Monday, March 31, 2008

Air Traffic Controllers Do Track Planes Even with Transponders Off

Monday, March 31, 2008

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Before 9/11, no transponder had ever become inactive, and so the military and FAA didn't have any experience on how to track planes with their transponders off. Right?

Well, a Miami-Herald article from September 14, 2001, states:

The transponder [on Flight 77] went off about 9 a.m., the company said.

At that moment, the flight would have been under the control of the Indianapolis Air Route Traffic Control Center, one of 20 regional centers that track flights between airports.

The trouble should have been instantly noticeable, traffic controllers say.

Flight 77, like other planes, at first showed up on radar screens as a short solid line, with a readout that identifies the plane and gives its altitude and speed. When the transponder shuts down, the short line vanishes. The speed number goes away, too.

"It's just something that catches your eye,'' one controller says.

And it's not that unusual. Transponders fail from time to time; commercial aircraft are required to carry a spare. Although it isn't clear what happened in the case of Flight 77, a controller's first move typically would be to contact the pilot, and tell them the transponder wasn't working.

The official hijacking protocols provide that the loss of transponder signal be treated as a "no radio" emergency. On 9/11, that is exactly what happened, at least for some of the flights (The protocols also state: "The NORAD control facility shall be advised if the hijacked aircraft is squawking a different transponder code". In other words, the moment a plane stops broadcasting the normal transponder code, NORAD is immediately notified).

As former air traffic controller Robin Hordon, who knows the flight corridor which the two planes which hit the Twin Towers flew "like the back of my hand" and who handled two actual hijackings says:

It is important for people to understand that scrambling jet fighters to intercept aircraft showing the signs of experiencing “IN-FLIGHT EMERGENCIES” such as going off course without authorization, losing a transponder signal and/or losing radio contact is a common and routine task executed jointly between the FAA and NORAD controllers. The entire “national defense-first responder” intercept system has many highly-trained civilian and military personnel who are committed and well-trained to this task. FAA and NORAD continuously monitor our skies and fighter planes and pilots are on the ready 24/7 to handle these situations. Jet fighters typically intercept any suspect plane over the United States within 10 - 15 minutes of notification of a problem.

This type of "immediate, high speed, high priority and emergency" scramble had been happening regularly approximately 75 - 150 times per year for ten years. In the same ten years, there were ZERO "low speed, delayed reaction, and low priority" hijacking scrambles reported, which means that the only time interceptors were ever scrambled for ten years before 9/11, they were using the high speed immediate scrambles.

On 9/11, Flight 77 was in fact tracked on radar, and could have been intercepted with fighter jets. However, the plane was allowed to go on a joy-ride all over the country with its transponder off for three-quarters of an hour. As the above-quoted Miami-Herald article states:
Forty-five minutes. That's how long American Airlines Flight 77 meandered through the air headed for the White House, its flight plan abandoned, its radar beacon silent.

* * *

Who was watching in those 45 minutes?

"That's a question that more and more people are going to ask,'' said one controller in Miami. "What the hell went on here? Was anyone doing anything about it? Just as a national defense thing, how are they able to fly around and no one go after them?''

Even with the transponder silent, the plane should have been visible on radar, both to controllers who handle cross-continent air traffic and to a Federal Aviation Administration command center outside of Washington, according to air traffic controllers.

The FAA, which handles air traffic control, would not discuss the track of Flight 77 or what happened in air-control centers while it was in flight. Neither would American Airlines.


But even if the plane remained silent, controllers could still find it -- by switching their screen display to the old-fashioned radar that bounces a signal off the plane's metal skin.


Military jets are routinely scrambled in the case of hijackings and "runners,'' planes that do not answer or do not heed air traffic controllers. But FAA officials would not say when controllers detected the errant Flight 77 or whether any fighter jets were able to get into the air to confront it.

Fighter jets are based nearby, in Virginia, and could have reached the White House within minutes, aviation sources say.

Dick Cheney also monitored flight 77 for many miles as it approached the Pentagon (confirmed here).

Similarly, an ABC News article states:
"Controllers at the Boston Center knew American Airlines Flight 11, which departed at 7:59 a.m. ET from Boston for its flight to Los Angeles, was hijacked 30 minutes before it crashed. They tracked it to New York on their radar scopes. 'I watched the target of American 11 the whole way down,' said Boston controller Mark Hodgkins. "
And air traffic controllers and others tracked Flight 175.

Indeed, radar data declassified in 2006 shows that the planes were tracked on radar virtually their entire flight, and that altitude was known for the planes during most of their flight (only flight 77 was purportedly off-radar for part of its flight).

And, as recounted by a high-level Secret Service agent:
"Through monitoring radar and activating an open line with the FAA, the Secret Service was able to receive real time information about . . . two hijacked aircraft as they approached Washington, D.C. "
Norad Admits Planes Show Up on Radar Even with Transponders Turned Off

Even Neads, the Northeastern sector of Norad, admits that the hijacked planes would have appeared on radar as dashes even after the transponders had been turned off:

Because they had been informed its transponder was off, [Neads] knew to look for a tiny dash instead of the usual dot.

A similar report states:

NEADS Staff Sergeant Larry Thornton says, “Once we were called by the FAA, we could find split-second hits on what we thought we were looking for. . . We were looking for little dash marks . . . .”
But the government claims that it could not locate the hijacked planes because the skies were crowded with other planes, and the military air traffic controllers could not find the planes among all of the plane signals. As NEADS' Thornton said:

"But the area was so congested and it was incredibly difficult to find. We were looking for little dash marks in a pile of clutter and a pile of aircraft on a two-dimensional scope.” Each fluorescent green pulsating dot on their radar scopes represents an airplane, and there are thousands currently airborne, especially over the busy northeast US.
However, the hijacked planes flew in many areas which were not high-traffic areas.

Moreover, it makes no sense that air traffic controllers could not focus their radar scopes solely on airplanes without transponder signals. In other words, let's say a Cuban jet flew onto the East Coast of the United States without any transponder signal. Would Norad say "Sorry, we lost the bad guy's nuclear-armed fighter jet amidst all the commuter flights"?

That makes no sense.

Remember that Norad had run drills for several years of planes being used as weapons against the World Trade Center and other U.S. high-profile buildings, and "numerous types of civilian and military aircraft were used as mock hijacked aircraft". In other words, drills using REAL AIRCRAFT simulating terrorist attacks crashing jets into buildings, including the twin towers, were run. See also this short excerpt of a Peter Jennings newscast on 9/11. Moreover, the military had previously run war games involving multiple, simultaneous hijackings , so this aspect of 9/11 was not as overwhelming as we have been led to believe..

Air traffic control radar, or at least military radar, must -- with the push of a button -- be able to use computer programming to hide all data for planes which have been accounted for as normal, civilian airplanes. In other words, those with working transponder signals. Even if air traffic controllers have to switch from secondary to primary radar, there must be a function for the computer to remove from primary radar signals which include transponder data.

If that were not the case, America's trillion-dollar defense system would be rendered useless.


Last-Minute Pilots, Passengers, and Flight Attendants: The Unexplained Oddity of 9/11

In all the valuable research that has been conducted into 9/11, a significant detail has so far been mostly overlooked: An examination of news reports and other accounts reveals that a surprising proportion of the people on the four targeted planes had only been booked onto those flights at the last minute, often the day before or even the morning of September 11. Pilots on three of the four planes, more than half of all the flight attendants, and many passengers--including almost half those on Flight 93--were not originally booked to be on those flights.

It is difficult to dismiss all this evidence as mere coincidence. There must be specific reasons that we do not yet know about. For the truth to be uncovered will require further study by independent researchers, scrutiny by the press, and proper formal investigations of the 9/11 attacks.

Below is a summary of these latecomers to the four planes: American Airlines Flights 11 and 77, and United Airlines Flights 175 and 93.


The pilot at the controls of Flight 11--the first plane to hit the World Trade Center--before it was supposedly hijacked was John Ogonowski. However, as the Georgetown Record reported: "American Airlines Captain Walter Sorenson of Groveland was scheduled to fly Flight #11 on Sept. 11, 2001. He was disappointed when he was replaced by Captain John Ogonowski, who had seniority over Sorenson and requested to fly that day. ... The last-minute change of pilots ... spared Sorenson's wife Sarah the untimely loss of a young husband." [1] On Flight 77, which supposedly hit the Pentagon, the pilot and co-pilot were Charles Burlingame and David Charlebois. But, as the New York Times reported: "Bill Cheng, an American Airlines pilot who normally flies Flight 77, changed his plans in late August [2001] and applied for time off on Tuesday [September 11] so he could go camping. When another pilot signed up for the slot, Mr. Cheng's application was accepted." [2] Whether it was Burlingame or Charlebois that replaced him is unstated. And the pilot of Flight 93 was Jason Dahl. But according to the Denver Post: "Dahl piloted United Flight 93 on Sept. 11 because he asked to. At his request, [his wife] traded for the flight on their home computer. He'd wanted to get back to Ken-Caryl Valley sooner to start celebrating their fifth wedding anniversary. Days after the request, Dahl's terrorist-invaded plane took a nose dive in a Pennsylvania field." [3] Dahl took Flight 93 in exchange for a flight he'd been booked on later that month. [4]


Flight 11: There were nine flight attendants on American Airlines Flight 11 the morning of 9/11. At least four of them were not originally booked to be on this flight, but had recently been assigned to it. Barbara "Bobbi" Arestegui "was not scheduled to work Flight 11 that day but had accepted extra flights. She was saving up vacation to take a trip with her boyfriend to Vermont at the end of this month." [5] Jeffrey Collman "didn't normally work the Boston-to-Los Angeles route but made an exception to get vacation time at the end of the month." [6] Jean Roger was a relatively new flight attendant, and every third month was placed on a "standby" work list. On September 11, "Someone called in sick and she had to go." [7] And Sara Low also "was not originally scheduled to work the flight." [8]

Flight 175: There were seven flight attendants on this plane on 9/11, at least four of whom had only recently been assigned to it. Robert Fangman was a reserve attendant for Flight 175, and was on it by chance. He replaced Elise O'Kane, who'd been on the flight regularly for the previous six months. When she was signing up for her flights for the month, O'Kane entered an incorrect code into the computer, which scheduled her instead for flights from Boston to Denver. She later said "she had never made such an error in 16 years as a flight attendant." She had subsequently "made several attempts to switch onto the flight, but had computer problems." [9] Another original attendant was Elaine Lawrence. However, "because she was going on vacation, she traded shifts with her close friend, Amy Jarret." [10] Lauren Gurskis was also one of the original attendants. "In August of [2001], however, she switched assignments--trip-traded, as flight attendants call it--so that she could drive her son to his first day of kindergarten." According to the Boston Globe, Kathryn Laborie was most likely the attendant that replaced her. [11] One more of the original attendants, Barbara McFarland, had "decided to spend an extra day with her son," and so she "swapped shifts with another attendant." The name of this attendant is unstated. [12]

Flight 77: Of the four attendants on this plane, at least two were not originally scheduled to be on it. Michele Heidenberger regularly flew from Washington's Reagan National Airport to Dallas, but on 9/11 was unusually flying out of Dulles Airport on Flight 77. When Heidenberger phoned her friend Toni Knisley, an administrator at Reagan Airport, shortly before boarding her plane, Knisley was surprised, saying: "What are you doing at Dulles? Aren't you flying your regular turn to Dallas today?" Heidenberger explained: "I'm working Flight 77 to LA because I want to take time off in October to go to Italy with [my husband] and the kids." [13] Renee May was only assigned to Flight 77 during the morning of 9/11. American Airlines had earlier called another attendant, Lena Brown, and asked her to take the flight, but Brown said she would be unable to get to the airport in time. "Renee May, the next flight attendant on American Airlines' list, accepted." [14]

Flight 93: At least three of the five attendants on this flight were not originally booked to be on it. Sandra Bradshaw "liked working first class," but "was in economy because she'd picked up Flight 93 late in the planning." She had "switched flights with another attendant." [15] Wanda Green "had been scheduled to fly Sept. 13, but Green, who also worked as a real estate agent, realized she had to handle the closing of a home sale Sept. 13. She'd phoned her best friend, fellow flight attendant Donita Judge, who opened United's computerized schedule and shifted Green to the Sept. 11 flight." [16] Deborah Welsh "usually avoided early-morning flights," and "was not originally slated to be on Flight 93, but was assigned to the flight when she swapped shifts." [17]

It wasn't just pilots and flight attendants who'd joined the doomed flights late. A large number of the passengers had similarly not originally been booked on these aircraft.


Flight 11: Alexander Filipov "originally held a ticket for a Delta flight, but switched at the last minute to American Flight 11." [18] Edmund Glazer had got a call from his company's home office in Los Angeles the night of September 10, asking for his help on a major project. "In his obliging way, Mr. Glazer boarded Flight 11 the next morning." [19] Pendyala Vamsikrishna "was to leave Boston on Sept. 10, but hadn't finished his job, and rescheduled for the following day on American Airlines Flight 11." [20] Brian Dale "was supposed to have flown Monday night. But the Warren, NJ, man instead opted to fly out Tuesday morning." [21] Peter Hashem "had been scheduled to take an earlier flight but postponed the trip in order to make time to attend his son's soccer game." [22] Robin Kaplan had also been scheduled to take an earlier flight, but "she would have had to get up too early, so she didn't." [23] David Angell and his wife Lynn "were on board [Flight 11], even though they had originally planned to take a later flight." [24] David Kovalcin "wasn't supposed to fly to California until later this week." But his company's managers "were looking for someone to leave on Tuesday to discuss a hardware problem with a supplier. He volunteered." [25] Christopher Mello had originally "planned to return home on a red-eye flight the next day." [26] And Kenneth Waldie "was supposed to leave Wednesday, but he got the flight the day before." [27]

Flight 175: Touri Bolourchi "was not supposed to be aboard Flight 175, but she decided to stay a few extra days in Boston to visit her daughter and two grandchildren." [28] Francis Grogan "was not originally booked on Flight 175, but overcrowding on his original flight bumped him." [29] Mark Bavis "was originally scheduled for the 11 a.m. departure but pushed it up a few hours." [30] And Daniel Brandhorst, Ronald Gamboa, and their adopted son David, "changed their flight plans so they could return to Los Angeles from Boston on Sept. 11." Brandhorst's mother had "thought her son was flying the previous night." [31]

Flight 77: Barbara Olson, who flew on Flight 77 on 9/11, was originally "scheduled to fly to Los Angeles on the night of Sept. 10," but "changed her schedule ... to be with her husband on the morning of his 61st birthday." [32] Barbara Edwards "had gone to Connecticut for a wedding and was supposed to return home Saturday [September 8]." But, "her friends talked her into staying with them so she took the flight that crashed into the Pentagon." [33] Vicki Yancey "had planned to leave Washington earlier, but ticketing problems delayed her departure." [34] After a vacation with their daughter, husband and wife Shuyin Yang and Yuguang Zheng were "scheduled to leave for China on September 10." But as they had only finished their vacation on September 9, their daughter "felt it might be a hassle for my parents [to] leave [in] just like a couple hours and to get on the plane. So, I have them to reschedule their flight ticket to September 11." [35] Dora Menchaca was in Washington for two days of meetings. "The meetings ended late Monday [September 10], a day earlier than expected." So, "The next morning, flying on standby, she caught an earlier-than-scheduled departure to California." [36] Ruben Ornedo was originally scheduled to fly two weeks after 9/11. But "during a lull in an extended Washington business trip he seized the chance to rush home for a day or two and see his wife." [37] One group of passengers on Flight 77 comprised eight individuals: three teachers and three 11-year-old students who had been selected to participate in a program at the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary near Santa Barbara, accompanied by two staff members of the National Geographic Society. According to a close friend of one of the teachers, Sarah Clark, "She was originally supposed to go to Florida, but two weeks [before 9/11] they changed it and told her she was going to California." [38]

There were likely more passengers who were only booked onto these flights at the last minute, but I have simply not yet come across the reports describing this. And it seems reasonable to assume there were even more of these late additions to the flights, where the details of these individuals' travel arrangements have so far gone unreported.

In the case of Flight 93, however, since the official story revolves around the heroism of the passengers who supposedly fought back against terrorists, we have the fortune that a lot more has been written about these individuals and how they came to be on that flight. What has been reported is extraordinary: Of the 33 passengers (excluding the four supposed hijackers), at least 16 had only recently been booked onto the plane. Some only joined it early in the morning of September 11.

Flight 93: Environmental lawyer Alan Beaven arranged to take Flight 93 on 9/11 the day before, as he was duty-bound to go to San Francisco to help settle a case after talks had just broken down. [39] "Normally," passenger Todd Beamer "would have left [for San Francisco] the night before." But on September 10 he had returned from a trip to Italy and wanted some time with his children before flying out. [40] Edward Felt "was on a last-minute business trip to San Francisco." [41] Sisters-in-law Patricia Cushing and Jane Folger had "moved up the time of their flight" in the days before 9/11. [42] Mark Bingham "had missed his plane the day before because of a hangover from a friend's birthday party." [43] Jeremy Glick "was supposed to leave Monday night, but there were problems at the airport: He decided to wait 'til Tuesday morning." [44] Nicole Miller's "Monday night ... flight back to the Bay Area was canceled due to weather. Miller re-booked on a flight the next morning." [45] Lou Nacke "only booked his seat the night before. He had a customer on the coast with an inventory problem and offered to fly out first thing Tuesday morning to fix it." [46] When she'd checked in at the airport on September 11, Georgine Corrigan switched to Flight 93, as it was non-stop, whereas her original plane would be making two stops on the way to San Francisco. [47]

A number of the Flight 93 passengers were originally booked on United Airlines Flight 91, scheduled to depart 1 hour 20 minutes after Flight 93, at 9:20 a.m. Deora Bodley "was supposed to take United Flight 91, but decided the night before to take one an hour earlier so she could get home sooner to her family and boyfriend." [48] Christine Snyder "called to check on her flight, Flight 91," early in the morning of September 11, and "moved up to Flight 93 for an earlier start." [49] Lauren Grandcolas "had been scheduled for United 91, but her car service had arrived at the airport early." [50] Husband and wife Donald and Jean Peterson "arrived at the airport early for United Flight 91 ... so they switched to Flight 93." [51] Tom Burnett, according to author Jere Longman, "had changed his plans. ... He would be leaving at 8 a.m. instead of taking Flight 91." (The San Francisco Chronicle said, however, that he'd originally been booked on a Delta Airlines flight that afternoon.) [52]


[1] Sally Applegate, "Flight 11 Crew Not Forgotten." Georgetown Record, September 18, 2003. Credit to Woody Box for having found this little-known information.
[2] Elaine Sciolino and John H. Cushman Jr., "A Route out of Washington, Horribly Changed." New York Times, September 13, 2001.
[3] Susan Besze Wallace, "Legacy of Sept. 11 Pilot Comforts Widow." Denver Post, December 16, 2001.
[4] Jere Longman, Among the Heroes: United Flight 93 and the Passengers and Crew Who Fought Back. New York: HarperCollins, 2002, p. 1.
[5] "The Attack on America Hits Home." Cape Cod Times, September 10, 2002.
[6] "Among the Lost: Victims Included CEO, Researcher." Seattle Times, September 17, 2001.
[7] "Jean Destrehan Roger." Chicago Tribune, September 15, 2001.
[8] "American Flight 11 Victims at a Glance." Associated Press, September 25, 2001.
[9] Wendy Killeen, "Flight Attendant Changes Course." Boston Globe, May 22, 2005; "Twists of Fate: Stories from 9/11." CNN Presents, CNN, October 8, 2005.
[10] Michael Taylor, "Airline Passengers Keeping Eyes Peeled." San Francisco Chronicle, October 23, 2001.
[11] Joseph P. Kahn, "The Flight Not Taken." Boston Globe, September 8, 2002.
[12] Meg Murphy, "Flight Workers: 'It Could Have Been Any of Us.'" Cape Cod Times, September 14, 2001; Meg Murphy, "Three Cape Flight Attendants Reflect on Returning to Air." Cape Cod Times, March 10, 2002.
[13] Tom Murphy, Reclaiming the Sky: 9/11 and the Untold Story of the Men and Women Who Kept America Flying. New York: AMACOM, 2006, pp. 42-43.
[14] Eunice Moscoso, "Not All Airline Pilots Want to be Armed." Atlanta Journal-Constitution, August 9, 2002; Cynthia Kopkowski, "Stewardess Returns to Work after Passing on Ill-Fated Flight." Daily Reflector, September 11, 2002.
[15] Dennis B. Roddy, "Flight 93: Forty Lives, One Destiny." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 28, 2001; Maria C. Johnson, "Mother Wants People to Remember Bradshaw, Sept. 11." Greensboro News-Record, September 3, 2006.
[16] Dennis B. Roddy, "Flight 93: Forty Lives, One Destiny."
[17] Kim Barker, Louise Kiernan, and Steve Mills, "The Heroes of Flight 93." Chicago Tribune, October 2, 2001; "Victims in the Flight 93 Crash." Associated Press, September 9, 2006.
[18] "Their Lives, Deaths Touch Us All." Chicago Tribune, September 13, 2001.
[19] "Charming the Snake and the Husband; Making the Fire Drills Count." New York Times, June 2, 2002.
[20] Steve Lopez, "When Love Stands Bravely against Unbearable Grief." Los Angeles Times, October 24, 2001.
[21] "Bittersweet Memories of Lives Cut Short." Chicago Tribune, September 17, 2001.
[22] "Region Remembers Terrorism Victims." Boston Globe, September 16, 2001.
[23] Alice Dembner and Bella English, "Firm and Families Mourn Seven Women." Boston Globe, September 13, 2001.
[24] Amy Goldstein and Cheryl W. Thompson, "Jet Crash Victims' Stories Start to Emerge." Washington Post, September 12, 2001.
[25] Liz Kowalczyk and Beth Healy, "After Tragedy, Executives Feel Invincible No More." Boston Globe, September 13, 2001.
[26] Ibid.
[27] "American Flight 11 Victims at a Glance."
[28] "Calls to Family ... Then Silence." Chicago Tribune, September 14, 2001.
[29] "United Flight 175 Victims at a Glance." Associated Press, September 25, 2001.
[30] Jim McCabe, "Team Players Bavis Was at Center of Extended Family." Boston Globe, September 16, 2001.
[31] John Glionna and Joe Mozingo, "Lurched into Grief, Families Are Left Only with Questions." Los Angeles Times, September 13, 2001; "A Spitball-Shooting Executive, a Frank Zappa Fan, and the Lawn King." New York Times, March 31, 2002.
[32] "Barbara Olson: A Sparkling Celebrity 'Full of Energy.'" Newsday, February 27, 2002.
[33] Shawn D. Lewis, "Memorial Day Recalls Pain of 9/11." Detroit News, May 27, 2002.
[34] "Calls to Family ... Then Silence."
[35] United States of America v. Zacarias Moussaoui. United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, April 11, 2006, pp. 59-60.
[36] John Scheibe, "Thousand Oaks, Calif., Scientist among Dead in Hijacking." Knight Ridder, September 14, 2001; "Dora Menchaca." Wall Street Journal, October 11, 2001.
[37] "Ruben Ornedo." Los Angeles Times, September 17, 2001.
[38] "Team from National Geographic Killed in Pentagon Crash." National Geographic News, September 12, 2001; "Maryland's Lost." Baltimore Sun, September 19, 2001.
[39] Jaxon Van Derbeken, "Bound by Fate, Determination." San Francisco Chronicle, September 17, 2001; Peter Hecht, "A Spiritual Journey Aborted on Flight 93." Sacramento Bee, September 30, 2001.
[40] Angie Cannon, "Final Words from Flight 93." US News and World Report, October 21, 2001.
[41] "Victims in the Flight 93 Crash."
[42] Jere Longman, Among the Heroes, p. 35.
[43] Karen Breslau, "Courage in the Air." Newsweek, September 27, 2001.
[44] Jane Pauley, "No Greater Love." NBC News, September 11, 2006.
[45] Oakley Brooks, "School Daze." Saratoga News, September 26, 2001.
[46] Jane Pauley, "No Greater Love."
[47] Jere Longman, Among the Heroes, p. 12; "Victims in the Flight 93 Crash."
[48] Jaxon Van Derbeken, "Bound by Fate, Determination."
[49] Dennis B. Roddy, "Flight 93: Forty Lives, One Destiny."
[50] Jere Longman, Among the Heroes, p. 12.
[51] Ibid. p. 16.
[52] Jaxon Van Derbeken, "Bound by Fate, Determination"; Jere Longman, Among the Heroes, p. 8.

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