Pentagon 9/11 is the 13th episode of Seconds from Disaster, explaining what happened at the Pentagon on September 11th 2001 while the World Trade Center burnt in fire.
As the World Trade Center in New York City burns after being hit by two hijacked aircrafts (American Airlines Flight 11 & United Airlines Flight 175), American Airlines Flight 77, another hijacked aircraft, is deliberately flown into the Pentagon in Washington D.C., killing all 64 people in the airplane and 125 on the ground.
How it all happenedEdit
Boarding and departureEditOn the morning of September 11, 2001, the five hijackers arrived at Washington, D.C.'s Dulles International Airport. At 07:15, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Majed Moqed checked in at the American Airlines ticket counter for hand wand. The Hazmi brothers checked in together at the ticket counter at 07:29. Hani Hanjour checked in separately and arrived at the passenger security checkpoint at 07:35. Hanjour was followed minutes later at the checkpoint by Salem and Nawaf al-Hazmi, who also set off the metal detector's alarm. The screener at the checkpoint never resolved what set off the alarm. As seen in security footage later released, Nawaf Hazmi appeared to have an unidentified item in his back pocket, but four-inch utility knives were nonetheless then permitted by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as carry-on items. The passenger security checkpoint at Dulles International Airport was operated by Argenbright Security, under contract with United Airlines.
The hijackers were also all selected for extra screening of their checked bags. Hani Hanjour, Khalid al-Mihdhar, and Majed Moqed were chosen by the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System criteria, while Nawaf al-Hazmi and Salem al-Hazmi were selected because they did not provide adequate identification and were deemed suspicious by the airline check-in agent. Hanjour, Mihdhar, and Nawaf al-Hazmi did not check any bags for the flight. Checked bags belonging to Moqed and Salem al-Hazmi were held until they boarded the aircraft. By 07:50, the five hijackers, carrying knives and box cutters, had made it through the airport security checkpoint.
Flight 77 was scheduled to depart for Los Angeles at 08:10; 58 passengers boarded through Gate D26, including the five hijackers. Excluding the hijackers, of the 59 other passengers and crew on board, there were 26 men, 22 women, and five children ranging in age from three to eleven. On the flight, Hani Hanjour was seated up front in 1B, while Salem and Nawaf al-Hazmi were seated in first class in seats 5E and 5F. Majed Moqed and Khalid al-Mihdhar were seated further back in 12A and 12B, in economy class. Flight 77 departed on time and took off from Runway 30 at Dulles at 8:20 am.
The 9/11 Commission estimated that the flight was hijacked between 08:51 and 08:54, just minutes after American Airlines Flight 11 had struck the World Trade Center in Manhattan at 08:46. The last normal radio communications from the aircraft to air traffic control occurred at 08:50:51. At 08:54, American Airlines Flight 77 began to deviate from its normal, assigned flight path and turned south. The hijackers set the flight's autopilot heading for Washington, D.C. By 08:56, the flight was turned around, and the transponder had been disabled. The FAA was aware at this point that there was an emergency on board the airplane. By this time, one aircraft had already crashed into the World Trade Center, and United Airlines Flight 175 was known to have been hijacked and was within minutes of also striking the World Trade Center. After learning of this second hijacking involving an American Airlines aircraft and the hijacking involving United Airlines, American Airlines' Executive Vice President Gerard Arpey ordered a nationwide ground stop for the airline. The Indianapolis Air Traffic Control Center, as well as American Airlines dispatchers, made several failed attempts to contact the aircraft. At the time the airplane was hijacked, it was flying over an area of limited radar coverage. With air controllers unable to contact the flight by radio, an Indianapolis official declared that the Boeing 757 had possibly crashed at 09:09.
Two people on the aircraft made phone calls to contacts on the ground. At 09:12, flight attendant Renee May called her mother, Nancy May, in Las Vegas. During the call, which lasted nearly two minutes, May said her flight was being hijacked by six individuals and they had been moved to the rear of the airplane. May also asked her mother to contact American Airlines, which she and her husband promptly did; American Airlines was already aware of the hijacking. Between 09:16 and 09:26, passenger Barbara Olson called her husband, United States Solicitor General Theodore Olson and reported that the airplane had been hijacked and that the assailants had box cutters and knives. She reported that the passengers, and possibly the crew, had been moved to the back of the cabin and that the hijackers were unaware of her call. A minute into the conversation, the call was cut off. Theodore Olson contacted the command center at the Department of Justice, and tried unsuccessfully to contact Attorney General John Ashcroft. About five minutes later, Barbara Olson called again, told her husband that the "pilot" (possibly Hanjour on the cabin intercom) had announced the flight was hijacked, and asked "what do I tell the pilot to do?" Ted Olson asked her location and she reported the plane was flying over a residential area. He then informed her of the attacks on the World Trade Center. Soon afterward, the call cut off again.
|"The speed, the maneuverability, the way that he turned, we all thought in the radar room, all of us experienced air traffic controllers, that that was a military plane. You don't fly a 757 in that manner. It's unsafe."|
|Danielle O'Brien, Air traffic controller at Dulles International Airport|
An airplane was detected again by Dulles controllers on radar screens as it approached Washington, turning and descending rapidly. Controllers initially thought this was a military fighter, due to its high speed and maneuvering. Reagan Airport controllers then asked a passing Air National Guard Lockheed C-130 Hercules to identify and follow the aircraft. The pilot, Lt. Col. Steven O'Brien, told them it was a Boeing 757 or 767, and its silver fuselage meant it was probably an American Airlines jet. He had difficulty picking out the airplane in the "East Coast haze", but then saw a "huge" fireball, and initially assumed it had hit the ground. Approaching the Pentagon, he saw the impact site on the building's west side and reported to Reagan control, "Looks like that aircraft crashed into the Pentagon, sir".
Security camera footage of Flight 77 hitting the Pentagon. Impact is at 1:27.According to the 9/11 Commission Report, as Flight 77 was 5 miles (8.0 km) west-southeast of the Pentagon, it made a 330-degree turn. At the end of the turn, it was descending through 2,200 feet (670 m), pointed toward the Pentagon and downtown Washington. Hani Hanjour advanced the throttles to maximum power and dove towards the Pentagon. While level above the ground and seconds from the crash, the airplane's wings knocked over five street lampposts and the right wing hit a portable generator, creating a smoke trail seconds before smashing into the Pentagon. Flight 77, flying at 530 miles per hour (853 km/h) over the Navy Annex Building adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery, crashed into the western side of the Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia, just south of Washington, D.C., at 09:37:46, killing all 53 passengers, five hijackers, and six crew. The Boeing 757 hit the Pentagon at the first-floor level. As it crashed, the airplane was rolled slightly to the left, with the right wing elevated. The front part of the fuselage disintegrated on impact, while the mid and tail sections moved for another fraction of a second, with tail section debris penetrating furthest into the building. In all, the airplane took eight-tenths of a second to fully penetrate 310 feet (94 m) into the three outermost of the building's five rings and unleashed a fireball that rose 200 feet (61 m) above the building.
At the time of the attacks, approximately 18,000 people worked in the Pentagon, which was 4,000 fewer than before renovations began in 1998.The section of the Pentagon, which had recently been renovated at a cost of $250 million, housed the Naval Command Center and other Pentagon offices, as well as some unoccupied offices. The crash and subsequent fire penetrated three outer ring sections of the western side. The outermost ring section was largely destroyed, and a large section collapsed. One hundred and twenty-five people in the Pentagon died in the attack.
In all, there were 189 deaths at the Pentagon site, including 125 in the Pentagon building and 64 on board the aircraft. Passenger Barbara Olson was en route to a taping of Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher. A group of children, their chaperones, and National Geographic Society staff members were also on board, embarking on an educational trip west to the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary near Santa Barbara, California. Also, Zoe, eight, and Dana Falkenberg, three, were killed in the crash, along with their parents, Charles Falkenberg and Leslie Whittington. The family, of University Park, MD, was going to Australia for two months, via Los Angeles.The fatalities at the Pentagon included 55 military personnel and 70 civilians. Of those 125 killed, 92 were on the first floor, 31 were on the second floor, and two were on the third. The Army suffered 75 fatalities—far more than any other branch. Another 106 injured were treated at area hospitals. Lieutenant General Timothy Maude, an Army Deputy Chief of Staff, was the highest ranking military officer killed at the Pentagon.
|"I don't want to alarm anybody right now, but apparently—it felt just a few moments ago like there was an explosion of some kind here at the Pentagon."|
|Jim Miklaszewski, NBC Pentagon correspondent reporting from inside the Pentagon at 09:39|
The Pentagon is bordered by Interstate 395 and Washington Boulevard, on the side where the impact occurred. Motorist Mary Lyman, who was on I-395, saw the airplane pass over at a "steep angle toward the ground and going fast" and then saw the cloud of smoke from the Pentagon. Omar Campo, another witness, was cutting the grass on the other side of the road when the airplane flew over his head. "I was cutting the grass and it came in screaming over my head. I felt the impact. The whole ground shook and the whole area was full of fire. I could never imagine I would see anything like that here". Afework Hagos, a computer programmer, was on his way to work and stuck in a traffic jam near the Pentagon when the airplane flew over. "There was a huge screaming noise and I got out of the car as the plane came over. Everybody was running away in different directions. It was tilting its wings up and down like it was trying to balance. It hit some lampposts on the way in." Daryl Donley witnessed the crash and took some of the first photographs after the crash.
USA Today reporter Mike Walter was driving on Washington Boulevard when he witnessed the crash, which he recounted, "I looked out my window and I saw this plane, this jet, an American Airlines jet, coming. And I thought, 'This doesn't add up, it's really low.' And I saw it. I mean it was like a cruise missile with wings. It went right there and slammed right into the Pentagon". Terrance Kean, who lived in a nearby apartment building, heard the noise of loud jet engines, glanced out his window, and saw a "very, very large passenger jet". He watched "it just plow right into the side of the Pentagon. The nose penetrated into the portico. And then it sort of disappeared, and there was fire and smoke everywhere." AP reporter Dave Winslow recounted, "I saw the tail of a large airliner ... It plowed right into the Pentagon." Tim Timmerman, who is a pilot himself, noticed American Airlines markings on the aircraft as he saw it hit the Pentagon. Other drivers on Washington Boulevard, Interstate 395, and Columbia Pike witnessed the crash, as did people in Pentagon City, Crystal City, and other nearby locations.
Former Georgetown University basketball coach John Thompson had originally booked a ticket on Flight 77. As he would tell the story many times in the following years, including a September 12, 2011 interview on Jim Rome's radio show, he had been scheduled to appear on that show on September 12, 2001. Thompson was planning to be in Las Vegas for a friend's birthday on September 13, and initially insisted on traveling to Rome's Los Angeles studio on the 11th. However, this did not work for the show, which wanted him to travel on the day of the show. After a Rome staffer personally assured Thompson that he would be able to travel from Los Angeles to Las Vegas immediately after the show, Thompson changed his travel plans. He felt the impact from the crash at his home near the Pentagon.