9/11: Debunking The Myths
PM examines the evidence and consults the experts to refute
the most persistent conspiracy theories of September 11.
From the moment the first airplane crashed into the World Trade Center
on the morning of September 11, 2001, the world has asked one simple and
compelling question: How could it happen?
Three and a half years later, not everyone is convinced we know the
truth. Go to Google.com, type in the search phrase "World Trade Center
conspiracy" and you'll get links to an estimated 628,000 Web sites.
More than 3000 books on 9/11 have been published; many of them reject
the official consensus that hijackers associated with Osama bin Laden
and Al Qaeda flew passenger planes into U.S. landmarks.
Healthy skepticism, it seems, has curdled into paranoia. Wild
conspiracy tales are peddled daily on the Internet, talk radio and in
other media. Blurry photos, quotes taken out of context and sketchy
eyewitness accounts have inspired a slew of elaborate theories: The
Pentagon was struck by a missile; the World Trade Center was razed by
demolition-style bombs; Flight 93 was shot down by a mysterious white
jet. As outlandish as these claims may sound, they are increasingly
accepted abroad and among extremists here in the United States.
To investigate 16 of the most prevalent claims made by conspiracy
theorists, POPULAR MECHANICS assembled a team of nine researchers and
reporters who, together with PM editors, consulted more than 70
professionals in fields that form the core content of this magazine,
including aviation, engineering and the military.
In the end, we were able to debunk each of these assertions with
hard evidence and a healthy dose of common sense. We learned that a few
theories are based on something as innocent as a reporting error on
that chaotic day. Others are the byproducts of cynical imaginations
that aim to inject suspicion and animosity into public debate. Only by
confronting such poisonous claims with irrefutable facts can we
understand what really happened on a day that is forever seared into
world history.--THE EDITORS
Photograph by Rob Howard
The widely accepted account that hijackers commandeered and crashed
the four 9/11 planes is supported by reams of evidence, from cockpit
recordings to forensics to the fact that crews and passengers never
returned home. Nonetheless, conspiracy theorists seize on a handful of
"facts" to argue a very different scenario: The jets that struck New
York and Washington, D.C., weren't commercial planes, they say, but
something else, perhaps refueling tankers or guided missiles. And the
lack of military intervention? Theorists claim it proves the U.S.
government instigated the assault or allowed it to occur in order to
advance oil interests or a war agenda.
Where's The Pod?
Photographs and video
footage shot just before United Airlines Flight 175 hit the South Tower
of the World Trade Center (WTC) show an object underneath the fuselage
at the base of the right wing. The film "911 In Plane Site" and the Web
site LetsRoll911.org claim that no such object is found on a stock
Boeing 767. They speculate that this "military pod" is a missile, a
bomb or a piece of equipment on an air-refueling tanker.
LetsRoll911.org points to this as evidence that the attacks were an
"inside job" sanctioned by "President George Bush, who planned and
One of the clearest, most
widely seen pictures of the doomed jet's undercarriage was taken by
photographer Rob Howard and published in New York magazine and
elsewhere (opening page and at right). PM sent a digital scan of
the original photo to Ronald Greeley, director of the Space Photography
Laboratory at Arizona State University. Greeley is an expert at
analyzing images to determine the shape and features of geological
formations based on shadow and light effects. After studying the
high-resolution image and comparing it to photos of a Boeing
767-200ER's undercarriage, Greeley dismissed the notion that the Howard
photo reveals a "pod." In fact, the photo reveals only the Boeing's
right fairing, a pronounced bulge that contains the landing gear. He
concludes that sunlight glinting off the fairing gave it an exaggerated
look. "Such a glint causes a blossoming (enlargement) on film," he
writes in an e-mail to PM, "which tends to be amplified in digital
versions of images--the pixels are saturated and tend to 'spill over'
to adjacent pixels." When asked about pods attached to civilian
aircraft, Fred E. Culick, professor of aeronautics at the California
Institute of Technology, gave a blunter response: "That's bull. They're
No Stand-Down Order
No fighter jets were scrambled from any of the 28 Air Force bases
within close range of the four hijacked flights. "On 11 September
Andrews had two squadrons of fighter jets with the job of protecting
the skies over Washington D.C.," says the Web site
emperors-clothes.com. "They failed to do their job." "There is only one
explanation for this," writes Mark R. Elsis of
"Our Air Force was ordered to Stand Down on 9/11."
On 9/11 there were only 14
fighter jets on alert in the contiguous 48 states. No computer network
or alarm automatically alerted the North American Air Defense Command
(NORAD) of missing planes. "They [civilian Air Traffic Control, or ATC]
had to pick up the phone and literally dial us," says Maj. Douglas
Martin, public affairs officer for NORAD. Boston Center, one of 22
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regional ATC facilities, called
NORAD's Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) three times: at 8:37 am
EST to inform NEADS that Flight 11 was hijacked; at 9:21 am to inform
the agency, mistakenly, that Flight 11 was headed for Washington (the
plane had hit the North Tower 35 minutes earlier); and at 9:41 am to
(erroneously) identify Delta Air Lines Flight 1989 from Boston as a
possible hijacking. The New York ATC called NEADS at 9:03 am to report
that United Flight 175 had been hijacked--the same time the plane
slammed into the South Tower. Within minutes of that first call from
Boston Center, NEADS scrambled two F-15s from Otis Air Force Base in
Falmouth, Mass., and three F-16s from Langley Air National Guard Base
in Hampton, Va. None of the fighters got anywhere near the pirated
Why couldn't ATC find the hijacked flights? When the hijackers
turned off the planes' transponders, which broadcast identifying
signals, ATC had to search 4500 identical radar blips crisscrossing
some of the country's busiest air corridors. And NORAD's sophisticated
radar? It ringed the continent, looking outward for threats, not
inward. "It was like a doughnut," Martin says. "There was no coverage
in the middle." Pre-9/11, flights originating in the States were not
seen as threats and NORAD wasn't prepared to track them.
Flight 175's Windows
On Sept. 11, FOX News broadcast a live phone interview with FOX employee
Marc Birnbach. 911inplanesite.com states that "Bernback" saw the plane
"crash into the South Tower." "It definitely did not look like a
commercial plane," Birnbach said on air. "I didn't see any windows on
with photographs and videos of Flight 175 that lack the resolution to
show windows, Birnbach's statement has fueled one of the most widely
referenced 9/11 conspiracy theories--specifically, that the South Tower
was struck by a military cargo plane or a fuel tanker.
FACT:Birnbach, who was a freelance
videographer with FOX News at the time, tells PM that he was more
than 2 miles southeast of the WTC, in Brooklyn, when he briefly saw a plane
fly over. He says that, in fact, he did not see the plane strike the
South Tower; he says he only heard the explosion.
While heading a Federal Emergency
Management Agency (FEMA) probe into the collapse of the towers, W. Gene
Corley studied the airplane wreckage. A licensed structural engineer
with Construction Technology Laboratories, a consulting firm based in
Skokie, Ill., Corley and his team photographed aircraft debris on the
roof of WTC 5, including a chunk of fuselage that clearly had passenger
windows. "It's ... from the United Airlines plane that hit Tower 2,"
Corley states flatly. In reviewing crash footage taken by an ABC news
crew, Corley was able to track the trajectory of the fragments he
studied--including a section of the landing gear and part of an
engine--as they tore through the South Tower, exited from the
building's north side and fell from the sky.
Passenger windows on a piece of Flight 175's fuselage.
PHOTOGRPAH BY WILLIAM F. BAKER/FEMA
Intercepts Not Routine
"It has been standard operating procedures for decades to immediately
intercept off-course planes that do not respond to communications from
air traffic controllers," says the Web site
"When the Air
Force 'scrambles' a fighter plane to intercept, they usually reach the
plane in question in minutes."
In the decade before 9/11,
NORAD intercepted only one civilian plane over North America: golfer
Payne Stewart's Learjet, in October 1999. With passengers and crew
unconscious from cabin decompression, the plane lost radio contact but
remained in transponder contact until it crashed. Even so, it took an
F-16 1 hour and 22 minutes to reach the stricken jet. Rules in effect
back then, and on 9/11, prohibited supersonic flight on intercepts.
Prior to 9/11, all other NORAD interceptions were limited to offshore
Air Defense Identification Zones (ADIZ). "Until 9/11 there was no
domestic ADIZ," FAA spokesman Bill Schumann tells PM. After 9/11,
NORAD and the FAA increased cooperation, setting up hotlines between ATCs
and NORAD command centers, according to officials from both agencies.
NORAD has also increased its fighter coverage and has installed radar to
monitor airspace over the continent.
The collapse of both World Trade Center towers--and the smaller WTC 7 a
few hours later--initially surprised even some experts. But subsequent
studies have shown that the WTC's structural integrity was destroyed by
intense fire as well as the severe damage inflicted by the planes. That
explanation hasn't swayed conspiracy theorists, who contend that all
three buildings were wired with explosives in advance and razed in a
series of controlled demolitions.
The first hijacked plane
crashed through the 94th to the 98th floors of the World Trade Center's
110-story North Tower; the second jet slammed into the 78th to the 84th
floors of the 110-story South Tower. The impact and ensuing fires
disrupted elevator service in both buildings. Plus, the lobbies of both
buildings were visibly damaged before the towers collapsed. "There is
NO WAY the impact of the jet caused such widespread damage 80 stories
below," claims a posting on the San Diego Independent Media Center Web
site (sandiego.indymedia.org). "It is OBVIOUS and irrefutable that
OTHER EXPLOSIVES (... such as concussion bombs) HAD ALREADY BEEN
DETONATED in the lower levels of tower one at the same time as the
Following up on a May 2002
preliminary report by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), a
major study will be released in spring 2005 by the National Institute
of Standards and Technology (NIST), a branch of the U.S. Department of
Commerce. NIST shared its initial findings with PM and made its
lead researcher available to our team of reporters.
The NIST investigation revealed that plane debris sliced through the
utility shafts at the North Tower's core, creating a conduit for
burning jet fuel--and fiery destruction throughout the building. "It's
very hard to document where the fuel went," says Forman Williams, a
NIST adviser and a combustion expert, "but if it's atomized and
combustible and gets to an ignition source, it'll go off."
Burning fuel traveling down the elevator shafts would have disrupted
the elevator systems and caused extensive damage to the lobbies. NIST
heard first-person testimony that "some elevators slammed right down"
to the ground floor. "The doors cracked open on the lobby floor and
flames came out and people died," says James Quintiere, an engineering
professor at the University of Maryland and a NIST adviser. A similar
observation was made in the French documentary "9/11," by Jules and
Gedeon Naudet. As Jules Naudet entered the North Tower lobby, minutes
after the first aircraft struck, he saw victims on fire, a scene he
found too horrific to film.
"We have been lied to," announces the Web site AttackOnAmerica.net.
"The first lie was that the load of fuel from the aircraft was the
cause of structural failure. No kerosene fire can burn hot enough to
melt steel." The posting is entitled "Proof Of Controlled Demolition At
burns at 800º to 1500ºF, not hot enough to melt steel (2750ºF).
However, experts agree that for the towers to collapse, their steel
frames didn't need to melt, they just had to lose some of their
structural strength--and that required exposure to much less heat. "I
have never seen melted steel in a building fire," says retired New York
deputy fire chief Vincent Dunn, author of The Collapse Of Burning
Buildings: A Guide To Fireground Safety. "But I've seen a lot of
twisted, warped, bent and sagging steel. What happens is that the steel
tries to expand at both ends, but when it can no longer expand, it sags
and the surrounding concrete cracks."
"Steel loses about 50 percent of its strength at 1100ºF," notes senior
engineer Farid Alfawak-hiri of the American Institute of Steel
Construction. "And at 1800º it is probably at less than 10 percent."
NIST also believes that a great deal of the spray-on fireproofing
insulation was likely knocked off the steel beams that were in the path
of the crashing jets, leaving the metal more vulnerable to the heat.
But jet fuel wasn't the only thing burning, notes Forman Williams, a
professor of engineering at the University of California, San Diego,
and one of seven structural engineers and fire experts that PM
consulted. He says that while the jet fuel was the catalyst for the WTC
fires, the resulting inferno was intensified by the combustible
material inside the buildings, including rugs, curtains, furniture and
paper. NIST reports that pockets of fire hit 1832ºF.
"The jet fuel was the ignition source," Williams tells PM.
"It burned for maybe 10 minutes, and [the towers] were still standing in
10 minutes. It was the rest of the stuff burning afterward that was
responsible for the heat transfer that eventually brought them down."
Puffs Of Dust
As each tower collapsed, clearly visible puffs of dust and debris were
ejected from the sides of the buildings. An advertisement in
The New York Times for the book
Painful Questions: An Analysis Of The September 11th Attack made
this claim: "The concrete clouds shooting out of the buildings are not
possible from a mere collapse. They do occur from explosions." Numerous
conspiracy theorists cite Van Romero, an explosives expert and vice
president of the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, who was
quoted on 9/11 by the Albuquerque Journal as saying "there were
some explosive devices inside the buildings that caused the towers to
collapse." The article continues, "Romero said the collapse of the
structures resembled those of controlled implosions used to demolish
Once each tower began to collapse, the weight of all the floors
above the collapsed zone bore down with pulverizing force on the
highest intact floor. Unable to absorb the massive energy, that floor
would fail, transmitting the forces to the floor below, allowing the
collapse to progress downward through the building in a chain reaction.
Engineers call the process "pancaking," and it does not require an
explosion to begin, according to David Biggs, a structural engineer at
Ryan-Biggs Associates and a member of the American Society of Civil
Engineers (ASCE) team that worked on the FEMA report.
office buildings, the WTC towers contained a huge volume of air. As
they pancaked, all that air--along with the concrete and other debris
pulverized by the force of the collapse--was ejected with enormous
energy. "When you have a significant portion of a floor collapsing,
it's going to shoot air and concrete dust out the window," NIST lead
investigator Shyam Sunder tells PM.
Those clouds of dust may create the
impression of a controlled demolition, Sunder adds, "but it is the
floor pancaking that leads to that perception."
Demolition expert Romero regrets that his comments to the
became fodder for conspiracy theorists. "I was misquoted in saying that
I thought it was explosives that brought down the building," he tells
PM. "I only said that that's what it looked like."
Romero, who agrees with the scientific conclusion that fire triggered
the collapses, demanded a retraction from the Journal.
It was printed Sept. 22, 2001. "I felt like my scientific reputation
was on the line." But emperors-clothes.com saw something else: "The
paymaster of Romero's research institute is the Pentagon. Directly or
indirectly, pressure was brought to bear, forcing Romero to retract his
original statement." Romero responds: "Conspiracy theorists came out
saying that the government got to me. That is the farthest thing from
the truth. This has been an albatross around my neck for three years."
COLLAPSE: Pancaking floors--not controlled demolition--expel debris and
smoke out South Tower windows. PHOTOGRAPH BY AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS
at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades,
N.Y., 21 miles north of the WTC, recorded the events of 9/11. "The
strongest jolts were all registered at the beginning of the collapses,
well before falling debris struck the earth," reports the Web site
A columnist on
a Web site run by radio talk show
host Alex Jones, claims the seismic spikes (boxed area on Graph 1, inset)
are "indisputable proof that massive explosions brought down" the
towers. The Web site says its findings are supported by two
seismologists at the observatory, Won-Young Kim and Arthur Lerner-Lam.
Each "sharp spike of short duration," says Prisonplanet.com, was
consistent with a "demolition-style implosion."
"There is no scientific basis for
the conclusion that explosions brought down the towers," Lerner-Lam
tells PM. "That representation of our work is categorically incorrect
and not in context."
The report issued by Lamont-Doherty includes various graphs showing the
seismic readings produced by the planes crashing into the two towers as
well as the later collapse of both buildings. WhatReallyHappened.com
chooses to display only one graph (Graph 1), which shows the readings
over a 30-minute time span.
On that graph, the 8- and 10-second collapses appear--misleadingly--as
a pair of sudden spikes. Lamont-Doherty's 40-second plot of the same data
(Graph 2, above) gives a much more detailed picture: The seismic
waves--blue for the South Tower, red for the North Tower--start small
and then escalate as the buildings rumble to the ground. Translation:
Revisionists say sharp spikes (above) mean bombs toppled the WTC.
Scientists disprove the claim with the more detailed graph.
Seismograph readings by Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia
University/Won-Young Kim (senior research scientist)/Arthur Lerner-Lam
(associate director)/Mary Tobin (senior science writer)/
WTC 7 Collapse
Seven hours after the two towers fell, the 47-story WTC 7 collapsed.
According to 911review.org: "The video clearly shows that it was not a
collapse subsequent to a fire, but rather a controlled demolition:
amongst the Internet investigators, the jury is in on this one."
Many conspiracy theorists
point to FEMA's preliminary report, which said there was relatively
light damage to WTC 7 prior to its collapse. With the benefit of more
time and resources, NIST researchers now support the working hypothesis
that WTC 7 was far more compromised by falling debris than the FEMA
report indicated. "The most important thing we found was that there
was, in fact, physical damage to the south face of building 7," NIST's
Sunder tells PM. "On about a third of the face to the center and to the
bottom--approximately 10 stories--about 25 percent of the depth of the
building was scooped out." NIST also discovered previously undocumented
damage to WTC 7's upper stories and its southwest corner.
NIST investigators believe a combination of intense fire and severe
structural damage contributed to the collapse, though assigning the
exact proportion requires more research. But NIST's analysis suggests
the fall of WTC 7 was an example of "progressive collapse," a process
in which the failure of parts of a structure ultimately creates strains
that cause the entire building to come down. Videos of the fall of WTC
7 show cracks, or "kinks," in the building's facade just before the two
penthouses disappeared into the structure, one after the other. The
entire building fell in on itself, with the slumping east side of the
structure pulling down the west side in a diagonal collapse.
to NIST, there was one primary reason for the building's failure: In an
unusual design, the columns near the visible kinks were carrying
exceptionally large loads, roughly 2000 sq. ft. of floor area for each
floor. "What our preliminary analysis has shown is that if you take out
just one column on one of the lower floors," Sunder notes, "it could
cause a vertical progression of collapse so that the entire section
There are two other possible contributing factors
still under investigation: First, trusses on the fifth and seventh
floors were designed to transfer loads from one set of columns to
another. With columns on the south face apparently damaged, high
stresses would likely have been communicated to columns on the building's
other faces, thereby exceeding their load-bearing capacities.
a fifth-floor fire burned for up to 7 hours. "There was no firefighting
in WTC 7," Sunder says. Investigators believe the fire was fed by tanks
of diesel fuel that many tenants used to run emergency generators. Most
tanks throughout the building were fairly small, but a generator on the
fifth floor was connected to a large tank in the basement via a
pressurized line. Says Sunder: "Our current working hypothesis is that
this pressurized line was supplying fuel [to the fire] for a long
period of time."
WTC 7 might have withstood the physical damage
it received, or the fire that burned for hours, but those combined
factors--along with the building's unusual construction--were enough to
set off the chain-reaction collapse.
WTC 7 stands amid the rubble of the recently collapsed Twin Towers.
Damaged by falling debris, the building then endures a fire that rages
Experts say this combination, not a demolition-style implosion,
led to the roofline
kink that signals WTC 7's progressive collapse.
PHOTOGRAPH BY NEW YORK OFFICE OF EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT
At 9:37 am on 9/11, 51 minutes after the first plane hit the World Trade
Center, the Pentagon was similarly attacked. Though dozens of witnesses
saw a Boeing 757 hit the building, conspiracy advocates insist there is
evidence that a missile or a different type of plane smashed into the
Big Plane, Small Holes
Two holes were visible in the Pentagon immediately after the attack: a
75-ft.-wide entry hole in the building's exterior wall, and a
16-ft.-wide hole in Ring C, the Pentagon's middle ring. Conspiracy
theorists claim both holes are far too small to have been made by a
Boeing 757. "How does a plane 125 ft. wide and 155 ft. long fit into a
hole which is only 16 ft. across?" asks reopen911.org, a Web site
"dedicated to discovering the bottom line truth to what really occurred
on September 11, 2001."
The truth is of even less
importance to French author Thierry Meyssan, whose baseless assertions
are fodder for even mainstream European and Middle Eastern media. In
his book The Big Lie, Meyssan concludes that the Pentagon was
struck by a satellite-guided missile--part of an elaborate U.S.
military coup. "This attack," he writes, "could only be committed by
United States military personnel against other U.S. military
When American Airlines
Flight 77 hit the Pentagon's exterior wall, Ring E, it created a hole
approximately 75 ft. wide, according to the ASCE Pentagon Building
Performance Report. The exterior facade collapsed about 20 minutes
after impact, but ASCE based its measurements of the original hole on
the number of first-floor support columns that were destroyed or
damaged. Computer simulations confirmed the findings.
Why wasn't the hole as wide as a 757's 124-ft.-10-in. wingspan? A
crashing jet doesn't punch a cartoon-like outline of itself into a
reinforced concrete building, says ASCE team member Mete Sozen, a
professor of structural engineering at Purdue University. In this case,
one wing hit the ground; the other was sheared off by the force of the
impact with the Pentagon's load-bearing columns, explains Sozen, who
specializes in the behavior of concrete buildings. What was left of the
plane flowed into the structure in a state closer to a liquid than a
solid mass. "If you expected the entire wing to cut into the building,"
Sozen tells PM, "it didn't happen."
The tidy hole in Ring C was 12 ft. wide--not 16 ft. ASCE concludes
it was made by the jet's landing gear, not by the fuselage.
Flight 77's landing gear punched a 12-ft. hole into the Pentagon's Ring C. PHOTOGRAPH BY DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE
Pentagon windows remained in one piece--even those just above the point
of impact from the Boeing 757 passenger plane. Pentagonstrike.co.uk, an
online animation widely circulated in the United States and Europe,
claims that photographs showing "intact windows" directly above the
crash site prove "a missile" or "a craft much smaller than a 757"
struck the Pentagon.
FACT: Some windows near the
impact area did indeed survive the crash. But that's what the windows
were supposed to do--they're blast-resistant.
"A blast-resistant window must be designed to resist a force significantly
higher than a hurricane that's hitting instantaneously," says Ken Hays,
executive vice president of Masonry Arts, the Bessemer, Ala., company
that designed, manufactured and installed the Pentagon windows. Some
were knocked out of the walls by the crash and the outer ring's later
collapse. "They were not designed to receive wracking seismic force,"
Hays notes. "They were designed to take in inward pressure from a blast
event, which apparently they did: [Before the collapse] the blinds were
still stacked neatly behind the window glass."
Flight 77 Debris
theorists insist there was no plane wreckage at the Pentagon. "In
reality, a Boeing 757 was never found," claims pentagonstrike.co.uk,
which asks the question, "What hit the Pentagon on 9/11?"
Blast expert Allyn E. Kilsheimer
was the first structural engineer to arrive at the Pentagon after the
crash and helped coordinate the emergency response. "It was absolutely
a plane, and I'll tell you why," says Kilsheimer, CEO of KCE Structural
Engineers PC, Washington, D.C. "I saw the marks of the plane wing on
the face of the building. I picked up parts of the plane with the
airline markings on them. I held in my hand the tail section of the
plane, and I found the black box." Kilsheimer's eyewitness account is
backed up by photos of plane wreckage inside and outside the building.
Kilsheimer adds: "I held parts of uniforms from crew members in my
hands, including body parts. Okay?"
Wreckage from Flight 77 on the Pentagon's lawn--proof that a passenger
plane, not a missile, hit the building. PHOTOGRAPH BY AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS
Cockpit recordings indicate the passengers on United Airlines Flight 93
teamed up to attack their hijackers, forcing down the plane near Shanksville,
in southwestern Pennsylvania. But conspiracy theorists assert Flight 93
was destroyed by a heat-seeking missile from an F-16 or a mysterious
white plane. Some theorists add far-fetched elaborations: No terrorists
were aboard, or the passengers were drugged. The wildest is the "bumble
planes" theory, which holds that passengers from Flights 11, 175 and 77
were loaded onto Flight 93 so the U.S. government could kill them.
The White Jet
At least six eyewitnesses say they saw a small white jet flying low over
the crash area almost immediately after Flight 93 went down. BlogD.com
theorizes that the aircraft was downed by "either a missile fired from
an Air Force jet, or via an electronic assault made by a U.S. Customs
airplane reported to have been seen near the site minutes after Flight
93 crashed." WorldNetDaily.com weighs in: "Witnesses to this low-flying
jet ... told their story to journalists. Shortly thereafter, the FBI
began to attack the witnesses with perhaps the most inane
disinformation ever--alleging the witnesses actually observed a private
jet at 34,000 ft. The FBI says the jet was asked to come down to 5000
ft. and try to find the crash site. This would require about 20 minutes
There was such a jet in
the vicinity--a Dassault Falcon 20 business jet owned by the VF Corp.
of Greensboro, N.C., an apparel company that markets Wrangler jeans and
other brands. The VF plane was flying into Johnstown-Cambria airport,
20 miles north of Shanksville. According to David Newell, VF's director
of aviation and travel, the FAA's Cleveland Center contacted copilot
Yates Gladwell when the Falcon was at an altitude "in the neighborhood
of 3000 to 4000 ft."--not 34,000 ft. "They were in a descent already
going into Johnstown," Newell adds. "The FAA asked them to investigate
and they did. They got down within 1500 ft. of the ground when they
circled. They saw a hole in the ground with smoke coming out of it.
They pinpointed the location and then continued on." Reached by PM,
Gladwell confirmed this account but, concerned about ongoing harassment
by conspiracy theorists, asked not to be quoted directly.
One of Flight 93's engines was found "at a considerable distance from the
crash site," according to Lyle Szupinka, a state police officer on the
scene who was quoted in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Offering
no evidence, a posting on Rense.com claimed: "The main body of the
engine ... was found miles away from the main wreckage site with damage
comparable to that which a heat-seeking missile would do to an
Experts on the scene tell
PM that a fan from one of the engines was recovered in a catchment
basin, downhill from the crash site. Jeff Reinbold, the National Park
Service representative responsible for the Flight 93 National Memorial,
confirms the direction and distance from the crash site to the basin:
just over 300 yards south, which means the fan landed in the direction
the jet was traveling. "It's not unusual for an engine to move or
tumble across the ground," says Michael K. Hynes, an airline accident
expert who investigated the crash of TWA Flight 800 out of New York
City in 1996. "When you have very high velocities, 500 mph or more,"
Hynes says, "you are talking about 700 to 800 ft. per second. For
something to hit the ground with that kind of energy, it would only
take a few seconds to bounce up and travel 300 yards." Numerous crash
analysts contacted by PM concur.
and workers at businesses outside Shanksville, Somerset County,
reported discovering clothing, books, papers and what appeared to be
human remains," states a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
article dated Sept. 13, 2001. "Others reported what appeared to be
crash debris floating in Indian Lake, nearly 6 miles from the immediate
crash scene." Commenting on reports that Indian Lake residents
collected debris, Think
AndAsk.com speculates: "On Sept. 10, 2001, a strong cold front pushed
through the area, and behind it--winds blew northerly. Since Flight 93
crashed west-southwest of Indian Lake, it was impossible for debris to
fly perpendicular to wind direction. ... The FBI lied." And the
significance of widespread debris? Theorists claim the plane was
breaking up before it crashed. TheForbiddenKnowledge.com states
bluntly: "Without a doubt, Flight 93 was shot down."
Wallace Miller, Somerset County
coroner, tells PM no body parts were found in Indian Lake. Human
remains were confined to a 70-acre area directly surrounding the crash
site. Paper and tiny scraps of sheetmetal, however, did land in the
lake. "Very light debris will fly into the air, because of the
concussion," says former National Transportation Safety Board
investigator Matthew McCormick. Indian Lake is less than 1.5 miles
southeast of the impact crater--not 6 miles--easily within range of
debris blasted skyward by the heat of the explosion from the crash. And
the wind that day was northwesterly, at 9 to 12 mph, which means it was
blowing from the northwest--toward Indian Lake.
Map by International Mapping
In February 2004, retired Army Col. Donn de Grand-Pre said on
"The Alex Jones Show,"
a radio talk show broadcast on 42 stations:
"It [Flight 93] was taken out by the North Dakota Air Guard. I know
the pilot who fired those two missiles to take down 93."
LetsRoll911.org, citing de
Grand-Pre, identifies the pilot: "Major Rick Gibney fired two
Sidewinder missiles at the aircraft and destroyed it in midflight at
Saying he was reluctant to
fuel debate by responding to unsubstantiated charges, Gibney (a
lieutenant colonel, not a major) declined to comment. According to Air
National Guard spokesman Master Sgt. David Somdahl, Gibney flew an F-16
that morning--but nowhere near Shanksville. He took off from Fargo,
N.D., and flew to Bozeman, Mont., to pick up Ed Jacoby Jr., the
director of the New York State Emergency Management Office. Gibney then
flew Jacoby from Montana to Albany, N.Y., so Jacoby could coordinate
17,000 rescue workers engaged in the state's response to 9/11. Jacoby
confirms the day's events. "I was in Big Sky for an emergency managers
meeting. Someone called to say an F-16 was landing in Bozeman. From
there we flew to Albany." Jacoby is outraged by the claim that Gibney
shot down Flight 93. "I summarily dismiss that because Lt. Col. Gibney
was with me at that time. It disgusts me to see this because the public
is being misled. More than anything else it disgusts me because it
brings up fears. It brings up hopes--it brings up all sorts of
feelings, not only to the victims' families but to all the individuals
throughout the country, and the world for that matter. I get angry at
the misinformation out there."
PM consulted more than 300 experts and organizations in its investigation
into 9/11 conspiracy theories. The following were particularly helpful.
Air Crash Analysis
Cleveland Center regional air traffic control
Bill Crowley special agent, FBI
Ron Dokell president, Demolition Consultants
Richard Gazarik staff writer, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Yates Gladwell pilot, VF Corp.
Michael K. Hynes, Ed.D.,
ATP, CFI, A&P/IA president, Hynes Aviation Services; expert, aviation crashes
Ed Jacoby Jr. director,
New York State Emergency Management Office (Ret.); chairman, New York State Disaster Preparedness Commission (Ret.)
Johnstown-Cambria County Airport Authority
Cindi Lash staff writer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Matthew McCormick manager, survival factors division, National Transportation Safety Board (Ret.)
Wallace Miller coroner, Somerset County, PA
Robert Nagan meteorological technician, Climate Services Branch, National Climatic Data Center
Dave Newell director, aviation and travel, VF Corp.
James O’Toole politics editor, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pennsylvania State Police Public Information Office
Jeff Pillets senior writer,
The Record, Hackensack, NJ
Jeff Rienbold director, Flight 93 National Memorial, National Park Service
Dennis Roddy staff writer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Master Sgt. David Somdahl public affairs officer,
119th Wing, North Dakota
Air National Guard
Mark Stahl photographer; eyewitness, United Airlines Flight 93 crash scene
Lt. Col. Skip Aldous (Ret.) squadron commander,
U.S. Air Force
Tech. Sgt. Laura Bosco public affairs officer,
Tyndall Air Force Base
Boston Center regional air traffic control
Laura Brown spokeswoman,
Federal Aviation Administration
Todd Curtis, Ph.D. founder, Airsafe.com; president, Airsafe.com Foundation
Keith Halloway public affairs officer, National Transportation Safety Board
Ted Lopatkiewicz director, public affairs, National Transportation Safety Board
North American Aerospace Defense Command
Maj. Douglas Martin public affairs officer,
Lt. Herbert McConnell public affairs officer,
Michael Perini public affairs officer, North American Aerospace Defense Command
John Pike director, GlobalSecurity.org
Hank Price spokesman, Federal
Warren Robak RAND Corp.
Bill Shumann spokesman,
Federal Aviation Administration
Louis Walsh public affairs officer, Eglin AFB
Chris Yates aviation security editor, analyst, Jane's Transport
Fred E.C. Culick, Ph.D., S.B., S.M. professor of aeronautics, California Institute of Technology
Robert Everdeen public affairs, Northrop Grumman
Clint Oster professor of public and environmental affairs, Indiana University; aviation safety expert
Capt. Bill Scott (Ret. USAF) Rocky Mountain bureau chief, Aviation Week
Bill Uher News Media Office, NASA Langley Research Center
Col. Ed Walby (Ret. USAF)
director, business development, HALE Systems Enterprise, Unmanned Systems, Northrop Grumman
William F. Baker member, FEMA Probe Team; partner, Skidmore, Owings, Merrill
W. Gene Corley, Ph.D., P.E., S.E. senior vice president, CTL Group; director,
FEMA Probe Team
Bill Daly senior vice president, Control Risks Group
Steve Douglass image analysis consultant, Aviation Week
Thomas R. Edwards, Ph.D. founder, TREC; video forensics expert.
Ronald Greeley, Ph.D. professor of geology, Arizona State University
Rob Howard freelance photographer; WTC eyewitness
Robert L. Parker, Ph.D. professor of geophysics,
University of California, San Diego
Structural Engineering / Building Collapse
Farid Alfawakhiri, Ph.D.
senior engineer, American Institute of Steel Construction
David Biggs, P.E. structural engineer, Ryan-Biggs Associates; member, ASCE team for FEMA report
Robert Clarke structural engineer, Controlled Demolitions Group Ltd.
Glenn Corbett technical editor, Fire Engineering; member, NIST advisory committee
Vincent Dunn deputy fire chief (Ret.), FDNY; author, The Collapse Of Burning Buildings: A Guide To Fireground Safety
John Fisher, Ph.D. professor of civil engineering, Lehigh University; professor emeritus, Center for Advanced Technology; member, FEMA Probe Team
Ken Hays executive vice president, Masonry Arts
Christoph Hoffmann, Ph.D.
professor of computer science, Purdue University; project director,
September 11 Pentagon Attack Simulations Using LS-Dyna, Purdue
Allyn E. Kilsheimer, P.E.
CEO, KCE Structural Engineers PC; chief structural engineer, Phoenix
project; expert in blast recovery, concrete structures, emergency
Won-Young Kim, Ph.D. seismologist, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University
William Koplitz photo desk manager, FEMA
John Labriola freelance photographer, WTC survivor
Arthur Lerner-Lam, Ph.D. seismologist; director,
Earth Institute, Center for Hazards and Risk Research, Columbia University
James Quintiere, Ph.D. professor of engineering, University of Maryland member, NIST advisory committee
Steve Riskus freelance photographer; eyewitness, Pentagon crash
Van Romero, Ph.D. vice president, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology
Christine Shaffer spokesperson, Viracon
Mete Sozen, Ph.D., S.E.
Kettelhut Distinguished Professor of Structural Engineering, Purdue
University; member, Pentagon Building Performance Report; project
conception, September 11 Pentagon Attack Simulations Using LS-Dyna,
Shyam Sunder, Sc.D.
acting deputy director, lead investigator, Building and Fire Research
Laboratory, National Institute of Standards and Technology
Mary Tobin science writer, media relations, Earth Institute, Columbia University
Forman Williams, Ph.D. professor of engineering, physics, combustion, University of California,
San Diego; member, advisory committee, National Institute of Standards and Technology