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The Pentagon's impact zone

Attack on The Pentagon: 9/11 conspiracy theories debunked


Although two decades have passed since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, conspiracy theories continue to reverberate around the digital sphere. ‘Truthers’, as they’re known, do not believe that al-Qaeda carried out the attacks, but rather it was the work of the American government, done so to justify their geostrategic motives.

One of the focal points of the conspiracists is the attack on The Pentagon, the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense. They argue it wasn’t a Boeing 757 that crashed into the building that day but rather an American satellite-guided missile.

Main Theory: There was no plane

At exactly 9:37 am on 11th September 2001, American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the western side of The Pentagon, causing a partial collapse of the building. All those on the plane were killed instantly, as well as 125 people inside the building. In total, 184 people died as a result of the attack, along with the five al-Qaeda hijackers.

That's the official story, and for many conspiracy theorists, that's all it is, a 'story'. They argue that it wasn't Flight 77 that plummeted from the sky that day but rather an American missile or unmanned drone, fuelling their belief the 9/11 attacks were an ‘inside job’.

Let’s go through the supporting conspiracy theories for this claim and debunk them one by one.

Conspiracy theory #1: There's no plane wreckage

Conspiracists back up the ‘no plane’ theory by arguing that little aircraft wreckage was found at the crash site. Early video footage and photos taken from the scene did not seem to show much plane debris. They claim that any evidence that did appear was planted there to complete the hoax.

Explanation: Plane debris was very evident

Whilst blurry Pentagon security footage of the crash (released in 2006) did little to silence the conspiracy theorists, what can’t be denied are the thousands of eyewitnesses who saw the attack happen. Many stated seeing an American Airlines plane circle before crashing into the side of The Pentagon. A lot of those people also had cameras and captured the scene in the immediate aftermath. Surely someone planting evidence would have been spotted?

Those same witnesses also claimed to see numerous plane parts strewn across the area, including a nose cone, landing gear, a tyre, as well as the actual black boxes for Flight 77.

What about the rest of the plane? Well, most of it ended up inside The Pentagon, not outside it.

The bodies of passengers from the plane were also visible at the crash site and positively identified by DNA analysis. Some of the passengers were found still strapped to their seats.

If the attack was indeed a missile, how did the bodies of those confirmed onboard Flight 77 end up at the crash site? It’s farcical to believe they were planted there as well.

Also, several passengers made phone calls during the plane’s final minutes, reporting that it had been hijacked, whilst high-ranking al-Qaeda members openly admitted planning and carrying out the attacks afterwards.

Conspiracy theory #2: The hole’s too small

Truthers claim that the hole in the side of The Pentagon was just too small to have been caused by a commercial airliner. ‘How does a plane 125ft wide and 155ft long fit into a hole which is only 16ft across?’ asked one website. They believe a small hole indicates the impact of a missile, not the work of a Boeing 747.

Explanation: Parts of the plane disintegrated before impact

The official ASCE Pentagon Building Performance Report estimates that the hole punched into the outer E-Ring of The Pentagon’s reinforced concrete walls was approximately 75ft across, not 16ft. Still, why wasn't it 125ft across, just like the wingspan of the plane?

Well, one wing disintegrated when it hit the ground before impact, and the other wing sheared off on impact, being too lightweight a construction to penetrate reinforced concrete.

Conspiracy theory #3: The Pentagon windows are intact

Windows surrounding the impact zone on the building remained intact, which might suggest a smaller craft or a missile hit The Pentagon.

Explanation: The windows were blast-resistant

Given the work conducted within the walls of The Pentagon, it’s easy to understand why the building was fitted with blast-resistant windows. This easily explains why some of the windows surrounding the impact area remained intact.

Conspiracy theory #4: The U.S. military was put on stand-down

How could the world's greatest military not be able to intercept a hijacked plane before it reached its target? Truthers believe this is evidence that the American Armed Forces were ordered to stand down by NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) during the 9/11 attacks, confirming their beliefs of a government-led conspiracy.

Explanation: NORAD was caught off-guard

Whilst America does have one of the most technologically advanced military forces in the world, on the day of 9/11, they were simply caught off-guard by the speed of the terror attacks.

At the time, there wasn’t an automated method for the civilian air traffic controllers to alert NORAD, and even if there was, NORAD only had 14 fighter jets to cover the entire country. Hampering things further, the hijackers onboard Flight 77 disabled the aircraft’s transponders, which made it significantly harder for NORAD to track the plane even when alerted.

NORAD was eventually notified of Flight 77 being missing just three minutes before the plane crashed into The Pentagon and that was far too late to be able to do anything about it.

Since 9/11, the lines of communication between the various civilian and military air departments have been overhauled and streamlined, whilst the number of fighter jets at NORAD's disposal has also increased.

Conspiracy theory #5: A specific area of The Pentagon was hit to reduce causalities

The impact zone on The Pentagon was in an area that had recently been renovated and reinforced. Conspiracy theorists believe this part of the building was targeted for the missile strike because personnel numbers in this area were reduced, therefore minimising the number of deaths. Truthers believe that although the government was conducting this so-called 'inside job', they still wanted to keep causalities to a minimum.

Explanation: The impact area had been recently renovated

The part of The Pentagon hit by Flight 77 had been recently renovated and reinforced, however, there is no evidence to suggest it was targeted by a missile to reduce casualties. What we know as fact is al-Qaeda wished to cause as many human deaths as possible, and if it hadn't been for the recent renovations to that area of the building, many more lives would have been lost in The Pentagon.

For more articles about 9/11, check out our September 11th attacks hub