By Craig McKee
You thought “Sully” Sullenberger was a great pilot? He’s nothing compared to Hani Hanjour.
Sure, Sullenberger may have landed a plane on the Hudson River, but even he couldn’t have pulled off what Hanjour is alleged to have done after he took control of American Airlines Flight 77 on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
Airport security cameras show that Hanjour and his four alleged accomplices triggered concern from security personnel, and were subjected to additional searches. Nevertheless, they were allowed to board the flight, which was to take them from Washington’s Dulles International Airport in Washington to Los Angeles International.
Somehow, the names of the five hijackers never appeared on the passenger manifest. And somehow the collection of knives and box cutters they later used to take over the plane were not detected either by electronic screening or by the individual searches.
The plane took off 10 minutes after its scheduled 8:10 a.m. departure time and headed west. The last routine radio communication from the flight was at 8:51, and at 8:54 the plane deviated from its intended course. This is eight minutes after the first World Trade Center tower has been hit.
At 8:56, the plane’s transponder was switched off. Seven minutes later, the second WTC tower is hit. At this point, two airliners have crashed into the World Trade Center and a third has gone off course and turned its transponder off. It is also presumed to be hijacked.
Hanjour and the other four alleged hijackers are said to have taken control of the plane using knives and box cutters. Somehow, they herded all the passengers and crew into the back of the plane (this according to the supposed call from the plane by conservative commentator Barbara Olson, wife of the U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson).
This is contradicted by the Flight Data Recorder that was supposedly found in the
Pentagon after the crash. The FDR data, which has been made public, indicates that the cockpit door never opened during the flight. Also, people who knew the pilot, Capt. Charles Burlingame, a retired Navy officer and fighter pilot who served in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf, say he would never have given up control of the plane that easily.
Hanjour, by the way, was known to the Federal Aviation Administration several months before 9/11. As reported in the New York Times (“A Trainee Noted for Incompetence,” May 4, 2002), Hanjour’s flight instructors in Phoenix, Arizona told the FAA that his skills as a pilot and his ability to speak English were so poor that they questioned whether his pilot’s license was genuine.
A former employee of the flight school said: “I’m still to this day amazed that he could have flown into the Pentagon. He could not fly at all.”
Hanjour tried to rent a Cessna from Freeway Airport in Bowie, Maryland (about 20 miles from Washington) just a month before 9/11, but was refused because his piloting skills were so weak. Instructor Sheri Baxter says that she and another instructor took Hanjour for three test runs and found he had a hard time just controlling and landing the Cessna. They refused to rent him the plane.
So now Hanjour and his buddies are running the show with their box cutters while the passengers and crew are captive in the back of the plane. Despite not having the skills to fly a Cessna, Hanjour flies the 757 west to the Ohio/Kentucky border before turning 180 degrees and heading back to Washington. The plane was invisible to radar from shortly after the alleged hijacking until it returned to Washington airspace headed for the Pentagon. That’s Washington D.C., by the way, the most secure and heavily defended airspace in the world. Hmm, it wasn’t that day.
Hanjour manned the controls for about 45 minutes from the time of the hijacking until the alleged crash. Did he fly straight at the Pentagon, sending the plane into a dive and hitting the most sensitive part of the Pentagon, including the offices of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld?
No, he had a better idea.
Hanjour initiated a 330-degree descending spiral that pilots with decades of experience flying 757s say would have been next to impossible. First of all, they say, the plane would not have stayed in one piece with the stress that manoeuvre would have placed on its frame. Secondly, Hanjour did not have the skill to manage such a feat.
Air traffic controllers at Dulles International have said that they didn’t know the plane that appeared on their radar was Flight 77 because of the way it was moving.
“The speed, the maneuverability, the way that he turned, we all thought in the radar room, all of us experienced air traffic controllers, that that was a military plane. You don’t fly a 757 in that manner,” said controller Danielle O’Brien.
Hanjour is supposed to have reduced his altitude very rapidly (dropping 7,000 feet in just two and a half minutes) until he was flying parallel to the ground and low enough to knock over five light posts before hitting the side of the building between the first and second floors – without doing any damage to the Pentagon lawn.
However, the Flight Data Recorder indicates that it would have still been hundreds of feet too high to hit the Pentagon. And its trajectory would have had it miss the light posts all together.
The part of the building he seemed to go to such trouble to hit? It was a newly renovated section of the building that had been reinforced against possible terrorist attacks. This section was the emptiest part of the entire complex. Instead of thousands killed, there were just 125.
And to finish off Hani Hanjour’s magical flight, the plane hit the side of the Pentagon, making a hole less than 20 feet across and not leaving any large pieces of wreckage to be found, including the wings.
Do you buy it?