Thursday, September 17, 2009

Pentagon fire put out

By David Pace
Associated Press September 13, 2001

WASHINGTON — More than 24 hours after a hijacked airliner smashed into the Pentagon, a fire that tore at the Defense Department headquarters finally was put out. Hopes of finding more survivors in the rubble were all but extinguished, too.

Some of the sprawling complex's civilian and military employees returned to work even as emergency crews doused the last flames and tried to find the missing. Rescuers worked cautiously, wary of a repeat of the building collapses that killed firefighters in the World Trade Center.

The military services said about 150 people — mostly Army soldiers — were unaccounted for, along with 64 passengers and crew from the plane. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said an earlier estimate by fire officials of as many as 800 dead was too high.

Crews began removing victims' remains Wednesday afternoon, but there was no word on how many bodies were recovered. By evening, crews had started tearing down unstable parts of the building to continue their search. They hoped to have enough demolition work done by morning to enter the impact area.

Arlington County, Va., Fire Marshal Shawn Kelley said searchers know "the general area within the building where they can find the black box," but couldn't get there because it still was unstable.

A small American flag planted on the roof spoke of the Pentagon's determination to restore its spirit despite the horrendous breach of its famous walls.

The little flag was replaced late in the day by a huge one. A dozen firefighters held the banner aloft on the roof, in a display timed to coincide with a visit from President Bush. Then they draped it near the stricken section, a bold display of red, white and blue hanging two-thirds of the way down the wall.

Meantime, stories of harrowing, nick-of-time escapes emerged.

Army Specialist Michael Petrovich, 32, threw a computer through a window, then jumped out behind it, officials said. He has second-degree burns.

Army Lt. Col. Marion Ward, 44, jumped from a second floor window after the plane hit, and suffered smoke inhalation and a sprained ankle. Retired Navy Cmdr. Paul Gonzalez, 46, a budget analyst, got out through the hole in the wall just before the area collapsed. He was in serious condition with burns and respiratory distress.

First lady Laura Bush visited the three in a hospital.

Authorities did not rule out finding people in adjacent areas after a wrecking ball could be used to clear unstable debris, but they did not appear confident of that possibility. Four search and rescue teams each with 70 members were working around the clock looking for survivors, though Pentagon officials acknowledged the prospects of finding anyone alive was extremely remote.

"Anyone who might have survived the initial impact and collapse could not have survived the fire that followed," the department said in a statement.

Washington-area hospitals treated at least 94 people from the Pentagon, with a minimum of 10 in critical condition. Among them was Louise Kurtz, 49, who was starting her second day of work as an Army accountant. She had burns on about 70 percent of her body.

"I didn't recognize my wife of 31 years," said Michael Kurtz. "I saw a person who looked like a mummy. I'm mortified and shocked like the rest of the country."

September 13, 2001

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