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Event: John A. Thomas, Operations Manager of Indianapolis Air Traffic Control Center
Type of event: Interview
Date: Wednesday, September 24, 2003
Special Access Issues: none
Prepared by: Gate Taylor
Team Number: 8
Location: Indianapolis Air Traffic Control Center
Participants - Non-Commission: John A. Thomas, Operations Manager; Eileen
Participants - Commission: John Farmer, Dana Hyde, Gate Taylor

Thomas was hired at the Indianapolis Air Traffic Control Center on October 31, 1976 and
received all training here. He held a full time controller position from 1976 to 1985.
Since then, Thomas has held the positions of Staff Specialist, Area Supervisor, First Line
Supervisor, Assistant Traffic Manager, and Traffic Manager. For the past four years,
Thomas has been the Operations Manager at Indy. Thomas had never been involved in a
hijacking situation prior to 9/11.

Current duties:
As one of six Operations Managers at the Indi center, Thomas is responsible for
monitoring supervisors, air traffic controllers, resource management, traffic volume, and
weather conditions. Thomas also monitors aircraft positions, sectors and frequencies
periodically throughout the work day.

Thomas is the Operations Manager designated to have direct contact with the military on
a daily basis to coordinate with military aircraft in Indy's airspace. There was a Military
Operations Specialist (MOS) position at the Indi center to work directly with the military
but this position was phased out about five years ago. The FAA decided to terminate the
MOS since there was not enough work to fill a full time position. The responsibilities of
the MOS have now become part of the Operations Manager's job.

Procedures for a hijacking before 9/11 were to follow the SOP manual for the appropriate
contacts and notifications, supervise air traffic controllers, and react appropriately to the
phrase squawked by the pilots. All documents with procedures are kept on the computer
at the supervisor desk.

In the event of a hijack, Thomas would not have thought to call NORAD since his
impression of NORAD was to guard US borders. Thomas has a list of people to call in
the event of an emergency but does not know if NORAD is on this list.

Experience on 9/11:
On the morning of 9/11, at about 7:55am Central time, Thomas learned that the first
WTC tower had been hit from watching a news report on television with no volume. He
recalls telling Dave Boone that he thought it was a plane. Then, Thomas was informed
that AA77 had lost radar and voice communication and he assumed there was an
emergence situation, possibly a crash or electrical failure. Thomas does not recall who he
received information from or who he told information to.

Thomas gave the order to block airspace in front of AA77's predicted flight path and was
not told that AA77 had started to turn before communication was lost. He saw AA77's
coast track, hit the all primary button, and could not identify what could be AA77. Thus,
Thomas called Katherine and relayed to her that Indi had lost an aircraft. At this time, a
hijack situation was not a possibility in Thomas' mind.

Thomas instructed the traffic management coordinator to call Scott Air Force Base and
request search and rescue in the event that AA77 had crashed. Thomas heard rumors of a
crash somewhere around the West Virginia and Kentucky state line, so he also called the
state and local police for both states to ask about any accidents reported. There was some
confusion in communicating with the police, as rumors of a crash turned into reports of a

Thomas began to question the idea of a plane crash is the West Virginia/Kentucky area
when he learned about a plane hitting the Pentagon. About thirty minutes after the
Pentagon crash, John Thomas and Dave Boone had agreed that there was no local plane

Thomas called the Chicago Center after seeing the World Trade Center being hit because
he speculated that the hijackers were targeting tall buildings and he was concerned about
the Sears Tower.

During the morning, Thomas had talked to the ROC to inform them about AA77, but
does not remember who he talked to or what he said. According to Thomas, the function
of the ROC is to be a communication center where phone numbers and contact
information is kept.

The decision to ground all flights came from the command center. Thomas had the Air
Traffic Controllers implement it by getting all air traffic grounded to the nearest airport
safely. The closest practical airport was considered for larger companies while small
aircraft were landed at the closest possible place. Thomas had never before had to ground
planes on this scale.

Thomas had witnessed the loss of transponder and radar in the past in areas of rough
terrain. He also noted that it is not too unusual for an aircraft to loose radar and voice
communication due to electrical failure. Area 3 is known to have weak transmissions in
low altitudes. The loss of an aircraft in high altitude has not been a problem in Area 3.

Following the morning of 9/11, Thomas remembers FAA staff from headquarters coming
to Indi to put together statements and a time line of the incident. Dave Boone was
referred to the commission members to answer questions about after action statements
and reports.

Other talking points of interview:

Thomas was aware of the potential for a hijack but had never considered a suicide aircraft
hijacking situation. He had been part of SCATANA table top exercises with the military.
His function in these exercises was to make a phone call; no other equipment was used.

Since 9/11, Thomas can see that the FAA has more communication options and is better
prepared for an emergency situation. Air Traffic Controllers are now more aware of
suspicious activity.

As for the five minute rule instituted by the FAA, Thomas believes that this will
overwhelm the DEN with situations that are not emergencies. However, Thomas does see
the plus side of the rule.
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