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September 11: Six Ways Uncertainty Reigned Aboard Air Force One

September 10, 2019 in History

By Amanda Onion

On September 11, the Secret Service decided the safest place for the president was on board Air Force One. But being in the skies added to the day’s confusion.

On 9/11, millions of Americans became glued to their televisions, watching in horror as hijacked planes attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. But there was one critical group of people who, for a time, received only snippets of information—and misinformation—as the day unfolded. They were the passengers of Air Force One—including the president of the United States.

“Flying on Air Force One, we were so far removed from what was going on, the danger on the ground, and there was so little information, clear information coming in to us,” Ann Compton, an ABC News White House correspondent who was on board the president’s Boeing 747 on 9/11, told HISTORY.

David Wilkinson, a Secret Service agent who traveled with the president on 9/11, recalled to HISTORY, “I could tell you one thing emphatically, and that is: No one knew what was going on.”

While the Secret Service believed the safest place for the president was in the skies on Air Force One, they were also constantly reacting to reports of perceived threats. Below are six ways the passengers and crew of Air Force One were in the dark on September 11, 2001.

1. The Pilot Thought There Could Be a Stinger Missile on the Runway During Takeoff

US Secret Service and Military police go on high alert and double up security checks for all passengers boarding Air Force One as President George W. Bush departs Sarasota, Floridas after learning about the attacks on September 11, 2001.

President George W. Bush was in Sarasota, Florida visiting a school when news of the attacks reached his team. After delivering a brief statement to the nation (”Terrorism against our nation will not stand,” he said), he and the rest of the passengers of Air Force One were rushed on board.

As they started to take off at 9:55 a.m., they received a report that someone with a stinger missile might be positioned at the end of the runway. (It turned out to be untrue.)

“As we started to taxi, the Secret Service advises that someone has come up to the end of the runway with what they perceived to be a long-gun,” Air Force One’s pilot, Col. Mark Tillman told HISTORY.

Tillman turned Air …read more


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