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Pentagon plane appeared to be commuter

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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.

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.

'Extensive Casualties' in Wake of Pentagon Attack

By Barbara Vobejda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 11, 2001; 4:59 PM

An American Airlines jet carrying 58 passengers crashed into the Pentagon this morning less than an hour after two planes crashed into the World Trade Center, an apparent wave of terrorist attacks that triggered chaos in Washington and New York and dismay across the nation.

The aircraft, Flight 77 from Dulles to Los Angeles, was a Boeing 757 that eyewitnesses said flew low and fast in a direct hit on the west side of the five-sided building.

Glenn Flood, a Pentagon spokesman, said there were "extensive casualties" and an unknown number of fatalities, according to Associated Press. "We don't know the extent of the injuries," he said.

A spokesman for Giant Food Inc. said the grocery chain had been asked by Pentagon officials to supply a refrigerated truck to carry bodies from the building.

Local hospitals reported treating dozens, many who suffered burns.

Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), who had been briefed by Pentagon officials, said the attack had left roughly 100 "casualities," although it was not clear if those included wounded as well as dead.

The building that houses 24,000 workers and operates as the nation's military command center suffered heavy damage, with at least a portion of the structure collapsing, witnesses said. Shortly after the crash, witnesses reported secondary explosions and plumes of smoke that could be seen miles away.

"I was right underneath the plane," said Kirk Milburn, a construction supervisor for Atlantis Co., who was on the Arlington National Cemetery exit of Interstate 395 when he said he saw the plane heading for the Pentagon. "I heard a plane. I saw it. I saw debris flying. I guess it was hitting light poles," said Milburn. "It was like a WHOOOSH whoosh, then there was fire and smoke, then I heard a second explosion."

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."

The plane was one of two American Airlines and two United Airlines flights that crashed in terrorist attacks. Flight 77 also carried four flight attendants and two pilots.

The attack destroyed at least four of the five "rings" that spiral around the massive office building, hitting in a recently renovated section between corridors four and five.

Fairfax County's Urban Search and Rescue Team sent two ten-person squads into the Pentagon to search for survivors and to assess the damage. About 70 members of the team, staffed with paramedics, doctors, engineers and search dogs, headed to the scene at 1 p.m. The specially trained unit, one of two in the United States, has previously responded to bombings in Oklahoma City and Nairobi, Kenya, and also to earthquakes in Turkey, Taiwan and Armenia.

Fairfax fire spokesman Dan Schmidt said when the team arrived at the Pentagon its rescuers were prevented from reaching the site of the most damage because of fires that continued to burn.

Craig Quigley, deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, said at an afternoon news conference that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was in his office at the time of the crash. Rumsfeld ran to the site and helped with those who were injured, Quigley said, then went to the command center at the interior of the building.

"Fire was intense and only recently have Arlington search and rescue been able to get inside the Pentagon," he said. Fires are still burning and "it appeared as if a plane intentionally flew into the building," Quigley said.

He said there were no numbers on casualties.

Ten patients were brought to Inova Alexandria Hospital suffering from injuries ranging from burns to head lacerations, according to Kathleen Barry, chief nurse executive. By 1 p.m., two had been discharged, seven were in stable condition and one was in critical condition suffering from smoke inhalation.

Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington reported treating 30 patients, eight of whom were in critical condition, according to a spokeswoman. She said the hospital had set up a command center to help families locate relatives who may have been victims.

Georgetown University Hospital reported one serious injury. Washington Hospital Center is treating seven burn victims, officials reported.

Earlier reports of other explosions in the Washington region, at the State Department and the Capitol, were not accurate, law enforcement officials said.

In reaction to the attacks, the U.S. Navy's Atlantic fleet sent warships to bolster the air defenses of Washington and New York City. It also has sent U.S. Marines and medical personnel to both cities to lend support.

Virginia Gov. James Gilmore (R) activated National Guard members for rescue duty and ordered special search and rescue teams and state police to the Pentagon attack site. The governor also closed state government offices that share space with federal agencies, and declared a state of emergency that generally applies to rescue and transportation agencies that would typically respond to hurricanes and other national disasters.

At least four state and federal facilities in Maryland appeared on a list of possible targets that was forwarded to Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening at noon.

The landmark 213-year-old Maryland State House, the National Security Agency, Fort Meade and the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis were all locked down after they appeared on the list, which was sent to the governor by a federal intelligence agency that he would not name.

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 ... I was watching the World Trade Center go and then this. It was like Oh my God, what's next?"

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."

Air Force Lt. Col. Marc Abshire, 40, a speechwriter for Air Force Secretary James Roche, was working on several speeches this morning when he felt the blast of the explosion at the Pentagon. His office is on the D ring, near the eighth corrider, he said.

"It shot me back in my chair. There was a huge blast. I could feel the air shock wave of it," Abshire said. "I didn't know exactly what it was. It didn't rumble. It was more of a direct smack. I said, 'This isn't right. Something's wrong here.'"

"We all went out in the hallway. People were yelling 'Evacuate! Evacuate!' And we found ourselves on the lawn and looking back on our building. It was very much a surrealistic sort of experience. It's just definitely not right to see smoke coming out of the Pentagon. It was a very strange sight to see."

Rebecca Lovelace was in the Pentagon Metro station when the plane crashed.

A number of passengers panicked and ran out of the station, jumping over the turnstiles, she said. Lovelace boarded a Yellow Line train headed to the District and as it came out of the tunnel, she could see a massive cloud of smoke billowing up from the Pentagon. "The train made no announcementsabout the attack we had just escaped from," she said. "When it was time to departthe driver kept to his routine reminding us all to have a great day."

At about 9:20 a.m., Lt. Col. Art Haubold, a public affairs officer with air force, was in his office on the opposite side of the complex when the plane struck.

"We were sitting there watching the reports on the World Trade Center. All of a sudden, the windows blew in," he said. "We could see a fireball out our window."

Shortly after, uniformed military personnel and civilian workers were streaming away from the building, holding biriefcases and attaches. Two women, one crying, were holding hands.

Many were talking on cell phones and many more were trying to get an open line on them.

Police officers in full battle gear, their fingers resting outside the trigger guards of semi automatic weapons, paced the perimeter of the south parking lot.

One federal officer, a camera around his neck, clutched a fistful of film. Rumors swirled about other attacks on the Capitol and other federal buildings.

Police officers in unmarked white cars and SUVs raced back and forth along the perimeter of the south parking lot, as a blue and white US Park Police chopper hovered overhead.

Staff Sgt. Nelson Ayres, who works in communications security, said he was called back on duty after his 8:30 a.m. shift ended. Assigned to communications security, he was assigned to secure classified documents in his area.

"I grabbed a stretcher. I thought I'd help out," he said as he was standing along a retaining wall.

About 10:30 a.m., a crowd of at least a dozen people bolted across the south parking lot away form the building.

"There's another plane incoming," someone yelled.

Police and security officers began to clear the area, ordering everyone to move through a concrete underpass under a nearby access road

The crash at the Pentagon, which occurred less than an hour after the New York attacks, triggered immediate security steps in the Washington area, including evacuation of the State Department, the Capitol building and the West Wing of the White House. The nine top leaders of the House and Senate were taken into federal protection, according to the U.S. Capitol Police. Vice President Dick Cheney and first lady Laura Bush, both of whom were in Washington, were taken to a secure, undisclosed location, AP reported.

The Federal Aviation Administration shut down the air traffic system nationwide for the first time ever. All air travel was to remain halted until noon tomorrow.

D.C. Chief of Police Charles H. Ramsey declared emergency status for all officers. Police ordered that all suspicious vehicles be spot-checked and all police facilities were shut down and made accessible only to those with proper identification.

District of Columbia government shut down and ordered nonessential personnel to leave, and many private firms closed and sent employees streaming home, jamming the subway and roads.

The federal government closed all of its facilities around Washington at 10:30 a.m. and told the region's 340,000 federal employees they could leave at their discretion.

At Tysons Corner, one of the region's largest job centers, office buildings were evacuated before noon, creating a massive traffic jam on Route 7 and nearby streets.

Within an hour of the New York explosions, the federal government took the additional step of shutting down national landmarks across the country, including the Washington Monument, the Statue of Liberty and the St. Louis Gateway Arch, among other locations, according to the National Park Service.

The Metro system remained open except for the Pentagon stop.

Metro shut down the Pentagon station just after the explosion at 9:45 a.m. It is unclear if the station was damaged, spokesman Ray Feldmann said. Bus service at the Pentagon, one of the biggest transfer points in the region, was halted, Feldmann said.

Asework Hagos, 26, of Arlington, was driving on Columbia Pike on his way to work as a consultant for Nextel. He saw a plane flying very low and close to nearby buildings. "I thought something was coming down on me. I know this plane is going to crash. I've never seen a plane like this so low." He said he looked at it and saw American Airline insignia and when it made impact with the Pentagon initially he saw smoke, then flames.

At the Pentagon, employees had heard about or seen footage of the World Trade Centre attack when they felt their own building shake. Ervin Brown, who works at the Pentagon, said he saw pieces of what appeared to be small aircraft on the ground, and the part of the building by the heliport had collapsed.

"We heard what sounded like a missile, then we heard a loud boom," said Tom Seibert, 33, of Woodbridge, Va., a network engineer at the Pentagon. "We just hit the dirt. We dived instinctively.

"We were sitting there and watching this thing in New York, and I said, 'you know, the next best target would be us. And five minutes later, boom.'"

A 38-year-old Marine major who asked to remain anonymous said he and dozens of his colleagues rushed to the area in the Pentagon that appeared most heavily damaged -- the B ring between the 4th and 5th corridors.

"From two-star army generals to marine officers to navy medics ... everybody helped," he said.

He said he was part of a make-shift rescue crew that tried to pulled out a civilian who was pinned by fallen pipes and other debris. As the hot, thick, black smoke built up, the men passed wet t-shirts to one another and removed debris piece-by-piece in assembly-line fashion.

"It took 30 men, 30 minutes to get just that one guy to the door 15 feet away," he said, adding that the man was cut and bruised but not seriously injured.

The major said that hundreds of people worked in the B-ring area and that it was "decimated ... that heat and fire, it could eat you alive in three seconds."

John Damoose, a Travis City, Mich. native who was in a meeting said "everybody got nervous. ... We didn't know whether to stay inside or go outside. The thing with terrorist attacks is that you don't know what is the next thing that will happen."

Damoose said the worst part was leaving the Pentagon and walking along Fort Meyer Drive, a bike trail, "you could see pieces of the plane."

Rick Watson, 30, of Lake Ridge, Va., another network engineer, felt as if he were reliving the California earthquake that struck during the World Series several years ago.

"My first instinct was to jump under the desk," he said.

Officials and employees said evacuation was orderly and calm.

"There wasn't any crying and everybody was just making sure others were okay," said Navy commander Dawn Maskell.

"When the guy said it was time to evacuate, we already knew about the World Trade Center, and so we secured classified documents and got out of the building. Our first concerns were safety and equipment," she said. "We were out in three minutes."

The scene outside shocked many.

"The scary sight was when we first walked outside the building and saw the big smoke," said Watson. "That literally made my knees buckle."

Navy Lt. Matt Murphy was in the basement at the time. He was out of the building within a minute, he said.

"A determined enemy can hit you," said Murphy, choking up with emotion as he spoke. "It's just a matter of determining how you do when you're hit. Being able to hit this many targets in a seemingly effective way is the stunning part to me."

Navy Capt. Charles Fowler, assigned to the Joint Chiefs, was working on a speech for Gen. Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, when he heard the explosion.

"You could feel the building shake," said Fowler. You knew it was a major explosion. I grabbed all my gear and grabbed the laptop and headed out."

"The interesting part was we didn't hear the alarm go off, but word got around very fast. It was an orderly evacuation"

Fowler's office, on the river side, appeared to be on the opposite side from the explosion, he said. "Tons of smoke was coming up from the wedge-lots of black and gray smoke."

Officials shut down the Virginia State Capitol building shortly after 10 a.m. this morning, locking all doors, with only key personnel inside. "The building is shut down," said a Capitol Police officer as he locked one door.

Dozens of office workers gathered on the rooftops of their office buildings in Georgetown, staring across the river into Virginia where a huge cloud of smoke billowed from the Pentagon. Some held their heads in disbelief; others stared ahead stonily.

Sirens could be heard wailing from both Virginia and other parts of the District. Traffic crept along the Whitehurst Freeway and then slowed even further on K street, where dozens of workers gathered to cross the busy street at every intersection.

Jennifer Moody, 29, Bloomfield, Ind., arrived at George Washington University Hospital unsure where else to look for her husband.

Her husband was taking a tour of the Pentagon as part of a class he was taking as a civilian for the Navy. She was at Arlington National Cemetery.

"I heard a boom, saw smoke and wondered if it was at the Pentagon. I've been working my way back ever since."

The news of the attacks and evacuation of federal buildings sent hundreds of office workers into the streets and created a frenzied atmosphere downtown today.

Fire engines roared down streets, dozens of office workers milled in Farragut Square and K Street was jammed with cars at a time when most of establishment Washington usually would be in their offices.

In Farragut Square, dozens of office workers milled in a park that normally would be left to unemployed and homeless spending the day on benches.

"It's scary," said Anthony Riker, 23, an employee at a non-profit with offices next to the New Executive Office Building. Added co-worker, Ruben Duboin, 25, "It's something we always joke about, being right close to the White House, but this is scary."

"I'm getting my kids out of school," said a shaken Paula Williams, who was standing at the corner of L Street and Connecticut Ave. NW about 10:10 am. She said she had been evacuated from her offices on K Street NW.

"We were just told to get outta the building," said Steve Neugeboren who works for the Environmental Protection Agency. He was in his office when he heard someone in the hallway telling employees to leave around 10:30 a.m. "I'm scared."

He was one of about 15 people clustered around a van at 15th and M Streets that had its radio on so people could hear what was happening.

Tom Marshall, also of the EPA said he heard others saying "business as usual" but he left as Neugeboren, of Bethesda, dragged him out of the office.

Marshall called his wife on her cell phone to meet her at the street corner. Marshall and his wife, Mary O'Lone, who works at the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, live in the District and were going to walk home.

O'Lone's office is at 14th and New York. She was told to leave immediately this morning because her office is too close to the White House.

Streets at 10:30 were clogged with cars, sidewalks were crowded with people on cell phones trying to get in touch with family and friends. "Okay, I'm at 16th Street now, near Dupont," said one woman into her phone.

"I'm worried about friends and family in New York," said Marshall.

Staff writers Nurith Aizenman, Amy Argetsinger, Steve Barr, Jo Becker, Victoria Benning, Adam Bernstein, Justin Blum, William Branigan, Bill Broadway, Sewell Chan, David Cho, D'Vera Cohn, Christian Davenport, Patricia Davis, Andrew DeMillo, David Fallis, Ann Gerhart, Maria Glod, Marcia Slacum Green, Hamil Harris, Rosalind S. Helderman, Spencer Hsu, Tom Jackman, Serge Kovaleski, Fredrick Kunkle, Lyndsey Layton, Susan Levine, Ray McCaffrey, Bill Miller, Carol Morello, Sylvia Moreno, Ellen Nakashima, Ann O'Hanlon, Jackie Salmon, Greg Schneider, Liz Seymour, Ian Shapira, Michael Shear, Mary Beth Sheridan, Leef Smith, Jamie Stockwell, Valerie Strauss, Neely Tucker, Linda Wheeler, Debbie Wilgoren, Josh White, Peter Whoriskey, and Yolanda Woodley contributed to this report.

2001 The Washington Post Company

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