Asking questions at the Flight 93 Crash Site
By: Devvy Kidd
Part III: A visit to Shanksville, Pennsylvania and interviews
After doing the ground work (local library to review newspapers, visiting the site several times, photographs and driving all around the crash site and nearby lake), it was time to begin interviews. As was mentioned in part two, I was accompanied on my interviews by Dane von Breichenruchardt, an appellate attorney from Washington, DC and President of the Bill of Rights Foundation.
On August 1, 2005, after almost four full years, the federal government released the property where the crash occurred back to the owners. According to The Tribune-Democrat, Somerset County's main newspaper on August 2, 2005: "Miller officially declassified the abandoned Stonycreek Township reclaimed strip mine as a death scene Monday, returning to seven land owners about 100 acres surrounding where the plane plunged into the earth."
Wallace Miller is the county coroner. This front page story in The Tribune-Democrat also shows a photo of pieces of the plane which have worked their way to the surface. This seems so out of the norm because we all know that immediately following any aviation disaster, the FBI and NTSB threaten people with prison if they remove anything from a crash site. Apparently, it's not the same concerning Flight 93.
One of the things that has caused a great deal of confusion and speculation about the crash of Flight 93 is the "entry," if you will, of the plane into the ground. As I said in part two, Flight 93 slammed into the ground at approximately 585 mph. I learned a great deal about strip mining while in the Shanksville area, i.e., what strip mining does to the soil and surrounding area. The easiest way I can describe it is to picture a bed with a blanket on the mattress. The mining company basically lifts the blanket, meaning a large area of top soil, extracts the ore and then lays the blanket back down. The result is that when Flight 93 hit the ground, it didn't break up like you see in other aviation disaster photos. My husband and I were at a United Air Lines crash site, very up close, back in the early 90s; it's something you don't forget. There was a great deal of wreckage everywhere, but the fuselage, while visible, was buried into the ground.
In the case of Flight 93, the ground swallowed what didn't disintegrate. The ground also, due to the effects of strip mining, continues to "belch" up rocks and debris. In this case, small pieces of the plane. One of the engines did bounce and landed in a nearby small body of water which I observed. Once you understand the effects of strip mining on the soil (top and deeper down), viewing the excavation photo in part one, and having been to the site, you can begin to understand why the first photos of the smoking ground look so "odd" and out of step with other plane crashes. In my mind, there is absolutely no question that Flight 93 crashed where the official crash site is marked.
Interview number one, August 2, 2005 with Kirk Swauger, Somerset Bureau Chief, The Tribune-Democrat newspaper, Somerset, Pennsylvania, can be found here. This is the conversation as it took place. At one point in this interview, I stepped outside to get an item from my rental SUV. Dane was listening to Swauger speak with Wallace Miller, the county coroner. Dane was somewhat disturbed by the end of Swauger's conversation with Miller, although he could not hear Miller's comments on the other end of the phone. However, in light of our interview later that morning with Miller, we do wonder about Swauger's closing phone comments:
"I don't think so. No, I, nor would I. I mean, you know, that's not good."
Interview number two, August 2, 2005 with Wallace Miller, Somerset County Coroner. Mr. Swauger called Miller while Dane and I were in his office. He must have also called him again after we left, because the minute we walked into Miller's office, he jumped right down my throat. Miller knew exactly who we were before I could say a word. Few times in my life have I ever been treated so rudely by a perfect stranger in a business environment. Miller's attitude and speech was belligerent and I found quite disturbing, considering how very graciously I was treated by everyone else I spoke with in that area. The Miller interview is here.
Concluding this interview, Dane and I were shocked that the county coroner on such a highly publicized aviation disaster had prepared no reports. Miller stated emphatically that he had no reports and made it clear that even if he did, he would refuse to make them available. Having done a number of investigations on site, I have never run across this problem. Sure, you have to buy the autopsy and toxicology reports, and they arent cheap, believe me, but they are a matter of public record unless sealed by the court. For the county coroner who did the Flight 93 crash site for recovery of remains, any autopsies and DNA, not to have prepared a single report defies credibility. It also makes you wonder why?
As I referenced earlier, the August 2, 2005 issue of The Tribune-Democrats front page story has a photo of the bureau chief (Swauger) holding pieces of the plane he retrieved from the crash site the day before during a walk through with Miller. There was a very interesting reference contained in that story on page A4:
"Only 8 percent of the human remains have ever been recovered, Miller said, and three caskets full of those have yet to be identified and are in an undisclosed mausoleum."
As a follow up, on August 22, 2005, I phoned Miller to ask him about this reference to caskets filled with remains that are unidentified at an undisclosed location. Surprisingly, Miller answered my questions in a pleasant tone. He said that the reason these remains were unidentified was due to environmental degradation. Our call was brief. I have a problem with this because we know that DNA tests have been highly successful even on bones that are decades old. I also have to wonder if those bones/remains might contain some chemicals that are better left buried. The fact that these remains are clumped together and located in some undisclosed location must be very upsetting to the families of Flight 93.
As Dane is also a pilot, we then proceeded to the Somerset County Airport to pick up sectional maps to see the normal flight paths for civilian and military in relation to the actual crash site. While chatting with the gentleman who ran the airport and his friend, it became apparent that the a whole lot of people in Somerset and out lying areas are very angry about "conspiracy theories" regarding Flight 93 being shot down or never crashing where it did. One thing this airport manager made very clear: the white jet people saw was a corporate jet that was in the area and was asked by the local control tower via an FAA request to get over the site and get them the exact coordinates. He said people around there "are sick and tired of the conspiracy theories that this white jet shot down Flight 93."
Our next interview (three) was in Shanksville with the former Mayor, Ernest Stull; he lost his bid for reelection in November 2004. Mr. Stull, like many others, was very wary of strangers requesting an interview. These folks are very gun shy because they have been used by the media and the resentment is as thick as syrup. After a few minutes, Ernie began to speak with us and answer questions. That interview is here. One thing became very apparent speaking with Ernie: He was very angry that this unidentified German film company had taken his comments out of context and that at one point last year, he and his attorneys were ready to get on a plane to Germany to file suit against that organization. Since the web site maintained by this German film company was pulled from the Net earlier this year, it is apparent that they backed down rather than get sued.
At Ernie's recommendation, Dane and I proceeded to find Nevin Lambert's farm house. This very humble, hard working farmer was standing facing Flight 93 as it came barreling towards him and his farm house. Had the plane not gone into the ground in front of that tree line, it most likely would have hit Nevin and his house, because as he said during our very lengthy interview, he was rooted to the spot and thought he couldn't have moved even if he wanted to, he was that shocked. Nevin Lambert, besides Nena Lensbouer who was delivering sandwiches to the scrap yard that overlooks the site, are probably the 'best' eye witnesses to the approach of the plane, how out of control it was and the eventual crash.
The crash site is located on strip mining land surrounded by beautiful rolling hills with lots of trees, farms, livestock and corn. It's quiet and is truly the landscape of America. The area is dotted with churches, some more than a hundred years old. This area contains many historical markers, the neighborhoods are beautifully maintained and people are friendly. Standing with Nevin and listening to him replay the events that morning really drives home how horrible it must have been, not just for Nevin, but for everyone who was in a position to see the plane or heard the impact and then saw the big fire balls. It's almost difficult to conjure up such images and the aftermath of running to where these good people saw a huge commercial jet liner crash in such a lovely, serene surrounding. Its quite obvious that such horror will never be forgotten by those who saw it first hand.
Please note: I agreed to not print what Nevin conveyed to Dane and I regarding his conversations and visits with Lisa Beamer and other family members of those murdered on Flight 93. My word is my bond and all of that text has been deleted from our interview. Nevin was truly generous with his time given we were perfect strangers who showed up at his front door without any notice. Interview number four with Nevin is here. One thing Nevin made very clear: there were two F-16s that flew over the crash site, but that they did not arrive until four hours after he watched the plane crash. He was quite clear that it was four hours and not at the time of the crash.
After repeated attempts, I was unable to connect with Mrs. Lensbouer before I left Somerset.
First, I want to say that the people all around that area are some of the nicest folks you ever want to meet. Everyone I spoke with from hotel employees, gas station personnel, restaurant servers - all very kind and gracious. But, the one thing that is there is resentment. Just about everyone I spoke with resent the theories about what happened and that they're lying to cover up something. Dane and I both personally feel that everyone we spoke with doesn't have the sophistication to concoct a bunch of lies to cover up anything. I don't mean that in a derogatory or negative way, quite the opposite. I mean that these are decent, God fearing folks who have a moral code they stick by and are offended that outsiders think they would lie - especially about Flight 93.
What happened that day in the beautiful, rural section outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania, deeply affected a huge number of people. I mean, deeply affected these good people. Even four years later, you can see the terror on the faces of those who saw the plane as they recount the events from those who were part of search and rescue or just giving support to everyone in the immediate area. Individuals like Nevin Lambert, so close to the impact area, had no power or phones for six weeks because the plane took out an entire row of power lines. It was no picnic for anyone. Those roads leading into this remote spot are narrow and winding, so getting equipment in there must have been a night mare.
Second, one cannot completely discount the eye witness accounts of seeing smoke coming from the plane and the indisputable fact that debris from the plane was found at distances from the impact site cannot be explained by just the plane going into the ground, as most of it simply disintegrated upon impact due to the speed and condition of the soil. There are too many individuals who have no stake in lying about seeing what they saw and are offended when people suggest they are lying. Some eye witnesses saw smoke and parts of the plane fall, others did not. This does raise questions that beg for answers.
It was widely reported by "mainstream" media, that the go ahead to shoot down Flight 93 had been made:
"The president made the decision ... that if the plane would not divert, if they wouldn't pay any attention to instructions to move away from the city, as a last resort, our pilots were authorized to take them out," Vice President Dick Cheney told NBC's "Meet the Press" program Sunday."
Third, there is something not right about the county coroner, Wallace Miller, never filing a single report as the coroner of record. During my testy interview with him, he denies making any reports to his client, the FBI. Miller was acting in his official capacity as the county coroner and he didn't file one single report after doing months of work at that crash site? No photos? Nothing but some documentation on DNA testing? I'm afraid I don't believe this for a second.
The bureau chief for The Tribune-Democrat, Kirk Swauger and Wallace Miller came across as very good friends. Swauger's comments to Miller on the phone regarding Miller speaking with Dane and I bother both of us, i.e., "I don't think so. No, I, nor would I. I mean, you know, that's not good." What wouldnt Swauger do while we were there and whats not good? As someone who has done enough of these investigations and digs for the truth, I cannot help but see a big, red flag here and it has to do with any evidence that points to damage to the plane before it smashed into the ground and any contamination of remains due to an external, pre-crash event. Its not unreasonable to ask reasonable questions.
There is no question that Flight 93 crashed outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
There appears to be credible eye witness accounts seeing parts of the plane breaking up before impact. The location of parts of the plane being retrieved raises valid questions. The only way to get the truth is for the 9-11 families to demand the truth from Bush and Congress. Average people like me, even filing a Freedom of Information Act request, are not going to be able to break the wall to get to the truth. Only the families who lost loved ones on 9-11 can apply the right kind of pressure. If the decision was made to shoot down the plane, then America can deal with it, but we the people will not accept lies.
Those who died on Flight 93 deserve our greatest respect and our prayers, as well as their families.