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On the anniversary of 9/11, remembering United Flight 93

Sean Stipp
| Friday, Sept. 8, 2017, 2:52 p.m.
Somerset County Coroner Wallace Miller arrives at the crash site after 10am on September 11, 2001. Miller would later tell the Washington Post, 'I stopped being coroner after about 20 minutes, because there were no bodies there. It became like a giant funeral service.'
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Somerset County Coroner Wallace Miller arrives at the crash site after 10am on September 11, 2001. Miller would later tell the Washington Post, 'I stopped being coroner after about 20 minutes, because there were no bodies there. It became like a giant funeral service.'

The morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was dispatched from my Youngwood apartment to cover a plane that reportedly went down in a rural field in Somerset County.

I had been watching the television coverage of the attacks on the World Trade Center, so I knew this would be a significant event but with little understanding that I would witness history.

Arriving in Shanksville within hours of the attack, I worked feverishly with my colleagues at the Tribune-Review to do what journalists do. The immediate hours after the crash would turn to days and the days would fade into years and there I was, still covering the crash of United Airlines Flight 93.

The importance of that day has not diminished. I'll never forget the fierceness on Congressman John Murtha's face as he held an impromptu news conference seated at a folding table in the tall grass of a neighboring field or the intense security surrounding First Lady Laura Bush's visit.

I have never before — or thankfully since — witnessed the full force of America, its people and its government poised to defend.

I continue to let the images speak for themselves, often declining to share my experiences. While the photographs I made will serve as an important historical record, my feelings on that day do not matter.

What matters are the memories of those who were lost and the loved ones they left behind.

People such as Gordon Felt.

Felt would find the courage to be the first relative of the Flight 93 victims to choke back his emotions and speak to the media, compelled to openly remember his brother, Edward, who was sitting in front of two of the terrorists who hijacked the plane.

People such as Lisa Beamer.

Beamer, widow of passenger Todd Beamer, who was left without a husband to care for her small children. I still vividly remember resisting my instinct as a journalist to avoid snapping a photo of private moments between her and her children in the hallways of a hotel where the victims' families and the media were staying. Its remains a decision I do not regret.

As another anniversary of the terrorist attacks is upon us, my hope is that these images, taken within the first hours and days of the Flight 93 crash, will remain seared in our minds.

Four rain drenched Pennsylvania State Police Troopers from the Equine Unit stand watch on a ridge overlooking the crash site of United Airlines Flight 93 while awaiting the arrival of family members of the victims to visit the site.

Photo by Sean Stipp


Gordon Felt, the brother Flight 93 passenger Edward Felt, 41, remembers his brother during a news conference. Felt, who was the first of the Flight 93 family members to speak to the media, would later become the president of the Families of Flight 93.

Photo by Sean Stipp


Pennsylvania State Police Troopers salute as the family members arrive to view the crash site for the first time.

Photo by Sean Stipp


Standing in tall field grass, Pennsylvania State Police Troopers guard the perimeter of the United Airlines Flight 93 crash site on Sept. 11, 2001.

Photo by Sean Stipp


First Lady Laura Bush, along with Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, project a calm demeanor after a private memorial service for the victims families of United Airlines Flight 93.

Photo by Sean Stipp


Marlin Spangler, of Somerset, bows his head on the altar of the New Life Assembly of God during an unplanned prayer service on the evening of Sept. 11, 2001. In the foreground next to a box of tissues, the title of a Christian pamphlet blares out the chilling question "Now What?" — at Flight 93 National Memorial.

Photo by Sean Stipp


A handwritten note from the father of Flight 93 passenger, Mark Bingham, 31, of San Francisco, Calif., expresses his profound grief. Bingham, who was able to call a 911 operator with a cell phone, told a communications officer that the plane had been hijacked and the terrorists had a bomb.

Photo by Sean Stipp


A mother and daughter embrace at the first makeshift memorial honoring the victims of United Airlines Flight 93 after a private memorial service for the victims families of United Airlines Flight 93 on Sept. 16, 2001. As weeks passed, the makeshift memorial was relocated closer to the crash site. The Flight 93 National Memorial was established to honor the passengers and crew of Flight 93.

Photo by Sean Stipp


U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Johnstown, holds an unplanned news conference on Sept. 12, 2001 in a rural field a few thousand feet from the Flight 93 crash site. Murtha said he could only guess that the hijackers intended target was "a second shot at the Pentagon or the Capitol or the White House itself. The destination sure wasn't an open field." — at Flight 93 National Memorial.

Photo by Sean Stipp


Lucy Menear was reading her bible when United Airlines Flight 93 struck the Earth approximately 1500 feet from her home. Menear's son-in-law, Lee Pugh, came to check on her after hearing about the crash. The pair gave dozens interviews to the swarms of media outlets that descended upon the rural village of Shanksville, Somerset County, on Sept. 11, 2001.

Photo by Sean Stipp


Federal investigators search for human remains and evidence near the large crater in the rural Pennsylvania field where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed.

Photo by Sean Stipp


Rev. Jim Simons of the nearby St. Michael's Episcopal Church bows his head in prayer along a dirt road a few hours after United Airlines Flight 93 crashed on Sept. 11, 2001. Simons arrived at the crash site immediately after learning of the tragic event to offer spiritual help.

Photo by Sean Stipp


U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft (second from right) and FBI Director Robert Mueller (second from left) look at an aerial photograph while visiting the rural field in Somerset County, where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed. Ashcroft and Mueller, the highest ranking government officials tour the crash site, were accompanied by (left-to-right) Jack Shea, FBI Special Agent in Charge of the Pittsburgh Office, Linda French, National Chair for Disaster Services for the American Red Cross, and Pennsylvania State Attorney General Mike Fisher.

Photo by Sean Stipp


Sean Stipp is the Tribune-Review's director of visuals.

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