Did American Flight 77 Strike the Pentagon? The Debris Deficit
by Dr. David Ray Griffin
September 19, 2008
According to the official account of 9/11, Wedge 1 of the Pentagon was struck by Flight 77, which was a Boeing 757. If so, there surely would have been debris from the plane to support this claim. But, it appears, there was not. People who inspected Wedge 1 shortly after the attack almost universally reported an absence of the kind of debris that would have been left by the crash of a large airliner. I will give several examples.
F-16 pilot Dean Eckmann, who was asked to fly over the Pentagon and report on the extent of the damage, said that he suspected that the damage had been caused by “a big fuel tanker truck because of the amount of smoke and flames coming up and … there was no airplane wreckage off to the side.”1
I knew it was a crash site before we got there, and I didn’t know what it was going to look like. I couldn’t imagine because the building is like rock solid. I expected to see the airplane, so I guess my initial impression was, “Where’s the plane? How come there’s not a plane?” I would have thought the building would have stopped it and somehow we would have seen something like part of, or half of the plane, or the lower part, or the back of the plane. So it was just a real surprise that the plane wasn’t there.2
Having run to the crash site right after the strike, Engineer Steve DeChiaro, the president of a technology firm, said: “[W]hen I looked at the site, my brain could not resolve the fact that it was a plane because it only seemed like a small hole in the building. No tail. No wings. No nothing.”3
Similar testimony was given by firefighters. Although Brian Ladd, a firefighter from Fort Myer, had expected to see pieces of the airplane’s wings or fuselage, he instead saw “millions of tiny pieces [of debris spread] everywhere.” This statement was quoted in Pentagon 9/11, an official account written by the Pentagon’s own historians. This book also says that when Captain Dennis Gilroy—the acting commander of the Fort Myer fire department—arrived, “he wondered why he saw no aircraft parts.” It also reports that another firefighter, Captain John Durrer, “had expected to see large parts of the plane and thought, ‘Well where’s the airplane, you know, where’s the parts to it?” You would think there’d be something.’”4
Military officers gave corroborating testimony. Karen Kwiatkowski, who was then an Air Force Lieutenant Colonel employed at the Pentagon, wrote of “a dearth of visible debris on the relatively unmarked lawn, where I stood only minutes after the impact. . . . I saw . . . no airplane metal or cargo debris.”5 Army officer April Gallop, who was seriously injured in the attack along with her two-month-old son, said:
I was located at the E ring. . . . And we had to escape the building before the floors, debris etcetera collapsed on us. And I don’t recall at any time seeing any plane debris… I walked through that place to try to get out before everything collapsed on us… [S]urely we should have seen something.6
I was… impressed… with how the building stood up, after they told me the size of the plane. And then I was in awe that I saw no plane, nothing left from the plane. It was like it disintegrated as it went into the building.7
Similar reports were given by journalists. CNN’s Jamie McIntyre, inspecting the area outside Wedge 1 shortly after the attack, said that he was seeing only “very small pieces of the plane…, small enough that you can pick up in your hand. There are no large tail sections, wing sections, fuselage, nothing like that anywhere around.”8 Two journalists who managed to get inside also reported an absence of the expected debris. Judy Rothschadl, a documentary producer, said: “There weren’t seats or luggage or things you find in a plane.”9 ABC’s John McWethy reported: “I got in very close, got a look early on at the bad stuff. I could not, however, see any plane wreckage.” McWethy added that the plane “had been, basically, vaporized.”10 In offering this explanation, McWethy was evidently repeating what he had been told by Pentagon officials.
In The New Pearl Harbor, which came out in 2004, I wrote: “[T]he more-or-less official story was that the fire was so hot that all this metal not only melted but was vaporized.”11 In putting it this way, I was reflecting a twofold fact: On the one hand, this claim was evidently never publicly stated by any Pentagon official or in any official document; on the other hand, it was widely thought to be the government’s position and was defended by advocates of that position. As I pointed out in a note, French author Thierry Meyssan quoted French defenders of the official theory to this effect, one of whom wrote: “The intensity of the heat caused by the conflagration can easily pulverize the aircraft. Meyssan does not know it perhaps, but at 5,400° F, aluminum transforms into a gas!”12
This explanation, as I also pointed out, was absurd. For one thing, ordinary, diffuse hydrocarbon fires can at best get to 1,800° F and hence nowhere close to the temperature needed to vaporize aluminum (not to mention the steel). Also, it has been claimed that the bodies of the plane’s occupants were later identified by their DNA, and fire hot enough to vaporize aluminum would have left no human remains with identifiable DNA.13
However, although the claim is absurd, those who must defend the official account have little choice, given the lack of 757 debris at the site, but to defend some version of it. For example, according to the Pentagon Building Performance Report, which is the official report on damage to the Pentagon, the effects of the plane’s impact “may be represented as a violent flow through the structure of a ‘fluid’ consisting of aviation fuel and solid fragments.”14 Popular Mechanics, apparently quoting Mete Sozen, one of the authors of that report, said that “the exterior of the plane [became] ‘like a sausage skin’ that crumbled upon impact,” after which “[w]hat was left of the plane flowed into the structure in a state closer to a liquid than a solid mass.”15 Defenders of the 757 theory have been forced into such absurdities by the absence of 757 debris.
Various photos, to be sure, reveal wheel and engine components that, according to some people, are 757 parts.16 But critic Dave McGowan, recalling the fact that an empty Boeing 757 weighs well over 100,000 pounds, has written: “Even if all of the photos did actually depict debris from a 757, and if all that debris was actually found inside the Pentagon, then a few hundred pounds of Flight 77 has been accounted for.” The official story, therefore, “cannot account for… 99.9% of the wreckage.”17 Former airline pilot Russ Wittenberg has made the same point, saying: “It’s roughly a 100 ton airplane. An airplane that weighs 100 tons all assembled is still going to have 100 tons of disassembled trash and parts after it hits a building.”18
Pentagon authorities did, to be sure, claim to have found the flight data recorder (FDR) from Flight 77 in the wreckage at the Pentagon. They never, however, reported its serial number.
This is significant because, as Aidan Monaghan has shown with extensive documentation, when the National Traffic Safety Board (NTSB) issues a report on a crashed airplane, it almost always lists the FDR’s serial number.19 How can we avoid suspecting that the reason the NTSB’s report on American Flight 77’s FDR does not mention its serial number is that no FDR with the serial number for that flight was found at the Pentagon?
In 2007, Monaghan sent a FOIA request to the FBI for “documentation pertaining to any formally and positively identified debris by the FBI.” The FBI replied that “any potentially responsive records were located in a pending file of an ongoing investigation, and [are] therefore… exempt from disclosure.” Monaghan then asked the FBI for “documentation revealing the process by which wreckage recovered by defendant [the FBI] . . . was positively identified by defendant (with the aid of the National Transportation Safety Board), … presumably through the use of unique serial number identifying information.” The FBI responded that no such documentation existed because “the identity of the … hijacked aircraft has never been in question by the FBI, NTSB or FAA.”20
According to the FBI itself, therefore, it has no documentation to prove that the aircraft that hit the Pentagon was American Flight 77.
The Pentagon’s failure to show the serial number was not the only problem with the Pentagon’s claim to have found Flight 77’s FDR. Another was that the Pentagon’s file on this FDR, based on information reportedly downloaded from it, was created over four hours before this FDR was said to have been found. According to a widely published report, the FDR from Flight 77 was found Friday, September 14, 2001, at 4:00 in the morning. USA Today, for example, wrote:
Searchers on Friday found the flight data and cockpit voice recorders from the hijacked plane that flew into the Pentagon and exploded, Department of Defense officials said. The two “black boxes,” crucial to uncovering details about the doomed flight’s last moments, were recovered at about 4 a.m., said Army Lt. Col. George Rhynedance, a Pentagon spokesman. Rhynedance said the recorders were in the possession of the FBI, and that officials from the National Transportation Safety Board were providing technical assistance in reading any data they contain.21
This story also reported that, despite some damage to the boxes, “the FBI still was confident the data can be recovered from both.”22
However, according to a file released by the NTSB in response to a FOIA request from Monaghan, the flight data file for American Flight 77, which was supposedly based on this FDR, was created at 11:45 PM on Thursday, Friday 13.23
We have here a serious contradiction: According to the NTSB, the FBI, and the Pentagon, the FDR was found on Friday morning and authorities later in the day were hoping that information on it could be recovered. And yet the file supposedly based on it had already been created the previous day. The presence of such a contradiction suggests that the story about the discovery was invented.
This conclusion is further suggested by the existence of contradictory reports as to where the FDR was found. According to the USA Today story just quoted, it was found “right where the plane came into the building.” Newsweek likewise reported that it was discovered “near the impact site.”24 According to the (official) Pentagon Building Performance Report, however, the FDR was found “nearly 300 ft into the structure.”25 This view was popularized by Popular Mechanics, which said that it “was found almost 300 feet inside the building.”26
Given all these contradictions, it is difficult to take seriously the claim that American Flight 77’s flight data recorder was found in the debris at the Pentagon.
The absence of 757 debris at the Pentagon is only a small portion of the evidence that the government’s story about the Pentagon attack is false. This conclusion about the Pentagon is, moreover, only a small portion of the evidence that the official story about 9/11 as a whole is a lie. I have summarized the totality of this evidence in my just-released book, The New Pearl Harbor Revisited, from which the present essay has been adapted.
About the writer:
David Ray Griffin is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy of Religion at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Graduate University in California. He has published 34 books, including seven about 9/11, most recently The New Pearl Harbor Revisited: 9/11, the Cover-Up, and the Exposé (Northampton: Olive Branch, 2008).
1Leslie Filson, Air War over America: Sept. 11 Alters Face of Air Defense Mission.(Public Affairs: Tyndall Air Force Base, 2003), 66.
2“Responding in the Pentagon,” Office of Medical History, 96.
3Ryan Alessi and M. E. Sprengelmeyer, “An Anniversary of Agony at the Pentagon,” Scripps Howard News Service, August 1, 2002.
4Alfred Goldberg et al., Pentagon 9/11(Washington DC: Office of the Secretary of Defense, 2007), 68, 69, 70.
5Karen Kwiatkowski, “Assessing the Official 9/11 Conspiracy Theory,” in David Ray Griffin and Peter Dale Scott, eds., 9/11 and American Empire: Intellectuals Speak Out (Northampton: Olive Branch, 2006), 19-31, at 28-29.
6“Interview with April Gallop,” George Washington’s Blog, July 13, 2006.
7“Responding in the Pentagon,” 119.
8Jamie McIntyre interviewed by Judy Woodruff, “America Under Attack,” CNN, September 11, 2001..
9Randy Dockendorf, “Tyndall Native Relives 9/11,” Yankton Press & Dakotan, September 11, 2003.
10Quoted in Allison Gilbert et al., Covering Catastrophe: Broadcast Journalists Report September 11(New York: Bonus Books, 2002), 187.
11David Ray Griffin, The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions About the Bush Administration and 9/11.(Northampton: Olive Branch, 2004), 34.
12Thierry Meyssan, Pentagate(London: Carnot, 2002], 16.
13The New Pearl Harbor, 34.
14Pentagon Building Performance Report, American Society of Civil Engineers, January 2003, Section 7: “Analysis.”
15Debunking 9/11 Myths: Why Conspiracy Theories Can’t Stand Up to the Facts: An In-Depth Investigation by Popular Mechanics, ed. David Dunbar and Brad Reagan (New York: Hearst Books, 2006), 69.
16See, for example, James Hoffman’s photographs and discussion at and the six following pages.
17Dave McGowan, “September 11, 2001 Revisited: The Series: Act II”.
18Quoted at Patriots Question 9/11.
19Aidan Monaghan, “9/11 Aircraft ‘Black Box’ Serial Numbers Mysteriously Absent,” 911Blogger, February 26, 2008.
20Aidan Monaghan, “,” March 18, 2008.
21“Searchers Find Pentagon Black Boxes,” USA Today,September 14, 2001.
23Aidan Monaghan, “Pentagon 9/11 Flight ‘Black Box’ Data File Created Before Actual ‘Black Box’ Was Recovered?” 911 Blogger, May 18, 2008.
24“Washington’s Heroes: On the Ground at the Pentagon on Sept. 11,” Newsweek,September 28, 2003. This story seems to have completely disappeared from the Internet.
25Pentagon Building Performance Report,Section 6.2.
26Debunking 9/11 Myths, 70.