9-11: NEADS Mission Crew Commander; a valiant effort, ultimately futile, Part I


This article tells the story of 9-11 by documenting the activity of then Major Kevin Nasypany, Commander, Alpha Flight, and the Mission Crew Commander (MCC) on duty at the Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) on September 11, 2001.  (Picture at link) Alpha flight comprised all duty personnel at the NEADS Sector Operations Control Center (SOCC) other than the Senior Director and the Weapons Controllers who were from Delta Flight.

Major Nasypany sat facing the front of the SOCC floor with his back to the Battle Cab.  He was supported by his immediate staff in his general vicinity, the Identification Technicians to his immediate right and the Surveillance Technicians to his left.  The Senior Director and Weapons Directors were to his front.  Large screens high on the forward wall displayed status information and, in short order, live television coverage on a continuous basis.  Diagrams of the SOCC are available in my work files released by NARA.

Nasypany had the capability of “camping on” and listening to any position on the SOCC floor and often did.  Therefore, his voice was occasionally overridden by conversations or communications taking place elsewhere on the SOCC floor.  Moreover, his own voice was sometimes heard at other positions depending on where he was tuned in.

This article complements and adds to my several previous accounts of the battle on the morning of 9-11.

The Source Material

Major Nasypany’s story is best told primarily in his voice as recorded at NEADS using the Dictaphone .wav recovered files.  Those files are available as individual records or cuts of variable length, depending on dead space.

Each record or cut has a Dictaphone identifier in Zulu time.  There is an approximate 20 minute difference (+/- 10 seconds) between the Dictaphone identifier and actual time.  For example, cut 142148 on DRM1 Channel 4 begins about 144148Z (10:41:48 EDT).  All audio clips in this article have been converted from .wav to .mp3 format which degrades the original fidelity slightly.

In this article I use times derived from the original Dictaphone files provided to the Commission.  I have been provided a copy by NARA.  Times in this article may differ slightly from times established in my Commission work files as made public by NARA.  However, it is not the precise time of a conversation that is important to us here.  What is important is the time difference between conversations and events as spoken or described by Major Nasypany.

Here is the beginning segment of the time stamp as recorded on DRM1, Channel 1 at NEADS on 9-11.  The cut is titled by Dictaphone as CO101_11_09_2001_002817.wav.  DRM1 Time Stamp Beginning


Previously, I have thrice told the story of 9-11, first as a battle in a larger war on terror, then from the point of view of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as derived from Moussaoui trial documentation, and, finally, in terms of Chaos Theory.  This article expands on the battle in a larger war article.

In that article I established that the battle was a two-pronged attack on the National Airspace System, each prong with two prongs.  The NOM (National Operations Manager) of the NAS that morning was Benedict Sliney at the Federal Avaiation Administration’s (FAA) Air Traffic Control System Command Center (ATCSCC or, simply, Herndon Center).

The defender of the  NAS in the North East was Colonel Robert Marr, Commander, North East Air Defense Sector (NEADS).  Colonel Marr sat in the Battle Cab immediately behind Nasypany and in direct communication with him.  Major Nasypany reported directly and continuously to Colonel Marr.  We only hear Nasypany’s end of the conversations.  The positions in the Battle Cab were not recorded.

Exercise Vigilant Guardian

NEADS was in the second week of Exercise Vigilant Guardian which increased in tempo each day.  The exercise was a series of discrete events and, heretofore, NEADS had conducted the exercise with regular manning.  In other words, duty personnel were handling both real world and exercise events.  NEADS was poised to go to 24-hour manning (12-hour shifts) that evening.  They went to 24-hour manning, but not because of the exercise.  Real world events intervened.

I have told the  Vigilant Guardian story in a series of articles which established that there was no exercise activity ongoing after about 0430 EDT.  NEADS had just re-established air sovereignty over the Northeast having passed that authority to the South East Air Defense Sector while NEADS assumed air sovereignty from the Western Air Defense Sector.  That return to normal was the last exercise activity in which NEADS participated.

9-11, the early morning hours

Major Nasypany’s was destined by routine scheduling to be the Mission Crew Commander that morning.  The NEADS tapes established that the day before.  A caller to the MCC/T (Mission Crew Commander/Technician) on Sep 10, asked Sgt Perry if “Nasty” was on duty.  (Nasty was Nasypany’s nickname and he was referred to by that name on occasion on 9-11).  The caller was told that “Nasty” would be on duty the next day.  0910231330 Nasypany status

Things were quiet when Nasypany and Alpha and Delta flights assumed duty.  There was no exercise activity ongoing and real world activity was limited to just two calls.  An Identification (ID) Technician took a call from Giant Killer (The Navy facility that controlled air activity in offshore training areas) to confirm that Otis AFB would be using a training area that morning.  Nasypany took the second call, a weather update concerning the status in the Langley area.

Nasypany had just four air defense aircraft at his command, two at Otis and two at Langley.  A weather update concerning those locations was routine and, as was established in the Vigilant Guardian tapes for previous days, applied to both real world and exercise activity.  Here is that call, an introduction to the voice of Major Kevin “Nasty” Nasypany, initials “kilo november.” (The use of initials is an air traffic control identifier used by NEADS, FAA, and Giant Killer)  0911114837 Nasypany Langley Weather The time was 0809 EDT.

However, Major Nasypany was present for duty well before that time.  About one-half hour earlier he provided an update to the Director of Operations for the night shift.  Here is that conversation.  0911111815 Major Nasypany

That was the extent of notable activity up to the hijack notification from Boston Center.  Nasypany took the quiet time opportunity to take his morning constitutional, in the efficient words of Michael Bronner in his Vanity Fair article, “9/11 Live: The NORAD Tapes.”  And that is where he was when he was abruptly summoned to the operations floor.

The alert, Nasypany summoned

Sergeant Powell took the original call from Boston Center and immediately established that the event was real world not exercise.  I have enhanced that audio clip to emphasize Powell’s reaction as he alerted the SOCC floor on his way to find a Mission Crew Commander.  0911121716 Phone Rings Boston Calling

Immediately, Major Nasypany was summoned to the operations floor. Here is that alert over the PA system by the Mission Crew Commander/Technician (MCC/T) but from Nasypany’s console.  0911121800 Major Nasypany Pronto

During a brief quiet moment just before 0900 EDT Nasypany announced, ultimately for posterity, exactly where he was in earthy and explicit language.  Even though his first thought was exercise he hastened to the operations floor.  0911121800 Nasypany where was I

A little over four hours later at 1709 EDT Nasypany referred again to the announcement by saying he would remember it the rest of his life.  0911164701 Nasypany remember rest of life

Nasypany returns to the SOCC floor

Nasypany was on the SOCC floor by 1240Z (actually 083940 EDT) when he can be heard sitting at his console.  Immediately, Major Deskins made reference to him, “hey Nasty,” during a pause in her conversation with Joe Cooper at Boston Center.  Shortly thereafter, Nasypany plugged in to her conversation.  That activity was recorded on DRM 1 Channel 2, the MCC position, as heard in this clip.  0911121800 Nasypany returns to Ops floor

The Deskins reference was more clearly recorded on DRM1, Channel 3, the MCC/T position, as heard on this next clip.  Deskins’ voice is merged with that of Sergeant Watson who was speaking with Colin Scoggins, also at Boston Center.  0911121934 Deskins Hey Nasty

Battle stations, the NEADS immediate response

Alpha Flight immediately went to work even though their Mission Crew Commander was not on the floor, a sign of a well-trained crew that knew its job.  Sergeant Powell found a trained Mission Crew Commander, Major Deskins.  She answered the call from Joe Cooper just before 1239 EDT.  She immediately asked for both of the critical pieces of information that NEADS needed the Mode 3 (Squawk) and the location.  Cooper had neither. At about 0840 Deskins obtained  a set of coordinates which became a “Z” point 40 miles north of JFK.  The MCC/T recorded that time in the official NEADS log book as the time of notification by FAA concerning AA 11.

Here is a continuous audio clip of just over two minutes duration beginning with Powell telling Cooper someone is coming to the phone and ending with the Weapons Section putting Otis on battle stations.  0911121826 Deskins Cooper First Exchange (DRM2, Channel 14)

Elsewhere, and without hesitation, Sergeant Shelly Watson, an Identification Technician, speed-dialed the Boston military desk.  Colin Scoggins answered that call. I have amplified the following audio clip to document the relationship between Powell’s reaction as he energized the SOCC floor and the trained response by Watson to contact Boston Center without waiting for some one to tell her what to do.  0911121746 The ID Reaction

Concurrently, Master Sergeant Joe McCain, the Mission Crew Commander/Technician (MCC/T) summoned Alpha Flight to the SOCC floor.  0911121844 Alpha Flight report to Ops

While all that was going on Sergeant Kelly from Otis called to report the hijack.  That was the end result of an initial call Boston Center had made to Otis. Here is a continuous audio clip of the first nearly four minutes of recording at the MCC position.  It places Kelly’s call in perspective.  Note that Deskins’s asked if Nasypany had been summoned.  (DRM1, Channel 2).  0911121800 MCC Position first 4 minutes

Further, the Weapons Section, specifically Sergeant Beluscio,  went immediately to work to put Otis on battle stations.  That action can be heard on this next clip as Major Deskins continued her conversation with Joe Cooper.  Weapons understood the plane to be a real world hijack 40 miles north of JFK.  Immediately, Sergeant Powell issued the battle stations order.  0911121826 Powell issues order He established the time as 1241Z (0841 EDT).

In summation, the phone rang at 083716; Powell picked up at 083724 and within 15 seconds had determined that the event was real world, not exercise.  Within 30 seconds he had alerted the SOCC floor to a serious situation. By 0840  Nasypany was on the floor, Deskins was talking to Cooper, Watson was talking to Scoggins and McCain had summoned Alpha Flight personnel to the floor.  By 0841 NEADS had put Otis on battle stations and was grappling with the issue of determining where AA 11 was located.

Otis scrambled, Nasypany takes charge

With Otis on Battle Stations, Major Nasypany turned his attention to three people.  First, he camped on Major Fox’s channel so that he could work the scramble of the Otis fighters.  We hear Fox muse that he had never seen so much real world activity during an exercise..

Second, Nasypany provided direction and guidance to Sergeant Richmond and the surveillance technicians. He directed that necessary radar coverage be maintained and provided a Z point with guidance to search in a 25-mile radius.

Third, he twice briefed Colonel Marr in the battle cab.  In the first brief he received direction to scramble Otis.  That direction was passed to Major Fox who immediately responded that he needed a distance and a direction.  Scramble orders required an altitude, a distance, a direction, and a target.  Fox was told to send the fighters toward the “Z” point.  Absent complete guidance Fox mused to himself “it doesn’t matter,” and worked to execute the scramble.  In the second brief Nasypany provided a status report, to include the scramble and was directed to work with FAA. 0911121800 Naypany takes charge

By that time AA 11 had impacted the North Tower of the World Trade Center, ironically, at the same time that Powell issued the Otis scramble order.  Nevertheless, Nasypany and Alpha Flight continued a search for AA 11 that had been underway for several minutes.

The Hunt for AA 11

In the previous clip Nasypany was heard provided directions to “Steve,” (Sergeant Richmond).  Richmond had two trackers, he advised them that Boston was requesting military assistance, that they did not have a position, and to look for primaries.

His first order of business with the MCC was to inform him of the radar status.  He informed Nasypany that North Truro, J53, was down for scheduled maintenance.  Nasypany responded immediately with guidance to use three other radars.  The time was 0842, Otis had been placed on battle stations and Richmond did not yet have a “Z” point. (DRM2 Channel 15)  0911121906 Richmond radar status

Richmond did not yet have a full crew from the break room and shifted resources commenting that the “exercise was just going to have to go on a bit of a hold.”  He assigned a tracker to hit up targets within 25 miles of the location he was given.  As he was making that assignment AA 11 impacted.  0911122413 Surveillance Richmond

Despite the NEADS response and search at all positions on the SOCC floor the lack of accurate position data did not give Alpha and Delta flights enough time to locate AA 11.  It did not matter, the Otis fighters had just been scrambled and were not yet airborne when AA 11 crashed.

A New Location

As Nasypany completed his update to Colonel Marr word of a new location for AA 11 came in, search track only.  At the same time Nasypany talked to CONR (General Arnold’s headquarters) for the first time and told them they could not enter a track into the system so that CONR (and, by extension, NORAD) could flight follow the hijacked aircraft.  0911121800 New location and call from CONR

By 0850, Nasypany still did not have a location for AA 11 when Colonel Marr called posing that question.  Nasypany told Marr about the CONR call and reported that he told them NEADS had not yet found AA 11, a 767.  Of note, as of the time of the CONR call and Nasypany’s update to the Battle Cab there was no evidence that NEADS knew anything about UA 175.  It is clear that a post facto NORAD timeline that included an 0843 notification time for UA 175 was in error.  0911121800 0850 Battle Cab update no info on UA 175

Managing the Otis Scramble

In the aftermath and by June, 2002, the Otis fighter pilots had internalized the scramble into a public account that was at once dramatic and wrong.  In the Scott Trilogy account, Duffy was reported as saying, “[he] had a bad feeling about the suspected hijacking: something didn’t feel right.  Consequently, he jammed the F-15s throttles into afterburner and the two-ship formation devoured the 153 mi. to New York City at supersonic speeds.”  Except, they did no such thing.  The account remained uncorrected until the Commission staff went to work.

The SOCC floor exchanges between Major Nasypany and Major Fox tell us exactly what happened as the Otis fighters lifted off at 0852 EST. Nasypany and NEADS learned that something hit the World Trade Center, possibly a 737.  Nasypany asked Fox “to plug in,” and gave him specific instructions to “continue taking the fighters down to New York City, JFK area, as best as you can.”  Nasypany still has no knowledge of the UA 175 situation.  0911121800 JFK area as best you can

The Otis fighters lifted off, officially, at 0852 EDT as can be heard on this next clip.  Nasypany turned the management of the scramble over to Major Fox and he determined that it was easier to head the fighters toward a military training area and hold.  He is heard providing that direction to the weapons team controlling the Otis fighters.  Nasypany concurred.  0911121800 Otis fighters to hold

This primary source data and the pertinent radar files are explicit and conclusive evidence that the Otis fighters did not proceed directly to New York City.  That information was knowable by NEADS, NORAD, and the fighter wing at Otis.  There is no excuse for the garbled public story and the subsequent failure of NORAD at the May 23, 2003 Commission hearing to accurately inform both the public and the Commission.

The Status

The time is now 0856 EDT.  NEADS was still looking for AA 11.  FAA had not notified them of the threat of UA175.  Because of the uncertainty about AA 11, NEADS tacticians, Majors Nasypany and Fox, directed a holding pattern for the Otis fighters.  Based on the information available to them in real time that was a logical maneuver.  They knew of only one threat, AA 11, which might be continuing south.  They knew something, possibly a 737 but possibly AA 11, had struck the World Trade Center.  They had just four air defense aircraft at their disposal.  Two were airborne and were being maneuvered, two were on the ground at Langley Air Force Base, on alert, but not on battle stations.

Just eighteen minutes had passed since the phone rang with the first, and so far only request for military support.  The situation was still linear and manageable with just the Otis fighters.  All that would change as we shall hear in succeeding installments.  Unbeknownst to NEADS, New York Center was dealing with a second hijacked airplane, UA 175.

(Added June 6, 2011)  Also, unbeknownst to NEADS,  Indianapolis Center had just lost AA 77 on radar.

To be continued