Air Traffic Controller Talks About Korean Airliner Incident on 9-11

A decade after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, APRN has uncovered new information regarding the events that caused a Korean 747 en route to New York and scheduled to stop in Anchorage for fuel, to be diverted from Anchorage to Whitehorse Canada. NORAD – the North American Aerospace Defense Command, which is a joint Alaskan/Canadian military partnership had control of the airways and had requested that Canada allow international flights to be diverted to their airports. As in so many things that day, there was confusion, anxiety and some fear that the Korean jet may have hijackers on board. The plane began squawking 7500 – a code meaning it had been hijacked. The military says it was a miscommunication between the pilot and air traffic control. But the air traffic controller who dealt with the plane as it approached Anchorage says it was a direct command to the pilot. Retired Air Traffic controller Rick Wilder says he is still haunted by the incident because so many lives were at stake. He says when he first received the order to tell the pilot to squawk 7500 he refused.

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Lori Townsend is the News Director for the Alaska Public Radio Network. She got her start in broadcasting at the age of 11 as the park announcer of the fast pitch baseball games in Deer Park, Wisconsin. She has worked in print and broadcast journalism for more than 18 years. She was the co-founder and former Editor of Northern Aspects, a magazine featuring northern Wisconsin writers and artists. She worked for 7 years at tribal station WOJB on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibway Reservation in Wisconsin, first as an on-air programmer and special projects producer and eventually News Director. In 1997 she co-hosted a continuing Saturday afternoon public affairs talk program on station KSTP in St. Paul, Minnesota. Radio brought her to Alaska where she worked as a broadcast trainer for Native fellowship students at Koahnic Broadcasting. Following her work there, she helped co-found the non-profit broadcast company Native Voice Communications with veteran Alaskan broadcasters Nellie Moore, D’Anne Hamilton, Len Anderson, Sharon McConnell and Veronica Iya. NVC created the award-winning Independent Native News as well as producing many other documentaries and productions. Townsend was NVC’s technical trainer and assistant producer of INN. Through her freelance work, she has produced news and feature stories nationally and internationally for Independent Native News, National Native News, NPR , Pacifica, Monitor Radio, Radio Netherlands and AIROS. Her print work and interviews have been published in News from Indian Country, Yakama Nation Review and other publications. Ms. Townsend has also worked as a broadcast trainer for the Native American Journalist’s Association and with NPR’s Doug Mitchell and as a freelance editor. Townsend is the recipient of numerous awards for her work from the Alaska Press Club, the Native American Journalists Association and a gold and a silver reel award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Townsend was the recipient of a Fellowship at the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting in Rhode Island as well as a fellowship at the Knight Digital Media Center in Berkeley. She is an avid reader, a rabid gardener and counts water skiing, training horses, diving and a welding certification among her past and current interests. ltownsend (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8452 | About Lori