Panta 45 and 46 start to leave their holding pattern in training area Whiskey 105 at 09:13 EDT, are handed off from ZBW to ZNY at 09:16 EDT, and start fly to Manhatten on a direct route, first on flight level 240 (24.000 ft), then on flight level 180 (18.000 ft). The fighters arrive over Manhattan at 09:25 EDT.
Thorough reading of the elaborated Oral Histories of 9/11, however, reveals that their arrival wasn’t widely recognized on the ground. Only a fracture of first responders, certainly below 5 per cent, is mentioning the fighters at all in retrospective. And only the fringe of this fringe places them over Manhattan at around 09:30, while most remember seeing or hearing the jets first after the South Tower of the World Trade Center or even after both Towers collapsed, i.e. between half an hour and an hour after their actual arrival.
The primary data of the day, i.e. radar data and ATC Tapes, are conclusive about the time the Otis fighters arrived. The superficial contradiction between the primary data and the oral testimony of first responders, in turn, has its reasons.
The first reason is psychological. Human memory is selective. Given that invariably all first responders were primarily concerned about the events on the ground, i.e. search and rescue operations, evacuation procedure, worrying about the building stability, crisis management, and the like, the arrival of the Otis fighters far above would not be recognized, or, if recognized on the scene, not memorized for long into a coherent personal narrative of the day.
There are other items besides the arrival of the Otis fighters, which retrospectively tend to be cleared from the memories of the first responders for likely the same reason. One example would be the presence of helicopters. NYPD Helicopters Aviation 3, Aviation 6, Aviation 12, and Aviation 14, staffed with pilots William Schub, James Ciccone, James Lagarenne, Patrick Walsh, and their co-pilots and crew, were constantly circling the buildings between 08:50 and 13:05 EDT. NYPD Tapes cover the pilot’s observations about the buildings, and are documented in the relevant reports such as the NIST Report and the 9/11 Commission Report. Videos from nearly every news outlet are showing at least one of them shortly after the first attack, during the second attack, between the attacks and the collapses, and during the collapses. Aviation 6 itself had a camera on board, documenting the disaster and tragedy below.
Nevertheless, their presence is rarely acknowledged in the recollections of the people on the ground. For example, the New York Fire Department Oral Histories, as published by the New York Times in August 2005, are covering the recollections of 503 people, who were at the WTC site on 9/11. Just five of them, however, unambiguously refer to seeing or hearing a helicopter at the WTC site during the time of the attacks, let alone a NYPD helicopter (see Appendix).
The second reason is technical. Panta 45 and 46 arrived over Manhattan on Flight Level 180, and continued to fly their CAP on this flight level. 18,000 ft. is well below cruising level, but also well above a level where the fighters’ presence would automatically be connected to the events on the ground. Furthermore, the fighters did not form a holding pattern above the World Trade Center towers, but a combat air patrol (CAP) above all of NYC to check out any potentially hostile target. They would split intercepts and refueling, thus one of them would always be present above NYC. Their CAP mission lead them, e.g., to Newark and JFK airport, both places being some 10 miles (straigth line) away from the WTC.
Both flights flew above or within a radius of 1.5 miles from the WTC complex several times before the collapse of one the WTC towers, but always at around 18,000 feet altitude. Hence, most first responders did not see them, or, when seeing them, did not connect their presence above NYC to the events on the ground at the WTC. This connection just occurred when Panta 45, the Otis jet manoeuvred by Lt. Col. Timothy Duffy, coming from Long Beach, was flying above the WTC with a decreased altitude of 10,800 ft. at 10:03 EDT, after the collapse of the South Tower, to witness events on the ground. And finally at 10:17 EDT, the other flight, Panta 46, was even decreasing altitude to 6,900 feet during a Hoboken overflight.
One of these moments is captured in video footage shown in the documentary Seconds from Disaster: 9/11 by National Geographic Channel (around min 14:20). The time stamp shown in the documentary suggests the time to be 09:25 EDT, but the dust cloud shows that World Trade Center 2 already fell. World Trade Center 1, however, is still standing.
There is another angle of the same situation to be seen in the Learning Channel documentary Flight 175: As the World Watched (around min38:40).
And there is another angle in the N-24 documentary Überleben am Tag X: Die Geheimpläne der US-Regierung (around min12:45):
The relevant sequences in screenshots can be accessed via Panta_45_WTC_Screenshots.
The temporal gap between the arrival of the Otis jets over Manhattan and their recognition by the first responders on the ground comes up to a temporal gap between the third plane rumour and the Otis fighters´ recognition by the first responders. There are, however, some first responders, whose recollections indicate no such gap. Two of these would be the recollection of NYPD officers Bill Beaury and Mike Curtin, who were on the street near the North Tower when the Otis jets arrived. This is their story, as told in Andrea Appel’s The First Responders:
As Beaury bent down to pick up his equipment a frantic transmission burst over the radio: “Get out! Get out! There´s more planes coming. Kennedy tower is reporting a third plane coming into the World Trade Center!”
The four cops ducked and looked around. They were ready to tear ass down the block when Curtin, listening intently to the distant rumble in the sky and cradling an MP-5 semiautomatic-submachine gun in his arms, calmly said, “Those aren´t civilian planes. Those are F14´s; or F15´s. […] A few seconds went by and finally a transmission came over the radio that said the inbound plane were military jets. That was a relief.”
Port Authority Detective Michael Molina made a similar experience.
At the moment of our arrival we heard over the NYPD radio that another unidentified aircraft was inbound to the WTC. The NYPD dispatcher was screaming, `All unites take cover … get out of the buildings … get out of the streets,´” he recalls. “We informed the units around us and joined the wave of NYPD and FDNY units running south on West St. looking for cover. After several minutes we heard the `all clear´ and observed military aircraft flying overhead.
The recollection of firefighter Timothy Julian also reads similar:
At that point I remember they were getting a report that a second – another plane – the Pentagon got hit, and we got a report another plane was coming in, and I believe it was a FBI agent, or whoever, or police, and he was saying it´s not another plane yet. It is a plane, but it´s a fighter jet, and in hindsight it turns out probably that was the fighter jet that was going to maybe shoot down that plane, but we thought another plane was coming in, and we were in a bad spot.
Q: Paranoia was bound to set in.
A: But upon his – we heard it fly over, and then we felt save. It wasn’t a kamikaze plane, you know.
The recollection of fire chief Richard Picciotto also reads similar:
We kept hearing reports of a third plane coming in, and I was thinking, Strategic Air Command, they had better be scrambling. I actually saw a low-flying plane, buzzing down the Hudson to my right, and assumed the reports were accurate. All air traffic had been suspended, but there it was, like it was on a friggin´ scenic tour. Either it was on of ours, or one of theirs.
All these witnesses place the arrival of the Otis jets before the collapse of the World Trade Center South Tower, i.e. the first collapse, and in temporal proximity to the third plane alarm. There are also some witnesses who do not place the arrival of the Otis jets in temporal proximity to the third plane alarm, but still before the collapse of the first tower , e.g. Paramedic Kevin Darnowski:
At that point I met up with EMS Chief Goldfarb again and his aide Mary. We were over by Three Financial Center. At that point we were standing with numerous amounts of firefighters and fire supervisors and police officers, and we got a report of another incoming airplane. So we proceeded to go into a parking garage that was in Three Financial Center underneath.
Shortly after that we realized what was flying over was the armed forces F-14s flying over, and we got a confirmation from the FAA — over the police radio we got a confirmation from FAA that all airports had been closed and there were no planes flying within the New York City area at that specific time.
EMT Frank Puma recalls:
I remember the F-16s and the F-18s flying overhead before the first tower collapsed that we all jumped on the floor because we didn’t know what it was. We looked up and saw it was our guys, and we were like, okay, we can stand up now and take control of this.
And FDNY Lieutenant Joseph Chiafari has a similar memory:
There was a time where he did – actually standing there, you heard actually what sounded like another plane flying overhead. I remember even asking one of the guys from Con Ed that was happening to stand there. I didn’t know if they were blowing off any steam from the building or blowing off any residual gas or anything, but it sounded like the roar of a plane, and most likely we learned that that was like military jets that may have been flying overhead to monitor what was going on in the harbor area. But that was very noticeable and you couldn’t help but look up again to see what was going on.
There was – it must have been almost like instantaneously with your eyes focused on what was going on with the two towers that all of a sudden you start to see peeling away from tower two, the facade of the building.
Panic about the Otis jets
The spontaneous reaction of many people on the ground almost reflexively was the thought that the planes were hostile, i.e. Panta 45 being “another plane coming in to attack us,” as described by Lieutenant Sean O´Malley. “You could hear their screech as they tore through the air, and there was mad panic in the streets,” says Wall Street worker Nell Mooney, who is echoed by EMT Michael D´Angelo: “That was scary because we thought they were flying more planes. I didn’t know what was going on. I thought the guy brought 15 planes and were just going to fly them into the area.“ “All eyes went up to the sky and were looking,” remembers Lieutenant Robert Larocco, “I kind of thought to myself as I looked at guys running for their lives and for cover that now we’re going to get kamikazed.” And Lieutenant Murray Murad recalls: “I walked about two, three minutes, and all of a sudden I heard a plane. Now, I’m like the only one walking on this block. I said oh, my God, we’re being attacked again.“
Firefighter Pete Giudetti is just on his way from the east to the west side when he hears Panta 45 and 46 approaching. “There’s no place to hide,” he recalls, “You couldn’t see anything. There is a building there; that I can determine. I just stayed up against it while I thought there was another plane coming in.” “We weren’t sure, you know, if they were friendly or just loud jet engines, so we started making a little run,” EMT Jason Katz laconically describes. “The three of us knew already to hide under the ambulance or go into the garage, because we didn’t know what it was,” his colleague EMT Dulce McCorvey remembers. “We thought another building was going to come down or another jet was coming. But the fighter jets were flying over Manhattan. We’re like, are they ours?”
The sound of the jets certainly scared many people. “You couldn’t see it. It was just cloudy,” FDNY Lieutenant William Wall remembers, “and we found out later it was the military jets. That was an eerie sound. You couldn´t see it and all you heard was like a `boom´ and it just kept going.” Some even believed that the fighters were going to drop bombs on Manhattan. “This was a scary part,“ says EMT Jody Bell, “We hear thunder. That’s when I’m like, oh, no, now they’re going to bomb us. You hear this thunder. You know it’s in the air, but you don’t see anything. You just hear this loud sound. It’s just getting bigger and bigger.“ Her impression is shared by Deputy Chief Robert Browne, who recalls: “I heard that jet and I thought we were going to be bombed, and I started to run. And there was a cop that appeared on the corner, and he says, `Don’t run. It’s one every ours.´”
Some people reacted less scared, but still far from relieved. Kimberly Morales, a College Student of Early Childhood Education, says: “Suddenly we heard airplanes again. We had stayed away from the Empire State Building and had no intention of going near Times Square for fear of another attack. We looked up. `They´re F16s,´ one of my friends said. `They´re friendly.´ I knew F16s were our planes, but any plane in the sky made me nervous.” Firefighter Dan Potter describes his experience as “a fighter jet [flying] overhead, something more to make me realize how huge this thing is.” “Now the big boys are here,” EMT Mark Mazur thinks. Jesse Lunin-Pack, an investment banker, quickly rationalizes the situation: “Then we heard another jet engine and people started to get scared again. I recognized the sound, though, not a commercial aircraft but a fighter jet. Suddenly, I was able to put things in context again. I thought, okay, we´re at war. The military is here to defend us.” Similarily, a NYPD Homicide Detective at the scene deduces: “Logic tells you that, if they´d have fighter jets, they wouldn´t have used commercial planes. They would´ve attacked with missiles or something else.”
The New York City leadership experiences the arrival of the jets with mixed feelings. “I stopped for a moment and looked at the cloud coming up the cavern of Lower Manhattan, then heard another plane. Richie yelled out, `It´s one of ours.´ How strange, I thought – New York City had become a battlefield,” mayor Rudy Giuliani describes. “Then we heard planes overhead – looking up I realized they were ours – the first American military jets had arrived. They gave us a sense of reassurance, and reminded us that we were not alone,” says OEM Commissioner Richard Sheirer. Police Commissioner Bernhard Kerik walks on Church street with his team, when “an F-16 flew overhead and we all looked up. It was quiet, and then someone from the mayor´s office said, “I think that´s one of ours.” Later, Kerik will describe the situation as “someone yelled, “Incoming.” But we realize it’s a friendly”.
Firefighter Michael Brodbeck is heavily injured by the collapse of the World Trade Center Towers, but refuses to go to the hospital. “[A] doctor from Hazollah came over and put me in sling. I stood on West Street for like an hour and half, fighting with the lieutenant not to get on the ambulance.” But then “the F-16 flew overhead. They convinced me to go. I didn’t want to go, but I was useless anyway after that. I was taken to St. Vincents Hospital.”
The fighters presence over Manhattan didn´t stop to produce negative feelings on the ground. Firefighter George J. DeSimone, experiences the noon of 9/11 as “[W]e were just hanging out, sitting together, and just scared as hell. We saw jets overhead, commercial airliner, military jets, Air Force jets, and we didn’t know what the hell was going on.”
Roger Smyth, a 911 paramedic, who works in the rubble of the World Trade Center Towers, describes Ground Zero as an end time scenario on September 15th:
Then, out of the smoke, the Tomcat jets banking in, making that awful screeching sound we´d heard before it all happened: Hwwwwwwaaaaaaaahhh. And I was standing there in the rubble of the World Trade Center, in the middle of New York City, watching these war planes swoop down on us. It was to surreal. You know that scene from The Terminator, when those big robots come in and start blasting everything from the sky? A postapocalyptic nightmare, that´s what it reminded me of, and I was standing right there in the middle of it all.
Tonya Young, a Lehman Brothers Sales Assistant, wasn´t comfortable with the fighters presence over Manhattan even some days after 9/11: “I also noticed two fighter jets flying back and forth overhead, “she describes, “my friends pointed at them and said, “Look, we´re safe.” That´s not how I saw it. Those planes made it worse. “It´s not supposed to be that way, where they have to have planes to shoot something down that´s trying to get you,” I said.”
Anxiety about any new incoming plane didn´t end on 9/11. “The first few times that warplanes flew overhead, hearing that sound of jet planes again certainly shook everybody up on the ground. For days I think people believed that we were going to be attacked again. Everyone was on edge,“ FDNY Chief of Operations Daniel Nigro looks back. “We saw the airplanes, the American jets. We’re safe now. The planes are here. We’re going to be okay,“ says Ada Rosario Dolch, the principal of a high school just two blocks from the World Trade Center, adding “Of course, every time a plane came by we ducked. You know, that happened for about three years. I couldn’t hear an airplane after that day that my whole body didn’t shake.“