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September 11 2003
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Helicopter Crews Were First On Scene Sept. 11

Crews Performed Several Functions After Attacks

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Those who were first on the scene at the Pentagon on Sept. 11 two years ago say they will never forget what they saw.

The people working aboard two U.S. Park Police helicopters played a critical role following the attack.

Park Police Helicopter

The crews of Eagle One and Eagle Two remember hearing about the attacks in New York. Then, from their hangar in Washington, many could hear the plane crash into the Pentagon.

Eagle One was the first helicopter on the scene, within four minutes of the attack.

"We heard a big explosion. We saw smoke rising up from the Pentagon. Nobody exchanged a word. We just knew what it was," said Sgt. Ron Galey, of the U.S. Park Police.

Eagle One was given control of the air space in Washington because the control tower at Ronald Reagan National Airport had to be evacuated after hearing reports that more hijacked aircraft were on their way.

"I looked out the window, and framed in the window of the aircraft was the burning image of the Pentagon and a fighter plane flying low-level over Washington. And I think that was the first time I took a breath and realized the magnitude of what was happening," said Sgt. Kenneth Burchell, of the U.S. Park Police.

Park Police Helicopter

Closely behind Eagle One was Eagle Two. Its role was to transport more than 20 victims from the Pentagon.

However, the helicopter only took two critically injured burn patients. The rest perished before they could be transported.

The crews of both helicopters describe flying over a scene of chaos and tragedy. All the while, the threat of more aerial attacks was very real.

"A lot of people sit there and say 'I was too busy to be scared.' I mean, I was busy, but I was still scared. I'm not going to deny that," Park Police officer John Dillon said.

The attack provoked a strong sense of anger at the hijackers and a strong sense of duty to their country.

"Being a veteran of Vietnam, it never dawned on me that someone would bring it to our shoreline, and they did that day," Galey said.

After the attacks, the helicopters provided round-the-clock patrols to check monuments, bridges and other national symbols around D.C.

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