- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 17, 2004


Radio transmissions by the September 11 hijackers from the doomed planes they commandeered were played for the first time yesterday, providing a vivid and horrifying portrait of what unfolded that day before confused air traffic controllers and military personnel.

“We have some planes. Just stay quiet and you’ll be OK. We are returning to the airport,” a hijacker, thought to be Mohamed Atta, the leader of the 19 hijackers, told the passengers of American Airlines Flight 11. The tape was played for the audience at the hearing of the September 11 commission.

That transmission was the first inkling that federal air traffic controllers had of the hijacking of American Airlines Flight 11 shortly after takeoff from Boston’s Logan International Airport at 8 a.m. EDT. Atta had been speaking to the plane’s passengers, but the radio transmission was received at the Federal Aviation Administration’s Boston Center.

As FAA controllers tried desperately to contact the plane, which had changed its transponder code, they picked up another transmission, also apparently from Atta.

“Nobody move. Everything will be OK. If you try to make any moves, you’ll endanger yourself and the airplane. Just stay quiet.”

For United Airlines Flight 175, the second plane hijacked from Boston, the situation was similarly disjointed. That plane took off at 8:14 a.m. from Logan airport.

At 8:58 a.m., a controller at the FAA’s New York Center told another New York controller, “We might have a hijack over here, two of them.” At 9 a.m., a New York Center manager told the FAA Command Center in Herndon, “We have several situations going on here. It’s escalating big, big time. We need to get the military involved with us.”

The third hijacked plane, American Airlines Flight 77, had left Washington Dulles International Airport at 8:20 a.m. At 8:54 a.m., the plane deviated from its flight plan. It was tracked by an Indianapolis-based controller, then unaware of the other hijackings. When the controller couldn’t reach the aircraft, it notified other agencies that the plane was missing and may have crashed.

FAA radar, meanwhile, had apparently been able to track Flight 77, but for what the commission said were technical reasons, the information was not immediately displayed to controllers at the Indianapolis center. It eventually re-emerged on radar, and by 9:32 a.m., controllers at Dulles observed that it was headed to Washington.

The FAA asked an unarmed military cargo plane to identify and follow the airliner. At 9:38 a.m., the pilot of that plane reported to the Washington control tower that it “looks like that aircraft crashed into the Pentagon, sir.”

United Airlines Flight 93 had taken off from Newark, N.J., at 8:42 a.m. Its last transmission was at 9:28 a.m. A minute later, the Cleveland-based FAA controller heard “a radio transmission of unintelligible sounds of possible screaming or a struggle from an unknown origin.”

There was a second transmission, with sounds of screaming, someone yelling, “Get out of here, get out of here.” Then came another transmission. “Keep remaining sitting. We have a bomb on board.”

Between 9:34 a.m. and 9:38 a.m., the controller observed Flight 93 climbing and moved several aircraft out of its way. Then another transmission, the last, came from the plane.

“Uh, is the captain. Would like you all to remain seated. There is a bomb on board and are going back to the airport, and to have our demands (unintelligible). Please remain quiet.”

American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the two World Trade Center towers, and American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. United Airlines Flight 93 went down in rural Pennsylvania.

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