8. Eyewitness Reports On the Sounds of Jet Engines Before Crash
. . . on my way to work Sept. 11, I saw an American Airlines jet come overhead and slam into the Pentagon, . . .
I was sitting in heavy traffic in the I-395 HOV lanes about 9:45 a.m., directly across from the Navy Annex. I could see the roof of the Pentagon and, in the distance, the Washington Monument.
I heard the scream of a jet engine and, turning to look, saw my driver's side window filled with the fuselage of the doomed airliner. It was flying only a couple of hundred feet off the ground -- I could see the passenger windows glide by. The plane looked as if it were coming in for a landing -- cruising at a shallow angle, wings level, very steady. But, strangely, the landing gear was up and the flaps weren't down.
. . . The fireball that erupted upon impact blossomed skyward, and the blast hit us in a wave. I don't remember hearing a sound.
It was so eerily similar to another experience during the Gulf War . . .
"COMMENTARY: Familiar feelings as the unimaginable unfolds," by Phillip Thompson, Military.com, 9/11/02
Afework Hagos, a computer programmer, was on his way to work but stuck in a traffic jam near the Pentagon when the plane flew over. "There was a huge screaming noise and I got out of the car as the plane came over. Everybody was running away in different directions. It was tilting its wings up and down like it was trying to balance. It hit some lampposts on the way in."
"`Everyone was screaming, crying, running. It's like a war zone'," by Julian Borger, Duncan Campbell, Charlie Porter and Stuart Millar, The Guardian, 9/12/01
[Terry Morin, a former USMC aviator, Program Manager for SPARTA, Inc was working as a contractor at the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) offices at the old Navy Annex.]
I had just reached the elevator in the 5th Wing of BMDO/Federal Office Building (FOB) #2 -- call it approximately 9:36 AM. . . . Approximately 10 steps out from between Wings 4 and 5, I was making a gentle right turn towards the security check-in building just above Wing 4 when I became aware of something unusual. . . . I started to hear an increasingly loud rumbling behind me and to my left. As I turned to my left, I immediately realized the noise was bouncing off the 4-story structure that was Wing 5. One to two seconds later the airliner came into my field of view. By that time the noise was absolutely deafening. . . . The aircraft was essentially right over the top of me and the outer portion of the FOB (flight path parallel the outer edge of the FOB). Everything was shaking and vibrating, including the ground. I estimate that the aircraft was no more than 100 feet above me (30 to 50 feet above the FOB) in a slight nose down attitude. The plane had a silver body with red and blue stripes down the fuselage. I believed at the time that it belonged to American Airlines, but I couldn't be sure. It looked like a 737 and I so reported to authorities.
Within seconds the plane cleared the 8th Wing of BMDO and was heading directly towards the Pentagon. Engines were at a steady high-pitched whine, indicating to me that the throttles were steady and full. I estimated the aircraft speed at between 350 and 400 knots. The flight path appeared to be deliberate, smooth, and controlled. As the aircraft approached the Pentagon, I saw a minor flash (later found out that the aircraft had sheared off a portion of a highway light pole down on Hwy 110). As the aircraft flew ever lower I started to lose sight of the actual airframe as a row of trees to the Northeast of the FOB blocked my view. I could now only see the tail of the aircraft. I believe I saw the tail dip slightly to the right indicating a minor turn in that direction.
. . . The tail was barely visible when I saw the flash and subsequent fireball rise approximately 200 feet above the Pentagon. There was a large explosion noise and the low frequency sound echo that comes with this type of sound. Associated with that was the increase in air pressure, momentarily, like a small gust of wind. For those formerly in the military, it sounded like a 2000lb bomb going off roughly ½ mile in front of you. At once there was a huge cloud of black smoke that rose several hundred feet up. Elapsed time from hearing the initial noise to when I saw the impact flash was between 12 and 15 seconds.
. . . I then confirmed that the aircraft had been flown directly into the Pentagon without hitting the ground first or skipping into the building.
Coping with the 9.11.01 Aftermath, Accounts of Survivors - "Eyewitness Account of Pentagon Attack," By: Terry Morin, Coping.org, 9/01
Steve Patterson, who lives in Pentagon City, said it appeared to him that a commuter jet swooped over Arlington National Cemetery and headed for the Pentagon "at a frightening rate . . . just slicing into that building." . . .
Steve Patterson, 43, said he was watching television reports of the World Trade Center being hit when he saw a silver commuter jet fly past the window of his 14th-floor apartment in Pentagon City. The plane was about 150 yards away, approaching from the west about 20 feet off the ground, Patterson said.
He said the plane, which sounded like the high-pitched squeal of a fighter jet, flew over Arlington cemetary so low that he thought it was going to land on I-395. He said it was flying so fast that he couldn't read any writing on the side.
The plane, which appeared to hold about eight to 12 people, headed straight for the Pentagon but was flying as if coming in for a landing on a nonexistent runway, Patterson said.
"At first I thought `Oh my God, there's a plane truly misrouted from National,'" Patterson said. "Then this thing just became part of the Pentagon. . . ."
He said the plane, which approached the Pentagon below treetop level, seemed to be flying normally for a plane coming in for a landing other than going very fast for being so low. Then, he said, he saw the Pentagon "envelope" the plane and bright orange flames shoot out the back of the building.
"It looked like a normal landing, as if someone knew exactly what they were doing," said Patterson, a graphics artist who works at home. "This looked intentional."
"`Extensive Casualties' in Wake of Pentagon Attack," by Barbara Vobejda, Washington Post, 9/11/01
Lt. Commander John Sayer, a Navy reservist, was riding on a bus when he heard a thud. "It sounded like a very loud clap," he said. "At first I thought an airplane had hit in front of the Pentagon, but when I got closer I saw that it had struck the Pentagon."
"Mournful church bells toll, police sirens soar as D.C. explodes into panic," by Jessica Wehrman, Scripps Howard News Service / The Albuquerque Tribune, 9/12/01
Master Sgt. Noel Sepulveda . . . left Bolling Air Force Base, D.C., that morning enroute to a meeting at the Pentagon . . .
Sepulveda walked back to his motorcycle and saw a commercial airliner coming from the direction of Henderson Hall, adjacent to the Pentagon and where the Marine Corps has its headquarters.
"Pentagon hero receives Purple Heart, Airman's Medal," by Master Sgt. Dorothy Goepel, Air Force Print News 4/15/02
. . . He was standing in the parking lot at the Pentagon when he noticed a jetliner lower its landing gear as if to make a landing and then he realized that the airplane was actually heading towards the southwest wall of the Pentagon . . .
"Recognition of Master Sergeant Noel Sepulveda," League of United Latin American Citizens, 6/29/02
He saw the plane fly above a nearby hotel and drop its landing gear. The plane's right wheel struck a light pole, causing it to fly at a 45-degree angle, he said. The plane tried to recover, but hit a second light pole and continued flying at an angle. "You could hear the engines being revved up even higher," Sepulveda said.
The plane dipped its nose and crashed into the southwest side of the Pentagon.
"The right engine hit high, the left engine hit low," Sepulveda said. "For a brief moment, you could see the body of the plane sticking out from the side of the building. Then a ball of fire came from behind it."
An explosion followed, sending Sepulveda flying against a light pole.
"Pentagon hero receives Purple Heart, Airman's Medal," by Master Sgt. Dorothy Goepel, Air Force Print News, 4/15/02
". . . we saw a plane coming toward us, for about 10 seconds . . . It was like watching a train wreck. I was mesmerized. . . . At first I thought it was trying to crash land, but it was coming in so deliberately, so level . . . Everyone said there was a deafening explosion, but with the adrenaline, we didn't hear it.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Philip Dine, 13 Sep 2001,
I was at a complete stop on the road in front of the helipad at the Pentagon; . . . I looked idly out my window to the left -- and saw a plane flying so low I said, "holy cow, that plane is going to hit my car" (not my actual words). The car shook as the plane flew over. It was so close that I could read the numbers under the wing.
And then the plane crashed. My mind could not comprehend what had happened. Where did the plane go? For some reason I expected it to bounce off the Pentagon wall in pieces. But there was no plane visible, only huge billows of smoke and torrents of fire. . . .
A few minutes later a second, much smaller explosion got the attention of the police arriving on the scene. They began ordering people back into their cars and away. I drove to work knowing that I would not be flying anywhere for a while.
"Tragedy at the Pentagon - An Eyewitness Report," by Christine Peterson, '73, NAU Alumni Association, 10/18/01
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