The Journal of History     Spring 2004    TABLE OF CONTENTS


A Pilot Answers 911 Questions
JCS General Myers Wouldn't


by Michael Guillaume
June 9, 2002

I am a pilot and I know what happens to me when I lose my transponder. The controllers console immediately alerts him to the fact since he no longer has my transponder code and altitude. This causes him a great deal of trouble and very shortly I get trouble also. I am usually instructed to stay below 3,500 feet and return to the airport. The reason for the concern is that I am a hazard to navigation. Now imagine the situation in the Air Route Traffic Control Center (commonly abbreviated to "center").

This is in the northeast corner of the U.S., the busiest airspace on the planet. Each controller has a wedged shaped sector for which he is responsible. His airspace is also bounded by altitude limits. Commercial flights, referred to as heavies, are always under positive control. They must constantly be in communication with the controllers in order to maintain legal separation. If one of these heavies loses its transponder, it causes instant problems for more than one controller since altitude information is lost.

The controllers still have a skin paint, or passive echo from the airframe, but the blip now shows up on all consoles for that sector, not just the original one that was handling the altitude range of the flight. If that same flight loses communication with the controllers as well, the controller work load takes another giant step upward. Keep in mind that this is in an area that is normally stretched to the breaking point with controller overload. This flight is now a hazard to air navigation, and the controllers primary function of separating the planes is in jeopardy.

The procedure for lost communication emergencies is simple: follow your last clearance. If the flight under discussion follows its last clearance, the controllers can predict where it will go and can still keep other flights out of harms way. If in addition to losing communication and transponder the flight starts to deviate from its last clearance, the whole system is in an emergency condition. Alarms all over the country would be going off. One interesting piece of information is the recording of controller and pilot conversations. These tapes are a matter of public record and are written over after a few days unless something interesting happens. These tapes would show the response of the system. Where are they?

So, we know that the traffic control system would be in panic mode within two to three minutes of the initial events. We know that Otis Airforce Base is only five minutes from Manhatten by F15. We know that the controllers always had a passive return from the planes and could vector an intercept. The last Airman's Information Manual I bought has a date of 1989 and it describes intercept procedures. So we know that intercepts have been routine low level events since at least that time.

We know that there is an Air Defence Intercept Zone just off shore for the entire Atlantic coast. This zone is constantly being patrolled. In general fast movers would not need to be scrambled. They can be diverted from routine patrol and training flights for the intercept. I know from experience that early morning flights are every pilots favorite. You preflight the plane in the dark and take off. Even in a Cessna breaking out into the bright clear sunshine from the dark earth below is a kick. In an F15 doing Mach 1 straight up would make it impossible to stop grinning. The odds are that many flights would be on patrol just off shore. It would be most improbable that even one commercial flight could go more than ten minutes without being intercepted. The intercepting plane would slowly close from the left and take station slightly above and ahead of the errant heavy. At this point he would rock his wings and expect the other plane to do the same as a form of non verbal communication. After this he would perform a gentle turn to the left and the intercepted plane would be required to follow. If this does not occur, there are many actions short of firing the fighter can take to prevent the commercial jet from harming either itself, any other plane, or any ground structure.

Interceptions are routine daily occurrances. The fact that they didn't happen under extreme provocation raises some serious questions. I hope Mary Schiavo will ask them.

General Myers' Confirmation Hearing

Senate Armed Services Committee Holds Hearing On Nomination of General Richard Myers to be Chairman of The Joint Chiefs of Staff, Washington, D.C. , SEPTEMBER 13, 2001

SENATOR LEVIN: Was the Defense Department contacted by the FAA or the FBI or any other agency after the first two hijacked aircraft crashed into the World Trade Center, prior to the time that the Pentagon was hit?

GENERAL MYERS: Sir, I don't know the answer to that question. I can get that for you, for the record... That order, to the best of my knowledge, was after the Pentagon was struck. ... I was with Senator Cleland when this happened and went back to the Pentagon. And they were evacuating, of course, the Pentagon at the time. And I went into the National Military Command Center because that's essentially my battle station when things are happening.

SENATOR LEVIN: Was the Defense Department contacted by the FAA or the FBI or any other agency after the first two hijacked aircraft crashed into the World Trade Center, prior to the time that the Pentagon was hit?

GENERAL MYERS: Sir, I don't know the answer to that question. I can get that for you, for the record.

SENATOR LEVIN: Thank you. Did the Defense Department take, or was the Defense Department asked to take action against any specific aircraft?

GENERAL MYERS: Sir, we were . . .

SENATOR LEVIN: And did you take action against, for instance, there have been statements that the aircraft that crashed in Pennsylvania was shot down. Those stories continue to exist.

GENERAL MYERS: Mr. Chairman, the armed forces did not shoot down any aircraft. When it became clear what the threat was, we did scramble fighter aircraft, AWACS, radar aircraft and tanker aircraft to begin to establish orbits in case other aircraft showed up in the FAA system that were hijacked. But we never actually had to use force.

SENATOR CLELAND: General, it's a good thing that, as I look back at that morning, that you and I were meeting. It's a good thing we were meeting here and not us meeting in the Pentagon because about the time you and I were having our visit, discussing the need to boost our conventional forces, to look at the question of terrorism and attacks on the United States, at just about that very moment, the Pentagon was being hit.


SENATOR BILL NELSON: ... General Myers, The second World Trade tower was hit shortly after 9:00. And the Pentagon was hit approximately 40 minutes later. That's approximately. You would know specifically what the timeline was.

The crash that occurred in Pennsylvania after the Newark westbound flight was turned around 180 degrees and started heading back to Washington was approximately an hour after the World Trade Center second explosion. You said earlier in your testimony that we had not scrambled any military aircraft until after the Pentagon was hit. And so, my question would be: why?

GENERAL MYERS: I think I had that right, that it was not until then. I'd have to go back and review the exact timelines.

SENATOR BILL NELSON: ... If we knew that there was a general threat on terrorist activity, which we did, and we suddenly have two trade towers in New York being obviously hit by terrorist activity, of commercial airliners taken off course from Boston to Los Angeles, then what happened to the response of the defense establishment once we saw the diversion of the aircraft headed west from Dulles turning around 180 degrees and, likewise, in the aircraft taking off from Newark and, in flight, turning 180 degrees? That's the question.

I leave it to you as to how you would like to answer it. But we would like an answer.

GENERAL MYERS: You bet. I spoke, after the second tower was hit, I spoke to the commander of NORAD, General Eberhart. And at that point, I think the decision was at that point to start launching aircraft...

In this case, if my memory serves me -- and I'll have to get back to you for the record -- my memory says that we had launched on the one that eventually crashed in Pennsylvania. I mean, we had gotten somebody close to it, as I recall. I'll have to check that out.

SENATOR BILL NELSON: ... Commenting from CNN on the timeline, 9:03 is the correct time that the United Airlines flight crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center; 9:43 is the time that American Airlines flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. And 10:10 AM is the time that United Airlines flight 93 crashed in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.

So that was 40 minutes between the second tower being hit and the Pentagon crash. And it is an hour and seven minutes until the crash occurred in Pennsylvania.

SENATOR LEVIN: The time that we don't have is when the Pentagon was notified, if they were, by the FAA or the FBI or any other agency, relative to any potential threat or any planes having changed direction or anything like that. And that's the same which you will give us because that's ....

GENERAL MYERS: I can answer that. At the time of the first impact on the World Trade Center, we stood up our crisis action team. That was done immediately.

So we stood it up. And we started talking to the federal agencies. The time I do not know is when NORAD responded with fighter aircraft. I don't know that time.

SENATOR LEVIN: Or the time that I asked you for, which was whether the FAA or FBI notified you that other planes had turned direction from their path, their scheduled path, and were returning or aiming towards Washington, whether there was any notice from any of them, because that's such an obvious shortfall if there wasn't.


SENATOR LEVIN: And in any event, but more important, if you could get us that information.

GENERAL MYERS: It probably happened. As you remember, I was not in the Pentagon at that time, so that part of it is a little hazy. After that, we started getting regular notifications through NORAD, FAA to NORAD, on other flights that we were worried about.

And we knew about the one that eventually crashed in Pennsylvania. I do not know, again, whether we had fighters scrambled on it. I have to ....

SENATOR LEVIN: If you could get us those times then. We know you don' t know them.

GENERAL MYERS: But we'll get them.



The Journal of History - Spring 2004 Copyright © 2004 by News Source, Inc.