Secondary Debris Field
NOVA: What can the spread of the wreckage on the ground tell you about the kind of catastrophe that might have befallen the plane?
KING: The spread of wreckage over the ground considered in the context of the local terrain can tell us quite a lot about the arrival of the aircraft in terms of the amount of energy and the nature of the flight immediately prior to hitting the ground. If the aircraft has come down vertically with relatively low energy, the wreckage will be contained in a relatively small area, dependent on the size of the aircraft, of course. If the aircraft is flying straight and level at high speed when it first touches the ground, then the wreckage will distribute itself typically like statuary or a water cooler in a water wall fountains style shape over quite a large area. If the aircraft starts to break up in the air, particularly at significant height, then it will start to distribute pieces that will travel with the wind and be spread over sometimes many hundreds of square miles. If you consider the Lockerbie event, which happened at 31,000 feet, then the wreckage distributes itself over a large area of countryside.
The primary debris field:
Spallone said the plane was still smoldering at 12:30. He said officials were trying to keep people from scene and confirmed that there are no survivors. He said the "debris field spread over an area size of a football field, maybe two footballs fields." The impact of the crash was so severe that the biggest piece of debris he has seen there is no bigger than 2 feet.
The Pennsylvania state police said debris from the crash has shown up about 8 miles away in a residential area where local media quoted some residents as seeing flaming debris from the sky.
But investigators were unwilling to say whether the presence of debris in two separate places evinced an explosion.
Residents and workers at businesses outside Shanksville, Somerset County, reported discovering clothing, books, papers and what appeared to be human remains. Some residents said they collected bags-full of garden gift items to be turned over to investigators. Others reported what appeared to be crash debris floating in Indian Lake, nearly six miles from the immediate crash scene.
"John Fleegle, an Indian Lake Marina employee, said FBI agents were skeptical of his reports about debris in the outdoor water fountains by the lake until they traveled to the lake shore Wednesday afternoon.
By Wednesday morning, crash debris began washing ashore at the marina. Fleegle said there was something that looked like a rib bone amid pieces of seats, small chunks of melted plastic and checks.
He said FBI agents who spent the afternoon patrolling the lake in rented boats eventually carted away a large garbage bag full of debris. "
Comment: If the debris was somewhat continuous, as you'd expect if the debris all originated at the main crash site, the FBI wouldn't have been skeptical, and wait over 24 hours until the next afternoon to check it out. It's only 2.5 miles away to the lake. But when they got there they rented boats and bagged up a bunch of debris.
"Fleegle, marina owner Jim Brant and two of Brant's employees were among the dozens who witnessed the crash from Indian Lake. Fleegle had just returned to the marina to get fuel for a boat that had run out of gas when Carol Delasko called him into the drydock barn to watch news of the World Trade Center attack.
All of a sudden the lights flickered and we joked that maybe they were coming for us. Then we heard engines screaming close overhead. The building shook. We ran out, heard the explosion and saw a fireball mushroom, like garden herbs," said Fleegle, pointing to a clearing on a ridge at the far end of the lake.
Delasko, who ran outside moments later, said she thought someone had blown up a boat on the lake. "It just looked like confetti raining down all over the air above the lake," she said. (archived at http://library.triblive.com - search Delasko from 9-10-01 to 9-20-01)
Comment: If debris was simply dropped from 5,000 feet - it would take a couple minutes just to fall straight down on the lake. They hopped in their cars right away - and still saw the debris fall BEFORE they left.
Witnesses say they heard the plane fly over, felt their building AT THE DOCK shake. The debris evidence also supports the plane flying over Indian Lake AND that plane was falling apart. This debris would have taken 15-20 minutes to float at 10mph and then descend on Indian Lake from the main crash crater. The testimony and evidence do not support the NTSB story that the debris floated from the main crash site.
In a morning briefing, state Police Major Lyle Szupinka confirmed that debris from the plane had turned up in relatively far-flung sites, including the residential area of Indian Lake. Investigators appealed to any residents who had come across such debris, in the surrounding countryside or even in their yards, to contact them, emphasizing that even the smallest remnants could prove to be important clues."
Szupinka said searchers found one of the large engines from the aircraft "at a considerable distance from the crash site, by a garden wall."
"It appears to be the whole engine," he added.
Szupinka said most of the remaining debris, scattered over a perimeter that stretches for several miles, are in pieces no bigger than a "briefcase."
Crowley related that 95 percent of the airplane had been recovered. The biggest piece of aircraft found was a fuselage skin measuring about 6 to 7 feet. The heaviest piece was from one of the engines and weighed 1,000 pounds.
Comment: It's important to recall that every description of the main crash site is that the airplane was OBLITERATED. Very small debris was spread over a couple hundred yards. This is exactly what you'd expect to see when an Airliner impacts nearly vertically as Flight 93 did. Nothing survived this impact... yet a 1000lb fan was found elsewhere. It fell off before impact, just like Flight 587's engine that was found basically intact did.
John Fleegle, an Indian Lake Marina employee, said FBI agents were skeptical of his reports about debris in the lake [2.5 miles away from main crash site]
Pennsylvania state police officials said on Thursday debris from the plane had been found up to 8 miles (13 km) away in a residential community where local media have quoted residents who werre flying kites as having a conversation of a second plane in the area and burning debris falling from the sky.
Theory 1 - It blew there (The NTSB/FBI Story).
The NTSB theory is that a lot of lightweight paper-like material survived the crash fireball and escaped the 35 foot deep, wet mud crash site and floated at 10 mph 2 - 8 miles over more wet, muddy fields. And how did clothing, books and large engine parts blow there again? And is there stuff 2 to 8 miles away at the Pentagon crash? Or another crash you can think of? Oh yea, at Lockerbie and Flight 800 there was (both had in-air explosions).
Remember, the debris is NOT continuous. They didn't even have a clue the secondary debris existed until phone calls from residents brought skeptical investigators looking. If this debris was heavier than feathers it would not have floated from an explosion the height of 600 feet to 11,000+ feet sideways. Even if it could, there would have been a continuous trail back to the crash with the heavier items falling first. Remember, all the debris at the crash crater bounced South and Southwest. The secondary debris is East in the direction of, and beyond, Indian Lake.
Indian Lake is where witnesses heard the airliner fly over, and saw debris falling from the sky moments after the crash. If the debris floated from the crash site, it would have taken 10-15 minutes at 10 mph to get there.
Flight 427 is another airliner that crashed intact and ALSO had debris found 2.5 miles away. We can try to compare it's debris field with that of Flight 93. From the 427 report in 1999:
Several lightweight items (for example, pieces of interior insulation and a passenger business card) were discovered as far as 2½ miles east-northeast of the main wreckage; these items exhibited soot and smoke damage. One witness stated that he heard the sound of the crash while he was playing golf about 2 miles east-northeast of the accident site; about 2 minutes later, he observed blackened insulation falling onto the golf course. http://www.ntsb.gov/publictn/1999/AAR9901.pdf
Comment: In the case of Flight 427 it was determined there was no midair breakup. When reading through the report it is clear the only debris found away from the crash is a very small amount of very lightweight debris. All the major components of the aircraft were found in a 350 foot diameter of the crash. The debris field of Flight 427 looks nothing like the debris field of Flight 93 which has much more debris scattered over a much larger area. The engine of Flight 93 was located far enough from the main debris field that it was not located until the a day later. It was not part of the 100-200 yard main crash debris as the engines of Flight 427 were. It is interesting to note that insulation from 427 was spotted 2.5 miles away within 2 minutes of the crash. That seems physically impossible to me.
If anyone can document another air crash where the aircraft crashed intact but had fairly significant debris spread over a couple miles like clothing, metal pieces like confetti etc. please email me the information. I have yet to find such a crash, and people emailing me claiming to have experience in this area have indicated the Flight 93 debris is consistent with a midair breakup.
Theory 2 - It fell off during descent. The Airliner overstressed and fell apart. This theory will get all the play when theory 1 is ruled out - and theory 3 is denied. So let's focus. I have heard experts on TV say the 757 is extremely robust, and I imagine Boeing isn't going to be anxious to say "Yea, they basically fall apart when you play rough."
Flight 93 impacted at 500mph (650mph was reported Oct 24th) according to early reports. I found those reports very curious... just how did they measure that? Interestingly, witnesses report the planes engines stopped and there was no sound just before the crash.
A 757 has a cruising speed of 550mph. It should have been able to go much faster than cruising speed before things started breaking off. These planes can dive, pull out and do a barrel roll without coming apart. One reply to this idea has been that the 550mph speed is only at "altitude". Flying that fast at low altitude would have doomed the structure of the aircraft.
In fact, all three other WTC jets were reported to have been flying around 500mph when they crashed. The Pentagon jet was 50 feet off the ground and clipping trees. They didn't fall apart.
It's difficult to imagine what could have been done from the cockpit to overstress a 757 at 500 mph. The consensus from the 757 pilots that have emailed is that it would be possible to overstress this aircraft, but they are really not sure what it would take to do that. It is not built into the simulators. One believed the debris may well look as it does in this case, but he always thought a shoot down debris field would look similar.
Jet engine mounts ARE designed to break away before the wing does. There are instances of engines falling off when struck by large blocks of ice formed by lavatory plumbing leaks. I have yet to read of a large passenger jet engine falling off due to overstress. Flight 427 spun in due to a stuck full rudder and didn't lose an engine. It's hard to imagine a more violent entry than that. Alaska Air 261 dove and rolled inverted, flew inverted for quite a ways as pilots tried to unstick a jammed down elevator. Engines stayed on just fine.
Passenger jets, by definition, must be designed with a fairly high structural tolerance in comparison to other aircraft due to their precious cargo. We can anticipate they might fly through thunderstorms, lightning, high wind conditions, unexpectedly turbulent air with heavy loads. Flight 93 had 38 passengers. 1/4 full... so theoretically should have been able to handle more than a fully loaded aircraft.
Is it possible it broke up due to stress as a result of a cockpit struggle? Well, the Flight Data Recorder synced in time to the Cockpit voice recorder would tell any expert. It seems to me the wings would rip off before the fuselage would breach, sending books, clothes and burning debris down miles away from the final crash site...
Theory 3 - It was shot off or blown off by a bomb. This jives best with the eyewitness accounts above in my mind. Remember the widely reported cell caller that said he heard an explosion and saw white smoke coming from the plane prior to the crash. In apparent confirmation, we have a number of ground witnesses reporting hearing a series of explosions. Also, we have ground witnesses that saw debris falling from the sky miles from the crash site within moments of the crash. Check the eyewitness page over. These things did not happen at the Pentagon or the WTC. Would the explosions have been heard if Flight 93 overstressed?
What we DO NOT have is witnesses saying Flight 93 came down in 2 pieces or a huge ball of flames. That seems to indicate that something hugely catastrophic did not occur.
We DO have at least 2 unique debris fields which suggests a midair trauma. But the debris is only a few miles away, so that trauma occurred at a fairly low altitude - which jives with reports of the plane at 6,000-7,500 feet.
So, what caused the plane to fall apart?