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Stories Of September 11th From A UAL 744 Pilot

Wed Feb 23, 2005 8:09 am

>>>By Alan Levin, Marilyn Adams and Blake Morrison, USA TODAY
Capt. Jim Hosking is stunned as he reads the message from the cockpit printer aboard United Flight 890. On most days, messages sent to the Boeing 747 are ordinary: maintenance items or reports of bad weather. On this day, Sept. 11, before sunrise over the Pacific Ocean, the warning is unlike any he has seen. Hijackings? Terrorist attack? Taking off from Narita, Japan, just hours before, Hosking, 56, looked forward to heading home to Los Angeles, where his wife would be waiting. But reading the message, sent at 9:37 a.m. Eastern Time, the pilot of 34 years wonders: What the hell happened down there? And then, even more chilling: What's going to happen up here?

In this two-part series, USA TODAY reconstructs how the unprecedented order to clear the skies on Sept. 11 played out.

"SHUT DOWN ALL ACCESS TO FLIGHT DECK." In the cabin behind him sit 243 passengers — all of them strangers to Hosking. He turns toward first officer Doug Price. "Get out the crash ax," Hosking tells him.

At the Federal Aviation Administration's command center in Herndon, Va., air traffic managers also struggle to make sense of what's happening.

Already, terrorists have deliberately flown two jets into the World Trade Center. The hijackings are unlike anything anyone has seen. In the past, hijackers commandeered passenger jets for political reasons. Pilots were told to cooperate with them, to take the hijackers wherever they wanted to go.

Today, the hijackers don't want to go anywhere. They just want the jets.

At the FAA's command center, managers can think of only one way to stop them. Minutes after another jet smashes into the Pentagon at 9:38 a.m., the managers issue an unprecedented order to the nation's air traffic controllers:

Empty the skies.

Land every flight.


By Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY
On Sept. 11, 2001, United Airlines Captain Jim Hosking received a message during a flight from Japan to LAX. The message read, "There has been a terrorist attack against United Airlines and American Airlines aircraft. We are advised there may be additional hijackings in progress. Shut down all access to the flight deck. Unable to elaborate further."

No one can be certain how difficult this task will prove.

But for an air traffic control system sometimes paralyzed by a patch of bad weather, the order seems overwhelming. Almost 4,500 planes will have to land within hours, many at airports hundreds of miles from where they were headed.

The situation could be worse. On this day, the weather is pristine over most of the nation. And the early hour means most West Coast flights haven't even taken off.

Still, the skies have never been emptied before, and controllers, pilots and aviation officials have never faced such pressure. Rerouting so many flights seems a logistical nightmare with no margin for error.

And no one knows how many terrorists might still be in the air. During these hours, those who run the nation's aviation system will come to believe as many as 11 flights have been hijacked.

This is the story of the four most critical hours in aviation history — an ordeal that began at 8:15 a.m., when the first indication that something was wrong came during a telephone call to American Airlines.

8:15 a.m.: 3,624 planes in the sky

Intruders in the cockpit

The call doesn't make any sense. Not at first.

Key times

8:46 — American Airlines Flight 11 hits the north tower of the World Trade Center.
9:03 — United Airlines Flight 175 hits the south tower.
9:03-9:07 — New York and Boston regions' air traffic control officials stop takeoffs and landings. The New York Port Authority closes Newark International Airport.
9:08-9:11 — Departures are stopped nationwide for aircraft heading to or through New York and Boston regions' airspace.
9:25 — Federal Aviation Administration stops takeoffs nationwide.
9:35 — United Airlines Flight 93 begins unauthorized climb, raising concerns it has been hijacked.
9:38 — American Airlines Flight 77 crashes into the Pentagon.
9:45 — FAA orders all aircraft to land as soon as possible.
9:59 — Trade Center's south tower collapses.
10:06 — United Airlines Flight 93 crashes in Shanksville, Pa.
10:29 — North tower collapses.

At American Airlines' operations center in Fort Worth, manager Craig Marquis talks to a reservations agent in North Carolina. The agent isn't sure what to do.

On another line, the agent is speaking with a flight attendant who's in the air but can't reach the pilots on her jet. The agent wants to transfer the call to Marquis but the phone system won't let her. So she begins to relay messages coming from the back of American Flight 11, a Boeing 767 heading from Boston to Los Angeles.

Aboard, flight attendant Betty Ong tells what's unfolding.

Marquis, a blunt-spoken veteran, isn't sure what to make of the call. Is the woman even a flight attendant? he wonders. He checks his computer as he listens on the phone. There she is. Betty Ong. And she is on that flight.

Ong can't contact the pilots, the agent says. That's why she's calling. Why doesn't she just walk up to the cockpit and bang on the door? But as he listens — as Ong, in hushed tones, tells of a passenger dead and a crewmember dying, of the jet's erratic path and intruders in the cockpit — Marquis realizes that Ong can do little.

The flight has been hijacked.

As Marquis, 45, considers what he can do, air traffic controllers at the FAA's Boston Center reach the same conclusion. Flight 11 has stopped talking. Its pilots don't respond to calls; its transponder signal has disappeared. Worse, controllers report hearing a man with a strange accent in the cockpit.

"We have some planes," he says through an open mike. "Just stay quiet and you will be OK."

Could more hijackers be out there?

In the FAA's command center in Herndon, Ben Sliney learns of the radio transmission. The words will haunt him all morning. "We have some planes."

Some? How many?

Sept. 11 is Sliney's first day on the job as national operations manager, the chess master of the air traffic system. The New Yorker, a lawyer who once sued the FAA on behalf of air traffic controllers, now walks the floor of the center — a room that resembles NASA's Mission Control.

By Tim Dillon, USA TODAY
Ben Sliney, the national operations manager at the FAA's command center in Herndon, Va., was on duty at the center on Sept. 11.

Loud and forceful, Sliney fits the mold of others there. After managers at the center were criticized for not taking enough action to prevent record flight delays in 1999, the specialists were urged to speak freely during crises. That way, those in charge would have the information they needed to make sound decisions. On this day, that policy will be put to the test, and the center is deafening, like the New York Stock Exchange when everyone's trying to sell.

"We have some planes..."

Sliney can't shake the words. Are there more hijackers out there?

8:30 a.m.: 3,786 planes

"Wow, look at that!"

In the FAA's largest air traffic facility in New York state — a warehouse-like structure on Long Island, an hour east of Manhattan — manager Mike McCormick rushes to the banks of radar screens where controllers are trying to track Flight 11.

The former Marine presses his cordless phone to one ear as he talks to officials at other facilities in the New York area. But the other ear is doing most of the listening — to the radio reports of pilots who are watching the jet's progress.

Over New York, Flight 11 has begun to descend. Not into JFK or LaGuardia or Newark International Airport but into the city itself.

It must have electrical problems, he thinks. That's probably why the transponder is off. McCormick calls another air traffic center that hands off flights to New York's three major airports. Flight 11, he warns, might try an emergency landing.

In Fort Worth, Gerard Arpey, American Airline's executive vice president for operations, hears about the Ong call and the strange transmissions from Flight 11. In his 20 years with American, Arpey, 43, has grown used to stories about misbehaving passengers — the drunks and disorderlies that airlines encounter. But this, he thinks, this seems more than that. This sounds real.

He tries to reach his boss, CEO Don Carty, but Carty isn't in yet. Then he heads to the airline's command center, where top operations officials gather only in the event of an emergency. They're all here, Arpey thinks as he walks through the door.

All but Craig Marquis.

Just down the hall, in the airline's operations center, Marquis hasn't left the phone. Still listening to the relayed words of Ong, he works to calculate how much fuel the jet carries. That way, he may be able to predict where the hijackers will take the flight. But at 8:46 a.m., the North Carolina agent abruptly loses Ong's call. Marquis' calculations no longer matter.

At Newark's tower, just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, controller Rick Tepper, 41, stands at a console behind a group of other controllers.

By Eileen Blass, USA TODAY
Air traffic controller Rick Tepper works in the control tower at Newark International Airport. On Sept. 11, Tepper saw a mushroom cloud at the World Trade Center.

There, he answers phones and troubleshoots problems. He and the other controllers often wear jeans and polo shirts. The attire belies their intense work ethic.

When Tepper looks past the controllers, he sees it out the window: a mushroom cloud rising from the World Trade Center's north tower.

"Wow! Look at that," he says to no one in particular. Flames shoot from the building. "How are they going to put that out?"

He didn't see what caused the explosion, but on the chance that it was a plane, he begins calling airports nearby.

"Did you lose anybody?" he asks over and over. No one has.

Then, a phone rings: the "shout line," set up for speedy calls among controllers in the region. Tepper answers. "We've lost an aircraft over Manhattan," someone at the New York center says. "Can you see anything out your window?"

"No, I don't see anything ... " Tepper pauses. "But one of the towers, one of the trade towers, is on fire.

"I'll call you back."

9 a.m.: 4,205 planes

"This is not a drill!"

At the New York center, McCormick struggles to keep up with the barrage of information, most of it annoyingly vague.

That must have been American 11, McCormick thinks. Could it be terrorism?

Just three days before, celebrating his 45th birthday, he had taken his 8-year-old son Nicholas to the Trade Center. There they stood, toes touching one tower, peering toward the sky.

Now he tries to figure out why an airliner would've hit the building. Just before American disappeared, controllers heard an emergency beacon. From what? McCormick wonders. And controllers can't find a helicopter that has disappeared from radar over the city. Did it hit the Trade Center, too?

In Herndon, national operations manager Sliney receives word from officials in New York: A small plane has crashed into the Trade Center. One of the room's 10-by-14-foot TV monitors comes to life with CNN. Black smoke gushes from the north tower. The hole is huge. And the smoke!

That was no small plane, Sliney thinks.

At United Airlines headquarters outside Chicago, Andy Studdert rushes to the airline's crisis center, a windowless room with a large screen on one wall. To those who work there, the room resembles the bridge on Star Trek's starship Enterprise.

"Confirm American into the Trade Center!"

Workers don't need to look up to recognize the booming baritone of Studdert, 45, the airline's chief operating officer.

Ten days earlier, he had popped a surprise drill on the staff. He told them a flight over the Pacific had suffered a potentially disastrous engine failure and radio contact had been lost. For 30 minutes, workers believed the story. Then Studdert told them the truth.

On this day, he makes certain everyone knows the stakes. "This is not a drill!" he shouts, but the staff already knows.

What they are about to tell Studdert is even worse than what brought their boss to the crisis center. Controllers have lost radio contact with a second flight — a United jet that, like American Flight 11, took off from Boston bound for Los Angeles.

On the giant screen at the front of the room, airline workers can only watch as United Flight 175, northwest of New York, heads toward Manhattan.

Then ... it vanishes.

"There was another one!"

In the Newark tower, the shout line rings again.

Where's United Flight 175? "Can you see him out the window?" the caller asks Tepper, the Newark controller.

Beyond the New Jersey shipyards, Tepper spots the jet flying north, up the Hudson River. His eyes track it toward the Manhattan skyline. It's moving fast. Too fast. And rocking. Its nose points down in a dive and now it's banking left and then right and moving as Tepper has never seen a jet move and then it starts to level and ....

"Oh my God! He just hit the building," Tepper tells the caller.

In Herndon, a shout: "There was another one!" and the giant TV monitor glows orange from the fireball. Scores of workers gasp, as if sucking the air from the room.

It can't be a second one. At the New York control center, McCormick's deputy, Bruce Barrett, sits incredulous at the watch desk, the facility's nerve center.

For a moment, Barrett can think only of his daughter, Carissa, who works in lower Manhattan. Could she be visiting someone at the Trade Center? Then he sweeps the thought from his mind. Stay calm, he tells himself.

By H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY
As Bruce Barrett gave the order for "ATC Zero" in the Northwest, he worried about his daughter working in Manhattan.

Someone has to. Controllers who had been watching TV in the break room are rushing onto the floor. They saw the jet hit the other tower. Is there really any question what he should do?

"We're declaring ATC zero," he tells air traffic managers. McCormick approves the order. Clear the skies over the region.

If they have overreacted, the decision could ruin both their careers. But after what they just witnessed, they give little thought to asking for permission. A call to Washington could take minutes, and they aren't sure they have that long. They aren't certain of anything, except that they need to do something.

A handful of managers spread the word to controllers. It doesn't seem like enough, Barrett thinks, but it's the most he can do.

The time: 9:03 a.m.

A radical decision

On its face, the order seems incredible. Not a single flight in or out of New York? Some of the nation's biggest airports shut down?

Controllers had gone to "air traffic control zero" before, but only when their radar shut down or their radio transmitters went silent. The planes kept flying then, and controllers in other centers guided them.

This time, ATC zero means something far more drastic. It means emptying the skies — something that has never been attempted. And not just the skies over Manhattan. Controllers must clear the air from southern New England to Maryland, from Long Island to central Pennsylvania — every mile of the region they control.

The move reverberates through almost every part of the nation. Controllers from Cleveland to Corpus Christi must reroute jets headed to the region and put some in holding patterns.

In the windowless room of the New York control center, Barrett, at 56 one of the facility's most senior managers, scans the faces of the other managers. Most pride themselves on their macho, can-do attitudes. Cool under pressure. Calm during the worst. But this ... who has prepared for this? In the dim light, Barrett sees that they're looking at him strangely, as though they can't believe what he's saying.

One controller begins to sob and shake. "I don't understand how come I'm reacting like this," the controller says. It reminds Barrett of the traumatized troops he saw as a photojournalist in Vietnam.

You're scared, Barrett thinks, but he can't afford to be. He needs to concentrate. To focus. But his phone! It won't stop ringing. Everyone wants to know what's going on, including his wife, Denise. She asks about their daughter.

"I don't have time to talk to you," Barrett tells her. "Just call and find out if she's OK."

The white board

At the FAA's command center in Herndon, attention shifts from the weather maps and the radar displays.

The new focus: a white dry-erase board propped at the front of the room.

On it, staffers have begun to scribble the call letters of every flight that controllers around the nation fear might be in the hands of hijackers.

Weather experts and the specialists who normally work on reducing flight delays have been drafted to investigate. They badger airlines to find out whether anyone knows what's happening aboard a number of flights. On this day, the routine glitches of the air traffic system — a missed radio call, even a pilot who seems uncooperative — raise suspicions. Unless a controller or airline official can assure them the glitch is simply routine — that the captain is responding and everyone is safe — the flight's letters won't be crossed out.

The phone bridges between air traffic facilities have become emergency hotlines of sorts, and the reports of possible hijackings — many of them sketchy — flow at a frenetic pace.

As Sliney, the operation's manager, moves around the room, a handful of air traffic specialists follow. Together, they have decades of experience, and no one hesitates to share an opinion. But without good information, Sliney knows that any decision might be risky. Amid the shouts and chatter and conflicting reports, he reminds himself: Don't jump to conclusions. Sort it out.

Now, during a massive conference call among air traffic facilities, officials in Herndon learn about a third jet that might be in the hands of hijackers: American Airlines Flight 77, bound for Los Angeles.

The jet departed from Washington's Dulles International Airport. It stopped talking to controllers somewhere near the Ohio-Kentucky border. Moments later, it disappeared from radar. Its call letters join the list on the white board — a list that will eventually swell to 11.

But why? What is this about? Across the nation, controllers and airline and aviation officials struggle to understand.

These weren't typical hijackings. Terrorists weren't seeking political asylum or a trip to Havana. They were using the two jets as guided missiles. They meant to hit the World Trade Center. No question about that.

Most of the pilots in the air don't know what has happened. Or why. How could they? Officials on the ground are still trying to make sense of it.

Pilots have always been trained to cooperate with terrorists, to do whatever they want in order to save lives. That means a crew probably won't fight back, at least not at first. And who knows how many other flights have terrorists aboard?

Again, Sliney hears them: the words that came from Flight 11.

"We have some planes."

9:15 a.m.: 4,360 planes

Unprecedented decisions

From the moment air traffic managers McCormick and Barrett start to clear the airspace over New York, government and airline officials across the nation — almost in unison — begin to take similar, unprecedented steps.

In Fort Worth, American operations managers huddle, talking breathlessly about their options. They already have lost one flight. And now, Flight 77 has disappeared. Do they have a choice?

Manager Marquis' voice booms over the loudspeaker. "Anything that hasn't taken off in the Northeast," he says, "don't take off."

At the FAA's command center in Herndon, officials worry about what might be unfolding. Maybe there's another wave of hijacked jets coming off the West Coast. And what about the international flights?

The center halts takeoffs of all flights bound for New York and New England. Then officials stop takeoffs for any flight headed to Washington, D.C. Moments later, they freeze takeoffs headed to Los Angeles, the destination of the two hijacked flights that crashed into the Trade Center. Then to San Francisco.

The orders will keep hundreds of flights on the ground. As in surgery, each step clamps shut another artery of the air traffic system.

But the moves aren't strong enough for some of the air traffic specialists at the center, who bombard Sliney with advice.

"Just stop everything! Just stop it!"

The words ring true to Sliney. It doesn't matter who said them — with the noise in the room, it's hard even to know. But stopping everything, he thinks. That makes sense.

At 9:25 a.m., with Flight 77 still unaccounted for, Sliney issues another order that no one has ever given: full groundstop. No commercial or private flight in the country is allowed to take off.

The decision is sweeping, but Sliney has no doubt he has made the right call. And if he's wrong? At least he has erred on the side of safety. If higher-ups want to second-guess him, so be it. He has left the agency before to practice law, and he knows if he has to depart again — if someone thinks he's screwed up — he can leave with no regrets.

What he doesn't know — what no one knows — is how crucial this order to ground planes will prove when controllers are asked later to clear the skies.

9:25 a.m.: 4,452 planes

Watch and wait

In the New York control center, Bruce Barrett wonders what lies ahead. Scores of overseas flights are heading to New York. Though many are hours from landing, rerouting them from the now-closed airspace will be far more difficult than clearing the skies over the area had been.

About this report

On Sept. 11, the nation's aviation system quickly and safely landed almost 4,500 planes that were in the air when the terrorist attacks took place. How was this accomplished? What was it like inside air traffic control centers and at airline headquarters? How was the decision made to land all the planes? And how did controllers execute it?
USA TODAY reporters Alan Levin, Marilyn Adams and Blake Morrison spent seven months interviewing more than 100 people involved in key decisions that day. Among them: air traffic controllers, pilots, flight attendants, airline executives, federal officials and other aviation system workers. The reporters traveled to New York, Washington, Nashua, N.H., Chicago, Fort Worth, Atlanta and Halifax, Nova Scotia. Morrison wrote the stories.

The scenes, thoughts and quotes in the stories are based on interviews with participants or with sources who had access to tape recordings. Characters' thoughts are highlighted in italic type throughout the stories. Accounts of the day's events were verified with other participants. Reporters and editors also scrutinized hundreds of pages of records, including transcripts of radio calls with the four hijacked jets and a log kept by the Federal Aviation Administration.

USA TODAY compiled and analyzed data from several sources. A key source was FAA radar data from the Traffic Situation Display. The system tracks all aircraft in the United States and Canada that have filed flight plans: commercial jets, private planes, cargo jets and military aircraft. It also estimates the location of planes over the Atlantic and Pacific oceans flying to and from North America. USA TODAY examined data from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sept. 11. Aircraft totals were adjusted to eliminate military flights and several hundred domestic flights over Europe that had been included.

USA TODAY also used a database from Flight Dimensions International (www.flightexplorer.com) to analyze flights that were rerouted by controllers. A few rerouted flights were not recorded. The data allowed USA TODAY to determine when specific flights were rerouted and where they landed.

Separate software from the same firm allowed an analysis of the number of planes in the air and the airline to which those planes belonged. This analysis was done by Paul Overberg, database editor, and Lee Horwich, national editor.

Over land, controllers can see jets on radar and reach them by radio. But those tools are useless beyond a 200-mile band near the shoreline. The New York center's oceanic controllers must use a complicated system to guide jets. They estimate a jet's position and issue commands to a private company, which relays them to the jet. If the jet doesn't follow a command, controllers might never know.

Barrett already has told the oceanic supervisor to turn every jet away from U.S. airspace. The primary option: Canada.

"Are you sure this is where we want to go?" the supervisor asked.

Yes, he was certain. But now, he learns that Canadian authorities are not. An official there tells the supervisor that Canada cannot accept all the arrivals streaming across the North Atlantic.

"Just be emphatic," Barrett tells the supervisor, "and tell them they're not coming here."

In Herndon, Sliney considers his options. Do something. Make a decision. That's the credo of the air traffic controller. Make a decision.

But what? What should he do? Already, they have stopped takeoffs nationwide. What else can they do? Land every plane?

Throughout the morning, few had agreed what the right move was. Officials in Herndon initially questioned whether managers in New York had overstepped their authority when they cleared the airspace there. But all of the moves had proved right. And now, a consensus is building: They should land every plane.

Then, just before 9:30 a.m., a report comes from a controller at Washington Dulles International Airport. She has a jet on radar, heading toward Washington and without a transponder signal to identify it. It's flying fast, she says: almost 500 mph. And it's heading straight for the heart of the city. Could it be American Flight 77?

The FAA warns the Secret Service. Fighter jets from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia race toward Washington. They won't get there in time.

'Get to the nearest airport'

On his way to the office in Fort Worth, Don Carty, American's CEO, talks on his cell phone. Flight 77 has vanished, he is told.

He was at home when Flight 11 hit the Trade Center. The TV in the kitchen was on. "Could that be your airplane?" his wife asked. Her face went pale.

Carty, 55, told her no. No, of course not; it couldn't have been. But even he didn't believe what he was saying. By the time Carty reaches the office, a jet is bearing down on Washington. Is it Flight 77? A groundstop will keep flights from taking off. But what about the ones in the air? he wonders.

At the airline's operations center in Fort Worth, vice president Arpey takes charge. "I think we better get everything on the deck," Arpey says. What the hell am I doing? he thinks, but Carty concurs when he arrives minutes later.

"Do it," he says, and Arpey puts the order out to land every American plane.

At United headquarters in Elk Grove, Ill., operations head Studdert issues a similar order: "Tell them to get to the nearest airport they can."

Before this day, no airline has ordered all of its planes from the sky.

'Where's it going?'

At FAA headquarters, less than a half-mile from the White House and Capitol, Dave Canoles paces before a speakerphone.

The head of air traffic investigations, Canoles has set up phone connections with air traffic facilities. As different regions come on the line, the reports of suspicious planes accumulate. We might be at war by afternoon, Canoles thinks. The FAA had better be ready. Already, some air traffic centers had considered evacuating. Canoles told them to stay put.

Now, about 9:35 a.m., he and others on the conference call listen as an official watching a radarscope tracks the progress of the jet heading for Washington.

Canoles sends an investigator who works for him to an adjoining office with a view to the west. "See if you can spot it," he tells him.

"Six miles from the White House," a voice on the phone says.

Canoles glances outside, through a window facing north. He wonders if he and his co-workers are in danger. At 500 mph, the jet is traveling a mile every seven seconds.

"Five miles from the White House."

No way the FAA is a target, Canoles thinks. It can't be.

"Four miles from the White House."

They'd never choose to hit us. No way.

"The aircraft is circling. It's turning away from the White House."

Where? Where's it going?

Then: "It's gone."

In the adjoining office, the investigator spots smoke to the west of the city.

The jet has hit the Pentagon. The time: 9:38 a.m.

'Order everyone to land'

For the last 30 minutes, since the second Trade Center tower was hit, Sliney has considered bringing every flight down. Now, the manager in charge of the nation's air traffic system is certain.

He has no time to consult with FAA officials in Washington.

The skies are filled with guided missiles, he thinks. Filled with them. The words he cannot shake have proved true. The hijackers did have more planes.

"Order everyone to land! Regardless of destination!" Sliney shouts.

Twenty feet away, his boss, Linda Schuessler, simply nods. She had organized the command center earlier that day, trying to create order from the chaos so Sliney could focus on what had to be done.

"OK, let's get them on the ground!" Sliney booms.

Within seconds, specialists pass the order on to facilities across the country. For the first time in history, the government has ordered every commercial and private plane from the sky.

9:45 a.m.: 3,949 planes

A misunderstanding

In Washington, FAA Administrator Jane Garvey and her deputy, Monte Belger, have been moving back and forth between a secret operations center and their offices.

Throughout the morning, staffers have kept Garvey and Belger apprised of Sliney's decisions.

By Paul Whyte, USA TODAY
FAA Administrator Jane Garvey approved the order to clear the skies.

Now, they tell them of the order to clear the skies. With little discussion, the FAA leaders approve.

Minutes later, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta calls from a bunker beneath the White House, where he has joined Vice President Cheney. Belger explains that the FAA plans to land each plane at the closest airport, regardless of its destination.

Mineta concurs. FAA staffers, following the conversation over the speakerphone with Belger, pump their fists. Then the conversation sours.

Mineta asks exactly what the order means.

Belger says pilots will retain some discretion. All the FAA deputy means is that under long-standing aviation regulations, pilots always have some discretion in the event of an emergency aboard their aircraft. But the secretary assumes the FAA is not being tough enough. "F—- pilot discretion," Mineta says. "Monte, bring down all the planes."

Ready for a fight

Aboard United Flight 890 over the Pacific, Capt. Hosking and another pilot, Doug Price, wait anxiously for news.

A third pilot, "Flash" Blackman, sleeps in the bunkroom in the cockpit of the 747, unaware of what's unfolding.

"Why don't we just let him sleep?" Hosking suggests. Price, set for the next break, agrees.

"I couldn't go to sleep if I wanted to," Hosking says.

The message about the hijackings arrived only minutes ago, but the two already have decided: Hijackers are aboard their flight.

They don't know that for sure. But they decide to believe it, if only to keep the jet safe. For years, they had been instructed to cooperate with hijackers. No longer. This time, they won't give up without a fight, not when they know someone might try to hijack the jet.

Quickly, they wedge their bags between a jump seat and the flimsy cockpit door. The door opens inward and, with the suitcases there, no one can budge it. Not without a lot of effort.

And if someone does manage to get through the cockpit door?

Price will be waiting as Hosking flies the jet. He has the cockpit's hatchet-sized crash ax in hand, along with orders to use it.

"If someone tries to come in that door, I don't want you to hurt him," Hosking says. "Kill him."

Tuesday: Searching for more hijackers<<<

Found this article very interesting, don't know if anyone has ever posted it before. Please leave comments about it.
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RE: Stories Of September 11th From A UAL 744 Pilot

Wed Feb 23, 2005 8:25 am

Wow, very interesting article. Makes you wonder if there were more plans for that day? I heard a bunch of box cutters were found on some of the planes that landed that day.
I Am A Different Animal!!
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RE: Stories Of September 11th From A UAL 744 Pilot

Wed Feb 23, 2005 8:57 am

If not now, then when?
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RE: Stories Of September 11th From A UAL 744 Pilot

Wed Feb 23, 2005 9:21 am

I was in the Middle East (in DXB) on September 11, 2001. The attacks happened around 5pm our time, and everything unfolded live. The mood in Dubai was very tense. All of my Arab friends were calling me and offering their condolences and anguish for what happened. All I could think about was coming home to America.

I look forward to the day that those responsible are in custody, and I hope they can feel a hint of the horror that they caused so many people on that day.
I'd rather shoot BAD_MOTIVE
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RE: Stories Of September 11th From A UAL 744 Pilot

Wed Feb 23, 2005 9:41 am

That was a very insightful article into the events of that horrific day. It's really interesting to see how everyone reacted during the mounting pressure.
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RE: Stories Of September 11th From A UAL 744 Pilot

Wed Feb 23, 2005 10:25 am

Very interesting article.

My father flew the first day they allowed planes to fly again and found it to be an interesting experience, as he was on the plane with two of his bussines partners and literally only three other passengers. His third bussines partner choose to drive... I would have flew, but with some worries. Would you have flown or resorted to taking another option?


SE210Caravelle  Smile
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RE: Stories Of September 11th From A UAL 744 Pilot

Wed Feb 23, 2005 1:47 pm

I remember I was in 8th grade english trying to take a test back in New Jersey looking across the Hudson when the first plane hit and going Holy Sh*t, the teacher yelled I shrieked, she yelled and cried and then all of a sudden everyones name began being called to the office, people being picked up by their parents. Many students had no idea why everyone was being called to the office and found it humorous until they figured out the true reason. We lost 7 local township persons. 1 being one of my good friends fathers and the other my next door neighbor. My best friends uncle was taken away when tower 1 collapsed. It was a truly horrific day. My uncle who is a Delta pilot sent his golf clubs to Memphis along with the co pilot, they were told to land in Louisville and then thought to themselves, shit our clubs are in Memphis so they contacted ATC and were talking about how congested Louisville was getting so maybe they could go land in Memphis, they did get to land in Memphis and later play golf. That is sort of a humorous moment of the day. My step mom was flying to Chicago from Frankfurt, my dad from Houston on UAL up to ORD to meet up with her, by the time he got to the airport the ticket agents were sobbing and saying he wont be getting to O'hare that day. My step mom was diverted to Toronto or maybe to Halifax I cant remember. It was a very busy day indeed.
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RE: Stories Of September 11th From A UAL 744 Pilot

Wed Feb 23, 2005 2:42 pm

All of these recollections are very insightful. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, experiences, and your pain.
If not now, then when?
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RE: Stories Of September 11th From A UAL 744 Pilot

Wed Feb 23, 2005 2:54 pm

Not many people know this, but flight 93 chased after and attempted to hit at least one other airliner on it's way down. The other airliner, in fact, was required to perform evasive maneuvers to distance itself from 93.


Intentionally Left Blank
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RE: Stories Of September 11th From A UAL 744 Pilot

Wed Feb 23, 2005 3:48 pm

I was a senior in high school. I remember I over slept my alarm that day, and was late to class. I woke up and saw the time and sorta freaked a little. I went into my dad's room, and remember knocking...and getting the ok to come in. "Hey..I over slept, so I need a note." I remember him looking at me and saying "Terrorists have attacked the World Trade Center in New York." And he pointed at the TV. I can remember thinking "Huh?", and then I saw the images on TV. I can remember my first thought being "Whoah...I must still be asleep...." And it was a serious thought. Not the "Pinch me! I must be dreaming!" people use so often. They were showing the planes hitting the tower over and over again. I showered fast, ate a bowl of cereal, and went to my first period class. Ironically it was American Government that semester. All we did all day in any of our classes was watch the TV for the latest news. No one did any work. None of the teachers gave any assignments or followed they're lesson plan. We just sat quietly for the entire period watching TV. Every once in a while someone would say something like "Oh my God." or "How could this happen???" My last period that day was a video filming class. Our teacher started the class with a speach about how brave the camera men, and journalists were that day, and how many people lost they're lives that day. And that the video images we saw that day would be seen for generations to come.

About a week after 9/11 my dad and I had reservations to fly PDX-OAK to visit our family in the bay area. We'd made the reservations a while back to go and watch the Seattle Mariners play the A's. I can't even begin to tell you how quiet PDX was that day. It was a ghost town. Our flight was so empty, and the atmosphere was like a funeral. The usually perky WN flight attendents didn't even try to go out of they're way to make everyone cheery. It was a very tense flight. Everyone just sat mostly quiet. Some talking, but not many. OAK was the same as PDX. Dead. People were still terrified to fly, and wouldn't fly unless it was the only option.

The baseball game we went to see was the A's first home game since 9/11, and the display we saw was very somber. The game of course started late because of all the rememberance displays. A bagpipe band marched in from center feild and played Amazing Grace. Members of the police force of Oakland sang America the Beautiful. You could just sense how sad people were. I did grow somewhat tired of all of the rememberance stuff at the baseball games. I understand people wanted to pay tribute. But every game, and multiple rememberances did get tiresome at a point.
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RE: Stories Of September 11th From A UAL 744 Pilot

Wed Feb 23, 2005 4:11 pm

For those of you who haven't had the chance or opportunity, this link proves some powerful and moving reading.

If not now, then when?
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RE: Stories Of September 11th From A UAL 744 Pilot

Wed Feb 23, 2005 5:34 pm

My first comment is I wish you'd left a link because if this is copywritten, this thread is gonna be gone - read the rules.

My next comment is these stories are amazing. It's a period in time in this country when 'reality' set in to 99% of America's citizens. Having lived abroad, I had experienced terrorism. Never in my own back yard.

I was due to retire from the Army Sept 30, 2001 . . . ominously enough, I had completed my final assignment with the US Army at the Pentagon on June 30, 2001 .. I had returned to home in Alaska to retire. My retirement was postponed until December. On the morning of Sept 11, I was awakened by my phone at the unusually odd hour of 05XX by a friend of mine in Washington DC. She was driving north, on I-395, to work at the Pentagon when AA hit the building. She said she didn't know who else to call.
I turned on the television and watched things unfold. I made record time getting into my uniform and getting to Ft. Richardson. It never occured to me that I should do anything else. Afterall, I am a soldier, and we are under attack.

All the things that went through my mind that morning - I can't imagine the horror going through the minds on the passengers aboard all the thousands of flights in the air.

I commend the passengers on UA93 for not giving up without a fight. I commend every responder in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington DC/Virginia who tried vanely to save the day. I commend the men and women in uniform today, and always that fight to prevent another 9/11. I commend the crews on all those airborne aircraft for getting everyone down safely.

Nuff Said.

[Edited 2005-02-23 09:51:42]

[Edited 2005-02-23 09:59:08]
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RE: Stories Of September 11th From A UAL 744 Pilot

Thu Feb 24, 2005 1:59 am

Very good article, brings back memories of the day.

I was diving in the Grand Caymans on my first cruise ever, we were at the dive shop when the first two planes hit the Towers, but decided to dive anyway. When we came up, we learned that there were two Marines with our group who needed to get back to a phone so we cut the trip short, and got to the dive shop as the towers fell.

I remember worrying about my uncle, an AA 757/767 Captain who flies all over the east coast, particularily into BOS, JFK, and MIA a lot so I was worried about him. We tried calling him all afternoon to see if he was ok, and finally got through. We would later learn that he knew all of the AA crews on the flights, and had roomed with one of the pilots in his Navy days.

Our cruise ended, and we flew home the first day the airspace was reopened. Ill never forget the mood on the flights, and how empty ATL was that day. I'd never been so glad to be back home.

God bless those who perished, and every controller, FAA personnel and aircrew member who helped all the flights get down safely.
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RE: Stories Of September 11th From A UAL 744 Pilot

Thu Feb 24, 2005 2:33 am

Interesting. We had just landed at JFK on our way to LHR from SPO with United. Only meant to be a 3 hr stopover, but ended up being a weeks stop. We flew out of YUL with AC in the end after hiring a car and driving up there. Very frightening as they evacuated the airport and we literally grabbed our bags and got a taxi to the nearest hotel, but a lot of hotels had evacuated because of spurious bomb threats. Disturbing time.
All credit to the controllers in North America and Europe who dealt with this. Hope it need never be repeated.
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RE: Stories Of September 11th From A UAL 744 Pilot

Thu Feb 24, 2005 3:19 am

Is this a new article?

I very clearly remember something very similar in USA Today in August 2002. I was in Hong Kong at the time and read it while relaxing at the Conrad Hotel.
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RE: Stories Of September 11th From A UAL 744 Pilot

Thu Feb 24, 2005 3:27 am

Excellent account, most of it I have never read or heard before. I appreciate the post. Hats off to all in the FAA, all pilots, crews and passengers. May the dead rest in peace.
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RE: Stories Of September 11th From A UAL 744 Pilot

Thu Feb 24, 2005 3:56 am

I was actually in the air at the time this was all happening. Sept 11 flying from LAX to DEN on a United 777. Channel 9 was off. I was sitting in Business class and we were about to be served breakfast. All of a sudden the purser was requested at the flight deck. Breakfast was cancelled and the pilot made an announcement. He said that there was a storm that was causing problems with the radars so we had been requested to land. At the time I worked for the airlines and the guy next to me did also. The event sounded a bit strange, but who were we to argue. Then the pilot put us in a rapid spiral decent. We got down from 41,000 in no time at all. The guy next to me and myself both commented that this pilot wanted us on the ground and fast. I had flown millions of miles and NEVER experienced ANYTHING like it. We were just south of Las Vegas and this pilot got us down fast. We actually flew past the airport VERY low. Mind you, the entire time we were traveling at about 500mph. The pilot put us in a tight 180 left turn lining us up with the runway. It was then that he put on the brakes. He slowed that plane down faster then I had every experienced. As soon as we touched down and pulled off the runway, the pilot made the announcement...

The twin towers in NY had been hit by planes.

Why sit at home and do nothing when you can travel the world.
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RE: Stories Of September 11th From A UAL 744 Pilot

Thu Feb 24, 2005 4:30 am

Wow . . . what an article. I live in Danbury, CT which is about 65 miles north of NYC. I was in college at the time. I had just gotten out of the shower and was about to leave for my 10am class at Western CT State U when I saw the events on TV. I listened to the radio for more updates on my way to school in the car. I can remember just sitting in class thinking what the hell are we doing here in school. How are we supposed to learn anything today? At the end of that class they closed the school and we all went home. I remember going home and not hearing a single plane in the air - simply incredible not to hear any planes in one of the busiest air traffic corridors in the nation. The next morning I found out a local resident whom I went to high school with died on board AA 11. What a trgedy.
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RE: Stories Of September 11th From A UAL 744 Pilot

Thu Feb 24, 2005 5:07 am

It was such a scary day, the confusion, the horror of the images coming from New York City. I still remember those 9/11 emotions clearly.

All involved did an amazing job of getting those thousands of airplanes down safely.

Cheers, Ralph
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RE: Stories Of September 11th From A UAL 744 Pilot

Thu Feb 24, 2005 5:45 am

An amazing series of articles. It makes me think back to that day and the day before that, when the world was somewhat normal.
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RE: Stories Of September 11th From A UAL 744 Pilot

Thu Feb 24, 2005 5:51 am

Does anyone know what the flight attendants were told on the flights that were in the air? I was on a flight from PEK to ORD that took off Sept. 11, 2001 and crossed the dateline, so we were about four hours into the flight when the attacks occurred.

I noticed that all of the flight attendants got up, which is unusual during the middle of a long haul international flight. The also shut off the 777's PTV, much to the annoyance of my son. Several of the FAs gathered at a display screen in the galley and were shaking their heads. I had assumed that there was a run-of-mill bomb threat as a passenger had been removed by the Chinese police shortly before takeoff.

The pilot then announced that we were going to be diverted to Fairbanks, due to a "security situation in the United States." We then told we would be landing in Vancouver and later Calgary, where we ended up. The entertainment system was shut off for the rest of the flight, leaving my son (then two years old) ready to strangle me.

It appears however, that the flight attendants knew something but were not telling. Done anyone know what those screens on UA 777s near the galleys can display? I presume it was a message from UA dispatch.
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RE: Stories Of September 11th From A UAL 744 Pilot

Thu Feb 24, 2005 6:26 am

I was also in the air that day.

We were on approach to ORD when the order came in, apparently, becasue while no announcements were made we slammed ont he ground in the roughest landing I have ever experienced, and took the first highspeed exit off the runway going in my estimation WAY too fast. This was odd but I had no reason to suspect it was anything other than a bad landing.

Only later did I surmise that the captain put the plane on the deck fast and cleared the runway quickly becasue the airspace was closed and many more planes were going to land.

UA's terminal was routinely busy but my collegue noticed that the CNN Airport network was shut off. A few minues later as we waited for our escort across the tarmac news began to trickle up from the employee lounges were the TV's were still on. It was confused reports of Cessnas colliding and hitting the WTC. Then a commuter plane, the AA was mentioned.

One incident I will never forget as long as I live happened as we boarded the employee bus to head over to the UA offices. A tug came racing up to to bus and a woman jumped off and got on the bus. She apologised to the bus driver for stopping him explaining that she was on the crisis management team and had to get to Res (CHIRR) right away. She sat directly across from me. She was ashen. I summoned up th courage to ask her what was going on, she told me the first hard facts of the day: two planes hit the WTC one AA one was ours. A plane hit the Pentagon, she didn't know who's and she said More are missing. That sent chills down my spine, to this day it haunts me.

I felt so helpless. I felt like I should have been able to do something afterall I worked for the airline. I can only imagine how much more powerful that feeling was for the UA dispacter in charge of 175 and 93.

The folks at the office we had gone to to take our test helped my collegue and I rent the last car at an offsite Avis. And we drove back to PHL. 13 hours.

Along the way I saw rescue vehicles, on thier way the NY. I met a man who I had seen on my flight that morning at a rest stop in Ohio. We listened to news reports of Detroit gas stations dramatically raising prices. I remember thinking that if that panic becomes more widespread what are we driving into. I drove on the PA turnpike within 5 miles of Shanksville PA.
I got home to my wife almost exactly 24 hours after I had left. I had been awake and alert that whole time. I laid down beside her, and for the first time that day I cried.
A little less Hooah, and a little more Dooah.
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RE: Stories Of September 11th From A UAL 744 Pilot

Thu Feb 24, 2005 6:58 am

With all of the automation available to pilots flying large commercial jets these days, imagine being told by a high center controller on a pretty day that there has been a national security event and that you need to land at XYZ airport now. Throw out all the rules/speed limits/company profiles/etc. You have to land the plane by the seat of your pants at an airport that you may or may not have ever been to and may or may not even handle an aircraft of your size under normal conditions. That while controllers are giving you instructions you've never even heard of regarding max descents etc. It was a wild day and kudos go out to all the controllers and pilots of planes big and small who got the unthinkable done in such a short period of time. All while not really knowing what was really happening to their country or what was still brewing. A day no pilot/fa/controller/dispatcher/hell anyone in the industry will ever forget.

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RE: Stories Of September 11th From A UAL 744 Pilot

Thu Feb 24, 2005 7:51 am

Wow....for the rest of my life I'll marvel at everyone's stories about their roles on 9/11. Like everyone else, I felt so helpless, but I got a phone call asking me (aircraft mechanic) to come in as we might have an unbelievable number of arrivals. It was somewhat comforting to be around other airline people even though most of the inbound flights never materialized.
While many images and thoughts are indelibly burned into my mind, two things in particular really stick out....one, its an incredibly eerie feeling to drive past dozens of jets at a busy time of a weekday and have 100% silence. No APUs, not GPUs, no A/C getting ready to taxi, just silence.
The other wasn't airport related....a little over a year later, we visited NYC, and toured Ellis Island. One room was dedicated to photos and stories recounted by employees who saw everything unfold from their near perfect vantage point. Of course, each story was quite moving, but one in particular noted that after the first plane hit the WTC tower, all of the seagulls landed on Ellis and Liberty Island and tucked their heads into their backs.....every single one of them.
God bless every single person who was thrust into a higher level of duty than anyone could have possibly imagined that day.
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RE: Stories Of September 11th From A UAL 744 Pilot

Thu Feb 24, 2005 8:13 am

Amazing article...worth the read...it is amazing how only "a few" people brought down thousands of planes without any mayjor error. God bless America....
The engine is the heart of an aeroplane, but the pilot is its soul. -Sir Walter Raleigh
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RE: Stories Of September 11th From A UAL 744 Pilot

Thu Feb 24, 2005 9:16 am

Like Pearl Harbor, "A day that will live in infamy." Thanks for the story. It helps not to forget all those involved on that historical day.
Cameras shoot pictures. Guns shoot people. They have the guns.
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RE: Stories Of September 11th From A UAL 744 Pilot

Thu Feb 24, 2005 9:18 am

Amazing story. I read both Part 1 and 2.

On 9/11/01 I was a student at the College of Aeronautics in Queens right across the Grand Central Parkway from LGA airport.
My interperter went out to take a break and he got a phone call and went to the cafe and comes rushing back to my English class and tells me in sign language that a airplane has crashed into the WTC. I walk out of the class and walk towards the elevator where it goes up to the airport viewing tower, it was shut down by the security guards before I was able to get up there. Then I watched the tv and couldn't believe it's real.
I went back to the english classroom, the PA came on within seconds and told all students to meet in the cafe ASAP, I packed up my stuff and a woman came in the class and told the dumb professor that it's an emergency and everyone must cancel classes now.
So I'm in the cafe and I see the TV and it was the pentagon with black smoke coming out of it.
Then another PA comes on and says college is now closed, go home ASAP.

I go out to the parking lot and see over to the left of the college building and I can see WTC 1 with huge black smoke coming out of it, I had to look at it for a few sec cuz I wasn't thinking it's real.
Then I got a message from my dad who works near my home, he tells me to go to the marriot hotel right across the street and stay there and call them up. Then my other interperter rushed to go home, she told me they're going to start shutting down bridges soon.

I get in my car and hauled ass home, that day, there was no speed limit to me. All the cops and fire dept are going towards NYC even the WTC is a good 45min to a hour away.
I get on the highway and I see a bunch of people standing outside of LGA airport roads and looking at the WTC directly.

As I got on the Whitestone bridge, I see both WTC are now smoking.
I went to my dads office since it's on the way home and it's closer and I know my dad is working there now, he comes outside with all his staff and was suprised to see me home quick. He closed the office and called everyone home.
Then I followed my dad home, my grandparents and my dad's best friend called my family up asking where I am since I go to college close to the city.
The top speed I've hit on the way home was about 120mph.

Then my dad's best friend who we will call him Tony.

He's in his office and talking with the other people of the building along with plans for the day, he hears a jet roaring full throttle and all of a sudden it slams into the WTC.

Tony's brother works at AA ground support maintenance and he calls Tony up since Tony is a building manager and he works at Liberity plaza (that is one of the buildings around the WTC with a green roof like dome).

So Tony's brother told Tony to get out of there ASAP because 11 of AA's planes aren't responding and are missing.
Tony didn't. He stayed and looks out his office windows and there's massive people and traffic around, his car was in the garage and he is sure he wouldn't made out no matter what.
So he stays there and calls home and tells them he's stuck there and is trying to maintain order in his building.

He looks out his window and sees another jet hit it, another roaring sound he never forgets.

Then when WTC 1 fell, his office went pitch black, he couldn't see anything out of the windows. Only the emergency lights lit up, the main power supply went out.

He ducks under his desk and all the glasses facing the WTC side got blown out or shattered.

Then he gets up and coughing with dust, puts on a napkin and goes somewhere in the building such as a room where it isn't dusty.

After that time, he's been eating foods from the building cafe of what's left in there. Slept in his building for 2 or 3 days, calling up emergency services and helping people getting out.

Then he took the train home when the services were back up to normal shortly.

Stayed home for a day to two then went back to work.

A few months later to a year later, the aftermath? Almost all the windows in his building had to be replaced. He did the management of that, plus the elevator rails had to be realigned since the ground structre shifted and altered the alignment plus much more.
And the building needed to be cleaned for a price of $26 million just for the exterior!

He showed me pictures of the damage and the dust all over the place and the WTC site, and tells me "still to this day, I can hear the roar of the jet going into the WTC"

And at home, all the private training flights have been cancelled due to this. Alot of bussiness jets were there still, the instructors and the school weren't sure of what's going to happen or when it will be allowed to fly again. A few weeks after that, every flight has to have a Flight Plan filed, no touch and go's were permitted for a month.

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