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Today I want to honor Mr. Ben Sliney. I believe our entire nation owes him a deeply heartfelt Thank You. With my family and friends who are military and private pilots I recognize Ben Sliney (along with the World Trade Center responders and the passengers of Flight 93) as one of the true heroes that morning during the tragedy of “9/11” He made and executed the decisions which saved thousands of American lives.
On 11 September 2001, Ben Sliney began his first day as Director of National Operations for the FAA. He had come out of retirement nine months earlier. His first day. It went sour at 8:46am when the terrorists hit the North Tower. Seventeen minutes later they hit the South Tower.
At that moment, Ben Sliney and staff at the NY Control Center closed down the airspace of Boston, Newark, New York, and surrounding regions including southern New England, Maryland, Long Island and Pennsylvania, amid protests that they had no authority. Air traffic controllers across the country complained as they were required to reroute all incoming aircraft or delay them in a holding pattern.
In addition there were several hundred aircraft headed to the United States from overseas. Some of them USA airliners...many were not. The relaying of information to redirect all of these planes was complicated. At first Canada was unwilling to accept all of the incoming flights. The FAA calmly...but firmly replied that they were not landing here.
In the next 22 minutes it became apparent that several other planes were not responding to communication, and deviating from flight plans. Ben Sliney ordered the cancellation of all takeoffs nationwide. Full groundstop. No one had ever given this order before. No plane, commercial or private could take off. It was 9:25 in the morning on the east coast. Hundreds of airports were up and running. Thousands of airplanes were firing up for take off. The FAA was watching 4,452 airplanes already in the air.
They tracked a third aircraft headed directly for the center of Washington DC. American executives in Texas, and United executives in Illinois independently make the decision to put “everything on the deck”. It was the first time any airline had ever grounded their entire fleet...let alone two.
At 9:38 the terrorists hit the Pentagon. Ben Sliney has been quoted as thinking, “The skies are filled with guided missiles” and without taking the time to consult with FAA, military or government officials he shouted the order for what would be called the most massive effort in aviation history…to land all planes immediately. WhereEVER they were at the moment…regardless of their intended destination. Clear the skies NOW.
9:45 FAA ordered United States closed to all air traffic
9:59 the South Tower collapsed
10:06 United flight 93 crashed
10:29 the North Tower collapsed
12:16 all non-military aircraft had landed.
Some of you have read between the lines of fine print in the 9/11 Commission Report. Some of you may have military connections. Some watched the reports detailing the terrorists extensive planning for their strike. Many of you conclude that there were additional planes the terrorists intended to hijack and use in their attack that day. I have no doubt that there were. However they never got the chance. We owe Ben Sliney a true debt of gratitude.