Hundreds of people were inside the Pentagon when American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the building on September 11, 2001. Among them, Dist. 22 State Senator Brian Birdwell.
He shared his memories of being on fire and carried to safety, on the eve of the 10th anniversary.
Until the devastation of 9/11, Birdwell's office at the Pentagon was just four windows away from the portion that collapsed after a plane crashed into it. "I was 15-20 yards from where the nose of the aircraft makes initial impact with the building," says Birdwell.
Earlier that morning, Birdwell heard about the attacks on New York City. "We knew these weren't accidents," he says, "and that this was not a normal day in our nation's life, but there was no thought that we were next."
Birdwell walked out of his office for a bathroom break, telling co-workers Cheryl and Sandy that he would be back shortly. Little did he know those would be the last words he spoke to them, as the next few minutes changed everything. "Hearing the sound of the impact and the next nano-second I go from a well-lit hallway to that earthly hell of the fire, smoke and the darkness and the inability to navigate," he says.
The jet fuel from the crashed plane ignited on Birdwell's body. As the flames began taking him over, he says a miracle occurred as the Pentagon's sprinkler system turned on. "As I lay there, I can feel on the left side of my face cold water running down my face and I come to that realization that this isn't how the Lord's going to call me home," he says.
Birdwell was brought to safety by strangers, then rushed to Georgetown Hospital.
The next several years were filled with 30 plus operations for extreme burns.
Now, as a state senator, Birdwell's platform is service - and encouraging each person to remember the sacrifices made my the brave men and women in our country. "Continue to be vigilant and that's what I would ask the American people to do," he says.
10 years after the thoughtless terror attacks, Birdwell says he does believe we are safer as a country in knowing who the enemy is. But, he says it is a ruthless enemy that takes pride in killing Americans. "We're not completely safe in the sense that we're dealing with that adaptive enemy and there's a number of things still to be done," he says.
If you want to hear Senator Birdwell's story of survival, he will be the featured speaker at 5:00 p.m. at Baylor University's 9/11 memorial service at Waco Hall.