Revealed after 16 years, shocking pictures of 9/11 Pentagon attack
THESE were the scenes of devastation at the Pentagon after the 9/11 attack, revealed yesterday in previously unseen images from an FBI archive.
In the days after the attack, officials tried to limit media coverage amid fears that top secret documents strewn around the site might be seen by foreign agents.
A number of pictures did emerge, however, but the initial absence of obvious plane debris fuelled conspiracy theories, some even questioning whether the attack happened and suggesting it may have been the work of the US government rather than Al Qaeda terrorists.
The image of a relatively small and circular rather than aircraft-shaped hole in the side of the Pentagon fuelled claims the government was covering up a missile attack.
Talk of a cover-up was revived yesterday when the FBI released 27 photos graphically revealing the devastation. The bureau did not say why it has released the images now. They were uploaded on to its website in a section called The Vault, the FBI’s name for documents and pictures released under the US Freedom of Information Act.
A total of 125 people working inside the Pentagon died on September 11, 2001 when American Airlines Flight 77 – hijacked by five Al Qaeda terrorists – crashed into the huge US defence headquarters in Virginia. All 64 people on the jet, including the terrorists, were also killed.
The toll might have been higher but the plane struck a portion of the building that was under renovation and relatively empty.
The attack happened nearly an hour after terrorists flew two passenger jets into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre in New York, and did not receive as much attention.
The 27 photos released yesterday show fragments of the Boeing 757 fuselage, the gaping hole it left in the walls of the building as well as the Pentagon’s charred interior.
Others show fire crews battling the blaze and Pentagon staff tending to the wounded. There are also images taken days later of the clean-up operation as FBI investigators and excavators clawed their way through mountains of rubble.
A few of the images have appeared in recent years on conspiracist websites, but they have largely remained unseen in the archive.
But yesterday some were seized on by online sceptics as new evidence that the Pentagon was hit not by a plane but by a missile, a repeatedly debunked allegation.
This theory has long been undermined by the fact that parts of the plane – including its two black boxes, nose cone and landing gear – were seen at the crash site.
A string of eye-witnesses also said they saw the plane coming down, while some of the passengers phoned loved ones during the hijacking.
And blast expert Allyn Kilsheimer, the first structural engineer to arrive at the Pentagon after the crash, said: ‘I picked up parts of the plane… and I found the black box. I held parts of uniforms from crew members in my hands, including body parts. Okay?’
The aircraft hit the ground floor of the Pentagon at an estimated 350mph, its wings shearing off as its body punched a hole 90ft wide in the Pentagon’s 24in-thick reinforced outer wall. It then compressed into a bullet-like shape and burrowed twice its length – more than 300ft – into the building.
Thousands of gallons of jet fuel spewed far into the building as a mushroom cloud bloomed, the result of a series of large explosions.
Because the fire became trapped under a thick slab of concrete covering the roof, it took three days to die out. Even so, the Pentagon’s reinforced structure ensured the worst damage was confined to the impact area and many staff were at their desks the following day.
‘I held body parts in my hands’