The purpose of this article is to upload specific audio clips from the Commission Staff interview with Steve Marra, Andrews Tower. The interview was recorded and archived by NARA. NARA provided the audio file to me.
The interview was conducted by Miles Kara, Kevin Shaefer, and Lisa Sullivan on Mar 11, 2004. I was the lead on this interview. 09110016 Marra Introduction
Marra was working Approach Control during the World Trade Center events and thought he was in the Tower when the Pentagon was hit, as tower supervisor. Staff went over the logs with him and determined that David Maddox and Roosevelt Thompson were switching off as tower supervisor. Marra had gone upstairs to help and was manning the telephone. Both Maddox and Thompson, according to Marra, were then working at Potomac TRACON. 09110124 Maddox and Thompson
Concerning the direction to scramble the F-16s at Andrews, Marra was certain that the call came from Karen Pontius at FAA Headquarters and perhaps through her from a person, unidentified, sitting in front of her. He recalled the time to be right after the Pentagon was hit. 09110459 Marra Pontius Scramble Order09110703 Marra Unknown Person
According to Marra the announcement that was made on ATIS (Automated Terminal Information System) was made by David Maddox. Someone in FAA or the Air Force gave him the direction. There was no precedence for that announcement and the words were likely crafted by Maddox, based on direction given to him. 09110901Marra The Maddox Announcement
Marra distinguished the three specific Air Force entities at issue, the 113th (DC Guard), Base Operations, and the Command Post. The Post, according to Marra was part of the 89th Wing (Presidential support). The 89th Command Post ran the base, according to Marra. 09111036 Marra 3 Air Force entities at Andrews
There is some confusion as to whether or not Exercise Vigilant Guardian interfered with NEADS Sector Operations Control Center (SOCC) floor operations during the defense against the hijackings. The primary source evidence is that there was no interference.
The purpose of this article, therefore, is to place the evidence in perspective, given that we now know how Exercise Vigilant Guardian 01 was conducted.
Exercise Vigilant Guardian perspective
The Exercise was a series of discrete events at least up to and including the morning of 9-11. There was no continuous flow of exercise traffic, injects, or simulated radar. I have described that series of discrete events for each exercise day under the category “Exercise Vigilant Guardian.”
A background announcement on Sep 6, announced that exercise hours would be 1000-2200 hours each day, including weekends, until 24-hour manning was required. 0906200336 Exercise Hours There was occasional discussion and speculation on the SOCC floor in succeeding days as to when 24-hour manning would start. The consensus was that it would be either Sep 11 or Sep 12.
Despite the announced hours the start time was flexible, typically at mid-morning, but not always. The start time was apparently predicated more on needed exercise play rather than a set schedule.
One day’s (Sep 6) major event did not begin until late afternoon. On another day (Sep 10) there was an early morning event to test NEADS ability to sustain operations given a mechanical failure to an air defense fighter. During the night of Sep 10-11 there was an event dedicated solely to expansion, the ability of one CONR sector to cover for another.
On at least one occasion there was middle-of-the-night position training, a narrowly focused simulation to qualify an Identification Technician. That training required the presence of one or two controllers in the exercise cell.
On the morning of 9-11 as the hijacker attack began to unfold unbeknownst to NEADS, FAA and the nation there was no exercise activity ongoing on the SOCC floor. Anecdotal accounts indicate that NEADS was poised waiting for an exercise to start that never came. Or did it?
Exercise Vigilant Guardian Last Vestiges
There were no exercise injects, no calls from the exercise cell, no messages, nothing to interfere with the real world battle that commenced, for NEADS, at 0830.
However, the exercise simulated radar feed had not been turned off and that feed apparently started around 0930, a time consistent with start of the exercise day on Sep 7 and Sep 9.
At 093016, a voice on the MCC channel, most likely Major Nasypany [my estimate, based on the voice] said, “you know what get rid of this God dam sim, turn your, hey, turn the sim switches off, get rid of that crap! ” 0911130735 Get Rid of That Crap Nasypany’s order was carried out in less than ten seconds.
Here is an audio clip of the surveillance loop (the trackers) from 0928 to 0931. The trackers were looking for AA 11 (radar only) and were glancing at CNN on one of the SOCC display screens. At 093025 the announcement ordered by Major Nasypany is made to “all surveillance,” “turn off your sim switches.” 0911130304 Shut Sim Switches Down
It is clear from this primary source record that the officer-in-charge of the SOCC floor, Major Nasypany, immediately recognized that the exercise electronic flow had started and he took immediate action to stop the interference.
Exercise Vigilant Guardian 01 died a swift death at the hands of Major Nasypany. The exercise interruption was a brief transient, a blip on the screen, nothing more.
(Paragraph updated 4/24/11) The actions of the chain of command were less swift but just as sure. Exercise Vigilant Guardian was buried via a conference call by NORAD. The first NORAD call was to Capt Nagel from Capt Taylor with instructions to terminate all exercise inputs. Nagel immediately referred him to an admin number. In this next clip, in context, we hear the Taylor call and Nagel’s response. Interestingly, Nagel first answerd the phone, “Sim,” he had been working in the exercise cell. He immediately corrected himself. The call came as NEADS was looking for UA 93, without success since it was down, and was following D 1989. The audio file begins at 1010 EDT and Taylor’s call comes a minute later. 0911132648 First NORAD call to terminate
The death rattle of Exercise Vigilant Guardian was occasionally heard on the SOCC floor as people mused, joked, or otherwise commented on the situation, before and after its demise. The rattle began in the surveillance section as they defined a search area to look for AA 11. The time was 0844. The AST commented, “the exercise is going to have to go on a little bit of hold here,” as he shifted manpower to hunt for an ill-defined target, but one with a “Z point around which a 25-mile box was designated for search. Note that he equated a primary target to a search target. 0911122413 Exercise going on hold
A few seconds earlier, Major Fox, who was prone to muse anyway–“how do we know the balloon was friendly?”–commented on the MCC channel, “I’ve never seen so much real world stuff happen during an exercise.” Here, Fox is commenting on the time frame of the exercise, based on his years-long experience at NEADS. 0911121800 Real world during exercise Fox
More than an hour later, after the exercise feed had been terminated to the NEADS SOCC floor, a person in the weapons section commented to no one in particular, “you sure this isn’t an exercise,” and then laughed. 0911132558 Sure it isn’t exercise
No one could have predicted that a plane never under duress could be a center piece in the unfolding events of 9-11. Yet it was and its story became conflated and confused as the government, in particular NORAD and FAA, failed to sort out the events of the day in the aftermath. It was a significant flap of a butterfly’s wings that morning.
In this article we will tell the Delta 1989 story using the best primary source, the actual voices of the people involved. The clarity of my emerging understanding of the story comes about for two reasons. First, I now use the lens of chaos theory to revisit, study and better understand the events of that morning. Second, I now have the luxury of time to parse the audio files of the day in detail and with an overarching theory in place.
I have touched on Delta 1989 in other articles. The radar files show that the paths of UA 93 and D 1989 were such that controllers had to move Delta 1989 out of the way, to cause it to “meander.” We know that NORAD, Colonel Marr and General Arnold in particular, recall watching UA 93 “meander.” We also know that Delta 1989 was the only plane for which NEADS established a track, B-89, and forwarded that track to NORAD. Delta 1989 was the only “hijacked” plane that NORAD would report about in the National Military Command Center’s (NMCC) Air Threat Conference. Delta 1989 took on a life of its own far beyond its mere position as simply one other aircraft aloft.
So, how did all that happen? Here is that story, and we began with a discussion of how chaos built that morning as the nation grappled with unfolding events it did not anticipate, under estimated as they occurred, and, in both real time and the final analysis, did not understand.
Chaos, from Boston to Herndon
Events became chaotic for Boston Center (ZBW) the moment a strange voice was heard on frequency by the controller responsible of AA 11. Boston’s reaction was straight forward, they declared a hijack at 8:25, notified Herndon Center at 8:27, contacted Otis TRACON at 8:34 and NEADS at 8:38. They thought they had things under control and the situation transferred to New York Center (ZNY).
The transfered situation was not immediately chaotic; it was a matter of finding AA 11 spatially, they had it on radar, and projecting a potential destination. All that changed at 8:46 when AA 11 slammed into the World Trade Center north tower and the attack bifurcated. The transponder code for UA 175 changed and changed again as it morphed into a transponding intruder and, UA 175, itself, became a plane of interest.
Watchers around the world saw UA 175 knife into the second World Trade Center tower. What no one knew was that the original attack, itself, had bifurcated, AA 77 went missing and was presumed down. That was chaotic for Indianapolis Center, but not for Herndon Center. The lost report went to FAA’s Great Lake Center and to the DoD’s Rescue Coordination Center, and no further.
In the immediate aftermath of the two-pronged attack on New York Center, Herndon Center and the air traffic control centers did what they could to control chaos; they established bounds, ground stops at key locations.
However, while this was happening ZBW had been assessing the situation. Ever proactive–hijack notification to the military, cockpit notification to planes under its purview–ZBW concluded that there was a developing pattern and it reported its assessment to Herndon Center.
Delta 1989 becomes a plane of interest
ZBW concluded that the pattern was that transcontinental flights to Los Angeles from Boston were being hijacked. There wee three planes that fit that model–AA 11, UA 175, and Delta 1989. They reported that observation to both New England Region, its higher administrative headquarters, and to Herndon Center, tis higher operational headquarters.
That initiative took hold before anything was known about AA 77 outside of Indianapolis Center and Great Lakes Region. It is the most likely source of concern by the air traffic control system that there might be a third plane. That “third plane” was not AA 77, it was not UA 93, it was Delta 1989.
The purpose of this article is to pull together multiple topics into a coherent whole to assess information that FAA was receiving and processing in real time. Our source is the audio file for Operations Phone 5115, Position 15, Air Traffic Control System Command Center (Herndon Center).
The line was left open to FAA Headquarters and to the FAA tactical net. That provides historians and other researchers a real time window into the workings of FAA as a whole, thanks to the initiative of a Herndon Center air traffic specialist who decided on his own to leave the line open. No lines or positions were recorded at FAA Headquarters on 9-11.
In this article we will examine the second of one set of four cassette tapes provided to the Commission by FAA. That tape was digitized and is documented as 5 DCC 1912 Ops Phone 5115, Pos 15 1315-1415 UTC. Historians and serious researchers who want to upload and study the tape can do sohere. The upload will take about one-half hour and will be well worth the effort.
My further recommendation is that interested persons make the investment in an audio analysis program such as Adobe Audition. Such an investment will allow you to quickly find and time stamp key conversations and to enhance and clarify background conversations.
One procedural caution. Each FAA tape provided to the Commission has a lead-in certification by a Quality Assurance specialist that the tape is a true recording. The duration of that certification must be measured and subtracted from the time ruler for whatever playback software one is using. The lengths of the certifications vary. For example, the certification for the first tape in the series lasts 59 seconds. The certification on the tape of interest, 1315-1415 UTC (9:15-10:15 EDT), lasts 16 seconds.
Clarification of Some Issues
A close review of this tape resolves some things, clarifies others, and, in my case, provides additional insight into things I worked on while on the Commission Staff
First, it is clear from this tape that the FAA primary net merged with the tactical net. Although the primary net was activated at 9:20 no operational information was ever passed; it was still born, as I’ve stated in a different article.
Second, I have taken the position in several articles that the FAA’s Regions as administrative headquarters had no business in the midst of the battle being fought by Herndon Center. This tape supports that position.
Third, it is now clear that the Herndon Center reference of going to the CARF (Central Altitude Reservation Facility) for military support had nothing to do with scrambling fighters. That was always nonsensical to me, given my understanding of the CARF as I discussed in the final article of the Scott Trilogy. The reference is to obtaining clearance for the E4B, VIVI 36, which had asked Patterson Tower (Wright-Patterson AFB) for clearance to fly a Presidential Support mission to JFK airport.
Fourth, the conflation of information concerning the four incident aircraft and D 1989 is evident throughout. In a recent article I said I would document the point at which Herdon Center had had enough and interrupted to say so. You will hear that interruption and the clarity with which Herdon Center stated what was known.
Fifth, it is clear that information was being passed in real time concerning the fate of UA 93, less so for AA 77. Moreover, if one listens to background voices the passing of information up the chain of command can be heard. There is no question that Headquarters FAA had far more real time information than was made available to Jane Garvery or that she shared with Richard Clarke. The SVTS was activated at 9:25 and was operational by 9:40. Garvey mentioned only AA 11 and UA 175, according to Clarke. Why was that so? SVTS was a closed system; Garvey did not know what her Operations Center knew.
Sixth, it is clear that the evacuation of key government buildings came after the Pentagon incident.
Seventh, it is clear how the terms “air phone” and “cell phone” became conflated. That happened in real time as we shall find.
The Situation at 9:15
The only two planes of interest at Herndon Center and FAA Headquarters were AA 11 and UA 175, both were estimated to have hit the World Trade Center towers. The fact that AA 77 was lost was known within FAA at Indianapolis Center and Great Lakes Region, only.
The only request for military assistance other than Boston Center’s initiative to Otis was by New York Center to Herndon. New York Center called off the request when they learned of the Otis scramble. That brief conversation between Pete Mulligan (ZNY) and Rick Bell (Ops Phone 5110, Herndon) took place at 9:02.
For those interested in real time news reporting, the line at Position 13, Herndon Center was open and Bryant Gumbel’s coverage can be continuously heard clearly in the background.
It started about 9:16 with a suggestion from Boston Center (ZBW) about a warning to aircraft to increase cockpit security. ZBW followed that at 9:20 with concern about D 1989. ZBW had assessed the situation and determined that the hijack profile, from its perspective, was transcontinental flights originating in Boston. The one other flight that fit the profile was D 1989.
We do not hear the false report of AA 11 still airborne, but the aftermath is clearly captured. Metro D. C. was ground stopped at 9:24. Four minutes later Herndon Center asked Cleveland if they had AA 11 on radar; the answer was no. Shortly thereafter everything was ground stopped everywhere.
Herndon Center then initiated a nationwide airborne inventory at 9:31. , Cleveland Center (ZOB) immediately reported shortly after 9:32 that UA 93 had a bomb on board. That was the compelling transmission and chaos began to prevail despite Herndon Center’s best efforts to keep the situation bounded.
In part 2 we covered how Cleveland Center, ZOB, kept Herndon Center informed. In this article we will go back to Cleveland Center and continue the UA93 story in the voices of the day. We start at the scope level at the Lorain Radar position and will tell that controller’s story up to the time the UA 93 transponder is turned off.
Two things will assist the reader. First, note interlaced conversations with D 1989 and observe that, at the scope level, information concerning D 1989 and UA 93 is not conflated. Second, the following graphic will orient the reader spatially. Times on the graphic are not radar times, they are times taken from the FAA transcript of air traffic control communications at the Lorain Radar Position. The graphic is one a set of powerpoint slides I made in summer 2003.
Shortly thereafter the controller heard the first indication of something wrong. He could not understand the transmission and did not know what it was or from where it came. The time was shortly after 9:28. Here is what the controller heard. UA 93 first evidence of hijack
As we hear next the controller was busy and it took him a few seconds to react to what was heard. ZOB controller query
Fourteen seconds later the controller heard this transmission on his frequency. UA93 get out of here
Again, the controller did not know what was happening or from where the transmission originated. He began a series of checks to verify the status of UA 93. He asked the pilot to verify his altitudeUA 93 FL 350 and then to “ident,” to send a signal that would cause the UA 93 icon to flash on the controller’s screen. ZOB UA93 Ident please. Note the similarity to the approach used at Boston to deal with AA 11. The difference in this case was that UA 93’s transponder was still on
The controller was homing in on UA 93 as the problem. He gave UA 93 two specific instructions, neither of which was followed. He also called a ‘company’ plane, another United flight and asked him to make a maneuver which the controller would be able to observe on his screen.
Executive Jet (EJ) 956 also heard the unusual transmissions and interacted with the controller several times as he worked to ensure safety in the sky. Shortly after talking to EJ 956 the controller heard this transmission on his frequency. UA93 Bomb on Board The time was 9:32.
We know that the Controller was talking to his supervisors and suspected the transmission came from UA 93. As we learned in Part 2, Herndon Center had issued an order for an airborne inventory. The ZOB TMU desk responded immediately notifying Herndon that UA 93 had a bomb on board. Herndon knew within seconds what ZOB knew, that there was another hijacked plane in the system and that it was UA 93.
That information would not find its way to Jane Garvey, headed into an SVTS conference with Richard Clarke. As we learned in my SVTS article, Clarke’s first words were to ask for an FAA update. Garvey told him about AA 11 and UA 175 and no other specific aircraft.
Delta 1989 checks in
D 1989 checked in with Lorain at 9:32:30. It became a plane of interest, not because it was hijacked but because it was in the path of UA 93 as it turned and headed back East. D 1989 Checks In. Shortly thereafter an unspecified aircraft checked in and asked if the controller heard a ‘bomb on board.’ The controller, unsure, asks if that is UA 93. Plane asks about Bomb on Board
EJ 956 again interacted with the controller providing supporting information. Note in this next clip that the controller advised another plane to limit conversations with him.ZOB another confirmation controller busy
There is a garble in FAA’s partial transcript for the Lorain Radar position as faxed on September 19, 2001 from the ZOB 520 Airspace Office. It is not clear if this was a transcriber error or an error in transmittal. Either way, there is a disconnect between Pages 5 of 15 and 6 of 15 (Fax pages 12 and 13). About two minutes of recorded air traffic control conversation were either not transcribed or not sent. That was an administrative error and has no bearing on our understanding of events. We have the audio files.
UA 93 climbs to the West and turns back East
The chart at the beginning of the article, a plot of data from the 84th RADES radar files, shows that it took Jarrah five minutes to complete the turn back, 9:34-9:39. He was unable to maintain altitude and the plane climbed to nearly 41,000 feet during the turn. Thereafter, Jarrah did not maintain altitude, the plane gradually descended and at one time was a potential threat to Pittsburgh Tower, which evacuated.
Note that there have been no cockpit warning notifications to pilots in the air. As we discussed in an article about such notifications, that task was a carrier responsibility.
The transponder on the last hijacked plane, UA 93, has just been turned off. NEADS, through the Joint Surveillance System will have only seven minutes to acquire the plane as a target. UA 93 will drop below JSS coverage at 9:47 while approaching the tri-border area between Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
NEADS does not know about this plane and will not know until after it crashes. It has acquired Delta 1989 and has established track B-89 and has forward told that track to CONR and NORAD. It learned of AA 77 shortly before impact and briefly established a track, B-32, which it did not have time to forward tell. Earlier, it had learned about the rebirth of AA 11, as reported to them by Boston Center. That fortuitous misreport actually trigger the Langley scramble, which went astray.
The Langley fighters are now under AFIO (Authority for Intercept Operations) and have been redirected toward the nation’s capital. One of the three planes will fly directly over the Pentagon at 10:00.
23,000 feet directly below the NMCC will be in the midst of an air threat conference which they convened as the Pentagon was being struck. At 9:40 the key agency, FAA, is not on the conference. Concurrently, the NMCC is a participant in a CIA-convened NOIWON along with the FAA security watch seven stories below the FAA’s Washington Operations Center at FAA Headquarters. No real-time information is available on that link
However, seven stories higher the FAA WOC is getting near real time information concerning UA 93. That information is not being shared on FAA’s primary net because that net, activated at 9:20 to include the NMCC, was still born. Concurrently, Administrator Garvey, as of 9:40 is a participant in a just-beginning, closed-system SVTS conference with Richard Clarke. She is disconnected from the WOC and is not aware of the near real-time information being passed by Cleveland Center via Herndon Center to the WOC.
No one at levels above Clarke is effectively engaged. Secretary Rumsfeld has left his office for the Pentagon crash site. General Myers has departed Senator Cleland’s office and is en route the Pentagon. The Vice President is on his way to the PEOC at the insistence of the Secret Service. Secretary Mineta is out of pocket en route the White House to join the Vice President.
AT 9:40 the President is on his way to board Air Force One and departs at 9:55. It is his intention to return to the nation’s capital. Concurrent with the arrival of the Langley fighters to protect the capital the President’s advisors and protectors recommend he not return. At 10:10, with the nation’s capital protected, Air Force One turns west and heads for Barksdale Air Force Base.
At 9:40 aboard UA 93 the passengers and cabin crew are learning of the fate of other hijacked aircraft and of their near certain fate. They begin to take matters into their own hands. They accomplish what no one else at any level can do; they counter-attack, successfully for the nation, tragically for themselves.