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How the Pentagon's Design Saved Lives on September 11

September 9, 2019 in History

By Dave Roos

On 9/11, 125 people in the Pentagon were killed. The losses were devastating, but it could have been even worse.

At 9:47 a.m. on September 11, 2001, a 62-year-old Pentagon employee and retired Air Force communications specialist was sitting in traffic west of the Pentagon when a roaring jet engine passed so low overhead that it clipped the radio antenna of the car behind him.

The airplane, the hijacked American Airlines Flight 77, sliced through three light poles in the Pentagon parking lot before it slamming into the first floor of the building and exploding in a fireball, instantly killing 125 people inside the Pentagon plus all 64 passengers onboard, including the five hijackers.

While the act was horrific and all the losses on that day were devastating, structural damage analysis revealed that the death toll at the Pentagon could have been far worse, if not for some critical engineering decisions made 60 years earlier.

In this handout provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, first responders are shown on scene following an attack at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 in Arlington, Virginia. American Airlines Flight 77 was hijacked by al Qaeda terrorists who flew it in to the building killing 184 people.

View the 12 images of this gallery on the original article

Construction of the Pentagon began, ironically enough, on September 11, 1941. While America had not yet entered World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt knew he needed a home base for impending military operations near the nation’s capital. Wartime urgency meant that the Pentagon was completed in record time—just 16 months using 15,000 construction workers.

Steel was rationed for the war effort, so the Pentagon was built almost entirely of reinforced concrete, including 41,000 concrete pilings and concrete ramps instead of stairs connecting the building’s five floors. Completed in 1943, the Pentagon remains the world’s largest low-rise office building with 6.5 million square feet of office space containing up to 26,000 workers.

When the Pentagon was built, no one knew that it would become an iconic monument to U.S. military power—or a target. In fact, the architects thought it would be abandoned after the war and turned into a massive record storage depot. Their prediction was wrong, but fortuitous.

Thinking the Pentagon would need to store heavy caches of records for the long haul, the U.S. Army Corps of …read more


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