare to put jets in the air. The nation is under attack.” [Newhouse News Service, 1/25/02] Canadian Major General Eric Findley, based in Colorado and in charge of NORAD that day, reportedly has his staff immediately order as many fighters in the air as possible. [Ottawa Citizen, 9/11/02] However, according to another account, NORAD does not accept the offers until about an hour later: “By 10:01 a.m., the command center began calling several bases across the country for help.” [Toledo Blade, 12/9/01] The 9/11 Commission later concludes that a command for other bases to prepare fighters to scramble is not given until 9:49 a.m. In fact, it appears the first fighters from other bases to take off are those from Syracuse at 10:44 a.m. This is over an hour and a half after Syracuse's initial offer to help, and not long after a general ban on all flights, including military ones, is lifted at 10:31 a.m. These are apparently the fourth set of fighters scrambled from the ground. Previously, three fighters from Langley, two from Otis, and two from Toledo, Ohio, were scrambled at 10:01 a.m., but did not launch until fifteen minutes later. [Toledo Blade, 12/9/01]

(After 9:03 a.m.): New York and Washington Flight Controllers Told to Watch for Suspicious Aircraft

       New York flight controllers are told by the FAA to watch for airplanes whose speed indicates that they are jets, but which either are not responding to commands or have disabled their transponders. “Controllers in Washington [get] a similar briefing, which [help] them pick out hijacked planes more quickly.” [New York Times, 9/13/01 (F)] Other centers are apparently not told the same, and Indianapolis flight control apparently remains unaware of any crisis. [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04]

(After 9:03 a.m.): Boston Controllers Give Cockpit Security Alert to New England Planes and Asks FAA to Issue Nationwide Warning; FAA Fails to Do So

       “Within minutes of the second impact,” Boston flight control's Operations Manager instructs all flight controllers in his center to inform all aircraft in the New England region to monitor the events unfolding in New York and to advise aircraft to heighten cockpit security. Boston asks the FAA Command Center to issue a similar cockpit security alert to all aircraft nationwide. The 9/11 Commission concludes, “We have found no evidence to suggest that Command Center managers instructed any centers to issue a cockpit security alert.” [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04] United Airlines flight dispatchers give their pilots a cockpit warning about 20 minutes later.

(After 9:03 a.m.): NMCC Commander Not at the NMCC; Later Misleads Regarding His Role in Crisis Response

Brigadier General Montague Winfield.
Brigadier General Montague Winfield, commander of the NMCC, the Pentagon's emergency response center, later says, “When the second aircraft flew into the second tower, it was at that point that we realized that the seemingly unrelated hijackings that the FAA was dealing with were in fact a part of a coordinated terrorist attack on the United States.” [ABC News, 9/14/02] However, despite the tenor of this and other media reports (for instance, [CNN, 9/4/02; ABC News, 9/15/02] ), Winfield isn't actually at the NMCC during the 9/11 crisis. [Leidig Testimony, 6/17/04; 9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04 (B)]

(After 9:03 a.m.): Secret Service Wants Fighters Scrambled from Andrews; None Are Ready to Fly

       A few minutes after 9:03 a.m., a squadron pilot at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland (just ten miles from Washington), hears that two planes have crashed into the WTC. He calls a friend in the Secret Service to see what's going on. The Secret Service calls back, and asks whether Andrews can scramble fighters. Apparently anticipating the need, one commander has already started preparing weapons for the fighters. However, the weapons are located in a bunker on the other side of The Base, and the process takes time. The fighters don't take off for about another hour and a half (10:42 a.m.). Meanwhile, there are also three unarmed F-16 fighters assigned to the Andrews base on a training mission 207 miles to the south in North Carolina. These are not recalled until much later, and don't reach Washington until 10:45 a.m. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/02] NORAD commander Major General Larry Arnold has said, “We [didn't] have any aircraft on alert at Andrews.” [MSNBC, 9/23/01 (C)] However, prior to 9/11, the District of Columbia Air National Guard [DCANG] based at Andrews had a publicly stated mission “to provide combat units in the highest possible state of readiness.” Prior to 9/11, the mission statement was posted on the D.C. National Guard's public website. Shortly after 9/11, this mission statement is removed and replaced by a DCANG “vision” to “provide peacetime command and control and administrative mission oversight to support customers, DCANG units, and NGB in achieving the highest levels of readiness.” [DCANG Home Page]

9:05 am (and After): Flight 77 Reappears on Radar, but Flight Controllers Do Not Notice

       According to the 9/11 Commission, Flight 77's radar blip, missing for the last eight minutes, reappears on Indianapolis flight control's primary radar scope. It is east of its last known position. It remains in air space managed by Indianapolis until 9:10 a.m., and then passes into Washington air space. Two managers and one flight controller continue to look west and southwest for the flight, but don't look east. Managers don't instruct other Indianapolis controllers to join the search for the flight. Neither they nor FAA headquarters issues an “all points bulletin” to surrounding centers to search for Flight 77. [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04] Newsday claims that rumors circulate the plane might have exploded in midair. [Newsday, 9/23/01] However, the 9/11 Commission's conclusion that Indianapolis flight controllers did not look east is contradicted by an account indicating that American Airlines headquarters was told that Flight 77 had turned around.

9:09 a.m.: NORAD Said to Order Langley Fighters to Battle Stations Alert; Pilots Say This Happens Much Later

       According to some reports, NORAD orders F-16s at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, on battle stations alert. Around this time, the FAA command center reports that 11 aircraft are either not in communication with FAA facilities, or flying unexpected routes. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/02] The 9/11 Commission also later accepts this version, claiming that the intent of the alert was not to protect Washington, but because there is a concern that the fighters currently hovering over New York City will run low on fuel, and need to be replaced. [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04] However, at least one pilot, Major Dean Eckmann, asserts that the battle stations alert does not occur until 9:21 a.m. Another pilot, code-named Honey (presumably Craig Borgstrom), asserts that this does not occur until 9:24 a.m. [BBC, 9/1/02]

9:09 a.m.: Indianapolis Flight Control Tells Local FAA Flight 77 Is Missing, but FAA Headquarters and NORAD Are Not Yet Told

       Indianapolis flight control reports the loss of contact with Flight 77 to the FAA regional center. They describe it as a possible crash. The center waits 16 minutes before passing the information to FAA headquarters at 9:25 a.m. [Washington Post, 11/3/01; 9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04] However, American Airlines headquarters has been notified of the same information before 9:00 a.m.

(9:10 a.m.): Washington Flight Control Sees Unidentified Plane, Apparently Fails to Notify FAA or NORAD

       Washington flight control notices a new eastbound plane entering its radar with no radio contact and no transponder identification. They do not realize it is Flight 77. They are aware of the hijackings and crashes of Flights 11 and 175, yet they apparently fail to notify anyone about the unidentified plane. [Newsday, 9/23/01; 9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04] Another report says they never notice it, and it is only noticed when it enters radar coverage of Washington's Dulles International Airport at 9:24 a.m. [Washington Post, 11/3/01]

(9:10 a.m.): Clarke Directs Crisis Response Through Video Conference with Top Officials; 9/11 Commission and Others Barely Mention the Conference

       Around this time, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke reaches the Secure Video Conferencing Center next to the Situation Room in the West Wing of the White House. From there, he directs the response to the 9/11 attacks and stays in contact with other top officials through video links. On video are Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, CIA Director Tenet, FBI Director Mueller, FAA Administrator Jane Garvey, Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson (filling in for the traveling Attorney General Ashcroft), Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (filling in for the traveling Secretary of State Powell), and Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers (filling in for the traveling Chairman Henry Shelton). National Security Adviser Rice is with Clarke, but she lets Clarke run the crisis response, deferring to his longer experience on terrorism matters. Clarke is also told by an aide, “We're on the line with NORAD, on an air threat conference call.” [Clarke, 2004, pp 2-4; Australian, 3/27/04] The 9/11 Commission acknowledges the existence of this conference, but only gives it one sentence in a staff report about the day of 9/11: “The White House Situation Room initiated a video teleconference, chaired by Richard Clarke. While important, it had no immediate effect on the emergency defense efforts.” [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04] Yet, as the Washington Post puts it, “everyone seems to agree” Clarke is the chief crisis manager on 9/11. [Washington Post, 3/28/04 (B)] Even his later opponent, National Security Adviser Rice, calls him 9/11's “crisis management guy.” [UPI, 4/10/04] The conference is where the government's emergency defense efforts are concentrated.

(9:12 a.m.): Flight 77 Attendant Has Confirmed Hijacking, American Airlines Learns

Renee May.
Renee May, a flight attendant on Flight 77, uses a cell phone to call her mother in Las Vegas. She tells her mother that the flight has been hijacked, and that everyone has been asked to move to the back of the plane. She asks her mother to call American Airlines and let them know Flight 77 has been hijacked. Her mother (Nancy May) calls the airline. [Las Vegas Review Journal, 9/13/01; Las Vegas Review Journal, 9/15/01; 9/11 Commission Report, 1/27/04; San Francisco Chronicle, 7/23/04] American Airlines headquarters is already aware that Flight 77 is hijacked, but supposedly Indianapolis flight control covering the flight still is not told.

(9:18 a.m.): FAA Command Center Warns Flight Controllers Nationwide to Watch for Suspicious Aircraft

       The FAA Command Center finally issues a nationwide alert to flight controllers to watch for planes disappearing from radar or making unauthorized course changes. [Washington Post, 11/3/01]

(9:20 a.m.): FAA Command Center Notifies Field Facilities That Flight 77 Is Lost; Indianapolis Flight Control Reportedly Finally Learns of National Crisis

       According to the 9/11 Commission, Indianapolis flight control learns that there are other hijacked aircraft by this time (presumably at least Flights 11 and 175). Millions of people have known about the crashes since CNN and all other media began broadcasting images from New York at 8:48 a.m., but Indianapolis is reportedly unaware until this time. The Indianapolis flight controllers begin to doubt their assumption that Flight 77 has crashed and consider that it might be hijacked. After a discussion between the Indianapolis manager and the FAA Command Center, the Command Center notifies some other FAA facilities that Flight 77 is lost. By 9:21 a.m., the Command Center, some FAA field facilities, and American Airlines join the search for Flight 77. [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04]

(9:20 a.m.): FAA Sets Up Ineffectual Hijacking Teleconference

       The FAA sets up a hijacking teleconference with several agencies, including the Defense Department. This is almost one hour after the FAA's Boston flight control notified other flight control centers about the first hijacking at 8:25 a.m. Yet even after this delay, FAA and Defense Department participants in the teleconference later claim it plays no role in coordinating the response to the hijackings. [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04]

(9:20 a.m.): Mineta Reaches Bunker, Meets Cheney

Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta.
Transportation Secretary Mineta arrives at the White House bunker containing Vice President Cheney and others. In later testimony, he recalls that Cheney is already there when he arrives. [St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/04] This supports accounts of Cheney reaching the bunker not long after the second WTC crash, but the 9/11 Commission concludes Cheney doesn't arrive until a few minutes before 10:00 a.m.. [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04]

(9:20 a.m.): Barbara Olson Said to Call from Flight 77, but Account Is Full of Contradictions

Barbara Olson.
A passenger on Flight 77, Barbara Olson, calls her husband, Theodore (Ted) Olson, who is Solicitor General at the Justice Department. [San Francisco Chronicle, 7/23/04] Ted Olson is in his Justice Department office watching WTC news on television when his wife calls. A few days later, he says, “She told me that she had been herded to the back of the plane. She mentioned that they had used knives and box cutters to hijack the plane. She mentioned that the pilot had announced that the plane had been hijacked.” [CNN, 9/14/01 (C)] He tells her that two planes have hit the WTC. [Daily Telegraph, 3/5/02] She feels nobody is taking charge. [CNN, 9/12/01] He doesn't know if she was near the pilots, but at one point she asks, “What shall I tell the pilot? What can I tell the pilot to do?” [CNN, 9/14/01 (C)] Then she is cut off without warning. [Newsweek, 9/29/01] Ted Olson's recollection of the call's timing is extremely vague, saying it “must have been 9:15 [am.] or 9:30 [am.]. Someone would have to reconstruct the time for me.” [CNN, 9/14/01 (C)] Other accounts place it around 9:25 A.M. [Miami Herald, 9/14/01; New York Times, 9/15/01 (C); Washington Post, 9/21/01] The call is said to have lasted about a minute. [Washington Post, 9/12/01 (B)] By some accounts, his message that planes have hit the WTC comes later, in a second phone call. [Washington Post, 9/21/01] In one account, Barbara Olson calls from inside a bathroom. [Evening Standard, 9/12/01] In another account, she is near a pilot, and in yet another she is near two pilots. [Boston Globe, 11/23/01] Ted Olson's account of how Barbara Olson made her calls is also conflicting. Three days after 9/11, he says, “I found out later that she was having, for some reason, to call collect and was having trouble getting through. You know how it is to get through to a government institution when you're calling collect.” He says he doesn't know what kind of phone she used, but he has “assumed that it must have been on the airplane phone, and that she somehow didn't have access to her credit cards. Otherwise, she would have used her cell phone and called me.” [Fox News, 9/14/01] Why Barbara Olson would have needed access to her credit cards to call him on her cell phone is not explained. However, in another interview on the same day, he says that she used a cell phone and that she may have been cut off “because the signals from cell phones coming from airplanes don't work that well.” [CNN, 9/14/01 (C)] Six months later, he claims she called collect “using the phone in the passengers' seats.” [Daily Telegraph, 3/5/02] However, it is not possible to call on seatback phones, collect or otherwise, without a credit card, which would render making a collect call moot. Many other details are conflicting, and Olson faults his memory and says that he “tends to mix the two [calls] up because of the emotion of the events.” [CNN, 9/14/01 (C)] The couple liked to joke that they were at the heart of what Hillary Clinton famously called a “vast, right-wing conspiracy.” Ted Olson has been a controversial choice as Solicitor General since he argued on behalf of Bush before the Supreme Court in the 2000 presidential election controversy before being nominated for his current position.

9:21 a.m.: One Langley Pilot Claims to Be Put on Battle Stations Now, Not 12 Minutes Earlier

Major Dean Eckmann.
Major Dean Eckmann, an F-16 fight pilot at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, recalls, “The scramble horn goes off and we get the yellow light, which is our battle stations. So at that point I go running out to the airplanes—to my assigned alert airplane—get suited up and I get into the cockpit ready to start.” [BBC, 9/1/02] A few minutes before the battle stations order, Eckmann is told that a plane has hit the WTC. He assumes it's some kind of accident. [Associated Press, 8/19/02 (C)] However, another pilot, codenamed Honey (apparently Craig Borgstrom), claims the battle stations command happens at 9:24 a.m.; while the 9/11 Commission claims it happens at 9:09 a.m.

9:21 a.m.: FAA Headquarters Mistakenly Tells Boston Controller Flight 11 Is Still Airborne

       According to the 9/11 Commission, NEADS is contacted by Boston flight control. A controller says, “I just had a report that American 11 is still in the air, and it's on its way towards—heading towards Washington. . . . That was another—it was evidently another aircraft that hit the tower. That's the latest report we have. . . . I'm going to try to confirm an ID for you, but I would assume he's somewhere over, uh, either New Jersey or somewhere further south.” The NEADS official asks, “He—American 11 is a hijack? . . . And he's heading into Washington?” The Boston controller answers yes both times and adds, “This could be a third aircraft.” Somehow Boston is told by FAA headquarters that Flight 11 is still airborne, but the commission hasn't been able to find where this mistaken information came from. [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04]

9:21 a.m.: FAA Command Center Advises Dulles Airport Control to Be on Lookout

       According to the 9/11 Commission, the FAA Command Center advises the Dulles Airport terminal control facility in Washington to look for primary targets. [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04] By at least one account, Dulles notices Flight 77 a few minutes later.

9:23 a.m.: NEADS Wants Fighters to Track Phantom Flight 11

       According to the 9/11 Commission, NEADS has just been told that the hijacked Flight 11 is still in the air and heading toward Washington. The NEADS Battle Commander says, “Okay, uh, American Airlines is still airborne. Eleven, the first guy, he's heading towards Washington. Okay? I think we need to scramble Langley right now. And I'm gonna take the fighters from Otis, try to chase this guy down if I can find him.” The NEADS Mission Crew Commander issues the order, “Okay . . . scramble Langley. Head them towards the Washington area.” The Langley, Virginia, base gets the scramble order at 9:24 a.m. NEADS keeps their fighters from the Otis base over New York City. [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04]

(9:24 a.m.): Langley Fighters Are Ordered to Scramble; but One Pilot Claims the Order Is Only a Battle Stations Alert

       The BBC later reports that at this time, Robert Marr, head of NEADS, gives the scramble order to the F-16 fighters based in Langley, Virginia: “North East sectors back on. We ought to be getting the weapons crews back in. Get the scramble order rolling. Scramble.” [BBC, 9/1/02] The 9/11 Commission concurs that the scramble order is given now. [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04] NORAD also has agreed. [NORAD, 9/18/01] However, many media reports have placed it later. [CNN, 9/17/01; Washington Post, 9/12/01; CNN, 9/17/01; Washington Post, 9/15/01] A pilot codenamed Honey gives a slightly different account. He claims that at this time a battle stations alert sounds and two other pilots are given the order to climb into their F-16s and await further instructions. Then, Honey, the supervising pilot, talks to the two other pilots. Then, “five or ten minutes later,” a person from NORAD calls and Honey speaks to him at the nearby administrative office. He is told that all three of them are ordered to scramble. Honey goes to his living quarters, grabs his flight gear, puts it on, runs to his plane, and takes off. [Longman, 2002, pp 64-65] Honey appears to be the codename for Captain Craig Borgstrom, because in another account, Borgstrom is given an alert and then talks to the two other pilots. [Associated Press, 8/19/02 (C)] A different pilot account has the battle stations warning three minutes earlier, while the 9/11 Commission claims that it happens fifteen minutes earlier. Pilot Major Dean Eckmann recalls, “They go ‘active air scramble, vector zero one zero one, max speed.’ And then I push us over to the tower frequency and get our departure clearance and they launch us out right away. . . . We can carry M9-Heat Seekers, Side Winders for the M7-Sparrow, plus we have an internal 20mm Vulcan Cannon, and we were pretty much armed with all that. We had a pretty quick response time. I believe it was four to five minutes we were airborne from that point.” The BBC reports, “Even while last minute pre-launch checks are being made, the controllers learn that a third plane—American Airlines flight 77 out of Washington—may have been hijacked.” Just before the fighters take off, the BBC says, “The pilots get a signal over the plane's transponder—a code that indicates an emergency wartime situation.” [BBC, 9/1/02]

(9:24 a.m.): By Some Accounts, FAA Notifies NORAD Flight 77 Is Hijacked and Washington-Bound; 9/11 Commission Claims This Never Happens

       Shortly after 9/11, NORAD reported that the FAA notified them at this time that Flight 77 “may” have been hijacked and that it appears headed toward Washington. [NORAD, 9/18/01; Associated Press, 8/19/02 (B); CNN, 9/17/01; Washington Post, 9/12/01; Guardian, 10/17/01] Apparently, flight controllers at Dulles International Airport discover a plane heading at high speed toward Washington; an alert is sounded within moments that the plane appears to be headed toward the White House. [Washington Post, 11/3/01] In 2003, the FAA supported this account, but claimed that they had informally notified NORAD earlier. “NORAD logs indicate that the FAA made formal notification about American Flight 77 at 9:24 a.m., but information about the flight was conveyed continuously during the phone bridges before the formal notification.” [FAA, 5/22/03] Yet in 2004, the 9/11 Commission claims that both NORAD and the FAA are wrong. The 9/11 Commission explains that the notification NEADS received at 9:24 a.m. was the incorrect information that Flight 11 had not hit the WTC and was headed south for Washington, D.C. Thus, according to the 9/11 Commission, NORAD is never notified by the FAA about the hijacking of Flight 77, but accidentally learns about it at 9:34 a.m. [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04]

9:25 a.m.: FAA Command Center Finally Tells FAA Headquarters About Flight 77

       According to the 9/11 Commission, the FAA Command Center advises FAA headquarters that American 77 is lost in Indianapolis flight control's airspace, that Indianapolis has no primary radar track, and is looking for the aircraft. [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04] The Command Center had learned this 16 minutes earlier at 9:09 a.m. American Airlines headquarters was notified of the same information before 9:00 a.m.

(After 9:25 a.m.): Flight 77 Passenger Call Reaches Justice Department and Beyond

Ted Olson.
Theodore (Ted) Olson, the Justice Department's Solicitor General, calls the Justice Department's control center to relate his wife Barbara's call from Flight 77. Accounts vary whether the Justice Department already knows of the hijack or not. [Washington Post, 9/12/01 (B); Channel 4 News, 9/13/01; New York Times, 9/15/01 (C)] Olson merely says, “They just absorbed the information. And they promised to send someone down right away.” He assumes they then “pass the information on to the appropriate people.” [Fox News, 9/14/01]

(9:27 a.m.): Cheney Given Updates on Unidentified Flight 77 Heading Toward Washington

       Vice President Cheney and National Security Adviser Rice, in their bunker below the White House, are told by an aide that an airplane is headed toward Washington from 50 miles away. The plane is Flight 77. FAA deputy Monty Belger says, “Well We're watching this target on the radar, but the transponder's been turned off. So we have no identification.” They are given further notices when the plane is 30 miles away, then ten miles away, until it disappears from radar (time unknown, but the plane is said to be traveling about 500 mph and was 30 miles away at 9:30 a.m., so 50 miles would be about three minutes before that). [ABC News, 9/11/02] Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta gives virtually the same account before the 9/11 Commission. [9/11 Commission Report, 5/23/03] However, the 9/11 Commission later claims the plane heading toward Washington is only discovered at 9:32 a.m. [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04]

9:30 a.m.: Langley Fighters Take Off Toward Washington; They Could Reach City in Six Minutes but Take Half an Hour

A typical F-16.
The three F-16s at Langley, Virginia, get airborne. [NORAD, 9/18/01; ABC News, 9/11/02; Washington Post, 9/12/01; 9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04] The pilots are Major Brad Derrig, Captain Craig Borgstrom, and Major Dean Eckmann, all from the North Dakota Air National Guard's 119th Fighter Wing stationed at Langley. [Associated Press, 8/19/02 (C); ABC News, 9/11/02] If the assumed NORAD departure time is correct, the F-16s would have to travel slightly over 700 mph to reach Washington before Flight 77 does. The maximum speed of an F-16 is 1,500 mph. [Associated Press, 6/16/00] Even traveling at 1,300 mph, these planes could have reached Washington in six minutes—well before any claim of when Flight 77 crashed. Yet it is claimed they are accidentally directed over the Atlantic Ocean instead, and they will only reach Washington about 30 minutes later. NORAD commander Major General Larry Arnold admits in 2003 testimony that had the fighters been going at full speed, “it is physically possible that they could have gotten over Washington” before Flight 77. But asked if the fighters would have had shootdown authorization had they reached the hijacked plane, Arnold says no, claiming that even by this time in the morning it is only “through hindsight that we are certain that this was a coordinated attack on the United States.” [9/11 Commission Report, 5/23/03]

(9:30 a.m.): FAA Emergency Operations Center Is Finally Operational

       The FAA's Emergency Operations Center gets up and running, five minutes after the FAA issues an order grounding all civilian, military, and law enforcement aircraft. [Time, 9/14/01] This center's role in the crisis response remains unclear.

(9:30-9:37 a.m.): Langley Fighters Fly East to Ocean Instead of North to Washington; Explanations Differ

Route of the Langley Air Base fighters to Washington.
The three Langley fighters are airborne, but just where they go and how fast are in dispute. There are varying accounts that the fighters are ordered to Washington, New York, Baltimore, or no destination at all. The 9/11 Commission reports that, in fact, the pilots don't understand there is an emergency and head east. They give three reasons. “First, unlike a normal scramble order, this order did not include a distance to the target, or the target's location. Second, a ‘generic’ flight plan incorrectly led the Langley fighters to believe they were ordered to fly due east (090) for 60 miles. The purpose of the generic flight plan was to quickly get the aircraft airborne and out of local airspace. Third, the lead pilot and local FAA controller incorrectly assumed the flight plan instruction to go ‘090 for 60’ was newer guidance that superseded the original scramble order.” [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04] However, the Wall Street Journal gives a different explanation, surprisingly from 9/11 Commission testimony. “Once they got in the air, the Langley fighters observed peacetime noise restrictions requiring that they fly more slowly than supersonic speed and takeoff over water, pointed away from Washington, according to testimony before the [9/11 Commission].” The fighters that departed to New York City over 30 minutes earlier at 8:52 a.m. traveled faster than supersonic because they realized they were in a national emergency. [Wall Street Journal, 3/22/04] In 2003 testimony, NORAD Commander Major General Larry Arnold explains that the fighters head over the ocean because NORAD is “looking outward” and has to have clearance to fly over land. [9/11 Commission Report, 5/23/03] Yet, in contrast to these accounts, the BBC reports that just before takeoff at 9:24 a.m., the pilots are specifically told that Flight 77 may have been hijacked, and they get a cockpit signal indicating they are in an emergency wartime situation. All the above accounts concur that, for whatever reason, the fighters go too far east. They don't reach Washington until roughly around 10:00 a.m.

9:30 a.m.: United Flights Are Instructed to Land Immediately; American Follows Suit

       United Airlines begins landing all of its flights inside the US (Note: All planes nationwide were already ordered down at 9:26 a.m. and told to land in a reasonable amount of time. Now they're told to land immediately.) American Airlines begins landing all of their flights five minutes later. [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/01]

(9:30 a.m.): Dulles Flight Controllers Track Flight 77; Timing Disputed

Flight controller Danielle O'Brien.
Radar tracks Flight 77 as it closes within 30 miles of Washington. [CBS News, 9/21/01] Todd Lewis, flight controller at Washington's Dulles Airport, later recalls, “. . . my colleagues saw a target moving quite fast from the northwest to the southeast. So she—we all started watching that target, and she notified the supervisor. However, nobody knew that was a commercial flight at the time. Nobody knew that was American 77. . . . I thought it was a military flight.” [MSNBC, 9/11/02 (B)] Another account is similar, saying that just before 9:30 a.m., a Dulles Airport controller sees an aircraft without a transponder traveling almost 500 mph headed toward Washington. [USA Today, 8/13/02] In yet another account, Danielle O'Brien, the Dulles flight controller said to be the first to spot the blip, claims she doesn't spot it until it is around 12 to 14 miles from Washington. [ABC News, 10/24/01; ABC News, 10/24/01 (B)] There are also accounts that Vice President Cheney is told around 9:27 a.m. that radar is tracking Flight 77, 50 miles away from Washington. The 9/11 Commission says the plane isn't discovered until 9:32 a.m.

(9:30 a.m.): Clarke Asks Cheney's Bunker for Air Force One Fighter Escort and Shootdown Authorization; Neither Happen for Some Time

       As President Bush begins a speech in Florida, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke orders all US embassies overseas closed and orders all military bases to an alert level named Combat Threatcon. Over the next few minutes, Clarke discusses with aides where Bush should go from Sarasota, Florida. He telephones PEOC, the command bunker containing Vice President Cheney and National Security Adviser Rice, and says, “Somebody has to tell the President he can't come right back here [to Washington]. Cheney, Condi, somebody, Secret Service concurs. We do not want them saying where they are going when they take off. Second, when they take off, they should have fighter escort. Three, we need to authorize the Air Force to shoot down any aircraft—including a hijacked passenger flight—that looks like it is threatening to attack and cause large-scale death on the ground. Got it?” [Clarke, 2004, pp 5-7] However, when Bush departs on Air Force One about half an hour later, there are no fighter escorts, and none appear for an hour or so. In addition, if Clarke requests authorization for a shootdown order at this time, it is apparently ignored; neither President Bush nor Vice President Cheney give shootdown authorization for at least another 30 minutes.

(9:30 a.m.): Who Warns Who of Flight 77's Impending Approach to D.C.?

       Chris Stephenson, head flight controller at Washington's Reagan National Airport tower, says that he is called by the Secret Service around this time. He is told an unidentified aircraft is speeding toward Washington. Stephenson looks at the radarscope and sees Flight 77 about five miles to the west. He looks out the tower window and sees the plane turning to the right and descending. He follows it until it disappears behind a building in nearby Crystal City, Virginia. [USA Today, 8/12/02] However, according to another account, just before 9:30 a.m., a controller in the same tower has an unidentified plane 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.” [USA Today, 8/13/02] In short, it is unclear whether the Secret Service warns the FAA, or vice versa.

9:32 a.m.: Cheney Is Notified That Flight 77 Is Headed To Washington

Vice President Cheney pointing a finger inside the Presidential Emergency Operations Center. Footage of the World Trade Center plays on the televisions in the background (exact time is unknown).
According to the 9/11 Commission, the Dulles Airport terminal control facility in Washington has been looking for unidentified primary radar blips since 9:21 a.m. and now finds one. Several Dulles flight controllers “observed a primary radar target tracking eastbound at a high rate of speed” and notify Reagan Airport. FAA personnel at both Reagan and Dulles airports notify the Secret Service. The identity or aircraft type is unknown. [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04] However, other accounts place the discovery of this plane by Dulles around 9:24 a.m. or 9:30 a.m., and Vice President Cheney is told radar is tracking Flight 77 at 9:27 a.m.

9:32 a.m.: Stock Exchange Closes

       The New York Stock Exchange closes. It is a short distance from the WTC. [MSNBC, 9/22/01]

9:33 a.m.: Planes Warned Away from Washington

       The BBC reports that pilot Major Dean Eckmann gets a message as he's flying from Langley, Virginia. “They said—all airplanes, if you come within (I believe it was) 30 miles of Washington, D.C., you will be shot down.” [BBC, 9/1/02] It's not clear who “they” are and what authority they have. However, fighters are not actually given shootdown orders until later, if at all.

(9:33-9:37 a.m.): Eyewitness Reports Indicate There Was No Loss of Control on Flight 77

       Radar data shows Flight 77 crossing the Capitol Beltway and headed toward the Pentagon. However, the plane, flying more than 400 mph, is too high when it nears the Pentagon at 9:35 a.m., crossing the Pentagon at about 7,000 feet up. [CBS News, 9/21/01; Boston Globe, 11/23/01] The plane then makes a difficult high-speed descending turn. It makes a “downward spiral, turning almost a complete circle and dropping the last 7,000 feet in two-and-a-half minutes. The steep turn is so smooth, the sources say, it's clear there [is] no fight for control going on.” [CBS News, 9/21/01] It gets very near the White House during this turn. “Sources say the hijacked jet . . . [flies] several miles south of the restricted airspace around the White House.” [CBS News, 9/21/01] The Daily Telegraph later writes, “If the airliner had approached much nearer to the White House it might have been shot down by the Secret Service, who are believed to have a battery of ground-to-air Stinger missiles ready to defend the president's home. The Pentagon is not similarly defended.” [Daily Telegraph, 9/16/01] White House spokesman Ari Fleischer suggests the plane goes even closer to the White House, saying, “That is not the radar data that we have seen. The plane was headed toward the White House.” [CBS News, 9/21/01] If Flight 77 passed within a few miles of the White House, why couldn't it have been shot down by the weapons on the White House roof?

9:34 a.m.: FAA's Headquarters Notified There Might Be a Bomb Onboard Flight 93; NORAD Not Notified

       According to the 9/11 Commission, word of Flight 93's hijacking reaches FAA headquarters. By this time, headquarters has established an open line of communication with the FAA Command Center at Herndon, Virginia. It had instructed the center to poll all flight control centers about suspect aircraft. So, at this time, the Command Center passes on Cleveland's message: “United 93 may have a bomb on board.” The Command Center continually updates FAA headquarters on Flight 93 until it crashes. [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04]

9:34 a.m.: Flight 93 Passenger Burnett Calls Again, Learns It's a Suicide Mission

       Tom Burnett calls his wife Deena a second time. He says, “they're in the cockpit.” He has checked the pulse of the man who was knifed (later identified as Mark Rothenberg, sitting next to him in seat 5B) and determined he is dead. She tells him about the hits on the WTC. He responds, “Oh my God, it's a suicide mission.” As they continue to talk, he tells her the plane has turned back. By this time, Deena is in constant communication with the FBI and others, and a police officer is at her house. [Longman, 2002, pp 110]

9:34 a.m.: FAA Mentions in Passing to NORAD That Flight 77 Is Missing

       According to the 9/11 Commission, NEADS contacts Washington flight control to ask about Flight 11. A manager there happens to mention, “We're looking—we also lost American 77.” The commission claims, “No one at FAA Command Center or headquarters ever asked for military assistance with American 77.” [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04] Yet, 38 minutes earlier, flight controllers determined Flight 77 was off course, out of radio contact, and had no transponder signal. They'd warned American Airlines headquarters within minutes. By some accounts, this is the first time NORAD is told about Flight 77, but other accounts have them warned around 9:25 a.m.

(9:35 a.m.): Treasury Department Evacuates; Pentagon and Other Washington Department Do Not

       The Treasury Department is evacuated a few minutes before Flight 77 crashes. [9/11 Commission Report, 1/26/04] Yet, CNN notes that “after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) warned the military's air defense command that a hijacked airliner appeared to be headed toward Washington, the federal government failed to make any move to evacuate the White House, Capitol, State Department, or the Pentagon.” [CNN, 9/16/01] A Pentagon representative says, “The Pentagon was simply not aware that this aircraft was coming our way.” Even Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and his top aides in the Pentagon remain unaware of any danger up to the moment of impact. [Newsday, 9/23/01] Senators and congresspeople are in the Capitol building, which is not evacuated until 9:48 a.m. Only Vice President Cheney, National Security Adviser Rice, and possibly a few others are evacuated to safety a few minutes after 9:03 a.m. Yet, supposedly, since at least the Flight 11 crash, “military officials in a command center [the National Military Command Center] on the east side of the [Pentagon] [are] urgently talking to law enforcement and air traffic control officials about what to do.” [New York Times, 9/15/01] The White House is evacuated at 9:45 a.m.

9.36 a.m.: Military Cargo Plane Asked to Identify Flight 77

A typical C-130.
Reagan Airport flight control instructs a military C-130 (Golfer 06) that has just departed Andrews Air Force Base to intercept Flight 77 and identify it. [Guardian, 10/17/01; New York Times, 10/16/01 (D)] Remarkably, this C-130 is the same C-130 that is 17 miles from Flight 93 when it later crashes into the Pennsylvania countryside. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 9/11/02; Pittsburgh Channel, 9/15/01] The pilot, Lieutenant Colonel Steve O'Brien, claims he took off around 9:30 a.m., planning to return to Minnesota after dropping supplies off in the Caribbean. He later describes his close encounter: “When air traffic control asked me if we had him [Flight 77] in sight, I told him that was an understatement—by then, he had pretty much filled our windscreen. Then he made a pretty aggressive turn so he was moving right in front of us, a mile and a half, two miles away. I said we had him in sight, then the controller asked me what kind of plane it was. That caught us up, because normally they have all that information. The controller didn't seem to know anything.” O'Brien reports that the plane is either a 757 or 767 and its silver fuselage means it is probably an American Airlines plane. “They told us to turn and follow that aircraft—in 20 plus years of flying, I've never been asked to do something like that.” [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 9/11/02] The 9/11 Commission reports that it is a C-130H and the pilot specifically identifies the hijacked plane as a 757. Seconds after impact, he reports, “Looks like that aircraft crashed into the Pentagon, sir.” [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04]

9:37 a.m.: Langley Fighters Still Short of Washington; Where and Why Is Not Clear

       Accounts differ as to how far from Washington the F-16 fighters scrambled from Langley are when Flight 77 crashes. The Langley, Virginia, base is 129 miles from Washington. NORAD originally claimed that, at the time of the crash, the fighters are 105 miles away, despite having taken off seven minutes earlier. [NORAD, 9/18/01] The 9/11 Commission claims that at 9:36 a.m., NEADS discovers that Flight 77 is only a few miles from the White House and is dismayed to find the fighters have headed east over the ocean. They are ordered to Washington immediately, but are still about 150 miles away. This is farther away than the base from which they took off. [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04] The F-16 pilot codenamed Honey (who is apparently Captain Craig Borgstrom) offers a different explanation. As previously mentioned, he says they are flying toward New York, when they see a black column of smoke coming from Washington, about 30 or 40 miles to the west. He is then asked over the radio by NEADS if he can confirm the Pentagon is burning. He confirms it. The F-16s are then ordered to set up a defensive perimeter above Washington. [Longman, 2002, pp 76; New York Observer, 2/11/04] The maximum speed of an F-16 is 1,500 mph. [Associated Press, 6/16/00] Had the fighters traveled straight to Washington at 1,300 mph, they would have reached Washington at least one minute before Flight 77.

(Before 9:37 a.m.): Flight 77 Turns, Then Disappears from Radar

       Washington flight controllers are watching Flight 77's radar blip. Just before radar contact is lost, FAA headquarters is told, “The aircraft is circling. It's turning away from the White House.” [USA Today, 8/13/02] Then the blip disappears. Its last known position is six miles from the Pentagon and four miles from the White House. The plane is said to be traveling 500 mph, or a mile every seven seconds. [CBS News, 9/21/01; Newhouse News Service, 1/25/02; ABC News, 9/11/02; USA Today, 8/13/02]

9:37 a.m.: Flight 77 Crashes into Reinforced Section of the Pentagon

The Pentagon explodes.
Flight 77 crashes into the Pentagon. Approximately 125 people on the ground are later determined killed or missing. [NORAD, 9/18/01; CNN, 9/17/01; Guardian, 10/17/01; USA Today, 8/13/02; ABC News, 9/11/02; CBS News, 9/11/02 (B); Associated Press, 8/19/02 (B); MSNBC, 9/3/02] Flight 77 strikes the only side of the Pentagon that had recently been renovated—it was “within days of being totally [renovated].” [Defense Department, 9/15/01] “It was the only area of the Pentagon with a sprinkler system, and it had been reconstructed with a web of steel columns and bars to withstand bomb blasts. The area struck by the plane also had blast-resistant windows—two inches thick and 2,500 pounds each—that stayed intact during the crash and fire. While perhaps, 4,500 people normally would have been working in the hardest-hit areas, because of the renovation work only about 800 were there. . . .” More than 25,000 people work at the Pentagon. [Los Angeles Times, 9/16/01 (C)]

9:37 a.m.: Witnesses See Military Cargo Plane Near Flight 77; Pilot Implies He's Far Away

       A C-130 transport plane that has been sent to follow Flight 77 is trailing only a short distance behind the plane as it crashes. This curious C-130, originally bound for Minnesota, is the same C-130 that will be 17 miles from Flight 93 when it later crashes into the Pennsylvania countryside. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 9/11/02; Pittsburgh Channel, 9/15/01] A number of people see this plane fly remarkably close to Flight 77:
Kelly Knowles says that seconds after seeing Flight 77 pass, she sees a “second plane that seemed to be chasing the first [pass] over at a slightly different angle.” [Daily Press, 9/15/01]

Keith Wheelhouse says the second plane was a C-130; two other witnesses aren't certain. [Daily Press, 9/15/01]
Wheelhouse “believes it flew directly above the American Airlines jet, as if to prevent two planes from appearing on radar, while at the same time guiding the jet toward the Pentagon.” As Flight 77 descends toward the Pentagon, the second plane veers off west. [Daily Press, 9/14/01]
USA Today reporter Vin Narayanan, who saw the Pentagon explosion, says, “I hopped out of my car after the jet exploded, nearly oblivious to a second jet hovering in the skies.” [USA Today, 9/17/01]

USA Today Editor Joel Sucherman sees a second plane but gives few details. [eWeek, 9/13/01]
Brian Kennedy, press secretary for a congressman, and others also see a second plane. [Sacramento Bee, 9/15/01]
An unnamed worker at Arlington National Cemetery “said a mysterious second plane was circling the area when the first one attacked the Pentagon.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/20/01]

John O'Keefe is driving a car when he sees the Pentagon crash. “The first thing I did was pull over onto the shoulder, and when I got out of the car I saw another plane flying over my head. . . . Then the plane—it looked like a C-130 cargo plane—started turning away from the Pentagon, it did a complete turnaround.” [New York Law Journal, 9/12/01]

The pilot of the C-130, Lieutenant Colonel Steve O'Brien, is later interviewed, but his account differs from the on-the-ground eyewitnesses. He claims that just before the explosion, “With all of the East Coast haze, I had a hard time picking him out,” implying he is not nearby. He also says that just after the explosion, “I could see the outline of the Pentagon,” again implying he is not nearby. He then asks “the controller whether [I] should set up a low orbit around the building,” but he is told “to get out of the area as quickly as possible.” “I took the plane once through the plume of smoke and thought if this was a terrorist attack, it probably wasn't a good idea to be flying through that plume.” [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 9/11/02]


(After 9:37 a.m.): Andrews Pilots Aware of Crisis but Still on Ground

       After the Pentagon is hit, fighters at nearby Andrews Air Force Base are still preparing to launch. At some unknown point, flight squad commander Lieutenant Colonel Marc Sasseville assembles three F-16 pilots and gives them a curt briefing. He recalls saying, “I have no idea what's going on, but we're flying. Here's our frequency. We'll split up the area as we have to. Just defend as required. We'll talk about the rest in the air.” All four of them dress up and get ready. One officer at Andrews recalls, “After the Pentagon was hit, we were told there were more [airliners] coming. Not ‘might be’- they were coming.” Meanwhile, a “flood” of calls from the Secret Service and local FAA flight control centers pour into Andrews, as the fighter response is coordinated. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/02] However, the loading of missiles onto the fighters is very time consuming, and when these fighters finally take off nearly an hour later, they will launch without the missiles installed.

(Before 9:37 a.m.): Sheer Coincidence Brings Emergency Rescue and Secret Service Near to Pentagon

       In response to an emergency 9-1-1 telephone call, the Arlington County Emergency Communications Center dispatches several units to deal with an apartment fire in Rosslyn, Virginia—within the vicinity of the Pentagon. Because this fire is in a high-rise building, nine different fire and medical service units are dispatched. However, the first engine crew to arrive radios to the other units that the fire has gone out. Consequently, by “sheer coincidence,” at the time when the Pentagon is hit, there are a significant number of available fire and medical service units already on the road nearby. [Arlington County, 7/02; Fire Engineering, 11/02] Additionally, Secret Service personnel are concentrated around the heliport a short distance from where Flight 77 will hit: “President Bush was scheduled to fly from Florida that afternoon, and his helicopter, Marine One, would carry him to the Pentagon. That meant Secret Service everywhere and their cars blocking the driveway.” [Scripps Howard News Service, 8/1/02]

9:37 a.m.: Fireman Dodges Flight 77; Immediately Notifies Superior About Crashed Jumbo Jet

Internet researchers have put together this image showing how an object the size of a jumbo jet clips a number of light poles and then destroys columns inside the Pentagon. [From website]
Fireman Alan Wallace is busy with a safety crew at the Pentagon's heliport pad. As Wallace is walking in front of the Pentagon, he looks up and sees Flight 77 coming straight at him. It is about 25 feet off the ground, with no landing wheels visible, a few hundred yards away, and closing fast. He runs about 30 feet and dives under a nearby van. [Washington Post, 9/21/01] The plane is traveling at about 460 mph, and flying so low that it clips the tops of streetlights. [CBS News, 9/21/01] Using the radio in the van, he calls his fire chief at nearby Fort Myer and says, “We have had a commercial carrier crash into the west side of the Pentagon at the heliport, Washington Boulevard side. The crew is OK. The airplane was a 757 Boeing or a 320 Airbus.” [Scripps Howard News Service, 8/1/02]

(Before 9:37 a.m.): Rumsfeld Said to Make Eerie Predictions, but Witness Who Gives Account Is Long Gone

       Representative Christopher Cox later claims he is still meeting with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. They are still discussing missile defense, apparently completely oblivious of the approaching Flight 77. Watching television coverage from New York City, Rumsfeld says to Cox, “Believe me, this isn't over yet. There's going to be another attack, and it could be us.” According to the Daily Telegraph, Flight 77 hits the building “moments later.” [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/01] In another telling, Cox claims that Rumsfeld says, “If we remain vulnerable to missile attack, a terrorist group or rogue state that demonstrates the capacity to strike the US or its allies from long range could have the power to hold our entire country hostage to nuclear or other blackmail. And let me tell you, I've been around the block a few times. There will be another event.” Rumsfeld repeats that sentence for emphasis. According to Cox, “Within minutes of that utterance, Rumsfeld's words proved tragically prophetic.” Cox also claims, “I escaped just minutes before the building was hit.” [Rep. Cox Statement, 9/11/01] However, Rumsfeld claims that this meeting with Cox ended before the second WTC crash, which occurred at 9:03 a.m. Cox himself said that after being told of the WTC, “[Rumsfeld] sped off, as did I.” Cox says he immediately headed to his car, making it impossible for him to still be in the Pentagon “just minutes before” it is hit. [Associated Press, 9/11/01] Another account puts Rumsfeld's “I've been around the block a few times. There will be another event” comment two minutes before the first WTC crash at 8:46 a.m., when Rumsfeld reportedly makes other predictive comments. [Associated Press, 9/16/01 (C)]

9:45 a.m.: United Headquarters Learns Flight 77 Has Crashed into the Pentagon

       United Airlines headquarters receives a report that an aircraft has crashed into the Pentagon. They learn it is Flight 77. [9/11 Commission Report, 1/27/04]

10:15 a.m.: Pentagon Section Collapses

The wall where the Pentagon was hit before and after its collapsed at 10:15.
The front section of the Pentagon that had been hit by Flight 77 collapses. [CNN, 9/12/01; New York Times, 9/12/01; Television Archive, WDCC 10:00] A few minutes prior to its collapse, firefighters saw warning signs and sounded a general evacuation tone. No firefighters were injured. [NFPA Journal, 11/1/01]

10:15 a.m.: NEADS Learns Flight 93 Is Down

       According to the 9/11 Commission, NEADS calls Washington flight control at this time. Asked about Flight 93, flight control responds, “He's down.” It is clarified that the plane crashed “somewhere up northeast of Camp David.” [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04]

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