- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 13, 2001

Virginia State Trooper Merlin Wimbish was driving by the Pentagon on patrol when he heard the explosion.
He was among the first to see an image now etched in the national consciousness: A commercial airplane in the control of terrorists had crashed into the west side of the Pentagon.
At the scene, he met Trooper Mike Middleton. Trooper Middleton had been in his car doing paperwork at the department's Arlington office on Columbia Pike, less than a half-mile from the Pentagon.
Rescue vehicles had not arrived, and people were trapped inside. The troopers went into the burning building.
Trooper Wimbish said the interior was pitch dark, and they were in water up to their knees. The troopers held on to each other to keep from becoming separated. Every door they tried was locked.
Suddenly, Trooper Wimbish was alone. He continued his search for survivors in vain.
The next time he saw Trooper Middleton, his comrade was unconscious outside on a triage table. He had succumbed to the smoke.
"He's really affected by it," said Virginia State Police spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell, who spoke with Trooper Wimbish yesterday. "He said it's very hard to get it off your mind. Just like everyone else out there, you keep thinking about it."
Trooper Middleton was transported to Inova Alexandria Hospital, where he remained in critical condition last night. Mrs. Caldwell said he is expected to recover.
Trooper Wimbish stayed on the scene, delivering water to rescue workers, checking identification — anything he could do to help.
Arlington County Fire and Rescue Department Assistant Chief James Schwartz yesterday said heroism was on display everywhere.
"We are all filled with sorrow, but they have a job they've got to do," he said. He added that one of the most difficult tasks for rescue crews was keeping their composure in the face of "an extremely tragic situation."
"It means a lot for them to be able to make a difference," said Lt. Raul Castillo, a member of Fairfax County's elite Urban Search and Rescue Team.
The Fairfax team, one of two in the nation designated to assist in international disasters, is working in its own back yard. The 70-member crews include doctors, paramedics, hazardous-material specialists, a heavy-rigging crew, electronic and K-9 searchers, and safety monitors.
The team has the manpower to field two crews but the equipment for just one. Because equipment is standardized among all teams, a second crew could relieve the first crew or relieve a crew in New York, where thousands are feared dead after two other hijacked planes toppled the World Trade Center. That decision lies with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Each crew works in rotating 12-hour shifts. Four crews, from Fairfax, Montgomery County, Virginia Beach and Memphis, Tenn., are at the Pentagon.
"It's just unreal to see these things. But without hesitation you just go in and do what you know how to do best," he said. "Some people can cope better than others. When there are so many, no one is immune."
Katherine Jacobi, a volunteer grief counselor for the American Red Cross, yesterday comforted the hundreds of rescue workers crawling through the rubble.
But Mrs. Jacobi first had to deal with her own tragedy: She lost a close friend onboard the Boeing 757 that crashed into the Pentagon.
Mrs. Jacobi, who declined to name her friend, said the victim's family was going through "hell."
"Emotionally, I'm devastated. But I feel really hopefully that we can come all back together as Americans, maybe making us better," Mrs. Jacobi said.
Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan traveled to the Pentagon yesterday to meet with the Montgomery County search-and-rescue team.
"I never thought this would hit so close to home," Mr. Duncan said yesterday. The Fairfax County and Montgomery County teams helped in the search-and-rescue efforts after the Oklahoma City bombing.
At least there they found survivors.
"Just the fact that they are willing to risk their lives is an act of heroism," Mr. Duncan said.
"We never lose hope. We always work aggressively," Lt. Castillo said. "What are the chances someone is in a small room in the basement getting supplies? That room might be located between two beams. It might create an air pocket. There is always the possibility that you're going to find somebody."

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