Who Is Major Don Arias?

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(8:38 a.m.-8:52 a.m.) September 11, 2001: NEADS Calls NORAD Public Affairs Officer
Lt. Col. Dawne Deskins of NEADS twice calls Major Don Arias, the 1st Air Force and Continental United States NORAD Region public affairs officer, who is at the 1st Air Force public affairs office at Tyndall Air Force, Florida. She first calls him after NEADS is informed of the hijacking of Flight 11 (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). She says that NEADS has “a hijacked plane—no, not the simulation—likely heading for JFK [International Airport in New York City].” [Newhouse News Service, 1/25/2002] The “simulation” refers to a NORAD air defense exercise, presumably Vigilant Guardian, that Arias is involved in. Deskins informs him that fighters are going to be launched after the aircraft. Arias then starts working on a public statement about the incident, but soon after sees the smoking WTC tower on CNN. He says that he thinks, “Wow, I bet that’s the hijacked plane.” [Florida State Times, 11/2001; Airman, 9/2002; Filson, 2004, pp. 122] Minutes after the crash, Deskins calls Arias again and tells him, “We think the aircraft that just hit the World Trade Center was American Airlines Flight 11.” According to Deskins, Arias responds, “Oh, God. My brother works in the World Trade Center.” [Newhouse News Service, 1/25/2002; ABC News, 9/11/2002; Bamford, 2004, pp. 13-14] Arias will quickly contact his brother (see (8:53 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

(8:53 a.m.) September 11, 2001: NORAD Public Affairs Officer Calls Brother in WTC; Possibly Warns Him of Second Hijacked Plane
Major Don Arias, the public affairs officer for NORAD, has just learned of the first WTC crash from television and a phone call from NEADS (see (8:38 a.m.-8:52 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Alarmed because his younger brother works at the WTC, he calls him immediately. Adam Arias works for an investment company on the 84th floor of the South Tower. According to some accounts, Don Arias tells his brother that the aircraft that crashed into the North Tower was likely a hijacked plane that he has been informed of, and orders him to “Get out of there. Go home.” [Florida State Times, 11/2001; Newhouse News Service, 1/25/2002; Airman, 9/2002] But according to Newsday, Don Arias tells his brother he has heard there is “another hijacked airliner and might be another attack.” [Newsday, 10/30/2001] This would be consistent with an early NORAD timeline, which had the agency receiving notification of the second hijacking at 8:43 a.m. (see 8:43 a.m. September 11, 2001). However, later accounts, including the 9/11 Commission Report, will claim NORAD only hears of it around the time the plane hits the South Tower (see (9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Adam Arias reacts to his brother’s call with urgency, going around the floor exhorting people to leave, and physically throwing one woman out of her office. Several survivors will later credit him with saving their lives. [Newhouse News Service, 1/25/2002; Airman, 9/2002; Filson, 2004, pp. 124] Adam Arias will be killed when the South Tower collapses. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 9/9/2003]