Ten Years Later: The September 11 Attacks
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American Airlines Flight 77

Title: United Flight 77 Pentagon crash
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American Airlines Flight 77, a Boeing 757-223, was the third aircraft seized by hijackers on September 11, 2001. It left Dulles International Airport, near Washington, D.C., at 8:20 a.m., bound for Los Angeles International Airport with 58 passengers and a crew of 6. The pilot was Charles Burlingame and the First Officer David Charlebois. Because of problems at the security gate, the flight was 10 minutes late taking off. The security checkpoint at Dulles International Airport was operated by Argenbright Security under a contract with United Airlines.

Passenger screeners at Dulles International Airport were 87 percent foreign-born and mostly Muslim. Three of the hijackers failed the metal detector test, but, after passing hand-wand screening, were permitted to enter the aircraft. There was no indication that any of them were carrying prohibited weapons.

The five-person terrorist team was led by Hani Hanjour, who was also the team's designated pilot. Other members of his team were Nawaf al-Hazmi, Salem al-Hazmi, Khalid al-Mihdhar, and Majed Moqued, who had all bought first-class tickets to gain better access to the aircraft's cockpit. The hijackers used knives and box cutters to gain control of the cockpit sometime between 8:51 and 8:54 a.m., after which Hanjour turned the aircraft around and headed for Washington, D.C. Like the hijackers of American Airlines Flight 11, the hijackers of Flight 77 calmed passengers by convincing them that the plane would land, after which they would be used as hostages.

Although by this time it was known that other aircraft had been seized and turned into flying bombs, authorities in Washington, D.C,, were slow to respond. Two passengers, Renee May and Barbara K. Olson, the wife of U.S. solicitor general Theodore Olson, made phone calls reporting the hijacking. She made two calls to her husband, giving him details of the hijacking. He told her the news of the two aircraft crashing into the World Trade Center.

By this time the Dulles air controllers were aware of an approaching unauthorized aircraft coming at high speed toward Washington, D.C. They had been able to obtain a visual confirmation from a military transport, a C-141, as the hijacked aircraft headed toward the Pentagon. Between 9:37 and 9:40 a.m., Flight 77 crashed at 530 miles per hour into the ground at the base of the west side of the Pentagon, killing all passengers. Although much of the crash site contained recently renovated, unoccupied offices, the explosion and the resulting collapse of parts of the five-story building killed 125 people. The explosion did its greatest damage to the three outer rings of the Pentagon, but the two inner rings sustained damage as well.

Stephen E. Atkins


Further Reading
Aust, Stefan, et al. Inside 9/11: What Really Happened. New York: St. Martin's, 2001; Bernstein, Richard. Out of the Blue: The Story of September 11, 2001, from Jihad to Ground Zero. New York: Times Books, 2002; 9/11 Commission. The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. New York: Norton, 2004; Trento, Susan B., and Joseph J. Trento. Unsafe at Any Altitude: Failed Terrorism Investigations, Scapegoating 9/11, and the Shocking Truth about Aviation Security Today. Hanover, NH: Steerforth, 2006; McKean, John. Architecture in Detail: Crystal Palace. London: Phaidon Press Ltd., 1994; Cameron, Robert and Alistair Cooke. Above London. San Francisco: Cameron and Company, 1986.
 

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