A lot on 9/11 nonetheless unknown – like the complete story of United Flight 23

flight 23
Map and caption: FBI and Wikimedia Commons

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org

All through the previous yr, in response to an government order from President Biden, the FBI has declassified and made public 1000’s of pages of data about its once-secret “sub file” investigation into Saudi complicity in 9/11: Operation Encore.

These data, largely and inexplicably ignored by the nation’s mainstream media, reveal beautiful new details concerning the involvement of Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs officers working out of Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Washington.  The FBI’s conclusion: Saudi authorities officers knowingly supplied help for the primary two al Qaeda hijackers to enter the U.S. by way of Los Angeles Worldwide Airport 20 months earlier than the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist assaults on New York and Washington.

However Operation Encore, whose existence was first made public by the FBI in 2016 in response to a prolonged Freedom of Data Act (FOIA) lawsuit introduced by Florida Bulldog’s dad or mum firm Broward Bulldog Inc., was targeted on occasions surrounding these two hijackers, Nawaf al Hazmi and Khalid al Mihdhar, who with three different Saudis seized management of American Airways Flight 77 and slammed it into the Pentagon.

However 17 different suicide hijackers commandeered and crashed three extra passenger jets that day and tons of of brokers assigned to PENTTBOM – the biggest legal inquiry within the bureau’s historical past – tracked their actions and contacts, too. And given the FBI’s prior disclosure to Florida Bulldog throughout FOIA litigation about hijackers’ ties to Saudis dwelling in Sarasota that its Tampa discipline workplace alone incorporates greater than 80,000 pages of labeled 9/11 materials, it’s clear that tons of of 1000’s, maybe tens of millions, of pages of extra PENTTBOM paperwork proceed to be stored from the general public 21 years after the worst assault on U.S. soil since Pearl Harbor.

Some FBI data, little question, handle one of many enduring mysteries of 9/11: whether or not al Qaeda deliberate extra assaults that horrible day – along with seizing management of the 4 planes that have been flown into the World Commerce Middle, the Pentagon and a discipline close to Shanksville, Pa.

The Pentagon on hearth Sept. 11, 2001. Photograph: FBI

There’s proof that extra assaults have been deliberate. For instance, within the fast aftermath of the assaults, U.S. Division of Justice officers advised reporters that brokers conducting safety sweeps had discovered box-cutter knives – like these identified to have been carried by the 9/11 hijackers – on two Delta passenger jets additionally scheduled to fly on Sept. 11th. On the time, it was not identified how the box-cutters received there, and the matter shortly pale away.

However a Sept. 24, 2001 FBI report made public in March mentioned a box-cutter was discovered below the seat of an American Airways aircraft that flew from San Diego to JFK, as Flight 160, and again once more on September 10. The jetliner was scheduled to fly to JFK once more on 9/11 however by no means left San Diego due to the shut down of the nation’s airports. Brokers who investigated decided the seat on Flight 160 “was occupied by NAME REDACTED, one of many 13 Saudi Arabian pilots beforehand reported on by San Diego (FBI). On the time of the report, the FBI had not but recognized the occupant of the seat on the return flight on 9/10.

Florida Bulldog has discovered no FBI studies concerning the 13 Saudi pilots, however our evaluate of the data launched in response to President Biden’s order is continuous.


The little-known story of United Airways Flight 23 has extra heft.

Much like the 4 jets the hijackers crashed, Flight 23 was a scheduled transcontinental journey by a wide-bodied Boeing 767 with a load of about 160 passengers, six flight attendants and greater than 50,000 gallons of jet gas.  At 9 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001 Flight 23 was getting ready to depart New York’s John F. Kennedy Worldwide Airport nonstop for Los Angeles.

Captain Thomas Mannello was on the controls getting ready for pushback. His co-pilot was Carol Timmons, who a decade later grew to become the primary girl basic within the Delaware Air Nationwide Guard. The sky was a crisp blue and climate alongside the route appeared good, the now-retired airline captain recalled in an interview with Florida Bulldog.

“It was an attractive day. The one inkling that one thing wasn’t fairly proper was when the man doing the pushback requested me if I’d heard something a couple of hearth within the World Commerce Middle. I mentioned, ‘no’ and thought nothing extra of it,” mentioned Mannello, who in the present day lives in Connecticut.

flight 23
Tom Mannello

Mannello was cleared to taxi to a runway the place about 10 planes have been lined up ready to take off. He was going through away from Manhattan and received in line behind an Icelandic Airways 757. No one was taking off or touchdown.

Then a report from both the tower or floor management mentioned a aircraft had crashed into the New York commerce heart. Mannello couldn’t conceive of a jetliner doing such a factor. He charged it off to any individual “in a Cessna doing one thing silly.”


What Mannello and Timmons didn’t know was that hijackers had flown United Flight 175 into the World Commerce Middle’s South Tower at 9:03 a.m. And that 17 minutes earlier, lead hijacker Mohamed Atta rammed American Airways Flight 11 into the North Tower.

The U.S. was below assault. And in lower than an hour, as passengers made a heroic effort to wrest management of the aircraft again from the hijackers, Flight 93 would go down in Pennsylvania at 10:03 a.m.

flight 23
Ed Ballinger

On 9/11 Ed Ballinger was the Chicago-based dispatcher in command for all of United’s coast-to-coast flights – a complete of 16 jetliners, together with ill-fated flights 175 and 93. 9/11 Fee workers interviewed Ballinger, who now lives in Marathon, on April 24, 2004.

Based on that “memorandum for the file,” all floor site visitors at New York’s airports was stopped in its tracks by the Air Site visitors Management System Command Middle at 9:08. At 9:20 a.m., after studying the destiny of United 175, Ballinger used the ACARS (Plane Communication and Response System) to kind and transmit this chilling message: “’Beware any cockpit intrusion…two plane in NY hit Commerce Middle Builds…”

At JFK, Mannello mentioned, “Carol and I checked out one another and we each mentioned, ‘oooh.’”

Mannello notified by way of intercom the flight attendants and instructed them to not try to enter the cockpit. A flight attendant shortly replied, “We’ve received these 4 bizarre younger Arab guys sitting in firstclass. It’s uncommon.”

“We have been all on edge, clearly,” Mannello mentioned.


On United 93, Captain Jason Dahl acquired the message to beware at 9:24 a.m. however was apparently puzzled. At 9:26 he replied, “Ed Cofirm newest mssg plz Jason.”

It was too late. “That was the second he received jumped,” Ballinger advised Florida Bulldog. The official file says the hijackers struck at 9:28 when air site visitors controllers heard a shout, “Get out of right here!”

Jason Dahl

It didn’t need to occur that manner, says Ballinger. At 8:52 a.m. a flight attendant aboard doomed Flight 175 had referred to as United’s San Francisco upkeep workplace to report that the aircraft’s pilots had been murdered and that hijackers have been flying the plane. A GTE air cellphone was used to make the decision, which routinely routed the decision to upkeep. The consequence: minutes misplaced earlier than the information reached Ballinger and he despatched out the alert.

“Of all of the communications of 9/11, that is the one the place the delay in his receipt of the knowledge continues to bother Mr. Ballinger as a result of he felt that any data acquired by United related to any of his flights ought to have been handed on to him instantly,” says the memorandum for the file. “On this specific case, he continues to surprise if he had identified to ship out his ACARS message to ‘beware cockpit intrusion’ a couple of minutes earlier…whether or not this might have prevented the hijacking of Flight 93.”

Ballinger feels the identical in the present day. “If two minutes might have been saved, they could have had time to (fortify) the door,” a rueful Ballinger mentioned.

Again at JFK aboard Flight 23, Ballinger’s ACARS message prompted Mannello to do one thing he’d by no means executed earlier than. He grabbed the aircraft’s crash axe. Timmons hopped out of her seat and wedged their suitcases between a steel bulkhead and the cockpit door. “With out breaking the door into items, nobody would get in,” Mannello mentioned.


Subsequent, “I heard the strangest radio name I’ve ever heard in my life. New York floor controllers within the tower mentioned, ‘Girls and gents the airport is now formally closed. We’ve been ordered to evacuate this facility. You might be by yourself.’ ”

Useless silence.

“Then all people realized we’re not taking off; we’re going again to our gate. We began speaking pilot-to-pilot,” Mannello mentioned.

flight 23
N612UA, the hijacked plane of Flight 175, at San Francisco Worldwide Airport in 1999. That is identical kind of plane piloted by Tom Mannello and Carol TImmons on 9/11. Photograph: Wikipedia

Mannello mentioned he knowledgeable the passengers, including “I didn’t know what was occurring, however that there was some occasion within the metropolis.’’ As he taxied again, he took a route with a view of Manhattan. He and Timmons might see thick black smoke pouring out of the World Commerce Middle.

Parked once more at Gate 2 in Terminal 7, Mannello and Timmons started the method of shutting down the engines as passengers deplaned. When he and Timmons have been prepared to depart Mannello appeared via the cockpit door’s peephole and noticed a ready mechanic. “He says, ‘You gotta filter out. I’m ordered to lock up the airplane.’”

The within of the terminal was “a ghost city,” Mannello mentioned. At United’s Flight Operations Middle Timmons and he lastly realized what was taking place from a tv set. They heard an announcer say that each one the hijacked flights have been all transcontinentals stuffed with gas.

“I’m flying a transcon stuffed with gas. I mentioned, oh, shit.” The chief pilot referred to as the FBI.


The whole crew of Flight 23 was interviewed the following day. Mannello mentioned that in his “three- or-four-hour interview” an agent advised him that “there have been truly seven Arabs or Muslims who might need been Saudis on the aircraft. Three have been a pair with a two or three-year-old child. ‘We’re on the lookout for the opposite 4 gents,’ the agent mentioned.’’ Did the FBI ever discover them? Mannello by no means heard one other phrase.

Timmons died in August 2020. In 2011, in a narrative about her promotion to basic, she advised the Delaware Information Journal, “The FBI asks questions. They don’t inform you issues.”

Miles Kara

The 9/11 Fee’s closing report back to the general public doesn’t point out Flight 23 or the occasions that morning at Kennedy Airport.  Miles Kara was a fee workers member who served on a workforce of investigators accountable for inspecting the fast response to the 9/11 assaults, focusing closely on the actions of each miliary and civilian air site visitors controllers. One other workforce lined industrial aviation and safety.

Thus, Kara was unfamiliar with United 23. He mentioned, nonetheless, that his personal reverse engineering of the plot “doesn’t have room for a fifth aircraft. Nor does a fifth aircraft from one more airport make sense.”

“My preliminary tackle UA23 is that the 4 passengers panicked and fled, an unrelated occasion,” he mentioned.

However the 10-page memorandum for the file about Ballinger’s 2004 interview by two different fee workers members says, “based mostly on studies he later acquired from UA personnel, together with the Chief Pilot, Ballinger believes that the 9:20 a.m. communication he despatched to UA Flight 23 might have prevented a hijacking.”

Ballinger reported being advised that the “Moslems” on the flight “by no means claimed their baggage and of their baggage was vital data of an incriminating nature,” the report says.


True? With the FBI persevering with to withhold all details about Flight 23, it’s tough to know. However another data Ballinger mentioned he was advised was merely incorrect, based on Mannello. For instance, Mannello mentioned he didn’t “faux a mechanical drawback” earlier than returning to the gate nor did the police need to be referred to as to persuade the recalcitrant Arabs to deplane. 

On the time, Mannello mentioned he heard on CNN that “they picked up the 4 to examine them out, then I heard on CNN 4 days later that the FBI reported that the 4 have been launched as a result of they weren’t concerned.”

“However there’s an enormous catch to that. A couple of days after the occasion the chief pilot for one of many flight managers referred to as me to ask the tail variety of the airplane I used to be on,” Mannello mentioned.

Field-cutters have been discovered stashed on a United jet at JFK whereas all planes within the nation have been grounded. Authorities wished to know if it was Mannello’s aircraft. Flight 23’s tail quantity resulted in 6002. It was parked close to one other aircraft with the quantity 6001.

“They discovered box-cutters on 6001,” mentioned Mannello, who speculated that maybe “somebody made a mistake” and put them on the improper aircraft. “I might assume this was all an unpleasant coincidence apart from that reality.”

“It’s irritating,” Mannello mentioned. “I simply don’t perceive why they’ve launched no details about it. I’m positive there have been numerous inquiries. No one received harm. In the event that they picked up these guys, why not simply inform the reality about it?”

Ballinger, too, wish to know the reality about what occurred. “We’re wanting on the catastrophe and never at those that escaped catastrophe,” he mentioned.

Florida Bulldog filed a Freedom of Data request with the FBI final month in search of the discharge of its information about Flight 23.


Two weeks after the terrorist assaults, CNN reported that officers had mentioned that searches whereas all flights have been grounded turned up two small knives on a scheduled Delta flight out of Boston, and a box-cutter was discovered on an Atlanta-to-Brussels Delta flight. Justice Division spokesman Charles Miller confirmed to CNN that box-cutters have been discovered on some planes, however supplied no additional data.

“Investigators more and more consider that the weapons might have been prepositioned by accomplices to be used by others. As one U.S. official advised Time journal, “These appear to be inside jobs,” CNN reported.

Had been they? Once more, the FBI has remained silent all these years whilst doc releases ordered by President Biden have proven that a lot proof linking putative U.S. ally Saudi Arabia to 9/11 was suppressed.

Twenty years have handed, however the nation should stay vigilant, mentioned Mannello, whose son is a Delta pilot. He recounted a narrative about how, seven years after 9/11, flight attendants advised him about an incident involving Arab males sitting in firstclass that “appeared like a costume rehearsal. It taught me the lesson that there are those who wish to repeat the occasion or do one thing related.”

As with many others caught up in occasions 21 years in the past, Ballinger was deeply affected. That night time, he says, he drove via each crimson mild to get house as quick as he might. Again at work, he started to second-guess himself a lot he might not perform successfully.

“I used to be so upset that I assumed no airplane was protected. I grew to become ultra-conservative. I’d discover all types of issues and exaggerate them. I couldn’t decide,” Ballinger mentioned.

The report says Ballinger, a dispatcher since 1979, retired a month after 9/11 at 63. Not precisely. “I used to be advised to depart,” he mentioned.

Some who took to the skies for a dwelling have been “so frightened they stop,” mentioned Mannello. “The flight attendants on our flight have been so freaked out that they refused to fly again to LA, the place they have been based mostly. 4 or 5 of them rented a automotive and drove cross nation.”

Mannello received caught in an infinite site visitors jam on the Whitestone Expressway as he drove house on 9/11. “They’d closed the bridges. You’d look over and see the smoke coming from Manhattan and assume ‘what will we do?’”

“I simply rely my blessings that I didn’t take off that day like the opposite guys did,” mentioned Mannello. “Our coaching then was utterly improper. It was based mostly on the Stockholm impact to try to calm the state of affairs, make rapport and get safely on the bottom. However that required having to open the cockpit door to speak to them and on this case it will have been a demise sentence.”

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