MARY Ann Owens, a journalist with Gannett News, part of the US company which owns the Evening Press, was driving to work in Washington, on September 11, 2001, when a hijacked jet screamed overhead and ploughed into the side of the Pentagon. Here, she recalls the events of that horrific day

THE sound of sudden and certain death roared in my ears as I sat lodged in gridlock on Washington Boulevard, next to the Pentagon, on September 11.

Up to that moment I had only experienced shock at the news coming from New York City and frustration with the worse-than-normal traffic snarl-up.

It wasn't until I heard the demon screaming of those engines that I expected to die. The engine noise was different.

It was too sudden, too loud, too encompassing.

Looking up didn't tell me what type of plane it was because it was so close I could only see the bottom.

Realising the Pentagon was its target, I didn't think the careening, full-throttled craft would get that far.

Its downward angle was too sharp, its elevation of maybe 50ft, too low. Street lights toppled as the plane barely cleared the Interstate 395 overpass.

The knowledge that I was about to die was immediate and certain: This plane was going to hit me along with all the other commuters trapped on Washington Boulevard.

Gripping the steering wheel of my vibrating car, I involuntarily ducked as the wobbling plane thundered over my head.

Once it passed, I raised slightly and grimaced as the left wing dipped and scraped the helicopter area just before the nose crashed into the south west wall of the Pentagon.

Still gripping the wheel, I could feel both the car and my heart jolt at the moment of impact. The left wing crumbled under the plane's weight as the tail fell to the ground and exploded. An instant inferno blazed about 125 yards from me. The plane, the wall and the victims disappeared under coal-black smoke, three-story tall flames and intense heat.

I wanted to be sick, but there was no time. Debris was falling. As brick, mortar and who knows what else fell from the sky, I sprawled myself across the front seat, and tried to cover my head within an entanglement of arms and briefcase, fearful that pieces of the wreckage would crash through the windshield or roof.

As the thudding stopped, screams of horror and hysteria rose from the line of cars, and I became a person I didn't know. I didn't scream.

Operating on instinct, I climbed out of the car. First I checked to see if I was bleeding. I wasn't.

Borrowing a cell phone, I managed two quick calls; one to the office and one to my husband. Then I commenced a frantic search for a camera.

Purchasing a disposable for $20 from a tourist several cars up, I quickly clicked half the roll, careful not to take too many.

Later, without thinking, I made an abrupt U-turn in front of Arlington National Cemetery. I wasn't going on to the office. I was going home. I needed to see my husband, call my children, hear my small grandson's voice.

The full impact of actually being alive overwhelmed me. A mere 125 yards had made me a witness instead of a casualty.

Survival wasn't a miracle, it was luck, pure luck.