May 17, 2006

The Smoke Trail, Explained

The Pentagon authorized the release of video and stills taken from a security camera that captures the attack on 9/11 by the hijackers of American Airlines Flight 77, after a FOIA lawsuit by Judicial Watch. The released images do not show all that much more than what we saw on television in the aftermath of the attacks, which disappointed those who hoped the new footage would stamp out the various paranoid conspiracy theories about the attacks.

Two bloggers have posted screencaps of the video and noticed something odd. Both Allahpundit at Hot Air and Kevin at Wizbang! remark on the smoke trail evident in the right-hand side of the frame in the moments before the attack. A few commenters (not the bloggers themselves) say this is evidence that the attack was a missile and not a fully-loaded 767, and offer by way of further proof the long-standing assertion that the damage to the Pentagon was too light to have been caused by American 77.

Hot Air has the whole sequence, but here's one picture that shows the smoke trail just above the ground:


Above the ticket dispenser on the right foreground and trailing to the right edge of the frame, a smoke trail can clearly be seen behind a dark triangle that appears to be the tail of American 77. Looking at those two components, the smoke trail looks at first to be far too significant for a commercial airliner, even at high speed (530 knots).

However, people may not know exactly what happened to American 77 in its approach to the Pentagon's facade. One commenter at Wizbang! recalls hearing that the plane clipped a few light poles on its approach, but the plane actually impacted the ground just outside of the Pentagon. Last Independence Day, I toured the Pentagon, courtesy of a CQ reader posted there at the time, and he told me exactly what happened:

He started us off in the west wing, the portion of the building that terrorists attacked on 9/11. We could not take pictures of the outside, but remarkably, we had no trouble taking pictures of the interior. The Pentagon has a beautiful memorial at Ground Zero for the victims of 9/11. ...

Our friend also showed us the direction that the plane took in hitting the Pentagon, from the window just below the entry point. It came in just over the Sheraton hotel in the background, clipping a light pole, bounced off the freeway, killing a cab driver, and hit just short of the Pentagon. This time sequence explains why the Pentagon took less damage than one might expect; the bounce took off some of the momentum and fuel before the plane hit the building, meaning that the impact did not travel as deeply and the fire did not burn as hot.

The smoke trail resulted from this initial impact, as the unskilled pilot at the controls could not maintain a steady approach after his 330-degree turn and dive towards the Pentagon. The death of the cabdriver may have saved lives and kept the west wing from complete ruin. It may also explain why the plane disintegrated more quickly and completely on impact, as its structural integrity already had been compromised, although it's hard to imagine anything surviving a direct impact at that speed. As it was, the attack killed and injured many people that day inside the Pentagon and the damage was very extensive.

That should answer any questions about the nature of the smoke and the approach of American 77 to the Pentagon, and it's a sequence of which many people still have no awareness. Put in the proper context, the picture does not surprise at all.


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[LINK] Captain Ed Most logical explanation I've seen. But, if you're still not inclined to believe, perhaps this post by Sandy from India (who apparently is smart enough to do computer programming) will suit your thinking better. It's just one [Read More]

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