This is one of the articles on the 9/11 summary
for which the media website requires payment. For the New York Times website, you must both register as a member (which is free), and then pay a small fee by credit card on line in order to be able to view or download the full
article. Once registered, you can view an abstract of the article for no
cost. First, go to:
If you haven't previously signed up as a user,
fill in the required information. Once complete, you will see the abstract
and have the option to view and download the full article with payment. We
provide a copy of the article below for free.
September 15, 2001, Saturday
AFTER THE ATTACKS: SKY RULES; Pentagon Tracked Deadly Jet But Found
No Way to Stop It
By MATTHEW L. WALD (NYT) 1064 words
WASHINGTON, Sept. 14 --
During the hour or so that American Airlines Flight 77 was under the
control of hijackers, up to the moment it struck the west side of the
Pentagon, military officials in a command center on the east side of the
building were urgently talking to law enforcement and air traffic control
officials about what to do.
But despite elaborate plans that link
civilian and military efforts to control the nation's airspace in defense
of the country, and despite two other jetliners' having already hit the
World Trade Center in New York, the fighter planes that scrambled into
protective orbits around Washington did not arrive until 15 minutes after
Flight 77 hit the Pentagon. Even if they had been there sooner, it is not
clear what they would have done to thwart the attack.
The Federal Aviation Administration has
officially refused to discuss its procedures or the sequence of events on
Tuesday morning, saying these are part of the Federal Bureau of
Investigation's inquiry. But controllers in New England knew about 8:20
a.m. that American Airlines Flight 11, bound from Boston to Los Angeles,
had probably been hijacked. When the first news report was made at 8:48
a.m. that a plane might have hit the World Trade Center, they knew it was
Flight 11. And within a few minutes more, controllers would have known
that both United 175 (the second plane to hit the World Trade Center) and
American 77 (which hit the Pentagon) had probably been hijacked.
Flight 77, which took off from Dulles
International Airport outside Washington shortly after 8 a.m., stayed
aloft until 9:45 a.m. and would have been visible on the F.A.A.'s radar
system as it reversed course in the Midwest an hour later to fly back to
Washington. The radars would have observed it even though its tracking
beacon had been turned off.
By 9:25 a.m. the F.A.A., in consultation
with the Pentagon, had taken the radical step of banning all takeoffs
around the country, but fighters still had not been dispatched. At that
same time, the government learned from Barbara Olson, a political
commentator who was a passenger on Flight 77, that the plane had been
hijacked. She twice called her husband, Solicitor General Theodore B.
Olson, on her cellular phone to tell him what was happening.
Despite provisions for close communication
between civilian and military traffic officials, and extensive procedures
for security control over air traffic during attacks on the United
States, it does not appear that anyone had contemplated the kind of
emergency that was unfolding.
The procedures, first devised in the
1950's, cover how to send fighter planes to shadow a hijacked plane on
its way, perhaps, to Cuba. They tell how to intercept a plane entering
the nation's airspace through the air defense zone along the Atlantic
Coast, but not what to do with kamikazes.
''There is no category of 'enemy airliners,'
'' a recently retired F.A.A. official said. He and others said they could
not recall any instance in which a military plane fired on a civilian one
in the United States, though in 1983 a F-4 Phantom fighter that scrambled
to intercept an unidentified target off Cherry Point, N.C., accidentally
rammed it. That plane was a private twin-engine propeller plane on the
way home from the Bahamas, carrying seven people.
The United States is signatory to a treaty
that appears to bar using force against civilian airplanes. Congress has
voted against letting the military shoot down suspected drug planes
trying to cross into the United States. Whether those restrictions would
apply to a plane showing clearly hostile intent has never been spelled
out. An F.A.A. spokeswoman said earlier this week that there was a policy
for shooting down civilian airliners but would not divulge it.
And shooting down a jet as large as a
Boeing 757 or 767 raises other problems. One F.A.A. official said, ''If
you keep it from hitting a government building, it's going to hit
something else.'' That was clearly true for the planes that hit the World
Trade Center, which flew over other parts of Manhattan, and the plane
that hit the Pentagon, which flew over urbanized Northern Virginia.
John S. Carr, president of the National Air
Traffic Controllers Association, the controllers' union, said: ''Our
system of unfettered access and freedom has limitations in terms of
responding to a case like this. We've created a system for
transportation, not defense.''
Today officials were trying to reconstruct
that system. Ronald Reagan National Airport -- with approaches that are
within a few hundred yards of the Pentagon and just seconds, at jet
speeds, from the heart of Washington -- remains closed, ''temporarily and
indefinitely.'' Private planes were allowed to resume flying at 4 p.m.
today, but only under air traffic control.
Combat aircraft are patrolling the skies;
an aircraft carrier is at sea off Washington and another off New York to
provide air defense.
Military officials have offered vague
descriptions in public about their procedures against airborne
terrorists. In a confirmation hearing on Wednesday before the Senate
Armed Services Committee, Gen. Richard B. Myer of the Air Force, who has
been nominated to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he did
not know whether the F.A.A. had contacted the Pentagon about the
''When it became clear what the threat was,
we did scramble fighter aircraft, AWACS, radar aircraft and tanker
aircraft to begin to establish orbits in case other aircraft showed up in
the F.A.A. system that were hijacked,'' he said. He added that once the
fighters were aloft, it was not necessary to use force.
In part, that was because American Airlines
Flight 77 had already hit the Pentagon, and the hijacked flight from
Newark, its target unknown, had crashed in Pennsylvania.
Paul Wolfowitz, the
deputy defense secretary, said today that the Pentagon had been tracking
that plane and could have shot it down if necessary; it crashed about 35
minutes after the Pentagon crash.
FAIR USE NOTICE: This site contains copyrighted material the use of
which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright
owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance
understanding of criminal justice, political, human rights, economic,
democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. We believe
this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as
provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance
with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed
without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving
the included information for research and educational purposes. For
more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml.
If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes
of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission
from the copyright owner.