‘I could happen again,” says retired paramedic.
Jack Kump, of Ormond Beach, a retired paramedic who responded to the Pentagon in the aftermath of the attack on Sept. 11, 2001, sees similarities today to the days that led up to the attack.
In 2001, no one suspected that terrorists could strike out of the blue at the heart of America, and today he hears people say that there is no evidence that ISIS, or ISIL, has the capability of attacking the U.S.
“It’s disconcerting that people have forgotten what it was like,” he said. “It could happen again. ISIS says they want to plant a flag in Washington. I can’t imagine why we don’t take that threat seriously.”
He said elected officials should stop bickering along party lines.He recalls how the country pulled together after the Sept. 11 attack, and that’s how it should be again.
On Sept. 11, 2001, 19 al Qaeda terrorists hijacked four commercial U.S. jetliners, deliberately crashing two of the planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and a third plane into the Pentagon. The fourth plane crashed into an empty field in Pennsylvania after passengers tried to take control. Nearly 3,000 people were killed that day.
The plane that crashed into the Pentagon, a Boeing 757 with 57 passengers and crew bound for Los Angeles, was hijacked by five terrorists after it took off from Dulles International Airport. All aboard and 128 on the ground were killed.
Kump’s wife, Joan Wheeler, was working as a teacher at a nearby school. It flew over so low, and so fast, she knew something was wrong. And then she felt the impact.
As a paramedic in the Alexandria, Virginia, fire department, Kump spent 10 days at the Pentagon as the medical liaison for the firefighters working the fire and shoring up the building.
He watched the scene turn from total chaos, on the first day, to the order of a military camp.
At first, there were no replacement cartridges for the face masks to protect the workers from the chemicals from the burning building and plane. There was also a need for dry socks as they waded through the water built up from fire suppression activity.
By the third day, fences were erected, supplies were available and order was restored.
“I watched the government reconstitute itself,” Kump said.
‘It was surrealistic’
Kump, 63, has a document he wrote soon after the event that contains stark details.
On the first night, he helped members of the FBI walk around in the semidarkness picking up debris that had exploded from the plane on impact.
He picked up a tattered and scorched blouse and a shoe. He saw what appeared to be another article of clothing, pale beige in color, draped over a branch. He looked closer and saw it was not clothes. It had hair.
He entered the building the next morning at 6 a.m.
“It was surrealistic,” he said.
Fire trucks had been spraying water on the building for more than a day. Water rained down from the floors above as they waded knee-deep, making their way through shredded ceiling tiles, broken pipes, office furniture and tangled wires. Jet fuel burned their eyes and there was a smell of burning plastic, wood and human flesh.
Seated at a desk were the remains of a body, burned beyond recognition.
He saw a tangled conglomeration from the airplane, including seats and luggage, all held together by melted plastic. There was a foot, sole up, wearing a torn black sock and an arm cut off at the elbow.
There were flip flops and a flowered shirt. Someone had packed for the beach.
He said everyone worked as a team at the site, and he believes that’s how the country should be today.
“With all the country faces today, we should consider a similar approach to face the challenge,” he said.
He said two senators from different parties visited the crash site at the Pentagon, and they described how they were working across party lines to find the responsible parties and take steps to make sure it didn’t happen again.
He said he told them that in six months, they would be fighting again.