Saturday, March 10, 2007

‘We have more planes. We have other planes.’

From an article by Gail Sheehy dated June 17, 2004 (my emphasis throughout in red):

“Despite having boarded her train at 5 a.m. that morning in Washington, D.C., Rosemary Dillard’s linen jacket was still creaseless, her carriage professional and crisp, as she walked down the train platform at Princeton Junction on the morning of June 4.

Ms. Dillard dared to hope that the F.B.I. would clarify the timeline in the mystifying story of Sept. 11, 2001.

The briefing in New Jersey two weeks ago, attended by about 130 family members of victims, had been arranged by the F.B.I. Previously unavailable calls from passengers and crew were to be played for families of victims of the four infamous flights that were turned into missiles by terrorists.

Who knew what, and when? And what did the airlines and federal officials do about it? These were the burning questions on the minds of many family members who have begged the commission to help connect the dots. This week, when the 9/11 commission wraps up its public hearings, families had been promised that the final report would be titled ‘9-11: The Timeline.’ But at the last minute the commission switched the subject to ‘9-11: The Plot,’ focusing on the hijackers’ success in foiling every layer of the nation’s defenses, up to and including the airlines’.

For Ms. Dillard, the tapes scheduled to be played in Princeton this June morning were especially important: She herself had acted as the American Airlines base manager at Reagan National Airport on the morning of Sept. 11. She had been responsible for three D.C.-area airports, including Dulles. For the last two and a half years, she has been haunted by the fact that American Airlines Flight 77 took off from Dulles Airport that morning, with her blessing.

Her husband was a passenger on that flight.”


“The families heard a tape that has just now surfaced. Recorded by American Airlines at its headquarters in Fort Worth, Tex., even as the first hijacked airliner, Flight 11, was being taken over, the tape shows the airline’s top management was made aware beginning at about 8:21 a.m. – 25 minutes before the impact of the first plane into the World Trade Center’s north tower – that a group of men described as Middle Eastern had stabbed two flight attendants, clouded the forward cabin with pepper spray or Mace, menaced crew and passengers with what looked like a bomb, and stormed the cockpit in a violent takeover of the gigantic bird.

Despite all the high secrecy surrounding the briefing, a half-dozen different family members were so horrified by voice evidence of the airlines’ disregard for the fate of their pilots, crew and passengers that they found ways to reveal some of what they heard on those tapes, and also what they felt. To them, the tapes appeared to show that the first instinct of American and United Airlines, as management learned of the gathering horror aboard their passenger planes on Sept. 11, was to cover up.

The response of American’s management on duty, as revealed on the tape produced at the meeting, was recalled by persons in attendance:

‘Don’t spread this around. Keep it close.’

‘Keep it quiet.’

‘Let’s keep this among ourselves. What else can we find out from our own sources about what’s going on?’

‘It was disgusting,’ said the parent of one of the victims, herself a veteran flight attendant for United Airlines. ‘The very first response was cover-up, when they should have been broadcasting this information all over the place.’”


“On the American Airlines tape played at the meeting, a voice is heard relaying to the airline’s headquarters the blow-by-blow account by Ms. Sweeney of mayhem aboard Flight 11. The flight attendant had gone face to face with the hijackers, and reported they had shown her what appeared to be a bomb, with red and yellow wires. The young blond mother of two had secreted herself in the next-to-last passenger row and used an AirFone card, given to her by another flight attendant, Sara Low, to call the airline’s flight-services office at Boston’s Logan airport.

‘This is Amy Sweeney,’ she reported. ‘I’m on Flight 11 – this plane has been hijacked.’ She was disconnected. She called back: ‘Listen to me, and listen to me very carefully.’ Within seconds, her befuddled respondent was replaced by a voice she knew.

‘Amy, this is Michael Woodward.’

The American Airlines flight-service manager had been friends with Ms. Sweeney for a decade and didn’t have to waste time verifying that this wasn’t a hoax. Ms. Sweeney repeated, ‘Michael, this plane has been hijacked.’

Since there was no tape machine in his office, Woodward began repeating the flight attendant’s alarming account to a colleague, Nancy Wyatt, the supervisor of pursers at Logan. On another phone, Ms. Wyatt was simultaneously transmitting Ms. Sweeney’s words to the airline’s Fort Worth headquarters. It was that relayed account that was played for the families.

‘In Fort Worth, two managers in S.O.C. [Systems Operations Control] were sitting beside each other and hearing it,’ says one former American Airlines employee who heard the tape. ‘They were both saying, ‘Do not pass this along. Let’s keep it right here. Keep it among the five of us.’’”

The two managers’ names were given in testimony to the 9/11 commission by Mr. Arpey, then executive vice president of operations, who described himself as ‘directly involved in American’s emergency-response efforts and other operational decisions made as the terrible events of Sept. 11 unfolded.’ Joe Burdepelly, one of the S.O.C. managers, told Mr. Arpey at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time that they had a possible hijacking on Flight 11. Mr. Burdepelly also said that the S.O.C. manager on duty, Craig Marquis, was in contact with Ms. Ong. Mr. Arpey related that from Ms. Ong, he and the S.O.C. managers had learned by 8:30 a.m. ‘that two or three passengers were in the cockpit, and that our pilots were not responding to intercom calls from the flight attendants. After talking with S.O.C.,’ Mr. Arpey testified, ‘I then called Don Carty, the president and C.E.O. of American Airlines, at that time,’ who was not available. Mr. Arpey then drove to the S.O.C. facility, arriving, he says, between 8:35 and 8:40 a.m. Eastern time.

Mr. Arpey testified that by 8:40 a.m. they knew one of the passengers had been stabbed, possibly fatally, although this news was transmitted by Ms. Sweeney at least 15 minutes earlier. ‘We were also receiving information from the F.A.A. that, instead of heading west on its intended flight path, Flight 11 was headed south. We believed that Flight 11 might be headed for the New York area. Our pilots were not responding to air traffic control or company radio calls, and the aircraft transponder had been turned off.’

Mr. Arpey’s account revealed that the American Airlines executives had attempted to monitor the progress of Flight 11 via communications with the F.A.A. and their traffic-control officials. ‘As far as we knew, the rest of our airline was operating normally at this point,’ he said.

But Flight 11 had missed its first mark at 8:13 a.m., when, shortly after controllers asked the pilot to climb to 35,000 feet, the transponder stopped transmitting the electronic signal that identifies exact location and altitude. Air traffic manager Glenn Michael later said, ‘We considered it at that time to be a possible hijacking.’

At 8:14 a.m., F.A.A. flight controllers in Boston began hearing an extraordinary radio transmission from the cockpit of Flight 11 that should have set off alarm bells. Before their F.A.A. superiors forbade them to talk to anyone, two of the controllers told the Christian Science Monitor on Sept. 11 that the captain of Flight 11, John Ogonowski, was surreptitiously triggering a ‘push-to-talk’ button on the aircraft’s yoke most of the way to New York. When controllers picked up the voices of men speaking in Arabic and heavily accented English, they knew something was terribly wrong. More than one F.A.A. controller heard an ominous statement by a terrorist in the background saying, ‘We have more planes. We have other planes.’

Apparently, none of this crucial information was transmitted to other American pilots already airborne – notably Flight 77 out of Dulles, which took off at 8:20 a.m. only to be redirected to its target, the Pentagon – or to other airlines with planes in harm’s way: United’s Flight 173, which took off at 8:14 a.m. from Boston, or United’s Flight 93, whose ‘wheels-up’ was recorded at 8:42 a.m.

‘You would have thought American’s S.O.C. would have grounded everything,’ says Ms. Dillard. ‘They were in the lead spot, they’re in Texas – they had control over the whole system. They could have stopped it. Everybody should have been grounded.’”


“One of American’s top corporate executives directly in the line of authority that day was Jane Allen, then vice president of in-flight services, in charge of the company’s 24,000 flight attendants and management and operations at 22 bases. She was Ms. Dillard’s top boss. But Ms. Dillard never heard from her until after Flight 77 had plowed into the Pentagon. Reached at United Airlines corporate headquarters in Chicago, where Ms. Allen now works, she was asked to confirm the names of participants in the Sept. 11 phone call and why the decision was made to hold back that information.

‘I really don’t know what I could possibly add to all the hurt,’ she said.

But was it too much information, or too little, that was hurtful?

‘I really am not interested in helping or participating,’ Ms. Allen said, putting down the phone.”


“The information hold-back may have arisen from lack of experience, or from the inability to register the enormity of the terrorists’ destructive plans, or it may have been a visceral desire to protect the airlines from liability. The airlines make much of the fact that the ‘common strategy’ for civil aircraft crews before 9/11 was to react passively to hijackings – ‘to refrain from trying to overpower or negotiate with hijackers, to land the aircraft as soon as possible, to communicate with authorities, and to try delaying tactics.’

This strategy was based on the assumption that the hijackers would want to be flown safely to an airport of their choice to make their demands.

But that defense of the airlines’ actions is belied by the fact that the F.A.A., which was in contact with American Airlines and other traffic-control centers, heard the tip-off from terrorists in Flight 11’s cockpit – ‘We have planes, more planes’ – and thus knew before the first crash of a possible multiple hijacking and the use of planes as weapons.

To this writer’s knowledge, there has been no public mention of the Flight 11 pilot’s narrative since the news report on Sept. 12, 2001. When Peg Ogonowski, the pilot’s wife, asked American Airlines to let her listen to that tape, she never heard back.


“’I’ve been learning a lot,’ said Ms. Hoglan. ‘During the summer of 2001, there were 12 directives sent by the F.A.A. – which are now supposedly classified – notifying the airlines of specific threats that terrorists were planning to hijack their aircrafts. The airlines apparently buried that information and didn’t tell us.’

A Freedom of Information Act request has confirmed that the F.A.A. sent a dozen warnings to the airlines between May and September of 2001. Those 35 pages of alerts are being exempted from public disclosure by a federal statute that covers ‘information that would be detrimental to the security of transportation if disclosed.’ Most rational people would say that the non-disclosure of the alerts was what was detrimental to the security of transportation on Sept. 11.

‘The F.B.I. gathered the evidence, gave it to the F.A.A., the F.A.A. gave it to the airlines, and the airlines didn’t tell us,’ Ms. Hoglan said. ‘I was a working flight attendant with United that summer, in 2001, and I never heard a thing. I’m suing United Airlines, and I’m very keen on the role of the flight attendants in Sept. 11.’”


“Why didn’t United at least warn the pilots of Flight 93 to bar the cockpit door, some of the families wanted to know?

Ed Ballinger, the flight dispatcher for United Airlines that morning, was the last human being to talk to the cockpit of Flight 93. He had 16 flights taking off early that morning from the East Cost to the West Coast. When United’s Flight 175 began acting erratically and failed to respond to his warnings, he began banging out the same enigmatic message to all his planes: ‘Beware of cockpit intrusion.’

Flight 93, the last of the hijacked planes, called him back and said ‘Hi, Ed. Confirmed.’

Mr. Ballinger said he didn’t wait for his superiors or for Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta’s decision to ground all flights. He sent out a Stop-Fly alert to all crews. But United dispatchers were instructed by their superiors not to tell the pilots why they were being instructed to land, he claims.

‘One of the things that upset me was that they knew, 45 minutes before [Flight 93 crashed], that American Airlines had a problem. I put the story together myself [from news accounts],’ Mr. Ballinger said. ‘Perhaps if I had the information sooner, I might have gotten the message to [Flight] 93 to bar the door.’”

The FAA made a rather obvious cover-up effort to suppress the recollections of the actual air traffic controllers, who are presumably still available to provide their testimony.