Ben Sliney, FAA’s National Operations Manager, orders the entire nationwide air traffic system shut down. All flights at US airports are stopped. Around 3,950 flights are still in the air. Sliney makes the decision without consulting FAA head Jane Garvey, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, or other bosses, but they quickly approve his actions. It’s Sliney’s first day on the job.
United Airlines orders all its flights to land at the nearest airport.
Tom Burnett makes a third call to his wife Deena.
DEENA: Tom, you’re okay?
TOM: No, I’m not.
DEENA: They just hit the Pentagon. They think five airplanes have been hijacked. One is still on the ground. They believe all of them are commercial planes. I haven’t heard them say which airline, but all of them have originated on the east coast.
TOM: What is the probability of them having a bomb on board? I don’t think they have one. I think they’re just telling us that for crowd control.
DEENA (a former flight attendant): A plane can survive a bomb if it’s in the right place.
TOM: [The hijackers are] talking about crashing this plane into the ground. We have to do something. I’m putting a plan together. There’s a group of us.”
He tells her he will call back and hangs up. Deena is amazed at how calm he sounds.
Meanwhile, Todd Beamer has still been unable to contact his family, but is still on the phone with GTE. He tells Lisa Jefferson the details of what’s going on, and she fills him on the details of what has happened outside his plane. Beamer tells Jefferson that the hijackers don’t seem to know how to fly. He tells her about his family and adds, “I just want to talk to somebody and just let someone know that this is happening.”
About this time, my sister-in-law lands in Ft. Lauderdale, FL and is stranded there, (yes, I know...not a terribly bad place to be stranded, all things considered) after all outbound flights are canceled.