Sunday, April 22, 2012

Nov. 15, 2001, Philadelphia Daily News, Flight 93: We know it crashed, but not why, by William Bunch,

The following Philadelphia Daily News article, Flight 93: We know it crashed, but not why, FBI is silent, fueling "shot down" rumors, by William Bunch, was published a little over two months after the staged show in Shanksville on 9/11, and given the tenor of the times, it represents some degree of principled courage or guile on the part of the reporter, his editor, and their publisher. The paper's complicated ownership history makes it difficult to judge the real stakes in bucking a singular system, but this piece is positioned to standout for some reward or punishment. Since the Daily News' record is conspicuously absent otherwise in critical Shanksville coverage, perhaps the organ was kept pure, like Kyoto, to deliver a blow, or just seem like it. They have this to show for themselves either way.

I don't know what to make of last December's expose of their own colleague, Hall of Fame sportswriter Bill Conlon, whose child-sex abuse claims surfaced, but bearing the earmarks of having been an open newsroom secret for decades. Better late, I suppose, when the other option is never. Coincidentally, the Flight 93 author's name is the same as that of my favorite Chadds Ford auctioneer, so I'll just assume the best is operative in everybody here except for Mr.Conlon.

 Longtime Philadelphia Daily News columnist, who receives the J.G. Taylor Spink Award in July, is accused of molesting four in story published Tuesday afternoon.
Longtime Philadelphia Daily News columnist, who receives the J.G. Taylor Spink Award in July, is accused of molesting four in story published Tuesday afternoon.

I'm wondering how professionals could be so utterly plainspoken, as they are here with the real title, 'FBI silent, fueling "shot down" rumors,' while witless to their potential role as a realized tool of an established empire. Shouldn't the choice be obvious, if difficult?

No one will ever accuse the powers-that-be behind the U.S. government of a "shameless presentation of self." What would the force do with all that extra energy they're accustomed to expending in layering the chess boards? I mean, they must be up to something, right? We know we aren't getting the whole story, let alone a real one, so since our external reality is manipulated, might not they also be fabricating potential clandestine  alternatives? Wasn't it a possibility of the planned 9/11 attacks, that the responder could be forced by horrendous necessity to spare a fourth great blow on a capitol city, by choosing, if able, to shoot down a jetliner with only 44 people aboard? Short of a very powerful lasso, only one outcome allowed them to live anyway and that required real self-help, instead of the rapturous self-sacrifice on display. Not once in this insistent victim-hero narrative does anyone ever shout out like Momma Rose: "I'm going to bust down that door, grab those controls, and land this big bird down safely at the Tetterboro airport! Help me!" In this way, both sides--the martyr-perpetrator and the victim-hero, carry the same weighted value, and although vastly imbalanced in logistical weight, the powerful can enjoy feeling put upon.

So building-in ambiguity of a forced military missile strike, even as heavy-handedly as evidenced here, wouldn't diminish the amount of imaginary pain generated
Wouldn't the citizenry be able to picture themselves facing similar hard choices if it were within their power, and accept the morality of having it kept a secret from them? Might it not even add luster to the reflection of heroism and sacrifice seen on the television screen? Anyway, some of us need intrigue of some sort to occupy ourselves, and I'm sure they play to that too.

Mr. Bunch gets many astute observations from the local oral tradition down into print, but it's too little---or at least too early. Given the unity of organizational effort that goes into "the star-maker machinery behind the popular songs," as Joni Mitchell put it, such a tack amounts to that of an aspirational gnat. Even with the power of divine paradox behind us---like the 260 fatalities on board American Airlines Airbus, Flight 587, which crashed in Queens on November 12, 2001,  following the 266 said to have been on all four flights used on 9/11; or the intensity in the search for justice following the deaths of two firemen in the Deutsche Bank fiasco on August 18, 2007, as compared to the professional lollygagging and emotional grandstanding that accompanied the disappearance of 343 union souls six years earlier---still, it's not our job to force the light to dawn.

I thought we might be at some crack-in-the-cosmic-egg stage recently, with the surreal controversy over Gen. John Abizaid's report, which "mentioned in passing" that "some portions of remains" from Flight 93 had been mixed up with others from the Pentagon at the Dover Mortuary, "resulting in a practice of dumping in a landfill," which "began shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks," as the Army Times so puts it.

Can anyone believe that Somerset County Coroner Wallace Miller identified a single piece of "human tissue remains," let alone maintained a legal chain of custody for construable "identities?" As I've pointed out in a blog before, when Miller announced the first four identifications on Friday, Sept. 21, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported him as saying
The identifications we have made for now have been mostly through dental records and fingerprints. We're also using radiology (records), and we can find surgical work such as hip replacements," he said.
But then the article went on to report a perhaps carelessly rendered remark of his:
For now, the remains are being taken to a temporary morgue set up by investigators at Friedens, five miles from the crash site. From there, they will be transferred to the Armed Forces Laboratory at Dover, Del., part of a process in which the FBI has mandated DNA matches as final confirmation.
The following Monday the FBI announced at a press conference they had finished with evidence recovery and were pulling up camp after eleven days of work, instead of the 3-5 weeks at first estimated., leaving the site to the care of Wallace Miller and United Airlines. It was left to Miller to answer a question about the determinability of the hijacker's identities:
But whether investigators can ever establish a DNA link that would firmly identify the hijackers is uncertain, Miller said, because investigators don't know if they have a data base which would identify any of the terrorists by DNA.
But surely FBI "investigators" are trained and equipped to recover DNA material from hotels and sleeping rooms where the young Arabs presumed to be the hijackers and identified publicly as such, spent the last nights of their lives, thereby establishing links to the identities who'd undertaken the physical-fitness regimes and flight training programs that we are imputing to them and four successful hijackings and three profitable outcomes.

Likewise, when Families of Flight 93 spokeswoman Lisa Linden said:
"This is impossible to believe. The remains from the Flight 93 crash were under the care and control of Wallace Miller. Period."
isn't she assuming more structural authority than is normally associated with the grief-stricken?

If, in fact, it turns out that the March 2002 memo from David Chu, then the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness---addressed to Thomas White, the Army’s top civilian official at the time---which was the basis for the reference in Gen. Abizaid's report, established an exclusive "mandate," in Wally's word,  for the FBI to make the DNA analyses themselves while stationed at Dover, then it is military honor far more than civilian which was been besmirched in the episode. And for the "Somerset County coroner and Families of Flight 93," to have "sharply denied an explosive new Pentagon report," would be a self-righteous distancing which not only doesn't address the heart of the matter, it adds to its wounding.

I should leave you alone for a moment and let you read the article I promised:

SHANKSVILLE, Pa. - Ernie Stuhl is the mayor of this tiny farming borough that was so brutally placed on America's psychic map on the morning of Sept. 11, when United Airlines Flight 93 slammed nose-down into the edge of a barren strip-mine moonscape a couple of miles outside of town.

A 77-year-old World War II veteran and retired Dodge dealer, he's certainly no conspiracy theorist.

And, when you ask Stuhl for his theory of what caused the jetliner to crash that morning, he will give you the prevailing theory - that a cockpit battle between the hijackers and burly, heroic passengers somehow caused the Boeing 757 to spiral out of control. "There's no doubt in my mind that they did put it down before it got to Washington and caused more damage," he said.

But press the mayor for details, and he will add something surprising.

"I know of two people - I will not mention names - that heard a missile," Stuhl said. "They both live very close, within a couple of hundred yards. . .This one fellow's served in Vietnam and he says he's heard them, and he heard one that day." The mayor adds that based on what he knows about that morning, military F-16 fighter jets were "very, very close."

If the mayor of Shanksville still seems conflicted about what caused the crash of Flight 93 two months ago, he is hardly alone. As the initial shock of Sept. 11 wears off, the crash some 80 miles east of Pittsburgh, and what caused it, is beginning to emerge as the greatest mystery from the worst terrorist attack in American history.

No one has fully explained why the plane went down, or what exactly happened during an eight-minute gap from the time all cell phone calls from the plane stopped and the time it crashed.

And the FBI, which assumed control of the probe from the National Transportation Safety Board, refuses to release data from either of the critical "black boxes," the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder.

Citing the ongoing war on terrorism, the FBI says it can't say when it will release the data - or indeed, if it ever will.

"It's evidence in an ongoing criminal investigation," an FBI spokesman in Pittsburgh, Jeff Killeen, said last week.

This week, the nation was rocked by another jetliner crash - American Airlines Flight 587 in New York - and the difference in the way the probes have been handled is remarkable. In the latest crash, federal officials released detailed information about the cockpit voice recorder in less than 36 hours.

In the case of Flight 93, both the FBI and the nation's air-defense agency - NORAD - have said the aircraft was not shot down.

Said Killeen: "The evidence points to activity on the plane itself - and not elsewhere."

While almost all of the attention given Flight 93 has focused on the bravery of the passengers, the question of why it ultimately went down is not academic. To win the war on terrorism, some say America and its government must continue to occupy the moral high ground - and the failure to release the data in the face of lingering rumors poses a credibility risk.

Predictably, the lack of official information has given rise to a flurry of debate on America's channel for unofficial news: the Internet.

Already, there is a Web site ( that summarizes everything known about the crash. And while much of the mainstream media has lost interest in the story, articles suggesting that the government shot down Flight 93 and has lied about it have flourished on left-wing Internet sites and publications.

Of course, in 2001, Internet conspiracy theories are hardly shocking.

What is surprising is this: Go to Shanksville and the surrounding farm fields where people actually saw or heard the jetliner go down at roughly 10:06 that morning and there are a number of people - including witnesses - who also think that Flight 93 was shot down, or at least aren't ruling it out.

Laura Temyer, who lives several miles north of the crash site in Hooversville, was hanging some clothes outside that morning when she heard an airplane pass overhead. That struck her as unusual since she'd just heard on TV that all flights were grounded.

"I heard like a boom and the engine sounded funny," she told the Daily News. "I heard two more booms - and then I did not hear anything."

What does Temyer think she heard? "I think the plane was shot down," insists Temyer, who said she has twice told her story to the FBI. What's more, she insists that people she knows in state law enforcement have told her the same thing, that the plane was shot down and that decompression sucked objects from the aircraft, explaining why there was a wide debris field.

But an eyewitness, Linda Shepley, said she had an unobstructed view of Flight 93's final two minutes and has reached the opposite conclusion. She recalls seeing the plane wobbling right and left, at a low altitude of roughly 2,500 feet, when suddenly the right wing abruptly dipped straight down, and the Boeing 757 plunged into the earth.

"It's not true," said Shepley of the persistent rumors. "If it had been shot down, there would have been pieces flying, but it was intact - there was nothing wrong with it."

So what are the clues that have prompted the crash of Flight 93 to remain a lingering mystery?

* THE 911 CALL. At 9:58 a.m., roughly eight minutes before impact, a 911 emergency dispatcher in neighboring Westmoreland County took a call from a frantic passenger who said he was locked in the bathroom of Flight 93 and that the plane had been hijacked. The caller said there had been an explosion aboard the plane and there was white smoke. Authorities have never explained the report, and the 911 tape itself was immediately confiscated by the FBI.

* THE DEBRIS FIELD. The reclaimed mine where the plane crashed is composed of very soft soil, and searchers say much of the wreckage was found buried 20-25 feet below the large crater. But despite that, there was also widely scattered debris in the immediate vicinity and further afield. Considerable debris washed up more than two miles away at Indian Lake, and a canceled check and brokerage statement from the plane was found in a deep valley some eight miles away that week.

* THE MYSTERY PLANE. Many people in the Shanksville area, including some interviewed by the Daily News, saw a fast-moving, unmarked small jet fly overhead a very short time after Flight 93 crashed. Several days later, authorities said they believe the plane was a Falcon 20 private jet that was headed to nearby Johnstown but was asked to descend and survey the crash site. Yet officials have never identified the pilot nor explained why he was still airborne roughly 30 minutes after the government ordered all aircraft to land at the closest airport.

* THE ENGINE. While the FBI and other authorities have said the plane was mostly obliterated by the roughly 500 mph impact, they also said an engine - or at least a 1,000-pound piece of one - was found "a considerable distance" from the crater. Stuhl, the Shanksville mayor, said it was found in the woods just west of the crash. That information is intriguing to shoot-down theory proponents, since the heat-seeking, air-to-air Sidewinder missiles aboard an F-16 would likely target one of the Boeing 757's two large engines.

* LOCATION OF F-16S. From Day 1, the government has given conflicting accounts about the exact whereabouts of three North Dakota Air National Guard F-16s, assigned to national air defense, based at Langley Air Force base in Virginia and scrambled at the height of the attacks.

Just a few days after the crash, a federal flight controller told a Nashua, N.H., newspaper that an F-16 was "in hot pursuit" of the hijacked United jet, following so closely that it made 360-degree turns to stay in range. "He must have seen the whole thing," an unnamed aviation official said.

No one would argue that two months after Flight 93 tumbled into a Pennsylvania hillside killing all 44 aboard that there is more that we don't know about what happened in the flight's final minutes than we do know.

We don't even know for sure where the four hijackers were going.

Based on the plane's general course, the conventional wisdom is that Flight 93 was headed toward Washington and a strike on the White House or the Capitol. But last month, the widely respected Times of London, quoting U.S. intelligence sources and noting the plane's low altitude and erratic course, suggested the real target might have been one of the state's nuclear power plants. At 500 mph, the Three Mile Island plant, near Harrisburg, was about than 10 or 15 minutes away.

Whether it was hero passengers or an F-16 fighter pilot who wanted the hijacked jetliner to come down away from a populated area, they did an amazing job in picking Shanksville.

The nearest sizable town, Somerset, is 10 miles away on winding back-country roads - where a visitor encountered as many dead raccoons as vehicles. Nestled along a creekbed in the rolling Allegheny foothills, Shanksville is a small cluster of red-brick homes and flag-draped front porches.

The only commercial enterprise, a convenience store called Ida's, also rents videos and has the only ATM for miles around.

What happened here on Sept. 11 is already the stuff of American legend - especially the battle cry of passenger Todd Beamer, whose overheard command of "Let's Roll" is on bumper stickers and has even been adopted by President Bush.

Four Middle Eastern hijackers sought to carry out their plan even though the mostly empty plane, bound from Newark, N.J., to San Francisco, had left the airport 42 minutes late because of mechanical problems. The delay meant that passengers - who phoned family members and operators on their cell phones - learned of the suicide attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon and knew that their only option was to fight the hijackers for control of the plane.

The almost irrefutable evidence is that a group of burly and heroic male passengers - including Beamer, Mark Bingham, Jeremy Glick, Tom Burnett, and Lou Nacke - did just that. In the only piece of information from the cockpit voice recorder that has filtered into news reports, anonymous sources told USA Today last month that there is evidence of a struggle toward the end of the doomed flight.

But the cell phone calls from the passengers all stopped about 9:58 a.m. - roughly the same time that the caller to 911 in Westmoreland County stated there had been an explosion.

The plane didn't come down until 10:06 - leaving an 8-minute gap of unaccounted for air time, and thus a great mystery.

The commonly accepted view, that a chaotic cockpit struggle caused the downing, is certainly a plausible explanation for the crash - but it doesn't address the issue of how.

Who was at the controls for those final eight minutes? Would a hijacker deliberately crash the plane during such a battle? What rudders or other controls could have been set off, either in a scuffle or by accident, that could cause the highly automated jet to crash?

Many of the answers - if not all - should be contained on the black boxes recovered shortly after the crash. Without that data, however, a number of aviation experts contacted by the Daily News were reluctant to speculate.

"Those are the things that would answer those questions - without those I don't know how to answer," said Carl Vogt, a former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board and now a Washington attorney.

When Flight 93 came down, the eyewitnesses seem to agree on a few basic facts - that the Boeing 757 was headed south or southeast very fast, that it was flying erratically or banking from side to side, that its right wing dipped steeply down and that the jetliner came down at close to a 90-degree angle. A number of people quoted right after the crash said there were strange noises, that the engine seemed to race but then went eerily silent as the plane plummeted.

The plane seemed to be fully, or largely, intact. "I didn't see no smoke, nothing," said Nevin Lambert, an elderly farmer who witnessed the crash from his side yard less than a half-mile away.

Lambert also said he also later found a couple of pieces of debris, one a piece of metal, less than 12 inches across, with some insulation attached. To those who are debating the causes of the crash, the debris is particularly significant because heavier farflung debris would suggest that something happened to cause the plane to break up before it hit the ground.

Authorities also sought to explain why a number of residents saw a small, unmarked jet circling over the crash site shortly after. Workers at a marina saw it, and so did Kathy Blades, who was in her small summer cottage about a quarter-mile from the impact site.

Blades and her son ran outside after the crash and saw the jet, with sleek back wings and an angled cockpit, race overhead. "My son said, 'I think we're under attack!' " She said she was so shocked by the crash she can't say exactly how long after the impact it was.

A few days later, the FBI offered a possible explanation for what the witnesses saw. Authorities said that a private Falcon 20 jet bound for nearby Johnstown was in the vicinity and was asked by authorities to descend and help survey the crash site. But the authorities didn't identify the owner of the jet, nor explain why it was airborne some 40 minutes after the Federal Aviation Administration ordered all planes to land at the nearest airport.

So where was the U.S. air defense at 10 a.m. - 72 minutes after the first plane struck the World Trade Center and about a half-hour after air controllers and United started to suspect that Flight 93 had been hijacked?

At 9:24 that morning, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) ordered three F-16s from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia to scramble. They were airborne at 9:30. It's not clear how close any of the planes were to Flight 93, although Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said a few days later on TV that "we were already tracking that plane that crashed in Pennsylvania."

Vice President Dick Cheney said later that President Bush authorized the military to shoot down any civilian plane that did not respond to air-traffic control and appeared to be a threat. The order is said to have come before Bush left Florida, which was at 9:58 a.m.

The commander of the North Dakota Air National Guard, which was handling air defense out of Langley that morning, later told the New York Times that the unidentified pilots received a harrowing order.

"A person came on the radio," Major Gen. Mike Haugen said, "and identified themselves as being with the Secret Service and he said, 'I want you to protect the White House at all costs.' "

What happened in those final 8 minutes?

Most Americans are quite comfortable with the conclusion that the struggle between the passengers and the hijackers caused the crash of Flight 93. Roxanne Sullivan, who lives at the end of Skyline Drive in Shanksville and helped erect and maintain one of the memorials, says she has absolutely no doubt that's what happened. How does she know?

"Right here," she said, thumping her heart.

Not all her neighbors are so convinced.

"I think it was shot down," said Dennis Mock, who was not an eyewitness but lives closest to the crash site on the west side. "That's what people around here think."

Until the FBI decides to release the flight data, there will be little to convince him or his neighbors otherwise.

Photo Gallery 61 photos

Dedication of the Flight 93 National Memorial

People gather at the dedication ceremony for phase I of the permanent Flight 93 National Memorial near the crash site of Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pa. Saturday Sept. 10, 2011.

Somerset County Coroner Wallace Miller, right, is presented a Pittsburgh Penguins hockey jersey signed by Penguins owner Mario Lemieux and captain Sidney Crosby from Gordon Felt, president of the Families of Flight 93 organization and brother of passenger Edward Felt, during an NHL hockey game between the New Jersey Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh, Saturday, Jan. 7, 2012. Miller was the coroner at the crash site of United Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Sunday, February 25 2007, She String Blog, The Many Misquotes of Wallace Miller

Wallace Miller is the coroner of Somerset County, Pennsylvania. He was among the first people to arrive at the alleged Flight 93 crash site on the morning of 9/11.

September 11, 2011, Reuters / Salem, SHANKSVILLE United States 9/11/2011,

Somerset County's Coroner Wallace Miller (C) breaks down as Rev. Paul Britain (L) and Rev. Robert Way (R) applaud his accomplishments during ceremonies marking the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attack in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, September 11, 2011. REUTERS/ Photo: Jason Cohn,

February 1, 2002, Healthcare Purchasing News, Materials management department lends aid at flight 93 crash site. by Greg Chiappelli,

Day in and day out, the materials management departments of hospitals are called upon to literally "deliver the goods." In the days following Sept. 11, 2001, the materials management department of a rural hospital in Somerset County, PA, was summoned to "deliver the goods" in the recovery efforts in the wake of the crash of American Airlines Flight 93. The ill-fated Flight 93 plunged into the serene Pennsylvania countryside after determined passengers thwarted the attempts of hijackers to crash the jet into an unknown location in Washington, DC.

Like most Americans on that unforgettable morning, administrators, managers and employees at Somerset Hospital were huddled around television sets watching the horrible events transpiring in New York City and Washington. Just moments after the Pentagon crash the Somerset Hospital emergency department received word that a commercial airliner had gone down about eight miles north of Somerset near Shanksville, PA. That crash turned out to be American Airlines Flight 93.

Hospital administrators immediately sounded a disaster code. Managers assembled and were issued instructions to prepare for an undetermined number of casualties. Within minutes, Somerset Hospital was ready. Nurses, on duty and off duty, reported to the emergency department along with dozens of physicians who were summoned from their offices and their homes. The materials management department also responded quickly with the extra supplies and equipment necessary to handle the treatment of any survivors. The disaster plan went like clockwork. The hospital was ready.

Somerset Hospital is a 180-licensed-bed acute care hospital situated approximately eight miles from the Flight 93 crash site. Somerset County is a rural county located in southwestern Pennsylvania with a population of approximately 81,000.

Materials management steps in to aid coroner's office

At about 11:30 a.m., Somerset Hospital received the news that there were no survivors. Everyone wanted to help but couldn't. A hush fell over the emergency department. Just like a lot of Americans, they wanted to provide further assistance, but were handicapped by the circumstances. Little did anyone know at the time, however, that Somerset Hospital and its materials management department would play a vital role in recovery efforts of Flight 93 in the weeks ahead.

Somerset County coroner Wallace Miller was called to the crash site. His job was to assist the various federal and state agencies in the recovery and identification of remains from the crash. Coroner Miller needed help in gathering the supplies, medical equipment, radiology equipment and personnel needed to create and maintain a temporary morgue at the local Pennsylvania National Guard armory about three miles away. To do that, Miller called his friend and first cousin, Mark Miller, the director of support services at Somerset Hospital, for assistance.

Mark Miller's first challenge was to help coordinate radiology services for the temporary morgue. Through the assistance of Somerset Hospital's radiology director Penny Reiman and Greg Lowry of the clinical engineering department, Miller was able to put together a temporary X-ray department with equipment, processor, film and materials donated from vendors that he deals with at tile hospital. And, not only did he secure the equipment and materials, but he also enlisted the volunteer assistance of seven radiology technologists from the hospital who would spend the next two weeks helping with the identification process.

Throughout the next 12 days, Mark Miller served as the coroner's right-hand man in maintaining the morgue and doing the "little things" to keep it operational. Miller and the materials management department served as the base of operations and communicated with Kathy Lear, Somerset's buyer, back at the hospital. Lear worked to obtain additional materials and equipment and utilize the hospital's couriers and delivery to meet the demands of the various agencies involved in the operation of the morgue.

"Somerset Hospital has always worked with the coroner's office in a very cooperative, professional and caring manner," says coroner Wallace Miller. "Their assistance in the recovery operations went well above and beyond the call of duty."

Mark Miller also served as a liaison between local government and private entities in coordinating efforts with local utility companies and funeral homes for use of mortuary tables mad other necessary equipment. He even arranged for the Somerset Hospital chaplain to provide Sunday services for those winking at the morgue site.

"Many of the companies just donated the needed supplies and equipment," says Mark Miller. "The radiology technologists, for example, used a portable X-ray machine supplied by Somerset Hospital. Processing film was donated by Agfa for a processor supplied by the E.G. Baldwin Corporation of Pittsburgh. Everyone was fabulous in coming together and helping us." HPN

Greg Chiappelli is director of communications for Somerset Hospital

Editor's note: The "End of Serenity" photo included here is published courtesy of Val McClatchey of Stoystown, PA, who took the picture from his front porch on Sept. 11. Copies of the photo in 8"x10" format are available for a $20 contribution to the Todd Beamer Foundation, P.O. Box 32, Cranbury, NJ 08512.

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