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

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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 Told to Prevent Plane Hitting 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 Witnessed near 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 the Pentagon see what is presumably the same helicopter around this time (see (9:35 a.m.-9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/11/2001; Washington Post, 9/5/2002] 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 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 Told, 'Don't Tell Anyone about' 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 later 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]
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 later 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, Pentagon, John Darrell Sherwood, United States Park Police, William Durm, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jeffrey Mark Parsons, William Safire

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A C-130 transport plane that has been sent to follow Flight 77 (see 9.36 a.m. September 11, 2001) is trailing only a short distance behind the plane as it crashes. This curious C-130, originally bound for Minnesota, is the same C-130 that will be 17 miles from Flight 93 when it later crashes into the Pennsylvania countryside (see 10:08 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Pittsburgh Channel, 9/15/2001; Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 9/11/2002] A number of people see this plane fly remarkably close to Flight 77:
bullet Kelly Knowles says that seconds after seeing Flight 77 pass, she sees a “second plane that seemed to be chasing the first [pass] over at a slightly different angle.” [Daily Press (Newport News), 9/15/2001]
bullet Keith Wheelhouse says the second plane is a C-130; two other witnesses are not certain. [Daily Press (Newport News), 9/15/2001] Wheelhouse “believes it flew directly above the American Airlines jet, as if to prevent two planes from appearing on radar, while at the same time guiding the jet toward the Pentagon.” As Flight 77 descends toward the Pentagon, the second plane veers off west. [Daily Press (Newport News), 9/14/2001]
bullet USA Today reporter Vin Narayanan, who sees the Pentagon explosion, later says, “I hopped out of my car after the jet exploded, nearly oblivious to a second jet hovering in the skies.” [USA Today, 9/17/2001]
bullet USA Today Editor Joel Sucherman sees a second plane but gives few details. [eWeek, 9/13/2001]
bullet Brian Kennedy, press secretary for a Congressman, and others also see a second plane. [Sacramento Bee, 9/15/2001]
bullet An unnamed worker at Arlington National Cemetery, which is about a mile from the Pentagon, will recall that “a mysterious second plane was circling the area when the first one attacked the Pentagon.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/20/2001]
bullet An interment foreman at Arlington Cemetery also sees a second plane. He will recall: “There was a second plane behind it.… It appeared to be a cargo plane… mostly white.… I think it was somebody who observed him [Flight 77] and was following him and saw where he was going or what was going on… he was probably behind that far and when he saw [the explosion], he banked it back hard and went back the other way.” [Army Center for Military History, 12/13/2001 pdf file]
bullet John O’Keefe is driving in his car when he sees the Pentagon crash. He will recall: “The first thing I did was pull over onto the shoulder, and when I got out of the car I saw another plane flying over my head.… Then the plane—it looked like a C-130 cargo plane—started turning away from the Pentagon, it did a complete turnaround.” [New York Law Journal, 9/12/2001]
bullet Phillip Thompson, a former Marine, is sitting in traffic when he witnesses the crash of Flight 77 and then sees a cargo plane overhead. He will recall that, following the Flight 77 crash, “a gray C-130 flew overhead, setting off a new round of panic. I tried to reassure people that the plane was not a threat.” [Militarycity (.com), 9/22/2001]
The pilot of the C-130, Lieutenant Colonel Steve O’Brien, will later be interviewed, but his account differs from the on-the-ground eyewitnesses. He will claim that just before the explosion, “With all of the East Coast haze, I had a hard time picking him out,” implying he is not nearby. He also says that just after the explosion, “I could see the outline of the Pentagon,” again implying he is not nearby. He then asks “the controller whether [I] should set up a low orbit around the building,” but he is told “to get out of the area as quickly as possible.” He will add, “I took the plane once through the plume of smoke and thought if this was a terrorist attack, it probably wasn’t a good idea to be flying through that plume.” [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 9/11/2002]

Entity Tags: John O’Keefe, Vin Narayanan, Keith Wheelhouse, Kelly Knowles, Phillip Thompson, Brian Kennedy, Pentagon, Joel Sucherman, Steve O’Brien

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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