9-11: AA11; a Different Perspective


This article is an extension of my orginal work several years ago about transponders and ghosts, (here and here).  There is still considerable confusion in the blogosphere about the rebirth of American Airlines flight 11 on September 11, 2001, and why that came to be.  I still have research to do on this issue, but thought this detailed review, based exclusively on primary sources, the recorded conversations of the day would be useful to serious researchers, academicians and historians. To begin, let’s briefly review the attack against the World Trade Center.

The Attack

The terrorist plan of attack was a model of military planning, rehearsal, and execution. The attack was classic; two axes of advance, each axis with a two-pronged assault. Such an attack is meant to sow seeds of disorganization and confusion, to maximize chaos and minimize awareness. The attack succeeded on the northern axis because of tight planning and execution which leveraged luck at key points. The attack on the southern axis was less well planned and executed and failed in its final prong, United Airlines flight 93 (UA 93).

We as yet do not know the details of the plan and may never know. What we do know is that the planning for the attack against the World Trade Center eliminated one key variable which was a potential hindrance to success. The northern attack succeeded in part because the hijackers selected two planes scheduled to take off from the same airport in the same timeframe. That allowed al Shehhi in United Airlines flight 175 (UA 175) to see the result of the impact of AA 11 and immediately change the transponder code for UA 175.

In the south, United Airlines 93 (UA 93) was 40 minutes late in taking off and was not on the scene to either precede or follow AA 77. We do not know the planned sequence. UA 93 was brought down well short of its destination through the courageous actions of the passengers and remaining crew.

Overall, the attack did create confusion and the resultant chaos and uncertainty was unfathomable by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and its en route traffic control centers, traffic control (TRACON) facilities, and airport towers. Here is the story of that chaos and confusion and we begin with the impact of AA 11 into the World Trade Center (WTC), North Tower.

The Impact

According to radar and seismic data AA 11 impacted shortly before 9:46:30 EDT.  The 9/11 Commission, by convention, used National Traffic Safety Board (NTSB) derived times and reported an impact time of 9:46:40. Commission staff grappled with the question of whether to report times in minutes or in minutes and seconds. The solution was to report in minutes and seconds but use NTSB times, by definition.

It didn’t matter. The time issue paled in comparison to the magnitude of the problem that immediately faced air traffic control. It was sufficient to know that shortly after 8:46 EDT a catastrophic event had occurred.

There were two situations, two questions. Where was AA 11? What hit the WTC? Although some controllers and supervisors intuitively knew that it was AA 11 that hit the tower that intuition did not gain traction. The reason is simple. The last known altitude for AA 11 was 29,000 feet and air traffic control thought it had confirmation of that altitude from other planes in the sky, to include, ironically, UA 175.

Here is the impact and immediate aftermath in the voices of the day as captured on air traffic facility tapes at multiple locations. We begin with La Guardia Tower.

La Guardia Tower

At about 8:46:43 a helicopter, Bravo Quebec asked La Guardia, “?did a?” southbound go off your scope?” The Tower missed the transmission and asked for a repeat.  Bravo Quebec responded: ?Did a? south go off your scope down by the World Trade?” And by 8:47 EDT Bravo Quebec reported that ‘[it] looks like something just collided.  0847 Looks Liike Something Just Collided

Concurrently, a different controller also fielded a call from a helicopter that there was a fire at the WTC. 0847 Fire at the World Trade Center The controller reported that the Port Authority was being notified. 0848 Calling the Port Right Now

At that time La Guardia was uncertain if something had hit the WTC or something had happened inside. Either way, By 8:55 EDT, La Guardia was working with police and news helicopters to clear air space around the WTC. A helicopter reported that “we possibly have a plane into the World Trade.”  0855 Possible Plane into the World Trade

By 9:00 EDT, at the tower controller level, there was still uncertainty as to what happened and Tetterboro and La Guardia controllers exchanged views as to whether the explosion was inward or outward. Soon thereafter, a police helicopter reported that the explosion was inward and a news helicopter, Chopper 4, reported he could see the impact area. A controller speculated that it might be a small airplane.  Chopper 4 reported that “we can’t tell how big it is right now.  0900 Helicopter reports police and news

At 9:03 EDT, an unknown caller reported that a 737 just struck the World Trade Center.  The controller was incredulous and responded, “a seven thirty seven??”  That was not a belated reference to what struck the tower earlier. That was a near-real time report that UA 175 had struck the south tower. 0903 A 737 Just Struck the World Trade Center

To recapitulate at the tower level: as of 9:03 EDT two planes had struck the WTC, one perhaps small and one a 737. At La Guardia, the controllers were simply incredulous about the chaos before them. They knew nothing about developments well to the West where Indianapolis Center had lost contact with AA 77. La Guardia was not alone.  No one else in the air traffic ccntrol system knew about AA 77, to include New York TRACON, the next higher echelon in FAA.


By 8:52 EDT, New York TRACON was looking for AA 11. In an extended exchange, Mike Sammartino, the Air Space Branch Manager, Eastern Region, a manager without access to a radar, called a traffic manager, Carl, at the TRACON Traffic Management Unit to get instructions on how to located a track on “TMS” (Traffic Management System, sometimes referred to as TSD, Traffic Situation Display). Sammartino was looking for AA 11.

During the conversation, Carl told Sammartino that he had lost AA 11 on the radar. Sammartino saw AA 11 on the TSD, but it is not clear if he was watching the original flight plan for AA 11 or a new track, 11A. Both were visible on TMS/TSD.  More on that later.

More important, during that conversation someone broke in and told Sammartino that “an airplane crashed into the side of the WTC.”  Sammartino immediately said, “hey Rick,” a reference to Rick DuCharme, the Assistant Regional Air Traffic Manager. 0852 Hang on Whats That By 8:53 EDT, both Region and TRACON knew some about the developing WTC situation.

By chance, an off duty sector supervisor called in to Liberty Sector, New York TRACON, to discuss his shift time. The several minute exchange between the two supervisors provides a glimpse of how uncertain the situation was at a sector supervisor level. (Warning: this audio file contains profanity) 0852 TRACON Discussion

At this point, TRACON (Possibly the Operations Manager, Bob Burch)  called New York Center ( ZNY) to ask if they had a track on “that American.” TRACON was told that “he went into coast and we lost the target on him.” In that exchange the “into coast” reference was to the radar track, not the TMS/TDS display. The ZNY voice was, himself, incredulous when told that an airplane hit the WTC.  “Who said an airplane hit it?”  He was told it was on the news. 0852 twenty west of Kennedy

That conversation between ZNY and NY TRACON established that the last reported position of the track of AA 11 was “twenty west of Kennedy.” Twenty west of Kennedy (in miles) is over the Northeast corner of Staten Island, near the New Jersey border.

And that leads us to ZNY (New York Center) and one of the  most important recorded conversations concerning the relationship between AA 11 and  UA 175, a conversation that tied both New York Center and New York TRACON together at the senior manager level.

New York Center

The situation as of 8:53 EDT.  Dave Bottiglia, an Area B air traffic controller, was handling both AA 11 and UA 175.  He became aware that UA 175 was not responding to his calls and he had the Operations Manager In Charge (OMIC), Bruce Barrett in his area.  Concurrently, the Facilities Manager, Mike McCormick called Carl at TRACON Traffic Management to speak to the Operations Manager there, Bob Burch.  Before McCormick could get on the phone with Burch he received a call from Barrett in Area B about UA 175, but not by name.  Bottiglia’s voice can be heard in deep background.  In the course of the near two minute clip McCormick equated Bottiglia’s new situation with AA 11.  I have transcribed the clip because of its importance.

0853 McCormick, Burch, Barrett in real time

Carl: TRACON Traffic Management, Carl.

McCormick: Hello Carl, it’s Mike McCormick, how ya doin?

Carl: Good

McCormick: Who’s got the watch?

Carl: Ah, Bob Burch does right now. Ah, He’s on the phone, I guess, we’ve got con.., well we’ve got some reports of a plane hitting the World Trade Center.

McCormick: Okay

Carl: So, ah I think he’s trying to follow up on that right now. Ah.

McCormick: Okay, hold on, I’m on, I’m on two phones at the same time. Who’s, who’s this callin’ me on Area B line?

McCormick: Okay Bruce, what have you got?

Barrett: (Barrett’s voice is not heard)

Bottiglia: in background, Hey, ah, you see this target? I don’t know what he’s doing but he’s not answering me right now.

McCormick: Right, OK.

McCormick: (back to TRACON) New, New York Tower’s confirmed that?

Carl: I don’t know, you wanta talk to Bob real quick?

McCormick: Yep. Okay

Carl: Let me put Bob,

McCormick: Go ahead and put Bob on

Carl: hang on one, hang on

McCormick: (to Barrett) I’ve got TRACON on the other line.

McCormick: Okay, it’s not lookin’ good

Burch: Hi Mike, how ya doin?

McCormick: Hey Bob, Ah, New York Tower’s (sic) tellin us it looks like they have a confirmed hit.

Burch: On the Trade Center?

McCormick: Yeah

Burch: Okay, I’m talkin’ to my Deputy right now, hold on.

Background: pretty sure…We’re not positive…

Burch: Okay, Mike, I’ve got to go, I’m on another line, right now, I’m talking to [indistinct]

McCormick: Bob, Bob, we may have two things going on at once.

Burch: Okay

McCormick: Alright. Because there, we have another aircraft we’re also tracking, also appears to be a hijack [possible reference to both AA 11 and UA 175]

McCormick: We might have multiple terrorist activity going on. [Clear reference to more than one hijack]

Burch: So, is that American Eleven?

McCormick: Right, so

Burch: Where is he at, can you tell us? Cus..

McCormick: We don’t know for sure, we’re tryin’ to track him down. We got a primary target we’re also trackin’ that appears to be the American.

Burch: Okay

McCormick: Be careful, don’t make assumptions

Burch: Alright, check

McCormick: Okay

This three-way conversation clearly depicts the confusion and chaos that the attack caused. In real time, McCormick was conflicted about what he was hearing. He knew there were two incidents, possibly separate, AA 11 and whatever flew into the North Tower. Even though he heard Bottiglia in background, McCormick assumed what he was hearing pertained to AA 11, as he relayed to Burch.  It bears restating at this point. Dave Bottiglia was handling both AA 11 and UA 175 and he did not say “UA 175” in the background conversation heard by McCormick.

Several minutes before that, at 8:49 EDT, there was an important exchange between Bruce Barrett at New York Center and Ron Ruggieri a manager at Eastern Region. Eastern Region was a largely administrative headquarters between air traffic control facilities and FAA Headquarters.  That morning, Eastern Region interjected itself operationally, co-opting what should have been a flow of operational information between air traffic control facilities and the Air Traffic Control System Command Center (Herndon Center).

In the exchange it is clear that Eastern Region lagged in its understanding of the situation and took a leap of logic forward to assume that AA 11 was “South of Kennedy.”  It is the Eastern Region bridge (telecon) to which Colin Scoggins at Boston Center was listening and it is one likely source of the later misinformation that AA 11 was still airborne, as reported by Scoggins to the Norheast Air Defense Sector.  0849 ZNY Eastern Region South of Kennedy

Back to New York TRACON

While that senior management conversation between Barrett, McCormick and Burch took place, a person at TRACON named Joe called Newark Tower to confirm that there was something going on at the Trade Center; answer was “a lot of smoke.”  The two individuals determined that whatever struck the tower was nothing that TRACON was working and that the hijacked airplane was “high altitude.”   This conversation shows that the last known altitude for AA separated the World Trade Center impact from AA 11 in the minds of some controllers and managers as they attempted to grasp what was happening. 0854 Uncertainty over high altitude

Concurrently, a US Air representative, Bruce,  called Carl at New York TRACON to ask if the plane that hit the World Trade Center was one of theirs. Bruce was told that it was not even confirmed that a plane hit the Center. “We’ll have to turn on CNN to find out.”  Immediately thereafter, Wanda at the Air Traffic Control Command Center (Herndon Center) called Carl to ask about the larger traffic control issue, what to do with other air traffic. The answer, “At this time we’re just trying to ascertain what’s going on.” There were no traffic stops in place at any facility at that point. 0855 TRACON called by US Air and Herndon Center

As that conversation concluded, Bob Burch passed on the information he received from Mike McCormick about multiple terrorist activity. In that pass Burch distinguished that AA 11 was the possible second hijack separate from the report from Newark Tower that an aircraft hit the top of the World Trade Center. Burch also passed McCormick’s caution “don’t  assume anything.” They didn’t know of AA 11 “was involved in that [WTC], or if he’s still flying around.” 0857 Burch relays McCormick report

As of 8:58 EDT, at the TRACON and Tower level. there was no correlation between the plane that impacted the WTC and AA 11 except that “they had lost AA 11 on radar.” Before we return to New York Center and higher FAA echelons, however,we need to find out what was going on at NEADS.

Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS)

The first location for AA 11 was passed to Major Dawne Deskins by Joe Cooper, Boston Center, at 8:40EDT, the time that NEADS entered into its official log the MCC/T (Mission Crew Commander/Technician) log as the time of notification to the military by FAA. Even though the phone rang just prior to 8:38  EDT, and the conversation between first Sergeant Jeremy Powell and then Major Deskins began shortly thereafter, that time was not actionable.

Some researchers push the notification time to 8:38 or even 8:37, rounding down. That is a glib, slight-of-hand bit of analysis that historians should avoid.  Two pieces of information establish that the notification time was 8:40 EDT–the official log entry and the time in the Cooper/Deskins conversation that actionable information was passed, the coordinates.

0911121826 Deskins Cooper First Exchange

The coordinates, 4115N 07346W, were just south of Yorktown Heights, New York, 38 nautical miles (43 miles) north of JFK airport. A weapons control at NEADS can be heard in foreground on the Deskins/Cooper call saying “40 north of Kennedy” just after Deskins spoke the coordinates. The weapons controllers were listening in to her conversation and got the location as soon as Deskins did. However, it took a few minutes for the NEADS operations floor to get itself organized and a “Z” point at the location passed by Boston Center was not established until 08:44 EDT.  By that time, AA 11 was south of the search area.

NEADS Identification Technicians struggled to find any information they could, primarily from Colin Scoggins at Boston Center. Scoggins told them that Boston was no longer tracking AA 11 and that they should call New York. The Identification Technicians called New York Center Air Management Information System (AMIS), an entity that did not have direct access to radar and which did not know that AA 11 had been hijacked. The woman they reached ultimately provided them a new location, 4039N 7403W at 8:48 EDT and advised that, “right now, he is primary only.”

The location passed by New York AMIS was four nautical miles (4.7 miles) south of the World Trade Center. over the Upper Bay midway between Bayonne, New Jersey, and Brooklyn, New York.  The coast track of AA11 extended at least that far and was passed to NEADS as an actual track

1248 Coordinates from New York AMIS

That was the last specific location NEADS would get from anyone concerning AA 11. Note that at the same time the Identification Technicians took the initiative to obtain a tail number for AA 11. They subsequently tracked down the tail number from Boston Center and it was recorded in the MCC/T log.

It was that single log entry, a tail number without reference to a specific plane, which became the fatal flaw in the government’s reconstruction of events in the ensuing months and years. The entry was equated to be a reference to AA 77. No one ever cross-checked the initial work done by NEADS action officers in their analysis. More importantly, the entry was not cross-checked by anyone at NORAD at any echelon to prepare its representatives to testify before the 9/11 Commission.


The audio files referenced so far are sufficient to establish the high degree of uncertainty at all levels concerning the fate of AA 11. Even though individuals with radar scope access intuitively knew that the loss of the track of AA 11 was somehow associated with the event at the WTC that intuition did not gain traction. The equation was briefly made with a degree of uncertainty–“we are not going to confirm that at this time”– at Boston Center, as reported to NEADS by Colin Scoggins.  0857 Scoggins Dooley WTC and AA 11 Tail Number

This is a direct communication between the two most important voices of the day concerning the air defense response, Colin Scoggins, military specialist at Boston Center, and Master Sergeant Maureen “Mo” Dooley, chief of the Identification Technician section at NEADS.  Scoggins had told Tech Sergeant Watson that AA 11 crashed into the WTC, but Dooley wanted confirmation.  Scoggins could not and did not confirm. Dooley further pushed the issue of the tail number of AA 11 and obtained it, “November 334 Alpha Alpha,” and that was how it was logged. Had NEADS staff officers who helped prepare the NORAD 18 September 2001 press release timeline listened to this important exchange they would have avoided a serious error that plagues the 9/11 story to this day.

That raises an important question. Why was it that Boston Center, the FAA facility most knowledgeable of AA 11, and all other entities at all levels could not make the equation between AA 11 and the WTC North Tower? And the answer is, again, simple:  “Flight Level 290.”

Flight Level 290

No other piece of information influenced the misunderstanding of events more that the fact the the last known altitude for AA 11 was twenty-nine thousand feet.  That was confirmed information which stayed with the hunt for AA 11 the rest of the morning. We begin this discussion with Colin Scoggins.

Scoggins was on break when the first news of the hijacking of AA 11 spread through Boston Center.  He went to the operations area but initially held back, not wanting to interfere with busy people at work.  However, when he understood that AA 11 was being tracked, current altitude unknown, he jumped in immediately. As he told Commission staff when interviewed, he was the only person at Boston Center who knew that NEADS radars could read altitude on a primary only track. FAA en route radars could not.

He assumed that NEADS was tracking AA 11 and the resultant second communication between he and Tech Sergeant Watson was a cross communication. Scoggins was focused on determining altitude. Watson’s concern was in obtaining data, a mode 3, so that NEADS could locate the plane. In the first communication, the basic facts were established. Here are those two conversations, one at about 8:39 EDT and the second at about 8:42 EDT. Note, especially, how Scoggins struggled to deal with the altitude issue while Watson focused on the identification and location issue.

0839 First Watson Scoggins Call

0842 Second Watson Scoggins Call

On the civilian side, flight level 290 was confirmed by other planes in the sky to include, ironically, UA 175 at 8:38 EDT.

083757 AA11 two planes one UA175 affirm 29K Tape 20R

At 8:43 EDT, ZNY told NY TRACON that the plane was confirmed at flight level two nine zero and that it looked like it was not going to Kennedy. 0843 ZNY to TRACON Not Going to Kennedy

And at 8:46 EDT, as AA 11 was impacting the WTC North Tower, ZNY, Pete Mulligan, told Dave West at Washington Center (ZDC), that the plane was confirmed at flight level two nine zero. 12 miles Northwest of the Kennedy VOR. 0846 ZNY to Herndon Flight Level 290

Finally, at 9:03 EDT, just as UA 175 was flying into the WTC South Tower, Mulligan had a brief conversation with the National Operations Manager (NOM), Ben Sliney. This is one of the few times that we actually hear Sliney’s voice on the tapes of the morning. Sliney was returning a call in reference to military support.  In the course of the conversation Sliney asked if Mulligan “had information that indicates American 11 is flying?” Mulligan, told Sliney “we are involved with something else,” but did not elaborate and cut Sliney off without passing information about UA 175. 0903 Sliney call to Mulligan

Despite radar evidence to the contrary, the air traffic control system and the air defenders could not and did not make the equation that AA 11 had, in fact, struck the WTC North Tower. There was too much uncertainty because of the last known altitude, flight level 290. In subsequent actions the altitude was a given and showed up in the scramble orders for both the Otis fighters as an immediate response and later the Langley fighters when scrambled after the false report that AA 11 was still airborne.

084608 AA11 Panta Scramble Cape Tape

0924 Langley Scramble Norfolk Tower

The last know altitude issue was compounded by a deliberate action by Boston and New York Centers to facilitate the hunt for AA 11, the entry of a new track for AA 11, AA 11A.

American Airlines flight 11A

To review, I have long held the analytic position that the transponders were the primary terrorist weapon after the cockpits were successfully taken over. We do not know the plan but, retrospectively, we can make the observation that each of the transponders on the four hijacked aircraft were manipulated differently and each manipulation presented a different problem to each of the four en route centers in whose airspace the planes were hijacked.

The transponder on AA 11 was turned off before the turn south towards its target. The transponder code on UA 175 was changed concurrent with AA 11 exploding into the WTC North Tower. The transponder on AA 77 was turned off during the turn east towards its target. The transponder on UA 93 was turned off after the turn back towards its target.

The three en route centers faced with the problem of a trasnponder turned off made three different decisions, each with different consequences. Indianapolis Center determined that AA 77 was lost/down and reported that loss in rescue coordination channels. Cleveland Center knew that Washington DC was the target for UA 93 and entered a new flight plan in order to help Washington Center. New York Center inherited the AA 11 problem from Boston Center but not the control responsibility; that remained with Boston Center.

The Centers left the original flight plan for AA11 in the system and entered a new track for the plane, AA 11A. Systemically, AA 11 had become two airplanes.

(Note: I am still researching this aspect of the story.)

American 11 and American 11A

The fact of two distinct flights in the system was established in a conversation between James Kurz at ZNY and Newark Tower that began about 8:58 EDT. Kurz told a Newark caller asking for the type airplane, “American Eleven Alpha, they’re callin’ it.” He further specified that “they just typed in a ‘seven five’ here ’cause we were just tracking it to LA.” He then confirmed that the AA 11 flight plan, itself, confirmed that it was a “seven six seven.” Not only were there two flights in the system, one was a 757 and one was a 767. 0859 Newark Call AA 11A discussed

A sidebar of interest. The Newark-ZNY conversation resumed just before 9:03 EDT when Kurz called Newark to look out the window. That call captured a real time reaction to the UA 175 impact. 0903 ZNY DC Oh my God

Back on Topic

AA 11/11A was lost shortly after 8:46 EDT on all radar scopes  tracking or with the potential to track the plane. That universe included, NEADS, Boston Center, New York Center, Washington Center, New York TRACON, and towers at Kennedy, Newark, and La Guardia. All of those facilities except NEADS were in the air traffic control chain-of-command responsible to the FAA’s Air Traffic Control System Command Center at Herndon, Virginia. NEADS, one of three CONUS air defense sectors under NORAD, was responsible for the air defense of that system.

However, all commercial fights with a flight plan were also followed via a non-time sensitive display system by non-air traffic control facilities, routinely. Those facilities included FAA Headquarters, Herndon Center, and regional FAA administrative headquarters, specifically Eastern Region and Great Lakes Region. All airlines also routinely followed their own commercial flights. In FAA, the system was referred to as TSD, traffic situation display, or TMS, traffic management system. At the airlines the system was referred to as ASD,  aircraft situation display. Regardless of nomenclature, the system was the same for both FAA and the airlines.

In this next sequence of calls, all recorded at Operations Position 14 at Herndon Center, we will hear that Herndon Center was confident that AA 11 had struck the World Center and so told Washington Center and Cleveland Center. However, it is clear that Herndon Center was also following both AA 11 and AA 11A on TSD.

At 8:44 EDT, Herndon Center alerted a Washington Center traffic manager that AA 11 [11A] could be headed its way.  Washington Center observed the flight on a TSD. 0844 Herndon call to ZDC re AA11 on TSD

At 8:50 EDT. American Airlines called Herndon Center to request that the number for AA 11 be changed in the ASD system because CNN had the capability to follow the flight.  0850 AA call to Herndon to change number on ASD

At 8:53 EDT, Herndon Center told both Washington Center and Cleveland Center that AA 11 was no longer in the air, that it had struck the WTC. That was Herndon with its air traffic control hat on passing air traffic control information.  0853 Herndon to ZDC and ZOB that AA 11 no longer in air

At 9:28 EDT, however, Herndon Center with its traffic management hat on called Cleveland Center to inquire if AA 11 was in its area because the TSD showed that to be the case. Note that the reference is to the original flight plan for AA 11 which was never taken out of the system. My recall in watching the TSD replay on the Commission staff’s last visit to Herndon Center is that AA 11, notionally, “landed” at Los Angeles as the flight plan specified.  0928 Herndon call to Cleveland about AA 11 in area

Chaos and Confusion Manifested

We come full circle back to the attack described at the beginning of this article. All of the hard work of the dedicated men and women in the front lines, the “fox holes”, that day, civilian and military, provided just one effective counter attack, not including the heroic actions of the passengers and remaining crew aboard UA 93. That was the unilateral action of the National Operations Manager, Ben Sliney to first order a nationwide ground stop and then order the grounding of all commercial aircraft.

The terrorist action on the morning of September 11, 2001 was an attack against the National Airspace System (NAS)  Just two individuals working together had any chance at all to counterattack and then only against the southern axis of attack against the nation’s capital.  There was no chance in the North.

Those two individuals were Sliney, the National Operations Manager of the NAS and Colonel Robert Marr, commander of the Northeast Air Defense Sector, defender of the NAS in the Northeast. The two men and their predecessors had likely never met, were not aware of the others role and, certainly on 9/11, did not share a common operating picture of the battle as it unfolded.

Marr’s troops were focused on working with the FAA’s en route centers, as was clearly evidenced in the vignettes in exercise Vigilant Guardian in the week prior. As a result, the flow of critical FAA information came not from Sliney but from Colin Scoggins at Boston Center. And the galvanizing piece of information was the false report that American Airlines flight 11 was still airborne and headed for the nation’s capital.

0911 0924 AA11 Stilll Airborne ZBW to NEADS

Sliney, for his part was subverted by the well intended but interfering actions of Eastern Region and, by extension FAA HQ. One final conversation recorded at Herndon Center puts in stark comparison the awareness of Herndon Center and the lack of awareness on the FAA tactical net, shared by the Regions and FAA Headquarters. The caller was FBI Boston, asking for an update.  The story that was passed was so garbled that Herndon Center, in frustration, broke in and set the record straight.  Herndon Center had it right. The time was about 9:35 EDT, just before the alarm was sounded that a fast-moving unknown [AA77] was moving toward the White House.

0934 FAA Update for FBI Boston


We began with Colin Scoggins insistent that NEADS could help locate AA 11 because its radars could read altitude from a radar return. NEADS did not need a transponder code return to determine altitude but they did need a code, or other specific data to locate the aircraft in the first place.

None of that would have helped for AA 77. There was one radar supporting NEADS which could not read altitude from a radar return.  That radar was a older model at The Plains, Virginia.  It was the radar tracking AA 77. Lacking a code, but with reasonably accurate location data, “six miles west of the White House,” NEADS did find AA 77 and did establish an actionable track, B32, which in turn could be linked to the Langley fighters. The track faded immediately and was lost.  AA 77 had slammed into the West side of the Pentagon.

The Langley fighters were scrambled not because of the approach of AA 77 but because of the false report that AA 11 was still airborne. Sometimes ghosts are useful.