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9/11 Inside the Pentagon

55 minutes

(Describer) By the Potomac River stands The Pentagon, with five sides and a gap in the center. Titles: September 11, 2001. 9:37 am. A jet flies through a blue sky and the screen goes black.

[jet approaching]

(Describer) Flames appear in a room.

You could see a fireball coming through the floor. Then the rooms start to fill up with smoke immediately. You could not see your hand in front of your face. It was that dark. Tiles were falling. The--the walls were crumbling. You're trying to catch a breath.

(Describer) Flames burn in windows viewed from outside, where dark smoke rises from the building. Titles: Twenty-thousand people are working in the Pentagon when American Airlines Flight 77 strikes. Their fight for survival remains largely unknown.

[sirens blaring]

(Describer) Firefighters' headlamps cut through a haze, and part of the main building collapses. Title: This is their story. The woman wears a Purple Heart medal.

"We can't get out of here." "God, I'm going to die. God, take care of my girls."

(Describer) She tries to keep speaking, but lowers her head and holds a hand to her face.

(Describer) Against the background of a diagram of the building, title: 9/11 Inside the Pentagon.

(male announcer) 9/11: Inside the Pentagon is made possible in part by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you.

[jet engine roaring]

(Describer) The screen goes black.

(Describer) Video footage shows a fiery explosion, then smoke drifting and a wall of flame. Inside, a hand reaches, and a chair falls.

(Describer) Outside, plumes of smoke rise and flames are visible through more windows. An office chair burns.

(Describer) A jet streaks across the blue sky. Titles: 8:46 am, 51 minutes earlier, an unprecedented attack is underway. The Pentagon - Arlington, Virginia. Steven Carter:

(man) It was blue skies, a nice day in September. We came to work, nothing particularly outstanding in the news that day. At the Pentagon, I was the assistant building manager. I was responsible from A to Z. Lights on, place warm, just about anything you needed done at the Pentagon.

(Describer) Two men walk down a wide corridor.

(Carter) We all went to our normal jobs. Shortly after, my assistant came up to me and told me to come out and see what was going on. One of the Trade Center towers was smoking on the screen. She said it just got hit by an airplane.

(Describer) New York City First Responder:

[radio chatter]

(man) I was working at the firehouse that morning.

(Describer) Mike Regan:

We were having our shift meeting, and one guy's wife calls and says, "Something happened in New York. A plane flew into the World Trade Center." I grew up in New York and was like, "Planes aren't supposed to fly near the World Trade Center. It's not in the flight path." So we turn the news on, and sure enough, the building is on fire, and it was like, "Wow, that's insane."

(Describer) Captain William J. Toti:

(man) This was my third tour in the Pentagon. I was a Navy captain and the special assistant to the vice-chief of Naval operations, who is the number-two admiral in the Navy.

(Toti) We have a TV in the vice-chief's outer office, and you could see in the video, perfectly clear day. This is no navigational malfunction. The pilot can see where he's flying. The pilot knows what he's doing. We knew this was intentional from the beginning.

(Describer) FAA New York Center:

[radio chatter]

(Describer) ...FAA New York Tracon.

(Describer) Three objects fall from the tower not yet hit. Viewed from further away, a jet flies straight into that tower.

(woman) Oh, my goodness! Oh, my goodness!

[radio chatter]

(Describer) People on the street stare. A first repsonder:

(man) I worked at the Boston Air Traffic Control Center. I was the military liaison, and after the second impact by United 175,

(Describer) Colin Scoggins:

then things got really, really confusing, chaotic.

[radio chatter]

(Describer) NORAD:

(man) They're working on it.

[radio chatter]

(Describer) American Dispatch:

The feeling of losing control to a controller

(Describer) Regan

is like before you fall asleep, feeling like you're falling and then you catch yourself. And it's, it's kind of scary for a second. Well, I felt that for about two hours.

[radio chatter]

(Describer) The FAA:

(Scoggins) Close to 4,000 aircraft were in the sky already.

(Describer) Scoggins

We had to coordinate each one, and after the two impacts, any aircraft that made any uncharacteristic action was going to be perceived that it could be a hijack.

(Describer) FAA Indianapolis:

[radio chatter]

American 77 was-- departed Dulles for Los Angeles, and somewhere along the way in Indianapolis Center's airspace. the hijackers turned off its transponder, so you could no longer see the aircraft with our radar, turned the aircraft around, headed for the East Coast.

[radio chatter]

(Describer) FAA Washington:

(female controller) American 77...

(Describer) A jet descends quickly.

(Describer) The Pentagon stands by a freeway. Steve Vogel, Author, The Pentagon: A History:

(man) I was a reporter for the Washington Post. My assignment was covering the Pentagon as an installation, a large military installation, in the Washington region. We have just been attacked in an act of war. This is the military's command center. And the Pentagon, when it was built, there was criticism that what the military was creating was the world's largest bombing target. You can't grasp how big the Pentagon is until you see it from the air. The Pentagon is five separate buildings that are built next to each other. It's these five wedges.

(Describer) ...shown in an animated diagram.

You also have five rings that divide it up further. It's the biggest office building in the world-- a building with 17 miles of corridors, a 35-acre roof, a building where 20,000 people would go to work every morning.

(Describer) It has three levels of windows. Colonel Marilyn Wills:

Always chilly. I always had my sweater. The military gives you a black sweater. Told my office mate, "Marian, I'll see you." I went to the meeting, not far from our cubicle, and Marian stayed in the office, continuing to, um... um...

(Describer) She looks down, nodding, then collects herself.

process her work that she had to do for that day.

(Describer) In a re-enactment, people enter a meeting room.

The meeting started at 9:00, and so we had no idea what was going on in the country.

(man) Headed toward us.

(Describer) Northeast Air Defense Sector:

[radio chatter]

(Describer) The U.S. Capitol Building is shown. Scoggins:

We hear a large aircraft is six miles south of the White House. I'm like, "This needs to go to Northeast Air Defense Command."

[radio chatter]

(Describer) Toti:

We got a call from the Navy Command Center. It was the duty watch captain, Gerry DeConto. Gerry and I had been fellow physics majors at the academy. He's a good friend. And Gerry said, "A plane has been hijacked out of Dulles Airport. That's all we know." And so, "Got it. Keep us informed."

(Describer) Firefighter Alan Wallace:

(man) I was one of three firefighters assigned to the Pentagon heliport fire station. The fire station is located 20 feet west of the Pentagon itself.

(Describer) The burning towers are shown again.

That morning, the fire chief from Fort Myer will call. He said, "What happened in New York City "could happen in this area. If it did, you would likely be responding to it."

(Describer) A helicopter passes the Washington Monument. Toti:

(Toti) My office was on the E ring, the outermost portion of the Pentagon with windows, so you can look out. I realized the White House is difficult to see from the air. It's not that big of a building. The Washington Monument's symbolic, but silly. Capitol building would be symbolic, but there aren't a lot of people in the Capitol building. And I thought out loud, and I said, "It's coming here. It's going to hit us."

(Describer) A jet ascends over the Pentagon. Carter:

(Carter) I received an email from security that advised me there was no change in security, and we would be remaining the same but would tell me if there was a change.

(Describer) Toti

(Toti) So we wait for a report from the command center, anything. Nothing. I say to my boss, "I'm going to go down there." And my boss says, "Stay put. Let 'em work. They'll call when they have something." And so, um, I didn't go.

(Describer) Wills:

(Wills) We were conducting our meeting, and it got to my turn to pass information out.

(Describer) Carter:

I went to my desk and sat down.

(Describer) Toti:

Suddenly, you hear a sound. [jet roaring]

(Wills) It was my turn to speak.

(Describer) Wills

That's when you heard a loud noise.

(Toti) And the sound grows in intensity,

(Describer) Toti

and you recognize, "Yeah, that's an airliner."

(Describer) Wallace:

(Wallace) A flash to my left catches my attention. When I look up, I see the airplane. It keeps getting louder, and you say,

(Describer) Toti

"Is this really happening?"

(Describer) Wallace

I turn my back to the airplane, and I am running.

(Describer) Toti

"This is not the way my life is supposed to go. Is this how it ends for me?" And then before you can even really think much more...

(Describer) Video footage of one side of the building goes black. Title: On board Flight 77 are 53 passengers, 6 crew and over 36-thousand pounds of jet fuel, traveling more than 500 miles per hour.

[jet approaching]

[explosion]

(Describer) The explosion appears on the video footage.

I felt a jolt. I was blown to the opposite side of the table. Loud explosion. Feel the pressure from the explosion, then I feel the enormous heat generated by the fireball. Trying to grab something for stability. And you can see a fireball coming through the floor. Then you heard particles of concrete falling on the ceiling.

(Describer) Dust falls on file folders. In smoky darkness, a leg falls and a shoe slips. A flaming sheet of paper falls. Toti:

And then you realize, "I'm alive."

(Describer) Plumes of smoke rise, viewed from across the freeway. Wills:

What just happened? What is going on?

(Describer) Carter:

(Carter) Alarms, control screens turn on, and they were counting up. Several hundred thousand square feet of Pentagon just burst into flames.

(Describer) A wall of smoke rises, viewed from across a field and a parking lot around a corner. Flames glow in windows.

(Wallace) Everything is on fire. The fire truck is a big blaze.

(Describer) Wallace:

There's nothing but burning debris. The hall starts to fill not with smoke,

(Describer) Toti:

but with dust falling from the ceiling. As I stepped out, you could see drywall dust. It looked like a fog.

(Wills) The side of my face,

(Describer) Willis

my arm and back were burned, but I didn't know. It was just time to get out. Then the rooms fill up with smoke. You could not see your hand right in front of your face.

(Wallace) I enter the fire truck from the passenger side, climb over the radio consoles, plop down in the driver's seat, take it to where the airplane has struck the building. The fire truck, however, will not move.

(Describer) Wallace:

It never moved. The fire truck has got a blaze on it 50-feet high. I and two of the officers in the room run out.

(Describer) Toti

There were no people in the hallway. Couldn't figure out why there's no fire alarm.

(Describer) Wills:

We have to get out. The closest door that was to me was burning hot, so I knew not to open that door. I knew windows were on the C ring on the second floor. That's the way I started to crawl.

(Toti) We're running down the E ring,

(Describer) Toti:

and the smoke's getting thicker to the point where we're having trouble seeing, then suddenly, the building was missing. There was just a big hole there,

(Describer) An exterior wall is gone.

where there was just a building not a minute ago.

(Describer) Flames rise from a window. Vogel:

(Vogel) This is the military's command center. The building needs to swing into action to start dealing with this new war. As a reporter, your instinct is to go to the scene.

(Describer) Someone drives a car.

As I got closer, there was this enormous black plume. In the middle of this beautiful blue-sky morning in Washington, you had this ugly plume of black smoke.

(Describer) Ambulances pass on the freeway. Carter:

(Carter) From where I was standing, you could see these Navy personnel, who had come to pull people out of the damaged area, which was the Navy command center. You could see the water between ankle and half-calf deep. It wasn't occurring to me it was jet fuel.

(Describer) Vogel

(Vogel) The plane struck the building right at about a 40-degree angle. The wings pretty much disintegrated on impact, but the fuselage blew open a hole in the wall, in the limestone facade of the Pentagon. The rest of the aircraft continued through the E ring, the D ring, the C ring.

(Carter) When the plane came through,

(Describer) Carter:

if you can imagine a room full of partition furniture, and you have this force coming through there, it's taking all of that furniture and peop-- people and everything.

(Describer) On the animated diagram, flames move into the B Ring.

(Carter) This hole where it popped out was kind of into that area where everything had been shoved into.

(Describer) Light shines through a hole in a wall. Carter collects himself.

Um... Yeah.

(Toti) I left the building through what's called the "mall entrance,"

(Describer) Toti:

and first thing you could see obviously is smoke and flame. As I get closer, I see bits and pieces of something littering the grass, the field. The first thing that was recognizable was a big piece of the fuselage. It was white with a big red A on it. American Airlines.

(Describer) It lies in the grass.

And then I came around the outbuilding, and then it was like a dream sequence, because there before me were some, um, either dead or gravely injured people laying on the ground.

[siren blaring]

(Describer) Amdist debris, a man and woman run in different directions and another man just stands.

I see the fire truck, and it's on fire. The fire truck cab door is open, and in there, I see a body slumped over the steering wheel of the fire truck. And when I run up to him, he sits upright, and I realize he's not dead.

(Describer) Wallace:

I had my face in the dash, trying to determine what's wrong with the truck. The fire truck will not move. Eventually I make a radio call. I say, "Foam 61, Fort Myer. "We've had a commercial airliner crash into the west side of the Pentagon."

(Describer) Dispatch:

[radio chatter]

(man) I was a captain with Arlington County Fire Department.

(Describer) Ed Hannon:

We're stationed at Crystal City. Whether it's a medical emergency, a fire alarm, anything, we're the first ones there. When we pulled up, there were a lot of people exiting the Pentagon, a lot of confusion.

(Vogel) The instinct of people who work at the Pentagon

(Describer) Vogel:

is to to run to the sound of guns, run to the smoke, the fire, and that's what people did-- going in and pulling strangers out of cubicles, just catching people trying to get out windows, all kinds of heroism, people absolutely risking their lives to go back after they'd escaped themselves to get others.

(Toti) We realized, to use Navy language,

(Describer) Toti:

"Our shipmates were in there, we need to go in." Fire Department says you can't go in. You're not qualified. You're not outfitted.

(Describer) Hannon:

It was an emotionally charged atmosphere, but they were eager to tell us, "This person is here. This is how you get here." So then we started drawing diagrams for them. "I'd like you to go check the Navy Command Center."

(Describer) On the diagram, the impact cuts through it.

[phones ringing]

(Toti) Gerry was in there. There's another good friend, Pat Dunn. And you have no idea whether they're still alive or dead.

(Describer) Several firefighters walk through the grass. Hannon:

(Hannon) That's when we went to work. If they were in a cordoned off office, they still might be okay.

(Describer) In a reenactment, a fire fighter enters.

We entered to the right of where the plane came in.

(Describer) With lights on their helmets, they head through smoke and darkness. On the diagram, Hannon is shown a ring and a corner away from Wills, who's inside an external wall.

(Describer) Wills

(Wills) As I crawled out, I could feel something pulling me. I'm yelling, "Who is that? Stay with me. Hold onto me." Because you couldn't see anything, I figure if I'm talking, you could hear me. "If anybody else is there, join the line. We're getting out of here. Hold on."

(Describer) People crawl in the reenactment.

[coughing]

(Wills) I'm talking so much my mouth is dry. I grabbed my black sweater and sucked on it because it's wet, not knowing it was jet fuel.

(Describer) She lowers the sweater.

(Describer) Meanwhile in New York, one of the towers starts to collapse. Title: 10:05 am.

(woman) Oh, my God! Oh, my God! Sir, let's go. Sir!

(Describer) On the street, people back away. Vogel:

(Vogel) As you have the tower collapsing at the World Trade Center, you have a situation at the Pentagon, where you have a fire that is only getting worse. You have an unknown number of victims, people trapped, and it could be getting worse in a hurry.

(Describer) In the reenactment, fire fighters carefully make their way through the smoke and dust. Hannon:

(Hannon) When we were crawling down the corridor, conditions started deteriorating. The smoke started pushing out a little more forcefully. The temperature started to rise, and there's more cracking and popping going on, and there's very, very limited visibility. We were probably about 12, 15 feet away from the door we needed to get to. Then all of a sudden, a very loud noise.

(Describer) Toti:

We started hearing what sounded like, you know, an earthquake sound.

(Hannon) Building materials and ceiling tiles,

(Describer) Hannon

everything came crashing down on us. You could see that the-- the building started collapsing in on itself.

(Describer) Toti

(Describer) An external wall crumbles.

(man on radio) M-301 to command. We have had structural collapse on the heliport side.

(Hannon) A very loud noise.

(Describer) Hannon

A lot of debris falling on us. I was concerned that we weren't going to make it out. Did one of the crew get injured or killed?

(Describer) Toti

(Toti) You know there's more people in there. You wonder how far this collapsing is going to progress. Are adjacent walls going to tumble in?

(Describer) More flames are exposed with the walls gone.

[sirens blaring]

Are they trapped? Um, what's going on?

(Vogel) When people were looking at the building

(Describer) Vogel:

on television cameras, that gash looks quite small, like a pinprick. But in reality, the sheer size of the destruction was equivalent to a large shopping mall.

(Describer) A firehose sprays a tower of water.

It's an absolutely horrific scene.

(Describer) The water goes into the gash which is four stories hgh. Hannon:

We were kind of scattered. We got back together.

(Describer) They continue on toward the flames.

And it's-- Emotions are up and down. You find out that now everybody's okay. That's a good feeling. Okay, we're good. We made it through this. But the people were still in there, and you're trying to save somebody, and you're not able to save 'em, that sticks with you.

(Describer) Viewed outside, plumes of smoke keep rising and flames are on the ground. Vogel:

(Vogel) You just have a very tenuous situation at the Pentagon.

(Describer) People run in New York.

In a time of great chaos, uncertainty, fear, and unknown, you need the Pentagon to function as a command center, but you have more jet fuel that's starting to ignite. You have an unknown number of victims, people trapped.

(Describer) Firefighters move on inside while more emergency vehicles arrive.

An enormous rescue operation is getting underway with more first responders, urban rescue-type personnel.

(Describer) One tends to a injured person on a walkway. Regan:

Primary goal of the recon team is to find victims that can't get out by themselves. Our mission is to find them and assist the rescue team in removing them safely from the building.

(Describer) Structural specialist Leo Titus Junior:

When they're going into the building, I help assess what's going on with the structure-- Is it safe to go into this area and help them do their job?

(Regan) As we were driving in, the building's still on fire.

(Titus, Jr.) Smoke was what I remember. The closer we got, the more we saw.

(Regan) Arriving, we saw streetlights that had been hit by the plane. This is the first visions that we see of the Pentagon.

(Describer) Regan

(Describer) Titus

(Titus, Jr.) I was feeling anxious about what I'm going to do. I didn't feel ready. I had no field experience. And it looked like it was a very intense situation.

(man over radio) We've got people coming out of the Pentagon who are injured.

(Describer) Two men help a woman walk. Toti over the grass.

(Toti) I was running on adrenalin during this period of time. I had this kind of tunnel-vision thing, where I don't remember things happening on the periphery. I only remember exactly what I was staring at, like I was looking through a soda straw.

(Describer) He turns back to the building.

I thought I saw movement inside this door that-- where the smoke was billowing out.

(Describer) He runs back.

It was a woman. We half-lifted, half-dragged her out of the building. Her skin was coming off in sheets. You want to grab her arms, but as you do, the skin comes off. Then you think, "I gotta let go, but we gotta get her out." You do the best you can. Grab clothes, whatever.

(Describer) Toti and others tend to her on the grass.

The first ambulance pulled up, and you call them over, and you need oxygen. Guy pulls out one oxygen bottle. You've got five, six people laying down on the road. Who do you give it to? So I'm leaning over this woman, and she seems to be struggling. She says, "Am I going to die?" I said, "No. What's your name?" And she said, "My name is Antoinette." I said, "You're not going to die, Antoinette. We got a helicopter coming for you." We carried her to the helicopter and put her in, and I yelled at her, "I'll see you in the hospital." It turned out I never got to see her in the hospital. She died before I was able to visit her.

[sirens blaring]

(Describer) More people are treated by a line of ambulances as the fire continues.

(Regan) The timeline is critical.

(Describer) Regan:

The longer they're trapped, the less likely they'll survive. We went in to the left of where the plane had hit the building.

(Describer) Titus:

We walked into a really, really bad scene.

(Regan) We were met with a chest-high pile of debris.

(Describer) Regan

There was pieces of, you know... bodies everywhere.

(Describer) Debris is piled up in the dimness.

Lots of debris and smoke.

(Regan) Smoke kills you pretty quickly, particularly when it's as heavy as it was in the Pentagon. Usually, we ventilate the building, break a window to let the smoke out. Many windows were still in place. They were blast-proof windows. There was no opening them. We beat 'em with sledgehammers. The high heat makes it less likely for people to get out. These windows just kept it in there like a giant oven, yeah.

(Describer) Titus

Not being an expert, I was thinking, "How could anyone survive this?"

(Describer) On the diagram, Regan and Titus are just inside, with Wills three rings away. In the reenactment, someone crawls through the smoke. Wills

[distant coughing]

(Wills) We continued to crawl. We knew we had to leave, to get out of there. And as we continued to crawl, one lady was ready to give up.

(Describer) One hand grabs another.

She said she could not make it anymore. I was like, "You're going. "I am not telling your children I left you. Get on my back. I'm going to carry you out of here if I have to." It seemed like we crawled forever to get to this window. I had no light to see anything. What led me to that window-- it was in that direction, and there was the smallest little pinhole of a light, and I just kept crawling straight to that window. And once we got to the window, we just start kicking it and beating on that window.

(Describer) Carter:

I came down the corridor, I looked up to the next level, and there was two or three people in the window. A person was banging on the window, and it would not even crack or give way. This young soldier-- I will never forget him. There was a printer not far from us, and he threw the printer at this window. It bounced right back in my lap.

(Describer) The printer flies in slow-motion. Vogel:

(Vogel) The Pentagon had been newly renovated, and the renovations included blast-resistant windows. They're designed not to come out, not to open.

(Describer) Regan:

They did that because of several terrorist acts, including Oklahoma City and the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Kenya. Most of the people killed inside the embassy were killed by glass traveling at 100 miles an hour.

(Vogel) These blast-resistant windows have saved lives

(Describer) Vogel

and protected people inside the building, but they're also preventing people from getting out.

(Wills) I start blaming myself.

(Describer) Wills

I brought these people to a window, and we can't get out. I'm like, "I'm going to die. God, take care of my girls."

(Describer) Carter:

(Carter) I knew that they're trapped. They can't get out. I decided to find another way there. There was a stairway there close. It was so hot that the paint was blistering on the wall, and the steps were burning my feet through my shoes, and, uh... I did not get to those people in the window.

(Wills) And the guy threw the printer again.

(Describer) Wills

The frame popped open just a bit, and the smoke barreled out of that room. And we were beating on the-- really the window frame, and the window finally opened. And down below, the people, they looked up, and they saw all the smoke. They were like, "Jump! Jump! Jump!" I just knew there were more people. I told my colonel, "There are people here. We can't go." My colonel said, "This is an order. Get out of this window right now." It was the first order I wanted to disobey, but I knew I had to. And the guys were down there, and I crawled down them.

(Describer) People run with a stretcher.

They carried me to a triage, and that's as far as I remember. I am told the rest of the story.

Sorry. [sniffles]

(Describer) She wipes away tears.

(Describer) Viewed from above, walls are scorched black on either side of the gash, and smoke keeps rising.

[overlapping chatter]

(Describer) Bags of clear liquid are laid out on pads on the ground. Soldiers and first responders gather around them.

(Vogel) I'm trying to find out about people inside the building, what's going on with rescue attempts. I felt a pit in my stomach as you didn't know

(Describer) Vogel:

what was going to happen next.

(Describer) A jet moves across the sky. FAA Command center:

[radio chatter]

(Describer) Scoggins:

(Scoggins) We needed fighters in the sky as quick as we could. There were just two F15s at Otis and two F16s at Langley that were available. But you can't call and say, "I need your planes." Protocols on 9/11 were designed for a different purpose. It was done through the FAA channels, back down through the Pentagon, through NORAD, and back to the military, so they could prepare for an act of war, but an act of war where enemies attacked from outside the boundary. They weren't designed for an internal strike. They didn't work under these conditions because nobody was prepared for what happened on 9/11. We were trying to get 'em off the ground quickly, and there was a lot of confusion during this time.

[radio chatter]

(air traffic controller) Getting preliminary reports that United 93 hit the ground.

(Describer) Smoke drifts around a field by a forest. People gather around a large hole.

We had found out later that United 93 had gone down in a field in Pennsylvania. But the Pentagon and the FAA Command Center and FAA Headquarters continued to watch this track, and it continues towards Washington, D.C.

(Describer) Vogel:

(Vogel) The nation's future safety depends on the Pentagon being able to function as the military's command post. The National Military Command Center, anytime the nation is attacked, this a place where important decisions are going to be made. This is where the communications is based. So a lot of what needed to be put out around the globe was there at the Pentagon. It had to keep functioning.

(Describer) More smoke rises from the building. Carter:

[sirens blaring]

Various areas in the building are just absolutely die-on-the-sword, last-to-leave-the-ship type of organizations. I received a call that the National Military Command Center had smoke coming in through the ventilation system, making it difficult for them to work. We needed to get the fire put out, but broken pipes caused us to pump about a million gallons of water into the incident scene. By losing our water pressure, we couldn't provide the firefighters with firefighting water. We needed to get that pressure back up, or we'd have more serious problems.

[man over radio] Owens to command.

(command) Go ahead. We're getting reports of fire on the A and E side.

(Describer) Regan:

A jet fuel fire is different than a building fire. The jet fuel burns hotter

(Describer) Hannon:

than your normal combustible material, and it was everywhere.

(Describer) People watch the smoke pouring from the gash at a distance.

(Regan) The fires continued to pop up, because it was hot enough in there

(Describer) Regan

for things to reignite. It was happening all over the Pentagon.

(Describer) Inside, flames cover a wall. Outside, smoke rises from various locations, including two windows. Titus:

The guys were looking for survivors.

(Describer) Regan:

(Regan) We'd call out and say, "Hey, Fairfax County Fire! Anybody here?", hoping that if somebody locked themselves in an office or were trapped underneath the debris, then we would stop, listen. Ninety-nine out of a hundred times, you don't hear anything.

(Describer) Lights search the darkness. Titus.

[panting]

The internal damage was much more significant than what you see from the street.

(Describer) Photos from afterward show areas covered with many small pieces of debris, larger pieces twisted and unrecognizable. Titus.

I had to remember to focus on my job because I sometimes would get stuck on thinking about the horror of what's going on around me.

(Describer) Regan

(Regan) Those of us working inside realized that we're not likely to find anybody alive in the building.

(Describer) They move through a red haze, while military officers talk outside. Vogel:

(Vogel) There were all kinds of speculation from the start in the number of casualties. At first, people were saying, "Well, it could be dozens," then we'd hear hundreds, then some people were saying thousands. That, of course, was completely chilling. Then you had real terror as reports would come in of another plane heading towards the Pentagon.

(Describer) Toti:

Security runs out with radios, and they said, um, "There's another plane coming in."

(Describer) A helicopter is overhead.

Get back! Everybody back! Everybody back! Another plane inbound. Go! Go! This way!

[overlapping chatter]

(Describer) Security men run across the grass and crowds of survivors start moving away from the building.

(Regan) We have a code that if you hear a three-blast,

(Describer) Regan:

it means evacuate the building. We were inside working. We hear three blasts.

(man over radio) Evacuate 500 yards from the building. Evacuate 500 yards away from the building.

(Describer) Toti:

(Toti) Based on the Twin Towers, a second plane into the Pentagon made sense. And we got to get these people out of here. So we put like-- We stuffed these ambulances with as many people as we could fit in 'em.

(Describer) People roll stretchers quickly and load casualties into ambulances. A blood-stained woman's shoe is left behind.

We're in there trying to fight the fire, and the battalion chief is telling you to evacuate, evacuate immediately.

(Describer) Hannon

(man over radio) Evacuate at 500 yards. Get back! We got another inbound plane!

(Describer) People climb a hill beside the freeway.

(Describer) Carter:

(Carter) It was a cascading-- one seemingly bad thing after another after another. We were advised by security over our radios that we had three additional airplanes inbound with an ETA of about 20 minutes to hit the Pentagon.

(Vogel) You still had fire

(Describer) Vogel:

threatening the National Military Command Center. That's why the Arlington Fire Chief wanted to evacuate, but they were essentially refusing to leave. Also, fire on the roof was threatening the antenna complex, which a lot of these communications were based.

(Describer) Carter

(Carter) We had to close off the pipes in the tunnel to get the water pressure back up to restore these systems, so we had to make a big decision at the time. Six of us stayed in the Pentagon and went down into the steam tunnels to start isolating chill water piping, steam piping, and all necessary to start building our water pressure. These weren't warriors. These weren't combatants. These were plumbers, pipefitters, electricians. They're just normal, everyday people, and these people did not hesitate.

(Describer) A view moves through a basement.

When we went down 'em, they were full of smoke, where you couldn't even see. I was using the armpit of my suit coat to bury my face in, to try and breathe through the material, to cut down on some of the acrid smoke. And all the time, you hear the radio go off, "Estimated time to impact, 17 minutes. Estimated time to impact, 11 minutes, 9 minutes."

(Describer) First Responder:

[radio chatter]

(Describer) The courtyard in the middle of the Pentagon has trees and small buildings.

(Hannon) We don't know why we're being evacuated at first.

(Describer) Hannon:

We get to the center courtyard, and they say there's another plane inbound, and it's going to hit the Pentagon in two minutes.

(Describer) First Responder:

[radio chatter]

(Hannon) And you're in a center courtyard. It's a half-a-mile to the outside. With gear on, you're not going to make it. You know, an incredible athlete's not going to make it out that quickly, so...

(Describer) Carter:

(Carter) We came out of the tunnel and went back into the center courtyard.

(Describer) Six walkways lead to a building in the center. Hannon.

There was this big tree right there, so I knelt down, said a prayer.

(Describer) Sunshine filters through the leaves of the tree. Carter.

[jet engine roaring]

And about that time was when we started hearing a rumble.

[jet approaching]

(Hannon) I remember feeling a lot of comfort,

(Describer) Hannon

because as I look left and right, there were a lot of other people on their knees.

(Describer) They're shown in the reenactment. Carter.

(Carter) And it was coming louder and louder, and I remember just every hair on my body standing up on end.

[jet engine roaring]

(Describer) Something flies past the Washington Monument. Hannon.

It was, uh... I just wanted my wife and kids to know that if I did die, I was dying doing something I love doing.

(Describer) Carter

You couldn't tell what direction it was coming from, and it just kept getting louder and louder.

(Describer) The plane appears smaller than a commercial jet. It's a military plane.

[applause]

(Describer) Hannon

Then almost instantaneously, all these military guys are starting to cheer.

(Describer) Some men point. The plane starts to bank.

(Describer) Toti:

And it was a fighter. And, okay, I'm pretty confident they didn't hijack any fighters, so I think we'll be okay.

(Describer) A view from a parking lot turns from the smoke to the fighter moving away.

(Carter) After I seen it pass,

(Describer) Carter:

it went from the most horrific moment in my life to probably the most relief I've felt. I felt a great exhale, and I said, "I don't think anything bad's going to happen next."

(Describer) Hannon:

(Hannon) He came over, dipped his wing, and then it was like, "Whew, now we're safe. Now all we have is a fire to fight."

(Describer) The fighter tilts to one side, dipping its wing, and flies off.

(Describer) The view of it is obscured by the smoke continuing to rise from the Pentagon. Scoggins:

(Scoggins) One of the tracking systems that we used is a general overview of the air traffic system. What it's showing is not live traffic. It's showing traffic based on history. If an airplane crashed or if an aircraft had impacted the ground, the system would continue to show that aircraft on its last route of flight. They're trying to put fighters to intercept it. They're launching for a ghost. The aircraft doesn't exist. This created a lot of issues that day.

(Describer) Again, people are shown rushing away from the building. Hannon:

(Hannon) There was still fire up on the roof. We were told to find an access, get up there. We stood at the peak and looked out over the devastation and couldn't believe we were actually seeing the Pentagon in this condition.

(Describer) Viewed from just above, a section of roof is covered in ash.

(Hannon) Somebody's, you know, decimated this fortress.

(Describer) Lines of flame keep burning in the gash. Another fire flares on the roof. Carter:

(Carter) Early afternoon, I got a call on my cell phone, which surprised me 'cause nobody had my personal cell phone number. Lo and behold, it was the joint staff office calling, asking if the building was stable, if we thought things were under control. Of course, we're still burning, but as far as systems, we felt we had stabilized things pretty good. I don't know if it was a coincidence I got called. Within an hour or so later, uh... It's an indication that the United States government is functioning in the face of this terrible act

(Describer) Donald Rumsfeld:

against our country. I should add that the briefing here is taking place in the Pentagon. The Pentagon's functioning. It'll be in business tomorrow. When Rumsfeld announced that it would be normal-- "normal" has big quotation marks-- normal day of work the next day, we understood that the meaning behind this was showing the world and the American people that the Pentagon was bruised, not broken, able to continue on.

(Describer) White smoke rises from the roof. Later, a huge U.S. flag is draped over a wall.

(Carter) We had that same feeling that it was important to us that the Pentagon was not broken. We would continue to go.

(Describer) An Army seal stands in cluttered office space and workers walk down a corridor.

(Wills) What do we do, tuck tail and leave?

(Describer) Wills:

No. We're going to continue to work. We're open for business.

(Describer) Vogel:

(Vogel) The Pentagon has never been closed since it opened. In the 60 years before 9/11, it never closed for a minute. It never closed on 9/11, and it's never closed since.

(Describer) Firefighting and recovery continues.

(Vogel) But as the day started to go on, and the reality of what had happened sunk in, the knowledge of who had been lost began to become more clear, there was tough times for a lot of people working there.

(Describer) At night, smaller fires burn on the roof. Hannon:

(Hannon) I don't recall when we came off the roof, but the next thing I remember is being on the back of this Wheaton Rescue Squad ambulance. I was transported to the hospital. They said I had some smoke inhalation and dehydration, and, um... The emotional toll was a factor as well. When I did get back, it was pressing to me to make it back when the fire was out and see what I couldn't see the day before. Feeling guilty, not getting those people out of there, it was one of those things you just have to do, have to face it and move on.

(Describer) Regan:

(Regan) When you have a manmade disaster, to see somebody who expects just to go to work one day, to make a living and have a nice life, and have it taken away from them like that is just... What is it? What do you call it? Yeah.

(Describer) Wallace:

(Wallace) If the fire truck would've been responsive as it should've been, it would've made a difference in the spread of the fire. And it might've made a difference in how-- in somebody else's life, allowing that person to... I, um... But it just didn't happen that way.

(Describer) Scoggins:

(Scoggins) I've heard it was like 102 minutes. It felt like an eternity for me. We felt out of control. A lot of people felt that way, as far as controllers. I felt like I was trying to catch up. We just never caught up.

(Describer) Titus:

(Titus, Jr.) Not a lot of people saw what happened inside the Pentagon, not just the horrors of what's going on inside the building, but the community rallying around. That's when I started to get emotional. And there were people there with flags and signs. They were there just to support us.

(Describer) One sign has a painting of the Pentagon with a heart on it. Toti:

(Toti) I had already reached the decision to retire from the Navy, wrote a letter requesting retirement and dropped it in my boss's inbox on the evening of September 10. After I was put in charge of the recovery effort on September 12 for the Navy, I went back into the Pentagon that day to clean the offices of classified material and remembered that letter I had dropped in his inbox and went and pulled it out and tore it up.

(Describer) Wills:

(Wills) Every day, I think of Marian, Dwayne, all of those people in my office. Ron--and his wife was pregnant. She told him she was going to have a boy. He was killed because he was in the office with my general. She and I are still friends. We love on that little boy. He looks so much like his father. He's getting ready to be 15 years old.

(Describer) A flag flies from a recovery vehicle. Carter:

(Carter) One thing that was so important to me on that day was the team that had chose to stay with me that day to stabilize the Pentagon and keep it going. None of these people hesitated. This is not something they prepared for. They were normal people who went to work for eight hours a day. And they were my heroes that day.

(Describer) At night, a series of curved benches have a yellow glow underneath them, lit from a small trough of water. Titles: The National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial. Arlington, Virginia. April 2016. Each bench is named in honor of someone lost from the Pentagon and Flight 77.

(Describer) Wills walks among them.

This is it.

(Describer) She stops at one with a plaque for Marian H. Serva. She bends down to it, then crouches.

(Describer) She rests her head on the back of her hand on the bench, crying.

[crying]

(Describer) In daytime, Carter sits on another bench. Title: Since 2001, Steve Carter has believed the people he saw trapped behind that window were killed.

[fire crackling]

(Describer) In the reenactment, he looks up at the window. Title: He was unaware that Colonel Marilyn Wills and the group she led to the window survived. They are meeting today for the first time.

(Describer) At dusk, he stands as she approaches him. They embrace.

Hi. How are you?

[sniffles]

Fourteen and a half years, I didn't know who you were and whether you were alive.

(Describer) They hold hands.

(Carter) When I walked up and looked up and there you were, and I thought that you didn't make it because you couldn't break the window out. Yeah. We tried to take everything we learned to maximize the chances of people getting out of the building, 'cause I never want to look up at a window and see some...

[sobs]

Thank you, thank you.

(Describer) They hug again.

(Describer) Titles: Executive Producer / Supervising Director: Kirk Wolfinger. Produced by Lone Wolf Media for PBS and National Geographic Channels. Copyright 2016 Public Broadcasting Service, all rights reserved. This film is dedicated to the 184 people who lost their lives at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. The rebuilt Pentagon is shown. Accessibility provided by the US Department of Education.

Accessibility provided by the U.S. Department of Education.

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On September 11, 2001, American Airlines Flight 77 was hijacked and flown into the western side of the Pentagon, killing 189 people. On the 15th Anniversary of the attack, survivors and first responders shared their raw and vivid recollections of the day that forever changed the world. Though they helped define a generation, the individual acts of bravery and heroism that took place at the Pentagon are still relatively unknown.

Media Details

Runtime: 55 minutes

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