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September 28, 2001
Survivor recalls Pentagon blast
by Beau Whittington
|Photo by Beau Whittington
Pentagon survivor Janis Jackson explains how a giant ball of fire rushed through her office.
Stripe Assistant Editor
Janis Ann Jackson thought she was awakening from a bad dream Sept. 11, but she was wrong. She was in the midst of a nightmare -- but it was no dream.
The 31-year-old computer specialist was working in an office on the first floor of the Pentagon's D ring, less than 100 feet from where American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the nation's military headquarters. She and six co-workers were scanning CNN online for information on the earlier attack on the World Trade Center, unaware they were about to become part of the story.
Suddenly, there was a loud explosion as Jackson's nightmare became reality.
"The only thing we could see was a great fire ball," Jackson recalls.
The blast raced through the area, scattering equipment and the workers. The fiery heat engulfed Jackson as it filled the room. Struggling to gain her composure she was unaware her hair was on fire.
Seeing her burning hair, co-worker Stuart Fluke tore off his shirt and smothered the flames.
Disoriented and confused, Jackson looked around, hoping to find her way out of the burning building.
Finally, she noticed sunlight coming through a hole in the wall. Focusing on the possible escape route Jackson could hear encouraging calls from her co-workers as she inched her way closer to the exit.
Nearing the hole she saw Raquel Kelly, a co-worker, trapped in the debris. She managed to pull Kelly from under debris and the two crawled over the burning embers into the light of safety on the other side of the hole.
Once safe from the burning rubble, reality struck.
"Inside the building I was just numb," Jackson explained. "When I got free I went out of control. My hands felt like they were still on fire."
Rescue workers ushered her to a safe area and poured water over her to cool her down as they waited for an ambulance to take her to the Arlington Medical Center for treatment.
Jackson spent three days in intensive care before being moved to Walter Reed to be treated for burns and smoke inhalation.
While recuperating the reserve supply sergeant assigned to the 55th Maintenance Materiel Center at Fort Belvior, credited her military training and thoughts of her children as key to her escape.
"I have two kids," she said describing her thoughts, "I've got to get out of here." Then her leadership training helped her calm down, take control of herself and find a way out, she said.
As a reservist, Jackson knows she could be activated should the war against terrorism escalate. She said that would be her duty.
"It's a matter to giving them what they gave us," Jackson stressed. "Look at what they've done to this country. It's matter of keeping the country safe. If you don't do anything, they are just going to do it over and over again."