NORAD’s third “incorrect” story to the 9/11 Commission was their testimony that the Langley fighters, scrambled eight minutes before the Pentagon was hit, “were scrambled to respond to the notifications about American 77, United 93, or both.” This certainly makes sense: there were planes targetting Washington. The jets that should have been sent for them were sent. But they were not sent up for that reason. As late as 9:35 no one in the defense system was aware of any real designs on Washington – or so says the Commission. Instead, they decided, “the notice NEADs received at 9:24 was that American 11 had not hit the World Trade Center and was heading for Washington, DC.” 
It was to intercept this ghost target that the Langley fighters took off at 9:30. The commission cited a taped NEADS call, conversations within the FAA system, contemporaneous logs from NEADS, Continental Region headquarters, and NORAD, among others. “Yet this response to a phantom aircraft was was not recounted in a single public timeline or statement issued by the FAA or Department of Defense. The inaccurate accounts created the impression that the Langley scramble was a logical response to an actual hijacked aircraft.” 
Here is the transcript of this call, placed from FAA’s Boston Center to NEADS at 9:21:
“FAA: Military, Boston Center. I just had a report that American 11 is still
in the air, and it’s on its way towards—heading towards Washington.
NEADS: Okay. American 11 is still in the air?
NEADS: On its way towards Washington?
FAA: That was another—it was evidently another aircraft that hit the tower. That’s the latest report we have.
FAA: I’m going to try to confirm an ID for you, but I would assume he’s somewhere over, uh, either New Jersey or somewhere further south.
NEADS: Okay. So American 11 isn’t the hijack at all then, right?
FAA: No, he is a hijack.
NEADS: He—American 11 is a hijack?
NEADS: And he’s heading into Washington?
FAA: Yes. This could be a third aircraft.” 
The NEADS technician who took this call from the FAA immediately passed the word to the mission crew commander, who reported to the NEADS battle commander: ”Okay, uh, American Airlines is still airborne. Eleven, the first guy, he’s heading towards Washington. Okay? I think we need to scramble Langley right now. And I’m gonna take the fighters from Otis, try to chase this guy down if I can find him.” The Otis pilots were not dragged from their just-established patrol of Manhattan, but they also were nearly sent after this non-existent target.
The Commission ultimately found themselves “unable to identify the source of this mistaken FAA information.” So let’s trace it back, based on the information that they had. In their report they note that the call was placed from FAA’s Boston Center to NEADS at 9:21, and in turn ”Boston Center had heard from FAA headquarters in Washington that American 11 was still airorne .”  So at some point prior to 9:20, someone at the national HQ in DC called this in to Boston, responsible for tracking these flights and already in contact with NEADS.
There are numerous possible explanations for this false report, and it wouldn’t have been the only one of the day. FAA Administrator Jane Garvey told Richard Clarke, after the first two planes had crashed, “we have reports of eleven aircraft off course or out of communications, maybe hijacked.”  Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said “we probably had maybe about ten unaccounted for planes.”  Florida State Congressman Adam Putnam, who was aboard Air Force One with President Bush, who told him at 11:30 that there were six aircraft still unaccounted for.  In his bunker beneath the White House, Cheney had at least two possible run-ins with ghost planes, which he aggressively ordered shot down.
One explanation for these phantom flights centers on the presence in the radar system of false returns inserted for the morning’s war game Northern Vigilance. It’s unclear where these blips were showing up and on whose screens, but they were allegedly purged at about 9;00 am, as it became clear the US was under air attack and a clean slate was needed. Not that it helped much.
There are other possibilities as well. I’m guessing if this particular report of the Ghost Flight 11 is ever is explained, it’ll be something innocuous sounding, like this:
A controller at Boston center got a printed report – not a radar return – that American 77 was unaccounted for, missing from radar, possibly crashed or possibly headed to DC. But in the chaos after having seen American 11 disappear, he turns the 7s into 1s (optically easy to do, especially if the 1s are printed with pronounced serifs). He sees American 11 is missing from radar and possibly headed to DC and reports it as such. No radar track, so he can only guess – it was in New York, headed to DC… looking to the south of there...
But it could well be something more concrete than that, though we have to venture into weird land for the next post to see this possibility. Next: Mistaken FAA Info: Some or The?
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