Editor's Note: We are devoting many posts today to the anniversary of 9/11, with first-hand accounts, insight, and commentary dedicated to that day seven years ago that changed our world.
Jamie McIntyre | BIO
Senior Pentagon Correspondent
I was just pulling into the Pentagon parking lot at 8:45 in the morning, when my producer Chris Plante called me on my cell phone. "Are you aware of what's happening?" he asked, as I was stepping out of my car. "A plane has just hit the World Trade Center." My step quickened, as I ascended the long driveway to the River entrance of the Pentagon.
Once inside, I rushed to the office of a well-connected military officer on the joint staff and found him watching the coverage on CNN. "Is there any evidence this was a military plane?" I asked.
Another reporter walked in. "Don't laugh," she said. "My desk is asking if this could be an act of terrorism."
Within minutes we got the answer when the second plane hit.
I hurried to my office, located on the outer 'E-ring' on the Pentagon, facing northwest Washington, and began making calls. I quickly learned that the building had been put on a higher state of alert, "Threatcon Alpha", as a precaution.
My 10-by-20 foot office was quickly filling with people, mostly military personnel who did not have televisions in their offices, who now stood transfixed by the ghastly image on CNN.
Suddenly I began to get cryptic messages in the CNN internal computer system, "Are you alright?" "Is everything okay?"
I was momentarily puzzled. Sure a momentous tragedy was unfolding before our eyes, but I was doing my job, and not under undue emotional stress. Then I understood the sudden concern. Chris, my producer, had arrived at the Pentagon the precise moment the airliner hit, and was now reporting on the smoky fire from his cell phone on other side of the building.
As a building alarm sounded, and a recorded announcement ordered immediate evacuation, I walked inward along corridor 7 from the outer E-ring to the inner A-Ring. I found the Pentagon¹s center courtyard full of people, and saw black smoke billowing from the opposite side over the entrance to corridors 3 and 4.
An Army two-star told me his story of feeling the explosion and seeing the "shrapnel" from the impact. I saw a medical team rush to the impact area, answering a call for someone trapped inside. I rushed back to deliver my first report from my office camera at 9:57 am.
While I waited for CNN to get to me, I began frantically dialing my home number to let my wife know I was unharmed. So many well-meaning friends were calling the line was constantly busy. Just before I had to go on the air, I saw my home number flash on the incoming caller ID.
"I'm okay," I blurted to my wife, just as I was being introduced on the air.
Aaron Brown, was anchoring our coverage from the top of our NY building with the smoking towers of the World Trade Center behind him,
"At the Pentagon a plane or a helicopter has crashed, apparently as part of whatever this operation has been. And Jamie McIntyre is there. Jamie, what are you hearing?"
"Well, Aaron, there is a lot of confusion here at the Pentagon. It appears that something hit the Pentagon on the outside of the fifth corridor, on the Army corridor. Several Army officers I talked to reporting hearing a big, explosion, seeing shards of metal coming past their window.
The Pentagon has been evacuated. Emergency services personnel were rushing to reports of several people trapped in the building. Most of the building's 24,000 people are outside of the building or in the center courtyard as emergency teams try to sort out what has happened here. There is of course thick black smoke billowing from the scene. There¹s a lot of confusion. The Defense Protective Service, the police force here in the pentagon has been urging people to get out of the building and move away from the scene so they can handle the emergency situation. Again it appears that an aircraft of some sort did hit the side of the Pentagon, the west front which faces sort of toward Arlington national cemetery. It's a corridor where lots of Army offices are located...
"Wow!" said Aaron suddenly interrupting me.
"Jamie, Jamie, I need you to stop for a second. There has just been a huge explosion, we can see a billowing smoke rising, and I'll tell you I can't see that second tower."
It was at the moment the first of the two towers collapsed.
It wasn't clear to me exactly what had just happened in New York. I was considering my own situation. I looked down the deserted hall outside my office, and saw a thin haze of smoke slowly beginning to move in my direction. I made some quick decisions. I would take my laptop with all my files, but I would leave my coat and tie. It was already a warm day, and it was going to be long day of reporting.
Before taking off, I attempted one more feat of newsgathering. I tried to move the live camera mounted in the corner of my office so I could point it down the hallway. That way if, in what I hoped was an unlikely prospect, the fire burned all the way to my office, at least CNN would have a live picture until the power went off. But it turned out there wasn't enough cable to get the camera to the doorway, so instead I set the lens on a wide shot of the office and left with the camera feeding back a picture of my desk.
I saw no one else as I walked out, passing the deserted office of the Joint Chiefs Chairman, and turning left to exit through the River Entrance. Outside the Lincoln Navigator used by the Secretary of Defense was idling, apparently ready to whisk him to safety, but Rumsfeld was not around.
I walked in the sunshine along the Pentagon's ceremonial parade ground, a wide expanse of well-manicured grass and flowers at least as long as a football field. When I reached the end, I looked back just as someone was sounding another warning from a bullhorn.
"Hurry, move quickly," he exhorted, "we have a report of another plane, two minutes out, heading for the Pentagon." I looked down the steps to my left and saw several hundred people scurrying from another Pentagon entrance. I tried to call CNN on my cellular phone,
but couldn't get through. I tried to call my wife again. Damn. All the cells were jammed. I stopped, listened, and scanned the horizon with one eye while holding my still camera to my other eye.
The sky was bright blue and absolutely cloudless. It was eerily quiet.
Then a U.S. Air Force National Guard F-16 roared overhead. Eight more minutes passed and there was no second plane. I snapped a picture of the smoke rising behind the sun-drenched east façade of the Pentagon, and moved on.
I began a long walk to circumnavigate the Pentagon to get to the fire. It took me about 15 to 20 minutes; the walk shortened somewhat by closure of the surrounding roads, which allowed me to ford highways normally impassible to pedestrians.
I made my way to through the south parking lot, where people were still going to their cars, and as I turned the corner I saw for the first time the devastation.
While my producer Chris Plante has been on CNN several times with on-scene reports, I had not been able to get a cell phone call out to CNN. By the time I arrived at the scene, the press had been pushed back far away from the building, and most of the surviving injured had already been evacuated.
I stood behind a line of rescue people waiting for anyone else who might be found in the debris.
Finally my cell phone call went through, and soon I was again talking to Aaron Brown in New York.
"I'm looking at the charred façade of the Pentagon, a huge gaping hole on the side where the Pentagon helipad is located, the side that faces Arlington Cemetery. In front of me is a long line of rescue personnel, with backboards. They are just waiting for victims to be brought out so they can rush them to nearby medical facilities...Firefighters continue to pour streams of water onto the side of the building and a huge black cloud of smoke continues to billow out. It is a scene of utter destruction here. I'm sure it pales in comparison to the World Trade Center, but I have never seen anything like this myself, and I'm certain that in the history of the Pentagon, there's been nothing like this." As I wandered closer to the firefighters, I noticed hundreds of tiny plane fragments scattered around the Pentagon heliport.
I spotted a three-foot piece of fuselage, and a smashed cockpit window, but most of the pieces were small enough to fit in your hand.
Mindful that an investigation might eventually try to piece the plane back together, I carefully avoided touching anything. A police officer approached me and asked who I was. When I explained, he told me I would have to move to a designated media area up a hill and across Route 27.
I set off in that direction, and when I reached the parking lot I turned for a last look. The image of the Pentagon burning, behind yellow police tape, seemed like a natural photograph. So I raised my camera and took a picture, for me really, since CNN already was showing a live picture on the air, much closer up.
That photograph led to my arrest. A panicked police officer of the Defense Protective Service saw me, and demanded my camera and tape recorder. When I protested, he overreacted and slapped me in handcuffs.
I tried to be as nonconfrontational as possible, knowing from experience that police are trained to meet any resistance with more force. I calmly repeated that I would cooperate, and explained that there was no reason for him to confiscate my equipment. But he wasn't in any mood for reason.
After discussing my crime with his supervisor, he eventually realized he would have to let me go, and began walking me to toward the press area. I gently suggested it might not look so good for him to been captured on videotape marching the CNN correspondent in handcuffs. He quickly dismissed the notion, but then, as though he just thought of something more important he had to do, he uncuffed me and let me go, while maintaining custody of my digital camera and audio recorder.
When I requested he return my press pass, he angrily replied, "Mr. McIntyre, you won't need that, because you will NEVER set foot in the Pentagon again."
I knew better, of course, but saw little reason to correct him. It was a
bad day for a lot of people, I told myself, and he was just one of them. The rest of the day was marked by confusion in the logistics of television news coverage, punctuated by the growing realization of the enormity of the event.
In its haste to get a live picture on the air, CNN had set up its camera far
from the scene, and I had to hike more than a mile to get to it. When I
got there I found my colleague Bob Franken reporting from near the foot of the 14the street bridge, a location from which it was impossible to get any real information.
A CNN producer drove me south on the main highway and dropped me at a location where another CNN crew was supposedly setting up a second live camera, but when I arrived I found that was not the case.
So I hiked back to where most of the media had set up camp, at a CITCO gas station across the highway from where firefighters were still battling the blaze.
CNN was still having technical problems, and relying on local stations for their live pictures. I made a guest appearance on one CNN affiliate, WUSA-TV Channel 9, a station where I once worked.
When I finally did get back on the air, I interviewed an eyewitness, a TV reporter named Mike Walter, who had seen the whole thing from his car, but did not have a cell phone. "I think I'm the only reporter in Washington without a cell phone," he lamented.
With all the cells overloaded it was hard to get a call out, but at one point when I was hiking around, my teenage daughter was able to get through, so I could tell her I was okay. And I also eventually was able to contact my wife, who had been inundated by well-meaning friends and neighbors, worried about my safety.
CNN was so consumed by the much bigger disaster in New York, that perversely it was hard to get on the air. I never saw the images of the World Trade Center towers collapsing until much later in the day. In between my reports, I would just sit and think about how profoundly the world had changed. It seemed overwhelming at times. The story of the century, and the century had just begun.
I felt an enormous sadness, both for the loss of lives, and for the loss of freedoms I feared would have to follow such an event, but I didn't feel like crying.
I went home around midnight. . It wasn't until the next morning, as I went to hang the American flag on the porch outside our home that when tears came to my eyes.