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Context of '(9:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Some Officers in Area Where Pentagon Is Hit Think Bombs Have Exploded'

This is a scalable context timeline. It contains events related to the event (9:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Some Officers in Area Where Pentagon Is Hit Think Bombs Have Exploded. 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.

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). (Parsons 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; Geisler 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. (Cheney 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. (Borger et al. 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. (Safire 9/13/2001)

Diagram showing the area of impact at the Pentagon. The Navy Command Center is highlighted in red.Diagram showing the area of impact at the Pentagon. The Navy Command Center is highlighted in red. [Source: Washington Post] (click image to enlarge)Edward Earhart, Matthew Flocco, and their supervisor Lt. Nancy McKeown are inside the Pentagon, watching the televised footage of the burning World Trade Center. They belong to a small meteorological unit based in the Navy Command Center, located on the first floor of the building’s southwest face. McKeown asks her two young aides to bring up New York on the computer because the Command Center is going to send some fighter jets there, in case there is another attack on the city. She orders them to program weather updates for military aircraft converging on New York. However, very soon after this, the Command Center is directly impacted when the Pentagon is hit, and both Flocco and Earhart are killed. (Becker, Vogel, and Ruane 9/16/2001; McConnell 9/2002; CNN 9/8/2002; Riley 4/12/2006) Ronald Vauk, the watch commander in the Navy Command Center, is on the phone trying to get more fighters scrambled at the time the Pentagon is hit, though news reports say he wants them to protect Washington, not New York. (John Hopkins Magazine 11/2001; Clines 11/17/2001; Shane 9/11/2002) At 9:24 a.m., NORAD had ordered fighters at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia to scramble (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001), though these will not arrive over the Pentagon until after it is hit (see (Between 9:49 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) According to Lt. Kevin Shaeffer, who works in the Command Center, just prior to the attack on the Pentagon, the watch section and watch leaders in the center are actively engaged in logging and recording the events going on in New York. He later says, “they all responded in exactly the way they were trained,” and, “Had the Command Center not been destroyed it surely would have been able to provide the highest levels of our Navy leadership with updates as to exactly what was occurring.” (Chips 3/2003)

Lt. Col. Brian Birdwell.Lt. Col. Brian Birdwell. [Source: Molly A. Burgess / US Army]At least three Pentagon employees in the area of the building that is hit, and who narrowly survive the attack, initially believe that what they have experienced is a bomb, or bombs, going off:
bullet John Thurman, an Army lieutenant colonel, is in a second floor office just above where the Pentagon is hit. (Markon and Dwyer 4/12/2006) He later describes the moment of impact: “To me it didn’t seem like a plane.… [T]o me it seemed like it was a bomb. Being in the military, I have been around grenade, artillery explosions. It was a two-part explosion to me.… [I]t seemed like that there was a percussion blast that blew me kind of backwards in my cubicle to the side. And then it seemed as if a massive explosion went off at the same time.” He will add: “I had thought that perhaps the terrorists had surreptitiously gotten construction workers to come in and place explosives.” (United States of America v. Zacarias Moussaoui, a/k/a Shaqil, a/k/a Abu Khalid al Sahrawi, Defendant. 4/11/2006 pdf file)
bullet Lt. Nancy McKeown is on the first floor of the Pentagon’s D Ring in the Navy Command Center, which is mostly destroyed when the building is hit. (Leiby 1/20/2002; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 30-31) She will recall: “[I]t initially felt like an earthquake.… It sounded like a series of explosions going off.… It sounded like a series of bombs exploding, similar to like firecrackers when you light them and you just get a series going off.” (United States of America v. Zacarias Moussaoui, a/k/a Shaqil, a/k/a Abu Khalid al Sahrawi, Defendant. 4/11/2006 pdf file) She yells out to her colleagues, “Bomb!” (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 31)
bullet Army Lt. Col. Brian Birdwell is returning to his second floor office, and is just yards from where the building is impacted. (9/11 Commission 3/31/2003; Whittle 9/7/2006) “Bomb! I thought,” he recalls of the moment the building is hit. (Cannon 12/2/2001; Today's Christian Woman 7/1/2004)

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