Profile: Abolhassan Astaneh-Asl
Abolhassan Astaneh-Asl was a participant or observer in the following events:
Dr. Abolhassan Astaneh-Asl examines steel from the World Trade Center. [Source: University of California, Berkeley]An engineer investigating the remains of the World Trade Center sees melted girders and other evidence that the towers experienced extreme temperatures on 9/11. Dr. Abolhassan Astaneh-Asl is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. He specializes in studying structural damage done by earthquakes and terrorist bombings. [Chronicle of Higher Education, 12/7/2001; CBS News, 3/11/2002] He arrives in New York on September 19 to conduct a two-week scientific reconnaissance of the collapsed towers, hoping to gain an understanding of how they had come down. His project is one of eight financed by the National Science Foundation to study the WTC disaster. [New York Times, 10/2/2001; Berkeleyan, 10/3/2001; US Congress. House. Committee on Science, 3/6/2002] He examines numerous pieces of steel taken from Ground Zero. [Chronicle of Higher Education, 12/7/2001] Astaneh-Asl will describe the WTC as “the best-designed building I have ever seen.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/22/2001] Yet he notices unusual warping and other damage in its remaining steel:
At a recycling center in New Jersey, he sees 10-ton steel beams from the towers that look “like giant sticks of twisted licorice.” [Chronicle of Higher Education, 12/7/2001] He shows the San Francisco Chronicle a “banana-shaped, rust-colored piece of steel” that has “twisted like toffee during the terrorist attack.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/22/2001]
He later recalls, “I saw melting of girders in [the] World Trade Center.” [PBS, 5/10/2007]
He notes that steel has bent at several connection points that had joined the floors of the WTC to the vertical columns. He describes the connections as being smoothly warped, saying, “If you remember the Salvador Dali paintings with the clocks that are kind of melted—it’s kind of like that.” He adds, “That could only happen if you get steel yellow hot or white hot—perhaps around 2,000 degrees.” [Chronicle of Higher Education, 12/7/2001]
Astaneh-Asl says that steel flanges have been reduced “from an inch thick to paper thin.” [Berkeleyan, 10/3/2001]
He finds a foot-long twisted shard of steel that is “like a piece of bread, but it was high-strength steel.” He comments, “I haven’t seen anything like this [before].” [Berkeley Daily Planet, 10/20/2001]
He finds “severely scorched [steel] members from 40 or so floors below the points of impact [by the planes].” He believes this is the result of the planes having destroyed the elevator walls, thereby allowing burning jet fuel to pour down into the building, igniting fires hundreds of feet below the impact floors. [CBS News, 3/12/2002]
He says that, in some places, the fireproofing used to protect the WTC steel has “melted into a glassy residue.” [New York Times, 10/2/2001]
Astaneh-Asl sees a charred I-beam from WTC Building 7, which collapsed late in the afternoon of 9/11. “The beam, so named because its cross-section looks like a capital I, had clearly endured searing temperatures. Parts of the flat top of the I, once five-eighths of an inch thick, had vaporized.” [New York Times, 10/2/2001]
Other individuals will report seeing molten metal in the remains of the World Trade Center in the weeks and months after 9/11 (see September 12, 2001-February 2002), and data collected by NASA reveals dozens of “hot spots” (some over 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit) at Ground Zero (see September 16-23, 2001). But Thomas Eagar—an engineering professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—later comments that the “temperature of the fire at the WTC [on 9/11] was not unusual, and it was most definitely not capable of melting steel.” [Eagar and Musso, 12/2001] Yet Astaneh-Asl will later put forward the “tentative” conclusion, “The collapse of the [Twin Towers] was most likely due to the intense fire initiated by the jet fuel of the planes and continued due to burning of the building contents.” [Astaneh-Asl, 11/30/2003 ] Astaneh-Asl is a member of the team assembled by the American Society of Civil Engineers to investigate the World Trade Center site after 9/11 (see September 12, 2001), though he will resign from this because he disagrees with its decision to keep findings secret until the initial inquiry has been completed. [New York Times, 10/2/2001; Associated Press, 9/6/2002]
A structural engineer who was a member of the team assembled by the American Society of Civil Engineers to investigate the World Trade Center site after 9/11 complains about the decision to rapidly destroy the remaining structural steel from the collapsed WTC buildings. Dr. Abolhassan Astaneh-Asl is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California at Berkeley, and specializes in studying structural damage done by earthquakes and terrorist bombings. [Chronicle of Higher Education, 12/7/2001; CBS News, 3/11/2002; Associated Press, 9/6/2002] He had come to New York a week after 9/11 to examine the collapsed towers, hoping to gain an understanding of how they had come down (see September 19-October 2001). [New York Times, 10/2/2001; US Congress. House. Committee on Science, 3/6/2002] However, New York City officials had decided early on to quickly transport the remaining structural steel to scrap yards, to be shipped abroad and melted down for reuse (see Shortly After September 11, 2001). As CBS News now reports, “As a result, Astaneh has almost certainly missed seeing crucial pieces before they were cut up and sent overseas.” Astaneh-Asl complains: “When there is a car accident and two people are killed, you keep the car until the trial is over. If a plane crashes, not only do you keep the plane, but you assemble all the pieces, take it to a hangar, and put it together. That’s only for 200, 300 people, when they die. In this case you had 3,000 people dead.” He says: “My wish was that we had spent whatever it takes, maybe $50 million, $100 million, and maybe two years, get all this steel, carry it to a lot. Instead of recycling it, put it horizontally, and assemble it. You have maybe 200 engineers, not just myself running around trying to figure out what’s going on. After all, this is a crime scene and you have to figure out exactly what happened for this crime, and learn from it.” However, he adds, “My wish is not what happens.” [CBS News, 3/12/2002] Astaneh-Asl previously told the New York Times that the scrap steel from the WTC was “worth only a few million dollars, a tiny fraction of the billions of dollars the cleanup will cost.” Yet the knowledge that could be gained from it “could save lives in a future disaster.” [New York Times, 10/2/2001]
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