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Old 10-31-2001, 08:04 AM
TObject TObject is offline
Join Date: May 2001
Location: San Diego, CA, USA
Posts: 7,142
Below is a story from a controller at NY Tracon

(An FAA Controller in New York) writes:
Well, now that many of the details are being/have been released about the departure points, flight paths, etc. I can tell you a bit
more about how it looked from the radar scopes. Though I wasn't at work at the time, I'm told it was pretty apparent that something was up within a short time after the first flight left Boston.
Therefore, this part is obviously 2nd hand reports as relayed to me, and may contain a few errors. I'm told the taxi & departure were all normal, but that sometime during the climb... the aircraft departed it's assigned course, and 'killed' its transponder. For you non-ATC types, the transponder is an electrical device which is set on a discreet 4-digit code for each flight, and also gives us altitude information. Anyway at this point, the Boston Center (ZBW) controllers thought they simply had an emergency... probably a serious one, but none the less just a "normal" event that occasionally happens.
Apparently a short time after this... one of the flight attendants called her station back at Boston Logan via cell phone, and told them what was happening. The station then called the tower
manager, and the word then cascaded to the facilities with a need to know. Now NY Center (ZNY) and the NY TRACON (N90) airspace borders that of Boston Center.. and remember the Transponder was off, so no one knew the plane's altitude... so the watch desk at N90 was told what was happening. Of course, all we knew is
that we had a possible hijacking. We of course were able to track the aircraft with radar. It's speed seemed normal, but we did not know it's altitude. By it's speed, we assumed that it was
holding the altitude it was last seen at, or close to it.
Sometime during this, the 2nd jet departed BOS for LAX. I'm told it's taxi & departure were also normal, and that at a point after it's departure... it also departed it's scheduled
flight path, BUT it kept it's transponder on. We did not however know for certain if it was also ATC types know what I mean, and
I'll not elaborate here.
Of course, you know how 'trolls are... we all like info. For those who don't know, the watch desk here at N90 is located on a shared "platform" with the Traffic Management folks which is raised & sits right in the middle of the IFR room. It's easily accessible for all
of us working here, and indeed many of us have to walk up there for APREQ's, TMU releases, etc. during the course of a normal day. And there are 8-10 of those 22 inch color monitors there, which display all of the flights over the US inbound for the N90 area major airports. Usually 1 monitor for each of the major airports, and aircraft color coded as to whether they are air
carrier, air taxi, biz jet, & FLIB's.
Now the reason I mention this is because special flights (med evacs, lifeguard flights, SAM, etc.) are displayed a different color form the rest... and as there usually aren't very many of them
in comparison to the others, they stand out to anyone taking a look.
Needless to say, those flights being tracked into our airspace stood out. As such, word got around pretty quickly to everyone on the floor as to what was happening. 2 probable hijackings in 1
day was news.
So, many of those at work at the time watched the first flight fly down the Hudson River. JFK, LGA, & EWR were told to stand by to possibly receive a NORDO (no radio) aircraft. The flight
continued down the Hudson... still fast... past a "logical" turn point for LGA... past another turn point for EWR. Now everyone's thinking it might run the Hudson all the way south, and then
turn east along the south coast of Long Island inbound for JFK. Instead, it disappeared at the tip of Manhattan Island. We then heard that it
had hit 1 of the WTC towers. At that point, N90 management went on our highest security status, and within 5 minutes...
there were Nassau County police units securing (blocking) the front gate of our facility.
I arrived just in time to watch the 2nd jet fly in. It was initially at FL240 and doing 480 kts, then began a descent. Most of us
thought that it was possibly a "back-up" in case the first one failed. Initially, it's track seemed to take it far to the south of
Manhattan. There of course many opinions about what this one may do, but many thought that now that the 1st had done it's job, maybe it's going to land at JFK and then continue on overseas
where the highjackers could go home.
However, the speed never decayed. It came on thru 10,000 and never slowed. At the same time, a slow turn to the northwest was observed. It came on through 5000, speed 490kts. As it neared other aircraft in the area (mainly news & police helos), the Collision Alert (or Ca-Ca as we call it) started beeping as the computer tallied up speed and altitude parameters between the various aircraft. Then the Low Altitude Warning started
chiming in as the computer calculated the speed and altitude as it related to the height of terrain & obstacles in the area. Then finally
the actual raw radar blip disappeared... the ransponder track went into "coast" mode (which it always does after it loses a transponder signal), and continued north along Manhattan Island for 3 radar sweeps before it disappeared off of the screen.
Everyone was just pretty much silent for a few seconds, as we all had figured out what had happened, even before the folks in the break room watching it on TV came running back in and reported it. Of course, the radio frequency's and land lines went into full fury as everyone in the area reported seeing it. All of the towers were watching along with the tracking they were doing
on their D-BRITE (tower radar scopes). And of course there were still planes in the air to attend to, lining them up for approach.
Sometime during all of this, the EWR-SFO jet also departed it's assigned flight path, but with all of the other "action" going on in the room...
none of us on the floor had any word about it. Of course, the 'trolls at ZNY knew, but it was continuing west. I'm told, (don't know) that it was initially thought that since the WTC had been hit, that this one might be headed for the Sears Tower in Chicago.
Anyway, the nationwide ground stop was issued sometime during all of this. I'm not sure exactly when, as I was in the break room watching the TV for a while. Then the EWR-SFO jet turned
southeast. When it did and stayed on that rack, N90 was alerted. By this time, the first of the F-15s began to arrive & hold high altitude over NY, while the last of the airborne aircraft that
weren't diverted away were set up on final. Those flying IFR began landing, and only a few had to be "persuaded" to land immediately by seeing F-15's on their wing. Some of the calls on the
frequency from them were actually quite funny. Anyway, we the began to hear that the EWR-SFO jet had crashed in either northern MD, or southeastern PA... which of course it did.
Later I saw the radar plots of that aircraft... and it's initial course after the big turn southeast was for DC.
Towards the end of the
flight, it made a few turns other turns back & forth within 20 degrees of the "base" southeast course... then looked like it resumed the "base" course shortly before the crash. Now after hearing the news reports that at least 3 of the passengers were "going to do something about it", I can only speculate that those minor turns may have been when a scuffle began on the flight deck...
but of course I don't know that
Sergey Nosov

Navigation and Technologies Officer
NoNo Expeditions Australia
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