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C-130 crew saw Pentagon strike, official confirms

by Terry Scanlon and David Lerman, Daily Press, 17 October 2001


The crew of a military cargo plane watched helplessly on Sept. 11 as a hijacked airliner plunged into the Pentagon, a defense official confirmed Tuesday.

The report confirms the eyewitness account of two Hampton Roads residents who were near the Pentagon that day and said they saw a second plane flying near the doomed passenger jet.

A C-130 cargo plane had departed Andrews Air Force Base en route to Minnesota that morning and reported seeing an airliner heading into Washington "at an unusual angle," said Lt. Col. Kenneth McClellan, a Pentagon spokesman.

Air-traffic control officials instructed the propeller-powered cargo plane "to let us know where it's going," McClellan said.

But, he said, there was no attempt to intercept the hijacked airliner.

"A C-130 obviously goes slower than a jet," McClellan said. "There was no way he was going to intercept anything."

The C-130 pilot "followed the aircraft and reported it was heading into the Pentagon," he said.

"He saw it crash into the building. He saw the fireball."

Keith Wheelhouse, of Virginia Beach, still has a vivid image of that fireball etched in his mind.

He and several family members, including his sister, Pam Young, of Surry County, were leaving a funeral at Arlington National Cemetery when they watched the hijacked American Airlines jet nose-dive into the nation's military headquarters.

They also saw a second plane.

At first, they weren't sure whether the second plane was involved in the attack.

But Wheelhouse, a three-year Army veteran, thought it looked like aC-130, although he wasn't certain.

Tuesday, he was pleased to hear the military is finally verifying what he's been telling people.

Wheelhouse and at least two other witnesses to the Pentagon attack were troubled that Pentagon spokesmen had until now said they were unaware of a C-130 being in the area at the time.

"So I wasn't losing my mind," he said.

In the days immediately following the Sept. 11 hijackings, the Pentagon had no knowledge of the C-130's encounter, because all reports were classified by the Air National Guard, the Pentagon spokesman said.

"It was very hard to get any information out," McClellan said.

Wheelhouse said the Pentagon explanation of the cargo plane's role that day makes sense. The pilot of the C-130 was unable to prevent the attack, he said.

"He's in a transport plane, you watch a jumbo jet flying low, drop its nose and gun it," Wheelhouse said. "What's he going to do?"

Copyright © 2001 Daily Press
Reprinted for Fair Use Only.

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