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Jet crashes in Pennsylvania; passenger reports hijacking

Tuesday, September 11, 2001

Associated Press Writer

SHANKSVILLE, Pa. (AP) -- A United Airlines jetliner carrying 45 people crashed into a grassy field on Tuesday morning, minutes after a man who said he was a passenger told an emergency dispatcher in a cell phone call: "We are being hijacked, we are being hijacked!"

A Virginia congressman said the plane's intended target was apparently Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland.

United Flight 93 was en route from Newark, N.J., to San Francisco when it crashed north of Somerset County airport, about 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. Pennsylvania State Police Maj. Lyle Szupinka said there was no reason to believe there were any survivors of the crash.

The Boeing 757 crash was one of four reported Tuesday by United and American Airlines. Two jetliners crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City and one hit the Pentagon in Washington.

In Pennsylvania, an emergency dispatcher received a cell phone call at 9:58 a.m. from a man who said he was a passenger locked in a bathroom aboard United Flight 93, said dispatch supervisor Glenn Cramer in neighboring Westmoreland County. The man repeatedly told officials the call was not a hoax.

"We are being hijacked, we are being hijacked!" Cramer quoted the man from a transcript of the call.

The man told dispatchers the plane "was going down. He heard some sort of explosion and saw white smoke coming from the plane and we lost contact with him," Cramer said.

FBI agent Wells Morrison wouldn't confirm that the plane was hijacked, but said the FBI was reviewing the tape of the 911 call.

"At this point, we're not prepared to say it was an act of terrorism, though it appears to be that," Morrison said.

Rep. James Moran, D-Va., said after a Marine Corps briefing in Washington that Flight 93 was apparently intended for Camp David, the presidential retreat in the mountains of Maryland. The crash site was 85 miles northwest of Camp David.

The 10 a.m. crash of Flight 93 occurred about 85 miles northwest of Camp David near Thurmont, Md.

"There's a crater gorged in the earth, the plane is pretty much disintegrated. There's nothing left but scorched trees," said Mark Stahl of Somerset, who went to the scene.

He described the area as a former strip mine that is now a grassy field edged by woods. The plane came down near the tree line, he said.

Michael R. Merringer was out on a mountain bike ride with his wife, Amy, about two miles away from the crash site.

"I heard the engine gun two different times and then I heard a loud bang and the windows of the houses all around rattled," Merringer said. "I looked up and I saw the smoke coming up."

The couple rushed home and drove near the scene.

"Everything was on fire and there was trees knocked down and there was a big hole in the ground," he said.

United said Flight 93 left Newark at 8:01 a.m. with 38 passengers, two pilots and five flight attendants.

In Chicago, United CEO James Goodwin said the airline is working with authorities including the FBI. United said it was sending a team to Pennsylvania to assist in the investigation and to provide assistance to family members.

"Today's events are a tragedy and our prayers are with everyone at this time," Goodwin said.

In Pennsylvania's Richland Township, police Chief Jim Mock said air traffic control coordinators reported Tuesday morning that a large aircraft was heading toward John Murtha Johnstown Cambria County Municipal Airport in the township, about 60 miles east of Pittsburgh

The air traffic controllers said the aircraft would not identify itself, according to Mock, who is also airport's emergency coordinator. Shortly after talking to the controllers, Mock said, a plane crashed north of the Somerset County airport about 20 miles away.

"It shook the whole station," said Bruce Grine, owner of Grine's Service Center in Shanksville, about 2 1/2 miles from the crash. "Everybody ran outside, and by that time the fire whistle was blowing."

Stahl was listening to reports about the World Trade Center attacks on the radio when he heard Flight 93 crash. He took pictures showing a billowing cloud and a large, black hole burrowed into the ground surrounded by small piece of airplane still on fire.

"I didn't know what to think, it was shocking," Stahl said.

At San Francisco International Airport, an evacuation was ordered. Bomb-sniffing dogs patrolled the emptying hallways and a counseling center was set up for relatives of the people aboard Flight 93.

"This is a time for compassion. It's not a time for long sermons," said the Rev. John Delariva, a Catholic priest who is part of the airport's counseling team.

Flight 93 also operated as a code-share flight with Air Canada as Flight AC4085.

After the crashes the three passenger terminals at Newark International Airport were evacuated. At 11:30 a.m., several hundred people were still clustered at the Terminal A baggage carousel, while shotgun-toting officers patrolled. Ticket counters were deserted.


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