An Interview with Bob Pugh, Pentagon Eyewitness

by Hammer. An Italian translation is available here.

Freelance photographer Bob Pugh was one of the first reporters to arrive at the Pentagon after the crash of American Airlines Flight 77 on September 11, 2001. The footage and photographs taken by Pugh on the scene are a highly valuable record of the events of that day.

Recently, Pugh accepted Undicisettembre's request for an interview, which is presented in full below (only minor typos have been corrected). The images are taken from Pugh's 9/11 footage and many of them have never been published before.

Although Undicisettembre does not agree with some of Pugh's views, we believe that it is our duty to publish this account, because it is as interesting and valuable as any first-hand account of the 9/11 events.

We wish to thank Bob Pugh for his kindness and his time and for his permission to use his images. Links in Bob's interview were added by the editors of Undicisettembre.

Undicisettembre: Can you give a brief account of what you saw and experienced that morning? What do you recall, generally speaking?

Bob Pugh: I arrived at the scene approximately 5 minutes after the crash while listening to the emergency radio traffic from my car. I parked just off the road with the burning building filling my windshield. I began taping as soon as I left my car first shooting a man in a business suit handling a small piece of the wreckage. From there I focused on the overall scene and rescued patients at a row of ambulances. I moved along the road adjacent to the crash site taping fire fighting and arriving emergency equipment and personnel.

Undicisettembre: In an interview you gave a few years ago, excerpted in Loose Change Final Cut, you seemed to imply that the hole in the facade of the Pentagon was a bit smaller than you expected from an airliner impact and that the wreckage was also less and smaller than you imagined. But you also note distinctly the smell of aircraft fuel. Could you clarify whether you still have doubts about the nature of the incident at the Pentagon? At the time, was anyone else having any doubts whether an airliner had just crashed into the Pentagon? Did anyone among the first witnesses seriously doubt that an airliner crashed into that site?

Bob Pugh: I was opposite the impact site and naturally shot it as best I could thinking that would show the most damaged area. I captured the impact hole in a few frames of my video just before the collapse of the building. It looked to be the size of a garage door...still no evidence of the aircraft.

When I arrived I truly expected to see aircraft wreckage since planes were used in New York and that is what I was hearing on the fire radios. I saw no tail, no wings, no seats, no engines, no luggage, no bodies....nothing that I could describe as part of an aircraft. The largest piece I saw was about the size of an open laptop, 1/2 meter by 1/2 meter...... In the "Loose Change" interview I said I could smell the fuel burning. Again I assumed it was an aircraft that hit the building and proceeded with that assumption.

The construction trailer that was burning adjacent to the impact was full of combustibles and in my early video can be heard secondary explosions, perhaps some sort of fuel stored in the trailer. Add to that the diesel exhaust from the fire trucks and the exhaust from the arriving helicopters and there was definitely an odor in the area. Again I was acting on information from others and my own senses.

The witnesses I spoke to said they saw an aircraft; some had varying descriptions of the plane. It was VERY busy there and my instinct was to capture as much of the action as I could. I swept from the attempted rescuers gathering at the heliport to the fire fighting. I had little time to ponder the causes of what I was seeing. All I knew was there had definitely been some sort of disaster there.

I am a very detailed person. I look for specifics when I shoot news video. I know the value of providing complete information. I know that it is widely accepted that the 3rd plane hit the Pentagon but from the details I personally saw I cannot attest to that fact. I am open to all views and I can argue both sides but I am unable to swear that I KNOW the crash was caused by a plane.

It's a troubling position to be in but it's my position.

Undicisettembre: You are on record as saying you estimated the hole as "16 feet diameter, 20 feet tops". How did you reach that estimate? Is that estimate referred to the upper damage, above the ground floor? Did you have a clear view of the ground floor, where the main breach was located?

Bob Pugh: In my video I show a clear view of the hole minutes before the collapse. It was shot about 50 yards from the building using the zoom on my camera. There is a bright yellow fire truck parked in front of the hole spraying foam on the fire. From my vantage point the hole looks like it might be large enough for the fire truck to barely drive through. From that I make the assumption that the hole measures 16 feet more or less.

Undicisettembre: Did you see any survivors or hear them say anything about what had happened? What can you tell us about them?

Bob Pugh: Most of the survivors were badly burned and in shock or incapacitated. I had no opportunity to speak to them. From all accounts they had no idea what had happened to them.

Undicisettembre: What can you tell us about the firefighters and the rescuers?

Bob Pugh: I interviewed a Battalion Chief from the Ft Myer Fire Station that was among the first to arrive at the scene. In my video he is seen putting on his breathing air bottle at his "buggy" in the foreground early in my tape. He placed that action at between 5 and 8 minutes after the impact. There were more than 5 jurisdictions at the scene fighting the fires and providing rescues. One of the problems we still have in the DC area is that there is no radio compatibility between jurisdictions. I witnessed firemen racing across the lawn to speak with police officers, military personnel stopping to talk with firefighters, policemen from State and County departments having to meet rather than radio information.

Many of these concerns are addressed in the Arlington County After Action Report published after September 11.

Undicisettembre: What's your reaction to being a witness of such a huge tragedy and then hearing the so-called "truthers" claim it was all fake?

Bob Pugh: The truthers, I believe, have very legitimate questions that should be answered. "Loose Change" offers the most intellectual approach I am aware of to the concerns of the people in doubt. I have lived through the Vietnam War, the JFK assassination, Watergate, the Gulf Wars and the Iraq water boarding scandals and more. I was there and I too have legitmate questions that may never be answered. I applaud the perseverance of the citizens who only ask for their questions to be addressed, not dismissed, and hope someday the evidence that I believe exists will be released to the world.

Undicisettembre: What's your opinion on the many conspiracy theories regarding 9/11 and specifically the Pentagon incident? Do you have any doubts?

Bob Pugh: I know that I saw. I know what I photographed. In the context of the "Day" I think the aircraft explanation fits. I would, however, like to see ALL materials pertaining opened to examination and the events at the Pentagon finally put to rest. Until that happened I will always wonder.

Undicisettembre: Are there any aspects of 9/11 that you think deserve further investigation? Any unsolved mysteries, nagging gaps that need to be filled, perhaps to bring closure to the emotions surrounding the event? Which avenues of 9/11 investigation and research would you recommend to journalists?

Bob Pugh: Watching "Loose Change" I was impressed with the detailed logic that was provided to support the questions it raises. The fact the the producers sought me out and visited the scene and DC several times shows their attention to the logic of their approach. I was amazed at the research that was done to outline the events before, during and after the incident. From what I know there are video tapes in FBI custody that may well show additional evidence at the Pentagon. The Arlington County Fire Department refuses the radio traffic that morning to be heard in total or recorded....why?

I personally have doubts that the Bush Administration is truthful regarding the details of the 4th aircraft over Pennsylvania. Their spin on the Pvt Jessica Lynch story and the events surrounding Pvt Pat Tillman’s death show a disregard for the truth over the opportunity for propaganda.

I would urge journalists to keep searching for the answers. Someone knows more, someone will eventually speak up.

Undicisettembre: On 9/11 you went from being a reporter to being an eyewitness, from being an interviewer to being the interviewee. Has this changed your reporting? Has it given you new insight into the art of journalism?

Bob Pugh: I was asked to speak on a panel at New York University sharing my experiences on 9/11. I closed my participation urging the journalism students to be factual and focused. I learned on 9/11 more than at any time before that there is a mandatory responsibility to recount EXACTLY what one experiences and no more. I strive not to editorialize news I gather and to provide as much factual information as I can. In the case at the Pentagon history will depend on the information we journalists provide.

Undicisettembre: Have you met any conspiracy theorists and tried to debate them? If so, how did it go, and what is your impression of these people? Have you found an explanation as to why these "inside job" theories seem to be popular?

Bob Pugh: The lack of the US Government's willingness to provide a full account of 9/11 and their unwillingness to open the factual evidence they possess to the light of day can only breed the conspiracy theories. I have met with several individuals and groups that are adamant in their beliefs that there is more to the events we experienced. I have only my knowledge of what I experienced and try to qualify what I share. It is not my position to debate the other’s point of view. Had I not been there I might well have outstanding questions myself, more than I do already.

I do applaud their tenacity and urge them to continue to seek the truth in a focused, truthful way that will only benefit us all in the end.

Undicisettembre: Many journalists here in Italy believe the MIHOP (made it happen on purpose) or at least the LIHOP (let it happen on purpose) theories. What's the situation among your colleagues in the US?

Bob Pugh: There is widespread belief that the way the details have been presented leave factual holes in the story. Post 9/11 the country here was living in fear and the Bush Administration took full advantage of that fear to further its action in Iraq. We in the news business saw what was happening and quietly held the belief that 9/11 provided a blank check to persecute a war without need. If it wasn't MIHOP or LIHOP it certainly was convenient...

Undicisettembre: While you shot your footage, were you hindered in any way? Did anyone ask you to stop taking pictures? Were you free to move around and record anything you wanted?

Bob Pugh: The scene was so disorganized when I arrived I tell people I "I could have run up and jumped in the hole". I knew not to get too close or in the way and had free reign for almost an hour. Once some control was established by the Virginia State Police and the FBI we were pushed back to about 300 + yards from the building. I know of a CNN Pentagon correspondent that was arrested for turning to take a photo while he was being "escorted" from the area. I was only approached by an ATF Agent (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) telling me "You might want to move away, there's another plane 20 miles out".

Undicisettembre: Was all the footage you shot shown on networks, or is there any unseen footage?

Bob Pugh: I provided CNN, CBS, NBC, The US State Department and several other outlets my unedited video. It was edited by their in house staff that they aired what they thought was valuable. In addition to my video I shot over 120 35mm Color and Black and White photos, many of which have never been published. My work is displayed at the NEWSEUM in Washington, DC

Undicisettembre: Did the authorities ask to see your footage as part of their investigation? Did they request any of it to be kept confidential?

Bob Pugh:No, to my surprise.......never.