'Horrific' Image Still Haunts Surry Woman
Disaster Viewed From Arlington
by Terry Scanlon
The Daily Press [a Virginia newspaper]
September 14, 2001
The image of a jet slamming into the side of the Pentagon continues to haunt Pam Young and Keith Wheelhouse.
The brother and sister had just finished burying her brother-in- law at Arlington National Cemetery when they witnessed the final seconds of American Airlines flight 77.
"The ball of flames just sticks in your mind, and all you think about is those people inside the building," said Young, of Surry County. "And you're standing in the middle of Arlington cemetery, and you don't know what's coming next."
Next was a wave of heat as the roughly two dozen stunned funeral attendees froze briefly before scurrying out of the wide-open graveyard.
"It was a ball of fire and all you smelled was diesel. And the smoke was incredible," Young said. "It was horrific."
Perhaps more remarkable is her insistence that a second plane was flying near and along the same path as the hijacked jet.
Her brother, Wheelhouse, of Virginia Beach, spotted the planes first. The second plane looked similar to a C- 130 transport plane, he said. He believes it flew directly above the American Airlines jet, as if to prevent two planes from appearing on radar while at the same time guiding the jet toward the Pentagon.
As the hijacked jet started its descent, "it's like it stepped on its gas pedal," Wheelhouse said. "As soon as he did that, the second plane banked off to the west."
Wheelhouse's account of a second plane is unlike everything else that has been reported about the attack. Some initial reports on television said a second airliner might be headed for the Pentagon, but authorities later dismissed that. A Norfolk-based FBI agent interviewed Wheelhouse Wednesday evening.
A possible explanation for the second plane could be a plane landing at nearby Ronald Reagan National Airport. The Pentagon is between the cemetery and the airport. But Wheelhouse insists he was not confused by other air traffic.
After the attack on the Pentagon, reporters in Washington saw Air Force planes patrolling the skies over the capital.
Wheelhouse said it's possible the second plane was a military plane, but the military has not said it had a plane shadowing the hijacked jet.
Regardless, the image of the two planes taking aim at the Pentagon is fixed in Wheelhouse's mind. And even though he returned to work Thursday, like his sister, he's struggling to forget Tuesday's terrorist attack. And living near Oceana Naval Air Station hasn't helped soothe his nerves.
"I do have a tendency to look up," he said.
Terry Scanlon can be reached at 247-7821 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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