9-11: Transponders and Ghosts; the search for AA 11

This brief article provides additional evidence that air traffic control was looking for AA 11 after the false report that it was still airborne and possibly heading for the nation’s capital.

Washington Area Ground Stop

On a conference call shortly before 9:24, Herndon Center directed a ground stop into the D. C. metro area; National, Dulles and Baltimore.  That action followed the determination, somehow, that AA 11 was still airborne.  I am not aware of any primary source information that documents that determination.

Here are the primary source voices, recorded at Position 14, Ops phone 5154 at Herndon Center. 092354 Ground Stop DC area

Radar and TSD Search

It is clear that someone a few minutes later, most likely Herndon Center, observed on a Traffic Situation Display (TSD) that AA 11, on its original flight path, was still in the system and was, according to Herndon Center, crossing the boundary into Cleveland Center’s (ZOB) airspace.  Herndon called the ZOB Traffic Management Unit and asked if they had the plane on radar.  ZOB checked; they did not.  That exchange also occurred at Position 14, Ops phone 5154.  092815 Herndon asks Cleveland about AA11

Note that this recording also confirms Ben Sliney’s order to ground stop everything, everywhere.  The time was just approaching 9:29.


The latter exchange is clear evidence that there were two AA 11 flight paths in the TSD system.  Recall that we established that a new track, AA 11A, had been entered to track AA 11 after it turned south in the vicinity of Albany, New York.  Conversations on tapes from New York Center (ZNY) verify that action.

It is clear from this Herndon exchange with Cleveland that the old flight plan was not removed from the system.  I recall that there was a later second call to a Midwestern Center, most likely Kansas City, posing the same question as was posed to ZOB.  I will add a link to that audio when I find it.

It has long been established that the primary source voice that announced the rebirth of AA 11 was Colin Scoggins at ZBW in a call to NEADS.  The conversations in this article show that Colin was not the only one who heard a reference to AA 11.

John Farmer and I believe, intuitively, that the false information concerning AA 11 was conflated from the report by Great Lakes Region that AA 77 had been lost.  We continue to work to resolve the issue.  My personal estimate, as I’ve voice in several articles, is that the FAA’s regional structure and its focus on incident and accident investigation, interfered with the Herndon counterattack that morning.