Remembering 9/11: Springdale man recalls plane crashing through Pentagon 20 feet away

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"Where the building fell apart, it actually cut our office in half."

SPRINGDALE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) —When he thought back to September 11, 2001, David Dero Phillips said the day started out perfect.

Phillips, who now lives in Springdale where he works as a deputy city attorney, lived around Arlington, Virginia at the time.

The Army Military Police soldier worked on the budget team in the operations and plans section for the US Army at the Pentagon.

While normally he took the slug line into work, that morning he rode the bus. He admired just how beautiful the weather was as a traveled to work.

By the time Phillips made it to the Pentagon, news of what happened in New York City started to circulate.

On televisions around the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense, he watched as a smokey New York City grappled with the aftermath of the attack.

When he learned the World Trade Center was targeted, Phillips wondered why military targets hadn’t been hit.

Little did he know, one would be.

Phillip’s workday went on as normal. His office was on the third floor on the outer ring of the Pentagon but faced the inner ring.

As he explained, “the Pentagon is not a solid structure. It’s composed of five rings, five floors and the rings are separated overall, but they’re joined by corridors so there are spaces between the rings.”

One of the last things he remembers before the Pentagon was attacked was that he was holding military budgets, while he talked to a friend at the cubicle.

He said he faced the door and his friend faced the window when, all of a sudden, “the entire room that I was in turned vivid yellow and that kind of surprised me for a moment. My mind is trying to reconcile. How can the room suddenly turn vivid yellow? Something happened to my eyes, there’s something wrong with me.”

His friend yelled “get down” before he threw himself on top of Phillips and protected him from shrapnel and other debris that flew around the room.

“At the time of the impact it felt as though somebody had literally picked the building up and dropped it. Now, that is a very unusual feeling when you have walls that are at points are 5 feet thick.”

David Dero Phillips

He heard windows shatter and then smoke filled the office, but at this point, it wasn’t clear what had happened.

“The first and second floors were completely wiped out and everyone was killed. Across the hallway from us, the two people who were in there were killed.”

David Dero Phillips

Phillips and another man looked for other survivors around the office and found a group of four people.

With how quickly smoke filled the area, everyone knew they needed to get out but because of the blast, the hallways on the way out were unrecognizable.

The group of four went left out of the office. They walked over a big gap in the floor that somehow continued to hold.

Phillips and another man exited right out of the office. They searched and searched for a way out.

“The smoke was getting thicker and the fire was getting hotter and you just begin to think, there’s no way out,” Phillips said.

Despite the feeling of resignation, Phillips was adamant to find a way out.

When he came to the bottom of a staircase, he found that the doors to the outside had blown off the building. He escaped right by the hole created by the plane.

“I’m very thankful to god.”

David Dero phillips

When he got outside is when Phillips said he started to think more rationally. Immediately he knew he just survived an act of terror.

American Airlines Flight #77 was hijacked and flown into the west side of the Pentagon.

“How can you be 20 feet from an exploding jet and live to talk about it? I shouldn’t be here today, but I am.”

David Dero Phillips

A total of 125 military personnel and civilians and all 64 people aboard the airliner were killed.

David was reminded that he could have had a similar fate.

Prior to the demolition of the damaged portion of the Pentagon, he and another man were allowed back inside their office to collect anything that survived the blast.

The pair walked around their ash-covered office with empty boxes, because there was nothing to find.

David kicked around in the dust, and to his surprise, he discovered his dog tags that he left in his backpack. While his tags were burnt, they were intact but his backpack was destroyed.

David’s dog tags recovered after American Airlines Flight #77 hit the Pentagon

“It was actually chilling to think that I could’ve been wearing them at the time,” Phillips said.

Phillips said he was glad he found them because he was worried someone would pronounce him dead and shut off his military pay.

Phillips, and who was left on his team, immediately got back to work in a new section of the Pentagon, where they prepared Army budgets for the war on terror.

As we approach the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Phillips said “it’s getting harder for me to go back to the Pentagon in my mind. It’s getting more difficult to relive those facts and those circumstances at the time.”

Regardless, he said he is able to continue to share his experience all these years later, because divine intervention.

“People asked after September 11, where was God? I can tell you one place he was. He was with me, he was with us, he was protecting us.”

David Dero Phillips

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