!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News

Context of 'Shortly Before 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001: Helicopter Is Seen Flying outside Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s Office'

This is a scalable context timeline. It contains events related to the event Shortly Before 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001: Helicopter Is Seen Flying outside Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s Office. You can narrow or broaden the context of this timeline by adjusting the zoom level. The lower the scale, the more relevant the items on average will be, while the higher the scale, the less relevant the items, on average, will be.

Thomas White.Thomas White. [Source: US Department of Defense]Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld hosts a breakfast meeting in his private dining room at the Pentagon. [Associated Press, 9/12/2001; US Department of Defense, 12/5/2001; 9/11 Commission, 3/23/2004] The meeting, which is attended by several members of Congress, is intended to discuss the Department of Defense’s Quadrennial Defense Review. As well as the secretary of defense, others in attendance include Rumsfeld’s senior military assistant, Navy Vice Admiral Edmund Giambastiani Jr.; Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz; Pete Geren, a special assistant to Rumsfeld; and Representatives John Mica (R-FL), Mark Steven Kirk (R-IL), Mac Thornberry (R-TX), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Robin Hayes (R-NC), Doug Bereuter (R-NE), John Hostettler (R-IN), Kay Granger (R-TX), John Shimkus (R-IL), Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-CA), and Christopher Cox (R-CA). [Powell Moore, 9/10/2001 pdf file; Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 9/14/2001; Federal Computer Week, 3/31/2003; Vanity Fair, 5/9/2003; Powell Moore, 9/19/2003 pdf file; US Department of Defense, 9/10/2004; American Forces Press Service, 9/8/2006] Secretary of the Army Thomas White, who is at the meeting, appears to say it is also attended by numerous key military figures, later telling PBS: “Don Rumsfeld had a breakfast, and virtually every one of the senior officials of the Department of Defense—service chiefs, secretary, deputy, everybody, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And as that breakfast was breaking up, the first plane had hit the World Trade tower.” [PBS Frontline, 10/26/2004; PBS, 10/26/2004] By “chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” White presumably means Richard Myers, who is the acting chairman on this day, in place of Henry Shelton who is out of the country (see 7:15 a.m. September 11, 2001). [American Forces Press Service, 9/8/2006] During the course of the meeting Rumsfeld predicts that some kind of “shocking” world event will occur in the near future (see (Before 8:46 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Most accounts suggest the meeting is adjourned soon after the time the first World Trade Center tower is hit, presumably around 8:50 a.m., though one report says it ends at about 9:00 a.m. Just prior to the meeting ending, Rumsfeld is handed a note informing him of the crash (see Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). Giambastiani also sees this note. Whether the other people in attendance are notified of the crash at this time is unknown. [US Department of Defense, 12/5/2001; US Department of Defense, 8/12/2002; PBS, 10/26/2004; American Forces Press Service, 9/8/2006] White will later recall, “We all went on with the day’s business,” after leaving the meeting. White heads off to give a speech at the nearby Army Navy Country Club. [PBS Frontline, 10/26/2004] Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Giambastiani return to their offices. [Vanity Fair, 5/9/2003; American Forces Press Service, 9/8/2006] The members of Congress leave the building. [Washington Post, 1/9/2002] If Myers is at the meeting, as White appears to say, he must head promptly to Capitol Hill, as he enters another meeting in the offices of Senator Max Cleland (D-GA) before the time when the second WTC tower is hit (see Shortly Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Armed Forces Radio And Television Service, 10/17/2001; American Forces Press Service, 10/23/2001]

Entity Tags: Richard B. Myers, Christopher Cox, Doug Bereuter, Kay Granger, Donald Rumsfeld, John Hostettler, Edmund Giambastiani, Mac Thornberry, Pete Geren, Paul Wolfowitz, Thomas E. White, Roger Wicker, Mark Steven Kirk, Robin Hayes, Randall (“Duke”) Cunningham, John Shimkus, John Mica

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Larry Di Rita.Larry Di Rita. [Source: US Department of Defense]Larry Di Rita, a special assistant to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, has sent a note to Rumsfeld to inform him of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center. Although some initial reports suggest the WTC may have been hit by just a small plane, according to Victoria Clarke, the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, “Even in the accidental crash scenario, the military might be involved in some way. Rumsfeld needed to know.” Rumsfeld, who is currently hosting a breakfast meeting with several members of Congress (see (8:00 a.m.-8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001), later acknowledges having received this note. Yet apparently he does nothing in response. He recalls, “Everyone assumed it was an accident, the way it was described.” He says only that “we adjourned the meeting, and I went in to get my CIA briefing.” [US Department of Defense, 12/5/2001; 9/11 Commission, 3/23/2004; Clarke, 2006, pp. 217-218; Vogel, 2007, pp. 428]

Entity Tags: Larry Di Rita, Victoria (“Torie”) Clarke, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Flight 175 hits the WTC South Tower. The picture was taken from a traffic helicopter.Flight 175 hits the WTC South Tower. The picture was taken from a traffic helicopter. [Source: WABC 7/ Salient Stills]Flight 175 hits the South Tower of the World Trade Center (Tower Two). Seismic records pinpoint the time at six seconds before 9:03 a.m. (rounded to 9:03 a.m.). Hijackers Marwan Alshehhi, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, Mohand Alshehri, Hamza Alghamdi, and Ahmed Alghamdi presumably are killed instantly, and many more in the tower will die over the next few hours. [New York Times, 9/12/2001; CNN, 9/12/2001; CNN, 9/17/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; USA Today, 12/20/2001; Federal Emergency Management Agency, 5/1/2002, pp. 1-10; New York Times, 5/26/2002; Associated Press, 8/21/2002; USA Today, 9/2/2002] According to the NIST report, the crash time is 9:02:59. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 38] According to the 9/11 Commission Report, the crash time is 9:03:11. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 8] Millions watch the crash live on television. The plane strikes the 77th through 85th floors in the 110-story building. Approximately 100 people are killed or injured in the initial impact; 600 people in the tower eventually die. The death toll is far lower than in the North Tower because about two-thirds of the South Tower’s occupants have evacuated the building in the 17 minutes since the first tower was struck. [USA Today, 12/20/2001; National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 5-9, 41] The combined death toll from the two towers is estimated at 2,819, not including the hijackers. [Associated Press, 8/21/2002] The impact severs some columns on the south side of the South Tower. Each of the Twin Towers is designed as a “tube-in-tube” structure and the steel columns which support its weight are arranged around the perimeter and in the core. The plane, which is traveling at an estimated speed of around 500 mph (see October 2002-October 2005), severs 33 of the building’s 236 perimeter columns and damages another one. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 39] The perimeter columns bear about half of the tower’s weight, so the damage to them reduces the tower’s ability to bear gravity loads by about 7.1 percent. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 6] The actual damage to the 47 core columns is not known, as there are no photographs or videos of it, but there will be much speculation about this after 9/11. It will be suggested that some parts of the aircraft may be able to damage the core even after crashing through the exterior wall (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 107] According to NIST’s base case model, five of the core columns are severed and another five suffer some damage. [National Institute of Standards & Technology, 9/2005, pp. 235 pdf file] This may reduce the tower’s ability to bear loads by a further approximately 8 percent, meaning that the aircraft impact accounted for a loss of about 15 percent of the building’s strength. This damage will be cited as an event contributing to the building’s collapse after 9/11 (see October 23, 2002 and October 19, 2004). NIST’s base case estimate of damage to the North Tower’s core will be similar, even though the aircraft impact there was dissimilar (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). Flight 11 hit the North Tower’s core head on, whereas Flight 175 only hits the corner of the South Tower’s core. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 20-23, 38-41] In addition, some of the fireproofing on the steel columns and trusses may be dislodged (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [National Institute of Standards & Technology, 9/2005, pp. xxxvi, 83 pdf file] Photographs and videos of the towers will not show the state of fireproofing inside the buildings, but the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will try to estimate the damage to fireproofing using a series of computer models. Its severe case model (see (October 2002-October 2005)) will predict that 39 of the 47 core columns are stripped of their fireproofing on one or more floors and that fireproofing is stripped from trusses covering 80,000 ft2 of floor area, the equivalent of about two floors. NIST will say that the loss of fireproofing is a major cause of the collapse (see April 5, 2005), but only performs 15 tests on fireproofing samples (see October 26, 2005). [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 41] According to NIST, less fireproofing is stripped from the North Tower (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: World Trade Center, Marwan Alshehhi, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, Hamza Alghamdi, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Ahmed Alghamdi, Mohand Alshehri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Denny Watson.Denny Watson. [Source: Risk Assessment Network + Exchange]Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld goes ahead with his daily intelligence briefing in his office at the Pentagon, even though Denny Watson, his CIA briefer, urges him to cancel it and respond to the terrorist attacks. [Rumsfeld, 2011, pp. 335; Priess, 2016, pp. 244] Rumsfeld has just been in a meeting in his private dining room that was attended by several members of Congress (see (8:00 a.m.-8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). During it, he was informed that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center (see Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Associated Press, 9/12/2001; US Department of Defense, 12/5/2001; 9/11 Commission, 3/23/2004] He assumed the crash was an accident. [Vogel, 2007, pp. 428; Rumsfeld, 2011, pp. 335]
Rumsfeld Went to His Office for His Intelligence Briefing - After the meeting ended, apparently around 9:00 a.m., he returned to his office to receive his intelligence briefing. [Historical Office, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 7/18/2002 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37] Rumsfeld receives an intelligence briefing from Watson each morning, similar to the intelligence briefing provided to the president each day. The briefings usually last at least half an hour. [Rumsfeld, 2011, pp. 335; Priess, 2016, pp. 243] The briefing today is scheduled to run from 9:00 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. [US Department of Defense, 8/12/2002]
CIA Briefer Learned of the Crashes from TV - Watson, meanwhile, recently arrived at the Pentagon and learned about the crashes at the WTC. After she entered the building, she noticed people staring at a television, which showed the North Tower burning after being hit by a plane. She then went to the anteroom of Rumsfeld’s office, where she saw the second hijacked plane crashing into the WTC live on television (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). She immediately called the operations center at CIA headquarters to see if she could find out more about what was happening. She was told only that there were 50 planes still airborne that were unaccounted for.
Rumsfeld Refuses to Cancel the Briefing - Rumsfeld then calls Watson into his office. Assuming the briefing will be suspended due to what has happened in New York, the CIA analyst hasn’t even opened her briefcase to pull out her copy of the President’s Daily Brief (PDB). “Sir, you just need to cancel this,” she says to Rumsfeld as she enters the office. “You’ve got more important things to do,” she adds. Rumsfeld, however, wants to go ahead with the briefing. “No, no, we’re going to do this,” he says. Watson then sits down and tells Rumsfeld what she learned from the CIA’s operations center, but the secretary of defense simply nods his head and starts flipping through the PDB. [Priess, 2016, pp. 244] The PDB apparently contains no remarkable information today. “As we reviewed the threat reports from around the world, September 11 seemed to be no more or less different than any other day,” Rumsfeld will later comment. [Rumsfeld, 2011, pp. 336]
Rumsfeld Will Be Receiving the Briefing When the Pentagon Is Hit - Vice Admiral Edmund Giambastiani Jr., Rumsfeld’s senior military assistant, will come into the office around this time and tell the secretary of defense about the second crash at the WTC (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Historical Office, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 7/18/2002 pdf file; US Department of Defense, 8/12/2002] Two of Rumsfeld’s aides will also come to the office and, like Watson, try, unsuccessfully, to persuade Rumsfeld to cancel his schedule so he can respond to the attacks (see a904rumsfeldrefuses). [Clarke, 2006, pp. 218-219; Priess, 2016, pp. 244] Rumsfeld will be in his office with Watson, still receiving his intelligence briefing, at 9:37 a.m., when the Pentagon is attacked (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 130; Vogel, 2007, pp. 438-439]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Denny Watson

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice tries to gather together the principals of the National Security Council (NSC), but is unable to get in touch with key officials. Rice realized the US was under terrorist attack during a staff meeting, when her assistant informed her of the second plane striking the World Trade Center (see (9:04 a.m.) September 11, 2001). She had then headed to the White House Situation Room’s operations center. [Newsweek, 12/30/2001; Bumiller, 2007, pp. xii] Here she intends to assemble the principals of the NSC for a crisis meeting. [O, the Oprah Magazine, 2/1/2002] Along with the national security adviser, the principal members of the NSC are the president, the vice president, the secretary of state, the secretary of the treasury, and the secretary of defense; additionally, the CIA director and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are statutory advisers to the NSC. [US President, 2/13/2001; Felix, 2002, pp. 226] However, Rice remembers that Secretary of State Colin Powell is currently away in Peru (see (8:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [MSNBC, 9/11/2002] Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill is away in Japan. [US Department of the Treasury, 11/29/2001; US Department of the Treasury, 1/23/2002] And Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Henry Shelton is on his way to Europe for a NATO meeting there. [CNN, 10/1/2001] Rice tries calling Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who is in his office at the Pentagon (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001), but cannot reach him. [PBS Frontline, 7/12/2002; Clarke, 2006, pp. 218-219; Cockburn, 2007, pp. 1] She is also unable to get a call through to CIA Director George Tenet. [Bumiller, 2007, pp. xii] (Tenet will later claim that, around this time, he is having trouble using his secure phone while being driven out to CIA headquarters (see (8:55 a.m.-9:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Tenet, 2007, pp. 161-162] ) Also around this time, in the Secure Video Conferencing Center just off the main floor of the Situation Room, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is trying to convene a video teleconference with other top officials (see (9:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Bumiller, 2007, pp. xii]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, George J. Tenet, Henry Hugh Shelton, Paul O’Neill, Colin Powell, National Security Council, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Around this time, according to his own account, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke reaches the Secure Video Conferencing Center just off the main floor of the Situation Room in the West Wing of the White House. From there, he directs the response to the 9/11 attacks and stays in contact with other top officials through video links. Clarke claims that on video he can see Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, CIA Director George Tenet, FBI Director Robert Mueller, FAA Administrator Jane Garvey, Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson (filling in for the traveling Attorney General John Ashcroft), Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (filling in for the traveling Secretary of State Colin Powell), and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers (filling in for the traveling Chairman Henry Shelton). National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is with Clarke, but she lets him run the crisis response, deferring to his longer experience on terrorism matters. Clarke is also told by an aide, “We’re on the line with NORAD, on an air threat conference call.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 2-4; Australian, 3/27/2004] According to the 9/11 Commission, logs indicate that Clarke’s video teleconference only begins at 9:25 a.m. (see 9:25 a.m. September 11, 2001), which is later than Clarke suggests, and CIA and FAA representatives only join it at 9:40 a.m. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 36 and 462] Other accounts claim that, rather than being involved in Clarke’s teleconference at this time, Donald Rumsfeld is still in his office waiting for his intelligence briefing (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and Richard Myers is in a meeting on Capitol Hill (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Armed Forces Radio And Television Service, 10/17/2001; Clarke, 2006, pp. 218-219] The 9/11 Commission claims that, “While important,” Clarke’s conference has “no immediate effect on the emergency defense efforts.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Yet, as the Washington Post puts it, “everyone seems to agree” Clarke is the chief crisis manager on 9/11. [Washington Post, 3/28/2004] Even Clarke’s later opponent, National Security Adviser Rice, calls him 9/11’s “crisis management guy.” [United Press International, 4/9/2004] The conference is where the government’s emergency defense efforts are concentrated.

Entity Tags: Larry D. Thompson, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Richard B. Myers, Richard Armitage, John Ashcroft, Robert S. Mueller III, Richard A. Clarke, Henry Hugh Shelton, Jane Garvey, Donald Rumsfeld, 9/11 Commission, George J. Tenet, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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 Is Told to Prevent the Plane from Hitting the 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 Is Witnessed near the 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 or inside the Pentagon see what is presumably the same helicopter around this time (see (9:35 a.m.-9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and Shortly Before 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/11/2001; Washington Post, 9/5/2002; Priess, 2016, pp. 244-245] 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 the 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 Will Be Told, 'Don't Tell Anyone about' the 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 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]
bullet Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Denny Watson, his CIA briefer, who are in Rumsfeld’s office at the Pentagon, see a helicopter flying very close to the building, outside the window of the office, and then pulling away just before the building is attacked (see Shortly Before 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Priess, 2016, pp. 244-245]
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 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, Jeffrey Mark Parsons, John Darrell Sherwood, Pentagon, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, United States Park Police, Denny Watson, William Safire, William Durm, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Denny Watson, his CIA briefer, see a helicopter flying very close to the Pentagon, just outside the window of Rumsfeld’s office, shortly before the Pentagon is attacked. [Priess, 2016, pp. 244-245] Watson has been giving Rumsfeld his daily intelligence briefing in his office at the Pentagon and they are both aware of the crashes at the World Trade Center (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37; Rumsfeld, 2011, pp. 335] Rumsfeld is skimming through a copy of the President’s Daily Brief when the sound of a helicopter outside causes him to stop what he is doing. The helicopter, which is blue and white, is “hovering so close to the window that I could see what one of the men in it looked like,” Watson will later recall. He has “dark hair, a beard and a mustache, and reflector sunglasses.” Rumsfeld and Watson talk about how easy it would be for the pilot to turn the helicopter and crash into Rumsfeld’s office. Finally, the helicopter pulls away from the Pentagon. As it does, Rumsfeld and Watson feel the building shake due to it being attacked (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Priess, 2016, pp. 244-245] A number of other people will recall seeing a helicopter flying close to the Pentagon around this time (see (9:35 a.m.-9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/11/2001; Washington Post, 9/5/2002] One of them, Jeffrey Mark Parsons, will describe the helicopter he sees as being blue and white, so it is presumably the helicopter that Rumsfeld and Watson see. The helicopter belongs to the US Park Police and its pilot has been directed to try and intercept a plane, presumably Flight 77, that was approaching the Pentagon, according to US Navy historian John Darrell Sherwood (see Shortly Before 9:35 a.m. September 11, 2001). [US Naval Historical Center, 12/13/2001]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Denny Watson, United States Park Police

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

According to most accounts, at the time the Pentagon is hit, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is in his office on the third floor of the Pentagon’s outer E Ring, receiving his daily intelligence briefing. [New York Times, 9/12/2001; Woodward, 2002, pp. 24; 9/11 Commission, 3/23/2004; Clarke, 2006, pp. 221; Cockburn, 2007, pp. 1; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 130; Vogel, 2007, pp. 438-439] As he later recalls, “the building shook and the tables jumped.” [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 130] Although he has been informed of the two aircraft hitting the World Trade Center (see Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001), he supposedly does not initially suspect a plane has hit the Pentagon, thinking instead that a bomb has gone off. [ABC News, 9/16/2001; MSNBC, 9/30/2001; Washington Post, 1/9/2002] In his nearby office, Rumsfeld’s senior military assistant Vice Admiral Edmund Giambastiani Jr. also hears the explosion, and walks through his doorway toward Rumsfeld’s office. As the two meet, Rumsfeld asks Giambastiani, “What the hell’s happening?” [American Forces Press Service, 9/8/2006; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 130] Rumsfeld then looks out his window but, he later recalls, sees “nothing here.” [Parade Magazine, 10/12/2001; Washington Post, 1/9/2002] He goes into the hallway and, accompanied by his security guards, hurries toward the crash site (see 9:38 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 130] However, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later contradict these accounts. Clarke indicates that Rumsfeld has been participating in the video teleconference conducted from the White House Situation Room since shortly after the second WTC crash (see (9:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). He claims that Rumsfeld is still involved in this conference at the time the Pentagon is hit, and he tells his deputy, “I can still see Rumsfeld on the screen, so the whole building didn’t get hit.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 2-3 and 7-8] If Clarke’s account were correct, this would presumably mean Rumsfeld is in the Pentagon’s Executive Support Center (ESC), which has secure video facilities, rather than in his office. [Washington Times, 2/23/2004] But according to other accounts, Rumsfeld does not go to the ESC until around 10:15 a.m., after he returns from the crash site (see (10:00 a.m.-10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Clarke, 2006, pp. 221; Cockburn, 2007, pp. 1-5]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Donald Rumsfeld, Edmund Giambastiani

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A US Park Police helicopter on the road outside the Pentagon.A US Park Police helicopter on the road outside the Pentagon. [Source: Michael Garcia]The US Park Police Aviation Unit becomes one of the first agencies to respond to the attack on the Pentagon, with its two helicopters arriving on the scene within minutes of the crash. [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 161-162] The aviation unit is located in Anacostia Park in southeast Washington, DC, across the Potomac River from the Pentagon. It has two Bell 412 helicopters—a modern version of the “Huey”—that are prepared for virtually any emergency. They are equipped with mass casualty kits, which allow them to carry up to four critically injured patients, along with a large amount of additional medical and rescue apparatus, and other sophisticated equipment. [Aviation International News, 10/1/2001; Rotor and Wing, 11/2001; Rotor and Wing, 2/2002; National Park Service, 10/16/2004; USA Today, 10/25/2007] The unit had been running a large training event (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001) when personnel there learned of the first crash in New York from television reports. After seeing the second plane hitting the World Trade Center live, they realized this was a deliberate act. Sergeant Ronald Galey, one of the unit’s helicopter pilots, will later recall that at that point, “[W]e just started talking, ‘Hey, we’d better get ready.’”
Personnel Hear Explosion from Pentagon - Personnel at the aviation unit hear the explosion when the Pentagon is attacked at 9:37 a.m. Galey and Sergeant Kenneth Burchell, another of the unit’s helicopter pilots, hear a loud thud and then look up to see a column of smoke rising from the vicinity of the Pentagon. Galey will recall, “We all knew” this was another terrorist attack. He will add, “[W]e’ve all been expecting something like this, for an attack of some sort.” However, Galey does not initially realize the smoke rising up in the distance is coming from the Pentagon. He will say he only “suspected it was some military installation over there.” [US Naval Historical Center, 11/19/2001; US Naval Historical Center, 11/20/2001; McDonnell, 2004, pp. 19-20 pdf file]
Controller Reports Crash, but Accounts Conflict - Soon, the “aircraft crash phone” in the aviation unit office rings, setting off a distinctive horn alarm. This phone is a direct communications line from the control tower at Washington’s Reagan National Airport, which enables the aviation unit to respond quickly to incidents at the airport. Galey answers the call. [McDonnell, 2004, pp. 20 pdf file; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 161-162] On the other end of the line is air traffic controller David Walsh (see (9:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). According to author Lynn Spencer, Walsh yells down the phone: “Aircraft down at the Pentagon! Aircraft down at the Pentagon!” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/18/2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 158-159] Galey will give a similar account in a January 2002 interview, recalling that Walsh tells him that “they had a 757 go into the Pentagon and they needed us to respond to the incident.” [National Park Service, 1/17/2002] But in November 2001, Galey will recall that Walsh says, “We have a 757 down somewhere in the vicinity of the 14th Street Bridge”—a bridge over the Potomac River, near the Pentagon. [Rotor and Wing, 11/2001] Later that month, Galey will state that Walsh says the tower has “lost a 757 somewhere in the vicinity of the Pentagon.” [US Naval Historical Center, 11/20/2001]
Controller Reports Crash at Airport, according to Some Accounts - However, on another occasion Galey will say that Walsh tells him, “[W]e have a 757 down on the north end of the airport.” [National Park Service, 9/21/2002] And Sergeant Keith Bohn, another of the Park Police helicopter pilots, will give a similar account, recalling that in the initial phone call the aviation unit receives about the attack, it is informed that there is “an aircraft down at the end of the runway at National Airport.” Bohn will say he only learns the correct location of the crash while he is starting up his helicopter to respond, at which time he talks with someone in the unit’s other helicopter, and “they told me, in disbelief, that the aircraft had in fact hit the Pentagon.” [US Naval Historical Center, 11/19/2001]
Helicopters Reach Pentagon Minutes after Attack - The crew of one of the unit’s helicopters, which has the call sign “Eagle I,” comprises Galey as pilot, rescue technician Sergeant John Marsh, and rescue team officer John Dillon. The crew of the other helicopter, “Eagle II,” comprises pilots Burchell and Bohn, aviation unit commander Lieutenant Philip Cholak and assistant commander Sergeant Bernard Stasulli, and two Defense Department medics, Keith Kettell and Jason Kepp. [US Congress. House, 9/11/2002; National Park Service, 9/21/2002; McDonnell, 2004, pp. 20 pdf file] Eagle I is the first of the two helicopters to take off and arrive on the scene of the attack, according to most accounts. [US Naval Historical Center, 11/19/2001; US Congress. House, 9/11/2002; NBC 4, 9/11/2003] According to National Park Service reports, it is in the air less than two minutes after the aviation unit hears of the attack, and Eagle II follows it a minute later. [National Park Service, 9/21/2002; National Park Service, 10/22/2002] But according to the Arlington County After-Action Report, Eagle I takes off at “approximately 9:43 a.m.” and Eagle II takes off eight minutes later, at 9:51 a.m. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A-45 pdf file] Furthermore, according to Galey, Eagle II is in fact the first of the helicopters to launch, while Eagle I, in which he flies, takes off right after it. [US Naval Historical Center, 11/20/2001] The two helicopters arrive at the Pentagon within six minutes of the attack there, according to Rotor and Wing magazine. [Rotor and Wing, 11/2001; Rotor and Wing, 2/2002] They are the first helicopters to arrive at the scene of the crash. [NBC 4, 9/11/2003]
One Helicopter Lands, Other Circles Overhead - Eagle I remains airborne, circling overhead and assuming command and control of the airspace. Eagle II lands on a paved roadway 150 to 200 yards from the crash site, according to the National Park Service’s account of 9/11, and then some of its crew members grab their emergency medical equipment and run toward the building. After a time, Bohn moves the helicopter closer to the Pentagon. [US Naval Historical Center, 11/20/2001; McDonnell, 2004, pp. 20-21 pdf file] According to Bohn’s recollections, Eagle II initially lands in “the grass area of the cloverleaf” of Route 27 and Columbia Pike. But after “maybe 10 minutes,” Bohn takes off and moves the helicopter to the road by the Pentagon helipad. [US Naval Historical Center, 11/19/2001]
Helicopter Takes Off with Two Patients - The triage officer at the Pentagon indicates that there are 11 individuals requiring medical evacuation, but eventually only two severely burned patients are carried onto Eagle II. Minutes after landing outside the Pentagon, the helicopter takes off and flies the patients to the Washington Hospital Center. [USU Medicine, 12/2002 pdf file; McDonnell, 2004, pp. 20, 22 pdf file] While most accounts describe Park Police helicopters only taking off in the minutes after the attack on the Pentagon, Navy historian John Darrell Sherwood will later say that at least one of the aviation unit’s helicopters took off before the Pentagon was hit, and it was directed to intercept the aircraft approaching the Pentagon (see Shortly Before 9:35 a.m. September 11, 2001). And several witnesses will report seeing a helicopter near the Pentagon just before the attack there (see (9:35 a.m.-9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [US Naval Historical Center, 12/13/2001; Washington Post, 9/5/2002; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 258]

Entity Tags: Jason Kepp, Bernard T. Stasulli, David Walsh, Ronald A. Galey, Philip W. Cholak, United States Park Police, Keith Kettell, John J. Dillon, Keith E. Bohn, Kenneth S. Burchell, John E. Marsh

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

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld returns from the Pentagon crash site “by shortly before or after 10:00 a.m.” Then he has “one or more calls in my office, one of which was with the president,” according to his testimony before the 9/11 Commission. [9/11 Commission, 3/23/2004] The commission later concludes that Rumsfeld’s call with President Bush has little impact: “No one can recall any content beyond a general request to alert forces.” The possibility of shooting down hijacked planes is not mentioned. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Rumsfeld then goes to the Executive Support Center (ESC) located near his office, arriving there at around 10:15 a.m. In the ESC already are Stephen Cambone, Rumsfeld’s closest aide, Larry Di Rita, Rumsfeld’s personal chief of staff, and Victoria Clarke, the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs. Rumsfeld had instructed Di Rita and Clarke to go to the ESC and wait for him there when they’d come to his office soon after the second WTC tower was hit at 9:03 A.M. (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Presently, Rumsfeld gives them their first confirmation that a plane hit the Pentagon, saying, “I’m quite sure it was a plane and I’m pretty sure it’s a large plane.” According to Clarke, he pulls out a yellow legal pad and writes down three categories, “by which his thinking would be organized the rest of the day: what we needed to do immediately, what would have to be underway quickly, and what the military response would be.” [Clarke, 2006, pp. 221-222; Cockburn, 2007, pp. 5-6] The Executive Support Center has secure video facilities, and while there, Rumsfeld participates in the White House video teleconference. This is the video conference that counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke claims Rumsfeld is a part of much of the morning (see (9:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Then at around 10:30 a.m., he moves on to the National Military Command Center NMCC, located next door to the ESC (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Times, 2/23/2004; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 43-44] Those in the NMCC are apparently unaware of Rumsfeld’s whereabouts during the half-hour from 10 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.: Brigadier General Montague Winfield later recalls, “For 30 minutes we couldn’t find him. And just as we began to worry, he walked into the door of the [NMCC].” [ABC News, 9/11/2002]

Entity Tags: National Military Command Center, Stephen A. Cambone, Victoria (“Torie”) Clarke, Richard A. Clarke, George W. Bush, Larry Di Rita, Donald Rumsfeld, Executive Support Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, missing for at least 30 minutes, finally enters the NMCC, where the military’s response to the 9/11 attacks is being coordinated. [CNN, 9/4/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Rumsfeld later claims that he only started to gain a situational awareness of what was happening after arriving at the NMCC. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Rumsfeld was in his office only 200 feet away from the NMCC until the Pentagon crash at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). His activities during this period are unclear. He went outside to the Flight 77 crash site and then stayed somewhere else in the Pentagon until his arrival at the NMCC. Brigadier General Montague Winfield later says, “For 30 minutes we couldn’t find him. And just as we began to worry, he walked into the door of the [NMCC].” [ABC News, 9/11/2002] Winfield himself apparently only shows up at the NMCC around 10:30 a.m. as well.

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, National Military Command Center, Montague Winfield

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Ordering 

Time period


Email Updates

Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database

 
Donate

Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
Donate Now

Volunteer

If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.
Contact Us

Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike