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Background Attack Aftermath Evidence Misinformation Analysis Memorial

Questions of Pre-Impact Damage

Evaluating Damage-Based Claims About the Attack Plane

Photographs of the Pentagon's west side after the attack are remarkably free of crash debris. However, many of these photographs have deceptive foreshortening of large areas near the building. The fire trucks in this photograph are at least 80 feet from the building.

Flight 77, which is supposed to have crashed into the Pentagon's west block on 9/11/01, was a Boeing 757-200. There are several pieces of physical evidence and elements of the body of eyewitness evidence that rule out the official account of the crash. That account has Flight 77, piloted by a suicide pilot of questionable piliting skill, swooping down seven thousand feet in three minutes and approaching the Pentagon at such a shallow angle that its wings clip lamp-posts on the highway, its engine slices a generator trailer, and it plows into the first floor of the newly renovated west block, destroying the just-occupied Naval Command Center.

Problems with the official account of the piloting of Flight 77 have been eclipsed by claims that the Pentagon was not hit by a 757, based largely on the two following arguments:

  • The pattern of damage to the building and its surroundings appears to be inconsistent with the impact of a 757.
  • Evidence of aircraft debris is scarce, and conspicuously absent recognizable objects, such as luggage, seats, and bodies.


Errors Evaluating the Physical Evidence

The evaluation of this evidence is much more subtle than many skeptics of the official story have appreciated. Some have suggested that the 757 should have punched holes through the walls out to the wing and tail tips as the 767s did to the towers. (In fact the wing tips of the 767s were diced by the exterior columns, but they left clear impressions of their entire profiles.) However, the wing ends have relatively little mass, and the Pentagon's outer wall was a heavy masonry structure which had been fortified for bomb resistance. Prominent French author Thierry Meyssan described the impact hole as 15 to 18 feet in diameter. In fact there were areas of broken-away walls extending more than 90 feet on the first floor. Others have suggested that, given the extent of wings and tail that could not fit through the punctured areas of wall, large sections of wing and tail should have remained outside the building. However, crash simulations suggest that the entire jet could have been reduced to small pieces by the impact. Photographs of large pieces in other jetliner crashes only show that there are crashes in which large pieces survive.

Many such errors made by skeptics of the official account are understandable, given the lack of comparable crash cases; but many common errors made by its defenders are laughable, in light of the laws of physics. These include theories in which the wings fold, spin, or slip into the building -- all of which would require accelerations perpendicular to the direction of impact as great as the deceleration of hitting an immovable wall. Such accelerations could not be transmitted by the structural materials of the plane.


The Pre-Explosion Theory

Many people who are convinced by arguments that the Pentagon post-impact damage did not match the shape of a 757's frontal profile assume that means no 757 crashed at the Pentagon. However, it is easy to think of scenarios involving a Boeing 757 but not leaving a cookie-cutter imprint of the wings and tail. A scenario that seeks to explain the allegedly anomalous impact profile imagines that the jetliner was attacked by a bomb or missile before impact. However, there are other explanations for alleged damage anomalies, particularly the lack of apparant facade damage where the rudder and outermost portions of the wings would have hit. For example, it is possible that collisions with objects in the flight path, such as the lamp-poles, damaged or severed extremities of the aircraft.

page last modified: 2011-09-14