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 Day 19

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American Airlines Could Have Saved That Flight; Instead They Tried to Keep the Hijackings Secret

What You Won’t See in Flight 93, the Film

by JAMES RIDGEWAY

The only people to defend the United States on 911 were the passengers and crews of the 4 hijacked planes.

The President and the Secretary of Defense, the two top officials in the chain of command responsible for defense the country were out of commission. Dick Cheney, the vice president, who under the constitution has no authority to issue orders, was running the country from the White House bunker. The FAA and the military were nowhere.

On Flight 11, flight attendants Betty Ong and Amy Sweeney were on the phone to American Airlines ground personnel minutes after the hijacking began. Even though both the FAA and the airlines had been warned more than 50 times in the months preceding the attack, officials on the ground reacted with skepticism an annoyance to Betty Ong’s desperate call.

According to one account by people who have listened to all the tapes, American Airlines people were anxious to keep what was going on secret. An American Airlines tape, according to Gail Sheehy in the New York Observer, shows the managers were concerned about keeping things secret. People who listened to the tapes said there were statements including the following: "Keep it close,’’ "keep it quiet’’, "Let’s keep this among ourselves.’’

So in those terrifying minutes before the first hit, two brave women on the phone inside Flight 11 were calmly telling American Airlines ground officials exactly what was happening.

The airline’s reaction: Nothing. It did absolutely nothing.

The managers could have picked up a phone and told all their pilots what was going on. Indeed they co told all pilots in the air what was happening. They could have called officials in New York. There is a real likelihood people at least could have evacuated the second tower.

If someone on the ground had acted, Flight 93, sitting on the Newark airport tarmac, might well have avoided the hijack.

Flight 93 took off at 8:42 that morning, a few minutes before the Flight 11 struck the WTC. It was not hijacked until 9:28. It is simple fact that the FAA, American Airlines and the military knew about the 911 hijacking before Flight 93 took off. Before its cockpit was seized two planes had hit the World Trade Center.

The 911 Commission report states it clearly: “As news of the hijackings filtered through the FAA and the airlines, it does not seem to have occurred to their leadership that they needed to alert other aircraft in the air that they too might be at risk.’’

The 911 Commission found “no evidence…that American Airlines ever sent any cockpit warnings to its aircraft on 911.’’ United’s first decisive move to inform its pilots occurred at 9:19 when a United Flight dispatcher, on his own initiative, notified the airline’s intercontinental flights: “Beware any cockpit intrusion. Two a/c [aircraft] hit World Trade Center.’’

Flight 93 got this warning at 9:24. Two minutes later the pilot responded and asked for confirmation. And two minutes later flight controllers in Cleveland heard shouts from the cockpit: “Hey get out of here … get out of here … get out of here.’’

The pilot had heard the warning, but had not had time to react.

The only people who were aware of the earlier hijackings that day and used their knowledge to take decisive and effective action were the passengers on Flight 93.

JAMES RIDGEWAY is the author of “Five Unanswered Questions about 911.’’ Seven Stories Press.