The Curious Case of United Airlines Flight 23 on 9/11
Perhaps it is nothing.
The 9/11 Commission Final Report did not mention it.
The FBI investigated it and interviewed many people, several different times. FBI officials never contested the media reports, nor did it ever release any findings of its investigation publicly.
Perhaps it was not important enough to warrant a note or comment ….. perhaps it is.
During the 10 year anniversary of the attacks, ABC brought us the first-in-a-long-time mainstream news report of the mystery:
UNITED AIRLINES FLIGHT 23
UAL flight 23 was scheduled to depart New York’s JFK airport at 8:30am September 11th, 2001, bound for Los Angeles. Piloting flight 23 was Tom Mannello with First Officer Carol Timmons.
Flight 23 was delayed, but it eventually taxied out to the tarmac to wait behind a line of other planes.
During this time, the first and second hijacked planes would strike the North Tower and South Tower at 8:46am and 9:03 am, respectively.
Apparently the pilots of flight 23 overheard another pilot, who was sharing the same frequency, say a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Expecting a long wait, Pilot Tom Mannello shut the engines off and told passengers a mechanical problem was holding them up.
It would not be long before flight 23 would receive its first warnings from an alert United employee.
United Airlines dispatcher Ed Ballinger started to relay text messages to the planes for which he was in control of, 16 flights in total, including both UAL flight 23 and 93 as soon as he had an idea of what was happening.
9/11 Commission MFR (Memorandum for the Record) #040200009, from Ballingers time in front of the Commission, states that he sent a series of warnings to the planes in his control(download PDF). The following timeline is for the warnings UAL flight 23 received from Ballinger:
- 9:12 am Received a message to the effect that a “ground stop of all aircraft” was in process
- 9:20 am “Beware any cockpit intrusion…..Two aircraft in New York hit Trade Center buildings”
- 9:24 am ”Beware any cockpit intrusion…..Two aircraft in New York hit Trade Center buildings”
- 9:32 am “High Security Alert. Secure cockpit.”
The pilots of UAL flight 23 took heed to Ballinger’s warnings. First Officer Carol Timmons started to barricade the door with to the cockpit with luggage, while Pilot Tom Manello held the crash-axe for protection.
Captain Manello relayed the warnings to the flight crew, stating to not open the cockpit doors – “no exceptions!” Shortly after, the cockpit received a call from an attendant on the plane stating she thought “it was unusual” that a group of four Arab men were sitting in first-class. The warnings from Ballinger to the pilots of flight 23 did not contain any specifics of the hijackers appearance, to be sure.
The smoke from the World Trade Center was visible from the plane. JFK airport was in a declared emergency and shut down while UAL flight 23 was seventh in line to take off. The pilots, having already received warnings from Ed Ballinger and the in-flight call from the attendant, announced they were heading back to the gate.
As the plane headed back for the gate the group of Middle Easterners apparently got up and began consulting with each other, refusing orders from attendants to go back to their seats. An argument ensued between the men and the flight attendants, prompting a call from the plane to airport security. The men were reported to have insisted that they ”have got to be on this plane.”
Security officials apparently met the plane at the gate - yet were unable to apprehend the men in question. JFK Airport was being evacuated and perhaps in a bit of chaos: The crowd of people apparently provided enough cover for the men to escape without question. These men were never seen again - that we know of.
Ed Ballinger had “figured it out” and started making moves well before federal officials had fully grasped what was happening on 9/11. Due to his actions he is largely credited with saving UAL flight 23 from a potential hijacking, and he was also able to give Flight 93 warnings before the pilots lost control of that flight.
While the suspicious men were able to escape with the crowd in the frantic evacuation of JFK, they may have left something behind.
Law enforcement officials searched unclaimed baggage from flight 23. Some bags apparently contained a “Quran, al-Qaeda instruction sheets and false IDs,” and according to some media reports and Lynn Spencer’s Touching History (p102-105), box-cutters too.
The History Channel aired a program in 2005 confirming those accounts. The show focused on the air-traffic controllers of 9/11, it was called Grounded on 9/11 and it contained the following segment:
The FBI obtained the passenger manifests of flight 23, thinking that the passengers in question had bought tickets for their flights ahead of time.
THE FOLLOWING DAYS
Though officials including the FBI deny any links to the events of United flight 23 or 9/11, the following event is worth a mention.
On September 13th, as air traffic was beginning for the first time since the 11th a group of men were arrested at JFK.
Four men were apparently detained on a flight heading to Los Angeles with tickets from Tuesday, 9/11. Accounts on the specifics differ slightly, suggesting errors in reporting, but as Peter Jennings would say, there was “something going on.”
Another report by FOX from 9/14/01 adds more detail:
On Thursday, according to the airline industry source, a man presented a ticket for Tuesday’s Los Angeles flight at the counter — but told airline employees that he had changed his mind and now wanted to travel to San Jose.
People at the ticket counter were suspicious, but they changed the ticket and alerted a supervisor who, in turn, notified Port Authority police. Authorities tracked the man to the gate, where he passed through security checks, including metal detectors. He was then stopped at the gate by security.
A short time later, three more men arrived at Kennedy and boarded American Airlines flight 133 to Los Angeles. Minutes later, law enforcement officers secretly boarded the plane using a catering cart, according to the industry source. The officers, with weapons drawn, then removed the three from the plane.
Reports of the JFK incident were numerous, yet perhaps unrelated to flight 23 on 9/11.
Federal officials were said to have released all of the suspects and to have found no connections to the events of 9/11, including flight 23.
Enter Joe Biden and his 24 hour turn-around after a very awkward interview with Peter Jennings.
On September 13th Joe Biden refers to the arrested individuals as a ”second team” during an interview with Peter Jennings.
Biden seems to infer he ”can’t reveal things” he knows about the arrests, though during the interview his main point seems to be about bringing more funding to the Intelligence agencies.
The very next day on September 14th USA Today carried a story quoting Joe Biden telling CNN this:
Sen. Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN the arrests were based on suspicions that the men were linked to Tuesday’s attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
One man was arrested because he was belligerent, while the others were merely detained and questioned, according to the senator’s chief of staff, Alan Hoffman.
Biden said there were explanations for the suspicions. One man was originally thought to be traveling with a fake pilot’s license. Biden said the man was a pilot who also had his brother’s identification.
“His brother happened to live in an apartment complex that was one in Boston where some of these people had actually been,” said Biden, D-Del.
Others were traveling to a Boeing Co. conference, either because they work for the airline manufacturer or were invited, Biden added.
“The folks at the airport thought, ‘Hey, wait a minute, are they impersonating crew?’ And they weren’t.”
This seemingly simple answer is a stark contrast to his comments the day before with Peter Jennings. It also seems that with his statements to CNN he must not have known anything credible at during the Peter Jennings interview a day before, raising suspicions as to what exactly Biden was acting for.
On the contrary, if Joe Biden was giving a cover story to CNN on the 14th for his revealing information on the 13th with Peter Jennings, what was the reason?
Ten years after the events of September 11th and after the recent killing of Usama bin Laden, there is so much we don’t know. Where could this information lead?
- The names of first class and all other passengers on United flight 23
- The amount of people booked for United flight 23
- What exactly was found in the baggage of United flight 23
- The results of the FBI’s investigation into United flight 23
- Was surveillance footage from the airport checked and archived for suspect identification
- Were any names of passengers from flight 23 on FBI or other watch lists
- Why the 9/11 Commission Final Report did not mention United flight 23
- What were the details of the arrests on 9/13 at JFK at JFK airport
- What were the names of the people arrested on 9/13 at JFK airport
- What was found in the possession of those arrested on 9/13 at JFK airport
- What exactly did Joe Biden know about the arrests of 9/13 at JFK airport
TIMMONS RECENTLY PROMOTED
In the more recent news, First Officer of United flight 23, Carol Timmons became Delaware Air National Guard’s first female General.
This prompted the latest round of discussion regarding UAL flight 23. Many still don’t know about flight 23 while others consider it a myth or bad reporting at the time, and some even call it an urban myth.
A news story from the Delaware Journal Online was cited by Jan Ting of NewsWorks as turning his mind to thinking the 9/11 UAL flight 23 incident actually happened. The link Ting provided in his story to the original article is no longer working.
Fortunately archivists at MilitaryHeritage.org saved the entire story, along with a short profile on Carol Timmons, because it appears the original has been removed from the archives of the Delaware Journal Online. The article Ting cited was authored by Jeff Montgomery and Adam Taylor and titled “Delaware Air National Guard piloting historic course,” published on May 15th, 2011.
More information can always be found at the Complete 9/11 Timeline