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Eyewitnesses and the Plane-Bomb Theory

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Fanciful eyewitness accounts  

We noted certain fanciful aspects of these accounts.  In some cases, this may be simply a literary mode of expression.  We feel that a cautious approach is appropriate in interpreting these testimonies.

As former Cincinnatian James R. Cissell sat in traffic on a Virginia interstate by the Pentagon Tuesday morning, he saw the blur of a commercial jet and wondered why it was flying so low. ''Right about the time it was crossing over the highway, it kind of dawned on me what was happening,'' said Cissell, son of Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Jim Cissell. In the next blink of an eye, he realized he had a front-row seat to history, as the plane plowed into the Pentagon, sending a fireball exploding into the air and scattering debris - including a tire rim suspected of belonging to the airplane - past his car. (...) In the next seconds dozens of things flashed through his mind. ''I thought, 'This isn't really happening. That is a big plane.' Then I saw the faces of some of the passengers on board,'' Cissell said. While he remembers seeing the crash, Cissell remembers none of the sounds. ''It came in in a perfectly straight line,'' he said. ''It didn't slow down. I want to say it accelerated. It just shot straight in.''
http://www.cincypost.com/attack/cissel091201.html
Until he joined the Freedom Forum Museum (as reported in this article) Cissell was with Knight Ritter Tribune and was a member of the National Press Club; see http://www.press.org/abouttheclub/record/1998record/record-11-05-98.html .  The article says Cissell was on Interstate 110, which is not exactly a "front row seat".  It runs behind the Pentagon, so if Cissell was able to see the approach path of the 757, and had a view of the heliport,  it must have been from a vantage point at least 3000 feet away.  The idea that a tire rim made it all the way to Interstate 110 is surprising, especially with the lack of debris on Washington Blvd which is much closer.  We don't know of any published photographs of this tire rim.  According to the Guinness Book of Records, the longest known baseball throw is 445 feet, so when Cissell said that he could throw a baseball to the heliport, he was probably exaggerating.  Also, the limit of perceptual acuity for 20/20 vision is about 1 arc minute, which translates to 11 inches at 3000 feet.  At that distance, the faces of the passengers would appear smaller than the size of a single pixel on your monitor screen.  With such perceptual acuity, it seems odd that Cissell doesn't remember hearing anything at all.
Marine Corps officer Mike Dobbs was standing on one of the upper levels of the outer ring of the Pentagon looking out the window when he saw an American Airlines 737 twin-engine airliner strike the building. "It seemed to be almost coming in slow motion," he said later Tuesday. "I didn't actually feel it hit, but I saw it and then we all started running. They evacuated everybody around us." http://www.abqtrib.com/archives/news01/091201_news_dcscene.shtml
 
"... we saw a plane coming toward us, for about 10 seconds ... It was like watching a train wreck. I was mesmerized. ... At first I thought it was trying to crash land, but it was coming in so deliberately, so level... Everyone said there was a deafening explosion, but with the adrenaline, we didn't hear it."St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sept. 13, 2001 - Philip Dine
http://web.lexisnexis.com ...

http://www2.hawaii.edu/~julianr/lexisnexis/dobbs.txt
Dobbs was unable to either feel or hear a "deafening explosion".
Traffic was at a standstill. I heard a rumble, looked out my driver's side window and realized that I was looking at the nose of an airplane coming straight at us from over the road (Columbia Pike) that runs perpendicular to the road I was on. The plane just appeared there- very low in the air, to the side of (and not much above) the CITGO gas station that I never knew was there. My first thought was "Oh My God, this must be World War III!" In that split second, my brain flooded with adrenaline and I watched everything play out in ultra slow motion, I saw the plane coming in slow motion toward my car and then it banked in the slightest turn in front of me, toward the heliport. In the nano-second that the plane was directly over the cars in front of my car, the plane seemed to be not more than 80 feet off the ground and about 4-5 car lengths in front of me. It was far enough in front of me that I saw the end of the wing closest to me and the underside of the other wing as that other wing rocked slightly toward the ground. I remember recognizing it as an American Airlines plane -- I could see the windows and the color stripes. And I remember thinking that it was just like planes in which I had flown many times but at that point it never occurred to me that this might be a plane with passengers. In my adrenaline-filled state of mind, I was overcome by my visual senses. The day had started out beautiful and sunny and I had driven to work with my car's sunroof open. I believe that I may have also had one or more car windows open because the traffic wasn't moving anyway. At the second that I saw the plane, my visual senses took over completely and I did not hear or feel anything -- not the roar of the plane, or wind force, or impact sounds. The plane seemed to be floating as if it were a paper glider and I watched in horror as it gently rocked and slowly glided straight into the Pentagon. At the point where the fuselage hit the wall, it seemed to simply melt into the building. I saw a smoke ring surround the fuselage as it made contact with the wall. It appeared as a smoke ring that encircled the fuselage at the point of contact and it seemed to be several feet thick. I later realized that it was probably the rubble of churning bits of the plane and concrete. The churning smoke ring started at the top of the fuselage and simultaneously wrapped down both the right and left sides of the fuselage to the underside, where the coiling rings crossed over each other and then coiled back up to the top. Then it started over again -- only this next time, I also saw fire, glowing fire in the smoke ring. At that point, the wings disappeared into the Pentagon. And then I saw an explosion and watched the tail of the plane slip into the building. It was here that I closed my eyes for a moment and when I looked back, the entire area was awash in thick black smoke.
http://americanhistory.si.edu/september11/collection/supporting.asp?ID=30
According to the link, Elgas is with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.  She says the plane was 80 feet high, which is quite a bit higher than most eyewitnesses.  She confirms that the plane came from near the Citgo gas station.  She says that she was flooded with adrenaline, and that her auditory and tactile senses completely ceased to function, while her visual sense went into slow motion.  
Kim Flyler was trying to sneak into a parking space near to the building when she saw the plane: "At that moment I heard a plane and then a loud cracking noise.... Right before the plane hit the building, you could see the silhouettes of people in the back two rows. You couldn't see if they were male or female, but you could tell there was a human being in there."
The Observer, Sept. 8, 2002
A claim of surprising perceptual acuity.
Harrington was working on the installation of new furniture in Wedge One, when he was called out to the parking lot to talk about security with his customer moments before the crash. "About two minutes later one of my guys pointed to an American Airlines airplane 20 feet high over Washington Blvd.," Harrington said. "It seemed like it made impact just before the wedge. It was like a Hollywood movie or something.
http://www.dcmilitary.com/army/pentagram/6_37/local_news/10380-1.html
Appears to be a credible witness.  However, note the vague and possibly evasive language, and the reference to Hollywood movies.
Northern Virginia resident John O'Keefe was one of the commuters who witnessed the attack on the Pentagon. 'I was going up 395, up Washington Blvd., listening to the the news, to WTOP, and from my left side-I don't know whether I saw or heard it first- I saw a silver plane I immediately recognized it as an American Airlines jet,' said the 25-year-old O'Keefe, managing editor of Influence, an American Lawyer Media publication about lobbying. 'It came swooping in over the highway, over my left shoulder, straight across where my car was heading. I'd just heard them saying on the radio that National Airport was closing, and I thought, That's not going to make it to National Airport." And then I realized where I was, and that it was going to hit the Pentagon. There was a burst of orange flame that shot out that I could see through the highway overpass. Then it was just black. Just black, thick smoke.'"
http://www.lexisone.com/news/nlibrary/b091201a.html
 
"I don't know whether I saw or heard it first -- this silver plane; I immediately recognized it as an American Airlines jet," said the 25-year-old O'Keefe, managing editor of Influence, an American Lawyer Media publication about lobbying. "It came swooping in over the highway, over my left shoulder, straight across where my car was heading. "The eeriest thing about it, was that it was like you were watching a movie. There was no huge explosion, no huge rumbling on ground, it just went 'pfff'. It wasn't what I would have expected for a plane that was not much more than a football field away from me. "The first thing I did was pull over onto the shoulder, and when I got out of the car I saw another plane flying over my head, and it scared ...me, because I knew there had been two planes that hit the World Trade Center. And I started jogging up the ramp to get as far away as possible. "Then the plane -- it looked like a C-130 cargo plane -- started turning away from the Pentagon, it did a complete turnaround.
http://www.nylawyer.com/news/01/09/091201l.html
 
"There was a burst of orange flame that shot out that I could see through the highway overpass. Then it was just black. Just black thick smoke. "The eeriest thing about it, was that it was like you were watching a movie. There was no huge explosion, no huge rumbling on ground, it just went 'pfff'. It wasn't what I would have expected for a plane that was not much more than a football field away from me.
http://www.nylawyer.com/news/01/09/091201l.html
O'Keefe is another witness who claims to have lost his auditory perception and any form of somatosensory ability to feel nearby explosions.  He does not claim to have had a clear view of the impact.