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Context of 'September 11-November 16, 2001: Pentagon Victims Taken to Dover Air Force for Mortuary Operations'

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A MASCAL (mass casualty) training exercise is held at Fort Belvoir, an army base 12 miles south of the Pentagon. It is “designed to enhance the first ready response in dealing with the effects of a terrorist incident involving an explosion.” [MDW News Service, 7/5/2001]

Entity Tags: Fort Belvoir

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Two unidentified military aircraft fly in the vicinity of the Pentagon at an altitude of over 20,000 feet, and are in the area during the minutes before the Pentagon is hit. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/20/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/28/2003 pdf file] Between at least 9:31 a.m. and 9:40 a.m., the two aircraft communicate with the air traffic control tower at Washington’s Reagan National Airport, which is less than a mile from the Pentagon. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/20/2001 pdf file; St. Petersburg Times, 10/3/2001] Radar data will show that they fly “in trail” (in single file, with one aircraft directly behind the other) at 21,000 feet, and are overhead during the last few minutes that Flight 77 is airborne, before it hits the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/28/2003 pdf file]
Launched from Delaware Base - The identities of the two aircraft are unclear. They have the call signs “Bobcat 14” and “Bobcat 17.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/20/2001 pdf file] A 9/11 Commission memorandum will state that “flight strips and other information indicate that Bobcat 14 and Bobcat 17 originated out of Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.… It is possible, but not confirmed, that they were Air Force corporate passenger jets.”
Airport Managers Do Not Recall Planes - Two key officials will later be unable to specifically recall the aircraft when questioned by the 9/11 Commission. Bob Lazar, the acting operations manager at Reagan National Airport, will say he “did not remember any aircraft with the call sign ‘Bobcat’ that hung out over the National airspace” on this day. However, as well as two of the fighter jets that are inbound from Langley Air Force Base (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001), he will recall two aircraft “coming from the north, but he did not think that they entered National’s airspace.” Donny Simons, the airport manager at Baltimore-Washington International Airport in Linthicum, Maryland, will stress “that he did not remember the Bobcats specifically,” but he speculates that controllers at his airport “were working the two ‘Bobcats’ and needed vectors from National controllers.” [9/11 Commission, 7/28/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Bob Lazar, Donny Simons

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Harry Brosofsky.Harry Brosofsky. [Source: Syracuse University]General John Jumper, the Air Force chief of staff, and James Roche, the secretary of the Air Force, as well as other senior Air Force officials, arrive at the Air Force Operations Center in the basement of the Pentagon’s C Ring, where they assist the Air Force’s response to the terrorist attacks. [CNN, 10/10/2001; Lompoc Record, 9/11/2003; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 136]
Operations Center Personnel Did Not Realize a Plane Had Hit the Pentagon - Jumper and Roche were in Roche’s office on the fourth floor of the Pentagon when the Pentagon was hit, at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001), and were then promptly escorted down to the Operations Center (see Shortly After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Air Force Print News, 9/11/2003; Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 pdf file] They were unclear what had happened when the Pentagon was attacked, but when they arrive at the Operations Center, they find out that an aircraft hit the building. [CNN, 10/10/2001; Midland Reporter-Telegram, 4/2/2002] Those in the Operations Center had not initially realized a plane had hit the Pentagon either. The center is deep underground on the opposite site of the building to where it was hit and so they did not feel the impact when the attack occurred. But, according to the Dover Post, “Suddenly, sirens started to go off,” and “[r]eports from the television news and from outside the building confirmed the worst.” [Dover Post, 9/19/2001; Prospectus, 9/2006, pp. 3-6 pdf file]
Operations Center Is Quickly Going from 'Zero to Crisis Mode' - When Roche and Jumper arrive at the Operations Center, they find Air Force personnel there are “already starting to try to get the intel picture together; they were trying to get the air picture up on the walls,” according to Colonel Philip Breedlove, Roche’s senior military assistant, who has come down to the center with the two men. The center is “going from zero to crisis mode very quickly and very smoothly,” Breedlove will add. [Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 pdf file] Personnel in the center have been answering calls coming in on multiple lines. “We didn’t know who was still out there or what their hostile intention might be,” Major Harry Brosofsky, who arrived at the center shortly after the Pentagon was hit, will later recall. However, Brosofsky will say, “at times we had information overload and had to decide quickly what to do with all the information that was pouring in.” But the atmosphere is still noticeably professional, according to Major Donna Nicholas, who arrived at the center before the Pentagon was hit. “I was amazed at the calm,” she will comment.
Crisis Team Is at Work in Operations Center - Furthermore, the Air Force’s Crisis Action Team (CAT), which, according to the Dover Post, “coordinates Air Force reaction to anything that might be a threat to the United States,” was activated earlier on and is now carrying out its activities in the Operations Center (see (9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Dover Post, 9/19/2001; Syracuse University Magazine, 12/2001] Members of the CAT have also begun to assemble in the center for a 10:00 a.m. briefing, due to the fact that one of their responsibilities is to work with the Army to provide assistance to civil authorities in New York, in response to the attacks on the World Trade Center. [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 136]
Roche and Jumper Try to Contact NORAD - The first thing Roche and Jumper do when they reach the Operations Center is try and locate Air Force personnel, to make sure they are safe, and safely out of the Pentagon. [CNN, 10/10/2001] CAT members work to obtain a head count of Air Force personnel who have evacuated from the building. [Syracuse University Magazine, 12/2001] Roche and Jumper then try to contact NORAD. [CNN, 10/10/2001] The Air Force leaders are “not the command authority” at the moment, according to Air Force Magazine, and, instead, NORAD is primarily responsible for operational control of the situation. Air Force officials, however, still need to “do what they could to inform and support the operational units.” [Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 pdf file] The CAT also coordinates with NORAD to put fighter jets on alert in Alaska and Hawaii. [Syracuse University Magazine, 12/2001] Roche will recall that after contacting NORAD, he and Jumper “stand by and start to think of how we, the Air Force, could support any casualties or any other things that might develop during the day.” [CNN, 10/10/2001] The CAT also works with the FAA to monitor flight activity over the continental United States. [Syracuse University Magazine, 12/2001] And CAT members activate a team to focus on “continuity of operations,” which is the effort to ensure that the Air Force is able to continue its essential functions in an emergency. [US Department of Defense, 5/26/1995; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 136; US Air Force, 10/16/2013 pdf file]
Air Force Personnel Affected by Communication Problems - The ability of those in the Operations Center to respond to the crisis, however, is impaired when, at some point after Jumper and Roche arrive, communications go down. “There was a short period where literally the only [communications] we had was the BlackBerry device, because it communicates differently across the lines,” Breedlove will recall. The reason for the problem, according to Air Force Magazine, is that networks have become overloaded by people at the Pentagon and around Washington, DC, all trying to call their relatives to let them know they are okay. As the morning goes on, Air Force officials also begin experiencing problems with smoke from the burning building coming into the center. The decision will therefore be made to establish a temporary Air Force Operations Center at Bolling Air Force Base, just across the Potomac River from the Pentagon. At 12:20 p.m., Air Force leaders and assistants will be flown by helicopter to the base. The new Operations Center there will be up and functioning by 1:00 p.m. (see 1:00 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Prospectus, 9/2006, pp. 3-6 pdf file; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 136; Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Air Force Crisis Action Team, Harry Brosofsky, James G. Roche, John P. Jumper, Philip M. Breedlove, North American Aerospace Defense Command, US Department of the Air Force, Donna Nicholas, Federal Aviation Administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Under the authority of the FBI, remains of 9/11 victims at the Pentagon are taken to a temporary morgue in the Pentagon’s north parking lot, where they are photographed, labeled, and then placed in refrigeration. [Stars and Stripes, 9/17/2001; US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A-47 pdf file; Quartermaster Professional Bulletin, 3/2005] They are then transported to Davison Army Airfield at nearby Fort Belvoir, and from there to Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, where there is a large mortuary created for use in wartime. FBI agents accompany the remains at all points during transportation. [American Forces Press Service, 9/15/2001; PBS, 9/21/2001; Soldiers, 10/2001; US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. C-55 pdf file] About 250 people, including 50 medical examiners and 50 members of the FBI’s ‘disaster team,’ work at the mortuary to identify the remains. [Stars and Stripes, 9/17/2001] Remains are first scanned for the presence of unexploded ordnance or metallic foreign bodies. FBI experts then collect trace evidence to find any chemicals from explosives, and also conduct fingerprint identifications. [Pentagram, 11/30/2001] Other techniques used include dental records and X-rays. Tissue samples are sent to an Armed Forces laboratory in Rockville, Maryland, for DNA analysis. [PBS, 9/21/2001] Identification is problematic because specimens are often unrecognizable body parts, and are nearly always mixed with debris composed of aircraft and building materials. [Harcke, Bifano, and Koeller, 4/2002] However, by the time Dover staff formally end their identification effort, on November 16, they have identified remains of 184 of the 189 people who died in the Pentagon or aboard Flight 77, including the five hijackers (see November 21, 2001). [Washington Post, 11/21/2001]

Entity Tags: Pentagon, Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory, Fort Belvoir, Dover Air Force Base, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Human remains from the Flight 93 crash site are moved to a temporary morgue that has been set up at the Pennsylvania National Guard Armory, several miles away in Friedens. High-tech mortuary equipment has been brought to the armory in a tractor-trailer. [Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, 9/12/2001 pdf file; WTAE-TV, 9/13/2001] 75 to 100 specialists, including pathologists and fingerprint experts, are involved in the attempt to identify the remains. Forensic anthropologist Dennis Dirkmaat says that because the remains have suffered “extreme fragmentation,” most will need to be identified using DNA analysis. [Washington Post, 9/14/2001] When remains cannot be identified at the temporary morgue, samples are sent on to the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory in Rockville, Maryland, where samples from the Pentagon crash are also being analyzed (see September 11-November 16, 2001). [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/25/2001; Stars and Stripes, 10/8/2001; KCRA, 12/20/2001] By December 19, the remains of all 40 passengers and crew from Flight 93 have been identified, using fingerprints, dental records, and DNA. Investigators have, by a process of elimination, also been able to isolate genetic profiles of the four hijackers. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/30/2001; DMORT National News, 1/2002; Associated Press, 2/26/2002; Stripe, 9/20/2002] Searchers recovered about 510 pounds of human remains at the crash scene, equaling about eight percent of the total bodyweight on the plane. According to Somerset County Coroner Wallace Miller, everything else was vaporized. [Washington Post, 5/12/2002; Age (Melbourne), 9/9/2002; Canadian Press, 3/28/2004]

Entity Tags: Wallace Miller, Dennis Dirkmaat, Pennsylvania National Guard Armory, Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The remains of all but one of the people on board Flight 77, including the hijackers, are identified. However, the identities of the hijackers have still not been confirmed through their remains, and the FBI does not provide DNA profiles of the hijackers to medical examiners for identification. [NFPA Journal, 11/1/2001; Washington Post, 11/21/2001; Mercury, 1/11/2002] As of mid-2004, there still have been no reports that the hijackers’ remains have been identified by their DNA, except possibly for two unnamed hijackers.

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory logo.The Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory logo. [Source: Armed Forces Institure of Pathology]The Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL) publishes a report on the examination of DNA of the presumed hijackers of Flight 77, which hit the Pentagon on 9/11, and Flight 93, which went down near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The hijackers’ DNA is identified by a process of elimination, i.e. it is presumed to be that which does not match the samples provided by the passengers’ relatives. Samples are not requested from the hijackers’ families (see After September 11, 2001), but it is determined that the DNA may have come from Middle Eastern men, although in two cases current but not very comprehensive databases indicate they are more likely to come from Europeans. Also, the DNA samples from the Pentagon indicate that two of the presumed hijackers may well have been brothers. Presumably this refers to Nawaf and Salem Alhazmi. [Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory, 1/2004, pp. 82-84 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Defense Secretary Robert Gates announces that as part of the military’s new policy of allowing the media to cover the return of fallen soldiers to Dover Air Force Base (see February 26, 2009), the Pentagon will now pay for families of those fallen troops to travel to Dover to be present for the return of their family members. Critics of the media policy had noted that some families who were financially unable to be present for the return ceremony might be upset to see the footage of their slain family member on news broadcasts (see February 26, 2009). In a press conference announcing the policy, Gates becomes emotional as he describes his own trip to Dover earlier in the week. “I went to the back of the plane by myself and spent time with each of the transfer cases,” he says, choking up. “I think I’ll stop there.” [CNN, 3/18/2009]

Entity Tags: Robert M. Gates, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: US Military

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