Man at His Best

Disproving 9 Of The Biggest 9/11 Conspiracy Theories

Jet fuel. Controlled demolitions. No debris. Let's get to the bottom of it.

BY JACK HOLMES | Sep 8, 2016 | Culture

Getty / Thomas Nilsson

An extraordinary event requires an extraordinary explanation. But for some, the idea that 19 men could commandeer four commercial airliners in a coordinated attack and use them as 400-ton missiles to destroy such massive buildings still doesn't make sense. Even 15 years after the fact, there are still plenty who cannot believe that these symbols of American power—military, economic, and, had they not been stopped, political—were so fundamentally vulnerable to destruction. People want more, and when the official accounts aren't satisfying, they begin to look elsewhere.

The are still plenty of 9/11 conspiracy theorists, and no matter what you tell them, they will tell you the attacks on September 11, 2001 did not happen the way our government or our media claim. Conspiracy theorists will tell you it was an inside job. They will tell you the government let it happen. They will tell you the buildings couldn't have fallen that way, or the Air Force could have stopped the whole thing if they wanted to.

There are an untold number of theories about what really happened that day. They are the subject of a well-known documentary film, and they have spawned countless websites. Most of them are weird, and some are almost comical. But exploring these theories involves venturing into the darkest corners of our imagination, where confusion and despair bleed into reactionary paranoia, and the enduring sacrifice of the innocent people who died that day is almost cheapened by slander and suspicion.

Below are nine of the most prominent theories, as well as the evidence explaining why they simply don't add up.

1 | Jet fuel can’t melt steel beams

The theory: The fuel from the planes that hit the World Trade Centre could not have caused the buildings' structural failures, because no kerosene fire burns hot enough—2,750 degrees Fahrenheit—to melt their steel frames.

The debunk: Jet fuel burns at 800 to 1,500 degrees, Popular Mechanics notes—not hot enough to melt the steel frames. But the frames did not even need to fully melt for the buildings to collapse; they just had to weaken significantly. Steel loses about half its strength at 1,100 degrees, and moreover, the fuel wasn't the only source of fire. The combustible material inside the buildings (rugs, curtains, furniture, paper) brought the temperature up to 1,832 degrees in some places.

2 | Controlled Demolitions

The theory: An addendum to the previous theory, many theorists believe that controlled explosions, not the planes, brought down the towers. Among the evidence cited: Puffs of dust shot out horizontally as the buildings fell, and the initial damage was too widespread (particularly to lower floors) to have been caused by the jets.

The debunk: A spring 2005 report by the National Institute of Standards and Technology found that plane debris "sliced through the utility shafts at the North Tower's core," Popular Mechanics reports, "creating a conduit for burning jet fuel—and fiery destruction throughout the building." The blaze exploded down the elevator shafts, disabling them and causing damage (and killing people) all the way to the lobby below, long before the towers collapsed. The puffs of dust were the result of each floor bearing down on the one below "with pulverising force" as the buildings fell, in what is known as "pancaking." That force caused the air between floors to shoot out with formidable speed and power, creating the bursting clouds of dust.

3 | Insider Trading

The theory: In the days leading up to September 11, a large volume of American and United Airlines stock was traded—and in many cases shorted, or bet against—by people who had prior knowledge of the attacks.

The debunk: Bloomberg Trade Book data did show much higher than normal put option volume (people betting against the stock of American and United) in the weeks and days leading up to the attacks, Snopes reports, including a volume 100 times above average on the Thursday before. However, the 9/11 Commission found no evidence those trades were the result of prior knowledge. For example, "a single U.S.-based institutional investor with no conceivable ties to al Qaeda purchased 95 percent" of the put options on United's parent company on September 6, according to the report, while "much of the seemingly suspicious trading in American [stock] on September 10 was traced to a specific U.S.-based options trading newsletter, faxed to its subscribers on Sunday, September 9."

As that's a government report, the conspiracists will likely remain unconvinced.

4 | The Stand Down order

The theory: The Air Force—specifically, the North American Air Defence Command (NORAD)—was ordered to stand down even after the planes were confirmed as hijacked. As a result, no fighter jets were scrambled from any of the 28 military bases in range of the four seized planes.

The debunk: In reality, according to Popular Mechanics, only 14 fighter jets were on alert in the lower 48 states that day, and there was no computer network or alarm system designed to alert NORAD of missing or hijacked planes. "They [civilian Air Traffic Control] had to pick up the phone and literally dial us" when a problem arose, Major Douglas Martin told PopMech, which they did three times on 9/11. NORAD's Northeast Air Defence Sector scrambled two F-15s and three F-16s when the first call came in at 8:37 a.m., but none came close to the hijacked planes. They couldn't find them: The hijackers turned off the planes' transponders, making them nearly impossible for Air Traffic Control to locate, and NORAD's radar at the time only looked outward for threats—there was no coverage inland.

5 | The holes were simply too small

The theory: The two holes in the Pentagon after the attack—75 and 12 feet wide—were too small to have been carved by a 125-foot-wide jet. Some theories have concluded the attack was actually carried out with a satellite-guided missile.

The debunk: "A crashing jet doesn't punch a cartoon-like outline of itself into a reinforced concrete building," says Popular Mechanics, citing Mete Sozen, a structural engineering expert at Purdue University. One wing hit the ground, while the other was torn off by the force of impact. "What was left of the plane flowed into the structure in a state closer to liquid than a solid mass." The 12-foot hole was punched through by the plane's landing gear.

6 | The inevitable anti-semitism

The theory: Because this is a list of conspiracy theories, one of the more prominent ones blames Jewish people for the attack. The claim is that 4,000 Israelis employed by companies with offices at the World Trade Centre stayed home from work on the day of the attacks, indicating prior knowledge. In some cases, this is considered part of a larger Israeli conspiracy to pull the United States into the Middle East in service of Israeli interests.

The debunk: There is no evidence that 4,000 or any other number of Jewish people stayed home from work that day, Snopes tells us. There is overwhelming evidence, however, that more than 400 Jews died in the attacks—10 percent of the victims. The rumours appear to originate from Russian site Pravda and pro-Palestinian channel Al-Manar Television.

7 | No debris at The Pentagon

The theory: Investigators found no wreckage of Flight 77, the plane that hit the Pentagon. That lack of debris in and around the impact site indicates something else—a missile, for instance—was responsible for the damage.

The debunk: There was wreckage found.

"It was absolutely a plane, and I'll tell you why," Allyn E. Kilsheimer, the first structural engineer to arrive at the Pentagon after the attack, told Popular Mechanics. "I saw the marks of the plane wing on the face of the building. I picked up parts of the plane with the airline markings on them. I held in my hand the tail section of the plane, and I found the black box … I held parts of uniforms from crew members in my hands, including body parts. Okay?"

8 | Flight 93 was shot down

The theory: Contrary to cockpit recordings and official reports, the passengers of Flight 93 did not band together to take on the hijackers and bring down the plane near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Instead, the plane was shot down by another jet. The purported evidence? Eyewitness accounts of a mysterious "white jet" in the area, the fact that one of the plane's engines was found "a considerable distance" from the crash site, and a former F-16 pilot's claim on The Alex Jones Show that he knew the pilot in the North Dakota Air National Guard who shot down the plane.

The debunk: There was another jet in the area, but it was a corporate jet owned by a marketing company, according to Popular Mechanics. The FAA contacted the jet's co-pilot, Yates Gladwell, when the plane was already in a descent towards Johnstown-Cambria Airport, 20 miles north of Shanksville, to ask them to investigate the scene below—which they did. Gladwell confirms this account.

The "engine" was a fan from one of the engines, which was found 300 yards downhill from the crash site in the direction the plane was headed on impact. An Air National Guard spokesman said the pilot who reportedly shot down the plane—identified as Major Rick Gibney—flew a completely different route that day with a passenger, Ed Jacoby Jr., who vehemently denies the theory's account, to the point of outrage.

9 | The hijackers are still alive

The theory: Conspiracists seized on news reports in the immediate aftermath of the attacks—particularly one from the BBC—that reported various hijacker suspects identified by authorities were actually still alive and well. This indicates that the attacks had been carried out by actors with other means.

The debunk: The people who were found to still be alive in those reports were different people with similar or identical names to the hijackers, as other BBC reports showed. "The confusion over names and identities we reported back in 2001 may have arisen because these were common Arabic and Islamic names," a subsequent report suggests, adding that both the 9/11 Commission and the FBI are confident they correctly identified the 19 hijackers.

From: Esquire US.