Military now notified immediately of unusual air traffic events

LESLIE MILLER; Associated Press Writer

HERNDON, Va. (AP) _ The Federal Aviation Administration has stayed in closer contact with the military since Sept. 11 to ensure that fighter jets take off quickly to chase hostile or suspicious aircraft.

On Sept. 11, flight controllers suspected around 8:25 a.m. EDT that American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston's Logan Airport had been hijacked, but the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) wasn't notified until 8:40 a.m. _ six minutes before the plane struck the World Trade Center.

Today, NORAD would know instantly of a suspected hijacking.

"NORAD is now linked up telephonically 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so anything that's an anomaly or a suspected anomaly that's found in the system, NORAD knows about it as quickly as we do," said David Canoles, FAA's manager of air traffic evaluations and investigations.

At a NORAD operations center in Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs, Colo., a noncommissioned officer listens to conversations on the FAA network from all over the United States, said Maj. Douglas Martin, NORAD spokesman.

"If he hears anything that indicates difficulty in the skies, we begin the staff work to scramble," Martin said. Before Sept. 11, the FAA had to telephone NORAD about any possible hijackings.

From Sept. 11 to June, NORAD scrambled jets or diverted combat air patrols 462 times, almost seven times as often as the 67 scrambles from September 2000 to June 2001, Martin said.

In June, Air Force jets scrambled three times to intercept small private planes that had wandered into restricted airspace around the White House and around Camp David, the presidential retreat.

Jet fighters approaching a suspicious plane might radio the pilot, tip their wings or simply identify the aircraft and break off, Martin said. No one has been shot out of the sky since Sept. 11, he said; for that, an order must come from President Bush or Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

FAA officials held news conferences Monday in Boston, New York and Washington, giving chronological accounts of the terrorist attacks and how they forced an unprecedented shutdown of the U.S. skies.

Air traffic controllers didn't notice anything odd Sept. 11 until communications fell silent with Flight 11's pilot 25 minutes after the plane took off at 8 a.m.

"We considered it at that time to be a possible hijacking," air traffic manager Glenn Michael said.

The FAA notified NORAD 15 minutes later; three minutes after that, NORAD was told United Airlines Flight 175 had been hijacked.

The first two military interceptors, Air Force F-15 Eagles from Otis Air Force Base in Massachusetts, scrambled airborne at 8:52 a.m., too late to do anything about the second jet heading for the Trade Center or a third heading toward the Pentagon.

Mike McCormick, air traffic control manager at the New York Center _ the main control center for the area _ made the unprecedented decision at 9:04 a.m. to declare "ATC Zero," meaning that normal services were suspended and the hundreds of aircraft over New York and the western Atlantic were to immediately divert to an airport and land as soon as possible.

He made the decision because the second plane, United Flight 175, was flying south down the Hudson toward New York. McCormick said the Boeing 757's transponder was working and he knew where it was headed, even before the Newark Airport Control Tower picked it up visually as it turned and headed back toward the twin towers.

At 9:45 a.m., after the World Trade Center and the Pentagon had been struck by the hijacked planes, the FAA ordered all of the more than 4,000 aircraft in the skies over the United States to land at the nearest airport.

On the Net:

Federal Aviation Administration: http://www.faa.gov/

North American Aerospace Defense Command: http://www.norad.mil/

Keywords: U.S. Domestic

© The Associated Press

LESLIE MILLER; Associated Press Writer

Military now notified immediately of unusual air traffic events,08-12-2002


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