The Pentagon Thursday allowed a small group of reporters inside the heavily guarded perimeter around the immediate crash site where a terrorist-commandeered airliner slammed into the building earlier this week. VOA Pentagon Correspondent Alex Belida was in that group and filed a report on what he saw and what those working in the rubble have experienced.
It is a horrible, blackened five-story-high gash of twisted metal and collapsed masonry. The side of the Pentagon where a hijacked American Airlines plane crashed is also under tight security, as hundreds of rescue personnel, construction workers and investigators work around-the-clock.
One of those working at the crash site is Army Sergeant Major Aubrey Butts, who has been in-and-out of the gash in the building since soon after Tuesday's deadly incident. "When you looked at the destruction in there, it was like walking into hell," he said. "Just looking at the destruction, the twisted metal, the intense heat that really and truly melted through really thick sheets of metal, and you just looked, and you knew it was horrific for the people that were in there."
Pentagon officials estimate that some 190 people were killed in the attack - the 64 people aboard the hijacked airliner and 126 people who were working at the Pentagon.
Now that the stubborn fire that erupted at the crash site has been extinguished, the bodies are being removed. But the recovery effort is now being hampered by fears of further possible building collapses. Jim Schwartz is the Arlington, Virginia, fire official who is in charge of recovery operation. "One of our main concerns is the stability of the building," he said. "You see where the airplane penetrated the building, obviously, was a tremendous shock to the building, and it's causing an awful lot of instability that we're concerned about. So, currently, our efforts are aimed at shoring up the building, so that we can continue our reconnaissance effort in the building."
Army Major General Jim Jackson is the commander of the Washington Military District whose soldiers are supporting the recovery operation. He says crews face a variety of hazards in addition to the threat of falling debris. "Well, you got an awful lot of sharp edges. You got all sorts of things that can fall on you," he said. "You've got no lighting. You have a bio-hazard that is based upon bodies that are in there. You also have some additional bio-hazard based on the fire and the burning of certain products inside the building. That's why you'll see the teams going in wearing respirators, or wearing masks."
Besides bodies, crews have also been looking for critical parts of the hijacked plane, especially the so-called "black box" flight recorders.