By Jim Garamone
WASHINGTON, Oct. 12, 2006 – When Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating first heard that a plane had hit a high-rise building in New York yesterday, his first thought was: "Let us get busy as quickly as we know how to make sure it's not another 9-11," the admiral said in a news conference later that day. Keating, the commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command, immediately scrambled fighters and support aircraft to protect U.S. and Canadian cities. He said combat-loaded aircraft were over New York and Washington within 10 minutes of the small plane hitting the building in New York.
A small aircraft owned and piloted by Yankee pitcher Cory Lidle took off from Teterboro Airport in New Jersey and was flying around the island of Manhattan. Keating said the pilot probably got disoriented and crashed into a 50-story high-rise on New York's East Side.
Keating, who was in his office at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., at the time, received notification and immediately launched jets from a number of bases around the United States and Canada. He said that within 20 minutes of the plane hitting the building all the aircraft were on station. "These are armed aircraft capable of conducting offensive operations," Keating said. "We're much more alert, much more ready and much more capable of providing air patrols over the United States and Canada" than in the past.
As NORAD commander, Keating has the authority to launch fighters from alert status. He then notifies the chain of command in the United States and Canada. He said the aircraft patrolled over cities on the east and west coasts, but did not announce more specific details for security reasons. In addition to fighter aircraft, NORAD launched Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft and tankers.
Shortly after the combat air patrol launched, Keating said, he received notification via the Federal Aviation Administration on where the airplane came from and its type. The operation ended after about five hours, he said.
Keating said he was pleased by the way the interagency process worked and the ease of communications among the various organizations. He said the bottom line for NORAD is: "We're ready. In a real world event, the system responded quickly and appropriately."