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Airforce tries to explain mystery plane on 911 { September 12 2007 }

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Tropical Storm Humberto Heads For Texas; Democrats Blast Petraeus Timeline For Troop Withdrawal; Interview With General David Petraeus

Aired September 12, 2007 - 22:00 ET



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COOPER: A 9/11 mystery: What was flying above the White House that morning? Denials from the Pentagon, no mention from the 9/11 Commission. Now CNN pierces the silence and reveals an aircraft you might not even know exists -- secrets of the doomsday plane.

Later, the knockdown, drag-out dust-up between Fred Thompson and the Mitt Romney campaign. See what's got the two camps fighting like the Three Stooges -- "Raw Politics," only on 360.







JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Today, six years after 9/11, a mystery endures about just what happened in the skies over the White House that terrible day. A plane flew right over it, but why, and what was it? For conspiracy theorists, the image is a gold mine.

Go back to that morning. Suddenly, an orderly evacuation of the White House turned hectic. In New York, the Twin Towers had collapsed. There was word of an explosion at the Pentagon.

And then Secret Service warnings of another plane still on course for Washington. It appeared overhead just before 10 a.m., a four- engine jet banking slowly in the nation's most off-limits airspace. On the White House grounds and the rooftop, a nervous scramble.


KING: About ten minutes ago there was a white jet circling overhead. Now, you generally don't see planes in the area over the White House. That is restricted airspace. No reason to believe that this jet was there for any nefarious purposes, but the Secret Service was very concerned, pointing up at jet in the sky.


KING (voice-over): And still today, no one will offer an official explanation of what we saw.

Two government sources familiar with the incident tell CNN it was a military aircraft. They say the details are classified.

This comparison of the CNN video and an official Air Force photo suggests the mystery plane is among the military's most sensitive aircraft, an Air Force E-4B. Note the flag on the tail, the stripe around the fuselage, and the telltale bubble just behind the 747 cockpit area.

MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD (RET.), U.S. AIR FORCE: There are many commercial versions of the 747, obviously, that look similar, but I don't think any of them that have the communications pod like the E-4, the Air Force E-4 does behind the cockpit.

KING: The E-4b is a state of the art flying command post, built and equipped for one reason: to keep the government running no matter what, even in the event of a nuclear war, the reason it was nicknamed the doomsday plane during the Cold War.

SHEPPERD: They exercise this type of thing all of the time, and they simply don't talk about it. So it doesn't surprise me that they -- that they are very closed-mouthed about it.

KING: Ask the Pentagon, and it insists this is not a military aircraft, and there is no mention of it in the official report of the 9/11 Commission.

Commission co-chairman Lee Hamilton says he has a vague recollection of someone mentioning a mystery plane, but staffers who looked into it never raised it as a relevant issue.

LEE HAMILTON, CO-CHAIRMAN, 9/11 COMMISSION: When you're conducting a major investigation, you get thousands of things that come at you. You can't possibly sort through them all. This never rose to the level of a discussion within the commission.

KING: The sum: the lack of any official explanation feeds an ominous conspiracy.

This is from an online discussion about the plane on the web site "I have always thought these planes were exactly that, mission control for the 9/11 attack on our country."

The 9/11 Commissioner co-chairman Hamilton calls such talk ludicrous.

HAMILTON: We, of course, heard the conspiracy theories about the president ordered the attack and the Defense Department was involved. We saw absolutely no evidence of that.

KING: But six years later, the Pentagon, the Secret Service and the FAA all say they, at least for public consumption, have no explanation of the giant plane over the president's house just as the smoke began to rise across the river at the Pentagon.

John King, CNN, Washington.



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