Wednesday, May 17, 2006

9/11 Conspiracy Theories

The Pentagon had to release some video footage of American Airlines Flight 77 slamming into the Pentagon, on September 11, 2001, under the Freedom of Information Act, and that has woken up the conspiracy theorists all over again. The common conspiracy theory is that it was a missile, not a plane, that hit the Pentagon.

I might as well mention my favorite theory in this regard. It was Flight 77 that hit the Pentagon alright, the question is who was piloting it?

This had had some discussion on which is where I may have heard of it first.

The Washington Post on September 12, had this about Flight 77:

But just as the plane seemed to be on a suicide mission into the White House, the unidentified pilot executed a pivot so tight that it reminded observers of a fighter jet maneuver. The plane circled 270 degrees to the right to approach the Pentagon from the west, whereupon Flight 77 fell below radar level, vanishing from controllers' screens, the sources said.

Less than an hour after two other jets demolished the World Trade Center in Manhattan, Flight 77 carved a hole in the nation's defense headquarters, a hole five stories high and 200 feet wide.

Aviation sources said the plane was flown with extraordinary skill, making it highly likely that a trained pilot was at the helm, possibly one of the hijackers. Someone even knew how to turn off the transponder, a move that is considerably less than obvious.

So the plane went through a fighter jet maneuver, flown by someone with extraordinary skill. The problem is that none of the five hijackers showed any evidence of such skill.

Wikipedia says:
The hijackers were reported to have been Khalid al-Mihdhar, Majed Moqed, Nawaf al-Hazmi, Salem al-Hazmi, and the suicide pilot Hani Hanjour.

Wikipedia tells us that Khalid al-Mihdhar was a poor student of flying, as was Nawaf al-Hazmi. There is no mention of where Majed Moqed or Salem al-Hazmi might have had an opportunity for flight training. Hani Hanjour was not very competent; he was rated poorly by whomever remembers him. He did get a FAA commercial license, but of his performance even in 2001,
....a JetTech manager said “He could not fly at all.”
In September, Hanjour began to make cross-country flights in August to test security, and tried to rent a small Cessna 172 plane from Freeway Airport in Maryland - though he was declined after exhibiting poor flying skills
(This from Wikipedia as well).

So, none of the hijackers' persona fits the expert pilot profile. Since the identities are real, it must have been some real professional pilot who assumed one of these identities.

Where did the professional pilot come from? We conspiracy theorists believe that this was a Air Force pilot from one of two American "allies" - either Saudi Arabia or Pakistan.

The fact of the involvement of the military of a "friendly country" in this attack on American soil would be definitely covered up by an Administration that was, from the beginning, keen to go to war with Iraq.

Alas for conspiracy theories, if one believes Steve Koeppel of Palm Springs, California (here), who says "I used to do airdrop in a C-141, flying at 300' AGL up to 280 knots. ", the pilot was not so great. Koeppel explains the flight path, and says:

Upon passing the Washington Monument, the plan may have been for the pilot to make a right turn and dive into the building. A right turn at this point would have led the airplane to hit Pentagon on the Potomac River side where the Secretary of Defense has his office.

But being unfamiliar with flying large airplanes at high speeds, the pilot wouldn't have taken into account the large radius required to make the turn.  This would explain the circuitous 270 degree turn that was made to the impact point.

When he rolled out, he'd simply point the nose of the airplane at the center courtyard of the Pentagon and dive toward his target.  What he wouldn't know without experience is that when you dive, you accelerate the airplane and the lift increases.  This causes the nose to rise,  which would cause him to overshoot the target.  In a panic, he would push forward on the controls and overcompensate, which would account for eyewitness descriptions of the airplane striking the ground short of the Pentagon.

Of course, this is all speculation, not facts.

Of course, this is all speculation, not facts.