The Rescue at the Pentagon

As Arlington, Va., police officer Barry Foust sat in his cruiser at a traffic light at about 9:40 that morning, he noticed the plane. Flying nose down, it banked sharply and came hard toward the Pentagon at an odd angle. "I knew there was no way it could pull out," Foust says. "I rolled my window down and listened for the impact." At that moment Alan Wallace, 55, one of three firefighters from Ft. Myer, Va., assigned to the Pentagon's heliport, looked up: a 757, 25 feet off the ground and only 200 yards away, was shearing off the tops of light poles and closing in like steel lightning. Wallace had heard about the World Trade Center disaster. "Let's go!" he screamed to his crew.

Dan Fraunfelter, 24, project engineer with the firm renovating the Pentagon, was working with a subcontractor to repair a damaged ceiling grid on the third floor of the E Ring when the building shook violently and the lights went out. On the opposite side of the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was making a phone call from his podium-style desk--like Caesar, Rumsfeld works standing up--about the horror unfolding in New York. A swelling roar like a huge door slamming deep in the bowels of the building reverberated through his third-floor E Ring office. "What was that?!" Rumsfeld asked.

Firefighter Wallace hadn't run far when he heard the roar and felt the fireball. He hit the blacktop and shimmied underneath a van as burning metal flew all over. Emerging seconds later, he saw a new world. "Everything was on fire," he said. "The grass was on fire. The building was on fire. The firehouse was on fire." "We need help over here," someone yelled. Wallace sprinted to a ground-floor window of the Pentagon, where he helped lower out a dozen people. After dragging one badly burned man to the other side of the heliport, Wallace ran into the building. He heard cries for help, but couldn't find anyone. "After a while I didn't hear anybody calling anymore," Wallace says. He pauses. "They probably found another way out."

When Fraunfelter ran into the corridor the smoke was so thick he couldn't see anything, but he could hear people screaming. He grabbed his flashlight, headed down the hall and started waving people in that direction. "Come toward the light!" he yelled. "This way! Toward the light!" About 50 screaming people rushed past, but as Fraunfelter got closer to the source of the smoke, the voices ceased. Afraid that people might be trapped, he dropped to the searing floor and started to crawl. The remains of American Airlines Flight 77 lay directly below him. He couldn't find anyone in the blackness.

The boom knocked Lt. Col. Marilyn Wills, 40, across the second-floor conference room just as a ball of flame shot over her left shoulder. She heard people screaming but couldn't see a thing in the inky blackness. As she crawled toward what she hoped was a door, someone grabbed her leg. "Who is it?!" Wills screamed. It was a woman, a civilian staffer, terrified and unable to move. "Just hold onto my pants," Wills called out. "Hold on and crawl behind me." As they inched their way across the floor Wills felt another woman, an officer. The three formed a chain and found the door.

Out in the hallway the officer started choking. The sprinklers had cut on, and Wills's sweater was as waterlogged as a sponge. "Put the sweater over your mouth and suck the water out!" Wills ordered. The civilian on the back of the chain called out that she couldn't make it. Wills shoved the sweater into her face, too. When Wills turned around the woman in front was gone. Crawling again, she saw a pin of light down the corridor--a window. A soldier was breaking it with a fax machine. Reaching him, Wills found the strength to stand, and helped lower her civilian companion and another woman two stories to rescuers below. Wills said she was going back for the officer from her human chain. A colonel, pushed back by the billowing smoke, looked at her. "No," he said.

With a roar the ceiling in Lt. Col. Ted Anderson's office caved in and the power went out. Screaming for everyone to get out, he sprinted down the hall to an emergency exit and out into the parking lot. To his left, "as far as I could see, were chunks of steel, some huge, some small, and I immediately knew it was an airplane." As he ran toward where the jet had slammed into the building, an Army sergeant and a civilian caught up with him. Together, they picked up two women from the ground and dragged them 100 yards to rescue workers. Back at the building they crawled through a blown-out window into pitch-black smoke and worked their way along the floor toward the fire and a door. It was stuck. A large woman, apparently in shock, was wedged against a wall. Working together, the men dragged her to an exit. Another woman appeared like a ghost out of the smoke and fell into their arms. Anderson took her outside to waiting paramedics.

Back in the burning building, Anderson began hollering for survivors, but just then more explosions--one a fire-department car--knocked him to the ground. A brilliant flash of orange light shot past him. It was a man on fire, trying desperately to escape. Anderson and the sergeant jumped on top of him, smothering the flames, and dragged him out. As they did, the man kept screaming, "There's people behind me, there's people behind me! Get the people out of the corridor behind me!" The sergeant and Anderson tried to return to the building yet again, but firefighters wouldn't let them. "That's been the hardest thing to live with," says Anderson. "The military code that we live by states that if my brother, my comrade, is injured and on the battlefield, you never leave him." Later, a fireman told Anderson that they'd found those "people in the corridor." They were stacked up, 25 feet from an exit.

Ignoring his security detail, Rumsfeld had fast-walked counterclockwise along the third-floor corridor as the alarm klaxon hooted and strobes flashed. Smoke and an acrid burning smell began to fill the hallways. After his guards hustled him out the western exit, Rumsfeld ran toward the helipad; the midsection of the southwest wall was an inferno. As fire trucks and ambulances pulled onto the lawn, the first casualties were being hauled out, most of them hideously burned.

Arlington County officer Joseph Wilson, 35, jumped over a guardrail and started running toward the flames. Screaming people were pouring from the building. One man, staggering through a wall of black smoke, was holding up another, his face completely burned. "Don't stop breathing! Just don't stop breathing!" screamed the first man. Wilson led the pair to a medic, where they slumped to the ground in a daze. "Just don't stop breathing," the one man kept muttering to the other.

At 1 o'clock the elite Fairfax County urban search-and-rescue unit sent in a reconnaissance team. One half headed to the right of the collapse. The other went left. The Pentagon was still burning. They found no survivors. "You'd see bodies," says the unit's Carlton Burkhammer. "You'd roll 'em over and they'd be dead." Even the search dogs seemed beaten down by the futility. "You can see it on the dog's face," says Burkhammer. "The dogs are almost as depressed as the guys." At 6:30 firemen told the military that they wouldn't be bringing anyone else out that night. "We came out so empty-handed," says Dr. Dan Hanfling of the Fairfax unit. "People got out in the first half hour or they didn't get out at all." Even intact bodies were scarce inside. One woman was charred to her chair, her arms raised as if to protect her face. Clocks in the destroyed area were frozen at 9:37.

Flight 77 from Dulles airport crashed into the southwest corner of the Pentagon at 450 miles an hour. It left a 100-foot hole. The dead and missing number 64 on the plane and 125 in the Pentagon. The day after the attack, the roof still burned, smoke filled hallways of the 3,705,000-square-foot building, scores of people lay dead in the rubble... and some 10,000 Pentagon employees showed up for work.