The Northeast Air Defense Sector’s historic role in responding to the 9/11 terror attacks comes into sharper focus in a new book by a best-selling author.
The name of the defense facility at Griffiss Business & Technology Park has since been changed to the Eastern Air Defense Sector, since it was given wider responsibilities after the 2001 attacks.EADS, at 336 Otis St., has about 400 local employees.
The Rome Daily Sentinel gave extensive coverage to NEADS’ role, in the weeks after the attacks. But a new book shines new light on the workers at NEADS, and their rapid response the day of the attacks.
The book “Fall and Rise:The story of 9/11” was written by Mitchell Zuckoff. It is available at Jervis Library .Zuckoff is the author of seven other nonfiction books, including the New York Times bestseller “13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi.” The book became the basis of a movie by the same name. Two of Zuckoff’s other books, “Frozen in Time” and “Lost in Shangri-La” also dealt with military missions.
Information about NEADS in the new book covers 28 pages, out of a total of 461 pages.
Among the NEADS employees mentioned or quoted in the book are: Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Powell, Maj. Kevin Nasypany, Tech. Sgt. Shelley Watson, Col. Robert Marr, Maj. James Fox, Sr. Airman Stacia Rountree, Master Sgt. Maureen “Mo” Dooley, and Maj. James Anderson.
The new book also sheds more light on the decision to order military fighter jets to shoot down a civilian aircraft — loaded with innocent men, women and children — if necessary, to prevent the aircraft from being used as a weapon to possibly kill many more civilians on the ground.
And the book also provides information about Clinton native Edward Porter Felt, who was aboard Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania. Porter was sitting in a first class seat on the flight, right in front of the hijackers. He held degrees from Colgate and Cornell universities, and held two patents on encryption technology.
NEADS is first mentioned in Chapter 1 of the book, with this description of mission control commander Maj. Kevin Nasypany: He had “a military pilot’s unflappable confidence, and a caterpillar mustache on a Saint Bernard’s face.”
The story continued: “He and his team stood sentry against long-range enemy bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles sneaking past U.S. air borders, along with a catalog of other airborne dangers such as hijackings.”
The book described the then- NEADS headquarters as “a squat aluminum bunker that resembled a UFO from a 1950s sci-fi movie.”
In Chapter 4, the author recalls “the first direct notification of a crisis on board American Flight 11 to the U.S. military,” at 8:38 a.m.
“We have a problem here,” a Boston air traffic controller told NEADS Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Powell. “We have a hijacked aircraft headed towards New York, and we need you guys to scramble some F-16s or something up there.” Powell, who had been expecting to participate in a NEADS exercise that day, responded, “Is this real-world, or exercise?” The air traffic controller responded that it was not just an exercise.
Maj. Nasypany was paged over a loudspeaker. The page “literally caught Nasypany with his pants down” in the men’s room, and he had to rush to the operations area. He told the author that he would “remember that announcement for the rest of his life.”
Next, another NEADS worker tried to get more information on the hijacked plane. Identification technician Shelley Watson asked a Boston official for the type of aircraft, the tail number, the number of souls on board, and the plane’s destination. All she got was the type of aircraft, a 767.
Col. Robert Marr, NEADS commander, gave Nasypany authorization to prepare to launch two F-15 fighter jets from a base on Cape Cod. But “no one knew exactly where to send the fighter jets.” NEADS controllers “searched their radar screens in a frustrating attempt to find the hijacked passenger jet,” which had turned its transponder off.
Nasypany directed Maj. James Fox, a NEADS weapons officer, to scramble the jets just north of New York City, until the plane’s exact location could be pinpointed. “Three minutes into their flight from Cape Cod to New York,” the fighter pilots learned that the World Trade Center had been struck by a plane. Moments later, another aircraft hit the landmark building.
Nasypany began to consider “how he and his team would respond if the nation’s military commanders … gave a shoot-down order for a plane filled with civilians,” which might be targeting other buildings.
At 9:21 a.m., the NEADS team began searching for American Airlines Flight 11 — which unknown to them, had crashed a half-hour earlier. NEADS Master Sgt. Maureen Dooley was told by a Boston FAA official that the hijacked Flight 11 was still in the air.
Nasypany ordered two more F-16s, from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, to scramble, and they were airborne by 9:30 a.m. NEADS Maj. James Anderson again raised the issue of shooting down a passenger plane. “Have you asked … the question what you’re gonna do if we actually find this guy? … Are we gonna shoot him down if they got passengers on board?”
At 9:34 a.m., “the news of another missing plane,” American Flight 77 “rocketed through the NEADS center.” At 9:36 a.m., a Boston FAA official told NEADS “that an unknown plane was six miles from the White House.” Nasypany ordered the fighter jets “to fly supersonic” to Washington. “I don’t care how many windows you break,” he yelled. But “Even if the fighter pilots had broken every window in every building en route to Washington, they wouldn’t have arrived in time,” the author reported.
Nasypany had tried to order the Langley fighter jets into action sooner, but Col. Marr, his boss, wanted to keep them available in case any other targets on the East Coast were threatened. “Some top NEADS officers firmly believed that the fighters, if they had taken flight sooner and been given the correct coordinates, might have been able to intercept American Flight 77,” according to the author.
More time and resources were wasted when Master Sgt. Dooley and Sr. Airman Stacia Rountree tried to trace another flight, which had been falsely reported to them as a possible hijack.
Nasypany continued to consider how to handle a shootdown order for a passenger plane. “He’d already replaced one young NEADS technician who’d hesitated when Nasypany asked if he’d be capable of relaying a shootdown order.”
Now, Nasypany “wanted clearly defined answers from his superiors” about that possible option.
At 10:07 a.m., NEADS first learned that United Flight 93 had been hijacked. But FAA controllers failed to tell NEADS that the plane had already crashed, in Pennsylvania. They wasted more time hunting the plane, until they were told it was down.
At 10:32 a.m., Vice President Dick Cheney’s order to shoot down any plane that “refused to heed commands” reached NEADS. In the end, no planes were shot down. By noon, every commercial plane had followed FAA orders to land at the nearest airport.
NEADS had not been given much time to respond to any of the four planes taken by terrorists.They had only:
Eight minutes before American Flight 11 hit the North Tower.
Four minutes before American Flight 77 hit the Pentagon.
Eleven seconds before United Flight 175 hit the South Tower.
No notice about United Flight 93 before it crashed in Pennsylvania.
Among those killed in the Flight 93 crash was Felt, a computer engineer headed to San Francisco. When the flight descended to a low altitude, Felt used his cellphone to call 9-1-1 from inside a locked lavatory. “Hijacking in progress,” he informed an operator in Pennsylvania. He gave the flight number, aircraft type and its original itinerary.
The author says Felt and the other heroes aboard Flight 93 “couldn’t save themselves … But they were all that stood between the hijackers and the destruction of the U.S. Capitol and the White House. All deserved to be honored and remembered as civilians turned combatants, the saviors of countless lives during the first battle of a new war.”
This column was written for the Rome Historical Society by Chip Twellman Haley, retired Daily Sentinel news editor.Comments, old photos, suggestions for future columns or guest columns may be emailed to:email@example.com.Copies of the book “Rome Through Our History,” a collection of some of Haley’s columns, may be purchased at the Rome Historical Society.
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