National Capital Region Contributes to September 11th Help Efforts
by Bill Line
National Capital Region Communications Officer
"'This is National Tower on Emergency Circuit and we have a 757 down on the north end of the airport." Those were the first words U.S. Park Police helicopter pilot Sgt. Ron Galey recalls of what became a day in which Americans will never forget and the beginning of efforts that U.S. Park Police and NPS Park Rangers continue today.
Galey's immediate thoughts had nothing to do with the Pentagon, thinking the incident was at National Airport, as the call described. It took only a minute to find out otherwise.
Piloting the U.S. Park Police's "Eagle 1," Galey was in the air in less than two minutes while U.S. Park Police helicopter pilots Sgt. Ken Burchell and Sgt. Keith Bohn, along with four others, loaded "Eagle 2" and began racing toward the Pentagon about one minute later. Both "choppers" carried trained medic personnel who, after arriving at the Pentagon, helped transport three seriously injured Defense Department employees to the Medstar Unit of Washington Hospital Center.
While "Eagle 2" transported the injured workers to the hospital, "Eagle 1" sent a live, moving video picture of the scene back to U.S. Park Police headquarters, as well as to D.C. Metropolitan Police, the Secret Service and the F.B.I. Those pictures provided instantly much needed information to those agencies so they would know the full extent of the damage and destruction that had just occurred at the Pentagon.
National Airport's Control Tower, normally the "nerve center" for directing any response to this type of incident, handed over all command and control duties of the air space to both U.S. Park Police helicopter pilots as thick, black smoke from the Pentagon blew directly toward and into National Airport's Control Tower, blinding the sight of workers there. For most of the rest of the day, U.S. Park Police helicopter personnel directed all air traffic into and around the Pentagon.
At nearly the same time as the Pentagon rescues were happening, seven National Park Service - Sept 11 Remembrance - Washington DC Area Rangers helped assist 40 children and 10 adults move from the Pentagon's Day Care Center to the Columbia Island area of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. The Rangers stayed with the children and adults for over two hours and helped to arrange bus transportation for all 50 persons to a safe location about five blocks west of the Pentagon. The NCR Rangers stayed with the children until parents came to pickup their children.
"I heard a 'thud,' sort of like a mortar round landing or hitting and I turned toward the Pentagon and saw the initial fire ball and the smoke starting to rise from the building," said Sgt. Kenneth Burchell, who spent the next 12 hours in "Eagle 2." Burchell and Sgt. Keith Bohn, who piloted "Eagle 2" that day, quickly alerted two Defense Department civilian medics, who helped to attach a mass casualty kit--a device which allows for transporting up to three injured persons at once--to the side of "Eagle 2" before heading to the Pentagon.
"We took the initiative before we had a lot of information to go on," Burchell interjected, adding, "but that's not the first time we've ever done that!"
While the Pentagon plane crash was of the highest level of seriousness Park Police dealt with, Burchell pointed out "this is the sort of rescue is what we do everyday, as we transport over 400 people per year to local hospitals."
When "Eagle 2" landed, Burchell and the two medics reported immediately to the Triage Officer. As they were starting to be briefed, "we heard a rumble and the roof started to come down. We were within 50 yards of the wall as it first started to really come down. People were coming out of the Pentagon with jet fuel and all kinds of debris on them," Burchell recounted.
As the situation was changing rapidly, the Triage Officer identified 11 patients for immediate air transport assistance. Within seconds the call went out asking for support from Maryland State Police, Fairfax County and MedStar, all departments with helicopters equipped for Medevac transport. The D.C. Police helicopter soon arrived, taking over command and control of the air space, as its helicopter is not equipped to transport injured patients.
Burchell and Bohn said "many 'forces' were in line that day," as more Park Police staff and assisting personnel were on duty that day because of preparations for the then upcoming International Monetary Fund (IMF) demonstrations in downtown Washington.
"The taxpayer got the best deal with these efforts. We did our part and we did it well. We're trained and prepared for emergencies and when the call came, we answered it," Bohn added.
For the next 14 days, U.S. Park Police helicopter staff flew 24-hour a day security patrols around the city, checking bridges, railroad lines and major roadways for any signs of sabotage and for possible security breaches.
"We all worked 12 hour shifts for those first 14 days, from either six o'clock a.m. to six o'clock p.m., or the other side of the clock. We patrolled the prohibited air space over the White House, the Capitol, the monuments, the memorials and the Vice President's home. We were all tired, but the work had to be done," Burchell explained, adding, "we'd do it all over again in a heartbeat, but let's hope it never comes to that."
"Eagle 1" and "Eagle 2" staffing on September 11, 2001:
Pilot Sgt. Ron Galey
R/T Sgt. John Marsh
R/T Ofc. John Dillon
Pilot Sgt. Keith Bohn
Pilot Sgt. Kenneth Burchell
Section Commander Lte. Phil Cholack
Ass't Section Commander Sgt. Bernie Stasulli
DOD Medic Jason Kepp
DOD P.A. Keith Kettell