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9/11 at the Pentagon

September 11th was a warm, sunny day in Washington, DC…

The events of September 11, 2001 are forever etched into the hearts and souls of the family members and loved ones of those who died, our nation, and the world. The United States experienced the worst incident of terrorism in its history; the coordinated hijacking of four commercial planes, the planned attack on symbolic targets, and the murder of innocent people were all tragic and shocking events. The extraordinary responses of individuals to the challenges they faced are inspiring and worthy of remembrance.

 

September 11th was a warm, sunny day in Washington, D.C., just as it was in New York City and all along the Eastern Seaboard.

 

That morning, five hijackers passed through security at Dulles International Airport at approximately 7:35 am. They boarded American Airlines Flight 77 bound for Los Angeles, California. At 8:20 am, Flight 77 departed Dulles International Airport ten minutes delayed.1  When the plane took off, it had 64 people on board: a crew of six plus 58 passengers, including the five hijackers with their weapons.2

 

The last routine radio communication with American Airlines Flight 77 occurred at 8:51 am.3 It seems likely that between 8:51 and 8:54 am over eastern Kentucky, the hijackers made their move and took over the plane.4  With one hijacker as pilot, the other four herded the passengers to the rear of the aircraft to prevent any attempts to retake control of the plane before it reached its target.5

 

Immediately following the takeover, Flight 77 made an unauthorized turn to the south.6 At 9:00 am, the plane turned eastward from a point near the junction of West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky. Hani Hanjour, who had received Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) pilot certification, no doubt piloted the aircraft.7

 

Tracking Flight 77 would not have been easy, even if controllers had been able to identify which plane to follow. Its transponder, a transmitter that broadcasts the course, speed, and altitude of the airplane, was turned off at 8:56 am.8  The hijacker pilot refused to answer any radio messages, adding to the uncertainty of making a decision to dispatch military aircraft to intercept the plane.9  For air traffic controllers, the lack of a transponder signal meant they could not find the Boeing 757 until it crossed the path of a ground-based radar.10

 

At 9:33 am, Flight 77 turned south and headed for the Pentagon.11 Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport tower passed to the Secret Service Operations Center in Washington, D.C. the alarming word that “an aircraft is coming at you and not talking with us.”12 A minute later, the plane turned south below Alexandria, Virginia, circled back to the northeast, and flew toward Washington again.13  Its destination was the Pentagon, not the White House or the Capitol.14

 

At 9:37:46 am, American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon .15

 

“At first I thought I’d blown up the fax machine. Then I realized that it wasn’t me. I smelled the jet fuel.” Louise Rogers, Civilian Accountant, Pentagon

 

 

“Do me a favor, for the rest of day work beneath your desk.” John Yates, Army Civilian Security manager, Pentagon

 

 

 

The Pentagon’s on-site firehouse responded immediately to the crash. Firefighters from nearby Reagan National Airport and Virginia’s Arlington County Fire Department arrived within minutes.  Many civilian employees and military personnel evacuated the building shortly after the impact, while others felt compelled to rush into the burning structure to rescue trapped and injured colleagues.

 

One-hundred-and-eighty-four lives were lost at the Pentagon that day. They were men, women, and children. They were mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, daughters and sons. They came from all walks of life: administrative assistants, doctors, educators, flight crew members, military leaders, scientists, and students. They came from towns and cities, large and small, across the United States and around the world. The youngest was only three years old; the oldest, 71. Despite the differences that distinguish them, these innocent individuals are united through the horrific events that unfolded on one of the darkest days in America’s history.

 

The physical damage to the Pentagon was rebuilt in less than one year, but these attacks changed our world forever.

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Questions about the Events of September 11, 2001 at the Pentagon

  • What was the time of the September 11 attack?
    Flight 77 struck the Pentagon at 9:37 am (EST).
  • How many people were on American Airlines Flight 77?
    When the plane lifted off at 8:20 am, it had 64 people on board:  a crew of six plus 58 passengers, including the five hijackers.
  • What is the number of victims who died at the Pentagon on September 11?
    There were 184 victims total (125 in the Pentagon and 59 on American Airlines Flight 77). This number does not include the hijackers on the plane.
  • What was the number of hijackers aboard the plane?
    Five.
  • What was the flight number?
    American Airlines Flight 77
  • Was flight number 77 retired?
    Yes. After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the flight numbers of the jetliners that crashed in New York, Washington, D.C. and rural Pennsylvania were retired.
  • What was the American Airlines Flight 77 departure and destination?
    Flight 77 was a scheduled flight from Washington Dulles International Airport to Los Angeles International Airport. It seems likely that between 8:51 and 8:54 am over eastern Kentucky, the hijackers made their move and took over Flight 77.
  • What was the direction of the plane’s approach?
    American Airlines Flight 77 approached from the west and at a ~42 degree angle to the western face of the Pentagon.  (The buildings on the hill are called the Navy Annex and the three spires are part of the new Air Force Memorial. Note: The Air Force Memorial was not built until after 2001.)
  • Where did the hijacked plane impact the Pentagon?
    American Airlines Flight 77 struck the western façade of the Pentagon at the 1st Floor level just inside Wedge 1 near Corridor 4, and proceeded diagonally at an approximate 42-degree angle towards Corridor 5 in the mostly vacant and unrenovated Wedge 2.
  • Why was the impact of the Pentagon so devastating?
    Flight 77 had taken off with a total weight of over 90 tons, roughly 25 percent of it in fuel. Allowing for the hour-and-a-quarter flight from Dulles Airport to Kentucky and back, Flight 77 still had most of its original 7,256 gallons of fuel on board, the greater part of it in the wings, when it hit the Pentagon. Traveling at 530 miles per hour, the aircraft, and the subsequent fuel explosion, delivered enormous destructive power. The destruction and, more importantly, the loss of life, would have been worse without the reinforcement of the exterior wall of Wedge 1 and installation of the blast-resistant windows and fire suppression systems made during the recent renovations.
  • How long did it take before the building collapsed?
    Approximately 30 minutes. The report of the American Society of Civil Engineers concluded that "the direct impact of the aircraft destroyed the load capacity of about 30 first-floor columns and significantly impaired that of 20 others.” Moreover, "this impact may have also destroyed the load capacity of about six second-floor columns adjacent to the exterior wall.” Shattering the many columns essentially doubled the span between columns, thereby imposing severe stress on the stability on the affected building section and causing the collapse of the four floors in the E Ring above the impact point at 10:15 am.

9/11 Timeline

Please visit the interactive timeline for the complete sequence of September 11th events. The interactive timeline contains information about the events of September 11, 2001 at the World Trade Center in New York City, in a grassy field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon.