It’s a horrifying and chilling event, yet it’s seemingly straightforward and simple. Airplanes have been commandeered since the invention of multi-place aircraft. The American people, reeling from the attacks of the day, accepted the straightforward. As time passed, and the searing emotions dulled, the questions began to be asked.

Initial reports claimed that five terrorists had taken over the aircraft. Of those five, Saudi Arabian national Hani Hanjor was the only individual that the FBI named as a pilot. But the problem was that Hanjor was an incompetent pilot, as reported by Newsday’s magazine. It was related that, in August 2001, Hanjor showed up at Freeway Airport in Bowie, Md. wanting to rent a Cessna 172. The alleged hijacker produced a FAA pilot license and a logbook showing 600 hours of total flight time. Two instructors took Hanjor up for a short test flight. Unfortunately, he lacked the flying skill to allow him to rent the small single-engine airplane.

The Boeing 757 is a far more difficult plane to fly than is a Cessna, the plane that Hanjor was unable to prove that he was capable of piloting. Yet Hanjor allegedly flew flight 77 into the Pentagon. It was said that Hanjor flew an airplane 2,000 times larger than anything he had ever flown and that he flew it 400 percent faster. Despite his inadequate flying skills, Hanjor was allegedly able to execute a 5-g turn from 7,000 feet, 270 degrees in a very long sweeping turn, level off at just over the power lines, and hit the side of the building dead solid perfect on the first pass. And all of this was done at just under 500 miles per hour. That’s the technical part. The human element is just as compelling. This young pilot is in the heartland of his hated enemy, and he is in an airplane that can be shot out of the sky at any second. He is going to kill himself and his comrades as well as hundreds of other people. He’s been at the controls for more than an hour. If he flinches, the mission fails. This twenty-something didn’t flinch, not even as he faced certain death.

Hanjor’s comrades in the two other hijacked airplanes that hit their marks also didn’t flinch. They each made perfect hits on the twin towers, each pulling about two Gs.

Of course, once they took over the aircraft hundreds of miles from their target, they had to navigate all of the way back to Washington by using some sort of portable global positioning satellite. They would have to maneuver down from thousands of feet over hundreds of miles to nearly ground level as they headed back east. Their mission was to find the Pentagon and then hit it.

Let’s turn our attention to even simpler questions. Five Arab men hijacked flight 77, so why are there no Arabic-names on any of the passenger manifest that I have in my files? This was solved by cross checking the names on the passenger list against those on the memorial list. Short of the five hijackers, they add up. But what names were the hijackers using? They were alleged to be using aliases. But the FBI said that their identities were traced through the credit cards that they used to buy the tickets in their own names. If this were the case, the fake names wouldn’t match the real names on the tickets or the manifest.

But, if collectively, all of the hijackers went to the trouble of faking their names somehow, why did they leave flight manuals and passports written in Arabic behind in rental cars in some parking lots? The passport of alleged terror mastermind Mohammed Atta was found in the rubble of the World Trade Center two blocks away. He used an alias to get aboard, but he kept his passport. Everything and everyone aboard his plane was incinerated beyond any hope of recovery, except his passport.

Despite all of these inconsistencies, the planes did crash. And the questions come up as to why wasn’t anything done to stop that from happening?

Each hijacking occurred in the northeast corner of the United Sates. This is the busiest airspace on the planet. Each commercial flight, commonly called a heavy, is always under positive control. Each heavy is under constant communication with air traffic controllers to maintain safe separation from other aircraft. Altitude information is provided by the aircraft transponder, and communicates to the air traffic controllers, and that information shows up on the control screens. Turn the transponder off, and the controller no longer knows the altitude and the separation of the heavies. That aircraft is now a hazard to air navigation and will be ordered to go to 3,500 feet and to return to the airport.

If voice communication is lost as well and the aircraft begins to wander from its original flight plan, there is now a state of emergency all over the airspace. The ability to keep planes from running into each other is now in serious jeopardy. On the morning of September 11, 2001, there were four heavies with no transponders and no voice communications wandering around the busiest airspace on the planet. Within two or three minutes, there would be near panic across the entire air traffic control system.

What should have happen next would have been a matter of routine. These intercept procedures have been in place for years. There were more then 60 routine interceptions in the months prior to 9/11. The air traffic controller calls a duty/liaison officer at the North American defense Command in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado. Within two to three minutes, the first available fighter jets are scrambled, off the ground, and on their way to intercept. Even though the aircraft’s transponder is off, the heavy’s airframe produces a radar echo visible to controllers who can vector a chase plane to the target. Authorization for an intercept from a higher authority is not required. No one has to call the president, vice president, secretary of defense or the Air Force.

Of course, all recorded conversations between pilots and controllers are public information. They are erased unless something serious has been recorded. Those recordings are serious. The New York Times obtained some of these. They show that the controllers seemed to have lost contact with the airplanes.

There is an Air Defense Intercept Zone just off of the Atlantic coast that was constantly patrolled. There are also other “fast movers” (fighter aircraft) on routine patrols or training missions that can be called upon to respond.

Flight 77 took well over an hour to get to the Pentagon. There were at least three air forces bases within striking distance. Nothing happened. No one was questioned or court-martialed.

These are only the central questions. There are others. How and why did the twin towers crumble upon itself? The published story has holes. Jet fuel didn’t do it. What about the Israeli spy ring tracking the so-called hijackers? Why were members of the Bin Laden family flown out of Boston and back home just days after this horrific event? Surely, they were material witnesses. There are dozens more. The more questions that you ask, the more that seem to come up. But we’ll keep asking.

By Grady Hawkins

(Editor’s note: The following story relates mostly to flight 77, but the same questions relate to other hijackings that occurred on September 11, 2001. Details come from mainstream print reports. The events of 9/11 are still very much confused. Speculation, disinformation, and pure guesswork are rampant on the web, and one must be careful. As always, we keep the questions simple.)

At about 8:10 a.m., eastern daylight time, Sept. 11, 2001, American Airlines flight 77, a Boeing 757, took off from Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C., bound for Los Angeles, Calif. As the world knows, that flight never arrived at its destination. Soon after takeoff, it was hijacked. One hundred and twenty-nine minutes later, the aircraft crashed into the Pentagon, killing everyone on board and 126 persons on the ground.