- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 12, 2001

Washington erupted into chaos and then settled into eerie calm yesterday after an airplane carrying 64 persons from Washington Dulles International Airport bound for Los Angeles crashed into the Pentagon about 9:40 a.m.
American Airlines Flight 77 was one of four flights that apparently were hijacked and crashed yesterday morning. Two other planes struck the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, and a third crashed southeast of Pittsburgh.
Last night, Arlington County Fire Chief Edward T. Plaugher said between 100 and 800 people were killed in the Pentagon crash.
"Preliminarily, we find no one else alive in the building," Chief Plaugher said about 10 p.m. He said it was tough to pinpoint the exact number of dead because the wing hit had just been renovated and a firm list of who occupied which offices was not available.
Some bodies had been recovered, but medical workers on the scene said many still were trapped inside in the rubble. Chief Plaugher said at least 60 people were treated at hospitals.
But even as search-and-rescue teams prepared to enter the building last night, flames flared anew and hampered their efforts.
Chief Plaugher said no survivors were found on the Boeing 757 plane, which airline officials said carried 58 passengers and a crew of six. Families of passengers were gathering at a hotel near Dulles Airport, where they were met by law-enforcement officials and counselors.
Local governments expected offices to be open today, but most schools announced they would be closed. Area airports, like those across the nation, will be closed at least through noon. Roads around the Pentagon and other key government buildings will be closed as well.
District Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said last night he thinks the meeting between the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, scheduled in the city later this month, should be canceled or postponed.
Eyewitnesses who were inside the Pentagon and on surrounding roads said they watched as the plane flew over the complex grounds and struck the building on the roofs of the outer corridors.
"The whole building shook. We heard a loud bang, and wall of fire came at us," said Qawiy Sabre, a data processor who was working in the outer ring when he saw the plane coming toward the Pentagon. He ducked to the floor and flames passed over him. He then fled the building, along with his co-workers.
After the blast, some of the 20,000 Pentagon employees fled by smashing windows and climbing out to escape flames, witnesses said, while others stumbled out in shock. Many were covered with soot and debris, and some had their hair and clothing singed from the blast.
Within an hour, the federal government closed offices, including the White House and U.S. Capitol, and many businesses followed suit. Hundreds of thousands of workers poured into the streets, creating an immediate evening rush-hour situation.
But with downtown blocks cordoned off, particularly around sites like the White House, and major routes into the city closed gridlock ensued. Gawkers occupied every bridge and other high point in the region with a view of the Pentagon.
Metrorail closed some stations and, with traffic at a standstill, many workers decided to abandon their vehicles and walk home. Others lingered, crowding around open car doors to hear radio news broadcasts.
One man, watching hundreds of frightened D.C. commuters streaming over the Potomac River bridges toward Virginia and uptown toward Maryland, told a reporter from The Washington Times that the scene reminded him of 1968, when people fled the city during the riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King.
Maryland, Virginia and D.C. officials declared states of emergency in their jurisdictions and tightened security around state buildings, and military planes took to the air over the Pentagon and downtown D.C.
But by lunchtime, all traffic had cleared out of downtown. The Mall was empty, with only an occasional jogger.
Richard Ulrich, 47, from Maryland, driving from Southeast to Northwest, found himself on the Mall and parked his van to wait out the traffic
"I saw the smoke go up and said, 'Oh, my gosh, they hit the city,'" he said. "It's amazing. You never think anything like that could happen. You wonder what goes through people's minds when they would kill themselves."
Flights out of local airports, like those across the nation, were halted. Union Station was evacuated and shut down.
Thurman Cordle, 24, who was traveling on an Amtrak train from New York to his home in Richmond, pulled into Union Station about 11 a.m., when officials made passengers leave the train and the station. He was standing outside the police perimeter yesterday afternoon with a few dozen station employees and travelers.
"At first it was like, 'Man, what an inconvenience,'" Mr. Cordle said. "Now I'm thinking about the country — people hurting."
Some employees in the Pentagon were watching news broadcasts of the explosions at the World Trade Center even as the Boeing 757 was turning in their direction.
"It seemed to be almost coming in in slow motion," said Marine Cmdr. Mike Dobbs. "I didn't actually feel it hit, but I saw it and then we all started running. They evacuated everybody around us."
The Washington field office of the FBI was given charge of the investigation of the Pentagon crash, and in the early afternoon, agents and officers from local police forces scoured the perimeter of the Pentagon, picking up all debris they could find.
Debris was scattered up to 500 yards from the building, but witnesses said no discernible pieces of the plane were left intact.
Along the nearby roads, some drivers had just left their cars at the spots where they were hit by flying debris.
Some had windows or sheet metal punctured by debris.
Employees left their vehicles in the parking lot and walked home or to a nearby Metro stop.
Throughout the day, smoke billowed from the hole in the center of one of the building's five sides, and late last night high winds and an apparent gas leak reignited fires.
The Pentagon complex is the nation's largest office building. The area hit included Army, Navy and Marine Corps offices and the Navy's new command center.
Those being evacuated helped move and care for the injured, who were sprawled across the field in front of the crash site.
Meanwhile firefighters, amid the jet fuel still burning on the ground, pulled the injured and dead from the building.
City residents, looking for any way to help, lined up to donate blood at hospitals. One hospital reported a six-hour wait.
"It's the tiniest thing I can do. Without doing this, I'm just helpless," said architect Eve Hickerson of Adams Morgan in Northwest.
By late morning, hospitals across the region began to receive and treat burn victims.
Transport was hindered at times by the ban on air traffic in the region, which grounded emergency helicopters. Some who were slightly injured drove themselves to hospitals.
Workers across the city reported hearing and feeling a second explosion in the minutes after the Pentagon crash, but no other site was reported hit.
In the aftermath yesterday, local officials warned that residents could expect heightened security as a general rule and said that daily life probably would never be the same.
Jabeen Bhatti, Matthew Cella, Joseph Curl, Brian DeBose, Daniel F. Drummond, John Godfrey, Vaishali Honowar, Margie Hyslop, Jim Keary, Gerald Mizejewski, Tom Ramstack, Derek Simmonson, Ellen Sorokin, Guy Taylor and Arlo Wagner contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.


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