Last night, while bartending and chatting in the Smoky Drinky Bar, I began to piece together a new explanation for 9/11.
There are broadly two accounts of 9/11. The first one is that 3 or 4 jets were hijacked by a band of terrorists led by Mohammed Atta, and two of them were flown into the twin towers in NYC, and one into the Pentagon in Washington DC, while the fourth crashed harmlessly far from any city or large building. This is the official story, and it also happens to be the one that I’ve tended to believe, despite a number of implausibilities (like the fact that they barely had any pilot training).
The second story is the conspiracy theory that 9/11 was a “Deep State” black operation to produce an incident that was shocking enough to provoke a war, and perhaps even a series of wars. There seem to be innumerable variants of this theory, which include the twin towers being subjected to controlled demolition, a missile hitting the Pentagon, and various other ad hoc elements. A great many people seem to believe one variant or other this second story, which I personally find to be even more implausible than the first one (e.g. if it was a controlled demolition wouldn’t a few people have noticed the charges strapped to the columns, and the wires running between them? ).
I’ d now like to set out a third possible explanation of 9/11, which involves neither any shadowy terrorist organisation nor any even more shadowy “Deep State”. It came into focus last night when Cade Apollyon remarked that he used to have not only a copy of Flight Simulator 1.0, but also an air traffic control game, which he had used to direct imaginary planes into each others’ paths rather than away from them.
I’d never heard of an air traffic control game, but Cade’s explanation for it was that it had been developed as a true air traffic control system, and then marketed as a game when the project fell through. But while I hadn’t heard of any air traffic control game, I had actually played Flight Simulator 2 a number of times.
FS2 was really a pilot training aide, which allowed pilots to learn to fly planes, taking off, navigating from place to place, and landing, all in very realistic ways. But it was also marketed as a game, and one that I personally found rather boring, because apart from repeatedly taking off and landing, there was little else to do. So when I played it, I used to add spice by flying as close as I could to the large buildings that dotted US cities. Here, for example, is New York City, as seen in FS2:
At the bottom of the screen are the pilot’s various instruments, showing speed, altitude, attitude, and so on. In the top of the screen there is the view of NYC below, with the Empire State building in the foreground, and, yes, the twin towers of the World Trade Center in the background.
If I had been flying this plane, I would have been aiming to skim past the Empire State Building, and then pass between the twin towers in the distance, and over the Statue of Liberty out in the bay beyond. (see map right) I would have passed within a few feet of them all. And if Cade Apollyon had been playing FS2, he would have probably been doing the same thing, and as an air traffic controller he would have been directing aircraft towards NYC for the same purpose.
There are two distinct groups of people who use flight and air traffic control simulators. One group is made up of professional pilots and air traffic controllers who are trying to carry real passengers from one destination to another without any mishap. The other group of people are gamers who are trying to have as much fun as possible by flying imaginary planes as near to each other and any building in sight as they can. The two groups have opposite goals. One group is trying to minimize danger, and the other is trying to maximize it. And both groups are using the same software, but on different computers. And sometimes they swap places.
So my third explanation of 9/11 is that danger-maximizing gamers took control of US airspace away from both danger-minimizing professional pilots and air traffic controllers for a period of a few hours on 11 September 2001 (9/11). And for this short period of time that the gamers were in control of the real world, they caused utter havoc. And during that time, most likely neither the gamers nor the professionals were aware of what had happened. American Airlines Flight 11 wasn’t flown into the North Tower by an untrained Al Qaeda terrorist, or by a highly-trained Deep State pilot: it was flown by a 10-year-old boy running FS2 on his Xbox. The 10-year-old also happened to be one of the very best pilots in the USA, and that morning he had already flown between (or through) the twin towers about 13 times before heading off to grade school. He didn’t know that on the 14th occasion, he’d been passed hands-on remote control of a real jet rather than an imaginary one. And he flew it in along more or less the exact route in the map above.
No doubt there are many implausibilities to this third explanation. But one of its singular merits, in my view, is that there are no Bad Guys. There is no band of box-cutter-wielding terrorists, nor callous, calculating Deep State operatives in remote bunkers. There was no conspiracy at all. There were just a few kids playing FS2 and air traffic control the way they always did. And when, later that day, they learned that planes had really been flown into the twin towers at the exact same time they’d been doing the exact same thing, they couldn’t believe that they could have been the pilots. They probably still don’t believe it to this day.
But what about this, you ask:
Atta, an al-Qaeda member and licensed commercial pilot, took over the controls. Air-traffic controllers noticed the flight was in distress when the crew was no longer responding. They realized the flight had been hijacked when Mohamed Atta’s announcements for passengers were transmitted to air traffic control. On board, flight attendants Amy Sweeney and Betty Ong contacted American Airlines, and provided information about the hijackers and injuries to passengers and crew.
Pure invention. Cobbled together after the fact from garbled radio messages to support the terrorist hijacking meme which rapidly became the dominant explanation. The planes had been hijacked, but not by terrorists: Mohammed Atta was probably sitting quietly reading Planet of the Dreamers throughout Flight 11.
Perhaps some people in pilot and air traffic control circles knew that it was possible to remotely take control of aircraft, but didn’t know how to do it. It had to be terrorists, didn’t it, they told themselves. Just like a bunch of 10-year-old kids were telling each other that it couldn’t possibly have been us, could it.
Anyway, while I’m the bartender for the 7 pm BST slot, Emily is going to try to do the same on a 7 pm EST slot.
Perhaps she’ll soon have a few of her own bartender’s tales to tell.