- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 5, 2002

DENVER (AP) Two jets packed with people took off in the West yesterday in a twin hijacking drill designed to improve coordination among American and Canadian agencies.

Fighter jets from the North American Aerospace Defense Command scrambled to respond to the simulated hijackings and were to run through several scenarios, including one that involved shooting down the planes.

"We're prepared to do it, trained to do it and ready to do it, but we'd much rather it be the source of last resort," said Marine Maj. Mike Snyder, a NORAD spokesman. "But make no mistake, we're ready to do it."

The scenario was planned before the September 11 terrorist attacks, but Maj. Snyder said the events that day helped officials fine-tune the exercise.

The exercise, involving more than 1,500 personnel from the United States and Canada, began at 7 a.m.

One plane, a Delta Air Lines 757, took off from Salt Lake City and was headed to Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska. The other was a Navy C-9 airlifter, acting as another airliner. It traveled from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station at Oak Harbor, Wash., to Vancouver International Airport in Canada.

Both were packed with military personnel pretending to be civilians. NORAD planned to run through a number of scenarios that would end with the planes landing. Once that occurred, law enforcement officers on the ground were to run through scenarios for dealing with the hijackers.

Such training exercises are held annually. The exercise last year involved testing defenses against a cruise missile terrorist attack on the Florida Panhandle.

Since September 11, NORAD has flown 22,000 sorties to watch the skies for hijackers and other threats, and fighter jets have responded more than 300 times when a plane raised suspicions in many instances because the aircraft was off course or did not identify itself.

"NORAD is very well trained and exercised regarding this particular scenario," Maj. Snyder said.

Among the agencies involved in the one-day exercise yesterday were the FBI, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the new Transportation Security Administration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Aviation Administration.

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