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PITTSBURGH (AP) — A former American Airlines operations manager who learned of the first Sept. 11 hijacking before the jet struck the World Trade Center pleaded not guilty on Monday to a federal interstate child-sex charge.

Ray Wickliffe Howland waived his appearance before a federal magistrate and pleaded not guilty through his attorney.

Howland was arrested near Pittsburgh International Airport in June by an undercover state attorney general’s agent who posed as a woman with a 10-year-old daughter. Howland, of Arlington, Texas, used an iPad and a cellphone to send explicit messages after posting online that he was “looking for a family or a couple of girls” for sex while in town on business, authorities said.

Federal authorities took over the case.

Howland, 55, faces 10 years to life in prison if he’s convicted of the federal charge, attempted coercion and enticement of a minor to engage in illegal sexual activity. State charges including attempted rape of a child have been withdrawn in lieu of the federal case.

Defense attorney Frank Walker II said Howland, who has a wife and two grown children, was “in treatment and focused on his family at this time.”

Walker said Howland is “presumed innocent” and won’t decide whether to fight the charges until after evidence gathered by federal prosecutors is reviewed.

Howland received some of the first panicked calls from employees at Logan International Airport in Boston reporting the hijacking of American Airlines Flight 11 on Sept. 11, 2001. The plane was the first of two that crashed into New York’s World Trade Center towers.

Howland was a supervisor at American’s system operations control center. Transcripts show he told other American employees not to disclose the hijacking minutes before the plane hit the World Trade Center.

American Airlines, based in Fort Worth, Texas, said Monday that Howland is no longer an employee.

Howland remains free pending trial but is confined to a residence in Atlanta by an electronic ankle bracelet.


This story has been corrected to show the former manager’s surname is Howland, not Howard, and his lawyer’s surname is Walker, not Walked.