Right after the Pentagon was hit, NEADS learned of another possible hijacked aircraft. It was an aircraft that in fact had not been hijacked at all. After the second World Trade Center crash, Boston Center managers recognized that both aircraft were transcontinental 767 jetliners that had departed Logan Airport. Remembering the “we have some planes” remark, Boston Center guessed that Delta 1989 might also be hijacked. Boston Center called NEADS at 9:41 and identified Delta 1989; a 767 jet that had left Logan Airport for Las Vegas, as a possible hijack.
Because Delta 1989 had not turned off its transponder, NEADS never lost track of the aircraft as it moved west, reversed course over Toledo, headed east, and landed in Cleveland.[i] NEADS even ordered fighter aircraft from Ohio and Michigan to intercept Delta 1989.
After receiving the initial report from Boston Center, the NEADS ID Technicians called several FAA facilities to share the information they had learned about Delta 1989:
The ID Technician advised that all of their fighters had been scrambled on the New York and Washington events, and that NEADS was looking for other fighters to scramble to intercept the Delta flight.[ii]
At approximately 9:45, while one NEADS ID technician was confirming 1989 as a hijack to Cleveland Center, another ID Technician received a call from the Boston Center Military position advising that Delta 1989 might not be a hijack after all:
NEADS informed Boston Center that they were tracking Delta 1989 as it passed over Toledo. The NEADS air defenders continued to track Delta 1989 for the next several minutes, watching its every move until it landed in Cleveland.
The Mission Crew Commander, with his full complement of alert aircraft capping New York City and heading for Washington, decided to look for non-NORAD aircraft from the midwest to intercept the Delta flight. NEADS personnel contacted Toledo and Selfridge Air Force Bases and diverted fighters from training missions to intercept Delta 1989.[iii]
Just before 10:00, the Mission Crew Commander made the following report:
The Mission Crew Commander was advised, at approximately 10:00, that there was no authority to shoot the plane down; the rules of engagement only authorized NEADS to direct fighter aircraft to intercept, identify, and escort other aircraft.[iv]
The issue was moot with respect to Delta 1989, for at 9:58, the ID Technicians announced to the floor that “1989 is no hijack, landing in Cleveland as a precautionary measure.” The ID Technician called Boston Center at 9:59 and informed its military position:
At 10:03, the ID Technicians called Indianapolis Center and informed them that the Delta 1989 flight was not a hijack, but that they had four fighters scrambled on it “just to be sure” (fighters other than Otis and Langley). The Mission Crew Commander had scrambled fighters from Otis Air Force Base to respond to the situation in New York, and fighters from Langley to respond first to the reports of American 11 heading south, and then to establish a Combat Air Patrol over Washington, DC. These scrambles exhausted NEADS’ complement of alert fighters. To intercept Delta 1989, the Mission Crew Commander scrambled fighters from Air National Guard units at Toledo, Ohio and Selfridge, Michigan.
At that moment, United 93, an aircraft about which the NEADS air defenders had heard absolutely nothing, crashed in Pennsylvania.[v]
[i] NEADS audio file, Mission Crew Commander position, Channel 2, at 9:42:08.
[ii] NEADS audio file, Identification Technician position , Channel 4, at 9:48:04.
[iii] NEADS audio file, Mission Crew Commander position, Channel 2, examples at 9:43:16, 9:43:59, 9:44:43, 9:45:00, 9:45:30, and 9:45:48.
[iv] Kevin Nasypany interview (January 22, 23, 2004).
[v] FAA report, “FAA Summary of Air Traffic Hijack Events September 11, 2001,” Sept. 17, 2001. The Summary notes that the primary radar target for United 93 terminated at 10:04.