Bridgeville native escapes after plane hits Pentagon


By Lynn R. Parks

Betsy Chaney was able to keep calm, at least until she heard her daughter's voice on the telephone. But that "Mommy" from Brooke Chaney, a senior in college, was too much. "We were both sobbing," said Betsy Chaney, Damfries, Va., formerly of Bridgeville. "We prayed right over the phone. And I told her that we've got to be strong - Dad would want us to be strong." That was Tuesday morning, soon after a passenger jet rammed into the side of the Pentagon, ripped through the military administrative building's 24-inch wall and penetrated three of the building's five "rings." The strike was between the fourth and fifth corridors -hallways that connect the five vertical rings - very near the offices of Coleman Resources Corp., a private contractor with the U. S. Army and employer of retired Lt. Col. Ronald Chaney. "I knew right where that was," said Betsy Chaney, Ron's wife. "I immediately picked up the phone and dialed his office, but the phone just rang and rang and rang. And I told myself that that was a good sign, that the phone was at least ringing. I was just going to keep thinking that everything was good." That resolve held, until the phone call from Brooke. "Friends kept calling, asking if I needed them to come over," Betsy said. "And every time I picked up the phone my heart would drop, because it wasn't him." Shortly after noon, Betsy called Coleman Resources offices in Crystal City, a large complex south of Washington, D.C. The person who answered the phone said that he had heard reports that Ron had been seen outside of the Pentagon. "That was some relief," Betsy said. Then at around 1 p.m., the call came for which she had been waiting. "Ron called," she said. "And it was the sweetest sound I ever heard." Both Ron and Betsy Chaney are graduates of Woodbridge High School, Bridgeville. Betsy, 44, graduated in 1974 and attended the University of Delaware. Her parents, Bob and Mary Stewart, formerly of Bridgeville, now split their time between Portland, Ore., and Houston, Texas. Ron, 47, graduated from Woodbridge in 1972 and from the University of Delaware in 1976. After a semester at Widener Law School, Wilmington, he joined the Army. He has since earned a master's degree in history from the University of Delaware. His brothers, Russell and Raymond, his mother, Dorothy, and his grandmother, Mabel Hitchens, all live in Bridgeville. Chaney retired from the Army after 20 years and went to work for Coleman, which provides policy support and analysis to the Army. Last Tuesday, at about 9:40, he was in a meeting with four other people in a room next door to his Pentagon office, C ring, third floor, between the fourth and fifth corridors. "We knew what had happened in New York," he said. Just minutes before, at 8:45 and 9:03, the World Trade Center twin towers had been hit by passenger jets commandeered by terrorists. "We always had understood that the Pentagon was always a potential target and we were discussing the likelihood of being a target in this attack. This building is an obvious symbol of our country and is easy to see from the air." Chaney was leaning against a table in the meeting room. Suddenly, there was a loud explosion.

"It blew the windows out of the office," Chaney said. "I got off the table - whether I was knocked off, fell or just rolled off, I don't know - and just waited there until all the glass blew by me." Chaney said that right away, he knew that this was "something significant." His first thought was that the explosion had been caused by a truck bomb, perhaps parked in the center courtyard. "But within a few seconds, I knew that it was probably an airplane. But I did not think that it had hit so close. Once I was outside and saw the impact, I realized that we were just 40 or 50 feet from the impact." Chaney and the other people in the meeting room left the room and walked along the hallway toward the point of impact, where they saw the plane. "We decided to go down rather than up," he said. "Being low would be better in case of subsequent attacks." They also headed to the outside of the building rather than to the courtyard, which they figured would be littered with debris. "On our way out, we picked up injured people and helped them out," Chaney said. Many of the injured were suffering from cuts and burns. Others were stunned, unable to decide how best to get out. But "at no time, did we see any panic," Chaney said. "There was not any screaming or yelling. It was a fairly orderly effort to get out of the building." After several detours due to blocked hallways, the group reached the mall exit, one side away from where the plane had hit. Chaney and a coworker joined a group of about 500, including military police and fire and rescue workers, that was organizing to go back in and rescue victims. But as they approached the building, the outside wall collapsed, pushing them back. "He told me that a wall collapsed," Betsy said. "And I thought, a little wall, a little plaster. But then he took me to see it and I said, 'You mean that wall?' I just stood and stared at it." The outside wall that collapsed was 24 inches thick and made of 6 inches of limestone, 8 inches of brick and 10 inches of concrete. Chaney tried again to enter the building. When he was turned back because he did not have proper equipment, he walked to Coleman's Crystal City office. From there, he was able to call his wife. Chaney's Pentagon office is in ruins. He said that it may be three years before it is rebuilt. Also destroyed were his car keys, suit coat, briefcase and cell phone. Chaney, who has been stationed all over the world, has been in tight spots before, his wife said. "He has been shot at," she said. "In Haiti, he had a price on his head. But there has been nothing like seeing a building on fire and knowing that he is in there." At the end of the day, when Ron arrived at the Metro stop nearest his home, a neighbor offered to go pick him up. Betsy agreed, then indicated that she planned to go with him. "He said I didn't really have to go, and I told him that I had to go," she said. "He just didn't understand that I wanted to see Ron as soon as I could. "I wanted to hug him."

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