Firefighters continue to battle fires in the affected area as rescue workers search the rubble for bodies and police search for evidence.
There has been no preliminary estimate of the number of bodies removed thus far, but Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that initial “ballpark” estimates putting the death toll up to 800 may be too high. Recent reports have put the estimated number of missing defense workers at 200.
Arlington County Fire Dept. Chief Ed Plaugher told a news conference this morning that his “ballpark estimate” was a death toll of 100 to 800. Included in that figure are the 64 people aboard the hijacked American Airlines’ flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon yesterday morning.
In an effort to explain the grim forecast, the Defense Department said in a written statement that “anyone who might have survived the initial impact and collapse could not have survived the fire that followed.”
Victoria Clarke, assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, refused to comment on possible casualty numbers, but said she has “no confidence” that the death toll is as high as 800.
Officials from the various military services told the Associated Press that about 100 members of the Navy and Army are unaccounted for, while so far nobody is unaccounted for within the Air Force and Marine Corps.
So far, 94 people from the Pentagon disaster have been taken to the hospital, at least 10 of them in critical condition, Washington-area hospitals reported. None of the hospitals have reported receiving fatalities.
Four special “Urban Search and Rescue Teams” totaling about 240 members moved into the Pentagon wreckage this afternoon.
Acoustic listening devices designed to pick up the faintest sound and dogs trained to identify live victims have not discovered any signs of life. Officials hope that, after the unstable rubble is cleared, people might be found in areas adjacent to the section of the Pentagon that collapsed and burned.
The search is also aimed at finding the jetliner’s “black box,” which contains data on the plane’s flight path after it left Washington Dulles International Airport bound for Los Angeles.
Shortly before noon, about 20 FBI agents lined up and linked arms, moving in step across the grass and roadways several hundred yards away from the Pentagon, searching for evidence.
Recent reports say the Boeing 757 that crashed into the southwestern side of the Pentagon complex was actually meant to target the White House or Air Force One.
Several thousand of the 23,000 military and civilian workers who normally work at the Pentagon returned to work today. But the extensive damage, which closed nearly half of the Pentagon’s corridors, prevented many from getting to their offices.