Loud Boom, Then Flames In Hallways

By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 12, 2001

At the Pentagon yesterday morning, the men and women in charge of the nation's defense were staring at news reports of the attack on the World Trade Center. "You know, the next best target would be us," mused Tom Seibert, a network engineering contractor, watching TV.

Five minutes later, Seibert and his associates heard something that sounded like a missile, then a loud boom. The massive Pentagon building trembled. Flames shot through some corridors and chunks of the ceiling started raining down.

"We just hit the dirt," said Seibert, 33, of Woodbridge. "We dived instinctively."

A hijacked American Airlines Boeing 757 had plowed into the west side of the Pentagon, blasting a giant hole into the concrete symbol of U.S. military might. The attack caused scores, perhaps hundreds, of casualties and turned the Pentagon into a scene of panic.

"Everybody started saying, 'Evacuate, evacuate!' " said Air Force Col. David Kopanski.

"It's pretty devastating," he added. "We've all thought this could possibly happen one day. Somebody has touched our country."

Arlington Fire Chief Edward Plaugher said federal authorities were estimating that 100 to 800 people had died at the Pentagon, including the plane's 64 passengers and crew. The Pentagon had said about 800 people worked in the crash area and had not been accounted for, the chief said.

"They are just giving us ballpark numbers," Plaugher said. Some people may have left the building without the Pentagon's knowledge, he added.

As the Pentagon roof continued to burn last night, rescue crews pulled an initial six bodies from the rubble and used dogs and listening devices to seek survivors.

"The human tragedy is overwhelming," said Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R), who visited the site last night.

The Pentagon is one of the world's largest office buildings, with 23,000 employees, a landmark since it was built during World War II. Constructed of 435,000 cubic yards of concrete, it had seemed a symbol of invincibility.

Until now.

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