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The Five Sided Fantasy Island -- an analysis of the Pentagon explosion

Rebutting "Pentagon 9/11 Getting the Facts Straight"

Eyewitnesses and the Plane-Bomb Theory


Explicit eyewitnesses
Debris eyewitnesses
Fantastic eyewitnesses
Supporting eyewitnesses
Explosion eyewitnesses
Vague eyewitnesses
C130 eyewitnesses



Eyewitnesses to the explosion 

In general, these 46 witnesses have very little to say about the causes of the explosion.  Most were inside the Pentagon when the incident occurred.  It is perhaps a little surprising that they didn't see more specific evidence of an aircraft inside the building, if there really was one.  We have not provided a running commentary for these reports.


Air Force Lt. Col. Marc Abshire, 40, a speechwriter for Air Force Secretary James Roche, was working on several speeches this morning when he felt the blast of the explosion at the Pentagon. His office is on the D ring, near the eighth corrider, he said. "It shot me back in my chair. There was a huge blast. I could feel the air shock wave of it," Abshire said. "I didn't know exactly what it was. It didn't rumble. It was more of a direct smack. I said, 'This isn't right. Something's wrong here.'" "We all went out in the hallway. People were yelling 'Evacuate! Evacuate!' And we found ourselves on the lawn and looking back on our building. It was very much a surrealistic sort of experience. It's just definitely not right to see smoke coming out of the Pentagon. It was a very strange sight to see."

Anger and guilt still sear Lieutenant Colonel Michael Beans who shakes his head ruefully and asks himself why he survived: "Why you, not them? Who made that decision?" (...) Inside the Pentagon, the blast lifted Beans off the floor as he crossed a huge open office toward his desk. "You heard this huge concussion, then the room filled with this real bright light, just like everything was encompassed within this bright light," said Beans. "As soon as I hit the floor, all the lights went out, there was a small fire starting to burn." His friends were not so lucky. Not far away on the same floor, Beans' once familiar world had turned into a terrifying maze as well. Opening a door to the outer E-ring corridor, Beans saw waves of fire rolling towards him like surf on a beach. Turning back, he groped slowly back across the room on hands and knees. The sprinkler came on and that kept the smoke and heat down. But it was nervewracking and Beans was alone, listening as the building burned. "It was so quiet," he recalled. "There was no screaming, nobody saying anything, just nothing." He thought he might not make it out alive. He thought about his wife, his daughter and son, his 22 years in the army. "I remember taking a couple of breaths there, and I made up my mind: I just can't go out this way," he said. Suddenly out of the smoke a man ran by. "I tried to grab him, and I tried to yell at him," Beans said. But "he just disappeared into the smoke." Alone again, Beans crawled with his face to the floor. Then the carpet turned to wet tile, and he looked up and saw he was in a corridor. He ran and as the smoke cleared, he saw a guard. Beans discovered later that his head and forearms were burned. He now wears special flesh-colored compression sleeves on his arms. "These burns are going to heal, eventually," he said. But the memories "will be with me for the rest of my life."
Mickey Bell : The jet came in from the south and banked left as it entered the building, narrowly missing the Singleton Electric trailer and the on-site foreman, Mickey Bell. Bell had just left the trailer when he heard a loud noise. The next thing he recalled was picking himself off the floor, where he had been thrown by the blast. Bell, who had been less than 100 feet from the initial impact of the plane, was nearly struck by one of the plane's wings as it sped by him. In shock, he got into his truck, which had been parked in the trailer compound, and sped away. He wandered around Arlington in his truck and tried to make wireless phone calls. He ended up back at Singleton's headquarters in Gaithersburg two hours later, according to President Singleton, not remembering much. The full impact of the closeness of the crash wasn't realized until coworkers noticed damage to Bell's work vehicle. He had plastic and rivets from an airplane imbedded in its sheet metal, but Bell had no idea what had happened. During Bell's close call, other Singleton workers, including sub-foreman Greg Cobaugh, were doing other work on the first and third floors. The blast wasn't very loud to them. They were talking about reports that two planes crashed into the World Trade Center in Manhattan, New York - not considering the noise they heard could be a similar attack.
LTC Brian Birdwell. He was just heading back down the hall to his office when the building exploded in front of him. The flash fire was immediate and the smoke was thick. The blast had thrown him down, giving him a concussion. He wanted to head down the hall toward the A ring...but because he couldn't see anything he had no idea which way to go and he didn't want to head in the wrong direction. (...) Once they stabilized Brian, they transferred him to George Washington Hospital where...the best, cutting edge burn doctor in the U.S. The doctor told him that had he not gone to Georgetown first, he probably would not have survived because of the jet fuel in his lungs.
Down the hall from Yates, Lt. Col. Brian Birdwell, 40, had been at his desk in Room 2E486 since 6:30 a.m. (...) Birdwell walked out to the men's room in corridor 4, a move that saved his life. He had just taken three or four steps out of the bathroom when the building was rocked. "Bomb!" the Gulf War vet immediately thought as he was knocked down. When he stood up, he realized he was on fire. "Jesus, I'm coming to see you"
Pentagon staff raced along a wooden pathway opposite the Pentagon building, all heading towards bridges that would take them across the Potomac River. Grown men ran at full pace. Rich Brown was sitting at his desk and "there was just a huge sound that shook the building for a second or two". "I don't know what's happened. I assume it's a co-ordinated terrorist attack."
Lisa Burgess, a reporter for the Army newspaper Stars and Stripes, said she was walking in a corridor near the blast site and was thrown to the ground by the force of the blast.
Lisa Burgess : Stars and Stripes reporter Lisa Burgess was walking on the Pentagon's innermost corridor, across the courtyard, when the incident happened. "I heard two loud booms - one large, one smaller, and the shock wave threw me against the wall," she said.Burgess, reporting by telephone from the scene at about 4 p.m., said that five hours after the blast, still no one was able to get into the building. After the first casualties were removed, no one was brought out of the building, either dead or alive.
Jill Dougherty : It took your breath away, data analyst Jill Dougherty said of the vibration. It went right through you. I didn't hear anything. I just felt it.
Navy Capt. Charles Fowler : Navy Capt. Charles Fowler, assigned to the Joint Chiefs, was working on a speech for Gen. Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, when he heard the explosion. "You could feel the building shake," said Fowler. "You knew it was a major explosion. I grabbed all my gear and grabbed the laptop and headed out." "The interesting part was we didn't hear the alarm go off, but word got around very fast. It was an orderly evacuation" Fowler's office, on the river side, appeared to be on the opposite side from the explosion, he said. "Tons of smoke was coming up from the wedge-lots of black and gray smoke."
Dan Fraunfelter : After the meeting, just before 9:30 a.m., the young engineer grabbed a subcontractor to help him repair a damaged ceiling grid on the third floor of the Pentagon's E-Ring. The two were in the middle of the job when a strange sound ripped through the room. It lasted just a split second, says Fraunfelter, "A strange sucking, whirring sound, like a loud vacuum cleaner." Then the sound stopped, the building shook violently, and the lights went out.
Captain Stephen S. Frost, Medical Corps : We saw many blast injuries
At about 9:20 a.m., Lt. Col. Art Haubold, a public affairs officer with air force, was in his office on the opposite side of the complex when the plane struck. "We were sitting there watching the reports on the World Trade Center. All of a sudden, the windows blew in," he said. "We could see a fireball out our window."
Pinned in his chair and wrapped in a shroud of thick smoke and darkness, Jerry Henson had almost given up hope. He could feel all his limbs, but they wouldn't move. It was as if he were frozen at his desk by forces he couldn't battle. Through the smoke, he mustered some pleas for help. His mind still raced to figure out what happened and whether this was real. It was 9:40 a.m., Sept. 11. (...) airliner (...) slammed into the Pentagon. "The impact was quite clear," Henson said. "But it wasn't what you would think. It was just a loud kathump. Just a loud noise." Then all his senses failed him. The plane had sliced through the emergency lighting generators leaving everything in blackness. Books and computer monitors tumbled from the shelves behind him. Then his head throbbed. Pain shot through his legs. He couldn't move. All he could taste was smoke and dust. "I knew I was wounded some place because you can tell the difference between water and blood," he said. "Blood is sticky and tacky and warm. But I couldn't tell where the blood was coming from." For 15 minutes he and two of his staff who also were trapped in the office yelled for help. They yelled for Punches, Henson's deputy. They yelled for other survivors. They yelled for anyone at all. http://www.gomemphis.com/mca/america_at_war/article/0,1426,MCA_945_1300676,00.html
Inside the hell that was once his office, Jerry Henson freed his hands enough to move rubble off of his shoulders. He dislodged his head. But he couldn't move the heavy desktop from his lap. It had been 15, maybe 20 minutes since everything turned dark and painful. Still no answer from Capt. Punches. Now fires were burning closer as deposits of jet fuel ignited. "You could hear them lighting off," Henson said. "They would go 'poof,' kind of like when you light a furnace. You could hear these getting closer." The two other men in the office couldn't get to Henson, but they found a hole in the wall to crawl through. And they found help. Minutes passed slowly as Henson remained trapped in the dark and more conscious of every breath. He heard rubble crumbling and splashes like footsteps in puddles. Then he saw a slice of light. "I'm a doctor, I'm here to help you," said a voice. Navy Lt. Cmdr. David Tarantino, the doctor, and Capt. David M. Thomas Jr. had dodged slithering electrical wires and dripping solder to reach Henson. Tarantino, realizing Henson was pinned, got on his back and lifted the table top with his feet enough for Henson to slide out. Thomas and Tarantino pulled him back out through the maze. With a blur of light and a rush of fresh air, Henson knew he was safe. Jerry Henson, now 65, spent four days at nearby Arlington Hospital Center. Doctors sewed up the gash in the back of his head and on his chin. His neck was sprained, his back was sore, and he still needed treatment for smoke inhalation. "I was eager to get out," he said. "I thought the sooner I was able to get walking and breathing, the better I'd avoid pneumonia and things like that."
Tom Joyce, a Navy captain, was reading at his desk on the fifth floor in the building's fifth wing, when the plane hit. The impact knocked him out of his chair. "The whole building shook," Captain Joyce said. "Smoke started coming into the building."
Daniel and his wife Cynthia McAdams : Two other witnesses, Daniel McAdams and his wife, Cynthia, said they were sitting in their kitchen drinking coffee in their third-floor condominium in Arlington, Va., just two miles from the Pentagon when they heard a plane fly directly overhead around 9:45 a.m. It was unusually loud and low. Seconds later, they heard a big boom and felt the doors and windows of their three-story building shake. From their window, they could see a plume of black smoke coming from the Pentagon. I said, Oh my God, ... I can t even come to grips. It s just a shock, said Daniel McAdams, a freelance journalist. It s scary to just be so close .... Who knows if there's another one being hijacked that could miss the target? I feel like a target here. Soon after, military planes including F-15s were circling the Pentagon. Traffic clogged McAdams street as workers fled.
Crawling, McNair turned toward the E Ring. The heat grew even fiercer, and as he neared the door to the corridor he saw bright orange through the crack along its bottom. He reversed course, yelling, ``We've got to get out the other way.''

Inside a courtyard deep inside the Pentagon, program analyst Peggy Mencl (cq) heard the blast. "The doors blew out and debris just came flying out from the doors," Mencl said. "It blew me 10 feet." She was uninjured but still had debris in her hair.

Sheila Moody, in Room 472, heard a whoosh and a whistle and she wondered where all this air was coming from. Then a blast of fire that left as fast as it came. She looked down and saw her hands aflame, so she shook them. She saw some light from a window but could not reach it and could not find anything to break it with in any case. Then she heard a voice. "Hello!" a man called out. "I can't see you." Hello, she called back, and clapped her hands. She heard him approach and sensed the shoosh of a fire extinguisher and then saw him through a cloud of smoke, the rescuer who would bring her out and ease her fear that she would never get to see her grandchildren.
Mr. Peter M. Murphy : No Marine Corps offices were closer to the impact point than those of Mr. Peter M. Murphy, the Counsel for the Commandant of the Marine Corps and the most senior civilian working for the Marine Corps. Mr. Murphy and Major Joe D. Baker were having a discussion in Mr. Murphy's office on the fourth floor of the Pentagon's outermost ring, the E-Ring, overlooking the helo-pad. With CNN on a TV monitor across the room, they stopped their discussion when the news of the World Trade Center attacks came on. After watching awhile, Mr. Murphy asked Mr. Robert D. Hogue, his Deputy Counsel, to check with their administrative clerk, Corporal Timothy J. Garofola, on the current security status of the Pentagon. Garofola had just received an e-mail from the security manager to all Department of Defense employees that the threat condition remained "normal." He passed this information to Hogue, who stepped back into the doorway of Mr. Murphy's office to relay the message. At that instant, a tremendous explosion with what Mr. Murphy said was a noise "louder than any noise he had ever heard" shook the room. Mr. Murphy, who had been standing with his back to the window, was knocked entirely across the room, while Hogue was jolted into his office. Garofola's desk literally rose straight up several inches then slammed down. The airplane had crashed almost directly below Mr. Murphy's offices. The floor buckled at the expansion joint that ran between the two offices and created a discernible step up between the two rooms. The air was filled with dust particles, and the ceiling tiles fell, leaving the lights dangling from their electrical connections; the building was crumbling.The men did not know what had hit them, but they did know that it was time to get out. There was no panic, just a shock-hazed determination to survive. Hogue went to Garofola and told him to "get us out of here." The corporal attempted to open the heavy magnetized door, but it had been jammed and did not budge. Then, Mr. Murphy saw the "Marine" come out in Garofola. He yanked the door as hard as he could and it came open.
Daniel C. Pfeilstucker Jr., caught in the flying debris, didn't know if he was going to make it out alive. The Pentagon was on fire. "It was horrifying," Mr. Pfeilstucker says (...) Danny Pfeilstucker is a commissioning agent for John J. Kirlin Inc., a Maryland-based mechanical contracting company that worked on the Pentagon renovation project that was nearing completion September 11. (...) Kirlin Inc., among many companies involved in renovating the Pentagon since the early 1990s, was in charge of updating plumbing and heating units. Around 9:30 a.m., Mr. Pfeilstucker and a co-worker got orders to check a hot-water leak in a third-floor office on the western side. After doing so, he stepped off an elevator on the second floor in Corridor 4, ladder in hand. Suddenly the walls and the ceiling began to collapse around him. The lights went out. "It went from light to dark to orange to complete black," Mr. Pfeilstucker says. "It was so dark I couldn't even see my hand in front of my face."Within seconds, his left leg buckled. Unable to grab on to anything, he was thrust 70 feet down the corridor and into a tiny telephone closet halfway down the hallway connecting E Ring and A Ring. All I know is that the blast must have pushed open the steel door to the closet," says Mr. Pfeilstucker, who had been 40 feet away from the plane's point of impact.He remembers shutting the door and trying to stand up, not understanding what had just happened. "I thought it was some sort of a construction blast," Mr. Pfeilstucker says. "Or maybe there was a helicopter accident." His hard hat and work goggles were blown away. His ladder also had disappeared. (...) The fire sprinklers came on as the temperature shot up.Then he smelled jet fuel and smoke. The putrid odor was seeping into the closet."It was this odor that I can't describe, but one that I'll never forget, that's for sure," Mr. Pfeilstucker says. "It was so hard to breathe. I didn't think I was going to make it out."
Plaisted, an artist, was sitting at her desk at home less than one mile from the Pentagon ... I jumped up from my chair as the screeching and whining of the engine got even louder and I looked out the window to the West just in time to see the belly of that aircraft and the tail section fly directly over my house at treetop height. It was utterly sickening to see, knowing that this plane was going to crash. The sound was so incredibly piercing and shrill- the engines were straining to keep the plane aloft. It is a sound I will never stop hearing- and I now imagine the screams of the innocent passengers were commingled with the sounds of the engines and I am haunted. I was unaware at this time that the World Trade center had been attacked so I thought this was just" a troubled plane en route to the airport. I started to run toward my front door but the plane was going so fast at this point that it only took 4 or 5 seconds before I heard a tremendously loud crash and books on my shelves started tumbling to the floor.
http://www.wherewereyou.org contribution # 1148
Eyewitness: The Pentagon By Lon Rains Editor, Space News - In light traffic the drive up Interstate 395 from Springfield to downtown Washington takes no more than 20 minutes. But that morning, like many others, the traffic slowed to a crawl just in front of the Pentagon. With the Pentagon to the left of my van at about 10 o'clock on the dial of a clock, I glanced at my watch to see if I was going to be late for my appointment. At that moment I heard a very loud, quick whooshing sound that began behind me and stopped suddenly in front of me and to my left. In fractions of a second I heard the impact and an explosion. The next thing I saw was the fireball. I was convinced it was a missile. It came in so fast it sounded nothing like an airplane. Friends and colleagues have asked me if I felt a shock wave and I honestly do not know. I felt something, but I don't know if it was a shock wave or the fact that I jumped so hard I strained against the seat belt and shoulder harness and was thrown back into my seat. ' http://www.space.com/news/rains_september11-1.html

Floyd Rasmusen, a senior management analyst at the Pentagon, was inside. "All of a sudden all of my telephones cut off," he said. "I heard an explosion. All of a sudden I saw all of this flaming debris come flying toward me." He got his staff out of the building.

Rick Renzi a law student - ''The plane came in at an incredibly steep angle with incredibly high speed,''... was driving by the Pentagon at the time of the crash about 9:40 a.m. The impact created a huge yellow and orange fireball, he added. Renzi, who was interviewed at the scene by FBI agents, said he stopped his car to watch and saw another plane following and turn off after the first craft's impact.
Lt. Willis Roberts : "We're having a lot of trouble in there. It's about 3,000 degrees inside. The walls, the water and the metal are hot," said Lt. Willis Roberts, U.S. Army Rescue.
Arthur Rosati, another security officer and an army reservist, was in a meeting when the plane hit. "I ran down the hallway and there was smoke everywhere. You could smell the jet fuel, it was unbearable"
Lt. Commander John Sayer, a Navy reservist, was riding on a bus when he heard a thud. "It sounded like a very loud clap," he said. "At first I thought an airplane had hit in front of the Pentagon, but when I got closer I saw that it had struck the Pentagon."
Rob Schickler, a Baylor University 2001 graduate and Arlington, Va. resident, said. "A plane flew over my house," (one mile away from the Pentagon). "It was loud, but not unusual because the [Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport] is by my house, on the other side of the Pentagon. Occasionally planes that miss the landing fly over my house." "A few seconds later, there was this sonic boom," he said. "The house shook, the windows were vibrating." "There was a hole in the building, and you could smell it in the air. It's a beautiful day, but you can smell the burning concrete and burning jet fuel."

Don Scott, a Prince William County school bus driver living in Woodbridge, was driving eastward past the Pentagon on his way to an appointment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center: "I had just passed the Pentagon and was near the Macy's store in Crystal City when I noticed a plane making a sharp turn from north of the Pentagon. I had to look back at the road and then back to the plane as it sort of leveled off. I looked back at the road, and when I turned to look again, I felt and heard a terrible explosion. I looked back and saw flames shooting up and smoke starting to climb into the sky."Washington Post, 9/16/01(Lexis Nexis)

Tom Seibert : "We heard what sounded like a missile, then we heard a loud boom," said Tom Seibert, 33, a network engineer at the Pentagon. "We were sitting there and watching this thing from New York, and I said, you know, the next best target would be us. And five minutes later, boom."
Lieutenant Kevin Shaeffer, U.S. Navy (Retired) : At exactly 0943, the entire command center exploded in a gigantic orange fireball, and I felt myself being slammed to the deck by a massive and thunderous shock wave. It felt to me as if the blast started at the outer wall, blowing me forward toward Commander Dunn's desk. I never lost consciousness, and though the entire space was pitch black, I sensed I was on fire. While still lying on the deck, I ran my fingers through my hair and over my face to extinguish flames. Simultaneously, I tried to roll my body in order to smother the fire I felt burning my back and arms. As I stood to get my wits about me, I could make out just barely, through thick, acrid smoke, the carnage of what had been just moments before a space full of my shipmates. I could not see much, but I could tell the ceiling had collapsed and everything around me was blown to bits. I felt as if I was crawling over rubble several feet high. Soon I came upon frayed electrical cables dangling from the caved-in ceiling, in front of broken pipes gushing water.
Kevin Shaeffer was sprawled by the shock wave, then watched from the floor as a roiling, bright orange ball of fire shot toward him and everything -- cubicles, desks, ceiling tiles, the building's concrete support columns -- everything blew to pieces. Flames bathed his skin, his eyes, his lungs. The room went dark. Shaeffer, dazed, prone on the carpet, realized his back and head were on fire. He rolled to put himself out, then staggered to his feet. He ran a hand through his hair. His scalp felt wet.
Wayne Sinclair heard it before he felt it. He outfitted computers for the Army on the first floor of the D Ring. As usual that morning, Sinclair, 54, caught the subway so he could be at work by 6, always the first of the seven employees to arrive in Room 1D520. (...) they heard a thunderous roar. Everything turned black. Smoke and fire engulfed the room. Walls crumbled. Desks, file cabinets, and computers hurtled through the air. "You couldn't see anything," he says. Some people were thrown to the floor. Sinclair could feel his face, ears, and arms burning. But he couldn't see them because the smoke was so thick. People screamed for help. Chaos reigned.
Sinclair, 54, was sitting at his desk on the first floor of the Pentagon that morning when he felt a giant "gush of air, then everything went dark."

Mike Slater, a former Marine : Then the Pentagon, built to withstand terrorist attacks, shook like a rickety roller coaster. A section of it collapsed and burned. "It sounded like a roar," said Mr. Slater, who was 500 yards away from where the jet slammed into the Pentagon's west side. "I knew it was a bomb or something." Within the last year, the Pentagon had put up shatter-reducing Mylar sheeting to reduce the impact of a potential terrorist bomb. (...) As soon as Mr. Slater stepped outside, he saw and smelled something uncomfortably familiar. "I saw a mass of oily smoke and thought of the oil fields of Kuwait," he said. "There were 3,000 Americans killed in Pearl Harbor, this will be at least that many, if not more, and I hope Congress has the guts to do something about it."

Mike Slater, a former Marine, was inside the Pentagon, 500 yards from the jet's impact. "It was like a bomb," he said. "I saw a mass of oily smoke and thought of the oil fields of Kuwait."
At the Pentagon, Marine Maj. Stephanie Smith helped one victim, who was suffering from smoke inhalation and a leg injury.The injured "were covered with smoke and their uniforms were covered with smoke," Smith said. People were bloodied and soaked with water from the sprinkler system, she said."You felt it more than you heard it," she said of the blast.
SGT Dewey Snavely was driving along Arlington's Quaker Lane when the radio blasted the morning's first harrowing reports, then warned that a third plane was heading his way. Minutes later, jet engines rumbled overhead. "The guy I was with looked up and said: 'What the hell is that plane doing?' Then we heard an explosion and the truck rocked back and forth." Snavely, a member of the Engr. Co. on transition leave, knew deep in his gut that the Pentagon was under attack. http://www.army.mil/soldiers/oct2001/features/aftermath.html
Over in his office at 1D-525 on the first floor of D Ring, Robert Snyder, an Army lieutenant colonel, had been surfing the Web to check on the World Trade Center horror. He heard a crack and boom, and then, instantly, he saw flame and felt engulfed. The lights went out and his digital watch stopped. It read 00:00:00. He hit the floor, having been taught in military training that staying low was the best way to avoid smoke. The only light came from a series of small fires burning around the room.
People kept their cool, people started working with each other to get out," said Lieutenant Colonel Robert Snyder, who was in the basement level of the Pentagon building when one of the explosions hit.
Stanley St Clair was stumbling along the road away from the vast building, covered in dust. He had been working on renovations on the first floor of the section which was struck by the plane. "It shook the whole building and hurt our ears. Papers and furniture and debris just went flying through the hallway and I thought it was a bomb or something. Then someone started shouting get out, get out." http://www.guardian.co.uk/wtccrash/story/0,1300,550486,00.html
Michael Stancil said he was watching CNN coverage of the World Trade Center attacks in the Pentagon basement when he heard a vibrating sound like a motor. Suddenly, a big gust of air blasted through the room, paper started to fly and smoke began to pour in.
Carl Mahnken and his colleague in the Army public relations office, David Theall, had been in a first-floor studio only a few dozen feet from where the plane hit. A computer monitor had blown back and hit Theall in the head, but he was conscious and he led the way out for his buddy. They were walking over electrical wires, ceiling panels. They could see no more than five feet in any direction. After the initial whoosh and blast, it had seemed eerily silent until they reached the D Ring hallway, where they heard other people, crying, moaning, talking. (...) Theall said to Mahnken, "Buddy, I ain't going to let you go. We had survived this. This force that drove us through walls."
Major John Thurman reflects on the friends and colleagues he lost. He was prepared for the dangers of war, he says. But this was so unexpected. (...) Thurman also was blown backward. (...) But it was a plane passing beneath him, smashing through pilons and shaking the building's 60-year-old structure. "I saw flames coming over the walls, and then retreat back. And immediately the room was filled with smoke and the like," Thurman said. (...) Thurman was trying to orient himself in a darkened room. His once familiar office was a jumble of toppled wall lockers and upended furniture. Two officemates, a man and a woman, were alive. The three crawled face down through the wreckage, looking for a way out but finding only fire and blind alleys. One officemate passed out, then the other. An overpowering desire to sleep overcame Thurman. "Suddenly it hit me that I was going to die." "I thought,'Oh my god, my parents are going to have their first grandchild and same day they are going to lose their first son, their first child," he said. "And I got really mad." The burst of adrenalin gave Thurman just enough strength to push his way to safety before his soot-coated lungs gave out.
Henry Ticknor, intern minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, Virginia, was driving to church that Tuesday morning when American Airlines Flight 77 came in fast and low over his car and struck the Pentagon. "There was a puff of white smoke and then a huge billowing black cloud," he said.
Ron Turner, the Navy's deputy chief information officer, was standing solemnly at a funeral at Arlington National Cemetery when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon Tuesday morning. He had only to turn to watch the disaster unfold. "There was a huge fireball," he said, "followed by the [usual] black cloud of a fuel burn." Turner, a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War, said the explosion was just the same as explosions of jet fighters and helicopters during his tour of duty in 1971. "It reminded me of being back in Vietnam," he said, "watching Tan Son Nhut Air Base burn."
''It wasn't like a rumble, it was just - boom,'' said Tom Van Leunen of the Navy Public Affairs Office. ''It was shocking. ... It immediately put you on your heels, in fact in my case, actually, it kind of knocked me down.''
Jose Velasquez : "It was like an earthquake" , "By the time I got outside all I could see was a giant cloud of smoke, first white then black, coming from the Pentagon," he said. Velasquez says the gas station's security cameras are close enough to the Pentagon to have recorded the moment of impact. "I've never seen what the pictures looked like," he said. "The FBI was here within minutes and took the film."
Security officer John Yates was picked up and hurled 30 feet. Sgt. Maj. Tony Rose, punched into a ceiling column, watched as the glass in the C Ring windows spidered into tiny cubes. The sound erupted a heartbeat later, a monstrous boom and crunch like a thousand file cabinets toppling at once. To demographer Betty Maxfield, the room seemed to freeze, intact, for a moment, then in slow motion the computers clicked off and the lights failed and a fireball rolled through the cubicle farm like a wave, with bulbous head and tapered tail, and as it passed, everything around it burst into flames. Cabinets overturned, partitions exploded, ceiling tiles burned and danced and fell with their metal frames. The air boiled. (...) John Yates came to his senses to find that his death was at hand. He could not breathe. He could not see. The room was ablaze around him. The metal furniture jumbled all about was hot enough to raise blisters. He heard screams. He wasn't sure that some weren't his. His glasses remained on his face. They were smeared with something -- unburned jet fuel, which Yates mistook for blood. He carefully took them off, folded them, and slipped them into his shirt pocket, then stumbled toward the big room's interior.
John Yates worked in 2E471, a warren of cubicles. At 50, he was an Army security manager who handed out keys and employee badges. (...) He had been sitting on a table watching TV. When he stood up, the Pentagon shuddered. A big ball of fire knocked him to the floor. Black smoke flooded the room. Searing heat scorched him. Upended file cabinets blocked him.
``The whole building shook'' with the impact, said Terry Yonkers, an Air Force civilian employee at work inside the Pentagon at the time of the attack. ``There was screaming and pandemonium,'' he said, but the evacuation ordered shortly afterward was carried out smoothly.