Second Controller Speaks About Korean Airliner Incident on 9/11

Another Air Traffic controller who says he worked with Korean flight 085 that was diverted to Whitehorse on Sept. 11, 2001 has come forward with additional details of the day’s events. APRN reported Friday that retired Air Traffic Controller Rick Wilder says the pilot was ordered to squawk that he had hijackers on board.

Dave Connett worked as an Air Traffic Controller in Anchorage for 15 years and was also in the tower and worked the flight that was suspected of being hijacked that day. Connett contends he was the one that first ordered the pilot to squawk the 7500 hijack code. Connett says it was because of a message the pilot had sent to his own company Korean Airlines.

“He as I understood it, Sent a company message, saying he was hijacked and that got to us so we were expecting a hijacked aircraft when we finally did greet or identify him and talk to him.” Connett said.

Connett says he asked the pilot to verify squawking 7500 and he says the pilot said disregard. Then Connett’s area manager told him to squawk the hijack code. Connett says he gave the order and the pilot did not argue, he complied.

“So at that point, we figured well he must be getting hijacked. I was given instructions that he could not go to Anchorage. So I tried to turn him away from Anchorage and he was very resistant. It took several transmissions to convince him that he could not and he was not going to go to Anchorage.” Connett said.

Connett says he’s also a pilot and had never before given such a command. He says the order to tell the plane to squawk 7500 – meaning it had been hijacked – surprised him. But he looked later and it was in the FAA manual. He says when those regulations were written, it was presumed that a hijacker would be someone bursting into a cockpit with a weapon. Connett says.

“And one of those would be, a scenario that if a hijacker is standing in the cockpit and he’s telling a pilot what to do, and the controller tells him to do something, like squawk 7500, the hijacker normally wouldn’t know what that means. So if the pilot did it it would confirm that he is being hijacked. But if he wasn’t being hijacked it is incumbent upon the pilot to say, to know the code and to say, no I’m not being hijacked.”

The pilot’s lack of protest about the code added to the suspicion that the Korean jet had been hijacked. This confusion is what then NORAD commander, now Air Force General Norton Schwartz outlined when he spoke to reporters in the days after the event. Schwartz said that if controllers asked pilots to confirm if they were squawking that code, the correct response would be negative, negative, I am not that code. General Scwartz continued.

“Apparently what occurred was that the crew either misconstrued what was said or perhaps what was said wasn’t exactly, you know, according to the text book and they understood that they should squawk that code.”

Dave Connett says he wanted to clarify some of the day’s events and affirm that the jet had been sent to Whitehorse because of concerns it was in fact a hijacked plane and it was determined that sending it to Whitehorse endangered less lives than Anchorage.

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Lori Townsend is the News Director for Alaska Public Media. She has worked in print and broadcast journalism for nearly 30 years. Radio brought her to Alaska, where she worked as a broadcast trainer for Native fellowship students at Koahnic Broadcasting before accepting a reporting/host position with APRN in 2003. APRN merged with Alaska Public Media a year later. 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. 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. 

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