The Portugal News
October 10, 2002
The exclusive story published by The News (August 3) regarding an independent inquiry into the September 11, attack on the World Trade Centre, has generated a great deal of speculation, anger and interest amongst our readers.
The inquiry team of American Air Force and civilian airline pilots concluded in a published report, that the four airliners involved in the tragedy must have had their flight control systems taken over by an outside agent.
In an interview with The News, Captain Colin McHattie, a pilot with over 20 years experience, and who between flights resides with his family at their home in the Algarve, gave his personal opinion on the inquirys findings.
Captain McHattie, who flies for Cathay Pacific Airlines, said that it was very unlikely that the pilots concerned were in fact in control of their aircraft. He agreed with the reports comments that even if the flight crews had guns held to their heads, there was no way they would have deliberately flown directly into the Twin Towers. Human nature takes over, and in any case, even if you knew you were going to die, you would ditch the aircraft as far away as possible from residential or commercial districts.
According to Captain McHattie, the Airborne Warning And Control System (AWACS) mentioned in the report, would only be capable of tracking the flight paths of the aircraft. If a Global Hawk System (GHS), described in the report, had been functional in each of the airliners, then it was beyond question that control of the aircraft could have been taken away from the flight crews. However, due to the complicated procedures involved in the installation of GHS, he doubted whether the system was in use on September 11, A view not shared by the independent inquiry team.
He pointed out how the majority of American fighter aircraft now operating in Afghanistan are fitted with a GHS. These are crewless robotic fighter aircraft he said, controlled by an outside agent who could be based anywhere in the world. Ground control crews situated in California or London are quite capable of controlling every function of such aircraft, from take off, through to bombing raids and landing. The next generation of fighter aircraft will be fully equipped with this system.
This was a view supported by a New York Times report (July 21) commenting on the civilian death rate amongst Afghans due to errors by the American Air Force. The report stated: the American air campaign in Afghanistan, based on high-tech, out-of-harms-way strategy, has produced a pattern of mistakes that have killed hundreds of Afghan civilians.
Captain McHattie also commented on the failure of the hijacked pilots to punch a four-digit alarm code into the airliners transponder units. This would have immediately warned ground control of any hijacking.
He confirmed that in the highly unlikely event that the hijackers would have been capable of shutting down the transponders, there was in fact another simple procedure by which the crews could have warned ground control - a procedure he chose not to elaborate on. The absence of any distress calls from the airliners was indeed puzzling.
Fortunately, the closest he had come to a hijacking was when he had to leave his flight deck and personally handcuff a drug-crazed passenger whilst flying over France. After diverting to a French airfield he handed the villain over to the police authorities. He said that whereas in the past pilots would fly to whatever airport they were directed to by hijack gangs, safe in the knowledge there was a 99 percent chance of both the crew and passengers walking away safely, September 11, had changed all that.
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