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.
UA 93 Takeover
UA 93 enters Cleveland airspace
The Lorain controller had a busy morning. It took two attempts by UA 93 to check in with him, as heard on these two clips. UA 93 checks in with ZOB and ZOB acknowledges UA 93. The time was 9:25.
Lorain last communicated with the pilot not quite three minutes later, 9:27:30. ZOB UA 93 last normal communication.
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 altitude UA 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.
He then took an additional step. He compared information with other planes in the air. The time was 9:31. Check with UA 1523 and Controller check with AA 1060
Bomb on Board, passed immediately to Herndon
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
The controller began to redirect traffic away from UA 93, which he could still see on his screen; it was transponding, he knew where it was and its altitude. Among the aircraft involved was D 1989. Controller vectors other traffic and UA93 spotted, D1989 diverted
Note to Historians, Researchers and Writers
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.
The Lorain controller constantly redirected traffic before and during the turn, as heard at these clips. UA93 at Dryer per EJ 956 and Controller redirects traffic
Taking Stock, What is and isn’t happening at 9:40
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.