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September 19, 2001, Wednesday

A NATION CHALLENGED: CHRONOLOGY; Orders, at the Time of Impact


By JOHN H. CUSHMAN Jr.

At the moment that the first jetliner hit one of the World Trade Center towers on Tuesday, the Air Force ordered two F-15 fighters to scramble from a base 153 miles away, the Pentagon said in its first detailed chronology of its response to the hijackings as they happened.

That was at 8:46 a.m. The fighters took off six minutes later from Otis Air National Guard Base in Falmouth, Mass., and were on their way toward New York when the second jetliner struck the second tower, at 9:02. The F-15's were only 71 miles away, a distance that they would have closed in eight minutes of flying at Mach 0.9, just shy of supersonic speed.

The fighters were airborne within 12 minutes after air traffic controllers first notified the military that hijackers had taken over a plane, according to the Pentagon's chronology, issued by the North American Air Defense Command on Monday. Controllers told the military about the first hijacking at 8:40 and about the second at 8:43.

And when the controllers notified the military at 9:24 that a third jet had been hijacked, two F-16's from Langley Air Force Base at Hampton, Va., were in the air within six minutes, at 9:30. That hijacked jet had left Dulles International Airport and was heading back toward Washington.

But seven minutes later, at 9:37, when the Pentagon estimates that the third hijacked jet crashed into the Pentagon, those fighters were still about 12 minutes away, a distance of 105 miles.

By that time, air defense commanders were on the phone with civilian air traffic controllers discussing both the plane that was heading toward Washington and the fourth hijacked plane, which had reversed course while flying from Newark to San Francisco. Its destination was unknown, and it crashed while the F-16's from Langley, which had stayed aloft over Washington and were tracking it, were about 100 miles, or about six minutes, away.

The Pentagon chronology did not say when air traffic controllers first suspected that each plane was hijacked. Thus it does not say how long it took for the hijacking reports to be passed along to the military, a crucial consideration.

The chronology also did not say when President Bush authorized the fighters to shoot down any plane bound for Washington. Officials have suggested that the order came only after the Pentagon was hit and that the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania might well have been shot down if it had stayed aloft a few more minutes.



Organizations mentioned in this article:
National Guard (US)

Related Terms:
Terrorism; Airlines and Airplanes; Hijacking; United States International Relations; United States Armament and Defense; Missing Persons; Pentagon Building; World Trade Center (NYC); Otis Air Force Base (Mass); Military Aircraft


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Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company