On Jul. 31, two F-15s were scrambled from Barnes Air National Guard Base, when United Airlines Flight 956, a Boeing 767 with registration N654UA and 157 passengers on board, flying from Newark to Geneva, informed Boston Air Route Control Center that they had found a “suspicious package” on board and needed to divert to Boston Logan aiport.
Slam 31 and 32 (these were the radio callsigns of the fighter jets) were scrambled at approximately 00.39Z but shortly after take-off Slam 31 suffered an avionics system failure, resulting in him having to return to base and declare an In-Flight Emergency.
Since Slam 31 could not autonomously fly through the bad weather as it lacked any navigational assistance from the onboard systems, Slam 32 escorted the leader back to the base.
Although the two F-15s failed to intercept the jet liner, the Boeing 767 landed safely at Boston Logan airport at about 21.15 local time when it became clear that the “bomb scare” that had compelled the plane to return to the U.S. when it was just off the coast of Nova Scotia, was a digital camera stuffed in a seat back pocket whose owner could not be found.
Aaron Perry digged out of LiveATC archives the radio communications between Barnes ANGB Tower and SLAM 32 getting clearances for the scramble.
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Here’s the transcript of the radio comms:
SLAM 32: “Westfield Tower, SLAM 32, active air alert, scramble. Taxi and take-off, Runway 20. Singles then one to follow.
“Westfield Tower: “SLAM 31/32 roger, cleared to the TOI 085 at 232 miles, cleared for take-off, Runway 20, change departure frequencies, left turn 090, climb and maintain niner thousand.”
SLAM32: “SLAM 32, nine thousand, 090, cleared for take-off.”
Westfield Tower: “31 squawk 7574, 32 squawk 7575.”
SLAM 32: “SLAM 32, 7575.”
Westfield Tower: “31/32 departure end cable indicate (???)”
SLAM 32: “32 copies, departure end cable.”
Westfield Tower: “Slam 31/32 the wind is calm, the altimeter 29.93, you can switch departure frequency.”
[Read also: US Air Defense response to the September 11 attacks: known and unknown facts]