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Context of '(9:35 a.m.-9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Several Witnesses See a Helicopter near the Pentagon'

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Denny Watson.Denny Watson. [Source: Risk Assessment Network + Exchange]Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld goes ahead with his daily intelligence briefing in his office at the Pentagon, even though Denny Watson, his CIA briefer, urges him to cancel it and respond to the terrorist attacks. [Rumsfeld, 2011, pp. 335; Priess, 2016, pp. 244] Rumsfeld has just been in a meeting in his private dining room that was attended by several members of Congress (see (8:00 a.m.-8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). During it, he was informed that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center (see Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Associated Press, 9/12/2001; US Department of Defense, 12/5/2001; 9/11 Commission, 3/23/2004] He assumed the crash was an accident. [Vogel, 2007, pp. 428; Rumsfeld, 2011, pp. 335]
Rumsfeld Went to His Office for His Intelligence Briefing - After the meeting ended, apparently around 9:00 a.m., he returned to his office to receive his intelligence briefing. [Historical Office, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 7/18/2002 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37] Rumsfeld receives an intelligence briefing from Watson each morning, similar to the intelligence briefing provided to the president each day. The briefings usually last at least half an hour. [Rumsfeld, 2011, pp. 335; Priess, 2016, pp. 243] The briefing today is scheduled to run from 9:00 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. [US Department of Defense, 8/12/2002]
CIA Briefer Learned of the Crashes from TV - Watson, meanwhile, recently arrived at the Pentagon and learned about the crashes at the WTC. After she entered the building, she noticed people staring at a television, which showed the North Tower burning after being hit by a plane. She then went to the anteroom of Rumsfeld’s office, where she saw the second hijacked plane crashing into the WTC live on television (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). She immediately called the operations center at CIA headquarters to see if she could find out more about what was happening. She was told only that there were 50 planes still airborne that were unaccounted for.
Rumsfeld Refuses to Cancel the Briefing - Rumsfeld then calls Watson into his office. Assuming the briefing will be suspended due to what has happened in New York, the CIA analyst hasn’t even opened her briefcase to pull out her copy of the President’s Daily Brief (PDB). “Sir, you just need to cancel this,” she says to Rumsfeld as she enters the office. “You’ve got more important things to do,” she adds. Rumsfeld, however, wants to go ahead with the briefing. “No, no, we’re going to do this,” he says. Watson then sits down and tells Rumsfeld what she learned from the CIA’s operations center, but the secretary of defense simply nods his head and starts flipping through the PDB. [Priess, 2016, pp. 244] The PDB apparently contains no remarkable information today. “As we reviewed the threat reports from around the world, September 11 seemed to be no more or less different than any other day,” Rumsfeld will later comment. [Rumsfeld, 2011, pp. 336]
Rumsfeld Will Be Receiving the Briefing When the Pentagon Is Hit - Vice Admiral Edmund Giambastiani Jr., Rumsfeld’s senior military assistant, will come into the office around this time and tell the secretary of defense about the second crash at the WTC (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Historical Office, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 7/18/2002 pdf file; US Department of Defense, 8/12/2002] Two of Rumsfeld’s aides will also come to the office and, like Watson, try, unsuccessfully, to persuade Rumsfeld to cancel his schedule so he can respond to the attacks (see a904rumsfeldrefuses). [Clarke, 2006, pp. 218-219; Priess, 2016, pp. 244] Rumsfeld will be in his office with Watson, still receiving his intelligence briefing, at 9:37 a.m., when the Pentagon is attacked (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 130; Vogel, 2007, pp. 438-439]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Denny Watson

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A helicopter belonging to the US Park Police Aviation Unit.A helicopter belonging to the US Park Police Aviation Unit. [Source: United States Park Police]A US Park Police helicopter is directed to intercept the aircraft that subsequently hits the Pentagon, according to the later statements of US Navy historian John Darrell Sherwood. The helicopter’s pilot reportedly describes the incident when later interviewed by a US Marine Corps historian. Details of the pilot’s account are then revealed by Sherwood, who is a colleague of the Marine Corps historian, while he is interviewing Jeffrey Mark Parsons of the United States Border Patrol about his experiences of the 9/11 attacks.
Pilot Is Told to Prevent the Plane from Hitting the Pentagon - According to Sherwood, the helicopter pilot, who is “an aviation sergeant with the United States Park Police,” is “in the area [of the Pentagon] and he got a call saying, ‘Try to intercept this plane, try to distract the plane, try to do something to, you know, prevent the plane from going into the Pentagon.’” It is unclear from what Sherwood says whether the helicopter is on the ground or already airborne at this time. In response to the instruction, the helicopter goes “to try to distract” the approaching aircraft.
Helicopter Is Witnessed near the Pentagon - What is apparently this Park Police helicopter is then witnessed by Parsons out of a window on the 17th floor of the hotel he is staying at. Parsons sees it flying toward the helicopter landing pad at the Pentagon, two or three minutes before the Pentagon is attacked. [US Naval Historical Center, 12/13/2001; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 258] Other individuals near or inside the Pentagon see what is presumably the same helicopter around this time (see (9:35 a.m.-9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and Shortly Before 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/11/2001; Washington Post, 9/5/2002; Priess, 2016, pp. 244-245] Parsons has been staying at the Marriott Residence Inn in Arlington, near the Pentagon, for almost a month, but, he will recall, he has “never seen a helicopter approach the Pentagon from that direction before.”
Pilot Sees the Pentagon Attack - At some point, the helicopter lands for a period near the Pentagon. According to Sherwood, it “landed, at one point, near the Memorial Bridge, and there’s that strip of land before you get to the Memorial Cemetery.” Its pilot reportedly witnesses the attack on the Pentagon. He “saw the plane go in, and then the next thing he started doing is medevacing people out of there,” according to Sherwood. When told while being interviewed by Sherwood that the helicopter pilot is instructed to intercept a plane approaching the Pentagon, Parsons will ask, “Then they knew [the plane] was headed toward the Pentagon before it actually hit the Pentagon, then?” To this, Sherwood will only answer, “I guess that helicopter swung around, but by the time he got around, the plane was already into the building.”
Park Police Flies Huey Helicopters - The helicopter is a white and blue Huey, according to Sherwood. [US Naval Historical Center, 12/13/2001] The Park Police Aviation Unit has two Bell 412 helicopters. [Aviation International News, 10/1/2001; Rotor and Wing, 11/2001; Rotor and Wing, 2/2002; National Park Service, 10/16/2004] (The Bell 412 is a more modern version of the “Huey” helicopter. [New York Times, 8/24/2003; USA Today, 10/25/2007] ) The aviation unit is located in Anacostia Park in southeast Washington, across the Potomac River from the Pentagon. [Aviation International News, 10/1/2001; National Park Service, 10/16/2004]
Witness Will Be Told, 'Don't Tell Anyone about' the Incident - Most accounts of the unit’s actions on this day will make no mention of this incident, and only describe Park Police helicopters taking off in the minutes after the attack on the Pentagon (see Shortly After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Rotor and Wing, 11/2001; NBC 4, 9/11/2003; McDonnell, 2004, pp. 20 pdf file; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 161-162] However, it appears there may be an attempt to keep the incident secret. After Parsons recalls seeing the helicopter near the Pentagon minutes before the attack there, Sherwood will instruct him: “Don’t tell anyone about that story, because that’s one of our, I think that’s one of the best stories that’s going to come out of this. We don’t want the press to get this.” [US Naval Historical Center, 12/13/2001]

Entity Tags: Jeffrey Mark Parsons, John Darrell Sherwood, United States Park Police

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A number of witnesses see a helicopter flying near the Pentagon in the minutes before the attack there.
bullet Jeffrey Mark Parsons, an assistant chief patrol agent with the United States Border Patrol, sees a blue and white helicopter that appears as if it is coming in to land, from a window on the 17th floor of the hotel he is staying at, near the Pentagon. Parsons will later recall that two or three minutes before the Pentagon attack occurs: “I saw [the helicopter] circle… between the hotel and the Pentagon, going toward the landing pad [at the Pentagon] where that airliner ultimately hit. And I thought that he landed on the pad.” Parsons will say the helicopter flies in at “a weird angle,” and recall that he has been staying at the Marriott Residence Inn in Arlington for almost a month, but has “never seen a helicopter approach the Pentagon from that direction before.” He will recognize the helicopter as a Huey because he has flown Hueys and knows they make “a very distinct sound.” According to John Darrell Sherwood, a Navy historian who interviews Parsons about the incident, the helicopter belongs to the US Park Police and has been instructed to intercept the aircraft that subsequently hits the Pentagon (see Shortly Before 9:35 a.m. September 11, 2001). [US Naval Historical Center, 12/13/2001; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 258]
bullet A senior Air Force officer who is somewhere outside the Pentagon also sees a helicopter circling the Pentagon around this time, although he believes it to be a US military helicopter. Shortly after the Pentagon attack, the unnamed officer will tell a CNN reporter that the helicopter “disappeared behind the building where the helicopter landing zone is… and he then saw [a] fireball go into the sky” when the Pentagon is hit. [CNN, 9/11/2001]
bullet Jennifer Reichert, who is stuck in traffic on Route 27 in front of the Pentagon, will describe that just before the attack, “A helicopter takes off from the heliport at the Pentagon.” She will add: “Minutes—maybe seconds—later, I hear it: American Airlines Flight 77 screams toward the Pentagon. The explosion [of the crash] shakes my car.” [Washington Post, 9/5/2002]
bullet Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Denny Watson, his CIA briefer, who are in Rumsfeld’s office at the Pentagon, see a helicopter flying very close to the building, outside the window of the office, and then pulling away just before the building is attacked (see Shortly Before 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Priess, 2016, pp. 244-245]
Perhaps due to the presence of this helicopter in the area, some people will initially think the attack on the Pentagon involves a helicopter hitting the building. Captain William Durm, the commander of the Pentagon’s Triservice Dental Clinic, will head to the building’s center courtyard shortly after the Pentagon is hit. Someone there will tell him a helicopter has hit the other side of the building. [Office of Medical History, 9/2004, pp. 11] Some early news reports will suggest a helicopter crashed into the Pentagon. [Thomas Crosbie Media, 9/11/2001; Poynter Institute, 9/2/2002] One report will claim that “one aircraft and a helicopter have crashed into the Pentagon.” [Airline Industry Information, 9/11/2001] Vice President Dick Cheney will tell NBC’s Meet the Press that “the first reports on the Pentagon attack suggested a helicopter” hit the building. [Meet the Press, 9/16/2001] The Guardian will report that one witness claims the explosion that occurs when the Pentagon is hit blows up a helicopter circling overhead. [Guardian, 9/12/2001] New York Times columnist William Safire will report that, at approximately this time, Cheney is told that either another plane or “a helicopter loaded with explosives” is heading for the White House. [New York Times, 9/13/2001]

Entity Tags: Jennifer Reichert, Jeffrey Mark Parsons, John Darrell Sherwood, Pentagon, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, United States Park Police, Denny Watson, William Safire, William Durm, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Denny Watson, his CIA briefer, see a helicopter flying very close to the Pentagon, just outside the window of Rumsfeld’s office, shortly before the Pentagon is attacked. [Priess, 2016, pp. 244-245] Watson has been giving Rumsfeld his daily intelligence briefing in his office at the Pentagon and they are both aware of the crashes at the World Trade Center (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37; Rumsfeld, 2011, pp. 335] Rumsfeld is skimming through a copy of the President’s Daily Brief when the sound of a helicopter outside causes him to stop what he is doing. The helicopter, which is blue and white, is “hovering so close to the window that I could see what one of the men in it looked like,” Watson will later recall. He has “dark hair, a beard and a mustache, and reflector sunglasses.” Rumsfeld and Watson talk about how easy it would be for the pilot to turn the helicopter and crash into Rumsfeld’s office. Finally, the helicopter pulls away from the Pentagon. As it does, Rumsfeld and Watson feel the building shake due to it being attacked (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Priess, 2016, pp. 244-245] A number of other people will recall seeing a helicopter flying close to the Pentagon around this time (see (9:35 a.m.-9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/11/2001; Washington Post, 9/5/2002] One of them, Jeffrey Mark Parsons, will describe the helicopter he sees as being blue and white, so it is presumably the helicopter that Rumsfeld and Watson see. The helicopter belongs to the US Park Police and its pilot has been directed to try and intercept a plane, presumably Flight 77, that was approaching the Pentagon, according to US Navy historian John Darrell Sherwood (see Shortly Before 9:35 a.m. September 11, 2001). [US Naval Historical Center, 12/13/2001]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Denny Watson, United States Park Police

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

According to most accounts, at the time the Pentagon is hit, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is in his office on the third floor of the Pentagon’s outer E Ring, receiving his daily intelligence briefing. [New York Times, 9/12/2001; Woodward, 2002, pp. 24; 9/11 Commission, 3/23/2004; Clarke, 2006, pp. 221; Cockburn, 2007, pp. 1; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 130; Vogel, 2007, pp. 438-439] As he later recalls, “the building shook and the tables jumped.” [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 130] Although he has been informed of the two aircraft hitting the World Trade Center (see Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001), he supposedly does not initially suspect a plane has hit the Pentagon, thinking instead that a bomb has gone off. [ABC News, 9/16/2001; MSNBC, 9/30/2001; Washington Post, 1/9/2002] In his nearby office, Rumsfeld’s senior military assistant Vice Admiral Edmund Giambastiani Jr. also hears the explosion, and walks through his doorway toward Rumsfeld’s office. As the two meet, Rumsfeld asks Giambastiani, “What the hell’s happening?” [American Forces Press Service, 9/8/2006; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 130] Rumsfeld then looks out his window but, he later recalls, sees “nothing here.” [Parade Magazine, 10/12/2001; Washington Post, 1/9/2002] He goes into the hallway and, accompanied by his security guards, hurries toward the crash site (see 9:38 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 130] However, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later contradict these accounts. Clarke indicates that Rumsfeld has been participating in the video teleconference conducted from the White House Situation Room since shortly after the second WTC crash (see (9:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). He claims that Rumsfeld is still involved in this conference at the time the Pentagon is hit, and he tells his deputy, “I can still see Rumsfeld on the screen, so the whole building didn’t get hit.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 2-3 and 7-8] If Clarke’s account were correct, this would presumably mean Rumsfeld is in the Pentagon’s Executive Support Center (ESC), which has secure video facilities, rather than in his office. [Washington Times, 2/23/2004] But according to other accounts, Rumsfeld does not go to the ESC until around 10:15 a.m., after he returns from the crash site (see (10:00 a.m.-10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Clarke, 2006, pp. 221; Cockburn, 2007, pp. 1-5]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Donald Rumsfeld, Edmund Giambastiani

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Davison Army Airfield.Davison Army Airfield. [Source: Airnav.com]Shortly after the Pentagon crash, an air traffic control supervisor at Davison Army Airfield sees two unidentified aircraft near the Pentagon on the radar of his facility, which is located at Fort Belvoir, about 12 miles south of the Pentagon. The supervisor, who is working in the airfield’s control tower, looks out the window toward where the Pentagon is and sees a large black cloud of smoke. He is told by a colleague that news reports are saying a small airplane has hit the Pentagon. He then looks at the facility’s radar scope, which shows two aircraft circling above the Pentagon. The transponder of one of these is transmitting the emergency code. The supervisor will recall: “I look at where the Pentagon area is [on the radar scope], and I look, and there was an aircraft squawking 7700, meaning emergency. And it was circling—it was coming down and fast.… [A]nd there was another target with no markings or anything—it was just a target,” with none of the accompanying information that would be emitted by a transponder. This second aircraft is “descending rapidly and very fast.” The supervisor will recall that the two aircraft “circled around and both tags they disappeared. But they stay in the air.” He will provide no further information on the identities of the aircraft or why one of them is transmitting the emergency code. [US Army Center for Military History, 11/14/2001 pdf file] There will be eyewitness accounts of aircraft near the Pentagon around this time (see (9:35 a.m.-9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001, 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001, and (9:41 a.m.-9:42 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Davison Army Airfield

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Pentagon on fire.The Pentagon on fire. [Source: Press Association]Television news reports describe an explosion and fire occurring at the Pentagon, but do not specify that a plane hit it:
bullet Two seconds after 9:39 a.m., reporter Jim Miklaszewski states on NBC News: “I don’t want to alarm anybody right now, but apparently, there—it felt, just a few moments ago, like there was an explosion of some kind here at the Pentagon. We’re on the E-ring of the Pentagon. We have a window that faces out toward the Potomac, toward Kennedy Center. We haven’t been able to see or—or hear anything after the initial blast. I just stepped out in the hallway. Security guards were herding people out of the building, and I saw just a moment ago as I looked outside, a number of construction workers who have been working here, have taken flight. They’re running as far away from the building as they can right now. I—I hear no sirens going off in the building; I see no smoke, but the building shook for just a couple of seconds. The windows rattled and security personnel are doing what they can momentarily to clear this part of the building. Again, I have no idea whether it was part of the construction work, whether it was an accident or what is going on. We’re going to try to find those details and get them to you as soon as possible. But interestingly enough, one intelligence official here in the building said when he saw what appeared to be the coordinating attack on the World Trade Center, his advice was to stay away from the outside of the building today just in case.” [NBC, 9/11/2001]
bullet At 9:40, CNN coverage includes a banner stating, “Reports of fire at Pentagon.” [CNN, 9/11/2001] Three minutes later, CNN producer Chris Plant reports from the Pentagon: “It’s impossible for me to say… exactly what caused this. I did not hear an explosion but there is certainly a very, very significant fire in this enormous office building.” [CNN, 9/11/2001]
bullet At 9:42, ABC News reports smoke coming from somewhere behind the Old Executive Office Building, next to the White House. Two minutes later it reports a “fire confirmed at the Pentagon.” [ABC News, 9/11/2001]
bullet At 9:43, CBS News reports “smoke pouring out of the Pentagon,” but adds, “We don’t know whether this is the result of a bomb or whether it is yet another aircraft that has targeted a symbol of the United States’ power.” [CBS, 9/11/2001]
However, no media outlets record video footage of the Pentagon crash, and the cause of the explosion remains unknown for some minutes afterward. The Associated Press is apparently the first source to report that a plane hit the Pentagon (see 9:43 a.m.-9:53 a.m. September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Pentagon, Jim Miklaszewski

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The ‘white jet’ seen circling above the White House and Capitol. The ‘white jet’ seen circling above the White House and Capitol. [Source: Discovery Channel]Several television networks interrupt their coverage of events in New York to report that a mysterious white aircraft is circling over the White House and the Capitol.
bullet At 9:41 a.m., Peter Jennings of ABC News reports that “there is a plane circling the White House at the moment. And they’re clearing the grounds there.… And this plane circling the White House adds to the trauma that people are feeling today, but we have no idea precisely what the means.” [ABC News, 9/11/2001]
bullet At 9:52 a.m., CNN correspondent John King, who is standing about 200 yards from the White House, says: “About 10 minutes ago, there was a white jet circling overhead. Now, you generally don’t see planes in the area over the White House. That is restricted air space. No reason to believe that this jet was there for any nefarious purposes, but the Secret Service was very concerned, pointing up at the jet in the sky. It is out of sight now, best we can tell.” [CNN, 9/11/2001] Another CNN correspondent, Kate Snow, also reports seeing a plane at around this time, “circling over the Capitol.” She says: “Now whether that may have been an Air Force plane, it’s unclear. But that seemed to be the reason, according to security guards that I talked with, towards the evacuation of the Capitol.” [CNN, 9/11/2001] (The Capitol is reportedly evacuated at 9:48 a.m. (see 9:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Fox News, 9/11/2003] )
bullet At 9:55 a.m., NBC News turns to a live report from its correspondent Bob Kur, who recalls: “And in the most surreal of this morning’s scenes here at the White House, a white plane, a very big jet, was flying an unusual pattern near the White House over Lafayette Park, very slowly. It made one circle and then we have not seen it since. There was a lot of concern about what that plane might be. But, again, it’s only speculation, but most people say that since flights have been cleared from US air space, and it was a totally white plane, looked unusual to all of us, that it was a government plane of some kind.” [NBC 4, 9/11/2001]
A CNN comparison between video footage of this plane and an official Air Force photograph will suggest it is an E-4B. This is a militarized version of a Boeing 747 that is used as a flying command post. An E-4B has in fact just been launched from Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, DC (see (9:27 a.m.) September 11, 2001), so this could plausibly be the same plane as is witnessed by the reporters. Two government sources familiar with the incident will later tell CNN the plane was a military aircraft, but that its details are classified. Even by 2007, the Pentagon, FAA, and Secret Service will have offered no public explanation for this plane over the White House. [Verton, 2003, pp. 143-144; CNN, 9/12/2007] In 2009, John Farmer, the former senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission, will claim that this “mystery plane” is an E-4B with the call sign “Venus 77” that takes off from Andrews Air Force Base at around 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Farmer, 2009, pp. 206-207, 372]

Entity Tags: Bob Kur, Kate Snow, John Farmer, E-4B National Airborne Operations Center, John King, Peter Jennings

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

An Associated Press news alert at 9:43 a.m. states, “An aircraft has crashed into the Pentagon, witnesses say.” [Associated Press, 2001 pdf file; Broadcasting and Cable, 8/26/2002] This is apparently the first news of the crash. Initial television reports stated there had been an explosion at the Pentagon, but not that a plane caused it (see 9:39 a.m.-9:44 a.m. September 11, 2001). Minutes later, there is still uncertainty over what caused the explosion. At 9:49, CNN’s Chris Plant reports from the Pentagon, “[I]nitial reports from witnesses indicate that there was in fact a helicopter circling the building, contrary to what the AP reported, according to the witnesses I’ve spoken to anyway, and that this helicopter disappeared behind the building, and that there was then an explosion” (see (9:35 a.m.-9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/11/2001] It is not until 9:53 that CNN confirms, “it was a plane that crashed into the Pentagon.” [CNN, 9/11/2001]

Entity Tags: CNN, Associated Press

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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