9/11 at the Pentagon
September 11th was a warm, sunny day in Washington, DC...
The events of September 11, 2001 are forever etched into the hearts and souls of the family members and loved ones of those who died, our nation, and the world. The United States experienced the worst incident of terrorism in its history; the coordinated hijacking of four commercial planes, the planned attack on symbolic targets, and the murder of innocent people were all tragic and shocking events. The extraordinary responses of individuals to the challenges they faced are inspiring and worthy of remembrance.
September 11th was a warm, sunny day in Washington, D.C., just as it was in New York City and all along the Eastern Seaboard.
That morning, five hijackers passed through security at Dulles International Airport at approximately 7:35 am. They boarded American Airlines Flight 77 bound for Los Angeles, California. At 8:20 am, Flight 77 departed Dulles International Airport ten minutes delayed.1 When the plane took off, it had 64 people on board: a crew of six plus 58 passengers, including the five hijackers with their weapons.2
The last routine radio communication with American Airlines Flight 77 occurred at 8:51 am.3 It seems likely that between 8:51 and 8:54 am over eastern Kentucky, the hijackers made their move and took over the plane.4 With one hijacker as pilot, the other four herded the passengers to the rear of the aircraft to prevent any attempts to retake control of the plane before it reached its target.5
Immediately following the takeover, Flight 77 made an unauthorized turn to the south.6 At 9:00 am, the plane turned eastward from a point near the junction of West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky. Hani Hanjour, who had received Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) pilot certification, no doubt piloted the aircraft.7
Tracking Flight 77 would not have been easy, even if controllers had been able to identify which plane to follow. Its transponder, a transmitter that broadcasts the course, speed, and altitude of the airplane, was turned off at 8:56 am.8 The hijacker pilot refused to answer any radio messages, adding to the uncertainty of making a decision to dispatch military aircraft to intercept the plane.9 For air traffic controllers, the lack of a transponder signal meant they could not find the Boeing 757 until it crossed the path of a ground-based radar.10
At 9:33 am, Flight 77 turned south and headed for the Pentagon.11 Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport tower passed to the Secret Service Operations Center in Washington, D.C. the alarming word that “an aircraft is coming at you and not talking with us.”12 A minute later, the plane turned south below Alexandria, Virginia, circled back to the northeast, and flew toward Washington again.13 Its destination was the Pentagon, not the White House or the Capitol.14
At 9:37:46 am, American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon .15
“At first I thought I’d blown up the fax machine. Then I realized that it wasn’t me. I smelled the jet fuel.” Louise Rogers, Civilian Accountant, Pentagon
“Do me a favor, for the rest of day work beneath your desk.” John Yates, Army Civilian Security manager, Pentagon
The Pentagon's on-site firehouse responded immediately to the crash. Firefighters from nearby Reagan National Airport and Virginia's Arlington County Fire Department arrived within minutes. Many civilian employees and military personnel evacuated the building shortly after the impact, while others felt compelled to rush into the burning structure to rescue trapped and injured colleagues.
One-hundred-and-eighty-four lives were lost at the Pentagon that day. They were men, women, and children. They were mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, daughters and sons. They came from all walks of life: administrative assistants, doctors, educators, flight crew members, military leaders, scientists, and students. They came from towns and cities, large and small, across the United States and around the world. The youngest was only three years old; the oldest, 71. Despite the differences that distinguish them, these innocent individuals are united through the horrific events that unfolded on one of the darkest days in America’s history.
The physical damage to the Pentagon was rebuilt in less than one year, but these attacks changed our world forever.
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