Pentagon attack came minutes after Rumsfeld predicted: ‘There will be another event’
WASHINGTON (AP) – Inside the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had just raced to his office after hearing of the World Trade Center attack. On a house porch a little more than a mile away, Ralph Banton, 79, was enjoying a crystal-clear morning.
Then Banton heard a jet flying directly overhead, very low.
”It sounded like it was jetting instead of slowing down,” he said.
Seconds later, American Flight 77, hijacked while carrying 64 people from Washington to Los Angeles, tore into the side of the Pentagon in a shocking terror attack aimed at the building that represents America’s military power around the world.
The Pentagon burst into flames, sending into the blue sky a huge cloud of smoke visible for miles. And a part of the western side of the five-sided building in suburban Arlington, Va., collapsed.
By Tuesday night, firefighters were just gaining control of the fire, and searchers were preparing to enter the wing to search for dead and injured inside.
They had no clear idea how many casualties would be found, Rumsfeld said at a briefing inside the Pentagon. But he added: ”It will not be a few.”
Nevertheless, ”The Pentagon is functioning,” Rumsfeld said. ”It will be in business tomorrow.”
The area hit by the aircraft was under renovation, and thus some offices may not have been occupied, officials said. Overall, 24,000 people work in the Pentagon.
When the attack came at 9:40 a.m. EDT, ”the whole building shook” with the impact, said Terry Yonkers, an Air Force civilian employee at work inside the Pentagon at the time. ”There was screaming and pandemonium.”
Outside, Alan Wallace, one of three firefighters to be regularly assigned to the Pentagon, saw the airplane approaching and dived beneath a van for protection. Then he began working to help get people from the building.
His fire truck was on fire.
On a nearby road, debris hit several cars. Cab drivers watched, stunned, as hundreds of people poured out the doors of the huge building.
Rumsfeld was in his office when the aircraft hit on the opposite side of the building. He had just run there after hearing of the Trade Center attack while at a meeting on missile defense in his private dining room.
U.S. Rep. Christopher Cox, R-Calif., also at the meeting, said Rumsfeld had just predicted that the United States would face another terrorist incident at some point.
”He said, ‘Let me tell ya, I’ve been around the block a few times. There will be another event.’ And he repeated it for emphasis,” Cox said. ”And within minutes of saying that, his words proved tragically prophetic.”
Rumsfeld said he ”felt the shock of the airplane hitting the building,” then went running down to the site where the aircraft hit. ”They were bringing bodies out that had been injured, most of which were alive and moving but seriously injured,” he said.
The defense secretary then went to the National Military Command Center in the lower floors of the Pentagon.
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