NOTE: This pool report is being written at 2:14 p.m. ET at Barksdale Air Force Base, just outside of Shreveport, La. The print pool was bumped from Air Force One after the president's remarks here. AP is responsible for all future print pool reports until further notice.
The president left the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort about on time at 8:30 a.m. ET. The morning was partly cloudy and very humid; he ran earlier in the morning. During the drive, when the motorcade was about 6 blocks from Emma E. Booker Elementary School, a pool photographer overheard a radio transmission. The speaker said press secretary Ari Fleischer would be needed on arrival to discuss what were then reports of a "crash." The speaker on the radio also said that the president had a call waiting from national security adviser Condoleezza Rice in his holding room at the school.
The pool was brought into a classroom and learned as they entered that a single plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers. In the classroom, about 16 youngsters in Mrs. Sandra Kay Daniels' class were sitting in two rows of chairs facing their seated teacher. The president walked in, not noticeably late, and a school administrator instructed the class to greet the president. The president was not noticeably preoccupied; he seemed happy to see the children and was fairly relaxed. He introduced Education Secretary Rod Paige, shook hands with Mrs. Daniels, then he and the teacher sat down facing the second-grade students. Mrs. Daniels led the class in some reading exercises. While that was happening, at approximately 9:05 a.m. ET, chief of staff Andy Card entered the room and walked over to the president. Card leaned over and whispered in the president's right ear. The president's face became visibly tense and serious. He nodded. Card left and the president seemed distracted and somber, but he resumed his interaction with the class. When it was over, Bush said, "Really good. These must be sixth graders." He was smiling. The book the children were included the phrase "more to come." Bush looked at the class and asked, "What does that mean - 'more to come'?" As the pool was being led out of the room, someone asked the president about the events in New York. Bush said he would talk about it "later." We learned later that Dr. Rice had given Bush details of the first crash via phone before he came into the room for the pooled event; there were suggestions that he first heard about it in the motorcade to the school.
Meanwhile, in the room where Bush was scheduled to give his open remarks,
about 200 people, including local officials, school personnel and students,
waited under the hot lights. Word began to spread among the media that
a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Reporters called their
editors, details were sparse. Then someone from the school told us that
there was a TV in a nearby office. Reporters raced in to watch NBC footage
from New York. As they watched smoke billowing from the first tower to
As soon as the president finished speaking, the pool raced to the motorcade. On arrival at the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, all press (who had been swept at the school) were told to put down their equipment for a second sweep. Even some staff, including stenographers wearing White House hard pins, were ordered to drop their gear for a second sweep.
Air Force One made a hasty departure, moving down the runway at 9:54 a.m. ET; it was wheels' up at 9:55 a.m. ET. On board, the mood was tense. The TV monitors were tuned in to local news broadcasts. No one we asked - Gordon Johndroe, flight crew, Secret Service agents - knew where we were going. At first, Secret Service agents came back to the press cabin to watch with us the TV broadcasts. One noted that the New York field office of the Service, with some 200 agents, was in the World Trade Center. At that time, there was no visible military escort. At 10:26 a.m., TV reported a car bomb outside the State Department. At 10:28-29 a.m. ET, we watched live footage of the second World Trade Center tower collapsing. Everyone we saw was shaken and aghast. Stewards made no attempt to serve lunch. At 10:44 a.m. ET, TV reported that a plane had hit the Pentagon. We noted that the signal from the same TV station - Fox channel 47 from somewhere - remained strong for a long time, perhaps close to an hour. Based on that, we guessed that Air Force One might be flying in circles, or at least not moving very far. Within perhaps 20 minutes of takeoff, we suddenly veered west. Assuming that a direct flight from Sarasota to Barksdale Air Force Base would have taken us over the Gulf of Mexico, we can conclude that we flew east (to within sight of the Atlantic Ocean), then north, then west.
At 10:55 a.m. ET, we noted a marked increase in our elevation. A source, not White House personnel, told the pool at 11:14 a.m. ET that we were flying at around 40,000 feet. He also said that Air Force One had plenty of military escort, even though it was not visible then. He also said that we were flying west, that he had no knowledge of our destination and that we would not be landing soon.
Among people on board Air Force One: chief of staff Andy Card, senior adviser Karl Rove, communications director Dan Bartlett, education adviser Sandy Kress, press secretary Ari Fleischer, Rep. Dan Miller of Sarasota.
At 11:29 a.m. ET, pool noted a fighter jet (possibly an F-16,
but we can't be certain) flying off Air Force One's right wing. Then we
spotted another off the left wing. Soon after, a White House official
came back and spoke to the pool about what would happen next, emphasizing
the seriousness of the
Air Force One landed at Barksdale Air Force base at 11:45 a.m. ET (10:45 am CT). Seconds before we landed, we heard a CBS report saying casualties in New York were "in the thousands." Fighter jets hovered over both wings of Air Force One during its descent and until we were on the ground.
The perimeter of Air Force One was surrounded by Air Force personnel in full combat gear: green fatigues, flak jackets, helmets, drawn M-16s. As the pool stood under the left wing waiting for the president to disembark, one airman near us shouted to another who was standing under the tail, "Hey, Hey! Get to that wing tip. Move to that wing tip NOW!" The airman ran to his correct position under the right wing.
A dark blue Dodge Caravan (with a small, wing-shaped antenna protuding from its rear roof, probably some kind of communications antenna) pulled up next to the stairs of Air Force One. One Secret Service agent and two Air Force officers took positions at the bottom of the stairs. The Caravan was then pulled away, perhaps 40 feet back from Air Force One, and re-swept with dogs inside and outside the vehicle.
There was no gangway; the internal stairs on the lower portion of the
plane's fuselage were used. Rove, Bartlett and other staff scrambled off;
Fleischer approached the pool. In dead-serious tones, he said, "We
are in the process of maintaining the secure environment that the president
has been and will continue to travel in. During this flight, he was in
regular contact with the vice president, with members of the national
security council, with other officials in the Cabinet, taking all action
to protect the American people. You will see him disembark here shortly.
He will head inside and that's all I'm going to indicate at this moment.
You will have additional information shortly." Fleischer answered
several questions. Asked what the president's initial reaction to the
news was, he said, "The president initially heard about the first
plane that crashed into the World
Bush got off the plane, saluted one of the Air Force officers and got into the Dodge Caravan. Card walked around to the other side of the Dodge and got in with him. The media and some staff, including Rove and Bartlett, got into a small bus. The small motorcade, which included a green humvee with a gun turret, went first to the General Dougherty Conference Center. The president entered a building that was two stories tall; the exterior was painted cream with brown trim and a red-tile roof. The day was hot and cloudless, not as humid as Florida, with a slight breeze. Near the building was a crepe myrtle tree with vivid red blossoms. A car blocked the driveway, there were several armed airmen visible nearby and one fighter jet screamed overhead . The pool waited in the parking lot for about 10 minutes; then Bush and his staff came back out at 12:11 p.m. ET (11:11 a.m. CT). The small motorcade traveled to Building 245. A sign out front said it was "Headquarters - Eighth Air Force." As we arrived, a siren could be heard nearby. A sign on the glass window of the door, in large black type on an 8 1/2-by-11-inch piece of white paper, read "Def Con Delta." That is the highest possible state of military alert.
The president disappeared into a holding room; the pool went to the building's conference room, where his remarks were later delivered. Airmen were busy arranging three U.S. flags behind the dark wooden lectern behind which the president would speak. They removed from the wall a wooden plaque that read "8th Air Force Medal of Honor Hall of Fame." The 16 portraits of those honorees (which were sketched or drawn, not photographed) stayed on the wall; one was on the conference table when we arrived. Airmen then scrambled for a bit to add lighting to the dark room; they brought in a floor lamp and a desk lamp and plugged them in. They weren't used. Local Air Force personnel told us that local media outlets had reported that Air Force One had landed at Barksdale. White House staff then rescinded their instruction that we could not identify where we were; we had been told that we could say only that Bush was at "an unidentified location in the United States."
At 12:36 p.m. ET (11:36 a.m. CT, according to a red digital clock above the room's doorway), Bush entered, looking grim but purposeful. His eyes were red-rimmed. "Freedom itself was attacked this morning by a faceless coward," he began. The statement lasted for precisely 2 minutes and the president left the room without speaking to or acknowledging the pool.
After about 30 minutes, the pool was told to get back on a bus. We sat there for maybe 10 minutes, then assistant press secretary Gordon Johndroe boarded the bus. He said that he had five seats for the media on Air Force One. He said AP would serve as the sole member of the print pool. Your pool protested the decision, which Johndroe said had been made by Card. Johndroe said he didn't know where Air Force One would travel next.
The entire pool traveled in the motorcade back to Air Force One. Also jettisoned from the plane were: Rep. Miller, Kress, a handful of Secret Service agents and Logan Walters' stand-in as the president's personal assistant, Blake Gottesman.
Pool saw one fighter jet, which we assumed was an escort for Air Force One, take off. The front door of Air Force One closed at 1:25 p.m. ET (12:25 p.m. CT). It started to roll at 1:31 p.m. ET and was in the air, headed east the last time we saw it, at 1:38 p.m. ET.
This report was completed during a flight from Barksdale AFB to Andrews AFB aboard a 757 jet from the Air Force's special missions fleet. The exterior was painted with the familiar "United States of America" label and is configured with an office, private cabin and all-first class seats. It has been used as Air Force One during this administration. Your pool apologizes for the tardy distribution of this report, but there were no earlier opportunities to write or transmit it. When we left Louisiana, there was no staff in the White House to distribute this. We will attempt to distribute it to the White House media email list; if that fails, we'll ask AP to move the entire report.
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