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Countering Misinformation

Did a Plane Hit the Pentagon?

French Conspiracy Theorist Claims It Did Not

In 2002, French conspiracy theorist Thierry Meyssan wrote a book suggesting that a cruise missile instead of a plane hit the Pentagon on September 11, and the planes that hit the World Trade Center towers had not been hijacked but were piloted by remote control. Mr. Meyssan believes both attacks were masterminded not by al Qaeda, but "from inside the American state apparatus." (9/11: The Big Lie, p. 139.)

Mr. Meyssan's claims suffer from numerous obvious flaws.

With regard to the Pentagon attacks, Mr. Meyssan ignores or dismisses the facts that:

  • many eyewitnesses saw a plane crash into the Pentagon
  • the passenger and crew remains from American Airlines flight 77 were recovered at the Pentagon crash site
  • eyewitness reports and photographs show plane debris at the Pentagon crash site
  • passengers on American Airlines flight 77 made phone calls, reporting their aircraft had been hijacked
  • senior Al Qaeda leaders have admitted they conducted the September 11 attacks.

With regard to the World Trade Center attacks, Mr. Meyssan ignores or dismisses the facts that:

  • Boeing commercial aircraft can not be remotely controlled
  • passengers on both flights that attacked the World Trade Center made phone calls, reporting that their aircraft had been hijacked
  • senior Al Qaeda leaders have admitted they conducted the September 11 attacks.

Mr. Meyssan's book, L'Effroyable Imposture [The Horrifying Fraud] is available in 19 languages -- French, English, Spanish, German, Russian, Italian, Greek, Turkish, Persian, Arabic, Korean, Greek, Portugese, Romanian, Czech, Estonian, Croatian, Albanian, Serbian -- and is being translated into four more -- Chinese, Slovenian, Japanese, and Dutch. The book was published in English as 9/11: The Big Lie.

The book was severely criticized in the French press as soon as it appeared. The French newspaper Liberation called the book "The Frightening Confidence Trick ... a tissue of wild and irresponsible allegations, entirely without foundation." Nevertheless, the book was an instant bestseller in France, selling more than 200,000 copies.

The Pentagon Attack

Numerous Eyewitness Accounts

Mr. Meyssan suggests that a cruise missile with a depleted uranium warhead, not a plane, struck the Pentagon on September 11. But he never traveled to the United States to conduct research or interviewed any of the many eyewitnesses to the attack on the Pentagon. He ignores or dismisses the many eyewitness accounts -- some of which specifically identified the plane as having American Airlines markings, as a Boeing 757, and as a plane with passengers onboard, visible through windows. On May 16, 2006, the Pentagon released videotape footage showing the plane hitting the Pentagon. Excerpts from some of the eyewitness accounts are included at the end of this document.

Passenger and Crew Remains Recovered at Pentagon Crash Site

In addition to the numerous eyewitness accounts, the remains of the passengers and crew onboard American Airlines flight 77 were recovered from the Pentagon crash site. A team of more than 100 forensic specialists and others identified 184 of the 189 people who died in the Pentagon attack (125 from the Pentagon and 64 onboard American Airlines flight 77). All but one of the passengers onboard American Airlines flight 77 was positively identified as a match with DNA samples provided by the families of the crash victims. These positive forensic identifications provide irrefutable proof that American Airlines flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon on September 11. In addition, rescue and recovery personnel at the Pentagon reported seeing the bodies of airline passengers. The September 14, 2001 edition of USA Today reported, "When [Army Sergeant Mark] Williams discovered the scorched bodies of several airline passengers, they were still strapped in their seats."

Plane Debris Found at Pentagon Crash Site

People who went to the Pentagon crash site reported seeing parts of an airplane, including the nose cone, landing gear, an airplane tire, the fuselage, an intact cockpit seat, and the tail number of the airplane, as reported in an e-mail to a conspiracy theory website that debunks the conspiracy theory claims. The e-mail also contains photographs of airplane landing gear, tires, and fuselage fragments, which were taken at the Pentagon crash site. Moreover, the black boxes for American Airlines flight 77 -- the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder -- were found at the Pentagon crash site. For more photographs of debris from the airliner, including the crumpled "C" from "American Airlines," see portions 4:57 to 6:00 of the "911 Case Study: Pentagon Flight 77" video. Also, see a plane engine part from flight 77 introduced into evidence at the trial of Zaccarias Moussaoui.

Passengers Report Hijackings

Mr. Meyssan's book also ignores the fact that several passengers from American Airlines flight 77 made phone calls reporting that their plane had been hijacked.

At 9:12 am, approximately 10 minutes after the American Airlines flight 77 had been hijacked, passenger Renee May called her mother, Nancy May, to report that the plane had been hijacked and that the passengers had been herded to the back of the plane.

Minutes later, passenger Barbara Olson called her husband Ted Olson, the solicitor general of the United States, also reporting that the flight had been hijacked, and that the hijackers had knives and box cutters.

In addition, a damaged passport bearing the last name of one of the hijackers, Nawaf al Hazmi, was found at the crash scene.

Al Qaeda Admits it Conducted September 11 Attacks

Finally, high-ranking al Qaeda members involved in the September 11 attacks, including Osama bin Laden, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and Ramzi bin al Shibh, have openly acknowledged that they planned and executed the attacks. As Khalid Sheikh Mohammed told Al Jazeera reporter Yosri Fouda in April 2002, with reference to the September 11 attacks, "I am the head of the al Qaeda military committee and Ramzi is the coordinator of the Holy Tuesday operation. And, yes, we did it." (Yosri Fouda and Nick Fielding, Masterminds of Terror, p. 38.)

Mr. Meyssan provides no explanation for what he believes happened to American Airlines flight 77. If the plane did not crash into the Pentagon, as he claims, where did the plane and all its passengers go? He has no explanation for this question.

Thus, there are:

  • numerous eyewitness accounts of an American Airlines passenger plane crashing into the Pentagon
  • phone calls from passengers on American Airlines flight 77 reporting that it had been hijacked
  • eyewitness accounts of airplane parts and the bodies of airline passengers still strapped in their seats found at the Pentagon crash site, as well as photographs of airplane parts
  • the remains of bodies recovered at the Pentagon crash site positively identified as matching those of the passengers and crew on American Airlines flight 77
  • acknowledgements by high-ranking al Qaeda members that they carried out the September 11 attacks.

In light of these facts, there is no doubt that American Airlines flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon on September 11.

The World Trade Center Attacks

Mr. Meyssan also suggests that the two Boeing aircraft that crashed into the World Trade Center towers had not been hijacked, but were remotely controlled. He writes:

It was not necessary in fact to have any hijackers on board at all, as there was no taking of hostages: by hacking into the planes' computers before takeoff, it would have been possible to take over the aircraft in flight, thanks to the Global Hawk technology perfected by the Department of Defense. The Boeing would have been under remote control, like a drone -- a plane without a pilot. (9/11: The Big Lie, p. 34.)

Remotely Controlled Flight Not Possible

A Boeing Company official stated that Boeing has designed its commercial airplanes so that it is impossible to control them remotely. Elizabeth Verdiev, a spokesperson for Boeing, stated on June 16, 2005:

No Boeing commercial jet transport can be controlled from outside the airplane. No Boeing commercial jet transport can be "commanded" or have its flight controlled other than from within the flight deck by the pilots. Pilots can program the airplane to take off, fly to a destination and land automatically, but Boeing design philosophy keeps pilots in control and in the decision-making loop at all times.

Meyssan's claims about the World Trade Center attacks also ignores acknowledgements by high-ranking al Qaeda members that they carried out the September 11 attacks, and the fact that several passengers and crew from the two planes that crashed into the World Trade Center towers made phone calls describing how their flights had been hijacked.

Passengers Report Hijackings

American Airlines flight 11 crashed into the World Trade Center's north tower at 8:46 am. It had been hijacked at approximately 8:14 am. Flight attendants Betty Ong and Madeline "Amy" Sweeney made phone calls describing the hijacking. Betty Ong's call lasted about 25 minutes, the first four minutes of which were recorded (see footnote 29 of The 9-11 Commission Report). To listen to the four recorded minutes of Ms. Ong's call, hit the "Ong" file or the phone icon in the lower left corner of the American Airlines flight 11 page.

The 9-11 Commission Report stated:

At 8:19, Ong reported: "The cockpit is not answering, somebody's stabbed in business class -- and I think there's Mace -- that we can't breathe -- I don't know, I think we're getting hijacked." She then told of the stabbings of the two flight attendants.

... At 8:26, Ong reported that the plane was "flying erratically." A minute later, Flight 11 turned south. ...

Sweeney calmly reported on her line that the plane had been hijacked; a man in first class had his throast slashed; two flight attendants had been stabbed -- one was seriously hurt and was on oxygen while the other's wounds seemed minor ....

United Airlines flight 175 crashed into the World Trade Center's south tower at 9:03 am. It had been hijacked between 8:42 and 8:46 am. Passengers Peter Hanson, Brian David Sweeney, and an unidentified flight attendant made phone calls reporting that United Airlines flight 175 had been hijacked and recounting events onboard the plane.

The 9-11 Commission Report stated:

At 8:52, in Easton, Connecticut, a man named Lee Hanson received a phone call from his son Peter, a passenger on United 175. His son told him, "I think they've taken over the cockpit -- An attendant has been stabbed -- and someone else up front may have been killed." ...

Also at 8:52, a male flight attendant called a United office in San Francisco .... The flight attendant reported that the flight had been hijacked, both pilots had been killed, a flight attendant had been stabbed, and the hijackers were probably flying the plane.

... At 8:59, Flight 175 passenger Brian David Sweeney ... called his mother, Louise Sweeney, told her the flight had been hijacked, and added that the passengers were thinking about storming the cockpit to take control of the plane away from the hijackers.

At 9:00, Lee Hanson received a second call from his son Peter:

"It's getting bad, Dad -- A stewardess was stabbed -- They seem to have knives and Mace -- They said they have a bomb -- ... The plane is making jerky movements -- I don't think the pilot is flying the plane -- I think we are going down -- Don't worry, Dad -- If it happens, it'll be very fast -- My God, my God."

The call ended abruptly. Lee Hanson heard a woman scream just before it cut off. He turned on a television, and in her home so did Louise Sweeney. Both of them saw the second aircraft hit the World Trade Center.

Thus, passengers and crew members from both flights reported that they had been hijacked, that passengers and crew members had been killed or wounded, and that the planes were flying in an erratic or jerky fashion, as would be the case if they were being flown by first-time pilots, as both hijacker pilots were. There was no mention or indication of a mysterious "remote control" takeover of the planes.

In addition, hijacker pilot Mohammed Atta's statement that planes had been hijacked -- "We have some planes" -- was recorded. Listen to it by hitting the "Atta" file or the phone icon in the lower left corner of the American Airlines flight 11 page.

In conclusion, Mr. Meyssan's book ignores obvious facts, makes sweeping, totally unfounded allegations, and employs spurious logic to try to explain away facts that he apparently finds inconvenient. As the French newspaper Liberation said, the book is "a tissue of wild and irresponsible allegations, entirely without foundation."

Eyewitness Accounts of Pentagon Attack

Following are some of the numerous eyewitness accounts of the Pentagon crash:

  • Richard Benedetto: "It was an American Airlines airplane, I could see it very clearly."
  • Omar Campo, a Salvadorean" "It was a passenger plane. I think an American Airways plane. I was cutting grass and it came in screaming over my head."
  • Joseph Candelario: "I noticed a large aircraft flying low towards the White House. This aircraft then made a sharp turn and flew towards the Pentagon and seconds later crashed into it."
  • James Cissell: "I saw this plane coming in and it was low - and getting lower. ... Then I saw the faces of some of the passengers on board."
  • Dennis Clem: "There was a commercial airliner that said American Airliners over the side of it flying at just above treetop height at full speed headed for the Pentagon."
  • Michael Dobbs: "It was an American airlines airliner. I was looking out the window and saw it come right over the Navy annex at a slow angle."
  • Penny Elgas: "... the plane was directly over the cars in front of my car .... I remember recognizing it as an American Airlines plane -- I could see the windows and the color stripes."
  • Cheryl Hammond: "We saw the big American Airlines plane and started running."
  • Joe Harrington: "... one of my guys pointed to an American Airlines airplane 20 feet high over Washington Blvd."
  • Albert Hemphill: "The aircraft, look[ed] to be either a 757 or Airbus."
  • Terrance Kean: "I saw this very, very large passenger jet. It just plowed right into the side of the Pentagon."
  • William Lagasse: "It was close enough that I could see the windows and the blinds had been pulled down. I read American Airlines on it. ... I saw the aircraft above my head about 80 feet above the ground."
  • Robert Leonard: "I ... saw a large commercial aircraft aiming for the Pentagon."
  • Lincoln Liebner: "I saw this large American Airlines passenger jet coming in fast and low."
  • Elaine McCusker: "I saw a very low-flying American Airlines plane that seemed to be accelerating."
  • Mitch Mitchell: "I ... saw, coming straight down the road at us, a huge jet plane clearly with American Airlines written on it .... It crossed about 100 feet in front of us and at about 20 feet altitude and we watched it go in. It struck the Pentagon."
  • Terry Morin: "The plane had a silver body with red and blue stripes down the fuselage. I believed at the time that it belonged to American Airlines."
  • Christopher Munsey: "I couldn't believe what I was now seeing to my right: a silver, twin-engine American Airlines jetliner gliding almost noiselessly over the Navy Annex, fast, low and straight toward the Pentagon ...."
  • Vin Narayanan: "I looked up to my left and saw an American Airlines jet flying right at me. The jet roared over my head, clearing my car by about 25 feet."
  • John O'Keefe: "I don't know whether I saw or heard it first -- this silver plane; I immediately recognized it as an American Airlines jet ...."
  • Steve Riskus: "I was close enough (about 100 feet or so) that I could see the ‘American Airlines' logo on the tail as it headed towards the building .... I clearly saw the ‘AA' logo with the eagle in the middle."
  • James Ryan: "I see an American Airlines plane, silver plane, I could see AA on the tail. ... The plane was low enough that I could see the windows of the plane. I could see every detail of the plane. In my head I have ingrained forever this image of every detail of that plane. It was a silver plane, American Airlines plane, and I recognized it immediately as a passenger plane."
  • Joel Sucherman: "... looking straight ahead there was a jet, what looked to be an American Airlines jet, probably a 757, and it came screaming across the highway ... [and] hit the west side of the Pentagon."
  • Donald "Tim" Timmerman, a pilot: "I live on the 16th floor, overlooking the Pentagon ... and so I have quite a panorama. ... It was a Boeing 757, American Airlines, no question."
    Mike Walter: "I saw this plane, this jet, an American Airlines jet, coming. ... It went right there and slammed right into the Pentagon. I saw the big ‘AA' on the side."
  • Ian Wyatt: "I duck, I look up, it looks like a silver American Airlines, twin-engine plane and then boom."

Finally, The 9/11 Commission Report states that on September 11, air traffic controllers at Washington's Reagan National Airport instructed a C-130H cargo plane that had just taken off from the airport to try to follow the plane that had been spotted on radar as heading toward Washington. According to the report, "The C-130H pilot spotted it, identified it as a Boeing 757, attempted to follow its path, and at 9:39, seconds after impact, reported to the control tower: ‘looks like that aircraft crashed into the Pentagon, sir.'"

In sum, hundreds of people on nearby roads or in nearby buildings saw a large passenger plane hit the Pentagon and, as the above eyewitness testimonies demonstrate, numerous people specifically identified it as an American Airlines plane.

Created: 28 Jun 2005 Updated: 02 Oct 2006

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