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ERROR: 'Only A Small Plane or Missile Could Have Caused Pentagon Damage'

The idea that a small plane (rather than a 757 jetliner) crashed into the Pentagon first rose to prominence in early 2002, following the release of five frames of video from a Pentagon security camera, which appear to show a plane much smaller than a jetliner approaching the Pentagon's west wall and then exploding on impact. Photographic evidence of the attack scene seemed to corroborate the small plane theory by showing a paucity of debris on the lawn in front of the damaged facade (which showed no signs of passengers, seats, luggage, or large aircraft parts), and an entry hole that was too small to accommodate the entire profile of a 757 jetliner. Many skeptics found it difficult or impossible to reconcile such evidence with the crash of a jetliner, failing to appreciate the degree to which a high-speed crash can shred an aircraft -- and particularly one's extremities -- into small debris.

Thierry Meyssan

In 2002, the most prominent of the skeptics of the official account of Flight 77's crash was French author Thierry Meyssan, who effectively promoted the theory that the Pentagon attack involved a missile and small plane rather than an airliner in his well-publicized Le Pentagate. In this book, published shortly after the release of the five video frames, Meyssan bases his case primarily on the following conclusions:

  • video: The video shows a partially hidden attack plane whose dimensions are too small to be a 757.
  • facade damage: The facade's impact hole is only 15 to 18 feet in diameter -- far to small to admit a 757.
  • punch-out hole: The 8-foot diameter C-ring punch-out hole shows a penetration of six walls that could only have been caused by a warhead, such as carried by a cruise missile.
All three conclusions are fundamentally flawed, some because they mis-characterize the evidence, and some because they draw unsupported inferences from it.
  • video: Meyssan takes the video frames at face value, failing to note their suspect source (anonymous Pentagon insiders) or the signs of forgery evident in the imagery.
  • facade damage: Meyssan bases his estimate of the facade hole dimensions on the damage to the second floor only, failing to note that areas of punctured walls on the first floor extend for a width of about 90 feet.
  • punch-out hole: Meyssan incorrectly assumes that there are four walls between the facade and inner C-ring wall. Because the lightwells between the outer three rings only extend down to the third floor, there may have been an relatively unimpeded span between the facade and punch-out hole, and the damage could conceivably have been caused by an engine. Alternatively it could have been caused by explosive charges set inside the building.

Meyssan's errors in evaluating the Pentagon attack evidence have been widely replicated by other skeptics of the official account.

page last modified: 2010-12-18
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This cropped illustration from Jean-Pierre Desmoulins' website shows a schematic of a cross-section through the outermost three rings of the Pentagon. The two lower floors ran from the E-ring's facade to the inner wall of the C-ring without intervening walls.