A large number of entries have been added to the Complete 9/11 Timeline at History Commons. Many of these examine the response of American Airlines to the hijacking of Flight 11, the first plane to hit the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Entries focus, in particular, on phone calls made from Flight 11 by two of the plane’s flight attendants: Betty Ong and Amy Sweeney.
A new timeline entry describes how Peggy Houck, a dispatcher at the American Airlines System Operations Control (SOC) center in Texas, received her first indication of a problem with Flight 11 when another American Airlines flight contacted her at 8:20 a.m. and said air traffic controllers had asked it to try to contact Flight 11.
Betty Ong’s Phone Call from Flight 11
Around the time Houck received this call, Betty Ong phoned the American Airlines Southeastern Reservations Office in North Carolina and began describing the emergency on her plane to employees there. After a couple of minutes, Nydia Gonzalez, a supervisor at the reservations office, joined the call.
Ong provided many details of what was happening on Flight 11. She said the men who hijacked the plane were in the cockpit, and nobody could communicate with the cockpit. She reported that the plane was flying erratically. She passed on the seat numbers of two hijackers who had gained unauthorized access to the cockpit. She said one passenger had been stabbed and might be dead, and provided the name and seat number of the hijacker who likely carried out the stabbing. She also said there was no doctor on the plane to help the injured crew members.
Toward the end of the call, Ong said her plane was flying erratically again and descending. The reservations office employees lost contact with her shortly before Flight 11 hit the World Trade Center.
At one point during the call with Ong, Nydia Gonzalez instructed her colleagues who were participating in the call not to tell anyone what they had learned about the hijacking. And toward the end of the call, one of the participants, Vanessa Minter, was replaced by Ray Scott, a manager at the reservations office.
Gonzalez promptly contacted the American Airlines SOC after she joined the call and relayed the information provided by Ong to Craig Marquis, the manager on duty there. Shortly after Gonzalez reached him, Marquis briefed another manager at the SOC about the trouble on Flight 11, but instructed them not to spread the news of the incident “all over this office right now.” He also asked Peggy Houck to try and contact the pilot of Flight 11, but told her not to let anyone else know about the trouble on the plane. Houck called a company that provides a backup communications capability for airborne flights and asked it to try to contact Flight 11, but the company’s attempts to do so were unsuccessful. Later on, Marquis instructed Houck to calculate how far Flight 11 could travel with its remaining fuel.
Gonzalez notified Marquis when communication with Ong was lost, but Marquis then said he wanted Gonzalez and her colleagues to keep the news about the hijacking to themselves.
Amy Sweeney’s Phone Call from Flight 11
Amy Sweeney tried phoning the American Airlines flight services office at Boston’s Logan Airport, but her first two attempted calls failed to connect. She finally got through at 8:25 a.m. and talked to a passenger service agent, but the call was cut off after less than two minutes. Mistakenly thinking that Sweeney’s plane was still at the airport, two of the agent’s colleagues went to the departure gate, but found that all of American Airlines’ morning flights had already left. Around the same time, another American Airlines employee at Logan Airport called the SOC to report the possible hijacking, but the person they talked to instructed them to keep quiet about the incident.
Sweeney reached the flight services office a second time at 8:29 a.m. and talked with a staff assistant, but the call was disconnected after less than a minute. She reached the office again at 8:32 a.m. and, over the next 12 minutes, passed on numerous details of the crisis on her plane to Michael Woodward, an American Airlines flight services manager. She mentioned that the passengers were unaware of the hijacking, and instead thought there was a medical emergency at the front of the plane. Before her call got disconnected, Sweeney said that Flight 11 was flying “very low.”
Two of Woodward’s colleagues contacted the SOC and passed on the information Woodward received from Sweeney. Then, at 8:40 a.m., another of Woodward’s colleagues also called the SOC to pass on the information Sweeney was providing.
Senior American Airlines Managers Learned of Emergency on Flight 11
Gerard Arpey, American Airlines’ executive vice president of operations, learned of Betty Ong’s call from Flight 11 when he phoned the SOC at around 8:30 a.m., and he then headed to the SOC to participate in the airline’s emergency response efforts. At about 8:45 a.m., managers at the SOC began setting up the System Operations Command Center (SOCC) to handle the airline’s response to the crisis.
Some senior American Airlines managers only learned about the emergency on Flight 11 during their daily conference call, at 8:45 a.m. And a pager message to the airline’s top executives, which revealed the “confirmed hijacking” of Flight 11, was only sent out at 8:49 a.m., after the plane had crashed.
Those at the SOC learned that a plane had hit the World Trade Center when American Airlines employees at two New York airports called with the news soon after the crash occurred, but SOC personnel were uncertain at the time whether the plane involved was Flight 11. American Airlines president Don Carty called the SOCC from his home after seeing coverage of the crash on television and asked if the plane involved belonged to his airline.
New York City Ordered Crisis Management Software Shortly before 9/11
New timeline entries describe the actions of two military aides who were with the president in Sarasota, Florida, on September 11. The military aides, Paul Montanus and Thomas Gould, were promptly informed about the first crash at the World Trade Center, but initially thought it was an accident. When he learned of the second crash, Gould quickly arranged for Air Force One to leave Sarasota. After the plane took off, he made a phone call to request a fighter escort and other military assets to support it. Montanus was on a plane that left Sarasota shortly after Air Force One, and which carried equipment and personnel back to Washington.
Other entries describe events before and after the day of 9/11. One entry reveals that, in the month before the attacks, New York City’s Office of Emergency Management fortuitously bought special crisis management software that it planned to launch for use on September 17. The software was promptly put into operation following the 9/11 attacks and significantly aided the recovery efforts at Ground Zero.
An entry reveals that, almost two years before 9/11, members of the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force told best-selling author Nelson DeMille that they believed the next terrorist attack in the US would involve suicide pilots deliberately flying planes into the World Trade Center.
Another entry describes how some key White House officials went to visit New York the day before 9/11, and were therefore away from Washington, DC, when the terrorist attacks occurred. They started making their way back to the White House after the Pentagon was hit.