Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Penta-bomb

Joseph Cannon (

The Penta-bomb

By Joseph

(Note: In 2003, I wrote an unpublished piece on the conspiracy theories congealing around the Pentagon strike. What you are about to read is the first half, updated and revised, with many of the footnotes worked into the text. I'll publish an updated version of the rest of the piece if readers ask for it, although I suspect that most of you will consider this bit sufficient -- perhaps even TMI.

I beg commenters to focus on the specific subject at hand. There will be time enough later to talk about the temperature of melting steel or pods beneath the jetliner wings or Why Bush is Bad or whatever other topic you are dying to switch to. This is about American Airlines 77.)

The French edition of Thuerry Meyssan’s The Frightening Fraud -- which posits that American Airlines Flight 77 did not fly into the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 -- sold nearly 200,000 copies in its first three weeks of publication. No other volume in French history has sold so well in so short a time. The book’s argument comes down to four simple words: Where is the Boeing?

Most Americans were introduced to this argument via a popular web site, where, in photograph after photograph, visual evidence did indeed seem to present an intriguing mystery. None of the photos display any aircraft debris. The collapsed area of the Pentagon's outer wall is substantially smaller than the nearly 125-foot wingspan of a Boeing 757. Only the outermost of the building's five concentric "rings" of offices collapsed, and the width of this ring is smaller than the 155-foot length of a Boeing 757.

"Can you explain," asks Meyssan, "how a Boeing 757-200, weighing nearly 100 tons and traveling at a minimum speed of 250 miles an hour, only damaged the outside of the Pentagon?" The building is five stories high, while the jet is just under 15 yards in height, with the landing gear down. Early photos, taken within the first fifteen minutes, show that the upper floors did not collapse immediately. The hole, in short, seems much smaller than the object which created it.

The French theorist also believes that the Secretary of Defense acted suspiciously when he "deemed it necessary to sand over the lawn, which was otherwise undamaged..." (The reference here is to the grassy area in front of the impact site.) Meyssan has stated that either a bomb or a missile damaged the building; the actual fate of Flight 77 remains unknown.

His collection of photographs makes for an interesting case, which will persuade only those who close their eyes to certain facts.

Let us first deal with the "sand over the lawn" poser, which has a simple solution. The task of hauling away building wreckage required heavy equipment, and that equipment required a makeshift roadway. No engineer would want to place a massive crane on soft earth -- and no evidence suggests that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld personally made the decision to re-surface the area.

Anyone studying the crash scene photographs should keep in mind that the Pentagon is not only the largest office building in the world, it is also the most heavily fortified. Each of its five outermost walls features a limestone exterior, placed over a mixture of 100,000 tons of sand and steel-reinforced concrete. Not long before the disaster, the building received further reinforcement -- a "skeleton" of steel tubing, a Kevlar-like wall-covering material, and blast-resistant windows -- to help prevent collapse during a terrorist bombing.

Despite this protection, the Boeing obliterated the bottom two floors of the outermost ring of offices, causing a section of that ring to cave in less than fifteen minutes later. The next ring received substantial impact damage, although it did not collapse. Parts of the plane even reached the middle sector. Aerial photos show that fire affected all five rings over a wide area. (By way of comparison, note that the World Trade Center towers -- only 208 feet wide, with far more fragile outer walls -- “consumed” most of the two jets which ploughed into their sides.)

According to witnesses, the landing gear was not down as the plane sailed across the lawn before impact with the Pentagon, which means the height of the jet was well short of 15 yards. The body of a 757 is in fact less than twelve feet high and less than 14 feet wide. The heaviest portion of the body is the lower half; the top portion – where the passengers sit – is comparatively thin.

This fact goes some ways toward explaining why the initial impact obliterated only the bottom two floors. Real life is not a Tex Avery cartoon, and we should not expect to see the exact outline of a jet punched into the wall. The photographic evidence demonstrates that the width of the total impact zone far exceeded the section which collapsed. A stout wall can be hit hard yet remain upright, as a number of drunk drivers have discovered. Some windows did remain intact – not surprising, since the windows were blast-reinforced.

(To read the rest, click "Permalink" below)

The images chosen for Meyssan's web site may not show aircraft debris, but other photos do -- silvery pieces, matching the color of an American Airlines jet. Fans of the “penta-bomb” idea have mooted the suggestion that these photographs were faked. Conversely, opponents of this theory have accused Meyssan of cropping his images in a deceptive fashion. Technology writer Paul Boutin points out: "If you've seen photos of airline crashes after the fire is out, they look more like landfill sites than anything recognizable as having been an airplane." (“‘Hunt the Boeing’ Answers”:; accessed 2003. )

British writer Joe Vialls, a former member of London's Society of Licenced Aeronautical Engineers and Technologists – whom I quote precisely because he is a 911 conspiracy theorist – sneers at the French theory:
Visit any one of several hundred vertical or near-vertical high-speed crash sites and you will observe a strange phenomenon -- the aircraft all seem to vanish into relatively small holes. There is no easy explanation for this, but rest assured that I speak from direct experience.

In the early sixties we were sent out to find the crash site of an English Electric Lightning Mach 2 fighter, which went in vertically at nearly 400 miles per hour during an aerobatics display. Despite having a wingspan of 35 feet, the Lightning impact crater measured only 22 feet across. Did we find the wings lying about in the field next door? No, we did not.

By some strange twist of physics the wings were in the same impact crater, near the top. What was left of the Lightning fuselage lay many feet beneath the wings...
In a follow-up article, Vialls notes a case offering a direct parallel to the Flight 77 tragedy. (, dated May 2002.) On October 4, 1992, El Al Flight 1862, a 747 jumbo jet – weightier and larger than the craft which hit the Pentagon -- lost an engine shortly after take-off from an airport in Amsterdam; the pilot managed to keep the craft more-or-less horizontal as it lost power and slammed into a massive apartment block in Bjilmer, an Amsterdam suburb. Although the 747 had a 212-foot wingspan, the resultant “hole” in the building was only half as wide. As in the Pentagon case, photographs of the crash site (taken from a distance) do not show any obvious pieces of the craft. Indeed, those photos depict a scene quite similar to the disaster along the Potomac, even though the Bjilmer apartments must have had far weaker exterior walls.

As Vialls notes:
A high proportion of the mass in any aircraft is contained within its fuselage, which presents a very small cross section at the point of impact, relative to the thin but very wide and fragile wings. Thus in both cases the high mass and low cross section caused Flight 77 and Flight 1862’s fuselages to punch holes deep into and through the concrete targets.

The wings are a different matter… The problem when an aircraft hits a flat building is that, although the wings snap off, they still have enormous inertia and will continue moving forward if at all possible...
First-hand accounts of the Pentagon catastrophe confirm this analysis. One eyewitness, a pilot named Tim Timmerman, noted that American Airlines Flight 77 "added power on its way in. The nose hit, and the wings came forward and it went up in a fireball." Keep in mind that the Pentagon’s walls received a substantial blow outside the collapsed area.

News reports quote numerous other witnesses -- a priest, commuters, office workers, reporters (the USA Today building offers a view of the impact zone), even a gardener. They all tell a consistent tale of passenger-jet-meets-building. None of them speak of bombs or missiles.

John O'Keefe, managing editor of a publication called Influence, was traveling on Interstate 395 when "from my left side -- I don't know whether I saw or heard it first -- this silver plane, I immediately recognized it as an American Airlines jet. It came swooping in over the highway, over my left shoulder, straight across where my car was heading... I thought, 'That's not going to make it to National Airport.' And then I realized where I was, and that it was going to hit the Pentagon. There was a burst of orange flame that shot out that I could see through the highway overpass. Then it was just black. Just black thick smoke." (New York Law Journal, September 12, 2001.)

Omar Campo was mowing the lawn across the road from the Pentagon when the plane came in overhead. "It was a passenger plane. I think an American Airways plane. I was cutting the grass and it came in screaming over my head. The whole ground shook and the whole area was full of fire." ("Pentagon Eyewitness Accounts," The Guardian, September 12, 2001)

Tim Timmerman, quoted above, also identified an American Airlines jet. (

Truck driver Steve Eiden noticed a passenger plane flying extremely low in what he presumed to be restricted airspace. "You could almost see the people in the windows." ("Sept 11, the Day America Changed," The Baxter Bulletin, 2001.)

During his drive to work, Fred Gaskins, an editor at USA Today, saw the jetliner "flying fast and low and the Pentagon was the obvious target." (USA Today, September 11, 2001.)

Steve Anderson had a clear view of the tragedy from his office in the USA Today building. "I thought to myself that I couldn't believe the pilot was flying so low. Then it dawned on me what was about to happen. I watched in horror as the plane flew at treetop level, banked slightly to the left, drug its wing along the ground and slammed into the west wall of the Pentagon, exploding into a bright orange fireball." (From an essay posted to web page devoted to his university, October 2, 2001)

While driving to Arlington for a funeral, Father Stephen McGraw took a wrong turn which brought him within view of the Pentagon. "The plane clipped the top of a light pole just before it got to us, injuring a taxi driver, whose taxi was just a few feet away from my car. I saw it crash into the building. My only memories really were that it looked like a plane coming in for a landing. I mean in the sense that it was controlled and sort of straight... There was an explosion and a loud noise and I felt the impact. I remember seeing a fireball come out of two windows." ("Pentagon crash eyewitness comforted victims," MDW News Service, September 28, 2001.)

Aydan Kizildrgli, a Turkish exchange student, described what he saw as a jetliner. (

Deb Anlauf, watching from the 14th floor of the Sheraton National Hotel in Arlington, told a reporter: “"Suddenly I saw this plane right outside my window... You felt like you could touch it; it was that close. It was just incredible. Then it shot straight across from where we are and flew right into the Pentagon. It was just this huge fireball that crashed into the wall (of the Pentagon). When it hit, the whole hotel shook." (

Dan Creed, of Oracle software, said “"I can still see the plane. I can still see it right now. It's just the most frightening thing in the world, going full speed, going full throttle, its wheels up.” (; the link to a Ahwatukee Foothill News account no longer functions.)

The CSPAN website made available an audio record of the D.C. area emergency dispatch system, in which a harried -- but always professional -- operator fields incoming information about the disaster. Within the first minute, a male voice reports that an “American Airlines” passenger plane has crashed. It is fair to presume that this report came from a police or security officer who had witnessed the event.

The NFPA Journal of November 1, 2001 (cited here: quotes a firefighter named Defina as saying that “we saw pieces of the nose gear” inside the Pentagon.

Anyone capable of discounting the eyewitness accounts will probably also discount the fact that Flight 77's two "black boxes" turned up in the wreckage ("Flight Data and Voice Recorders Found at Pentagon," PBS Online Newshour, Sept. 14, 2001; “The Tech Behind Black Boxes,” ABC news, Sept. 17, 2001), as did identifiable pieces of a passenger jet – not to mention the remains of the passengers. A team of some 50 forensic specialists from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, working twelve hour shifts in the mortuary at Dover Air Force Base, managed to identify 64 passengers and crew members, using DNA and other identification methods. (News release, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, January 11, 2002.)

Very few eyewitnesses reported smaller aircraft. A Mrs. Khavkin reported a “small commercial craft.” ( However, she was much further away than many of the other witnesses mentioned here – the BBC account quotes her thus: “Our balcony faces the city, with a panoramic view of the Pentagon, National Airport, and the entire downtown area of Washington, DC.” Note too that she says that “the plane knocked down a number of street lamp poles,” even though a few conspiracists insist that a jetliner could not do such a thing. Other witnesses who described a small jet are Don Wright, who watched from the 12th floor of a building in Rosslyn, and Steve Patterson, who watched from the 14th floor of a building in Pentagon City. (

We have hardly exhausted the list of eyewitnesses. Only the loopiest sort of conspiracy buff could envision a squad of American spooks scurrying about on that day, forcing numerous witnesses to change or concoct their stories. Predictably, the die-hard conspiracists react by “swiftboating” anyone who says anything they don’t want to hear. (See, for example, here:

Given the location involved, we should not be surprised to see military personnel and USA Today reporters prominent among the witnesses. I do not believe that everyone who works in any capacity for the nation’s military is a born liar. And although I am by no means a fan of USA Today, I cannot believe that everyone who has ever worked for that journal would lie about so important a matter.

If the presumed conspirators could compel such a massive degree of false testimony, if the conspirators command such god-like powers, then why did any “difficult” data find ink? Why, for example, were Khavkin and Wright allowed to have their say in print? And why did one reporter from the hated USA Today suddenly become credible when he uttered words that the “no jet” theorists found convenient?

USA Today’s Mike Walter, who was in traffic nearby, reported that he saw an American Airlines jet strike the Pentagon, as CNN mentioned in a story posted on September 11, 2001. ( ) However, Walter became a “good” witness for the conspiracy promoters when he described the craft as coming in “like a guided missile with wings.” Those who never attended English class -- and thus never learned that the word “like” signals the onset of a thing called a simile – took these words in an ultra-literal fashion. As Walter told a later interviewer (
I never imagined for a moment that a statement like that would come back to haunt me over and over again. A French author would come out with a book describing in detail the conspiracy theory and he would use that quote out of context to help promote his conclusions. I was very angry about all of this, and I remain angry about it today. I’m also upset that so many people lost their lives that day and while some people who have written about that tragic day have donated any and all proceeds to the victims of 9-11, he has capitalized on it to make an awful lot of money.
When Walter said these words, he became re-stigmatized as one of USA Today's liars-for-lucre.

A sufficiently determined conspiracist -- believe me, I’ve known a few -- can impeach anyone. The priest can be impeached with an appeal to anti-Catholic bigotry; a few muttered words about the Vatican banking scandal of thirty years ago will suffice to brand all priests as liars. Obviously, the Salvadoran gardener must have had immigration problems. How do we know that this alleged Turkish student really exists? Those 50 forensic specialists at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology must be fictional as well. I suppose I could try to contact one of those specialists via telephone, but why bother? A nay-sayer will simply presume that any interview subject who offers inconvenient testimony must be a liar.

Always keep in mind that a creative mind will find grounds to question your own testimony, should you ever see something that someone else does not want you to have seen. It does not matter who you are or what your background might be. Your entire work history and family background will be scoured until something comes up that sets off alarm bells: You say your cousin worked for the FBI ten years ago? A-HA! You once went to Baylor University? Ah, that’s where the CIA did MKULTRA experiments... And so you join the ranks of the presumed paid prevaricators, even though you're not a penny richer for it.

The theory of widespread witness intimidation and fabricated testimony becomes particularly risible when we compare the Pentagon tragedy to, for example, the JFK assassination. The FBI and the Warren Commission desperately wanted to find someone who would place Oswald in that 6th floor window, but the only witness available was a severely nearsighted man who didn’t wear his glasses that day. Pretty pathetic -- especially when compared to the dozens and dozens of alleged “liars” testifying to the Pentagon strike.

Although we have some credible accounts of attempted witness intimidation in the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination, we nevertheless have the testimony of Jean Hill, the Newmans, Abraham Zapruder, Ed Hoffman, James Tague and many other people whose words damaged the Commission’s conclusions. Compare that situation to the 9/11 aftermath: Not one person has stepped forward to say: "The feds tried to pressure me into telling a false story about the Pentagon strike." Are we to believe that Hoover’s FBI was less intimidating than is the current incarnation? Ridiculous. Are we to believe that Americans are more compliant now than they were then? Ridiculous.

Indeed, I would posit that the Meyssanites are mimicking not the Warren Commission skeptics, but the Warren Commission’s defenders. Any eyewitness offering testimony contradicting the predetermined conclusion must be swift-boated – smeared through fair means or foul. Dan Creed and Jean Hill must go through the same meat grinder. The conclusion remains unmovable; the facts are malleable.

The “no jet hit the Pentagon” belief system marks the point where conspiracy theory becomes an exercise in gonzo epistemology. Reality is what you make of it. You can, if you wish, call into question which teams played last year’s World Series. After all, each person in the stadium offers impeachable testimony. Newspapers lie. Special effects wizards can manipulate the broadcast image.

How do you really know the Cubs didn’t win?

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