ERROR: ‘The Phone Calls were Fake’

source: 9/11 Blogger    Nov 11, 2011

[The most recent ‘Error’ page in a series which documents errors in the 9/11 literature. One of the goals of is to highlight these errors and improve the quality of analysis in the community of skeptics.]

ERROR: ‘The Phone Calls were Fake’

The idea that phone calls from passengers on the targeted flights were fake and actually created with voice-morphing technology has been promoted by several “no Boeing” advocates and in particular detail by author David Ray Griffin in his numerous books, talks, interviews, and essays.

The case for the ‘fake phone calls theory’ as articulated by Griffin has become ever more nuanced and complex as government and airline disclosures have undermined the simplicity of the original set of claims surrounding the calls, and other researchers have pointed out flaws in that case. However, the theory remains rooted in the premise, seemingly calculated to be offensive attack survivors, that the last voices heard from victims on the planes were faked.


The original form of the fake phone calls theory as promoted by A.K. Dewdney in his 2002 article Ghostriders in the Sky focused on Flight 93, from which passengers reportedly made a score of cell phone calls. It had two major tenets:

1. Cell phones in aircraft at altitude can’t communicate with ground stations, where most of the reported calls would have been at altitude.
2. Statements reportedly made by passengers had peculiarities suggesting that they weren’t genuine.

Dewdney, Mathematical Recreations columnist for Scientific American from 1984 to 1993, gave these arguments a veneer of credibility with his vivid style of writing, and publication of experiments showing limitations of cell phone reception from a light plane in Canada. However, rational examination of both tenets show that they are based on multiple fallacies, foremost being the presentation of a theory as the only explanation for alleged anomalies that in fact have many possible explanations.

For years, “no Boeing” advocates such as A.K. Dewdney, Eric Hufschmid, David Griffin, Jim Fetzer, and the Loose Change filmmakers have used victim Mark Bingham as poster child for the fake calls claims by highlighting his use of his full name in addressing his mother. During his one call from Flight 93 to his mother, Bingham reportedly says “Hi Mom, this is Mark Bingham”. Frequently overlooked in these accounts are the facts that Mark Bingham’s mother has a different last name, that she herself relayed the excerpt, and that she has no doubt that the caller was her son. Furthermore, adducing as evidence of fakery perceived anomalies in the reported behavior of people in highly stressful life-threatening circumstances is unscientific at best.

The first tenet appeals to a claim that a key element of the official story was physically impossible. However, even after years of debate, the parameters of cell phone function on the 9/11/2001 flights remain unclear, Dewdney’s experiment in Canada notwithstanding.

But even supposing that cell phone calls from cruising altitude were impossible that day, and that there was no other way for the calls to have been legitimate — such as their having been from airphones rather than cell phones — there is a logical fallacy in the first tenet that is exposed by a simple thought experiment.

Continued here.

5 Responses to ERROR: ‘The Phone Calls were Fake’

  1. Fred W says:

    The “simple thought experiment”, presented in the link, supposedly a rebuttal to the “cell phones didn’t work at high altitude” argument, starts with:

    A self-powered cell phone repeater the size of a shoe box is placed on board Flight 93 within a piece of luggage.”

    I couldn’t make sense of this or the rest of the “simple thought experiment”. Can anyone explain it to me?

  2. Brian says:


    Hey there! Typically I don’t like to use Wikipedia, but for this example I think it will do. Here is what Wikipedia says about “cell phone repeaters”:

    A cellular repeater, cell phone repeater, or wireless cellular signal booster, a type of bi-directional amplifier (BDA) as commonly named in the wireless telecommunications industry, is a device used for boosting the cell phone reception to the local area by the usage of a reception antenna, a signal amplifier and an internal rebroadcast antenna

    Essentially the essay is saying there are ways that the calls could have been completed via cell phones, this being one of them.

  3. Fred W says:

    Hi, Brian –

    Thanks for the explanation. But who would have had the motive for providing such a device? The “hijackers”? The airline? The government?

    I actually understood the concept, but it seems so unlikely that anyone would have provided such a transmitter. Thus the article is really conceding that what Griffin and Dewdney said, that “Cell phones in aircraft at altitude can’t communicate with ground stations, where most of the reported calls would have been at altitude,” is true, unless some kind of specialized transmitter was put on the plane, for reasons unexplained.

    The part about the voice morphing is another story; but I don’t think the article did much to disprove what Dewdney said about whether cell phones would have worked. And it’s just as much a “logical fallacy” to say that using voice morphing to fool the relatives of the crash victims is impossible. Who could say for certain?

    Hey, nice going with the interviews on Milo’s show on KGVV-LP!

    – Fred

    • Brian says:


      I generally assume that the calls were legit.

      Only a couple of calls are said to have come from cell-phones anyway, most originating from on-board airfones (officially), Tom Burnett is one of those two. Those calls did not last too long, nothing more than 1-2 minutes. Tom Burnett was also one that booked his flight very ner to 9/11: See below regarding voice-morphing.

      The calls like Betty Ong’s on flight 11 which lasted for 23 minutes came from airfones.

      Reviewing the alleged passenger phone calls is quite an interesing read, sad as it is.

      The people on the ground who recieved calls verified their authenticity: Especially Mark Bingham’s mother, who has a different last name and says it was common for him to identify with her with his full name.

      Voice morphing could not have been employed for more than one reason, but here is one:

      Of the 33 passengers (excluding the four hijackers) who are on board Flight 93 on September 11, at least 16 are not originally booked on this flight, but arrange to be on it very shortly before 9/11, or—in some cases—on the morning of 9/11 itself: Todd Beamer, Mark Bingham, Jeremy Glick, Tom Burnett etc.

      Voice morphing technology could not have rendered their vocal characteristics or tones, let alone cohesive wording in general, without a good deal of preperation (More than allowed in a 24 hour period with little voice recordings to work with).

      As far as the “cell phone repeaters”, this is only one possibility for enabling the use of cell phones on the planes if indeed some were used. (It could be that more than 2 people used airfones, but because of lack of hard-evidence, the 9/11 Commission and other bodies have stated them to have come from airfones)

      If repeaters were used, it would have been most likely used by the main perpetraitors of 9/11, and I don’t mean the hijackers. The use of the repeaters allows people on the plane to communicate the scenario to the ground, adding more wait to the “crazy terrorist hijacker” story. The cell phone (with repeater) calls could presumably be cancelled by switching off the repeater if too much info got out for some reason…This is simply a possibility, and not a probablity.

      The link to review all the calls is provided above, because there are plenty of interesting things regarding the calls. But again it is not evidence like the evidence of WTC 7, Richard Blee or the stand-down command of Bush and Rumsfeld.

  4. Fred W says:

    Thanks, Brian. You make a good case. The stories in the History Commons link are really interesting, and I haven’t read all of them yet.

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