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Do you think Indian ATC is doing enough to reduce RT congestion in the skies ?
We Have Some Planes - Forty Fourth ATC Day Issue, Oct - 2014

On September 11, 2001 Tuesday - unprecedented Unlawful interference in Civil Aviation took place.

American 11 B767 Boston to Los Angeles was hijacked by Atta, Omari, Satam al Suquami,Wail al Shehri and Waleed al Shehri

United 175 B767 also from Boston to Los Angeles was hijacked by Banihammad, Shehri,Hamza al Ghamdi and Ahmed al Ghamdi

American 77 Washington Dulles to Los Angeles was hijacked by Khalid al Mihdhar, Majed Moqed,Hani Hanjour ,Nawaf al Hazmi and Salem al Hazmi

United 93 Newark(New Jersey) to San Francisco was hijacked by Saeed al Ghamdi , Ahmed al Nami , Ahmad al Haznawi and Ziad Jarrah.

The 19 men were aboard four transcontinental flights hijacked these planes and turned them into large guided missiles, loaded with up to 11,400 gallons of Jet fuel. By 8.00 A.M on the morning of Tuesday, September 11,2001, they had defeated all the security layers that America’s civil aviation security system had in place to prevent a hijacking.

The first two planes, American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175, left Boston within minutes of each other, around 8 am. Both were Boeing 767s bound for Los Angeles, and they carried between them 137 passengers and 20 crew members. The first indication of trouble came at about 8:25 am A few minutes later the plane turned off course, heading south toward New York City. Flight American 11 piloted by Mohamad Atta crashed into the World Trade Center north tower at 8:46:40 am, hitting the 110-story building between the 93rd and 98th floors. The hijackers of United Flight 175 followed a similar route. Flying much faster, they slammed their airplane into the World Trade Center south tower, also 110 stories tall, between the 78th and 84th floors 16 minutes later, at 9:03:11am.

American Airlines Flight 77, meanwhile, took off from Washington Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C., at about 8:20 am with 6 crew members and 58 passengers. Like the Boston flights, the airplane was bound for Los Angeles, and its fuel tanks were full. About 40 minutes later, the hijackers turned the Boeing 757 around and flew it back toward Washington, D.C. Flying low and fast, the airplane hit the Pentagon at 9:37:46 am. traveling at 530 miles per hour. In a bit of good fortune, the plane crashed into the west side of the building, which had recently been reinforced with stronger construction and blast-resistant windows in order to withstand a terrorist attack. Even so, the plane penetrated three of the Pentagon’s five concentric rings, taking a chunk out of the building and incinerating dozens of offices and the people who worked in them. The plane’s burning fuel spilled through the ruins as military and civilian workers groped their way through smoky and burning offices to rescue colleagues. In all, 125 people died in the Pentagon, as well as everyone aboard the plane.

Home of the United States Department of Defense, the Pentagon is the largest office building in the world. The Pentagon has some of the world’s largest telephone, food service, and pneumatic tube systems and includes a 27-hectare (67-acre) parking lot.

On United 93 passengers who were in contact on mobile phones with their contacts on ground once they were hijacked as in cases of earlier aircraft decided to storm hijackers as they had got news of fate of earlier aircraft. One passenger, Todd Beamer, told a telephone operator of the plan. After asking the operator to pray with him, Beamer set down the phone. The operator heard him say, “Are you ready?” Then, “OK, let’s roll.” The phrase “Let’s roll” would become a U.S. rallying cry in the subsequent war on terrorism.

The passengers continued their assault and at 10:02:23, a hijacker said, “pull it down ! Pull it down ! “.The hijackers remained at the controls but must have judged that the passengers were seconds from overcoming them. With the sounds of passenger counterattack continuing, the aircraft plowed into an empty field in shankville, Pennsylvania at 580 miles per hour, about 20 minutes short of Washington DC. Ziad Jarrah’s objective who was piloting the aircraft was to crash his airliner into symbols of the American Republic, the Capitol or the White house.

In the scenario of four hijacks and subsequent four crashes topped up with the element of virtual attack on America, ‘The Invincible’, the work carried out by Air traffic controllers can only be appreciated by one and all.

Protocols normally presumed while preparing for contingency for hijack are:

a) There would be One aircraft which is hijacked.

b) The hijacked aircraft would be readily identifiable and would not attempt to disappear.

c) There would be time to address the problem through the appropriate chain of commands.

d) The hijacking would take the traditional form: that is it would not be a suicide hijacking designed to convert the aircraft into a guided missile. The none existed on this un fateful day.

At 8:24:38, the following transmission which was mis keyed came from the first aircraft I,e from American 11 Piloted by Mohmd. Atta “We have some planes “.Just stay quiet, and you will be okay. WE are returning to the airport. The controllers knew at once it was a hijack. Super confusion prevailed once the info for other hijacks trickled in. Callsigns of American 11 and American 77 were mixed at many a Intra-units transmissions. Absolute loss of human emotions prevailed in the controllers glass cabs once the pictures of United 175 actually hitting the south World Trade Centre tower were transmitted live. In the Melee that prevailed one more aircraft C/s Delta 1989 were wrongly presumed to have been hijacked. But in spite of all these soft transmissions continued and the pleasantries “HAPPY LANDING” were exchanged by the stern, emotionally exhausted controllers.

Between 0901 to 0902, a ATC manager from New York centre told the Command Center in Herndon:

Manager, NEW YORK center: We have several situations going on here. It’s escalating big, big time.We need to get Military involved with us…….We’re, we’re involved with something else, we have other aircraft that may have similar situation going on here.

At the same time following was the conversation between Boston center and New England Region of Air traffic control

Boston Center: hey….you still there?

New England Region: Yes I am.

Boston Center: …….as far as the tape Bobby seemed to think the guy said that “we have planes” .Now I don’tk now if it was the accent, or if there’s more than one ,but I am gonna , I’ am gonna reconfirm that for you , and I will get back to you real quick .Okay ?

New England Region: appreciate it

Unidentified female voice: They have what?

Boston center: Planes as in plural.

Boston center: it sounds like we are talking to New York, that there’s another one aimed at the World trade center.

New England Region : There’s another aircraft ?

Boston center: A second one just hit the trade center.

New England Region: Okay, yeah, we gotta get – We gotta alert the Military, real quick on this.

Air Defense Warning Systems A control room at North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) in Colorado monitors air and space traffic over the United States and Canada. A bomber or missile attack against North America would be tracked from this facility.Corbis/U.S. Department of Defense

Boston ATC center immediately advised the New England ATC Region that it was going to stop all departures at airports under its control. At the same time 0905 New York center declared “ATC ZERO”- meaning that aircraft were not permitted to depart from, arrive at, or travel through New York Center’s airspace until further notice. But the monitoring continued and ,the controllers got busy vectoring air defense aircraft for combat ready positions. Separating the normal traffic in these tested times. At 0925 fighters had arrived over the Manhattan , New York and established a combat air patrol (CAP) over the city.

At 09:42, the command center’s National Operations Manager, the over all In charge of ATC Ben Sliney, ordered all FAA facilities to instruct all aircraft to land at the nearest Airport. This was a Unprecedented order. The Glass cabs were abuzz with activity of unseen scale. 4500 yes 4500 Commercial and general aviation aircraft soon landed without a single incident. By all standards it was heroic. The unsung heroes perhaps kept on murmuring “WE HAVE SOME PLANES”. Let’s all take a clue out of it and rededicate ourselves to the wonderful profession of Air traffic control to do the best in any situation demanded of us . So “Let’s Roll.” Let’s really Really ROLL.

Collected and Contributed By
Sh. Manoj Jain, AGM (ATC), Jaipur.