Moments in Time

Flight 77 Pentagon Crash

Released Security Tapes End Last Remaining Conspiracy Theories

When al-Qaida operative Hani Hanjour - the terrorist pilot at the commands of American Airlines Flight 77 - crashed the hijacked airliner through the wall of the Pentagon, little did he know that besides worldwide condemnation, he would also spark a huge conspiracy theory that still persists today. However, many of the myths and rumours instigated by a variety of people, groups and unfortunately governments, were laid to rest thanks to the release of dramatic film footage.

Judicial Watch, an American public interest group, launched an action that prompted the Department of Defense (DOD) to release a videotape that showed Flight 77 striking the Pentagon on 11 September 2001.

'This is in response to your 14 December 2004 Freedom of Information Act Request, FOIA appeal of 27 March 2005, and complaint filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia,' wrote William Kammer, Chief of the Department of Defense, Office of Freedom of Information. 'Now that the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui is over, we are able to complete your request and provide the video'.

Judicial Watch originally filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking all records pertaining to 11 September 2001 camera recordings of the Pentagon attack from the Sheraton National Hotel, the Nexcomm/Citgo gas station, Pentagon security cameras and the Virginia Department of Transportation. This footage had been confiscated within hours of the attack by the FBI. The Department of Defense admitted in a 26 January 2005, letter that it possessed a videotape responsive to Judicial Watch's request. However, the Pentagon refused to release the videotape because it was, "part of an ongoing investigation involving Zacarias Moussaoui."

Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said: "We fought hard to obtain this video because we felt that it was very important to complete the public record with respect to the terrorist attacks of 11 September."


Though nearly all the victims were identified by DNA and other methods, rumours that a missile had been fired were prevalent. Sceptics claimed that there was 'no film footage' or that it was an impossible feat to fly such a large airliner into the building at the angle which Flight 77 had adopted. And then, of course, the lack of aircraft wreckage began more rumours. A great deal of focus on motorway (Highway I-395) cameras and nearby buildings ensued, but the DOD has correctly withheld the tapes for analysis.

One of the segments (from a Pentagon security camera) released to Judicial Watch, shows the nose of the aircraft as a thin white blur skidding into the southwest side of the building at ground level. A split second later a white flash is visible and then a huge orange fireball envelopes the area followed by plumbs of black smoke. There is little doubt this was a large airliner.

The video shows a Pentagon police car passing in front of the camera and momentarily obscuring the impact point. A second or two later Flight 77 hurtled into the building.

By this time of course, two other hijacked airliners had already been flown into the twin towers at the World Trade Center in New York.

It is understood the video footage was taken from two different security cameras at the same Pentagon checkpoint, though the views are slightly different. In 2003, officials released still photographs from these cameras showing the Pentagon on fire, but no moving images of the Flight 77 striking the building had thus been made public.

Theories Abound

Most accredited journalists who investigated the Pentagon crash scene refused to be drawn into any larger debate about the incident, though some complained about the lack of transparency in respect of information. Little remained of the Boeing 757, and few official photographs were released. However, one image from FEMA, showed part of an engine spindle assembly. Sceptics claimed the section was 'far too small' to belong to Flight 77's Rolls Royce engines.

There were even stories and images that supposedly showed officials on the lawn outside the building placing aircraft wreckage in strategic places. Like all good conspiracy stories, Flight 77 generated a plethora of searching questions,

A witness on the 14th floor of an apartment in nearby Pentagon City said the aircraft was smaller than a Boeing 757 - claiming it could only hold seven or eight people. Another man said it looked like a "cruise missile with wings." However, a more measured statement by motorist Penny Elgas, who was stuck in a traffic jam near the scene, offered this explanation. "At the point where the fuselage hit the wall, it seemed to simply melt into the building... the wings disappeared into the Pentagon. An explosion followed and the plane slipped into the building."

Experts agreed that the impact hole was unusual in that the immediate damage was relatively minor. Aviation accident specialists pointed out that the aircraft acted like a bullet and that the resultant explosion and near total destruction of the aircraft was consistent with this type of crash. "The aircraft simply vaporised." said one analyst.

Conspiracy theorists also noted that at a nearby gas station, an employee who witnessed the crash, said: "The FBI were here within minutes and took our [CCTV] film." He also admitted that he never saw the footage again. Yet by necessity the FBI and police were forced to move quickly and secure numerous tapes in and around the area - lest they be wiped or recorded over. CCTV cameras, even at huge and important sites like the Pentagon, were not as prevalent as they are today.

For years the missile theory, small aircraft theory, CIA rocket-propelled grenade (to name but three) have festered because the DOD refused to release the tapes on legal grounds. But like any good mystery, those intent on placing the blame on anyone other than the hijackers, were dismissive of the new tapes and visual evidence. Sceptics pointed out that just months prior to 9/11, the Pentagon conducted a test drill that involved an attack on the building using a commercial airliner. And more - The section of the Pentagon that was hit on 11 September was the first and only section of the Pentagon undergoing renovation to strengthen the building against a terrorist attack.

The section in question, known as Wedge 1, had been under renovation and was scheduled for final completion on 12 September 2001. On MSNBC just one year after the attack, a commentator said: "It's ironic says Pentagon Renovation Manager Lee Evey that the hijacked airliner smashed into the very area of the Pentagon that had just undergone a renovation to strengthen the building against a terrorist attack. The death toll could have been much worse. Evey said the hijacked aircraft hit a portion of the building that had been renovated and reinforced with blast resistant windows, a special reinforced steel construction, and even fire-resistant Kevlar cloth."

Security drills, terrorist scenario operations (involving aircraft and biological threats), infiltration units are carried out very frequently at the Pentagon. Those authors who believed it was "no coincidence" that officials "prepared staff for an attack" are quite simply, living in a fantasy world.

A more reflective Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said: "Finally, we hope that this video will put to rest the conspiracy theories involving American Airlines Flight 77. As always, our prayers remain with all those who suffered as a result of those murderous attacks."

The Pentagon attack killed 184 people: Fifty-three passengers and six crew members on board American Airlines Flight 77, and 125 military and civilian personnel inside the building.


After the Pentagon was attacked by those who had hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 from Dulles International Airport, there were more rumours that the White House and/or Capitol building were the real targets. However, radar tapes show conclusively that Flight 77 made a rapid, descending turn over Northern Virginia, nearly completing a full circle before crashing into the Pentagon. A very precise and calculated manoeuvre. The airliner never entered nor approached restricted airspace around the White House or Capitol and turned off a course toward the White House when it was just 10 miles away, according to radar data.

The track flown by the Boeing 757 indicates that the hijacker pilot intended to hit the Pentagon and did so with remarkable skill. "He made a nice coordinated turn," said a senior aviation official, noting that the manoeuvre was that of a very good or lucky pilot.

Radar track data obtained from a long-range radar installation at Dulles, showed the aircraft was heading due east, generally in the direction of the White House, but began gradually turning toward the southeast more than 10 miles away from the restricted airspace that surrounds the White House. At that point the plane was heading directly towards the Pentagon.

Travelling over the area at an average speed of 460mph, the pilot had turned off the plane's transponder, which reports an aircraft's identity, speed, altitude and other information. While the FAA could determine the aircraft's average speed, it could not determine its altitude.

Investigators believe the pilot realised he was at too great an altitude to hit the Pentagon from the northwest, thus he made a tight right-hand turn, losing altitude rapidly to approach the building from the west-southwest.

The final radar signal from Flight 77 came at 9.37am, less than a mile from the Pentagon. The aircraft had by now descended below radar level.


French conspiracy theorist, Thierry Meyssan, who caused outrage in 2001 when he questioned the official version of events, believed the released Pentagon videos support his view that Flight 77 did not strike the Pentagon. The author of The Big Lie and Pentagate says: "The new videos confirm clearly that no Boeing hit the Pentagon on 9/11."

In a statement issued from Paris shortly after the tapes were released, Meyssan said: "This footage does not bring any new evidence compared to the previously published frames that were extracted from it. Everyone can see for himself that no Boeing 757-200 crashed on the Pentagon. As I explained in Pentagate, and is confirmed by this video, the attack was perpetrated using a very small size, single-engine aircraft. It didn't crash onto the building, but punched a hole through it and provoked a short and violent explosion. All those elements point towards a missile and absolutely not a commercial airliner."

Meyssan believed both attacks were masterminded not by al-Qaida, but "from inside the American state apparatus." However, his critics said he clearly ignored a plethora of scientific evidence, and numerous statements from eye witnesses who watched the American airliner's final moments. US intelligence analysts say his books focus on theories and impossible scenarios.

But moreover, and putting an end to all talk of conspiracy, Meyssan and others failed to explain how the bodies of 53 passengers and six crew were recovered from inside the Pentagon.


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