No Magical Healing Columns

This is the second of the puzzles addressed in a three-part series introduced by The Plane of the Shadow Wedge.   The first part was No Obvious Mask, in which we identify the shadow mask on the South side of the WTC2 tower at the time UA175 impacts the building.

So then I wondered if this same shadow wedge would explain what we see in other videos, other perspectives of the same plane-tower collision, and in particular, the "Magically Healing Columns" sequence, shown on the left.

The puzzle here is similar to the "One Obvious Mask" puzzle: why does it appear that the plane slips into the building with barely a hint of any damage to the steel columns while the final frame shows so much more damage?

In this view, the South wall is a little lighter than in the "One Obvious Mask", but again we see no visible distinction between windows and columns; the South wall is a fairly uniform dark gray color, giving the impression that it is fairly solid. The East side on the right is even brighter, though the angle is so sharp that we cannot see windows or columns.

Why is the South side lighter than it was in the "One Obvious Mask"? Primarily, it appears that the camera taking this shot was set to pick up more of the light, and hence the East side is too bright. Although the South side of the tower did not receive direct sunlight at that time, there is a lot of ambient light reflecting off of other buildings and from the sky itself, especially in the direction of the sun. This ambient light provides enough dim lighting of the South side to see a uniform dark gray color, but not enough to distinguish small details of similar color.

Since the shadow wedge is across the entire South wall, then the plane must be passing through that same shadow here before it hits the wall. In frames 7 and 8 (the last two before the final frame), you can see that the right wing has a sharp edge between the sun-lit side and the shaded side, just like in the "One Obvious Mask" only in a different place due to the difference in timing. The following sequence of four frames is also copied from Michael Hezarkhani Video / CNN Best Angle "The Money Shot Files For Bankruptcy" and the red arrows are pointing a puffball emerging where the author suggests a pod caused damage as it passed through the wall.

But since the wall here appears lighter, you might think we should be able to see more of the plane within the shadow wedge, before it hits the wall, and more of the damage to the wall itself. And, again, there is no clearly visible intersection with the wall. This does seem surprising, hence the puzzle.

I claim the shadow wedge is hiding a lot of details here too, and because the perspective of the camera is closer to perpendicular to the wall face, it is harder to see the parts of the plane that we are missing. In fact, we also need to see a bit more of the video after the collision with the wall, and in slower motion. So here is a conveniently generated version of the same video showing the South Tower Cropped to Impact Area First 100 Frames (For best effect, you should right-click and view it in a new window, but not in full-screen mode.)

Click on the play/pause button to step through, watching the seconds count down. When it gets to around 50, stop when you see the flash, shown in the image to the right. Notice that a small patch of the fuselage to the left of the flash is dark, almost black. The red arrow is pointing directly at it. Since it is dark, and right next to this flash, I would claim it is due to the shadow wedge. There is no other indication of the shadow's edge cutting through the plane in this frame.

This flash is, of course, the same flash that we saw above in the Spiegel video, and the dark part of the fuselage hidden in shadow is the same as well, but the contrast is better here against the lighter wall.

Notice also that the left wing is almost invisible in this frame, but it is not yet within the shadow wedge. It is being shaded by the fuselage or the wing itself, and the color of the shading almost matches the color of the shaded wall, making it almost invisible.

Keep stepping forward until around 49, when the puffballs from the engine impacts are first visible, shown on the right. Notice the dark color on the lower part of each puffball. This is a shadow that might be partly due to the shadow wedge, but it is probably darker because it is also shaded by the puffball itself. Note that the left puffball is darker than the right puffball, since I believe the left puffball and the entire left wing is in the shadow wedge at this time. You can see the edge of the shadow on the right wing just above the puffball.

The wings have just started to enter the wall since we can see that most of the right wing has not entered the wall. But notice that the left wing is darker (and more visible because of the contrast with the wall) than in the previous image - this is because it is doubly in shadow, from both the fuselage and the tower's shadow wedge.

Another small puffball is starting to be visible just to the right of the fuselage, which grows in brightness over the next several frames.

Starting around 47, the wings are probably all the way through the wall but it is still difficult to see much damage, until the next frame at 46, shown here on the right. The impact does create a fair amount of dust which obscures more of the details, but it is clear enough to make out the most important details.

The important thing to do for this puzzle is to compare the shape of the darker gray damaged area in this image with the final frame of the animation above, which is copied below (sorry, it is a slightly different scale). The two images are roughly consistent except for a couple issues. The damaged area appears to be a bit larger all around and much darker after the explosion.

Another interesting difference is that there seems to be more damage on the right side. But notice that there is a little white puff forming near the corner of the tower on the right side parallel to where the right engine entered. In the final frame, there is a large dark area in the same place. Hmm...

So the puzzle about the missing damage of the columns seems resolved. The damage is visible in these later frames, immediately after the wings enter the wall, and long before the explosion, but the area is not as dark as in the final frame. Why would that be?

My guess is that the explosion blew off some of the aluminum cladding in the damaged area, and left a carbon deposit on the columns.

And for comparison, the next image is a focused photograph of the South tower impact area that does show the aluminum cladding blown off leaving the darker colored steel columns exposed. This is the same area that appeared darker in the after-explosion video frame above. So this all seems very consistent with the video, and the video seems very consistent with reality.

Another thing to notice is that, now that we have a good focused image, we can distinguish the columns and windows. (This is also probably a little later in the day when the sun would be shining on the South side of the tower, or the photographer was able to increase the focus and contrast.) You'll just have to imagine all the details smaller than the width of a window that we missed in the video.

So the magical healing columns were not magically healing for three reasons.

  1. What we thought was the plane passing through the walls was really the plane passing through the edge of the shadow wedge.
  2. When the plane passed through the wall, we couldn't see much detail of the damage that was there because of the shadow wedge and lack of focus.
  3. The increased darkening of the impact area after the explosion made the damage seem worse than it was.

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