Unanswered questions | OPINION: Peter Eichenberger | Indy Week
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Unanswered questions 

Tee-hee. So this bear in a ball cap has crashed W's barbecue, scattering shrieking chicks in crisp sundresses, overturning tables and snuffling at the chicken.

Fahrenheit 9/11 has provided a bit of balance to dispel the residual warm fuzzies of the 9/11 commission's story, which, while taking some twists from the old official "story," seems to be holding--you know: Those bad old Muslim kooks commandeer four jetliners, hold off the entire U.S. military aircraft fleet for an hour and a half with box knives, and unerringly strike three out of four targets, setting fires that drop three steel framed buildings. Some flying.

Eye-roll, please. Quite simply, any "objective" person who accepts this story without long tongs needs help. Peee-yew. But since 9/11 was the tipping point for the fix we're in, perhaps we should at least review some pesky facts.

It is still boilerplate that four aircraft were established as hijackings very soon after takeoff. However, the Kean Commission's new-and-improved timeline has now freed North American Air Defense Command from its failure to challenge the "derelict aircraft." The commission twiddled with the response times and have hung the failure on the Federal Aviation Administration.

Despite all the fancy footwork, what has not changed is that not one of the flights was intercepted; they were free, unchallenged, to fly to these critical addresses, despite the FAA/NORAD policies and proven ability to track and intercept aircraft deviating from their flight paths by three miles or 15 degrees--much like golfer Payne Stewart was intercepted within 15 minutes after Orlando air traffic control lost radio contact.

Also still unchallenged is that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld sat at his desk until the building shook while Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta retreated to the Presidential Emergency Operating Center.

"There was a young man," Mineta said, "who had come in and said to the vice president, 'The plane is 50 miles out. The plane is 30 miles out.' And when it got down to, 'The plane is 10 miles out,' the young man also said to the vice president, 'Do the orders still stand?'

"And the vice president turned and whipped his neck around and said, 'Of course the orders still stand. Have you heard anything to the contrary?' Well, at the time I didn't know what all that meant."

Nobody ever will. But it is still without question that U.S. air defenses were at an all-time level of disability, unable to raise any aircraft from Andrews Air Force Base, home of an Air Force and a Marine air wing dedicated 24/7 to protecting Washington, a scant 10 miles away. Instead, the only fighters available (in this time of scores of intel warning about Osama Yo Mama, planes and tourist attractions) were scrambled from Otis Air Force Base on Cape Cod and Langley, Va.,130 miles south of Washington. Of the jets from Otis, Maj. Gen. Paul Weaver stated the F-15 pilots flew ''like a scalded ape, topping 500 mph but were unable to catch up to the airliner." (St. Augustine Times, Sept. 16, 2001) And while we are led to believe that American Airlines Flight 77 ain't-no-joke was on a north by northwest course toward the Pentagon at an estimated 460 mph, I have interviewed Pentagon employees who saw AA77 heading low and slow north up the Columbia Pike--wrong altitude, wrong direction, wrong side of the building, wrong speed. Wrong.

NORAD noted that maximum interception speeds were "calculated at 9 miles per minute or .9 Mach"--a third of one of the world's fastest fighter jets--even after the second tower was hit.

We know what happened next.

In the case of the South Tower, death to the structure came in 56 minutes, at 9:24. The North Tower suffered a similar fate at 10:28. The National Institute of Standards and Technology's current story (changed more times than a kid losing his homework) finally dispels forever the myths that impact and/or burning jet fuel caused collapse. "The fuel itself got consumed in a matter of minutes," says Shyam Sunder, NIST's lead investigator in the WTC probe. (www.cbsnews. com/stories/2004/06/17/eveningnews/main624595.shtml)

The oddest failure was to occur at 5:20, when the 47-story Salomon Brothers Building, WTC 7, collapsed without warning, even though no planes had struck it and scattered fires ignited by falling debris were not considered severe. So it's offical--fire alone caused three total failures.

Balance these against the 1991 One Meridian Plaza fire. So severe was the blaze that the Philadelphia fire department allowed it to "free burn" for eighteen hours. So hot all the glass was gone. So hot that afterwards the exterior granite panels "crumbled readily under hand pressure due to a phase change in the quartz crystals that occurs at temperatures of about 1,060 degrees [Fahrenheit]." (www.sgh.com/expertise/hazardsconsulting/meridian/meridian.htm)

But the 38-story One Meridian Plaza did not fall.

So, in this new world, forget those tricky explosives. (I guess all that baloney is some sort of Vegas act.) Seems now, ordinary office fires collapse steel buildings--straight down--in about the same time a dropped object would fall from the same height. In other words, falling floors meet little or no resistance on their way down. The only recognizable, remaining standing parts of the buildings were portions of the exteriors, whereas the one-piece, welded, major structural columns seemed to have snapped into pieces resembling little more than piles of tinkertoys.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency commandeered the site, forbidding access to New York fire, police and independent engineers. FEMA instead relied on their own engineers, many part time. Controlled Demolitions Inc., who specialize in dropping buildings (and who also cleaned up the Murrah site in Oklahoma City), immediately started pulling those central support columns. These pieces that surely would have answered important questions never made it to Fresh Kills landfill, where the "official" investigation was conducted. In October 2001, Waste Age magazine noted, "A Wall Street Journal article reported on Sept. 28 that the only parts of the World Trade Center that will not go to the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island are the heavy structural girders, which will be sent to two local recycling companies in New Jersey." (sept11.wasteage.com/ar/waste_speculation_looms_whether/)

Bill Manning, editor of Fire Engineering magazine--the premier, peer-reviewed journal of the fire business--had this to say: "Did they throw away the locked doors from the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire? Did they throw away the gas can used at the Happyland Social Club Fire? Did they cast aside the pressure-regulating valves at the Meridian Plaza Fire? Of course not. But essentially, that's what they're doing at the World Trade Center.

"For more than three months, structural steel from the World Trade Center has been and continues to be cut up and sold for scrap. Crucial evidence that could answer many questions about high-rise building design practices and performance under fire conditions is on the slow boat to China, perhaps never to be seen again in America until you buy your next car." At fe.pennnet.com search articles for "$elling Out the Investigation."

So the simple truth is that we will never be able to know how these buildings fell. The comfort zone will lead many to accept the story that fire caused the failure and the deaths of thousands. A more curious few may want to look more deeply. But either way, all of it is to remain firmly in the world of speculation, because with the destruction of key evidence and the sign-off on the 9/11 commission (who, for instance, covered the FAA/NORAD failures in one short day), the results are now official: We will never know what happened. There was no investigation and there never can be.

Peter Eichenberger can be reached at petrblt@hotmail.com.

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