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Air Force jets tried to intercept hijacked planes

Sources said two F-16s tried to intercept the airliner that eventually struck the Pentagon.  

From Jamie McIntyre
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Pentagon sources tell CNN that at least four U.S. Air Force fighter jets scrambled to intercept the hijacked jetliners that hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Tuesday, but the planes arrived too late.

Pentagon officials say two armed F-15s took off at 8:52 a.m. EDT Tuesday from Otis Air National Guard Base in Falmouth, Massachusetts, about six minutes after American Airlines Flight 11 out of Boston crashed into the trade center's north tower.

The fighters raced toward New York but didn't arrive until after the second airliner crashed into the second tower -- the south tower.

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Air Force officials say there was no consideration of shooting down the civilian airliners -- in part because the fighter jets were never in a position to fire.

In the attack on the Pentagon, sources say two F-16s took off from Langley Air Force base in southeast Virginia at 9:35 a.m. EDT -- just two minutes before American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the military headquarters.

Sources said the FAA did not request any action in regard to United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania.

But on the PBS program, "Newshour with Jim Lehrer," Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said the Pentagon was tracking the airliner and could have brought it down if President Bush had decided that was appropriate.

"I think it was the heroism of the passengers on board that brought it down, but the Air Force was in a position to do so if we had to," Wolfowitz said.

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