From the Tribune Review (09/20/01)

Shanksville Still Coping With Aftermath of Flight 93

Crowd gradually filters from area of crash site

By Debra Erdley


The network news cameras that jockeyed for space in a Somerset County cornfield last week are gone.

At nearby Indian Lake, where police helicopters stirred up the dark rippling water, marina office manager Carol Delasko works in peace and silence.

But most say it will be a long time before life returns to normal around Shanksville, where recovery workers continue to sift through debris in the ashes of United Airlines Flight 93.

Flight 93 was headed out of Newark, N.J., for San Francisco on the morning of Sept. 11. In the air, terrorists armed with knives and boxcutters hijacked it as part of a series of deadly attacks on U.S. landmarks.

It went down in a reclaimed strip mine between Indian Lake and Shanksville, killing all 44 passengers aboard.

Authorities believe some passengers on the doomed 757 rushed their captors, thwarting the hijackers' plans to use the plane as a bomb on a target in Washington, D.C.

In the days since, the passengers have been labeled heroes.

And in the community around the crash site, life changed.

More than a week after the crash, volunteers from the Shanksville Volunteer Fire Department continued to labor long hours. Fire Chief Terry L. Shaffer said firefighters are still putting out small fires in the woods around the crash site.

"The crash left deposits of jet fuel here and there and when that gets into the (tree) roots, it smolders," said Shaffer.

For the most part, it creates little more than smoke, but Shaffer said that's a problem for recovery workers who are sifting through the wreckage on their hands and knees.

And firefighters don't want to take any risks.

Autumn is always brush-fire season in the fields and woods of Somerset County, Shaffer explained, as he took a break Tuesday afternoon at the fire hall, which has been transformed into a supply station.

A storage loft above the garage holds an array of paper products comparable to a large supermarket's aisles. In the parking lot, a tractor trailer refrigeration unit, donated by a Washington County Super Valu store, keeps perishable food cold.

Shaffer said volunteers have settled into a routine and are now attempting to coordinate the flow of contributions. Some callers are asked to call back later about donations of food and supplies.

"We don't want to waste anything," he said.

Recently, volunteers have focused on securing donations of sweatshirts, blankets and hand warmers for those stationed at the site.

"State troopers who are reassigned here from all over the state come in totally unprepared for the fact that it gets down to 30 or 40 degrees here at night. So they come in here and it's just like Wal-Mart for them," he said.

"It's just heart-touching the way the community has responded," said Shaffer.

At the nearby Shanksville-Stonycreek School District campus, where 501 students attend grades K through 12, students felt the blast rock their school when Flight 93 crashed.

A steady stream of parents rushed to the school that day to take their children home.

A week later, the elementary playground buzzed with activity as a group of children clustered around slides and clambered over jungle gyms during noon recess.

There is little fear, said elementary principal Rosemarie Tipton.

Indeed, many demand to know what they can do to help.

"Most of them have parents who are in the fire department or the auxiliary, or their churches are doing something, and they want to help," said Tipton.

They've held penny drives, food drives and made a banner signed by each student to welcome the victims' families who began arriving at Seven Springs Mountain Resort last weekend.

One middle school student's reference to the reports of passengers' heroism continues to move students and teachers alike.

"He wrote, `It takes an American to die for people he doesn't know,'" Tipton said.

At Indian Lake, where FBI agents scoured the water in boats last week, golf league play has been postponed.

A large white tent, complete with seats for 350, sits on the 9th fairway, where victims' family members were joined Monday afternoon by first lady Laura Bush.

Gobs of wax from the candlelight service dot the grass. The tent sits on a rise overlooking the lake and surrounding woods, where trees are beginning to take on autumn hues.

Gov. Tom Ridge and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft are scheduled to tour the crash site today. Afterward, Ridge and Lynne V. Cheney, wife of Vice President Dick Cheney, are expected to join family members for a private service at Indian Lake.

"It'll be a while before things get back to normal," said Indian Lake resort manager Mark Zimmerman.
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