FAA employee: hijacked jets almost collided en route

Portland Press Herald
Portland, Maine
Thursday, September 13, 2001

FAA employee: hijacked jets almost collided en route

By The Associated Press,

NASHUA, N.H.  The two hijacked jets that demolished the World Trade Center
nearly crashed into each other while heading to their target, according to a
Federal Aviation Administration employee at a regional control center.

''The two aircraft got too close to each other down by Stewart''
International Airport in New Windsor, N.Y., about 55 miles north of New York
City, the employee told The Telegraph of Nashua. It wasn't clear how close
they got after they left Boston 15 minutes apart Tuesday morning, both
headed for Los Angeles.

Hijackers gained control of American Airlines Flight 11 around Gardner,
Mass., said the employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Gardner is
about 45 miles northwest of Boston.

''American was just flying around, doing what it wanted,'' the employee said
of the jet's approach to New York.

United Airlines Flight 175 remained in the hands of its pilots until it
reached Albany, N.Y., the employee said. Albany is about 140 miles north of
New York.

The controller noticed American Flight 11 was having difficulties when its
transponder, the device that sends an electrical radar pulse to air traffic
control centers, shut off, the employee said. At that point, the plane
veered from its course, the employee said.

Soon after, the controller realized a hijacker stood in the cockpit when the
plane's captain, John Ogonowski of Dracut, Mass., turned on his microphone,
the employee said.

Through the radio connection, the controller heard someone instruct,
'''Nobody do anything stupid''' and no one would get hurt, the employee
said. The controller heard no more conversations, the employee said.

FAA controllers notified concerned government organizations, such as the
military, the employee said. Controllers also shut down all other air
traffic quickly to get other planes away from the rogue aircraft, the
employee said.

The Nashua controllers have learned through discussions with other
controllers that an F-16 fighter stayed in hot pursuit of another hijacked
commercial airliner until it crashed in Pennsylvania, the employee said.

Although controllers don't have complete details of the Air Force's chase of
the Boeing 757, they have learned the F-16 made 360-degree turns to remain
close to the commercial jet, the employee said.

''He must've seen the whole thing,'' the employee said of the F-16 pilot's
view of United Flight 93's crash near Pittsburgh. The flight took off from
Newark Airport for San Francisco, and authorities say the hijackers were
headed for another target in Washington, D.C.

The employee said the controller spoke with United Airlines Flight 175 for
quite some time after terrorists took command of American Airlines Flight
11, the employee said.

Many controllers also watched events unfold on the Nashua control center's
television, but never expected Flight 175 to hit the second World Trade
Center tower because of that sustained contact with the crew, the employee

''After the first plane hit, nobody imagined it would happen again,'' the
employee said. ''We all thought that was it. It totally caught everybody off

''It's not in anyone's mind they're hitting a target,'' the employee said.
''When somebody takes a plane over, they try to negotiate a release with

One air traffic controller with the help of an assistant monitored the two
Boeing 767s that toppled the World Trade Center, the employee said.

The same controller handled Egypt Air Flight 990 when it crashed off the
coast of Massachusetts in 1999, the employee said. The controller is
''pretty disturbed'' that he lost both planes, the employee said.

The morning's surreal moments included a controller who arrived for work and
discovered his wife was on the American Airlines flight, the employee said.

The center is one of 20 FAA facilities that monitor long-distance flights.
FAA officials have refused to comment.


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