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Unseen Flight 93 photos evoke tears

Chamber breakfast club hears untold story of 9/11 events

Photo courtesy of the National Park Service National Park Service staff, families of Flight 93 and local first responders line up June 21, 2018, to honor the returning wreckage.

ALTOONA — Blair County business leaders received a first look Thursday at previously unseen photographs from the wreckage of United Airlines Flight 93 during an emotional presentation by

Stephen Clark, superintendent of the National Parks of Western Pennsylvania.

The presentation held at the Casino at Lakemont Park was a solemn affair as more than 50 people attending the Blair County Chamber’s monthly Breakfast Club listened to Clark speak about an unpublicized 2018 burial ceremony held at the Flight 93 crash site.

Many attendees were in tears as Clark detailed the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and explained how boxes containing unclaimed personal belongings along with the plane’s wreckage were given a final burial.

“That was a very emotional presentation,” said Duane Bordell, a member of the chamber and a committee member for the upcoming Remember 9/11 event at the Jaffa Shrine. “It’s important to never forget the sacrifice of those 40 people on board.”

“These photos were previously classified by the FBI,” Clark said. “So this is really the first time the public is seeing many of these images.”

When the plane first crashed into the Shanksville field on that bright September day, fragments of the plane were buried nearly 40 feet into the ground. The debris field covered more than 40 acres, he said.

After investigators painstakingly gathered all the fragments — some tiny and others larger pieces — Clark said the boxes were kept in a Connecticut warehouse.

The material wasn’t sorted by officials until 2015 during a search for human remains and personal belongings, Clark said.

Family members of those killed in the crash were offered the personal belongings, he said, with any unclaimed items and the remaining debris placed into shipping containers to be buried.

On June 21, 2018, four shipping containers holding the remnants of Flight 93 were taken by tractor-trailers to a restricted area near the memorial in Shanksville, Clark told the chamber group.

There, the containers were saluted by family members, park service officials and local first responders during an unannounced and private ceremony held June 21, 2018. The containers were lowered into the ground and buried, he said.

The event was basically a secret. Clark said all involved officials signed non-disclosure agreements, and local first responders were notified of the procession just two days in advance.

“It was a private ceremony for the families,” Clark said, noting it was fitting that the remnants of Flight 93 were laid to rest where the tragic event occurred.

As Clark emphasized the sacrifice the 40 victims made on that fateful day, his presentation pulled on the heartstrings of many of those in attendance.

Tears were in evidence on the faces of several chamber members as images of the wreckage and the victims scrolled across the projector screen.

With just 23 days remaining until the nation commemorates the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks, Clark said he is still unsure whether the event will be open to the public or not.

“There’s so many challenges right now with how to manage the event,” Clark said. “Everything is under consideration on how the event will be managed.”

While last year’s ceremony in Shanksville featured remarks from then-President Donald Trump and visits from family members of the deceased, the event was closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

An official determination has not been declared regarding this year’s festivities, but Clark said the public will still have access to the memorial regardless.

The event will be streamed worldwide, and if the ceremony is again closed to the public, he said the gates will open to the public immediately after the ceremony concludes.

“This is the public’s memorial,” Clark said. “It would break my heart if we had to hold a closed ceremony this year, but we may not have an option due to COVID and other elements. But no matter what happens, after the ceremony is over, we will still open the gates for the American people.”

Clark said he is unsure whether President Joe Biden will attend, though he did receive confirmation that Gov. Tom Wolf will address the public.

Forty firefighters from the Fire Department of New York and 40 sailors from the USS Somerset will assist in laying wreaths, and the U.S. Marine Corps Band will present a concert after the ceremony, Clark said.

Clark said the memorial receives about 420,000 visitors every year, and the number continues to grow.

“You don’t have to come to the Flight 93 Memorial on September 11,” Clark said. “We’re open 365 days a year, and there are always opportunities to come visit our center.”

Bordell said nearly 1,300 free tickets are still available for the Remember 9/11 event, which is set for 7 p.m. Sept. 11 at the Jaffa Shrine Center.

The event will be the third commemoration the center has hosted, with previous events held in 2006 and 2016.

Mirror Staff Writer Calem Illig is at 814-946-7535.

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