The aircraft crashed into the western facade of the Pentagon at 09:37 Eastern Time. All 64 people on board and 125 in the building were killed, including the hijackers. Dozens of people witnessed the crash and news sources began reporting on the incident within minutes. The impact severely damaged an area of the Pentagon and ignited a large fire. A portion of the Pentagon collapsed and firefighters spent days trying to fully extinguish the blaze. The damage to the Pentagon was rebuilt in 2002, with occupants moving back into the damaged area on August 15, 2002.
The 184 victims of the attack are memorialized in the Pentagon Memorial adjacent to the Pentagon. The 1.93-acre park consists of 184 benches, one for each of the victims, arranged according to the year of birth, ranging from 1930 (age 71) to 1998 (age 3). Flight 77's flight path cuts directly through the park.
In December 2000, Hanjour arrived in San Diego, joining "muscle" hijackers Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, who had been there since November 1999. Soon after arriving, Hanjour and al-Hazmi left for Mesa, Arizona, where Hanjour began refresher training at Arizona Aviation. In April 2001, they relocated to Falls Church, Virginia, where they awaited the arrival of the remaining "muscle" hijackers. One of these men, Majed Moqed, arrived on May 2, 2001 with Flight 175 hijacker Ahmed al-Ghamdi from Dubai at Dulles International Airport and moved into an apartment with al-Hazmi and Hanjour.
On May 21, 2001, Hanjour rented a room in Paterson, New Jersey, where he stayed with other hijackers through the end of August. The last Flight 77 "muscle" hijacker, Salem al-Hazmi, arrived on June 29, 2001 with Flight 11 hijacker Abdulaziz al-Omari at John F. Kennedy International Airport from the United Arab Emirates and stayed with Hanjour. Hani Hanjour received ground instruction and did practice flights at Air Fleet Training Systems in Teterboro, New Jersey, and at Caldwell Flight Academy in Fairfield, New Jersey. Hanjour moved out of the room in Paterson and arrived at the Valencia Motel in Laurel, Maryland on September 2, 2001. While in Maryland, Hanjour and fellow hijackers trained at the Gold's Gym in Greenbelt. On September 10, he completed a certification flight, using a terrain recognition system for navigation, at Congressional Air Charters in Gaithersburg, Maryland. On September 10, Nawaf al-Hazmi, accompanied by other hijackers, checked into the Marriott in Herndon, Virginia.
The hijackers were also all selected for extra screening of their checked bags. Hani Hanjour, Khalid al-Mihdhar, and Majed Moqed were chosen by the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System criteria, while Nawaf al-Hazmi and Salem al-Hazmi were selected because they did not provide adequate identification and deemed suspicious by the airline check-in agent. Hanjour, al-Mihdhar, and Nawaf al-Hazmi did not check any bags for the flight. Checked bags belonging to Moqed and Salem al-Hazmi were held until they boarded the aircraft. By 07:50, the five hijackers, carrying knives and box cutters, had made it through the airport security checkpoint and boarded Flight 77 to Los Angeles. On the flight, Hani Hanjour was seated up front in 1B, while Salem and Nawaf al-Hazmi were seated further back in first class in 5E and 5F. Majed Moqed and Khalid al-Mihdhar were seated further back in 12A and 12B. The flight was scheduled to depart at 08:10, but ended up departing 10 minutes late from Gate D26 at Dulles.
The 9/11 Commission estimated that the flight was hijacked between 08:51 and 08:54, just minutes after the first hijacked plane had struck the World Trade Center in Manhattan at 08:46. The last normal radio communications from the aircraft to air traffic control occurred at 08:50:51. At 08:54, American Airlines Flight 77 began to deviate from its normal, assigned flight path and turned south. The hijackers set the flight's autopilot heading for Washington, D.C. By 08:56, the flight was turned around, and the transponder had been disabled. The FAA was aware at this point that there was an emergency aboard the plane. By this time, American Airlines Flight 11 had already crashed into the World Trade Center, and United Airlines Flight 175 was known to have been hijacked. After learning of this second hijacking involving American Airlines aircraft and the hijacking involving United Airlines, American Airlines Executive Vice President Gerard Arpey ordered a nationwide ground stop for the airline. The Indianapolis Air Traffic Control Center, as well as American Airlines dispatchers, made several failed attempts to contact the aircraft. At the time the plane was hijacked, it was flying over an area of limited radar coverage. With air controllers unable to contact the flight by radio, an Indianapolis official declared that the plane had possibly crashed at 09:09.
Two people on American Airlines Flight 77 made phone calls to contacts on the ground. At 09:12, flight attendant Renee May called her mother, Nancy May, in Las Vegas. During the call, which lasted nearly two minutes, May said her flight was being hijacked by six individuals and they had been moved to the rear of the plane. May also asked her mother to contact American Airlines, which she and her husband promptly did. American Airlines was already aware of the hijacking. Between 09:16 and 09:26, passenger Barbara Olson called her husband, United States Solicitor General Ted Olson, and reported that the plane had been hijacked and that the assailants had box cutters and knives. She reported that the passengers, and possibly the crew, had been moved to the back of the plane and that the hijackers were unaware of her call. A minute into the conversation, the call was cut off. Theodore Olson contacted the command center at the Department of Justice, and tried unsuccessfully to contact Attorney General John Ashcroft. About five minutes later, Barbara Olson called again, told her husband that the pilot had announced the flight was hijacked, and asked "what do I tell the pilot to do? Ted Olson asked her location and she reported the plane was flying over a residential area. He then informed her of the attacks on the World Trade Center. Soon afterwards, the call cut off again.
|"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. You don't fly a 757 in that manner. It's unsafe."|
|Danielle O'Brien, Air traffic controller at Dulles International Airport|
A plane was detected again by Dulles controllers on radar screens as it approached Washington, turning and descending rapidly. Controllers initially thought this was a fighter plane, due to its high speed and maneuverability. Reagan Airport controllers then asked a passing Air National Guard C-130 Hercules plane to identify and follow the aircraft. The pilot, Lt. Col. Steven O'Brien, told them it was a Boeing 757 or 767, and its silver fuselage meant it was probably an American Airlines jet. He had difficulty picking out the plane in the "East Coast haze", but then saw a "huge" fireball, and initially assumed it had hit the ground. Approaching the Pentagon, he saw the west side and reported to Reagan control, "Looks like that aircraft crashed into the Pentagon sir".
At the time of the attacks, approximately 18,000 people worked in the Pentagon, which was 4,000 fewer than before renovations began in 1998. The section of the Pentagon, which had recently been renovated at a cost of $250 million, housed the Naval Command Center and other Pentagon offices, as well as some unoccupied offices. The crash and subsequent fire penetrated three outer ring sections of the western side. The outermost ring section was largely destroyed, and a large section collapsed. One hundred twenty-five people in the Pentagon died from the attack.
In all, there were 189 casualties at the Pentagon, including 125 in the Pentagon and 64 on board Flight 77. Barbara Olson was en route to a taping of Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher. A group of children, chaperons, and National Geographic Society staff members were also onboard, embarking on an educational trip to the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary near Santa Barbara, California. The fatalities at the Pentagon included 55 military personnel and 70 civilians. Of those 125 killed, 92 were on the first floor, 31 were on the second floor, and two were on the third. The Army suffered 75 casualties—far more than any other branch. Another 106 injured were treated at area hospitals. Lieutenant General Timothy Maude, an Army Deputy Chief of Staff, was the highest ranking military officer killed at the Pentagon.
|"I don‘t want to alarm anybody right now, but apparently—it felt just a few moments ago like there was an explosion of some kind here at the Pentagon."|
|Jim Miklaszewski, NBC Pentagon correspondent reporting from inside the Pentagon at 09:39|
USA Today reporter Mike Walter was driving on Washington Boulevard when he witnessed the crash, which he recounted, "I looked out my window and I saw this plane, this jet, an American Airlines jet, coming. And I thought, 'This doesn't add up, it's really low.' And I saw it. I mean it was like a cruise missile with wings. It went right there and slammed right into the Pentagon". Terrance Kean, who lived in a nearby apartment building, heard the noise of loud jet engines, glanced out his window, and saw a "very, very large passenger jet". He watched "it just plow right into the side of the Pentagon. The nose penetrated into the portico. And then it sort of disappeared, and there was fire and smoke everywhere. AP reporter Dave Winslow recounted, "I saw the tail of a large airliner ... It plowed right into the Pentagon. Tim Timmerman, who is a pilot himself, noticed American Airlines markings on the aircraft as he saw it hit the Pentagon. Other drivers on Washington Boulevard, Interstate 395, and Columbia Pike witnessed the crash, as did people in Pentagon City, Crystal City, and other nearby locations.
|"In this area … it's so hot that the debris is melting and dripping off the ceiling onto your skin and it would sear your skin and melt your uniform. We went a little farther, turned a corner and came into this bombed out office space that was a roaring inferno of destruction and smoke and flames and intense heat you could feel searing your face."|
|Lieutenant Commander David Tarantino describing the scene near the Navy Command Center on the first floor.|
As firefighters attempted to extinguish the fires, they watched the building in fear of a structural collapse. One firefighter remarked that they "pretty much knew the building was going to collapse because it started making weird sounds and creaking". Officials saw a cornice of the building move and ordered an evacuation. Minutes later, at 10:15, the upper floors of the damaged area of the Pentagon collapsed. The collapse area was about at its widest point and at its deepest. This amount of time between impact and collapse allowed everyone on the fourth and fifth levels to evacuate safely before the structure collapsed. After the collapse, the interior fires intensified, spreading through all five floors. After 11:00, firefighters mounted a two-pronged attack against the fires. Officials estimated temperatures of up to . While progress was made against the interior fires by late afternoon, firefighters realized a flammable layer of wood under the Pentagon's slate roof had caught fire and begun to spread. Typical firefighting tactics were rendered useless by the reinforced structure as firefighters were unable to reach the fire to extinguish it. Firefighters instead made firebreaks in the roof on September 12 to prevent any further spreading. At 18:00 on the 12th, Arlington County issued a press release stating the fire was "controlled" but not fully "extinguished". Firefighters continued to put out smaller fires that ignited in the succeeding days.
Various pieces of aircraft debris were found within the wreckage at the Pentagon. While evacuating the Navy Command Center, Lt. Kevin Shaeffer came across the aircraft's nose cone and landing gear in the service road between rings B and C. Early in the morning on Friday, September 14, Fairfax County Urban Search and Rescue Team members and Brian Moravitz came across an "intact seat from the plane's cockpit", and then discovered the two black boxes nearby. The flight data recorder was found nearly into the building. The cockpit voice recorder was Flight 77 CVR.jpg to retrieve any information. In addition to aircraft debris, investigators also found a part of Nawaf al-Hazmi's identification card. Personal effects belonging to passengers and office workers were also found, and taken to Fort Myer.
Army engineers determined by 17:30 on the first day that no one remained alive in the damaged section of the building. In the days after the crash, news reports emerged that up to 800 people had died. Army troops from Fort Belvoir were the first teams to survey the interior of the crash site and noted the presence of human remains. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Urban Search and Rescue teams, including Fairfax County Urban Search and Rescue assisted the search for remains, working through the National Interagency Incident Management System (NIIMS). Kevin Rimrodt, a Navy photographer surveying the Navy Command Center after the attacks, remarked that "there were so many bodies, I'd almost step on them. So I'd have to really take care to look backwards as I'm backing up in the dark, looking with a flashlight, making sure I'm not stepping on somebody". Debris from the Pentagon were taken to the Pentagon's north parking lot for more detailed search for remains and evidence.
Remains recovered from the Pentagon were turned over to the Armed Forces Medical Examiner office, located at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. The medical examiner's office was able to identify remains belonging to 179 of the victims. The remains of the five hijackers were identified through a process of elimination, and were turned over as evidence to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). On September 21, the ACFD relinquished control of the crime scene to the FBI. The Washington Field Office, National Capital Response Squad (NCRS), and the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) led the crime scene investigation at the Pentagon. By October 2, 2001, the search for evidence and remains was complete and the site was turned over to Pentagon officials. Investigators eventually identified 184 of the 189 people who died in the attack identified by a forensic team. In 2002, the remains of twenty-five victims were buried collectively at Arlington National Cemetery, with a five-sided granite marker inscribed with the names of all the victims in the Pentagon. The ceremony also honored the five victims whose remains were never found.
In keeping with standard airline procedure after disasters, the flight number was changed after the incident. American's morning flight from Dulles to Los Angeles is now Flight 149.
On May 16, 2006, the Department of Defense released filmed footage that was recorded by a security camera of American Airlines Flight 77 crashing into the Pentagon, with a plane visible in one frame, as a "thin white blur" and an explosion following. The images were made public in response to a December 2004 Freedom of Information Act request by Judicial Watch. Some still images from the video had previously been released and publicly circulated, but this was the first official release of the full video of the crash. A nearby Citgo gas station also had security cameras, but this video released on September 15, 2006 did not show the crash because it was pointed away. The Doubletree hotel, located nearby in Crystal City, Virginia, also had a security camera video, and on December 4, 2006 the FBI released the video in response to a freedom of information lawsuit filed by Scott Bingham. The footage is "grainy and the focus is soft, but a rapidly growing tower of smoke is visible in the distance on the upper edge of the frame as the plane crashes into the building".