I Did Not Die
The events of September 11, 2001 left an indelible mark on the American psyche. Not since the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, shortly after dawn, on Sunday, December 7, 1941 has any single event left such an imprint. On the morning that our world would change, it was a beautiful clear fall day with blue skies across most of the nation. Like any other Tuesday morning, people were either at work or on their morning commute along the East Coast. Mothers were returning home after dropping their children off at school, while others were just trying to enjoy their morning coffee after the bustle of getting spouse and children out the front door. For others, it was boarding an early flight to the West Coast. Some were simply returning home from business, while others were leaving home for business. Among them were school children beginning field trips that would take them away from home for the first time without their parents.
The Cable News Network (CNN) was playing on televisions in offices and waiting rooms across America. CNN’s John Zarrella was reporting on evacuation ‘grid-lock’ concerns in Florida, while Hurricane Erin loomed over the Atlantic just east of New York City. On ABC it was talk of pet longevity, male sexuality and obesity, while CBS was featuring the cast of Everyone Loves Raymond and Gourmet magazine’s review of dietary fads. NBC was recognizing President Jimmy Carter and the 25th Anniversary of Habitat for Humanity, along with Harry Belafonte and the music of Black Americans.
It was a time of peace, renewal and optimism as the new century began in earnest. Secretary of State Colin Powell was in Lima, Peru for a meeting of the Organization of American States, and in New York City (NYC), elections were being held to see who would replace two-term Mayor Rudolph Giuliani as he left office. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was also in NYC at Pier 92 preparing for a bio-terrorism drill to be held the following day.
President George W. Bush was at Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida reading The Pet Goat with a classroom of second-graders. Meanwhile, his wife Laura was meeting with Senator Edward Kennedy at the Capitol Building in Washington, DC to promote the No Child Left Behind educational reform measure she had lobbied her husband for. Also at the Capitol Building, Senator Bob Graham and Representative Porter Goss, the chairmen of their respective body’s intelligence committees, were having breakfast in the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) within the Capitol Building. Their guest for breakfast was Mahmud Ahmed, the head of Pakistan’s equivalent of the CIA, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate.
The Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), General Richard Myers was also at the Capitol Building. Although nominated by President Bush to replace the current Chairman of the JCS, General Hugh Shelton, he was still awaiting confirmation by the Senate. General Myers was meeting with Senator Max Cleland who was helping to prepare him for the confirmation hearings ahead of him. That morning, General Shelton was on a plane traveling to England and as Vice-Chairman, General Myers was the acting-Chairman in his absence.
Meanwhile, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld was having breakfast with a group of Congressmen at the Pentagon. They were discussing budget priorities and his vision for the future of America’s defense. The Congressmen of course were more interested in domestic priorities such as Social Security than national security, especially since in their view there was no urgent threat to the nation from the outside. Rumsfeld meanwhile, steered the discussion towards a remembrance of Pearl Harbor. Dr. David Chu, who was also at the breakfast recalls, “The Secretary said something to the effect that someone was going to attack us in a fashion we did not anticipate and we would wish we had done something about it.”
In Rome, New York Major Kevin J. Nasypany was beginning his day as the Alpha Flight Mission Crew Commander (MCC) for the North Eastern Air Defense Sector (NEADS). His command was fully staffed as they were preparing for another day of scheduled exercises (Vigilant Guardian), overseen by Base Commander Colonel Robert Marr in the battle cab. At least one of the Vigilant Guardian exercises was to include a simulated commercial aircraft hijacking. Just two days before on September 9th, NEADS practiced a hijack scenario involving a plane out of London headed for NYC. In that scenario, a DC-10 commercial aircraft was taken over by terrorists armed with explosives. The hijackers aim was to set off the explosives over the city and bring the plane down into the densely populated urban area. NEADS successfully diverted the aircraft, but when the terrorists realized that the rural landscape below them was nowhere close to NYC, they detonated their device in the air, killing all on-board. However, those types of exercises were fairly routine affairs and for the most part, September 11th was shaping up to be a fairly routine operational day.
Among those arriving early at Dulles International Airport outside of Washington, DC to catch an early flight to the west coast was Georgetown University associate professor Leslie Ann Whittington. Leslie was en-route to Australia to begin a two-month tenure as a visiting fellow at the Australian National University in the Australian capitol, Canberra. Her husband, Charles S. Falkenberg had taken leave from his job as a software engineer at ECOlogic Corporation in order to be there with her and their two daughters, eight-year old Zoe and three-year old Dana Falkenberg. The family was taking the 8:10 American Airlines flight 77 (AAL77) from Dulles to Los Angeles International (LAX) in order to make connections with a flight to Australia.
The family had just purchased a new home in University Park, Maryland which they planned to move into upon their return. Having already sold their old home and due to the early departure of their flight, the family had spent the past several days in a hotel near the airport. As American Airlines employee Wendy Lnu collected their boarding passes at the gate, everything pointed to an uneventful and on-time flight. From 7:10 to 7:48, William Goodwin, an Air BP aircraft refueler, fueled the Boeing 757 (tail number N644AA) for its cross-country flight. In all, he added 33,000 pounds of fuel (4,530 gallons) to bring the total take-off fuel weight up to 50,000 pounds. As AAL77 backed away from gate D26 at 8:11, Goodwin watched it’s gate departure as he serviced another plane at gate D24. 
Meanwhile, in Nashua, New Hampshire Peter Zalewski was beginning his shift as an air traffic controller for the Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC). It was one of those days with perfect visibility and no anticipation of problems due to weather. All he had to worry about was the regular morning congestion as the East Coast came to life after a long night’s slumber. It was now 8:14 on the East Coast, and Zalewski was trying to contact American Airlines flight 11 (AAL11), a Boeing 767 headed from Logan International Airport in Boston, Massachusetts to LAX in California. He needed to give the pilot a routine clearance to take the aircraft up to its normal cruising altitude of 35,000 feet. “American eleven, climb and maintain flight level three five zero”, he instructed on his second attempt to contact AAL11. There was no response.
Charles was seated next to the port side (left) window in seat 23A (see Appendix 1 for seating layout). Next to him was his daughter Zoe, with Dana seated between her and the aisle. Leslie sat across the aisle from Dana in seat 23D. Zoe loved her father dearly as most little girls do, and sitting next to him made her feel safe and protected. For Charles, his children were the focus and joy of his life. In some ways, this flight was new to him as well. Charles traveled frequently from DC to Alaska to continue his environmental work in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez accident, but he normally flew out of Baltimore International. So this was his first flight out of Dulles, and this time it was all about family, not work. He had noticed the two Middle Eastern young men seated eleven rows in front of them as he boarded, but they appeared clean-cut and their business casual attire suggested they were no different that any other business traveler on-board. At 8:20, AAL77 took off from runway thirty with six crew members and fifty-eight passengers aboard.
Just a minute after AAL77 takes-off from Dulles, Zalewski back at Boston ARTCC noticed that AAL11’s transponder beacon information was not showing up on his radar screen. All aircraft in the US have a transponder that responds to a radar query, transmitting information which not only identifies it to controllers, but adds useful information such as altitude and speed. Without the transponder information, the only way Zalewski could track the plane would be if he switched his “ALL PRIM” console switch on. Unlike the approach control radars at the airports, the controllers at the ARTCC do not display radar-only (primary) returns for high-altitude sectors in order to keep down the screen clutter. After turning the switch on, he began an attempt to locate the aircraft by the primary radar signature, or return, on his console. However, such radar-only returns could be difficult to track among the signals bounced back by ground objects (known as ground-clutter). To help in keeping track of the primary (radar-only) return, he would have to tag it with the system software, after which computers would automatically search for a return along a projected path based on the last few radar returns.
Loss of Transponder
After Zalewski re-acquired the aircraft, he noted that it was off-course, and was beginning another unauthorized turn to the northwest. Then at 8:24, Zalewski hears an ominous transmission on the radio frequency by an Arab accented male, “We have some planes [emphasis mine], just be quiet and you’ll be okay. We are returning to the airport.” Just moments later the same voice was heard to say, “Nobody move, everything will be okay. If you try to make any moves, you’ll endanger yourself and the airplane, just stay quiet.”  Zalewski notified his supervisor Jon Schippani that he thought AAL11 had been hijacked at 8:25. At 8:26, AAL11 turned south towards New York City.
At 8:27, Dan Bueno at the Boston ARTCC Traffic Management Unit (TMU) notified Anthony Smith at the Air Traffic Control System Command Center (ATCSCC) that AAL11 is a “possible hijack situation”. At 8:29, Cleveland ARTCC TMU and New York ARTCC Arrival Director (AD) were added to the call.
“Hi Cleveland, New York, [this is] Boston. I got a little situation with American one-one, American eleven. He is a seven-fifty-seven departed Boston going to LAX. We don’t know where the aircraft is going. He is supposedly going to LAX, that was going westbound, we lost his frequency, then we lost his transponder and now the aircraft is just west of Albany heading due south.”
ATCSCC informed the New York ARTCC AD that “you can tag him on the TSD [Traffic Situation Display]”. The AD responded, “Yeah, I got him tagged”. This tag was AAL11A and will become a source of confusion as the events of the morning unfold.
Oblivious to what is going on to the north; AAL77 is climbing through 23,000 feet over the Shenandoah Valley as it continued its journey westward. Under the control of Washington ARTCC as it headed towards West Virginia, radio communications gave no hint of the threat that loomed ahead. The pilot, Captain (CPT) Charles Frank “Chic” Burlingame III, was not originally scheduled for the flight. CPT Burlingame started flying for American Airlines in 1989, eventually marrying Sheri, an AA flight attendant. A graduate of the Navy’s “Top Gun” school, CPT Burlingame continued to fly for the Navy Reserve until 1996. Wednesday would be his 52nd birthday and Sheri planned to have a birthday dinner ready for him when he returned home that evening. The original scheduled pilot, Bill Cheng had decided a few weeks earlier that September 11th would be a good day for camping.  As fate would have it, Cheng was right; it was a beautiful day for camping.
At 8:34 Bueno at Boston TMU contacted the Cape Terminal Radar Approach Control TRACON supervisor. The Cape TRACON handled the airspace for Otis Air Force Base (AFB) and Bueno was requesting that they scramble fighters to intercept AAL11.
In the meantime, at 8:37, Boston controller James Hartling asked the pilot of United Airlines flight 175 (UAL175), another flight from Logan International, also bound for LAX, to “look at your twelve to one o’clock at about ten miles southbound, see if you can see an American seven-sixty-seven out there please.” A minute later UAL175 spots AAL11 at “about twenty-seven, twenty-nine, twenty-eight thousand”.
Five minutes after Bueno called Cape, at 8:39, Joe Cooper, also at Boston TMU, called the NEADS weapons desk and advised Sergeant (SGT) Jeremy Powell of “a hijacked aircraft headed towards New York”. Due to the scheduled exercises for the day, SGT Powell, immediately asked, “Is this real world or exercise?” Cooper explained that it was “real world”, which destroyed any illusion SGT Powell may have had that it was going to be another routine day. SGT Powell asked Cooper to hold for a moment and at 8:40 Major Dawn Deskins comes on the line to get more information. In the meantime, a page is sent out on the public address system, “Major Nasypany, you’re needed in ops pronto.”
For all of the places to be when your moment in history arrives, Major Nasypany was off the operations floor in the restroom when the call from Cooper came in. However, until his return, the NEADS staff was busy gathering information and making preparations to respond. His first thought upon hearing it was a hijacking situation was that it was an exercise. One had been planned for within the hour involving hijackers taking over a commercial airliner and landing it at an island nation (such as Cuba). Of course that was more of the typical hijack scenario that had been practiced many times before. Those exercises did little to prepare him or his staff for what they were facing that morning. Thankfully, due to the scheduled Vigilant Guardian exercise, he had a full compliment of staff and resources he might otherwise not have had on a regular day. At 8:41, the two F-15’s on active air defense duty at Otis AFB were put on battle stations by Huntress (radio call sign for NEADS).
As the Otis fighters went on battle stations, UAL175 checks in with the New York ARTCC, and the pilot informed controller David Bottiglia that “we heard a suspicious transmission on our departure from BOS, sounds like someone keyed the mike and said ‘everyone stay in your seats’.” This would be the last time controllers would hear from the flight crew of UAL175. One minute later at 8:42, United Airlines flight 93 (UAL93) took off from Newark Liberty International Airport headed for San Francisco, CA. Originally scheduled to depart at 8:00, the flight was delayed on the tarmac due to air traffic congestion. At 8:45, UAL175 began a slight turn to the southwest without clearance from air traffic controllers.
It is fashion week in NYC and as the NEADS staff scrambles to catch up with the developing situation in the air, CNN watchers are being treated to a report by Gail O’Neil on the latest in maternity wear fashion. At the same time, Mohammed Atta (the presumed pilot) is at the controls of AAL11, fixing his sights on the North Tower of the World Trade Center and beginning to push the engines up to full throttle. At 8:46 when the aircraft slammed into the north face of the WTC tower, CNN viewers were being served the standard fair of commercials, returning with a stock market report at 8:47. Thirteen seconds after Atta slammed AAL11 into the North Tower, Huntress issues “an active air defense scramble for PANTA four-five, four six, time one-two-four-six [8:46]”.
At exactly the same moment, UAL175 changes its transponder code from 1470 to 3020, changing it again to 3321 at 8:47. This change in transponder codes would effectively hide UAL175 from air traffic controllers.
As events unfolded along the east coast, Indianapolis controller Charles Thomas instructed AAL77 to turn “ten degrees to the right, vectors for traffic”. CPT Burlingame acknowledged Thomas’s instructions and began the turn at 8:47. Thomas was relieving Rudolph Gayde for a break at the time and was completely unaware that his counterparts in New York and Boston were dealing with a lost flight. CNN was reporting that all three of the major stock futures indices were trending up. Signs were hopeful that this day would be a good day for Wall Street. On that day however, the markets would not open.
At 8:49, CNN interrupted its regular programming to show the large hole in the vicinity of the WTC North Tower 80th floor billowing black and gray smoke. Initial reporting indicated that a plane had crashed into one of the towers. Many across the nation took notice, but very few people outside NYC were overly concerned and went about their normal day. It was a significant event and tragedy in itself, and phones began to come alive with family and friends calling one another to alert them to the news. It was difficult for most people watching to comprehend what could have led to such a horrific accident on what was an otherwise beautiful sunny day in Manhattan.
Rudolph Gayde was told by one of his co-workers that a plane had just impacted the WTC in New York. He went to the cafeteria and watched the television coverage of the breaking news, still unaware of what had actually transpired. In the meantime, at 8:50, Thomas who was filling in for him at the Henderson position advised AAL77, “American seventy seven cleared direct, Falmouth”. That would be the last contact anyone would have with AAL77 or its crew. CNN’s Vice-President of Finance, Sean Murtagh was reporting that he saw “a large passenger commercial jet” fly over Manhattan and into the side of the WTC North Tower.
UAL175 began to make a turn back towards New York City at 8:51 without air traffic controller clearance. New York ARTCC controller Bottiglia noticed that UAL175 had gone into ‘coast track’ on his radar screen. When the plane changed transponder codes, the system did not know what had happened to the plane, so the system software projected ahead to where it thought the plane might be. After three projections of the plane’s position based on its algorithm’s, if it finds no corresponding returns, the ‘coast track’ ends. In this case, once the plane changed transponder codes, it also changed course, so the system did not know where to look for it. Also, the transponder code lets the system match up information contained in the filed flight plan with the information contained in the return beacon (such as altitude and heading). Bottiglia requests that UAL175 “recycle transponder, squawk code 1470”, its original assigned transponder code, unaware that the plane had changed codes and course. There was no response from the plane after repeated attempts to raise it. A few minutes later at 8:53 the Otis fighters were finally airborne, headed southwest over the Atlantic.
Bottiglia then noted the transponder beacon code 3321 and that its altitude tag indicated it was climbing. Since the beacon code was not assigned to a flight plan in the system, Bottiglia had no way of knowing what aircraft it was associated with. He was thinking that it might be UAL175, but was not certain. The climb in altitude had actually begun at 8:51 when the plane began its turn back towards NYC. Bottiglia began clearing air traffic out of the unknown plane’s flight path and asked Delta flight 2433 for a visual identification. The Delta 2433 pilot identified the plane as a United 767, at which point Bottiglia became “95% sure” that the plane was UAL175.
Still unaware of what was transpiring in NYC; Thomas at Indianapolis ARTCC noticed that AAL77 had begun a turn to the south in the vicinity of where the Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia borders intersect. Thomas began attempting to contact the plane at 8:56, but was unable to raise the crew. At about the same time, the transponder stopped transmitting its beacon code. Thomas switched his “ALL PRIM” on to search for a primary radar track, but unfortunately due to a software issue, primary radar coverage was not available in the area where the transponder was turned off. AAL77 was never seen or heard from again by Indianapolis ARTCC.
At 12:58, the New York ARTCC notified the New York TRACON Liberty South position to keep track of the unknown aircraft entering its airspace, stating that “it’s a hijack of some sort”. At 9:03, NEADS was informed of a 2nd hijack while the Otis fighters were still inbound over the Atlantic. As he watched the smoke billow from the North Tower, the pilot of US Air flight 1605 advises the LaGuardia controller, “tomorrows paper is gonna be full of this.” He explained further, “Within the last sixty seconds I saw another explosion, looks like there is two buildings involved.”
Rudolph Gayde, who had originally handled AAL77 as it entered Indianapolis ARTCC airspace, watched in horror with tens of millions of other Americans as UAL175 slammed into the South Tower live on television at 9:03. Winston Mitchell, who was being interviewed by a NYC CNN affiliate WABC, described the event as it unfolded; “the building is exploding right now, you got people running up the street!” Terror resonated in Mitchell’s voice as he provided narrative to the scene unfolding on American’s television screens. White House chief of staff Andrew Card would a few minutes later whisper into the ear of President Bush as he sat in front of the second grade class in Sarasota what the rest of the country already knew, “America is under attack!”
Americans got the first official verification of what was happening as CNN reported at 9:18 that the FBI was confirming that a plane had been hijacked. By 9:26, “US officials” were telling CNN that the tragedy is an “act of terrorism”. Soon after at 9:30, President Bush made a statement to the press from Sarasota. He stated that an “apparent terrorist attack on our country” had taken place and that he had ordered federal agencies “to hunt down and to find those folks who committed this act”. Former (4/93 – 1/01) FEMA Director James Lee Witt was interviewed by CNN at 9:33 and stated that FEMA had practiced “flying airplanes into igloos … at some of the arsenals around the United States”.
At 9:38, AAL77 stuck the west side of the Pentagon, killing all on-board, along with one-hundred-and-twenty-five civilian and military personnel in the building itself. A few minutes later at 9:41, Senator Ted Kennedy along with First Lady Laura Bush announced that their meetings on Capitol Hill had been postponed due to the day’s events. At 10:03, United Airlines flight 93 crashed in rural Pennsylvania after a valiant effort by passengers to retake their plane from the hijackers. The nation watched the collapse of both of the WTC towers live, understanding also that they were watching the deaths of the firefighters, police and thousands of their neighbors who had simply gotten up and headed off to work a few hours earlier.
After mourning the loss of almost three thousand of their neighbors, Americans praised their heroes and demanded answers from their government. In 2004, those answers came in the form of The 9/11 Commission Report. However, for some, that report did not satisfy all of their questions, giving rise to various conspiracy theories and suggestions of complicity on the part of the government in the attacks. This series of essays are not written to either confirm the conclusions of the 9/11 Commission, or to suggest any of the alternatives presented by others. It is simply a quest to understand the events that led to the death of one eight-year old girl, Zoe Falkenberg, on September 11, 2001.
From all accounts, Zoe was a bright, energetic and happy eight-year old. She had an infectious smile and zest for living that brightened the lives of all those she came in contact with. To Dana she was the best big sister a little girl could hope for, and to her parents the stuff dreams are made of. To her teachers, she was that student that made teaching worthwhile. But the one thing that seemed to really define her at that moment in time was her love for Zinnias, a rather common and colorful flower of particular attraction to butterflies.
A few months before that tragic day, CPT Burlingame’s mother had passed away. He carried in his pocket a laminated card that had a photo of his mother on one side, and a poem titled I Did Not Die printed on the other. The card was found among the rubble at the Pentagon.
Do not stand at my grave and forever weep.
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn’s rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and forever cry.
I am not there. I did not die.
It seems a fitting memorial to all those who died that day, and indeed a decade later they live on in the hearts and minds of all Americans.
 News footage from the major networks is archived at Archive.org http://www.archive.org/details/sept_11_tv_archive (accessed May 11, 2011)
 General Richard Myers, “MFR NARA- NA- NORAD- Myers Richard- ND- 00751”, NARA
 Interview with Donald H. Rumsfeld, December 23, 2002, “51086828-GSA-B115-RDOD03012828-Fdr-Entire-Contents-Intvw-2002-12-23-Rumsfeld-Donald-H-Less-Redacted-044“, NARA
 Interview with David Chu, February 1, 2002, “51086799-GSA-B115-RDOD03012846-Fdr-Entire-Contents-Intvw-2002-02-01-Chu-David-056“, NARA
 “NORAD Exercises: Hijack Summary“, NARA
 ATC David Bottiglia working the R42 position claims he is the one who actually assigned the AAL11A ‘tag’ to the primary and started working with other aircraft in an attempt to locate him. “MFR NARA- T8- FAA- Bottiglia David- 10-1-03- 01171”, NARA, October 1, 2003
 “Charles Burlingame”, The Washington Post http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/metro/specials/attacked/victims/v_150.html (accessed July 25, 2011)
 Elaine Sciolino, John H. Cushman, Jr., “After The Attacks: American Flight 77; A Route Out of Washington, Horribly Changed”, New York Times, September 13, 2001 http://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/13/us/after-the-attacks-american-flight-77-a-route-out-of-washington-horribly-changed.html (accessed September 18, 2009)
 Michael Bronner, “9/11 Live: The NORAD Tapes”, Vanity Fair, August, 2006 http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2006/08/norad200608 (accessed February 18, 2008)
The transponder is still ‘squawking’ 1470 and this is the earliest radar indication of a turn. The 911 Commission timeline indicates the turn began at 12:43:12 but the author found no indication of a heading change this early.
This transponder code change occurred within seconds of the impact of AAL11. Miles Kara has investigated this in-depth and speculates that the hijackers may have watched for the fireball and smoke column from the first WTC impact. At that time UAL175 was 35 nautical miles WNW of the WTC and it is reasonable this could have been the case. The last known transmission from UAL175 was at 12:42:12 after giving a report on the ‘suspicious’ radio transmission to the ZNY R42 controller.
 “MFR NARA- T8- FAA- Gayde Rudolph- 9-25-03- 00629”, NARA
 “MFR NARA- T8- FAA- Bottiglia David- 10-1-03- 01171”, NARA
 “MFR NARA- T8- FAA- Bottiglia David- 10-1-03- 01171”, NARA
 “MFR NARA- T8- FAA- Bottiglia David- 10-1-03- 01171”, NARA
 AAL77 left the 84 RADES PLA sites range of coverage at 12:48:51. FAA sites, in particular QBE (Bedford, VA), located at an elevation of 4200 feet. A number of other FAA sites also have tracking on the aircraft at this time.
 Tom Lusch http://tomlusch.com/tomlusch/AAL77.html (accessed August 30, 2011)