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Independent Flight 77 - Pentagon Event Investigation

More Critical Thinking

A compelling look at timing and procedure

Excerpted from:

Part 1 Sept 11: Unanswered Questions
by MalcontentX
for Main Page:

For reasons I cannot presently elaborate on, my personal identity remains incognito.

Flight 77

By 9:05, flight number 77 from Washington, (the "third plane") had been severely off-course some twenty minutes before, (beginning at approx. 8:46). It had made a huge northward /westward/southward loop, before resuming its proper course again. (7)

This fact, (based on the actual radar reports from government and private industry) was likely the source of the above statement, that, "within a few minutes more... [8:50] controllers would have known that... Flight 77 had probably been hijacked." (NY Times, Sept 15)

At the same time,"controllers at Washington Air Route Traffic Control Center?who handled American Airlines Flight 77, which hit the Pentagon?knew about the hijacking of American Flight 11 even before it crashed [at 8:46] CNN, Sept 16, ibid." Village Voice, Sept 13 (8)

Thus, when Flight 77 started to go off-course, the Air Traffic Control officials, (ATC) who were watching the plane, were also aware that another plane on the east coast had been hijacked-confirmed.

Around this time, they would also have been informed that Flight 175 had been declared "hijacked," (at 8:43, CNN, Sept 16, ibid, earlier than the NY Times article suggests. This CNN document is based on official government, NORAD, timeline).

Thus, two other planes were officially confirmed as hijacked, by the time that Flight 77 had begun to go dramatically off-course.

Within minutes, these officials would be informed that Flight 11 had crashed into the World Trade Center.

They should have been extremely concerned.

Flight 77 managed to return to it's proper westward course, after flying about twenty miles north, then west, then south; yet officials should have still been on a high state of alert.

[NOTE: we don't know what kind of radio communications existed between ATC officials and Flight 77; because, for some reason, the FBI has not publicly released the tapes; so it's possible that, with radio contact, (and a clear sign of "ok" from the pilot) officials were convinced that things were under control, once the plane was back on its original course].

Yet the fact remains that the plane these officials were monitoring had been well off-course around the same time that two other planes in the area had been hijacked; and now, by 9:05 (at the same time that President Bush was updated the third time) a second crash into the World Trade Center had occurred, in what was now confirmed to be two, intentional terrorist attacks.

At the very least, the officials must have had suspicians, (as the NY Times article, cited above, clearly suggests).

Then, at approx. 9:00am, Flight 77 ceases its transponder signal.

For a very short period of time, (as they frantically try to regain radar contact through other facilities) ATC officials would have been unaware that Flight 77 had made a 180 degree turn near the Ohio state border, and was heading straight back for Washington.

(NOTE: according to Newsday, (Sept 23rd) this occurred at 8:55,

calculations based on the above radar map, take-off time, crash time, etc. suggests it was likely about five minutes after that. See note 7).

At any rate, according to the above source,

"9:06, Washington notifies all air traffic facilities nationwide of the suspected hijacking of Flight 11."

This was as clear an expression of a national emergency as these officials had ever known; and yet, although "military officials in a command center on the east side of the [Pentagon] were urgently talking to law enforcement officials about what to do," (N.Y. Times, Sept. 15, ibid) air traffic control continued to watch Flight 77 on the radar screen without any fighters scrambled to intercept it.

Then, at 9:25, the F.A.A. (the Federal Aviation Authority, oversight body of all ATC centers) notifies NORAD (military air-radar defense) that Flight 77 may have been hijacked. CNN, Sept 16, ibid (9)

That is:

Forty-plus minutes after two other planes had been hijack-confirmed: (Flight 11 at 8:38, Flight 175 at 8:43, CNN Sept 16, ibid.)

Approximately forty minutes after Flight 77 had begun to go dramatically off-course, (radar map, USA Today, ibid)

Almost forty minutes after ATC officials would have known that Flight 11 had struck the World Trade Center; (CNN, ibid)

Thirty-five minutes after ATC officials "would have known that... American 77 had probably been hijacked" (NY Times, ibid)

About twenty-five minutes after Flight 77 had ceased its transponder signal, and made a 180 degree turn over West Virginia, (when it was now just thirteen minutes from the Pentagon,Newsday, ibid);

Over twenty minutes after a second plane had struck the World Trade Centre, (9:02, CNN, Sept 16, ibid)

And finally:

Nineteen minutes after every other air traffic facility in the country knew that Flight 77 was likely hijacked,(Newsday, ibid) the FAA notifies NORAD that Flight 77 may have been hijacked?

May have been hijacked?!?

This is an unbelievable lapse of the most elementary, routine procedures of ATC and the FAA, (as we shall now see); yet this appears to be exactly what happened, for it?s only at,

9:27 a.m.: (approximate time) NORAD orders jets scrambled from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia to intercept United Airlines flight 77. (CNN, Sept 16, ibid )

Now, let?s be absolutely clear about this.

It is the sworn duty of the FAA to follow certain safety procedures; such as,

"Consider that an aircraft emergency exists ... when: ...There is unexpected loss of radar contact and radio communications with any ...aircraft." --FAA Order 7110.65M 10-2-5

"If ... you are in doubt that a situation constitutes an emergency or potential emergency, handle it as though it were an emergency."

--FAA Order 7110.65M 10-1-1-c (ibid)

The reason for this is simple: in busy airspace, an airliner without radio and transponder contact is a collision waiting to happen.

When an airliner goes off course, it is equally, (if not more) dangerous.

Every commercial jet is required to follow IFR, or Instrument Flight Rules. IFR requires pilots to file a flight plan with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) before takeoff.]

(FAA Order 7400.2E 14-1-2) (ibid)

"Pilots are supposed to hit each fix with pinpoint accuracy. If a plane deviates by 15 degrees, or two miles from that course, the flight controllers will hit the panic button. They?ll call the plane, saying "American 11, you?re deviating from course." It?s considered a real emergency, like a police car screeching down a highway at 100 miles an hour. When golfer Payne Stewart?s incapacitated Learjet missed a turn at a fix, heading north instead of west to Texas, F-16 interceptors were quickly dispatched." (MSNBC, Sept 12)

To give an idea of acceptable, routine response times:

"... from the official National Transportation Safety Board crash report: 9:19 a.m. [of Payne Stewart's plane]:

The flight departs. 9:24: The Learjet's pilot responds to an instruction from air traffic control. 9:33:

The controller radios another instruction. No response from the pilot.

For 4 1?2 minutes the controller tries to establish contact. 9:38:

Having failed, the controller calls in the military.

The standing rule of NORAD officals, (at the central U.S. radar facility, Cheyenne Mountain) is to give unknown airplanes which are approaching U.S. airspace, (off any of the coasts of North America) two minutes to make a satisfactory identification.

After two minutes, fighter-intercepts are ordered to scramble, without exception.

On the other side of the world, the head of the (rather antiquated) Russian Air Force, Anatoli Kornukov, has this to say, (of the Sept 11 attacks)

"such a scenario is impossible. "We had such facts [i.e., events or incidents in Russia] too.... as soon as something like that happens here, I am reported about that right away and in a minute we are all up.

Let?s also be absolutely clear about what is meant by "interception."

"[Marine Corps Major Mike] Snyder, the NORAD spokesman, said its fighters routinely intercept aircraft.

"When planes are intercepted, they typically are handled with a graduated response. The approaching fighter may rock its wingtips to attract the pilot's attention, or make a pass in front of the aircraft. Eventually, it can fire tracer rounds in the airplane's path, or, under certain circumstances, down it with a missile."

--'Boston Globe,' 15 September 2001


"Signals initiated by intercepting aircraft and responses by intercepted aircraft."

"...Rocking wings from a position slightly above and ahead of, and normally to the left of, the intercepted aircraft..."

This conveys the message, "You have been intercepted." The commercial jet should respond by rocking its wings, indicating it will comply.

The escort then makes a "slow level turn, normally to the left, on to the desired heading [direction]."

The commercial jet is supposed to respond by following the escort.

(FAA 'AIM' 5-6-4) (ibid)

So, it is a matter of routine procedure for fighter-jets to "intercept" commercial airliners, in order to regain contact with the pilot.

"Intercept" and "shoot-down" are two entirely different commands.

The question of whether an airliner may have to be shot down, (and who might give the order) is completely irrelevant to the fact that fighter-intercepts should have been ordered into the air, at the first sign of the emergency.

Let's now review the course of events in the light of the above regulations:

Flight 77 was wildly off-course at about 8:46.

The standard procedure, in this case, would be to request a fighter-intercept within a few minutes.

According to our above radar map,

Flight 77 went about fifteen miles off-course, and was off-course for approximately ten minutes.

This would normally have compelled ATC/FAA to at least notify NORAD and/or an appropriate Air National Guard (ANG) base.

The fact that Flight 77 went so far off-course after Flights 11 and 175 had been hijack-confirmed, should have doubly motivated ATC/FAA officials to inform NORAD.


Then, when the ATC officials (watching Flight 77) were informed, (likely by 8:48) that Flight 11 had struck the World trade Center, (8:46) surely NORAD should have been informed that this other plane had been, (or was) off-course/in trouble.

Still nothing was done when transponder contact with Flight 77 was lost, even after Flight 175 had hit the World Trade Center at 9:02.

Flight 77 was visible on various radar screens, heading back towards Washington -for another 23 minutes, before the FAA informed NORAD that the plane may have been hijacked.

Shocking, unbelievable: is it not?

What were these officials doing?

According to the above-mentioned Newsday article,

"After losing [i.e. transponder] track of Flight 77 for about 10 minutes, the FAA rediscovered the plane heading east over West Virginia, then took about 19 more minutes to alert the military."

The most sophisticated air-traffic communications system in the world: regional radar systems, national satellite radar, command centers in the Pentagon: essentially, not responding.

Flight 77 continued to fly towards Washington, unopposed.

When the FAA finally informs NORAD, the plane is little more than thirty miles outside the Capital. (10)

According to CBS News, (transportation correspondent Bob Orr)

"the plane flew several miles south of the restricted airspace around the White House. At 9:33, [it] crossed the Capital Beltway... flying at more than 400mph, [which] was too fast and high when it neared the Pentagon at 9:35. The hijacker pilots were then forced to execute a difficult high-speed descending turn."

"Radar shows Flight 77 did a downward spiral, turning almost a complete circle and dropping the last 7,000 feet in two-and-a-half minutes."

"The steep turn was so smooth, the sources say, it?s clear there was no fight for control going on. And the complex maneuver suggests the hijacker had better flying skills than many investigators first believed."

"The jetliner disappeared from radar at 9:37 and less than a minute later it clipped the tops of street lights and ploughed into the Pentagon at 480mph." (10)

The N.Y. Times, (Sept. 15) adds,

"the fighter planes that scrambled into protective orbits around Washington did not arrive until 15 minutes after Flight 77 hit the Pentagon."

So the question remains:

why weren?t intercept aircraft scrambled in time to intercept Flight 77?

Why did it take the FAA thirty-five minutes after the first hijacked plane struck the World Trade Center ?to inform NORAD? ?when Flight 77 was already clearly in trouble, (likely hijacked) and another plane (175) had also been hijack-confirmed?

Is this not an incredibly lax response?

Is this negligence not worth a mention from government officials - so certain in their knowledge of who's responsible for the attacks, as to invade another country for it?

But there?s more.

When officials at NORAD issued the order to scramble jets, (at 9:27) they chose Langley Air Force Base, which is one-hundred and thirty miles outside of Washington, (where Flight 77 was at the time). (CNN, Sept 16, ibid)

Given the time to scramble, (seven minutes) and the fourteen minutes it takes the planes to fly to Washington, ("at 720 knots, breaking the sound barrier," CNN, ibid) the planes could not possibly have gotten there in time to prevent a direct attack on the Pentagon, the White House, or any of the major buildings in the Capital.

And yet, Andrews Air Force base is located right on the outskirts of Washington, (ten miles away) and is home to two 'combat-ready' squadrons:

* the 121st Fighter Squadron (FS-121) of the 113th Fighter Wing (FW-113), equipped with F-16 fighters;

* the 321st Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA-321) of the 49th Marine Air Group, Detachment A (MAG-49 Det-A), equipped F/A-18 fighters. (10)

The mission of 121 Fighter-Wing reads, in part,

"provide capable and ready response forces for the District of Columbia in the event of a natural disaster or civil emergency." (10)

F-16 Fighters from Andrews Air Force Base were actually put into the air over Washington on Sept 11th, but only after the attack on the Pentagon was completed, (after planes from Langley were on their way).

" Within minutes of the attack ... F-16s from Andrews Air Force Base were in the air over Washington DC."

--'Sunday Telegraph,' (London), 14 September 2001

" an audible gasp went up from the rear of the audience as a large black plume of smoke arose from the Pentagon... Overhead, fighter jets scrambled from Andrews Air Force Base and other installations and cross-crossed the skies..."

--'Denver Post,' 11 September 2001

"It was after the attack on the Pentagon that the Air Force then decided to scramble F-16s out of the DC National Guard Andrews Air Force Base to fly cover, a--a protective cover over Washington, DC."

--NBC Nightly News, (6:30 PM ET) 11 September 11 2001

"Air defense around Washington is provided mainly by fighter planes from Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland near the District of Columbia border. The D.C. Air National Guard is also based there and equipped with F-16 fighter planes, a National Guard spokesman said. 'But the fighters took to the skies over Washington only after the devastating attack on the Pentagon'..."

--'San Diego Union-Tribune' 12 September 2001. (ibid)

Is this not rather astounding?

A few days later, another version began to appear in the mainstream press:

"Andrews Air Force Base, home to Air Force One, is only 15 miles [sic!] away from the Pentagon, but it had no fighters assigned to it. Defense officials won't say whether that has changed."


"The District of Columbia National Guard maintained fighter planes at Andrews Air Force Base, only about 15 miles [sic!] from the Pentagon, but those planes were not on alert and not deployed." (USA Today, Sept 17, ibid))

Also curious, what appears to be the reputable, well-documented website of the American Federation of Scientists lists the top speed of the F-16 fighters as 1500mph; which means that, according to NORAD and CNN, the fighters from Langley flew at less than half their top speed. (720 knots, about 650mph)

Given the weight of fuel and weaponry, this top speed may not have been achievable; but is 720 knots the best they could have done -given the extreme nature of the emergency?

The Pentagon also has surface-to-air missiles surrounding it. Why weren?t they used?

Neither was the Pentagon evacuated, until the plane had struck its target, (CNN, Sept 16, ibid).

Does all this not sound as if nobody was minding the store in regards to Flight 77?

Are there not too many inconsistencies here to be ignored?

Would the terrorists on Flight 77 have been able to get to Washington, (and the Pentagon) if the air defense had functioned properly?

Do we not deserve some answers?

Clearly, without gross incompetence on the part of ATC, FAA, and/or NORAD officials, Flight 77 would have not got near Washington -without being "intercepted."

Whether or not a pilot would have been authorized to shoot down the airliner is absolutely irrelevant to the fact that no planes were in the air in time ?as routine procedure clearly demanded.

Now, at this point, we don?t know exactly where the breakdown in communication occurred.

By the above information, it would appear that ATC and the FAA were more at fault than NORAD, (though not appreciably); and yet, these communication timelines come to us largely from NORAD.

We don?t know, for example, whether or not ATC and the FAA notified NORAD early on, and whether NORAD simply lied about it -and that the military end was largely or solely responsible for the breakdown in communication.

What we do know, however, is that by official NORAD statements, there was at least a thirty-five minute delay between the time when planes should have been ordered to scramble, and when they actually were.

If routine procedures had been followed, Flight 77 would not have made it to Washington.

The fourth hijacked plane, meanwhile, "was being tracked by the Pentagon," (according to Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz) "and could have been shot down." (NY Times, Sept 15, ibid)

That plane, (Flight 93) crashed into rural Pennsylvania at about 10:10.

Wolfowitz says that "any military intervention would have ultimately been the decision of President George W. Bush." (ibid)

If true, and since George Bush didn?t immediately excuse himself from the classroom, (at 9:00 am, or 9:05 at the latest) -to assume his role as commander in chief- then we must include his actions in with the above list of organizations: guilty of criminal incompetence.

The fact that his negligence would have made no difference, (i.e. no planes in the air, even if the President was on duty) matters not.

Moral authority begins with admitting one?s own mistakes: only then can one be forgiven them

The fact that the President has completely overlooked his own ineptitude in this affair, while declaring holy war on nations and citizens alike, strongly suggests that not only is an incompetent at the helm of the most-powerful nation on earth, but a morally incompetent one as well.

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