- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 12, 2001

Late last night Arlington, Va. Fire Chief Edward T. Plaugher estimated that at least 100 persons died when a hijacked airliner crashed into the Pentagon yesterday morning, and officials feared the toll could go much higher.
"We know there are casualties," Pentagon spokesman Adm. Craig Quigley said of the apparent terrorist attack.
American Airlines Flight 77 was bound from Washington Dulles International Airport to Los Angeles with 58 passengers on board, as well as four flight attendants and two pilots, when it crashed into the southwest side of the Pentagon about 9:30 a.m.
Paramedics at the scene said about 200 people were in the vicinity of the plane's impact.
Adm. Quigley said the crash was an act of terrorism but he did not have information about who was behind it.
The design of the Pentagon is such that five rings or corridors make up the building. The rings are labeled from E to A, with the innermost being A and the outermost being E. Department of Defense Protective Services Chief John Jester said the plane smashed into the outside of the building, the E ring, and "cut into the E, D, and C rings."
About a half-hour after the attack, F-16 planes scrambled from Andrews Air Force Base and circled the Pentagon. Crowds outside cheered at the sight of the fighter jets.
Chief Jester said, as of late afternoon, Arlington County search and rescue crews had not begun to look for survivors or remains of the dead because the fire sparked by the impact of the plane was still burning.
A two-block stretch at the south end of the building continued to smolder after 5 p.m., more than six hours after the attack.
"Fires are still burning intensely inside the Pentagon," Adm. Quigley said.
The damage done by the plane effectively split in half one side of the Pentagon, constructed at the height of the Cold War.
The gash looked like an alleyway ripped into the side of the building, witnesses said.
The five-story wall of the Pentagon that was hit by the plane crumbled, falling in like a deck of cards collapsing, eyewitnesses said.
Thousands of Pentagon Naval Annex and other government employees who work in nearby buildings were evacuated, but many stayed and watched smoke billow from the gash as flames licked skyward.
Survivors milled about, unable to grasp the shock of America suffering its worst attack since Pearl Harbor.
"We just felt a boom, we felt a shake," Navy Cmdr. Tom Ransom said.
"We knew something bad had happened because we just saw everything on TV."
Defense Department worker Peggy Mencl was standing in a corridor when "the doors blew out and debris just came flying out. It blew me ten feet." She was not injured, but still had debris in her hair.
Adm. Quigley said military planners inside the Pentagon were working on a response to the attacks on the World Trade Center when the Pentagon was attacked.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was in the building but on the opposite side — the north side — when the attack occurred.
"He went down, running" to survey the damage and assist the victims, Adm. Quigley said.
After helping during the initial evacuation of the Pentagon, which military officials said was orderly and calm, Mr. Rumsfeld went to a command center.
Mr. Rumsfeld did not provide any estimates of casualties.
"We are still taking bodies out of this building," he said. "We're making every effort to take care of the casualties."
He spoke from the Pentagon briefing room, which is on the opposite side of the Pentagon from where the crash occurred, though the air in the building was hazy and smelled of smoke. He said the undamaged sections of the Pentagon will reopen today.
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," Maj. Smith said. People were bloodied and soaked with water from the sprinkler system.
Adm. Quigley said all joint chiefs of staff and their deputies were accounted for and none were injured.
"I'm just upset. There's no revenge, just remorse," Marine Gunnery Sgt. Tony Simms said.
Sgt. Simms and fellow Marines watched the building turn into an inferno from atop a hill where the Marine Corps barracks is located on part of Arlington National Cemetery.
Along Columbia Pike, next to the disaster site, government workers streamed out of the Pentagon and surrounding complexes for more than two hours after the attack. Some walked several miles down a closed highway, next to the graves of Arlington National Cemetery, looking for a way to get home.
Dozens of military helicopters touched down at the site, joining hundreds of firefighters and emergency medical technicians in trying to rescue and aid the victims of this tragedy.
One of the difficulties search-and-rescue workers encountered was that the part of the building where the plane went in was undergoing renovation, Chief Jester said.
Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said the government is "taking every appropriate means to find out who was responsible." Military sources said they believe extremist Osama bin Laden is probably responsible for all of yesterday's attacks.
Arlington and Fairfax County urban search-and-rescue teams, trained to remove people from building rubble, were dispatched throughout the afternoon, leading the search-and-rescue effort, military officials said.
Because of the magnitude of the attack, all U.S. military forces were put on the highest military state of alert, Force Protection Condition Delta, Adm. Quigley said.
Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III put 300 Virginia Guard troops — mostly medics, military police and engineers — on active duty and put the entire Virginia National Guard on heightened alert. The alert included a squadron of Guard F-16 fighter jets based at Richmond International Airport, an administration source said.
Guy Taylor contributed to this report.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide