9 - 1 1 R e s e a r c h essays
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article by Morgan Reynolds addresses criticisms by Jim Hoffman of portions of his earlier article, Why Did the Trade Center Skyscrapers Collapse?.

Revisiting the WTC Building Collapses, Part I


Morgan Reynolds*

July 12, 2005

“The high-minded man must care more

for the truth than for what people think.”


The events of 9-11 involved complex crimes. So many questions, so few answers. Are we ever likely to figure out this grand deception exactly? Probably not because “exactly” is too high a standard. This isn’t a counsel of despair: prosecutors successfully prove defendants, including conspirators, guilty beyond a reasonable doubt every weekday by laying out a series of facts that have no other reasonable explanation than that the defendant(s) did it. Prosecutors win over 85% of criminal cases without understanding everything because the defense fails to refute the facts or the logic that pin damning facts tightly to the defendant. Defense attorneys in the ordinary criminal case don’t have a lot to work with so their stock in trade is absurdity, although there are important exceptions.

Obtaining justice does not require prosecutors to explain everything or present everything. Their job is to lay out irrefutable facts that prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused committed the crimes and then nullify the distractions the defense usually poses. A striking example is presented in Vincent Bugliosi’s Outrage, which points out that O.J. Simpson should have been convicted based on only two facts:

1) DNA testing proved that O.J. Simpson’s blood was at the crime scene, and

2) “Simpson convicted himself out of his own mouth: The detectives also elicited from Simpson the important admission that he had not cut himself the last time (a week earlier) he was at his former wife’s residence, thereby largely eliminating any defense argument that any of Simpson’s blood found at the murder scene had been left by Simpson on a previous occasion” (p. 330).

So where are we on 9-11? The one towering fact is that the 9-11 research community can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that professional demolition brought down the three trade center buildings—WTC 1, WTC 2 and WTC 7. These unprecedented collapses in steel-framed skyscrapers bear all the earmarks of demolition—virtual free fall speed of collapse, pulverization of concrete, eyewitness testimony of explosions, film and photographic evidence of explosions, and so on. The jetliner attacks, by contrast, might be described as diversions that facilitated and covered the primary attacks via demolition, a familiar tactic in terrorist attacks. Confusion and acrimonious debate over jetliners contrast sharply with the implacable certainty of demolition.

In my article of June 9, which seemed to hit a nerve and attracted surprising attention, I reviewed the evidence and concluded that explosives imploded the three buildings in question. In sporting parlance, the contest between two rival scientific theories produced a rout: demolition 100, impact-fire-pancake-collapse theory 0. The official “pancake” story cannot account for the wide range of incontestable facts involved in the collapses while demolition can.

The popularity of the official collapse theory stems from that fact that people want things to make sense, and it’s human to embrace the first plausible explanation we find. The government relied on this predictable response and exploited it by positing the first plausible theory. The scientific mind must strongly resist this tendency, especially when this “plausible” theory comes from an interested party. Scientific research requires a theory to demonstrate its superiority in accounting for the facts over rival theories.

Now, I am fallible and even admit to making a mistake occasionally (unlike our current President) and might have erred in my June 9 article. Jim Hoffman of 911research.wtc7.net comes to my rescue and the world by critiquing my musings. This is basically good, of course, provided the debate is civil because complex crimes and events need competing investigators to speed our understanding. That’s the human enterprise.

I considered two major issues in my essay: what caused the impact holes in the towers?, and what ultimately brought down the buildings, including WTC 7 which had no impact holes? That seemed like a natural sequence to me because that was the timeline for the towers: impact holes followed by fires and then collapses. I tried to just look at the physical evidence with a fresh eye, putting aside much that “we already know about 9-11.” I wanted to see what was in the photos and related scientific evidence. On the biggest issue of all—the WTC collapses—the evidence all points to the same conclusion: demolition brought down the buildings. On the more speculative issue of the impact holes, it’s still unclear, at least to me. I never reached a firm conclusion, and so I never explicitly asserted there were no jetliners. Instead, I raised questions about the airliners that continue to puzzle me based on what I saw in the evidence.

No single hypothesis about planes and passengers has yet emerged hands-down triumphant, in my opinion. True, I am highly skeptical toward the official story that Boeing 767s struck the towers because the evidence doesn’t convince me. Maybe I’m just slow, maybe I’m on to something, and maybe we should just ignore jetliners as a big distraction that diverts attention from the fact of demolition. Yet human beings seek explanations for what happened, so speculation, hypotheses and investigations about aircraft are inevitable.

While I may not yet understand the impact holes, airplanes and such, I can’t resist inquiring about them. I’d like an explanation. More generally, if only one consequence derived from a hypothesis turns out to be false, then the hypothesis itself can be rejected. An important consequence of the Boeing 767 hypothesis is an impact hole in each tower at least as large as a Boeing 767. Impact holes smaller than a Boeing 767, assuming each plane was intact upon initial impact, would refute the hypothesis. A smaller aircraft, say, a Boeing 737 with a wingspan of only 93 feet, versus the Boeing 767’s 155 feet, would remain a viable hypothesis. Regardless, the relatively small, “neat” outline nature of the impact holes, lack of recovered black boxes, lack of major wreckage and many other facts bother me. So, my June 9 essay was basically saying, “Show me the facts that implicate Boeing 767s beyond a reasonable doubt (and put notoriously problematic eyewitness testimony and videos aside for the moment).” That’s Missouri-style reasoning, the inchworm mind and all. Certainly I’m not buying anything the bald-faced liars in government say without independent confirmation.

I want to defer my response on impact holes and airplanes until Part II of this essay. Let’s concentrate here on disputed assertions regarding demolition. While Jim Hoffman and I agree that the evidence for three WTC demolitions is overwhelming, my antagonist disputes six things in my treatment of the collapses:

  • “Given the strength of arguments against the fire-induced total collapse of steel-framed buildings regardless of fire severity,” he writes, “quibbling about the fires functions as a distraction, and errors in assessing the fires' extent add to the distraction. Reynolds minimizes the severity of the North Tower's fires citing photographs of the tower's north side early in the event, but photographs from the south side shortly after the South Tower crash, and photographs after the South Tower collapse show extensive regions of fire.”

Well, maybe it’s sufficient to say that historical and other evidence is good enough to show that steel-framed buildings don’t completely collapse, regardless of fire severity. Yet the official theory makes a to-do about how intense these fires were when in reality they weren’t intense by steel-framed, skyscraper standards. So it pays to point out “non-intensity,” in my humble opinion because it exposes one more government lie. Prosecutors should introduce all the evidence that exposes the guilt of the perpetrators and steal all the thunder from the defense.

A major reason FDNY lost 343 firefighters that day, more than in the department’s previous history, was that departmental commanders never feared collapse and the fires were entirely manageable. Audio tapes show that Battalion Chief Orio J. Palmer was on floor 78, the lowest impact floor in the South Tower, at 9:52 a.m. and said, “We’ve got two isolated pockets of fire. We should be able to knock it down with two lines” (p. 206). Then the entire building completely imploded minutes later. That’s part of the public record and highly incriminating.

I remember going into a colleague’s office in Washington, DC, that morning to see what was happening on her TV, saw the smoking tower and blurted out, “That building won’t fall.” Yet amateurs and experts alike were stunned by the obliteration of the towers shortly thereafter. Few of us knew then what had happened and who the culprits were. I didn’t. Many fallaciously still cling to the idea that intense fires brought down the building. So we might restate it this way: the fires weren’t intense and even if they were, those buildings would not have collapsed as they did.

  • Next, my point 3 asserted: “WTC-7 was unharmed by an airplane and had only minor fires on the seventh and twelfth floors of this 47-story steel building yet it collapsed in less than 10 seconds.”

This is criticized as inadequate because it “understates the near free-fall rapidity of Building 7's collapse…the building collapsed entirely in under 7 seconds.”

Say what? Less than 10 seconds encompasses under 7 seconds. In general, it’s probably better to be conservative on these times in order to avoid the charge of hyperbole to make a point.

  • Another charge is that I repeated the estimate of “approximately 10 seconds or less” for each WTC collapse, yet elapsed time analysis allegedly shows that each tower’s collapse took about 15 seconds. OK, at this point in time I see no reason to quarrel with that, although the pyroclastic dust clouds make precise statements difficult and give room for unproductive quarreling. Also, the towers fell in different ways, with the South Tower’s top 300 feet initially tilting 22-23 degrees before total implosion and observers marveling at the “incredible rate of collapse of the North Tower.”

The real point is that any collapse rate in this time range “is still much too fast,” Hoffman writes, “to be explained by a gravity-driven collapse.” All three buildings fell within a matter of seconds. Blissfully ignorant of the devastating implications of its admission, the 9/11 Commission Report asserts, “…the South Tower collapsed in ten seconds” (p. 305).

  • My point 7 allegedly is contrary to fact: “It's difficult if not impossible for hydrocarbon fires like those fed by jet fuel (kerosene) to raise the temperature of steel close to melting.”

This statement allegedly is false because blast furnaces use hydrocarbon fuel to melt steel. (A friend in the steel industry tells me that only a few blast furnaces are left in the United States to produce steel from iron ore plus additives like carbon, silicon, etc. Most domestic production is recycled scrap steel melted down by electric-furnaces, sometimes supplemented by gas-fired burners. Scrap steel is heated to about 3000o F before being poured into a ladle).

In reply to the criticism above I’m inclined to say, give me a break! Ok, there, I said it. It’s obvious I was referring to hydrocarbon fires outside of the special conditions characteristic of blast furnaces. In a fire in a building, hydrocarbon fires can only attain about half the melting point temperature of steel under optimal conditions (oxygen, fuel supply, etc.), so such fires cannot get close to turning steel to liquid (melting). And since heat rises, only beams high in the structure, not below, could have been weakened. This is relevant because some people continue to believe that melted steel or nearly-melted steel brought the buildings down.

Uncontrolled building fires can thermally weaken steel in a steel-framed skyscraper, although it takes a lot. Fires at the Meridian Plaza, First Interstate Banking and other intense skyscraper fires softened steel beams but these steel-framed skyscrapers did not collapse. That’s the real point, and constitutes powerful evidence against the official theory.

  • Next, I said that “each collapse had detectable seismic vibrations suggestive of underground explosions, similar to the 2.3 earthquake magnitude from a demolition like the Seattle Kingdome” (p. 108). Well, the seismic vibrations were “suggestive” of underground explosions. Suggestive is a squishy term and some analysts maintain that seismic readings do provide evidence of explosions. Mr. Hoffman, by contrast, insists that “the largest seismic disturbances were caused by the ground impact of falling rubble.”

Perhaps Hoffman is right. The seismic evidence may only reflect the impact of rubble and add nothing to the evidence in favor of explosives dropping the towers, but I have my doubts. I’ll study it further. It’s problematic because the WTC explosions were numerous and powerful, including those at the base of the buildings. Common sense tells me, “Powerful explosives disturb the earth more than falling rubble.” And “the whole of science,” as Albert Einstein said, “is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking” (Bartlett’s, 15th edition, p. 763).

  • Finally, I stand accused of repeating the error that “web trusses were not primary support structures” undergirding most floors. I don’t know what this refers to. Given the lack of a direct quotation, I’m hard pressed to know. I did write “Each floor was also extremely strong (p. 26), a grid of steel, contrary to claims of a lightweight "truss" system.”

To sum up Part I of my response, quarrels over some of the details of the WTC collapses are minor. Whatever uncertainties remain, the WTC buildings were leveled via demolition. Through debates like these, we may improve our understanding of the demolitions but demolitions they were, beyond a reasonable doubt.

*Professor emeritus, economics, Texas A&M University, and former chief economist, U.S. Department of Labor, 2001-2.