Remembering 9-11 (Part 11 - Were There More?)
When my little book, Turbulent Skies, was written in 2004, I wrote a vignette called, “My Tribute.”As I re-read this piece recently, a few sentences stood out.I had written, “Did the computers also give shocking information that the hijackers were everywhere?”“Is this why the whole airways system was shut down so fast?” Also, “In the last few years, several stories have been told about suspicious Middle Eastern groups on other flights even as far away as Sydney.” (Note 11)
Now on this 15th anniversary of 9-11, some of the FBI investigation files as well as interviews with crew members have become public record.With this happening, I am able to share a few stories that I have found to be extremely intriguing.
On May 15, 2011 that the front page story in the Wilmington News Journal featured Carol Timmons, the first female general appointed to the Delaware National Guard.Interestingly, Timmons was also the co-pilot on United Flight 23 on September 11, 2001.Flight 23 was a 767 aircraft going non-stop from JFK in New York to Los Angeles with an 8:30 a.m. departure.She recalls that her flight had already left the gate, but was several minutes late in departing.The plane was taxiing on the runway for departure when they got word that the airport had just shut down.They were also told by United Dispatch to “Protect your cockpit.”Timmons remembers that as the Captain grabbed the crash ax, she started barricading the cockpit door with their suitcases and flight bags.As they were doing this, they announced on the PA system that the airport had just closed, and they would be returning to the gate.After this announcement, the first class flight attendant called the Captain telling him that four young Arab males sitting in First Class became agitated when they heard the flight had canceled.(The location of these men is significant because they were in First Class, just as the other hijackers had been on the other flights.)Once they returned to the gate and the door was opened, these men fled into the terminal leaving behind unclaimed bags which contained Al Qaeda documents, box cutters, and copies of the Koran. (Note 1 and 2)
Days later, Timmons and the crew were repeatedly questioned by the FBI.But the findings of these interviews were never shared publically.General Timmons is convinced that if the airport had not shut down when it did, they would have been the next hijacked plane.It was extremely important that they closed the three New York area airports at 9:17 a.m., nine minutes before the national “Ground Stop” order which occurred at 9:26 a.m.It was 9:19 when Flight 23 was told to cancel their takeoff.(Note 2)Why was it that Flight 23 was not mentioned in the public version of the 9-11 Commission Report?
Not acknowledging Flight 23 in the 9-11 hearings was like not allowing Amy Sweeney’s dialogue over the phone to her management friend, Michael, in American Air Lines’ Boston Inflight office.As Amy’s hijacked plane (American Flight 11) was turning and getting closer to its final destination – the North Tower of the World Trade Center – she was giving invaluable information to Michael about a bomb she had been shown by the hijackers which she described as having green and red wires.So why was it that John Ashcroft, the Attorney General at the time, in the 23rd hour of this indescribable day said that there were only knives and three to five hijackers per plane.Amy’s valuable dialogue is now public record, but it was not acknowledged during the public hearings.So many questions, so many still not answered.
In the spring of 2002, my husband and I were traveling to Atlanta on a Delta Airlines flight.I was still flying at the time and was curious about what experiences the Delta flight attendants had had on September 11, 2001.I do not remember their personal stories, but I remember one flight attendant saying, “They were on our planes too -- one of them landed in Cleveland.”With my selective memory, Cleveland came into my mind and stayed with me -- maybe because when I flew out of Miami in the mid ‘60s I had many short Cleveland layovers.Now as I write these articles I have learned of two Delta planes that landed in Cleveland.One was Flight 1989 which had departed Boston behind Flight 11 headed for Los Angeles.The other was a Delta morning flight leaving Atlanta for Chicago.According to the flight attendant, this flight had four young Arab males on board.During deplaning at Cleveland’s Hopkins Airport, these four men disappeared. (Note 10)
Out in Southern California, United Flight 962 was boarding out of gate 69B in Los Angeles.The plane was an Airbus 320 with an inflight crew of 3 and a departure of 6:45 a.m.Flight 962 was to be a non-stop to Washington’s Dulles Airport.The following was taken from the FBI’s interviews of the crew which are now public record.
Elizabeth Ann was the First Flight Attendant/Purser that morning and had 18 years seniority with United.The Dulles – Los Angeles route was one she had flown for years.When Elizabeth Ann picked up her IBS (individual briefing sheet) to brief her crew, she noticed the load was 12 in First Class and 74 in Coach.That was surprising because earlier in the week it was booked full with 12 and 126.For the passenger load to drop by 50 seats in just a few days was most unusual.By the time boarding was completed, the close out load was 12 and 54 -- another 20 passengers below the expected load.This last amount was probably due to late boarders hearing about the crashes and deciding not to go.
It is interesting that the inflight crew of three knew that something was happening in New York before ACARS (Aircraft Communication and Reporting System) sent it out to the cockpit.Remember the plane is still on the ground, and boarding was probably close to completion by 6:30 a.m. which would have been 9:30 a.m. in New York.As Elizabeth Ann talked with the FBI agent, she remembered a large oversized bag in the bin above rows 4-5 on the right side facing the cockpit.It was a Cordura nylon bag and she inquired about it, saying it needed to be checked.Immediately the man in seat 1A jumped up and claimed it and then proceeded to push and shove it until he succeeded in shutting the bin.After this she noticed many olive-skinned males sitting in her cabin, they were in 1A, 2A and B, 3A and B and probably in 2D and 3D.There were five others not in this ethic group in the First Class cabin.All these men were busy either on a computer or on phones when not talking with each other.Being this animated so early in the morning was not usual.Everyone on board had gotten up probably by 4:00 a.m. at the latest, so they should have been relaxing as they got settled.She thought the passenger in 2B was the boss of this group because as he worked his computer and talked on his cellphone (with headset) the others seemed to focus on him. (Note 3)
As Elizabeth Ann was observing her group, the other flight attendants, Elizabeth M. and her flying partner David, had noticed a young olive-skinned male acting strangely as he entered the Coach cabin.Even Elizabeth Ann had made comments about his behavior during the boarding.He was going from row to row, even though his assigned seat was at row 15 on the right side facing the cockpit.This man was described as being between 25-30 with dark skin, hair and eyes.
Minutes later during boarding, a police officer approached Elizabeth M. who was working in coach and told her they had a mutual friend.As he showed her his badge (in private), he informed her that the World Trade Center in New York had just “been blown up.”After Elizabeth heard that, she left the officer and walked up to the cockpit.She was curious if they had heard about this.They had not, but just a few minutes later, a message was received via ACARS, our internal United communications system, telling them that two American Airlines planes had just crashed into the World Trade Center Towers, and that two United airplanes were missing.Elizabeth returned to the Coach cabin and relayed this information to the officer.As he went up to the cockpit, Elizabeth got on her cell phone and called her sister.While in the cockpit, the officer also made a call to his cousin who worked in United Operations.She informed him that a plane had just crashed into the Pentagon.As he was relaying this information to the pilots, the gate agent appeared and announced the flight had just been cancelled.The “Ground Stop” which had started on the East Coast at 9:26 a.m. had finally reached the West Coast.
As Elizabeth Ann’s interview with the FBI was ending, she commented on a few other things.First, she told her interviewer she was surprised by the reaction of the olive-skinned passengers in First Class when being informed of the crashes (this information was initially only told to the First Class cabin) that group was nonchalant, while the other passengers were curious and distraught asking a lot of questions.Elizabeth Ann also told the FBI interviewer that David, her flying partner, told her that when the flight cancelled the previously identified olive-skinned passenger in Coach was the last to deplane.As he was leaving, he was smiling while continuing to look to the back of the plane.Also, he had a very large bag in the overhead bin that took two hands to carry off.Elizabeth did not mention if this was the bag in question that the passenger in 1A had claimed.
So how did this large bag, or maybe bags, get past Security and on to the plane?I wonder if the Cordura bag was placed in the jetway by someone working on the ramp, or maybe it was carried on and put in the bin by someone working the airplane.The door on the jetway is very close to the airplane boarding door.This is the same door used when oversized luggage needs to be taken out of the cabin and moved down into the cargo area.If the terrorists had people planted on the ramp or in caterer positions, it is at least plausible that bag could have been put on the airplane without having gone through Security?Whatever the actual scenario, it was a blessing that the planes were grounded when they were.
Another interesting thing is that the olive-skinned passenger in Coach not only acted weird, he also positioned himself near the police officer before the flight was cancelled.Could that have been to stop him from interfering with whatever was being planned for United Flight 962 that morning?Also, did this group book 50 extra seats months in advance and then cancel out at the last minute?What could have made the load go down by that amount?
One last comment regarding this flight, when the Captain finally made an announcement over the PA system that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center, he thought they were both American Airlines planes.He also knew that United Flight 175 was missing from the radar.While thefull information on Flight 175 had been passed to United by flight attendant Robert Fangman (on United Flight 175) in a call to Mark Policastro in San Francisco telling him they had been hijacked (See “Heroes 33”), it took several extra minutes for this information to be acknowledged within United’s headquarters.As a result, United was minutes behind American in stopping their airplanes from taking off and ordering those in flight to land.(American was several minutes ahead of all other airlines in making this decision. I feel strongly that this was due to information Amy Sweeney passed to American Airlines headquarters in Dallas by air phone on hijacked Flight 11.(See “Heroes 33”)
Months before flying to Atlanta on Delta, I was flying a Sydney night trip and another flight attendant and I were having something to eat before going up into the bunk room for our designated break.I don’t remember her name, nor do I remember flying with her again before our mass retirement in June 2003.I do, however, remember that she had light brown hair and a very pleasant personality.As we sat on the jumpseat, we started talking about our experience on 9-11.She told me she was flying the night of September 10th on Flight 815, United’s nonstop from LA to Sydney, Australia.She continued by saying that there were several Middle Eastern men on board the flight that night, and one of them asked another flight attendant when they would be crossing the International Date Line.
She told me the aircraft ended up landing in Brisbane, Australia, and as the flight was diverting, the Captain told the inflight crew to move United employee passengers into the upper deck (of the 747) where the cockpit entry door is located, and have non-employees move down to the main cabin.The stated reason was that there was a pressure leak in one of the two upper deck doors, and he wanted trained people in the area near them.At the time, I thought she had been informed along with the rest of the inflight crew of the Tower crashes in New York, but after reading the FBI crew interviews that have been made public; I have learned this was not the case.Here is what I now know.
More than two-thirds into the trip, flight attendant Margaret noticed a man of Middle Eastern descent in seat 60E looking at his laptop computer.Looking over his shoulder, she noticed he had a diagram of a United Air Lines 747-400 aircraft (just like the one they were traveling on).She saw him hit “enter,” and when he did, the words “Mission Failed” appeared on the screen.When Margaret saw this, she immediately called the cockpit telling the Captain what she had seen.Once she gave him the scenario, the Captain immediately called a United operations division that the pilots called “The War Room.”The flight manifest listed the name of the passenger in that seat as Ricardo Whidman.(RICARDO WHIDMAN – Does that sound like an Arabic name?)A few minutes later, at 1830 Zulu time, the Captain was told to change course and land in Brisbane, which was approximately 30-45 minutes closer than Sydney.(Zulu time is basically London time.So 1830 Zulu was 1:30 pm in New York on September 11 and 10:30 am in Los Angeles.)This means that the crashes had already occurred, all of the aircraft in the U.S. had landed and most all international flights that were diverted to Canada had also landed except for a few coming in from the far Pacific. (I later learned that the hijackers had simulator programs of the planes they were planning to hijack. I was informed by a well-travelled United passenger that the "Mission Failed" wording on the man's computer screen referred to the fact that the plane had not been landed correctly within the program. My source was engineer for Texas Instruments who actually had the same program. He told me it was a limited distribution program, and he only had it because he had a friend that worked for Boeing.)
Thirty minutes later, the cockpit crew got word of the planes hitting The Towers.So they found out at around 11:00 a.m. LA time.This means the flight had been in the air approximately 12 hours. At this point, landing in Brisbane would take a little more than an hour.The Captain chose not to share this last bit of information with his inflight crew stating he felt it would create too much stress on them.Days later, several flight attendants reported they were not at all happy with his decision.If he had told them, one flight attendant would have informed him about a group of Middle Eastern males that got very nervous when the “all call” sounded throughout the plane, and they huddled near each other when the flight attendants went to their jump seats to answer their phones.During this time all the passengers were informed that they would be landing in Brisbane due to a door problem.This announcement appeared to really “rattle’ these young men.The flight attendant in the back of the Coach cabin also saw that one of them had circled Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington DC, Boston, and New York on his copy of the airline magazine.
The conclusion of this flight (UA 815) was that they did land in Brisbane, and several young Middle Eastern men were taken off the plane by the authorities.Qantas flew a 747 up to Brisbane and picked up the rest of the passengers and the flight attendants.The cockpit crew stayed with the plane until it was thoroughly checked out, and several days later the crew reunited and flew back to the United States. (Note 3)
I later found out that on August 16th, 2001, Zacarias Moussaoui was detained by Immigration and Naturalizational Service (INS) on charges of violating the terms of his visa. I also learned that he had washed out of flight school in Norman, Oklahoma, after logging 57 hours of flight time and had paid $8,000 for simulator training on the 747-400 up in Eagan, Minnesota. After 9/11, the FBi gained access to his computer and found ample information about Al Qaeda and Bin Laden. They also found a 747-400 simulator program, flight manuals, two knives, and other suspicious items. In 2006, Moussaoui pleaded guilty to conspiring with Al Qaeda against the U.S. I wonder if those young men on United 815 on September 10th were part of the Moussaoui crew. I wonder if they were leaving the country to then disappear in Sydney. I wonder if one of those cities circled in the Hemisphere magazine was a planned target. I wonder if they had already booked their flight out of Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Seattle. I wonder if they were all going to be seated in the upper deck of 747-400. I wonder!
Another interesting tale is American Flight 43 out of Boston that morning.Its departure was scheduled for 8:10 a.m., just 25 minutes after American Flight 11, and it was also going to Los Angeles.This flight had a mechanical problem and was cancelled.According to a source familiar with the passenger manifest, the FBI was searching for an undetermined number of passengers on board that flight and other American flights that landed prematurely when they closed the airways.(Note 8)
On September 24th, 2001, Fox News did a story about up to 12 Middle Eastern men dressed in pilot uniforms that were on other flights that were scheduled to take off that morning.An FBI source reportedly said they were invited into the cockpits to meet the crews.This is standard courtesy within the airline industry.Fox news on that same day, also reported that Flight 93’s cockpit voice recording had evidence that one of the four hijackers that morning had been invited into the cockpit before they took off. (Note 7)
In addition to these flights, there were numerous press reports of box cutters and/or knives being found in aircraft around the country that were cancelled due to the “Ground Stop.”These included American Airlines 160 which had an 8:05 a.m. departure from San Diego going to New York.The Chicago Tribune reported that the knife found on American 160 was made by Stanley Tool Company, which was not a manufacturer used by American Airlines to equip its personnel.Air Canada found two knives on one of their flights that was supposed to go to JFK on 9/11/01. And Continental Airlines found knives taped to the back of fold down trays in Newark.(Note 4)
As I conclude “Were There More,” something deep inside tells me that the biggest blessing on that day – September 11, 2001 – was the quick thinking and fast decision making by both the airlines and our top government officials.Just think, it took only 40 minutes from the first plane crash to stop all airplanes in the U.S. from taking off, and just 59 minutes (less than one hour) to order all aircraft across the USA to immediately land.Someone figured out that something HUGE was happening!I also believe that the actions of courageous flight attendants Amy Sweeney and Betty Ong, along with their Captain, John Orgonowski, played a critical role in helping authorities understand the magnitude of the events of this unforgettable day in our history.
It seems more than possible that the terrorist had a major network established throughout our airports.(Note 9)They had the time, the money, the focus, and the patience to work out their devious plan.They focused on the two largest carriers, United and American, and they had a very strong presence on the East Coast. As the flight attendant told me on the crew bus after the fact, “I am not surprised this happened, they were always on my flights this summer when I flew Boston.”
Another point to remember is that prior to 9-11, the security operations at airports was conducted by private companies. Argenbright Security, Inc. was in charge of the security for Newark and Washington – the airports the hijacked airplanes took off from.In October 2001, it was reported that they admitted they did not do thorough background checks on their employees.On February 27th, 2002, it was revealed that 20 workers at Boston's Logan International Airport were fired because they gave false information about social security numbers and alien registration data. The positions these workers held were on the runways, in the baggage areas, and even in security screening. (Note 12) So it is possible the terrorists had people planted on the ground in all kinds of ramp positions> (Note 5)
So many questions, still so many to be answered.
1. Spencer, Lynn.Touching History, Free Press, New York, 2008, P 102-105.
2. Jan C. Ting, “The 5th Plane to be seized on 9/11, and the terrorists who got away,”Newsworks, Brandywine to Broad, May 16, 2001.See http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/blogs/brandywine-to-broad/item/19560
3. www.911myths.com/images/1/1c/team7_box11_fbi302s_acars. (cut and paste into browser)
4. http://forum.prisonplanet.com/index.php?topic=208559.0.(See September 19, 2001 paragraph)
7. Fox News, September 24, 2001.See September 24th 2001 at http://www.wanttoknow.info/9-11timeline60pg
8. BBC News, “FBI probes ‘attempted fifth hijack’, September 18,2001 17:04 GMT http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/1550993.stm
9. Donnelly, Sally, “Time Exclusive: An Inside Job,” Time, September 22, 2001
10. http://www.historycommons.org/context.jsp?item=a900hijackingaverted#a900hijackingaverted.See September 19, 2001, “Media Reports Suggest There were Plans to Hijack Additional Flights on 9/11”
11. Dorger, Barbara.Turbulent Skies.Xlibris, 2004, p67.