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Crash in Somerset: "...debris field spread over an area size of a football field..."

Tuesday, September 11, 2001

By Cindi Lash and Ernie Hoffman, Post-Gazette Staff Writers

Eric Peterson of Lambertsville was working with a friend in his auto shop this morning. They heard a plane and looked up and saw a large aircraft close to the ground.

"I actually thought it was going to hit a house here in town," said Peterson. It blew out windows of a nearby farmhouse when it crashed.

As it went over started going end over end, Peterson said, and then dropped below a tree line and exploded. Peterson saw a flash and then a mushroom cloud of smoke.

The plane went down on a strip mine field. Peterson and his friend rushed to the field and looked for bodies, but couldn't find any. They called out, but heard nothing.

"There was a crater in the ground that was really burning. There were pieces of fuselage and clothing all over the area, burning, said Peterson. He said he didn't see any debris longer than a couple of feet long.

State Trooper Tom Spallone of Greensburg have confirmed that the plane was United Flight 93, a 757, that departed this morning from Newark en route to San Francisco. It crashed in a ravine near an abandoned strip mine in what some witnesses described as a fire ball. The site is between Shanksville and Bucktown, near Diamond T Coal Co., in Friedens.

Spallone said the plane was still smoldering at 12:30. He said officials were trying to keep people from scene and confirmed that there are no survivors. He said the "debris field spread over an area size of a football field, maybe two footballs fields." The impact of the crash was so severe that the biggest piece of debris he has seen there is no bigger than 2 feet.

John Hugya, an administrative assistant to U.S. Rep John Murtha, said he has been told that the plane initially flew over Cambria County Airport in Johnstown. There was no communication from the plane, and the plane was not responding to Cleveland Center, which is how they knew it was one of the hijacked planes.

Reporters who had covered the USAir Flight 427 crash in Hopewell said that the scene was eerily reminiscent of that crash, with a rural scene, beautiful weather, and lack ambulances coming to the scene.

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