11. Eyewitness Reports Concerning Radar Tracking of AA #77
Flight 77 was tracked on radar from Ohio to the Pentagon. Immediately after the plane was hijacked, near Cleveland, the radar control system lost the plane on the tracking monitors, because the plane reversed direction suddenly. Two or three minutes later, the radar tracking system picked it up again and mapped its flight all the way to the Pentagon. This is official and the information is public.
In Ohio, AA 77 reversed direction, and was not visible to the radar tracking system. But this was only for a few air miles. It was picked up again and nationwide broadcasts, reported its direction and speculated upon its target, from Ohio to DC.
Flight Pattern of American Airlines Flight 77
A missile could not have approached the Pentagon in the pattern reported by radar. A missile could not have flown over the rolling hills countryside to hit the Pentagon at the point of impact; it would have hit a hill.
The plane clipped several things on the way in and left evidence at the sites.
Eyewitness statements re Radar Tracking:CBS News
Radar shows Flight 77 did a downward spiral, turning almost a complete circle and dropping the last 7,000 feet in two-and-a-half minutes.
The steep turn was so smooth, the sources say, it's clear there was no fight for control going on. And the complex maneuver suggests the hijackers had better flying skills than many investigators first believed.
The jetliner disappeared from radar at 9:37 and less than a minute later it clipped the tops of street lights and plowed into the Pentagon at 460 mph.
"Primary Target - THE PENTAGON, CBSNews.com, 9/21/01
At the Dulles tower, O'Brien saw the TV pictures from New York and headed back to her post to help other planes quickly land.
"We started moving the planes as quickly as we could," she says. "Then I noticed the aircraft. It was an unidentified plane to the southwest of Dulles, moving at a very high rate of speed . . . I had literally a blip and nothing more."
O'Brien asked the controller sitting next to her, Tom Howell, if he saw it too.
"I said, `Oh my God, it looks like he's headed to the White House,'" recalls Howell. "I was yelling . . . `We've got a target headed right for the White House!'"
At a speed of about 500 miles an hour, the plane was headed straight for what is known as P-56, protected air space 56, which covers the White House and the Capitol.
"The speed, the maneuverability, the way that he turned, we all thought in the radar room, all of us experienced air traffic controllers, that that was a military plane," says O'Brien. "You don't fly a 757 in that manner. It's unsafe."
The plane was between 12 and 14 miles away, says O'Brien, "and it was just a countdown. Ten miles west. Nine miles west . . . Our supervisor picked up our line to the White House and started relaying to them the information, [that] we have an unidentified very fast-moving aircraft inbound toward your vicinity, 8 miles west."
Vice President Cheney was rushed to a special basement bunker. White House staff members were told to run away from the building.
"And it went six, five, four. And I had it in my mouth to say, three, and all of a sudden the plane turned away. In the room, it was almost a sense of relief. This must be a fighter. This must be one of our guys sent in, scrambled to patrol our capital, and to protect our president, and we sat back in our chairs and breathed for just a second," says O'Brien.
But the plane continued to turn right until it had made a 360-degree maneuver.
"We lost radar contact with that aircraft. And we waited. And we waited. And your heart is just beating out of your chest waiting to hear what's happened," says O'Brien. "And then the Washington National [Airport] controllers came over our speakers in our room and said, `Dulles, hold all of our inbound traffic. The Pentagon's been hit.'"
"`Get These Planes on the Ground' - Air Traffic Controllers Recall Sept. 11," ABC News, October 24
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