911  2001
An Attack by Political Extremists using Hijacked Airliners
J. I. Nelson, September 2011

Part 4:  The Pentagon, Pennsylvania, and the Freedom Tower.  
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911 Pentagon burns with Arlington's Rosslyn towers in bkgnd  
Photo: Jeff Franko - Gannett News Service
9:37:45 AM
The sprawling Pentagon is not a high building (5 floors).  
AA77 came in low enough to clip lampposts along Washington Blvd.
The nose was only 14 feet above the ground on impact --
not quite up to the 2nd story.  


  911 - Pentagon charred and smashed  
Photo: Stern
It is estimated that the plane decelerated from about 530 mph to a standstill in eight-tenths of a second.  
This liquifies jetliners.
The tail end flowed in the furthest.  
The fuselage behaved like an oversized, badly-designed (too soft), armor-piercing anti-tank weapon.  

911 - The Pentagon

911: Pentagon still in flames at night.
Photo: Steve Helber - AP.  

It took three days after the crash of AA77 to extinguish the flames.  
Blast-proof windows and a roof covered a foot thick in concrete hampered efforts to get water in.

911 - smoke billows from Pentagon after being struck by flight AA77.   911 AA77 carried about 5,300 gal of fuel at the time of impact; fires burned for 3 days.  
Photo: (left) Larry Downing - Reuters;  (right) Will Morris  

An hour and 18 minutes after an 8:20 takeoff, the Boeing 757-223 is estimated to have been carrying 5,300 gal of fuel.

911, The Pentagon sliced through. 3 layers of corridor were penetrated.            911 - Firefighters on the roof of a sliced-through Pentagon.
Photos: (left) Ron Edmonds -AP;   (right) Steve Helber - AP.

Casualties at The Pentagon were 189, consisting of all 64 on board Flight 77, and 125 on the ground.
The 64 on board is comprised of all 58 passengers (including 5 hijackers) & 6 crew.


My business colleague picked me up for a trip to the large Internet data center that he hoped to buy, with its strategic location on the Dulles airport campus near the massive fiber routes and Metropolitan Area Exchanges (MAE-East) in Reston and Ashburn.
"A plane flew into a big  tower in New York, did you hear?"  
"Didn't have the radio on.  A small plane?"
"No, a big one."

We sat down with our counterparts for the conference that never happened.  The second plane struck.  A younger, thinner man came through the rear doors.  Behind him stood  the rows of racks, the isles of routers and servers, the fiber optic cables coming in along one wall and going out on the other. "I've never seen this much traffic.  Some routes are slowing down.  The Internet is starting to go."

He went back to his buddies in the NOC, the Network Operations Center.  Someone had an "in" to the FAA's Air Traffic Control System Command Center in Herndon (it has since moved further west to Warrenton).  Soon it seemed the whole airport knew there were more ghost planes up there, and one of them was from our airport, a flight from Dulles Airport.  

It was then that I learned the FAA could not track American aircraft. They had let their primary radars fall into disrepair -- if they broke, there was no money to repair them.  The primaries are the passives,  the powerful radars that can ping a plane and hear the echo off the aluminum fuselage,  whether or not the plane's transponder broadcasts its response.  After murdering the pilots, the hijackers turned the transponders off.  We had lost our own airport's plane somewhere over West Virginia.  

Then a primary radar that still worked picked up the plane in Ohio, but it was turning around.  By this time, all over the airport campus, people were coming outside and looking at the sky, as if shielding their eyes with a hand would do what radar could not do.  Then Ohio had another plane turning around, towards Pennsylvania.  By now, we all knew what hijacked airplanes turned around to do.  

The Network Operations Center guy came out again.  "The Internet's down.  It's going down everywhere. I can't get through.   It's hard to find out anything."

It saw how the next attack would unfold -- first the virtual, then the physical.  Today we were going down under traffic overload, but next time they could take down the Internet and then strike.  It multiplies the panic.  Structural problems make our computer networks inherently insecure.

On  lawns everywhere, people scanned the sky, looking toward Washington, and argued over what it would try to hit.  The White House was too low, there were too many high buildings in the way, this morning's fog was still too thick along the Potomac River Valley.  "They don't call if Foggy Bottom for nothing. They won't go for the White House."  The plane would hit the Capitol instead, just go down the Mall to the Capitol dome.  Nobody picked the Pentagon, a squat building with nothing to knock over.  

"It's back!"  AA77's flight path returning from Ohio to Washington was straight into town.  By 9:30 it was down from 26,000 to 8,000 feet, but too far south of us to see.  It circled around almost 360 deg before striking.  Later, at a Christmas party, a guy said if they had slammed in on the River Entrance side instead of swinging all the way around to the back, it would have killed all the top brass in DoD. As it was, the entire 7-person Naval Intelligence unit tracking the WTC event was wiped out at their desks.  In this town, it is gospel that flight AA77 was headed for the White House (but lost it in the morning mist) and UA93 would take out the Capitol Dome.  AA77 improvised, repositioned for the Pentagon, and saved the Capitol for his buddies.  

At Dulles, we heard that UA93 had gone off the radar but had no idea what had happened, only that it was over.  Back home, I drove to the town's hardware store and bought my first American flag.  I fly it every Sunday, the house already had flag holders.   In another time, flying the country's flag must have seemed normal.  

Diagram  The Washington Post, 20 Jan 2002.

The plane penetrated 3 of the 5 layers of corridors.  
Because of recent renovations, they had new blast-proof windws and fewer occupants.
As in the WTC Twin Towers, the plane's aluminum fuselage shredded completely.
In the Pentagon's inner courtyard, tiny pieces of aluminum drifted down like confetti.


FAA COMMAND CENTER: Uh, do we want to think about, uh, scrambling aircraft?

FAA HEADQUARTERS: Uh, God, I don't know.

FAA  COMMAND CENTER: Uh, that's a decision somebody's gonna have to make probably in the next ten minutes.

FAA HEADQUARTERS: Uh, ya know, everybody just left the room.

United 93 crashes in Somerset County, western Pennsylvania. 

UA93, a Boeing 757, had left Newark, NJ bound for San Francisco  at 8:42.

After UA93 was identified as a hijacking, two F-16 fighter jets from the 121st Fighter Squadron of the D.C. Air National Guard were scrambled and ordered to intercept it.  The pilots intended to ram it since they did not have time to arm their planes.   However, they never reached Flight 93 and, given the nature of intergovernmental communication, they did not learn of its crash until hours afterwards.

911, Flight UA93 crash site.     911, Pennsylvania: Flight UA93 crash site, Shanksville.
Photo (left or top): Photo:  Franka Bruns - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Photo (right or bottom): Keith Srakocic - AP
(To see photos side-by-side, drag a side of the window to be wider.)

The crash site for flight UA93, a 757-222,  in Shanksville, PA.
By choosing flights with Boeing 757 and 767 equipment, the terrorists could assign their pilots across the teams at will --
those two planes are similar and pilots are automatically cross-licensed for them.  

Mark Bingham (1970 – September 11, 2001)

There were some pretty athletic guys on Flight 93.  One of them was Mark Bingham, a successful business owner, a solid backer of John McCain's 2000 bid for the Presidential nomination,  and former varsity Golden Bear who helped earn UC Berkeley’s rugby team national titles in 1991 and 1993.  Bingham was openly gay.  

Bingham had overslept.  His friend Matthew drove like a lunatic to get him from Manhattan to Newark, screeching to a halt outside Terminal A at 7.40am.  Bingham sprang from the car, hauling an old blue and gold canvas duffel bag. He ran to gate 17, boarded the Boeing 757 and sat down in seat 4D, just behind the cockpit. Then he called Matthew:  "Hey, it's me. Thanks for driving so crazy to get me here. I'm in first class, drinking a glass of orange juice."  The hijackers did not mace the front of the plane to keep passengers out, and they chose their flight badly.  Besides Bingham, there was Jeremy Glick, a 6'1" judo champion;  Tom Burnett, a college quarterback sitting next to Bingham; Louis Nacke, a weightlifter; and William Cashman, a former paratrooper.  By 9:41, when the hijacker leaned from his seat to turn off the plane's transponder, the pilots lay with their throats slit, dead or dying, in the First Class cabin in front of Bingham and Burnett.  After a vote was taken in the back of the cabin to proceed with an attack and water had been boiled to carry it out,  passengers rushed the first class cabin.  The hijacker pilot pitched the nose of the airplane up and down to disrupt the assault. At 9:59:52, the cockpit voice recorder captured the sounds of crashing, screaming, and the shattering of glass.  The tape strongly suggests the cockpit door was broached and the passengers were about to seize the plane's controls.  The hijackers ended the flight so violently that the plane rolled over on its back before crashing.  

The memorial service for Mark Bingham was held on 22 September 2001 in Berkeley's Wheeler Auditorium.  Family and friends spoke of his irrepressible spirit and fierce loyalty to his country, his team and his university.  

I love my country, and I take pride in serving her. But I cannot say that I love her more or as well as Mark Bingham did, or the other heroes on United Flight 93 who gave their lives to prevent our enemies from inflicting an even greater injury on our country. It has been my fate to witness great courage and sacrifice for America’s sake, but none greater than the selfless sacrifice of Mark Bingham and those good men who grasped the gravity of the moment, understood the threat, and decided to fight back at the cost of their lives....

It is now believed that the terrorists on Flight 93 intended to crash the airplane into the United States Capitol where I work, the great house of democracy where I was that day. It is very possible that I would have been in the building, with a great many other people, when that fateful, terrible moment occurred... I may very well owe my life to Mark and the others ... I never knew Mark Bingham. But I ... know he was a good son and friend, a good rugby player, a good American, and an extraordinary human being. He supported me, and his support now ranks among the greatest honors of my life.
---Senator John McCain


Photo: Lawrence A. Martin

The original World Trade Center Tower.  The lobby, including the Mezzanine Level (here) was seven stories high. 

Photo: Lawrence A. Martin

The original World Trade Center central plaza, the Austin J. Tobin Plaza.
The plaza was 21,500 sq m (over 5 acres of the originally 16 acre site).  Fritz Koenig sculpted The Sphere  in center.
Over 20 tons of bronze and steel, it survived the destructive whirlwind of 9/11.  


The original WTC towers, looking straight up 

The Towers captured everyone's imagination.  The first of 3 people to parachute off them was Owen J. Quinn, 1975.  When he got to the top, there was a problem.  The building does not go straight down. A cornice covers the top floors, so you cannot see the marble steps below. To get clear of the cornice, Quinn would need a running start and would have to dive blindly, head first.  He ran and jumped, wearing a jersey saying "But Jesus beheld them and said unto them, with men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26:).
"It was like jumping into a glass full of pencils," says Quinn. "All those other buildings coming up at me. And you know what I did? I laughed. Once I was over the side I was back in my element." Fifty floors down, level with the top of the old New York Telephone Co. Building, he pulled the rip cord. The chute popped open, spun him 180 degrees and...Wham! He smashed into the side of the tower, face-to-face with a very surprised secretary. A modern square parachute might have collapsed, but Quinn had decided to use an old Navy "conical" chute, and it bounced off in good shape. A fashion photographer and a couple of models were at work in the plaza.  "Take my picture!" he yelled, but they just scattered. Security people closed in on Quinn as he began stuffing his parachute back into the pack. He was handcuffed and taken to the First Precinct, where three cops brought him into an interrogation room and slammed the door shut. One of them handed him a pad of paper and a pen. He said, "I want you to sign this first one to my granddaughter...."  Judged sane by two psychiatric exams, he appeared in court 19 times to get charges of trespassing, disorderly conduct and reckless endangerment dropped.  
See Sports Illustrated.  


A wider view is presented below.         

Street address 1 WTC is the North Tower.  Adding the 110m TV mast in 1979 took the tower from 417 to 512 meter height. The Windows on the World restaurant was here. Pancake ("progressive") structural collapse.

2 WTC -- the South Tower.  Both Towers are 110 stories.  Observation decks were on the 107th and 110th floors.  Pancake collapse.

3 WTC -- the 825 room Vista Marriott hotel.  Destroyed.

130 LIBERTY STREET -- the 40-story Bankers Trust Bldg, an office tower prominent in many 911 WTC photos (e.g., of the South Tower fireball and collapse)  because of its black color and the fact that it remained standing.  Standing, yes, but with many  WTC-facing windows gone in a facade shredded on lower levels. Add rain, grow mold.  The owner and tenant, Deutsche Bank, declared it unfit for habitation in 2002, spent two years convincing insurers they wouldn't want to live there either, and then sold it in 2004 to a company that waited 3 years to start expensive demolition by deconstruction-in-place, all delayed by a fire  which killed two firefighters.  The building was finally deconstructed down to the basement between Nov. 2009 and Feb 2011.  

St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, founded 1916 in an 1832 building, will not come back.  St. Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, which is how the congregation of recent immigrants earned their living.  The Port Authority (The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey) promises -- partly on behalf of other units of NY State government -- that land and money for a new church in a nearby park will be provided once the park is created.  The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America agreed to hand over land rights to allow car park excavations to begin for the extended WTC campus. Negotiations to finalize the deal broke down in 2009. The Port Authority continues excavation work at the site. The Greek church sued the Port Authority in a federal court in February 2011, accusing it of reneging on the agreement. The Orthodox Church does not have a patron saint of lawyers.  

4 WTC -- The Commodities Exchange Bldg, home to the NY Board of Trade, a private exchange for trading "futures" in commodities--classically, cotton, sugar, coffee, corn.  Listed as 9 stories, it looks 7 stories tall to me in the background of tourist photos of the Plaza.  Crushed under South Tower debris, 4 WTC was demolished in the initial cleanup.

5 WTC -- Dean Witter Bldg, with an E-train subway stop and many stores including the largest store in New York City of the Borders Group, which declared bankruptcy and dissolved all stores in 2011.  Morgan-Stanley and Credit Suisse / First Boston bank were major tenants.  Large hunks of the inward-facing facade was shredded off by the Towers' falling debris.  5 WTC was demolished in the initial cleanup. The Federal Office Bldg ("Old Post Office") behind it survived.

6 WTC -- US Customshouse Bldg, housing local offices of the US Dept of Commerce, Dept. of Agriculture, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF).  Completely severed by falling debris from the North Tower, 6 WTC was demolished in the initial cleanup.

7 WTC -- This building, across Vesey St. from the main WTC campus, was really a Consolidated Edison substation, with heavy transformers and emergency generators wrapped in an office building to generate rentals to pay for it all.  Major tenants were Salomon Brothers (Salomon Smith Barney),  ITT Hartford Insurance and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).  It is a 47-story office tower whose reddish facade is prominent in many pictures, whether standing or lying all over the street.   Structural collapse from fire-weakened steel occurred at 5:21 pm on 9/11.  

The Verizon Bldg -- going north across Vesey St, to the left of collapsed 7 WTC, is the Verizon Bldg, restored with 3 years work  and $1.4B.

Fiterman Hall -- leave the main WTC campus, cross Vesey St past collapsed 7 WTC and go on to Barclay St.  On the far side of the street is Fiterman Hall. Front facade shredded in the collapse of 7 WTC.   Insurance squabbling ran until 2004, and the building was deconstructed (taken apart piece by piece) in place.

"C" Walkway to 7 WTC -- The is the Vesey Street Survivors Stairway.  Many people owe their lives to this partially covered escape out of the hell of falling bodies and debris, and have devoted much of their lives afterward to getting the city to save and show some honor for it.  "Save?"  "Honor?"  Americans renew their cities in ways Europeans do not.  But wait.  The staircase will be disassembled and moved to a park.  

WFC "World Financial Center"  -- The office towers along the Hudson River waterfront, so prominent in skyline photos from the New Jersey side, are 2 WFC to the south with a green copper domed roof ("Merill Lynch Bldg") and its sister,  3 WFC to the north ("American Express Tower") , whose green copper roof is folded into a low pyramid.  


911, New York City: World Trade Center aerial view of devastation, with Ground Plan overlay showing original buildings  
Click to enlarge.


One World Trade Center - Freedom Tower + Parking Garage  
Click to enlarge.  Photo:  Mark Lennihan - AP.

One World Trade Center - Freedom Tower & Parking Garage, 2011.   Construction began in 2006.  
In mid-2011, completion was expected in late 2013.
The "Freedom Tower" name has been dropped to attract a wider spectrum of investors.


Pittsburgh Plate Glass (PPG) bid on the contract, but the blast-proof glass for lower windows  was  bought from China (Shandong Glass).  At least the upper windows are Made In USA by Viracon in Minnesota (raw glass) and Benson Global in Oregon (finished facade panels).  

Compared to working with dirty iron ore (in blast furnaces we no longer have), clean electric furnaces fed with salvaged steel provide the control you need over metallurgy to convert scrap worth $100/ton to high-strength precision alloys and tool steels worth $600 to $1000/ton.

The steel scrap from the WTC not used for monuments (e.g., National Iron and Steel Museum, 500 tons; Denver Babi Yar Park, 100 tons) was sold mostly to China, Malaysia, Korea and India.  The Twin Towers used 200,000 tons of steel, but the site of so many destroyed buildings yielded 350,000 tons overall.  The I-beams for both the original and the new tower were rolled by a specialty steel mill in Luxembourg (ArcelorMittal) running electric furnaces fed with scrap (salvage) steel, but not ours.   On a happier note, 24 tons of the salvaged steel went to Amite Foundry and Machine in  Louisiana to be re-cast, of which 7.5 short tons (6.8 t) wound up in the USS New York's "stem bar", a part of the bow.  At least one man postponed his retirement just to be able to say his hands helped make it.  

A public contest for rebuilding designs was held and largely ignored.  Perhaps the most poignant suggestion from the  country's people was to place the crowning spire off-center, in evocation of the Statute of Liberty's lofted torch.  Ignored.

Battles long and hard saved the Survivor's Staircase over which so many escaped.   So little listening, so much pushing and shoving.  I was living in Australia as that country struggled with an over-budget, behind-schedule, impossible-to-build monument in their largest, most important city.  Today the Sydney Opera House is the unrivaled symbol of the new Australia.  Perhaps we, too, will stumble our way to proud glory.  We may even get there before it is time to build dikes against this century's multi-meter rise in ocean levels that renders futile everything you see in the photo above.     

I will find the sunflower photo with its rush for life -- a better ending.  

911 - An Attack by Political Extremists using Hijacked Airliners
Page 1: Tall Buildings
Page 2:  The Pile and the streets  
Page 3: Taking Charge - I give my respect and gratitude to those who took charge of how to die . . .
                                            and jumped.  Their public act saved 2000 lives in the other tower.
Page 4:  The Pentagon, Pennsylvania and the Freedom Tower (you are here)
                    The WTC site back then  
                    Ground Plan & Buildings  
                    Freedom Tower  

Home page for photo essay on Hurricane Katrina  
Home page for my messy, cluttered Website  

Sunflower plant grows exuberantly  
Photo: J.I.Nelson.  Click to enlarge.