Hunt the Boeing!
From the Mailbag
Dear Urban Legends:
Got this URL forwarded to me from a friend. It's a series of pictures that "shows" that a truck full of explosives, rather than a plane, caused damage to the Pentagon on Sept. 11. I'm sending it on to you for examination:
(UPDATED) "Hunt the Boeing!" is a provocative display of smoke and mirrors, but there's little else to recommend the site. Its authors present a fraction of the available evidence in a highly selective, distorted, titillating way, ultimately proving nothing except, perhaps, that there's always room for another conspiracy theory.
While making few explicit allegations, the authors argue, in effect, that based on photographic and physical evidence (or lack of same in some cases), the damage sustained by the Pentagon building on September 11, 2001 could not have been caused by a crashing jetliner, contrary to the official explanation.
In doing so, they conveniently ignore some of the most obvious, compelling evidence. For example:
- Eyewitness testimony of bystanders who saw and/or heard American Airlines Flight 77 approach and collide with the Pentagon
- The recovery of both black boxes belonging to the Boeing 757 from the Pentagon wreckage
- The recovery and identification of the remains of all but one of the people known to be aboard Flight 77
Ignoring bedrock evidence is standard procedure for conspiracy theorists, of course. If pressed, they would no doubt claim that all of the above must have been planted or manufactured but they can't even prove such a claim plausible, let alone true.
Make no mistake, the burden of proof is on the conspiracy nuts, whose case presupposes that all of the hundreds of people who participated in the clean-up, recovery and investigation following the 9/11 Pentagon attack including scientists, engineers, coroners and professional air disaster investigators are either dead wrong or participating in a massive, improbably successful government cover-up.
"Hunt the Boeing!" asks us to focus instead on misleadingly posed conundrums such as the following:
Question: "Can you explain how a Boeing 757-200, weighing nearly 100 tons and travelling at a minimum speed of 250 miles an hour only damaged the outside of the Pentagon?"
Answer: It didn't only damage the outside. According to the Washington Post, structural damage extended at least 150 feet inside, well into the third ("C") ring of the building.
Question: "Can you explain how a Boeing 14.9 yards high, 51.7 yards long, with a wingspan of 41.6 yards and a cockpit 3.8 yards high, could crash into just the ground floor of this building?"
Answer: It didn't just crash into the ground floor. According to official statements and news reports, it took out both the first and second floors on impact.
Question: "Can you find debris of a Boeing 757-200 in this photograph?"
Answer: No, but we can in this one. It's credited to U.S. Navy photographer Mark D. Faram [see enlarged version]. Bear in mind that eyewitnesses said the Boeing 757 virtually disintegrated when it struck the reinforced wall of the building. Given that, and the tremendous forward momentum of the aircraft on impact, the assumption that a significant amount of debris ought to be visible in front of the Pentagon wouldn't seem justified.
According to a CNN article published the day after the attack, Michael Tamillow, a battalion chief of the Fairfax County, Virginia Fire Department, reported that parts of the Boeing 757 fuselage had indeed been recovered from the wreckage by FBI investigators (the same team that later found the black boxes). "No large pieces apparently survived," the article said.
One visitor who surveyed the crash site a few days later, Representative Judy Biggert of Illinois, told reporters she saw remnants of the jetliner: "There was a seat from a plane," she said, "there was part of the tail and then there was a part of green metal, I could not tell what it was, a part of the outside of the plane." (Chicago Sun-Times, 16 Sep, 2001)
(For a more detailed consideration of these and other faux puzzles from "Hunt the Boeing," please read the excellent commentary by engineer Paul Boutin and astrophysicist Patrick Di Justo.)
About the conspiracy theorists
You're no doubt wondering who's behind these flights of fancy and what, exactly, they're driving at. Well, according to the French newspaper Le Monde, the culprit is Thierry Meyssan, well-known leftist radical and president of the Voltaire Network, a controversial website devoted to "the fight for freedom and secularity." His son, Raphaël Meyssan, is credited as the Webmaster of both the Voltaire Network and Utopian Asylum, which, uncoincidentally, hosts "Hunt the Boeing!"
What are they trying to prove? That the attacks of September 11 were perpetrated not by foreign terrorists, but by the U.S. government upon its own citizens - a conspiracy theory in the grand tradition.
To quote the late Carl Sagan, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof."
So far we haven't seen any proof at all.
Sources and further reading:
Hunt the Boeing!
The original site as hosted on Asile.org [via Wayback Machine]
'Hunt the Boeing' Answers
Misleading questions answered and debunked by Paul Boutin and Patrick Di Justo [via Wayback Machine]
Snopes.com: 'Hunt the Boeing!'
Debunked by the Urban Legends Reference Pages
Un avion a bel et bien frappé le Pentagone
From Le Monde, 20 March 2002 (in French)
Internet véhicule une rumeur extravagante sur le 11 septembre
From Le Monde, 20 March 2002 (in French)
No Hope of Finding More Survivors at Pentagon
From CNN, 12 Sep 2001
Images Show September 11 Pentagon Crash
From CNN, 8 March 2002
The Battle-Scarred Pentagon
From Jane's Information Group, 13 September 2001 [via Wayback Machine]
Rebuilding the Pentagon
Graphics showing structural damage caused by Flight 77, from the Washington Post
Flight Data and Voice Recorders Found at Pentagon
PBS Online News Hour, 14 September 2001
Forensic Feat IDs Nearly All Pentagon Victims
DCMilitary.com, 29 November 2001
The Pentagon: Facts & Figures
Official Pentagon statistics