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Route Center (ZNY) Type of event: Interview with Chris Tucker Date: Monday, December 15, 2003 Special Access Issues: ID Check Prepared by: Geoffrey Brown Team Number: 8 Location: Ronkonkoma, New York Participants - Non-Commission: Mary M. McCarthy (Office of Regional Counsel, Eastern Region, FAA - One Aviation Plaza, RM 561, Jamaica, NY 11434: P 718-553-3259, F 718-9955699), Mark DePalma (NATCA Representative) Participants - Commission: John Azzarello, Miles Kara, Geoffrey Brown Note: Please refer to the interview recording for further details.
Background: Tucker began working for the FAA in October of 1988, and arrived at ZNY on January 2nd of 1989. He has been an air traffic controller (ATC) for Area B for this full period of time. September 11,2001 (9/11): On 9/11 Tucker was assigned to Area B for a seven AM to three PM shift. He does not recall if Sector 55 (R55) was his first position of the day, but that is where ghe was when the events of the day began. He had asked his assistant, Lorraine Barret, to contact another area (R42) to climb an aircraft above R55 airspace (FL 280). Bottiglia (R42) reported back that he could not take the aircraft because he was possibly working a hijack. Withen the next couple of minutes Tucker became aware that the hijacked aircraft was AA 11. He saw the beacon target disappear for AA 11, and thus could no longer see the altitude on the aircraft. They did follow the primary target though. Tucker commented that "all eyes in the room" were watching it. Tucker could see the primary target for AA 11 on his radar at Sector 55. Tucker commented that most of the controllers, even after pilots had informed them that there was smoke coming from the WTC, did not believe the flight had crashed. Even if it was a hijack the typical scenario would not have been what happened. So even when AA 11 passed out of their radar range they still thought the flight was airborne. There was an assumption on their part based on what the plane had been doing, after hearing some verbal indications over the frequencies, that the aircraft was hijacked. But he noted there COMMISSION SENSITIVE UNCLASSIFIED
UNCLASSIFIED COMMISSION SENSITIVE was no indication that the hijackers were in fact piloting the aircraft. When the aircraft passed below the floor of Sector 55 it only meant that the craft had passed below 12500 on mode C. With the primary targets it has nothing to do with alititude since no altitude is being broadcast. Thus with primary targets the controller sees everything that the radar picks up. The ATCs do not keep the all primary on since it could clutter the airspace, but Tucker commented that he does just incase an aircraft looses it's ability to broadcast it's altitude. Tucker commented that once the area believed it was hijacked, he turned on all the altitudes on his scope. He dropped his altitude to zero. Tucker commented that it would be irregular to loose a primary if the aircraft was at altitude. He commented that it is not unusual for the target to disappear for two or three radar sweeps, but longer than that would be highly unusual. Tucker reinforced his comment that later that morning his viewpoint on locating AA 11 changed. He noted that as the controllers continued to look for AA 11, and shortly after that he heard of UAL 175. To Tucker's knowledge it is almost impossible to confirm a hijack if the controller is not speaking to the aircraft. Tucker commnented that R56, Mark Merced, attempted to vector an aircraft to see AA 11, but this effort was not prodfuctive. [ Tucker commented regarding UAL 175 that someone shouted "There's an intruder over Allentown." A mode C intruder is a target with a limited data block associated with a code. UAL 175's full data block had not continued with the aircraft. Tucker did The aircraft climbed, then descended, then turned to the left and into his airspace. Tucker asked a few aircraft for a visual identification. That conversation, according to Tucker, became confused since there was a flight Delta 2315 and US 542 that he used to attempt to gain situational awareness on UAL 175. It became apparent that the Delta 3215 was actually pointing out the US 542. He vectored that DELTA 2315 to take whatever actions necessary to avoid hitting UAL 175. And at this point he was not looking for awareness, but was concerned with keeping aircraft separation. Tucker commented that to see a "Mode C" intruder is not unusual, but since it was in their airspace it was very unusual. Mode C Intruders at 18,000 feet and above is very unusual. Mode C intruders usually will just skim their airspace, and will not be at higher altitude. The US 542 had a TCAS advisory and descended. ] After Tucker was confidant that there were no safety issues they watched UAL 175 head towards New York City. It did not occur to them that it was another hijack. They were concerned that there was a serious emergency. Tucker commented that this would be uncommon, but not unheard of. Tucker thought originally they would land at Newark. They assessed the speed, and thought it might be landing in LaGuardia. Then they noticed that the rate of descent might have been 6000 feet per minute, and that was far too quick for a landing at LaGuardia. They heard a TRACON controller, Liberty South (Not Sure), shout "What is this aircraft going COMMISSION SENSITIVE UNCLASSIFIED
UNCLASSIFIED COMMISSION SENSITIVE 700 miles an hour through my airspace". They watched the aircraft descend and disappear form the radar. One of Tucker's colleagues said "This guy's going in" (crashing) because of the extreme rate of descent. They knew there would be one more radar sweep, and then the aircraft would be gone. He believes the aircraft was under 2000 feet at this point. Tucker put his own traffic back on course. Not long thereafter Paul Thumser, the supervisor, asked Tucker if he wanted to be relieved, and he was. At this point Tucker believed the aircraft that was UAL 175 had crashed into the city. He did not know that it had crashed into the WTC. Tucker commented that since AA 11 had disappeared from the radar, no one really suspected it had crashed like UAL 175. Tucker commented that "maybe the people in Boston" had a better idea, which is an observation based on the television reports he viewed subsequent to 9/11. Tucker's personal opinion that the idea of a crashed hijack "takes a little time to sink into your psyche", and thus ZBW had a little more time to think about it. Tucker commented that the threatening comments heard at ZBW did not get communicated to him. Tucker commented that it is incredibly difficult to say what happened to an aircraft once a controller no longer has an alititude on the aircraft. Tucker commented that later on when the people in his area heard that a plane had crashed into the Pentagon they thought it was probably AA 11. On 9/11 Tucker would have had no idea who or what NEADS is. He is not certain even today who NEADS is. Phantom AA11: Tucker heard rumors to the effect that someone had spoken to the military on 9/11, but he does not know what information was conveyed. He believes that Pete Mulligan may have made that call. There was a general thought in Area B that AA 11 had hit the Pentagon, but Tucker does not know if his superiors had the same thought. Tucker believed that he found out that afternoon or evening that AA 11 had struck the WTC, but he was not sure. Area B Conference Information: Tucker noted that he did not realize there were two impacts at the WTC until at least 30 minutes after the second impact. They suspected when they heard a second airplane hit the WTC, they thought it was UAL 175. They had heard the smoke from the first WTC fire was caused by an aircraft accident, but someone had said it was a "twin" (small aircraft). He thought he heard this before hearing about the second aircraft. So they thought the a twin and UAL 175 had both his the WTC, and thus AA 11 was still airborne. Tucker commented that he believed the Area B conference was to deal with the trauma of the situation. After he was relieved from his sector position, he did not return to the center for a couple of weeks. COMMISSION SENSITIVE UNCLASSIFIED
UNCLASSIFIED COMMISSION SENSITIVE Unaccounted for Aircraft: Tucker does not recall other reports of missing aircraft in his area. Tucker commented that the LOF 5411 probably originated out of New York; and he heard nothing about a helicopter. Tucker does not recalls any specifics regarding who was called to gain awareness on the missing flights. It is possible that the sector they refer to as the Pit may have called the Towers. Tucker did not partake in the ground stop on 9/11. He was probably in the conference room at that point. Training Tucker commented that he received refresher training quarterly. They were told not to do certain things. The training was on the DynSim simulator. He commented that there training did not entail 9/11 scenarios; but that the training does encourage a controller to react the best they can under different problems. Tucker's hijack training, without hearing about the hijacking taking place his first assumption would be that it was an electrical malfunction. Tucker commented that as far as he knew there was no verbal communication or transponding signal of the hijacks. To Tucker's knowledge prior to 9/11 the hijacking Post 9/11 Training: Depalma noted to Commission staff that there are briefings now that encourage active communication between the pilots and the controllers. Transponder: Tucker commented that it was very uncommon for a transponder to be turned off, and when transponders fail he was been in communication with the pilot. He was never lost both. Recommendations: Tucker commented that as an ATC it is very difficult to prevent 9/11 type events. He commented that the need is to keep an aircraft's cockpit secure, and to keep weapons off the plane. Tucker noted that the Familiarization Training was extremely useful, but it always bothered him prior to 9/11 that the cockpit was open. Through the FAM training, the ATC becomes more aware of what the pilot needs from a first hand perspective. The ATC could learn how the aircraft operates as well. This training ended immediately after 9/11. Handoff from ZBW to ZNY: If Boston had initiated a tracked primary target, it could be handed off to ZNY airspace. If they COMMISSION SENSITIVE UNCLASSIFIED
UNCLASSIFIED COMMISSION SENSITIVE don't hand off that tracked primary, it will not automatically transfer. He does not recall this handoff. Regarding Huntress and Huntress ID, Tucker commented that ZNY gives them airspace to conduct military exercises. Tucker noted that he does have a button at area B, each sector that has a button that is a direct line to Huntress ID. Tucker agreed with Commission staff that it would be beneficial if he could visit NEADS and come to a better understanding of operations there. Tucker noted that it would probably not add any great benefit to have a military representative at ZNY since they can coordinate when they need to by the procedure that is already in place.
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