Tuesday, September 11, 2001
September 11, 2001 began as any normal fall weekday. The weather was beautiful as people throughout the country started their weekday routines. Over the next several hours, the country and the world would change as terrorist attacks claimed the lives of 2,977 innocent people.
As the United States was experiencing the growing threat of war in 1941, President Roosevelt sought to expand the War Department and consolidate it into a single location near Washington, DC. President Roosevelt decided on a site across the Potomac in Arlington County, VA during August 1941. The building was designed as a pentagon shape to fit the proposed area and groundbreaking occurred on September 11, 1941. The resulting structure was completed in January 1943. The massive structure covers 29 acres, with five 921-foot sides, and five rings, all standing five stories.
The building had 10 corridors running through all five rings, allowing quick transit throughout the building. The number of employees varied through the years, dropping from 30,00 during WWII, to 18,000 on 9/11. Congress approved a renovation with major security updates in 1990. On 9/11, the renovation of wedge 1 had just been completed and wedge 2 was just beginning. Both wedges would take the impact of American 77. There is no doubt the newly installed ballistic glass and fire suppression systems in wedge 1, and the reduced occupancy in wedge 2 combined saved lives on 9/11.
American Airlines Flight 77
American Airlines Flight 77 was a Boeing 757 flying from Washington, DC to Los Angles. Flight 77 took off at 8:20 a.m. with 6 crew members, 53 passengers, 5 hijackers and 49,900 lbs of fuel.
At 8:51 a.m., Flight 77 made its last routine radio transmission.
Between 8:51 and 8:54 a.m., Flight 77 was hijacked.
At 8:54 a.m., Flight 77 turned south and two minutes later, the transponder was turned off.
At 9:12 a.m., Flight Attendant Renee May called her mother to report that the plane was hijacked and all passengers and crew had been moved to the rear of the plane.
At 9:29 a.m., hijackers disengage the autopilot with the plane at 7,000 feet and 38 miles from the Pentagon.
At 9:32 a.m., Dulles radar operators observe a radar target flying eastbound at high speed.
At 9:34 a.m., Reagan Airport reported an unknown aircraft heading in the direction of the White House to the Secret Service. Flight 77 was 5 miles from the Pentagon and began turning 330 degrees and passing through 2,200 feet.
At 9:37:46 a.m., Flight 77 flew into the West face of the Pentagon, puncturing the outer 3 rings, killing all 64 people on board and 125 people in the building.
Pentagon Fire and Collapse
American Flight 77 slammed into the E ring of the Pentagon striking between the first and second floors and between corridors 4 and 5. The plane debris and resulting fireball tore through the first and second floors of the E, D, and C rings, which had no separation on the first and second floors. This impact destroyed or severely weakened hundreds of support columns and ignited fires that devastated the structure. At 10:15 a.m., 38 minutes after the impact, a 95-foot section of the E ring suffered a pancake collapse of all five floors. Soldiers, civilians, and first responders assisted many occupants from the building prior to the collapse, and several others were able to self-rescue. Responders were hampered by the collapse threat, fire, and smoke, as well as numerous inaccurate reports of additional hijacked aircraft. The jet-fuel ignited fires spread through all five floors of rings E, D and C. Firefighters also faced a difficult task in accessing and extinguishing fires burning under the roofing materials of the E ring and corridors 4 and 5. It would take firefighters 36 hours to extinguish all the fires burning in the building.
Injuries and fatalities were mostly in the direct path of the impacting plane. Of the 125 people that perished in the Pentagon, 92 were on the first floor, 31 were on the second, and 2 were on the third. An additional 106 people were transported from the Pentagon to area hospitals. The fatalities included 70 civilians and 55 service members, of which 75 worked for the Army. The Department of Defense would suffer a total of 127 fatalities in the Pentagon as two additional DoD employees were flying on American Flight 77.
The firefight and search and rescue operations would involve responders from Ft. Myer, Reagan National Airport, Arlington County, Fairfax County, Alexandria and the District of Columbia. Over the next several days, further assistance would come from FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Teams from Fairfax (VATF-1), Hampton Roads (VATF-2), Montgomery County Maryland (MDTF-1), Memphis (TNTF-1) and New Mexico (NMTF-1).
Cedric H. Rudisill/DOD