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Flight 93 relatives gathering for service

Monday, September 17, 2001

By Steve Levin and Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Staff Writers

As relatives of more than two dozen victims of the hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 arrived in preparation for this morning's memorial service near Shanksville, recovery work at the Somerset County crash site continued yesterday amid reports that President George W. Bush would visit.

Suzie Udvari, of Moon, a US Airways flight attendant, pauses to pray yesterday at a memorial near Shanksville, Somerset County, where United Airlines Flight 93 went down. (Gabor Degre/Post-Gazette)

Although the White House would not confirm whether the president would visit the third of the three sites of Tuesday's terrorist attacks, several Pennsylvania state troopers said they had been told to prepare for the president's arrival today at Indian Lake, a few miles from Shanksville.

About 240 relatives representing 27 families are expected to attend the memorial service. They will be bused 45 minutes from the hotel at Seven Springs resort and gather for about half an hour on a bluff overlooking the crash site, a reclaimed strip mine in a sparsely populated part of the county.

Afterward, they will have a private memorial service at an undisclosed location, said Joe Hopkins, United Airlines' spokesman at Seven Springs.

Representatives of Seven Springs and United Airlines said they also had heard rumors of a possible visit by Bush for the service, but they could not confirm the information. A White House spokeswoman yesterday said no information on the president's travel plans was available.

The majority of relatives arrived at Seven Springs yesterday, bringing the dental records of their loved ones to assist in the identification of remains.

A portable mortuary has been set up in the Pennsylvania National Guard Armory on Route 281 near Route 30 at Friedens, Somerset County. A team of forensic medical examiners arrived Thursday and Friday to go through dental records and tissue samples for identifying victims.

The Red Cross and United Airlines have set up a family assistance center at Seven Springs "to provide emotional support to the families of Flight 93 passengers and also assure the emotional support needs of emergency workers," said Margaret Pepe, a Red Cross psychologist and mental health officer.

Posters made by local elementary students and students from the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown are on display at the assistance center. The posters contain prayers and wishes of support for the families.

"It's encouraging for the family members to know they are cared for so greatly by members of the community," said Ruth Young, spokeswoman for Red Cross.

Pepe said she had spoken to a few families at the assistance center. In addition to the shock, denial and disbelief common among relatives following an air crash, she said "a complicating factor here is the fact that it was a criminal act, a maliciously intended event.

"There is a sense of outrage, a moral outcry about how could someone do this," she said. "This will complicate the grieving process."

At the crash site yesterday, some family members arrived with escorts of state police to leave flowers, ribbons and cards at a makeshift memorial. Late in the afternoon, one couple arrived in a state car, left cards, flowers and a red-white-and-blue bow, took several pictures and then quickly left without speaking to reporters.

Both cards were addressed to Mark Bingham, one of the victims of Flight 93. Bingham, 31, a former college rugby player from California, had placed a cell-phone call from the doomed airliner.

One card, in a small bouquet of white carnations, yellow roses and spider mums, read "In Loving Memory: We love you son forever, Dad and Karen."

The second, attached to the bow, read "We will love you forever + miss you. All our love, Karen and Dear ol Dad."

Also yesterday, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection said it would begin taking soil and well water samples today to determine whether contamination occurred from Flight 93's aviation fuel, hydraulic fluids and other hazardous materials following the crash.

"The risk, we think, is really very small," said department Secretary David E. Hess. He said most of the hazardous fluids were consumed by the crash's fire.

He said one or more sedimentation ponds in the area would be drained as a precaution.

In addition, eight Pennsylvania landfills -- none in Western Pennsylvania -- will be granted extended hours and capacity to accept waste from New York City that has accumulated as a result of Tuesday's terrorist attacks. Hess said none of the material will be debris from the World Trade Center.

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