‘I was astounded’: U.S. Marshal describes seeing plane crash into the Pentagon on 9/11

Former North Florida U.S. Marshal James Lockley was in a meeting across the street when Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon on September 11.
Published: Sep. 7, 2021 at 6:26 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. on September 11, 2001, killing military and civilian employees working inside and everyone aboard the plane.

184 people in all.

The U.S. Marshal for North Florida just happened to be in Washington D.C. that day at a meeting right across the street.

He and other Marshals from across the country were on the eighth floor, conducting interviews in hopes of hiring more Deputy Marshals.

That’s when he saw Flight 77 crash into the Pentagon right outside the window.

“I vividly remember that day,” James Lockley remembered. “I was in the conference room and remember hearing a loud sound and saw a commercial airliner crashing into the Pentagon, and then seeing the explosion that occurred with that.

“I was astounded to see that occur.”

Lockley described people in uniform streaming out of the Pentagon.

“Some of them were running. Some of them were walking fast. You could see them with their cell phones in their hands attempting to make calls,” he recalled.

He described thick billowing smoke and military choppers flying overhead.

“I was in a panic mode and seeing what we could do to assist...give assistance where we could, if any.”

Lockley first thought it was an accident, perhaps a plane crashing short of the runway at National Airport right across the river.

“Everything was happening so fast,” Lockley said.

It took a minute for it to start sinking in; terrorists had taken control of a 757, slamming it into the heart of the nation’s defense system.

“I remember thinking the arrogance, someone had the audacity to attack America,” Lockley said. “It was like a reminiscence of like a Pearl Harbor bombing...that we had just had a sneak attack on us.”

Lockley described trying desperately to reach his wife to let her know he was okay. Cell phones weren’t working and airlines across the country were swiftly grounded.

It took him several days to get a rental car to get out of Washington, D.C. and back to Florida.

“I guess it made us realize that we weren’t invincible. That we were vulnerable that we can be attacked,” Lockley said when asked how he thought America changed on that day.

Lockley says it’s hard to describe the confusion and panic of that day. No one knew what was going to happen next.

“The impact was horrific because again, not knowing what other kinds of things were going to occur, you had the White House in that vicinity, you had other military institutions, you had Andrews Air Force Base,” Lockley said. “You didn’t know if they had other things that were planned.”

Lockley, who served as US Marshal in Tallahassee for more than nine years, is retired now.

It’s hard to believe, he says, that it’s been 20 years since 9/11.

“I think that was the impact of that is that this is bringing this on American soil now. So it hit home.”

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