Is the “End of Serenity” Photo Fake?

image I think what follows is an example of the truism that "we are most gullible when we are most skeptical."

When United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in Somerset County, Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001, a woman named Val McClatchey, who lived nearby the crash, managed to get a picture of the cloud of smoke from the crash rising above the trees. Her photo, which she subsequently titled 'The End of Serenity,' became quite famous, but now conspiracy theorists are suggesting that it's a fake:
Mrs. McClatchey's fame has recently taken a sour turn. The real estate agent has recently become a target of bloggers calling themselves "9-11 researchers," who are seeking to prove that the U.S. government was complicit in the attacks that brought down the Twin Towers, pierced the Pentagon and crashed United Airlines Flight 93. The smoke plume doesn't line up right, they say. It is too large in the frame. The smoke is characteristic of an ordnance blast, not a jet fuel fire, further evidence that the government shot down Flight 93. They analyze wind direction, debris patterns and camera trajectories, all in the service of the theory that the crash was faked. They have visited Mrs. McClatchey's office and called her at home, posting satellite maps of her property and accusing her of digitally altering her photo to insert a fake smoke plume. The bloggers have picked apart her story, highlighting inconsistencies in different news accounts and questioning her motives. Others have described her as "surly," "hostile," "irate" and "defensive." People have called her at home, accusing her of being anti-American and of "holding the photo hostage." On a simple Google search, Mrs. McClatchey's name now pops up in the same sentence as "total fraud."
Good grief. Why would the photo be a fake? The woman really did live near the crash, and she doesn't seem to have possessed the kind of skills needed to create a sophisticated photo forgery. Plus, the FBI examined the photo and vouches for its authenticity.

It's an interesting phenomenon when people became so suspicious that they start seeing evidence of fakery everywhere. It goes to show that doubting everything can be just as bad as believing everything.

Hate Crimes/Terror Photos

Posted on Mon Aug 07, 2006


With all that fuel, rubber, upholstery, and whatnot burning you'd expect a huge black cloud of smoke. This looks like maybe a car or something small. Even a house fire generates more smoke than this.
Posted by Charybdis  in  Hell  on  Mon Aug 07, 2006  at  10:34 AM
It might be a smoke cloud from the initial explosion. Before everything caught fire and the smoke cloud grew.
Posted by Dae Dae  on  Mon Aug 07, 2006  at  10:55 AM
Posted by LaMa  in  Europe  on  Mon Aug 07, 2006  at  11:26 AM
I'm still not buying it. The initial explosion should have been tremendous, with lots of smoke. This looks like the fire has tapered off, not gotten worse.
Posted by Charybdis  in  Hell  on  Mon Aug 07, 2006  at  11:43 AM
This isn't "people" seeing evidence of fakery everywhere, it's conspiracy nuts on 9/11. They fall in to two cateogries: those who want you to buy their book, and those too stupid to comprehend how stupid they sound when they make this crap up.

If there's a conspiracy behind 9/11, it must involve pretty much everybody in the United States other than the conspiracy nuts. And was orchestrated by a government that can't buy toilet seats for less than $100 each.
Posted by Terry Austin  in  Surf City USA  on  Mon Aug 07, 2006  at  12:54 PM
Well, I have been playing with the software at work again, and it cannot find any digital alteration. So either it is real or a very good fake. I blew it up as big as I can get it and if you look at the sky on the left side of the photo, you will see a light smoke trail as if the plane was burning and skidded. If I recall correctly, this would be consistant with the crash. Also the plume is most likely the explosion of one of the fuel tanks once the plane actually came to a halt on the ground.

The problem I have is that they are harassing this poor woman and of course there will be some inconsistances when you tell the same story to 100 people, you will not tell it exactly the same way each time. That is human nature. It would also depend on how a question was asked as to what answer you would get.

My money would be on the photo being real and these groups are out just for their own interest.
Posted by Lounge Lizard  on  Mon Aug 07, 2006  at  01:17 PM
You know, if you came to my office and phoned my home to call me a liar, a fraud, and "anti-American," my reaction would probably be "surly," "hostile," "irate," and "defensive," too.
Posted by Big Gary  on  Mon Aug 07, 2006  at  02:12 PM
After watching the underground documentaries, and reading some stuff on the conspiracy sites, I do believe there are some things the administration didn't tell us or covered up about 9-11. Especially about what happened at the Pentagon. (yes, i also have a lot of down time at work) But, I also believe that there are also a lot of conspiracy nuts out there who just start grabbing things out of thin air after a while. Harrassing this poor woman in her private life is going way over the line. I'm no expert at photo examination, but I would certainly consider Alex one. If he can't see any alterations, and also Mr. Lizard, I'm willing to believe it's real.
Posted by Grain  in  Bay Area, CA  on  Mon Aug 07, 2006  at  02:23 PM
I'm definitely no expert at photo examination. That's a real art. Telling the difference between real and fake becomes especially difficult with low-res images, because compression artifacts can make real things look fake.
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Mon Aug 07, 2006  at  02:36 PM
There are lunatic conspiracy theorists on just about every subject. While it isn't directly related to the authenticity of this picture some of you might be interested in the following link, where the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia has made almost all of the exhibits introduced at the Moussaoui trial available -- about 1,200 in all. Warning, some are very disturbing.
Posted by Sam  on  Mon Aug 07, 2006  at  02:50 PM
I think Hollywood has distorted our ideas about what real destruction looks like. After all in the movies even volvos seems to go up like hydrogen bombs when shot at. Anyway if you want to know the truth, George Bush has a time machine which he used to go back in time, he then used his weather machine, the same one he used to steer Katrina, to steer an asteroid into the ancient earth killing the dinosaurs and making sure his buddies would have oil in the future.
Posted by Lonewatchman  on  Mon Aug 07, 2006  at  05:50 PM
This kind of harassment is part of the dark side of the better communication that the internet brings.
Posted by cvirtue  on  Tue Aug 08, 2006  at  07:30 AM
I'm with Big Gary...
I get "surly," "hostile," "irate," and "defensive," when I get deluged with calls for refinacing from companies I've never heard of. I'd really go off the handle under those circumstances.
Posted by MIKE  on  Tue Aug 08, 2006  at  09:06 AM
There seems to be a certain section of the population who have never gotten over the 2000 election. They didn't want to believe it, then 9-11 came along and they didn't want to believe that either. They have hated President Bush so much and have lied to themselves so many times that they don't know which way is up anymore. It is a very sad person who accuses a person like Val of staging a photograph in such a way.
Posted by RepJ  on  Tue Aug 08, 2006  at  01:40 PM
It's staggering how quickly people are to push their own agendas rather than actually discuss the topic at hand.
Posted by Charybdis  in  Hell  on  Tue Aug 08, 2006  at  03:51 PM
"I'm still not buying it. The initial explosion should have been tremendous, with lots of smoke. This looks like the fire has tapered off, not gotten worse." - Charyb

Why would it have to be tremendous?

As Lonewatchman rigthly says, you would get an explosion of the fuel tanks on impact. That would create a mushroom cloud - exactly what we see here. Only some time after that, when fire has had time to develop and spread and hings really start to burn, new smoke development begins.
Posted by LaMa  in  Europe  on  Wed Aug 09, 2006  at  06:01 AM
Please get the full story...
Posted by Killtown  on  Wed Aug 09, 2006  at  10:42 AM
A mushroom cloud is a product of a rapid increase in the temperature at the explosion site and the subsequent cooling of the debris cloud as it rises in the air. The rate of cooling and the prevailing wind pattern will determine how close the cloud looks like a mushroom. The bigger the explosion, the greater the temperature rise and the higher the debris cloud will rise before the wind can affect it to any great degree (hotter air rises faster - also fast rising air will not be affected by lower velocity winds). This can happen with any explosion, not just bombs. To determine if the size of the cloud seen is right one should know the distance the camera is from the site, the size of the explosion, the material causing the explosion, and the weather at the site.
Posted by Christopher Cole  on  Wed Aug 09, 2006  at  05:30 PM

Posted by Frank  on  Fri Aug 24, 2007  at  05:45 PM
Article from today's NYT about the photo and the woman who took it....
Posted by Mperk2000  on  Mon Sep 10, 2007  at  04:26 PM
Having seen large explosions first hand this photo seems perfectly fine. The large cloud (much larger than the photo lets on do to distance behind the barn) is do to the initial impact and fireball. As the explosion pushes the air outward it creates a near vacuum at the center point. As the energy of the initial blast dissipates air rushes back into the area of the blast. This is evident by the shape of the "mushroom" effect on the cloud. It is also why one does not see more smoke in the photo, as it was taken moments after the blast. At this point what we think of as burning (slow immolation) has yet to start. The energy of the impact and initial blast carries particulate matter with it creating a dark cloud (this particular blast likely caused by jet fuel releasing massive amounts of carbon also lends to a dark cloud). The irregularity of the cloud shape also lends to an uneven explosive origin. As the fuel tanks explode they do not do so in unison (the explosions occur milliseconds apart). You will notice a more rounded shape to an ordinance explosion, as there is one flash point.
Posted by Chris  on  Mon Sep 10, 2007  at  09:11 PM
I hate to break it to the conspiracy theorists, but if you were to actually do some simple math (and had paid attention/passed calculus) you could probably come to the conclusion that the cloud is appropriate for the distance, materials, and timing.

If we assume that this was stated to be what, a mile from her house, and that she heard the explosion, grabbed her camera (a reasonable reaction based on the fact that she was already observing the Sept. 11th events), and ran outside, thus giving us what, three minutes from impact to shot, then I'd say this sounds about right.

Jet fuel isn't prone to immediate detonation (contrary to Hollowood's depictions), and usually requires intense heat and compression to generate its reaction. Now, a crash could very well do this, but that might explain why this isn't some huge orange fireball. I think a member of the FAA might be more qualified to explain this.

Either way, it seems to me that almost all of these conspiracy theorists are little more than "the fat kid who sits behind his computer all day in his mom's basement." Let's not give these blowhards too much credit here.

Oh, and regarding the neocons who reply to threads like on Killtown, ignore them. If they can't see the obvious contradictions in statements like "terror loving hippies," and whatever other made up names Sean and BillO taught them this week, then they don't deserve whatever press they do get.

Specifically, the "lawyer" that responded to the blog, no intelligent lawyer (possibly explaining the far right leanings) would dare use the language posted on that site, and risk that coming back to bite him in the ass.
Posted by Matthew  on  Tue Sep 11, 2007  at  05:25 PM
Why do people still think 911 was a set up. Just redic! Fires me up to think that!!
Posted by Jet Charter  on  Tue Jul 22, 2008  at  09:04 AM
Commenting is not available in this channel entry.