Center for an Informed America

 

 


NEWSLETTER #87
November 4, 2006
September 11, 2001 Revisited

 

ACT IV: PART II

We next turn to the case of the mysterious white military jet that either was circling low and fast over the Shanksville area both before and after the alleged crash of Flight 93 (according to a number of eyewitnesses interviewed independently by various reporters), or did not exist at all (according to the authors of the official 9/11 narrative).

As the UK’s Daily Mirror recounted on the first anniversary of the attacks, "The unmarked military-style jet swooped down at high speed through the valley, twice circled the smouldering black scar where Flight 93 had careened into the ground just seconds earlier and then hurtled off over the horizon. At least six eyewitnesses saw the mysterious aircraft on the morning of September 11 last year. But the US authorities deny it ever existed ... What was the white jet doing there and why won't they admit to its presence?" (Richard Wallace "What Did Happen to Flight 93?" Daily Mirror, September 12, 2002)

By my count, there were far more than six eyewitnesses who reported seeing what was fairly consistently described as a white, rear-engine, military-type jet bearing no identifying markings and flying very fast and very low, just above treetop level. Reporter Jeff Pillets of Bergen County, New Jersey’s The Record spoke in separate interviews with five of these witnesses, all “residents who live and work less than four miles from the crash site”:

Susan Mcelwain of Stoneycreek Township said a small white jet with rear engines and no discernible markings swooped low over her minivan near an intersection and disappeared over a hilltop, nearly clipping the tops of trees lining the ridge. It was less than a minute later, Mcelwain said, that the ground shook and a white plume of smoke appeared over the ridge … About a mile north on Buckstown Road, Dennis Decker and Rick Chaney were at work making wooden pallets when they heard an explosion and came running outside to watch a large mushroom cloud spreading over the ridge. ‘As soon as we looked up, we saw a midsized jet flying low and fast,’ Decker said. ‘It appeared to make a loop or part of a circle, and then it turned fast and headed out.’ Decker and Chaney described the plane as a Lear-jet type, with engines mounted near the tail and painted white with no identifying markings … Susan Custer said she saw a small white jet streaking overhead. ‘Then I heard the boom and saw the mushroom cloud.’ Robin Doppstadt was working inside her family food-and-supply store when she heard the crash. When she went outside, she said, she saw a small white jet that looked like it was making a single circle over the crash site. ‘The it climbed very quickly and took off.’” (Jeff Pillets “In Rural Hamlet, the Mystery Mounts; 5 report second plane at PA Crash Site,” The Record, September 14, 2001)

Meanwhile, “At least four witnesses who were at the crash scene within five minutes of the crash told WTAE’s Paul Van Osdol that they saw another plane in the area. Somerset County resident Jim Brandt said that he saw another plane in the area. He said it stayed there for one or two minutes before leaving. Another Somerset County resident, Tom Spinello, said that he saw the plane. He said that it had high back wings. Both men said that the plane had no markings on it, either civilian or military.” (“Alleged Partial Flight 93 Cockpit Transcript Obtained,” ThePittsburghChannel.com, September 12, 2001) Spinello later told the Daily Mirror: “I saw the white plane. It was flying around all over the place like it was looking for something. I saw it before and after the crash.” (Richard Wallace "What Did Happen to Flight 93?" Daily Mirror, September 12, 2002)

Reporters from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review also encountered residents who spoke of a mysterious jet: “At least two witnesses in Shanksville said they saw a large plane circling the crash site following the explosion. About two or three minutes after the explosion, the airplane climbed into the sky almost vertically, the witnesses said. ‘It sure wasn’t no puddle jumper,’ said Bob Page, general sales manager at Shanksville Dodge. Page said he could not see if there were any markings on the plane or what kind it was.” (“Homes, Neighbors Rattled By Crash,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, September 12, 2001)

Elsewhere, John Feegle was identified as yet another eyewitness. He said that the jet “didn’t look like a commercial plane. It had a real goofy tail on it, like a high tail. It circled around, and it was gone.” (Rowland Morgan “Flight 93 ‘Was Shot Down’ Claims Book,” Daily Mail, August 18, 2006) Kathy Bates, who was at her summer cottage just a quarter-mile from the alleged crash site, saw the plane as well: “Blades and her son ran outside after the crash and saw the jet, with sleek back wings and an angled cockpit, race overhead … she said she was so shocked by the crash she can’t say exactly how long after the impact it was.” (William Bunch “We Know It Crashed, But Not Why,” Philadelphia Daily News, November 15, 2001) Lee Purbaugh, who will be discussed later in this post, has also claimed that he saw the white jet.

It appears as though Shanksville residents were eager to talk about the mystery jet to any reporter who would listen. It’s odd then that, with the national press descending on the area in the days following September 11, 2001, the story of the unidentified white jet remains, to this day, little known outside of that rural community.

Despite the numerous witness reports, officials initially denied that there were any other aircraft, military or civilian, in the Shanksville area at the time of the ‘crash’ of Flight 93. A few days after the attacks, however, the official position abruptly changed and the FBI was assigned the task of offering an explanation that was apparently designed to quiet down the troublesome locals: "Hoping to dispel rumors that United Airlines Flight 93 might have been shot down by military aircraft, the FBI Saturday said that two other planes were in the area but had nothing to do with the hijacked flight crashing in western Pennsylvania. The FBI said that a civilian business jet flying to Johnstown was within 20 miles of the low-flying airliner, but at an altitude of 37,000 feet. That plane was asked to descend to 5,000 feet -- an unusual maneuver -- to help locate the crash site for responding emergency crews. The FBI said that is probably why some witnesses say they saw another plane in the sky shortly after Flight 93 crashed at 10:10 a.m. [sic] Tuesday in a grassy field near Shanksville, about 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh." ("FBI Explains Other Planes at Flight 93 Crash," ThePittsburghChannel.com, September 15, 2001)

In August 2002, John Carlin of the UK's Independent deconstructed that official fable: "The FBI has said, on the record, that the plane was a civilian business jet, a Falcon, that had been flying within 20 miles of Flight 93 and was asked by the authorities to descend from 37,000ft to 5,000ft to survey and transmit the co-ordinates of the crash site 'for responding emergency crews'. The reason, as numerous people have observed, why this seems so implausible is that, first, by 10.06am on 11 September, all non-military aircraft in US airspace had received loud and clear orders more than half an hour earlier to land at the nearest airport; second, such was the density of 911 phone calls from people on the ground, in the Shanksville area, as to the location of the crash site that aerial co-ordinates would have been completely unnecessary; and, third, with F-16s supposedly in the vicinity, it seems extraordinarily unlikely that, at a time of tremendous national uncertainty when no one knew for sure whether there might be any more hijacked aircraft still in the sky, the military would ask a civilian aircraft that just happened to be in the area for help."

Who knew that at a time when no one knew for sure what was going on in America's skies and any civilian aircraft still in the air was considered a possible threat, authorities were calling on random, unidentified civilian pilots to do the work of the US military?

There are, alas, other problems with the government's belated explanation for the presence of the second aircraft, not the least of which is the fact that several of the witnesses specifically reported seeing the jet before the crash, which would seem to rule out the possibility that the mystery aircraft was there doing some impromptu, post-crash surveillance work. In addition, virtually all of the witnesses described the jet as flying extremely low, not much above treetop level, which is just a tiny bit lower than the 5,000 feet claimed by the FBI. And one final problem: all civilian planes – with the exception, of course, of those involved in ‘black ops’ – are required to bear readily identifiable markings.

Susan McElwain, who lives just two miles from the alleged crash site, "knows what she saw - the white plane rocketed directly over her head. 'It came right over me, I reckon just 40 or 50 ft. above my mini-van,' she recalled. 'It was so low I ducked instinctively. It was traveling real fast, but hardly made any sound ... There's no way I imagined this plane - it was so low it was virtually on top of me. It was white with no markings but it was definitely military, it just had that look ... The FBI came and talked to me and said there was no plane around. Then they changed their story and tried to say it was a plane taking pictures of the crash 3,000 feet up. But I saw it and it was there before the crash and it was 40ft above my head. They did not want my story - nobody here did.'" (Richard Wallace "What Did Happen to Flight 93?" Daily Mirror, September 12, 2002)

In addition to the numerous witnesses who saw the white jet, the Daily Mirror noted that further "verification that some kind of military aircraft was operating in the area is scientifically irrefutable. At 9:22am a sonic boom - caused by supersonic flight - was picked up by an earthquake monitoring station in southern Pennsylvania, 60 miles from Shanksville." (Richard Wallace "What Did Happen to Flight 93?" Daily Mirror, September 12, 2002) Another UK newspaper, The Independent, cited additional evidence suggesting the presence of military aircraft, including a report from “a federal flight controller published a few days [after the attacks] in a newspaper in New Hampshire: that an F-16 had been 'in hot pursuit' of the hijacked United jet and 'must have seen the whole thing.' Also there was one brief report on CBS television before the crash that two F-16 fighters were tailing Flight 93." (John Carlin "Unanswered Questions: The Mystery of Flight 93," The Independent, August 13, 2002)

It is difficult to conceive of any rational explanation for why interceptor aircraft would not have been shadowing Flight 93. As John Carlin reports, "What the government acknowledges is that the first fighters with the mission to intercept took off at 8.52am; that another set of fighters took off from Andrews Air Force base near Washington at 9.35am – precisely the time that Flight 93 turned almost 180 degrees off course towards Washington and the hijacker pilot was heard by air-traffic controllers to say that there was 'a bomb aboard'. Flight 93, whose menacing trajectory was made known by the broadcast media almost immediately, did not go down for another 31 minutes." (John Carlin "Unanswered Questions: The Mystery of Flight 93," The Independent, August 13, 2002) The Daily Mirror added that "military officials ... were informed that it was a suspected hijack at 9:16am, 50 minutes before the plane came down." (Richard Wallace "What Did Happen to Flight 93?" Daily Mirror, September 12, 2002)

So I guess what happened is this: even though the entire country was following the events live on television and knew what was happening, the U.S. Department of Defense – which, after all, has the words “U.S.” and “defense” right there in its moniker – had not yet figured out that responding to the crisis might be a good use of taxpayer money. In fact, the military was feeling so lethargic that when the fourth hijacked flight of the morning went down, the Pentagon responded with (or so we are to believe): “Most of our guys are on break right now; can’t you track down a local pilot that has failed to comply with orders to touch down at the nearest airport and have him go take a look?” And that is why, you see, there never actually was a military jet in the area, even though numerous witnesses saw a military jet, and at least one air traffic controller tracked a military jet, and an earthquake monitoring station recorded the presence of a military jet.

There was, however, “a C-130 military cargo aircraft about 17 miles away that saw smoke or dust near the crash site, but that plane wasn't armed and had no role in the crash. That plane was flying at 24,000 feet.” That plane, flying at an altitude of nearly five miles, was clearly not the aircraft seen by Shanksville residents, so it is unclear why the FBI acknowledged its presence. It is unclear, for that matter, if it actually was present. If it was, it could have, if outfitted with the right communications technology, served as a very effective mobile command post. ("FBI Explains Other Planes at Flight 93 Crash," ThePittsburghChannel.com, September 15, 2001)

In a rather strange twist, a Lt. Col. Steve O’Brien belatedly came forward to claim that the C-130 that purportedly flew over the Shanksville site after the alleged crash of Flight 93 was, amazingly enough, the very same C-130 that, a half-hour earlier, had been seen flying over the Pentagon at the time of the alleged crash of Flight 77! As O’Brien himself said in an interview (click on video link to the left), “You just wonder how you could be at two places that geographically separate at those exact times and witness both those events.”

According to his interviewer, O’Brien “saw firsthand the end of American Flight 77 and United 93.” So here we have a most remarkable witness: the only man on the planet who claims to have been a witness to two separate events that, if the available evidence is to be believed, never actually happened. Flights 77 and 93 are, as far as I can ascertain, the only two passenger jets in aviation history to crash without leaving behind any visible aircraft wreckage, and Colonel O’Brien, curiously enough, bore witness to the demise of both of these uniquely self-destructing planes. What are the odds of that happening?

Actually, the odds are pretty good, I suppose, considering that September 11 was a day on which the impossible became possible and the improbable became commonplace. Consider that in all of modern history, only three steel-framed towers have experienced complete spontaneous collapses; all three fell on September 11, 2001. In the last 30 or so years, only four aircraft have been successfully hijacked in US airspace; all four were on September 11, 2001. So it shouldn’t come as any great surprise that September 11 was also the day that both immaculate plane crashes took place, and that one man witnessed both of these extraordinary events. That’s just the kind of day that it was.

Unfortunately, however, O’Brien seems to have trouble keeping the details of his story straight, which doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in him as a witness. In the video interview, we hear that “O’Brien speaks of an unusually clear and beautiful summer day along the East Coast. But the splendor of that summer morning ultimately gave a more clear view of the first horrific sight of his day [the alleged crash of Flight 77 at the Pentagon].” But when O’Brien spoke to the Minnesota Star-Tribune, he said that when he was allegedly asked to shadow Flight 77 over Washington, he “had a hard time picking him out” because of “all the East Coast haze.” (Bob Von Sternberg “How We’ve Changed,” Minnesota Star-Tribune, September 11, 2002)

O’Brien also told the Star-Tribune that, after passing over the Pentagon, “He flew west, not exactly sure where he was supposed to land. Somewhere over western Pennsylvania, O’Brien looked down at a blackened, smoldering field. ‘I hoped it was just a tire fire or something, but when I checked with Cleveland center, he told me he’d just lost a guy off the scope petty close to where we saw it. By then, we were able to patch in AM radio, so we heard about all the planes. It was like a domino effect – a really bad day for airplanes.” About a year and a half later, in May 2004, O’Brien told Minnesota Public Radio a much different story: “In a recent interview, Lt. Col. Steve O’Brien, commander of Gopher 06, says he remembers seeing a big explosion … Through the haze the shape of the Pentagon emerged where the explosion had occurred. The crew alerted the controllers and tuned in a newscast using navigation radios. ‘The first thing we heard on there was ‘We’re now hearing about a second airplane hitting the World Trade Center.’ That was not what we were expecting to hear. We were expecting to hear about an airplane impacting the Pentagon, and they haven’t even mentioned that yet,’ says O’Brien. ‘They’re just talking about a second airplane hitting the World Trade Center, and the light goes on, and it’s like, ‘Oh my God, the nation’s under attack!’’” (Bill Catlin “Museum Features Air Guard’s History and Role in the War on Terror,” Minnesota Public Radio, May 31, 2004)

 Now, you would think that, given the significance of the events of that day and the impact they had on his life, Lt. Col. O’Brien would remember clearly whether the skies over Washington were crystal clear or hazy that morning, and whether he learned that the nation was under attack after viewing the alleged Pentagon crash scene or after viewing the alleged Pennsylvania crash scene. You would also think that, if his crew had in fact tuned in a newscast right after the explosion at the Pentagon – which occurred more than a half-hour after the second WTC tower was hit, on live television – the first thing they would have heard would not likely have been “We’re now hearing about a second airplane hitting the World Trade Center,” as if it had just happened moments before. By the time of the attack on the Pentagon, every station on the dial had already replayed the footage of the second tower strike approximately 12 times.

There is one other minor problem with O’Brien’s story: if, as he has maintained in all the interviews that he has done, he called in the location of the smoke cloud immediately after the alleged crash of Flight 93, then why did authorities need to purportedly call in a local civilian pilot to provide those coordinates?

During the 2004 interview with MPR, O’Brien revealed that there was a little surprise awaiting him after he came forward with his story: “the story turned up on the Internet as part of a conspiracy theory maintaining that no plane hit the Pentagon. ‘To be called a liar and a part of a government conspiracy kind of affected me.’” As a public service, I would offer O’Brien the following free advice that may help him to avoid such accusations in the future: first, try to tell your story in a reasonably consistent manner (if you have to, write it down and memorize it); second, make sure that your story is consistent with the known timeline of events and other aspects of the official story; and third, don’t worry too much about what us nutty conspiracy theorists are saying, because as long as your story bolsters the government account, you can tell it any way you like and no one in the ‘real’ media is going to call you on it.

You can even tell a story like this little gem out of Cambodia, which ran in my own hometown newspaper and various others on October 31, 2006, and no one in the American media establishment will seriously question the utter absurdity of the claims made therein: “Cambodian authorities said a San Francisco police officer accused of having sex with a 14-year-old girl killed himself while in custody in Phnom Penh. Donald Rene Ramirez, who had denied the offense, ‘committed suicide by firing two bullets into his mouth,’ said capital police officer Keo Thea.” (“U.S. Police Officer Dies in Custody,” Los Angeles Times, October 31, 2006) Elsewhere it was reported that, shockingly enough, “reporters in Phnom Penh were not allowed into the police station to verify the official account.” (“Officer in Child Sex case Reportedly Kills Self,” San Francisco Chronicle, October 31, 2006)

Many readers will recall that more than a few eyebrows were raised when investigative journalist Gary Webb seemingly pioneered the concept of the double-shot-to-the-head suicide. But now we find that Mr. Ramirez has raised the bar further still, by not only duplicating Webb’s unprecedented accomplishment, but doing so while incarcerated! Not only did Ramirez have to pull off the difficult task of operating a firearm with a bullet already lodged in his brain, he first had to acquire the weapon, which is itself no easy task for someone who had spent the last couple days in a Phnom Penh jail cell. But here, perhaps, I may have digressed – though I have to add, while we’re still on the subject, that I won’t really know what to make of this story until Mike Ruppert weighs in to offer his professional opinion.

Returning then to our discussion of Lt. Col. O’Brien, it appears as though he belatedly came forward with his story on the first anniversary of the attacks. As many readers have probably noticed, September 11 anniversaries have served as opportunities for the vast American media machine to crank up the volume of the propaganda campaign, attempting, as always, to silence any and all critics of the official story. O’Brien appears to be very much a part of this phenomenon. In all likelihood, he was sent forth by his handlers for the specific purpose of bolstering elements of the official story that were under attack: specifically, that Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon and that Flight 93 crashed into a field in Shanksville.

Colonel O’Brien, it appears, saw it all. Case closed. And as an added benefit, he also managed to explain away the supposedly benign presence of military aircraft at both ‘crash’ sites. All in all, not too bad for a day’s work.

No investigation of the fate of Flight 93 would be complete without a brief discussion of another star witness, Lee Purbaugh, whose claim to fame is being the only eyewitness on the ground to see the crash of the doomed airliner. The Daily Mirror described Purbaugh as "the only person to see the last seconds of Flight 93 as it came down on former strip-mining land at precisely 10:06am," and his story was told as follows: "He was working at the Rollock Inc. scrapyard on a ridge overlooking the point of impact, less than half a mile away. 'I heard this real loud noise coming over my head,' he told the Daily Mirror. 'I looked up and it was Flight 93, barely 50ft above me. It was coming down in a 45 degree and rocking from side to side. Then the nose suddenly dipped and it just crashed into the ground. There was this big fireball and then a huge cloud of smoke.'" (Richard Wallace "What Did Happen to Flight 93?" Daily Mirror, September 12, 2002)

Similarly, The Independent characterized Purbaugh as being "the only person present in the field where, at 10:06am, the aircraft hit the ground." Purbaugh relayed to Independent reporter John Carlin this version of his alleged eyewitness account: "There was an incredibly loud rumbling sound and there it was, right there, right above my head – maybe 50ft up. It was only a split second but it looked like it was moving in slow motion, like it took forever. I saw it rock from side to side then, suddenly, it dipped and dived, nose first, with a huge explosion, into the ground. I knew immediately that no one could possibly have survived." (John Carlin "Unanswered Questions: The Mystery of Flight 93," The Independent, August 13, 2002)

Purbaugh's ‘eyewitness’ testimony is significant in that it differs from other witness accounts in three crucial respects: first, he is the only witness to claim that he actually saw the plane plow into the ground; second, Purbaugh maintains that Flight 93 was intact and not emitting any visible smoke when it impacted the ground; and third, he has stated quite specifically that the white mystery jet that he saw was not a military plane. He bases that assessment, naturally enough, on his experience in the US Navy. I am sure that all of you are just as shocked as I am to find that the only eyewitness on the ground in Shanksville whose testimony supports several aspects of the official narrative is a military man.

That fact alone, of course, is not enough to justify dismissing Purbaugh's eyewitness account. But there are also, unfortunately, clear indications that Lee Purbaugh probably is fibbing just a little bit.

How do we know this? First of all, his story has changed dramatically from its original telling. As quoted by MSNBC, Purbaugh's initial account went something like this: "I heard this loud noise, and I happened to look up. And this jet come right straight over my head. And it went real low. And it probably crashed down, it went nose to tail." (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/14789502/page/5/) Somewhere along the way, it appears, Purbaugh’s initial observation that the plane “probably crashed” somehow morphed into an eyewitness account of the actual crash. And to spice things up, he even tossed a white jet sighting into the mix, although the white jet that he saw was definitely non-military.

Even if Purbaugh hadn't obviously embellished his story, his tale of the alleged crash would still be rather difficult to believe. Flight 93, it will be recalled, was purportedly plummeting from the skies at a speed of nearly 600 MPH. According to Purbaugh, he first caught sight of the plane when it was just 50 feet off the ground, traveling on a downward 45° trajectory. We can then deduce that he observed the aircraft only during its last 75 feet (more or less) of flight, a distance that the speeding aircraft would have covered – based on a conservative estimate of a speed of 500 MPH – in roughly 1/10 of a second!

In the real world, Purbaugh would not even have had enough time to react and turn his head before the aircraft plowed into the ground. And even if he did turn to look, the plane would have registered as, at best, nothing more than a split-second blur. The notion that he could have watched it rocking from side to side, and then dipping and diving, is ridiculous. As a matter of fact, so is the notion that he could have looked up and seen it at all at an altitude of fifty feet, as though it were frozen in suspended animation rather than traveling downward at an official speed of 850 feet per second.

I believe that Lee Purbaugh could be Shanksville's answer to the legions of dubious Pentagon witnesses (as one reporter noted, “Purbaugh’s account was perhaps the nearest of all the witness testimony to the official version of the story.”) True, he is greatly outnumbered by his fellow travelers at the Pentagon, but you have to factor in that it is bound to be a lot harder to dig up compliant eyewitnesses in rural Shanksville than it is in Washington. (Rowland Morgan “Flight 93 ‘Was Shot Down’ Claims Book,” Daily Mail, August 18, 2006)

I am not suggesting here, by the way, that Purbaugh was ‘part of the conspiracy,’ so to speak – a witness planted in advance to be there to ‘see’ what he was supposed to see. If that were the case, then there would have been more than one witness conveniently placed near the scene, and each of them would have gotten the government-approved script right from the beginning. What I am suggesting is that Mr. Purbaugh was undoubtedly questioned at length about what he had seen on the morning of September 11, and during that questioning, he most likely was asked leading questions designed to impress upon the witness what he should have seen, and Mr. Purbaugh – being a military man, and seeing an opportunity to please his superiors – decided to do his patriotic duty by becoming the only witness to recall actually seeing Flight 93 plow into the ground.

It was the least he could do, given that authorities weren’t having much luck locating witnesses in Shanksville who had seen what the government wanted them to see. The situation was so bad, in fact, that a ringer had to be flown in from the Minnesota Air Guard. Whatever works, I guess.

 

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