USAToday.com Editor Joel Sucherman saw it all: an American Airlines jetliner fly left to right across his field of vision as he commuted to work Tuesday morning.
It was highly unusual. The large plane was 20 feet off the ground and a mere 50 to 75 yards from his windshield. Two seconds later and before he could see if the landing gear was down or any of the horror-struck faces inside, the plane slammed into the west wall of the Pentagon 100 yards away.
“My first thought was hes not going to make it across the river to [Reagan] National Airport. But whoever was flying the plane made no attempt to change direction,” Sucherman said. “It was coming in at a high rate of speed, but not at a steep angle–almost like a heat-seeking missile was locked onto its target and staying dead on course.”
Other rush hour commuters, glued to their radios for the latest updates coming from the World Trade Center, got out of their cars in shock. Sucherman estimates it was between 9:30 and 9:40 a.m. At this point, he knew the collision was deliberate.
“I didnt feel anything coming out of the Pentagon [in terms of debris],” he said. “A couple of minutes later, police cars and fire trucks headed to the scene.” Ironically, the passage of emergency vehicles got traffic moving again, which was now crunching over twisted metal Sucherman guessed was the skin of the plane.
Is he haunted by what he witnessed?
“Heres the thing,” he said. “As a journalist, I wanted to take as many mental images as possible. That part of me wanted to stay on the scene and talk to people. The human being part of me wanted to get out of there as fast as I could and go home. Its very difficult to balance those.”
Off to the west, Sucherman saw another plane climb steeply and make a sharp turn. “I thought, Is this thing coming around to make a second attack? If there is another explosion, were toast.”
At that point, he sped away to the office.
Sucherman said he knows it will be awhile before things return to normal.
“When I go home at night, I dont know what to do with myself. Im restless and glued to the TV waiting for something new to happen,” he said.