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Background Attack Aftermath Evidence Misinformation Analysis Memorial

Pentagon Aircraft Debris

Paucity of Aircraft Crash Debris Raises Doubts About Flight 77 Crash

Photographs of the Pentagon's west facade and adjacent lawn immediately following the crash show a striking paucity of aircraft debris, and punctures in the facade not large enough to have admitted significant expanses of the wings and tail. Even if these parts were shredded on impact, they should have left a few tons of confetti outside the building.

People who were at the disaster site were not able to clarify what happened to the 60 tons of aluminum in the 757 that supposedly hit the Pentagon. When asked by a journalist at a press conference the day after the attack: "Is there anything left of the aircraft at all?" Arlington County Fire Chief, Ed Plaugher, said: 1  

First of all, the question about the aircraft, there are some small pieces of aircraft visible from the interior during this fire-fighting operation I'm talking about, but not large sections. In other words, there's no fuselage sections and that sort of thing. You know, I'd rather not comment on that. We have a lot of eyewitnesses that can give you better information about what actually happened with the aircraft as it approached. So we don't know. I don't know.

The chief's evasive description sounds suspicious, but it does not prove that there were not piles of aircraft debris inside the building, or piles of seats, some with crash victims. In contrast, characterizations of crash debris outside the building can be made with some accuracy thanks to the handful of post-crash photographs taken by passers-by.

Flight 77 hull piece
Only one piece of aircraft debris larger than small shards was seen by passers-by outside of the building.
[full size image]

Photographs Show Small Pieces

Some photographs of aircraft debris at the Pentagon were taken by passers-by immediately following the crash, while other photographs of aircraft parts, both inside and outside the building, were later circulated by government sources.

Portions of the lawn outside the Pentagon were littered with very small pieces of debris, which fell to the ground like confetti, according to eyewitnesses. Reporter Mark D. Faram photographed the only piece of any size he could find when he arrived on the scene about 10 minutes after the explosion, by his own account. Internet persona Richard Eastman first articulated the case that the piece was planted by observing that while the piece has markings, rivet holes, and shape matching the skin of an American Airlines 757-200 just aft of the forward cabin door, it could not have come from a 757 crashing into the Pentagon because:

  • It lies far to the port (left) side of the attack plane's flightpath, but it matches the skin on the starboard (right) side of the fuselage,
  • It shows no signs of abrasion or burning, even though the forward part of the fuselage would have been subjected to some of the most violent forces in a collision.
  • It is conspicuous in being the only photographed aircraft piece on the lawn large enough to stand up.

However, there are readily apparent innocuous explanations for each of these observations:

  • The piece could have been moved for any of a number of reasons.
  • Aircraft crashes are chaotic events that produce debris in all manner of conditions.
  • There is nothing unusual about a single large conspicuous piece surviving at a crash site.


Should Large Aircraft Pieces Be Evident?

The absence of of large pieces of aircraft in photographs stikes many observers as incongruous with the crash of a large jetliner such as the 757 that Flight 77 was. Many people have seen photographs of jetliner crashes in which large sections of the planes remain intact. However, a high-speed crash into a hardened target such as a building is not comparable to typical crash incidents. Furthermore, even crashes into terrain, most of them at much slower speeds than the crashes on 9/11/01, often leave very little in the way of recognizable aircraft parts.

One case for comparison is the crash test of an F-4 fighter jet into a concrete barrier at 480 mph. The crash converted the plane into confetti. Another case is the crash of a C-130 cargo transport plane into a 10-story apartment building in Azari, Iran. Photographs of the crash site show few visible aircraft parts. These cases demonstrate that planes flying into buildings can have the effect of reducing the plane to very small pieces.

Pentagon crash engine rotor

Photographs of aircraft parts adjacent to or inside of the Pentagon have been used to suggest that some type of aircraft other than a jetliner crashed into the building. An example is the rotor pictured to the right. There are numerous examples of websites and even books claiming that the part is too small to be from the large engines such as those that equip a Boeing 757. However, these engines (which are either Rolls-Royce RB 211-535E4 or Pratt & Whitney PW 2037 or PW 2040 models) are high-bypass turbofan engines, which have a large fan visible from the engine's front and much smaller compressor and turbine rotors behind it. The high-pressure rotors do indeed have dimensions matching the piece in the photograph.


1. DoD News Briefing - Victoria Clarke, ASD PA, defenselink.mil, 9/12/2001 [cached]

page last modified: 2013-03-21