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Remembering 9/11: VCU professor watched plane crash into Pentagon

Remembering 9/11: VCU professor watched plane crash into Pentagon
Posted at 11:17 PM, Sep 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-08 10:27:53-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- 20 years ago, she was sitting in her car, stuck in Northern Virginia traffic. Then a plane flew dangerously low over her the road, changing her life forever.

VCU professor Mary Ann Owens witnessed American Airlines Flight 77 crash into the Pentagon the morning of September 11. The plane crashed into the western side of the building around 9:37 a.m.

While many watched the frightening moments unfold on television, Owens saw it all happen from the front seat of her car.

"The first thing I did was check for blood. Oh, my Girl Scout training kicked in. I'm looking for injuries on myself and I ended up giving first aid to the woman in front of me because she was absolutely hysterical," Owens said.

The VCU journalism professor was stuck in traffic on South Washington Boulevard right next to the building when the plane struck.

"It tilted like this. And it was dragging the left-wing along the concrete of the helicopter pad, so there's sparks going everywhere," Owens said.

She said that she'll never forget the sound of the engine.

"The guy was trying to push it up. And the nose went in at the top, like at the second floor," Owens explained.

At the time, Owens was an international wire editor for USA Today and just happened to have a camera with her.

"Took my press badge and I was screaming camera, camera, I need a camera. And a guy another two cars up was in gridlock and he was a tourist from Charlottesville and he said, well I have disposable cameras if you have any money," Owens said.

The photos she took that day are said to be the only close-up images of the devastation taken before the roof collapsed.

Owens documented as much as she could before security told her to leave, at which point she went straight home to see her husband and call her children.

A witness to one of the most horrific moments in American history, Owens' accounts appeared in various media publications. On the one-year anniversary of 9/11, she wrote an essay titled "The Day I Thought I Was Going To Die".

Two decades after the attack, she says she still remembers those lives lost.

"It's the children that bother me the most."

Owens said she did some research about the children who were on board Flight 77 going toward the Pentagon. She came up with at least four that were on the flight that day.

Two four-year-olds, an eight-year-old and a ten-year-old. She said that she often wonders what they would be doing today if they were still alive.

Join us this week as we Remember 9/11: 20 Years Later with unique reports and recollections from our award-winning storytellers on social media,, and television.