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Phone Conversations Pieces of Puzzle

Aired September 12, 2001 - 16:28   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Christiane, thank you.

Back here we are trying to again piece together the final moments of the four airline the flights yesterday, specifically United Airlines Flight 93 that went down in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. Miles O'Brien tracking that with more information of what may have taken place onboard before that plane crashed -- Miles.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bill, let's remind our viewers once again of the flight path of United Airline Flight 93. Take a look at this information which comes from Flight Explored.

This is based on Federal Aviation Administration radar data. The plane left Newark Airport at 8:43 in the morning, flew all the way out toward Cleveland, did a 180-degree turn, flew over Pittsburgh and then ultimately crashed in the Somerset County area. There's a good look at that track without it animated. You can see exactly what it did.

The big mystery has been why did it go down there when it appeared to be homing in on the Washington area? We just heard from some people who had a relative onboard that plane. Jeremy Glick was traveling with his two month-old child, Emerson (ph) . During the course -- when it became apparent this was a hijacked aircraft, he called home.

In the course of that conversation people at home, his mother and his wife called 911 operators -- conferenced them in -- but during this conversation it became evident to Mr. Glick that there had been a plane that crashed already at the World Trade Centers. He put the phone down, according to his family members, shortly came back on the line and indicated he had just taken a vote among the men onboard this plane and there were a total of -- it was a sparsely populated plane, only 38 passengers -- had taken a poll of the men on the plane and made the decision to try to overpower the hijackers.

We don't know what happened then. The line went dead. We do know this particular flight did not make it to the Washington area. There has been some supposition that it might have been intended to strike the Capitol, perhaps. Camp David is one of targets. We don't know that for a fact, but the fact is, there was a vote, according to a member of a passenger on that flight, a vote to overpower the hijackers.

Subsequent to that, that flight apparently went out of control and crashed into this rural part of Pennsylvania. Just one more piece of the puzzle here as we go through these flight paths and piece together this information. Almost each of these flights has at least one phone call or some sort of conversation or air traffic control communication which is giving us some sort of insights as to what's going onboard.

HEMMER: Miles, and while we discuss this, was there any information given -- the Attorney General described three to six men on each airplane -- any description given of the hijackers at that time and the number onboard that plane?

O'BRIEN: Well, there was a description that was given. I cannot relay it to you right now. I don't have that information. There was an indication that there were three hijackers onboard that particular flight. We have heard that on some of the others there were two, but in this case we heard there were three hijackers on the flight.

HEMMER: Miles, I know you are a pilot, what strikes me from yesterday, these large airplanes 757, 767 the very few number of passenger onboard each one. And also if you look at the weather across the country yesterday, very few delays possible anywhere because basically, there were clear skies yesterday.

One would think in the planning and the detail this would have be the case in order to avoid any possibility that one flight could be delayed in another part of the country or in another city. Have you picked up on that as well?

O'BRIEN: Well we are getting a little bit into the area of speculation here. But the fact that it was a clear day is quite remarkable. There is a couple of things to consider: First of all, as you pointed out, less likelihood of a serious series of delays which would have undermined the timing of all of this.

But another thing to consider as well, is the fact that this aided navigation aiming for those targets. If you presume for a moment that the hijackers were in control, and every pilot I've talked to, to a person, tells me that the three flights that were successful in hitting those targets, were undoubtedly controlled by the hijackers.

If you accept that supposition, you are talking about someone who may or may not have a tremendous amount of aviation experience, perhaps very limited aviation experience, and may be flying by what pilots call dead reckoning. In other words, pointing out landmarks and aiming towards them. If that were the goal, a clear day is the kind of day you would want to have so you could pick up the coast line, find New York, and aim for the World Trade Center.

HEMMER: And back to the computer behind you, Miles, and the path you are tracking right now, the reason we can do that, simply, is because there was still a signal emitted from that plane onboard, correct, and that was not the case on every plane yesterday?

O'BRIEN: Here is what we have basically we have been able to determine, Let me just show you. This is the track of the two flights which ultimately hit the World Trade Center. This information that we have for you is compiled by the FAA radar centers. There are actually two centers involved, Boston Center and New York Center, radar rooms essentially, which compile all of this information about these airplanes.

We have some erroneous information about the altitudes which is kind of a complicated technical issue. But the bottom line is, we wouldn't have that much information if a device called a transponder was not operative on these aircraft. The transponder essentially enhances the signal and allows radar systems operated by the FAA to learn a lot more about an aircraft, its altitude, its position, what sort of aircraft it is.

It gives a much more fine-tuned piece of information to them. So we have that information for this -- for example American Airlines Flight 11. And that's exactly the radar track. We got a radar hit every minute or so. But the flight which ultimately landed at the Pentagon, from Dulles, took off, went somewhere for an hour and 20 minute or so, we don't believe we have comprehensive radar tracking on that. The supposition is that someone turned off that transponder.

And if in fact it were a hijacker trying to engage in subterfuge, turning off that transponder, which essentially makes you more visible to FAA radars would be something you might want to do.

HEMMER: And Miles, just back to the computers, we watched the two lines come out of Boston, head directly south, it appeared to me, if I could see the small print correctly, the American Airlines flight was the first one we tracked.

The second one, United Airlines went further south before banking back around over the skies of New Jersey into New York. I am sorry, Miles, got to cut you off quickly. Hopefully we will come back to this in a moment, but in the meantime to New York. Aaron Brown with more information --Aaron.



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