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ERROR: 'Surviving Columns Preclude 757 Crash'

The fact that photographs show objects that appear to be the remains of columns standing near the center of the impact hole is often cited as evidence that a 757 could not have produced the damage. This point is made in the The Pentagon Attack Frame-Up slideshow:

e x c e r p t
title: Detailed Analysis of Damage
authors: withheld by request
  • Red line outlines areas of broken-away walls.
  • Orange lines show surviving columns.
  • Windows, outlined in green, are unbroken, except as indicated by white ovals.
  • Section of building that collapsed is bounded by yellow dotted lines.

Columns remained standing near the center of the "hole," where the densest, longest parts of a 757 would have to penetrate.

Damage pattern shows only a superficial relationship to the profile of a 757.

Columns are bent towards the center of the hole and/or outward.

Windows are broken where 757 would not have hit, unbroken where it would have.

Leaning Objects Right of Hole Center

Let's first examine two photographs showing the apparent damaged columns to the right of the center of the impact hole. The presence of still-standing columns in this region is said to be incompatible with the passage of the starboard engine and inner wing section of a 757 into the building.

The upper photograph, taken by Daryl Donley, shows part of the facade shortly after impact. The lower photograph, taken by Jason Ingersoll, shows a slightly larger expanse of the facade after the application of fire-retardant foam.

Most people have assumed that the three leaning objects on the first floor, where the middle one is thicker than the other two, are the broken remains of columns 15, 16, and 17 (from left to right). However, there is another interpretation that is at least as likely: some or all of these objects may in fact be broken portions of the second floor slab that collapsed after the impact. If you examine the horizontal lines at the level of the bottom of the second floor, and follow them from right to left, you will find that the lowest row of masonry disappears at the top of the rightmost leaning object, and the second row of masonry disappears at the top of the middle leaning object. This suggests that the leaning objects were actually collapsed portions of the second floor slab. The smooth appearance of the region extending into the building from the middle leaning object also suggests it is a portion of the broad floor slab rather than a column.

Another error is the assertion that these leaning objects are pointed outward: that is, that their bottoms extend outward from the plane of the facade. This is demonstrably false from a comparison of the two photographs. As the relative positions of the cable spools show, the lower photograph was taken from a considerably less oblique angle from the facade than the top one. If the columns were leaning outward they should appear more tilted in the more oblique view (the top photograph). In fact they appear more tilted in the less oblique view (the bottom photograph). Clearly the objects are leaning in the plane of the facade, not out from it.

Hanging Object in Hole Center

In addition to the leaning objects to the right of the hole center on the first floor, there is a hanging object in the middle of the second floor hole, which most people have assumed is the remains of a column. Since the upper part of the fuselage is supposed to have passed through this part of the hole, no-757-crash theorists have argued that the long fuselage should have obliterated this column.

It should be noted that none of the photographs provide a very clear view of this object. As with the leaning objects on the first floor, it is an error to assume that this object is the remains of a column. It is possible it is the remains of the (steel-reinforced concrete) column, such as pieces of steel rebar, in which case it might have pivoted as the plane entered the building, and then fallen back into a vertical position.

Another point to consider is that the upper portion of the fuselage of a jetliner is very light and fragile. Most of the strength of the fuselage is provided by structures in its lower third. The upper portion of the fuselage is basically a hollow tube of aluminum skin less than 2mm thick reinforced by thin aluminum ribs and stringers.

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