Attempting to crash an aircraft into a building was not an entirely new
paradigm. Despite Secretary Rice stating, “I don't think anybody could have
predicted that they would try to use an airplane as a missile” (Brush, 2002, para.
24), there had been numerous prior attempts to utilize aircraft in this manner
(CNN, 2001). In addition, there had been a significant number of warnings
suicide hijackings posed a serious threat.
In 1972, hijackers of Southern Airways Flight 49 threatened to crash the
airliner into Oak Ridge National Laboratory if a $10 million ransom was not paid
(CNN, 2001). Copilot Johnson reported, “The demands at Knoxville were that if
we didn't have the money by 1:00 that we'd crash into the nuclear reactor there”
(CNN Transcripts, 2001, para. 151). The hijacked airliner was placed in a dive
toward Oak Ridge, and was only pulled out of the dive at the last minute when
Southern Airways agreed to pay $2 million to the hijackers (Allison, 2004).
In 1974, S. Byck attempted to hijack a Delta Airlines DC-9 aircraft to
crash it into the White House (Cohen, 2009). During the hijacking, Byck killed a
security guard and the copilot before committing suicide after being wounded by
police. Also in 1974, Private R. Preston stole an Army helicopter and flew over
the White House and hovered for six minutes over the lawn outside the West
Wing, raising concerns about a suicide attack (White House Security Review,
Following the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, Jenkins and
Edwards-Winslow (2003) conducted an exhaustive threat analysis for the World
Trade Center. They concluded that an aerial attack by crashing an aircraft into the
Center was a remote possibility which must be considered. Reports indicated Iran
was training pilots to hijack airplanes and fly them into buildings: “Trained
aircrews from among the terrorists would crash the airliner into a selected
objective” (Bodansky, 1993, p. 15). Senator S. Nunn was concerned terrorists
would attempt to crash a radio-controlled airplane into the Capitol during a State
of the Union address, possibly killing the President, Vice President, and all of
Congress (Nelan, 1995).
In 1994, four Algerian terrorists attempted to hijack Air France Flight
8969 (Air Safety Week, 1995). The group, identified as Phalange of the Signers
in Blood, killed one of the passengers, planted explosives on the plane, and
planned to crash the aircraft into the Eiffel Tower (Bazerman & Watkins, 2005).
French police stormed the aircraft and stopped the hijacking. R. Yousef, the
architect of the first World Trade Center attack, was associated with these
Algerian terrorists (Lance, 2003).
Another attempted airliner suicide hijacking occurred in 1994. Flight
Engineer A. Calloway boarded Federal Express Flight 705 as an additional jump
seat crewmember, intending to overpower the crew and crash the DC-10 aircraft
into the Federal Express corporate headquarters in Memphis (CVR Database,
1994). Calloway attacked the flight deck crew with a hammer, inflicting serious,
permanent disabling injuries to all three pilots (Wald, 2001).
On September 11, 1994, F. Corder attempted to crash an aircraft into the
White House (Wald, 2001). Experts had been concerned the White House was
highly vulnerable to an attack from the air (Duffy, 1994). Former CIA director R.
Helms expressed concern a suicidal pilot could easily divert from an approach to
Washington to crash into the White House (Duffy, 1994).
In 1995, FBI informant E. Salem revealed a Sudanese Air Force pilot’s
plot to bomb the Egyptian President’s home and then crash an aircraft into the
U.S. Embassy (Berger, 2004). Salem also testified about Project Bojinka, which,
in addition to the aforementioned bombing of 11 American aircraft, included
crashing an airplane into CIA headquarters. In addition to CIA headquarters, this
second Bojinka wave was planned to target the Pentagon, an unidentified nuclear
power plant, the Transamerica Building in San Francisco, the Sears Tower in
Chicago, the World Trade Center, John Hancock Tower in Boston, U.S. Congress,
and the White House (Brzenzinski, 2001).
McNeil (1996) noted in 1996, Ethiopian Airlines flight 961 was hijacked
and an attempt was made to crash into a resort in the Comoros Islands. At the last
moment, the pilot overpowered the hijacker and ditched the fuel-starved airplane
into the Indian Ocean near the coast. Of the 175 passengers, 123 died (AirSafe
Journal, 2001). Also in 1996, M. Udugov, a Chechen leader, threatened to hijack
a Russian airliner and crash it into the Kremlin (Cohen, 2002).
In 1998, White House Terrorism Chief R. Clarke conducted a training
exercise to simulate a Learjet intentionally crashing into a government building
(Kaplan, 2004). Clarke considered the exercise unsatisfactory (Kaplan, 2002). In
a 1998 briefing to the FAA, three terrorism experts were concerned terrorists
would hijack airliners and crash into buildings in the United States (Fainaru,
In 1998 the Kaplancilar terrorist organization had planned to crash an
explosives-laden plane into the tomb of M. Ataturk, Turkey’s founder (Anadolu
Agency, 2006). The entire Turkish government was gathered at the mausoleum
for a ceremony on the day scheduled for the attack. The plot was foiled and the
conspirators were arrested shortly before execution of the plan (Anadolu Agency,
In addition to actual aircraft suicide attacks, there were numerous
predictions of these types of attacks. One such prediction was the script which
showed an airliner crashing into New York in the 1980s movie Escape from New
York (“Kamikaze Jet Hijacking,” n.d.). Another prediction was in the March 2001
pilot episode of the Fox series The Lone Gunmen, featuring a hijacked Boeing 727
used as a missile to crash into the World Trade Center (Killtown, 2009).
In 1999, the British Secret Service MI6 provided the U.S. Embassy in
London with a secret report on al Qaeda activities (Rufford, 2002). The report
indicated al Qaeda was planning to use commercial aircraft to attack the United
States. The report stated the aircraft would be used in “unconventional ways”
(Rufford, 2006, para. 1).
In a report prepared for the Federal Research Division of the Library of
Congress, Hudson (1999) noted numerous terrorist threats, and specifically named
bin Laden and al Qaeda: “Suicide bomber(s) belonging to al-Qaida’s Martyrdom
Battalion could crash-land an aircraft packed with high explosives (C-4 and
semtex) into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency
(CIA), or the White House” (p. 7). A 1999 keynote address at the National
Defense University warned terrorists might attempt to use unmanned aerial
vehicles (UAVs) to attack buildings (Hoffman, 2001). Security consultant C.
Schnabolk had remarked, in 2000, the most serious threat to the World Trade
Center was someone flying a plane into it (Reeves, 2001).