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Panel named to plan Flight 93 memorial

Thursday, January 30, 2003

By Tom Gibb, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

SOMERSET, Pa. -- Even in the still of winter, people come.

They are more of the thousands who travel into rural Somerset County to what is still a makeshift memorial where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed 17 months ago.

"Even in this weather, we get calls from motor coach operators who want to take groups up there," Susan Hankinson, county coordinator for Flight 93-related affairs, said yesterday. "We've had them get stuck up there."

And without soliciting a dime to turn the spot into something more elaborate and permanent, Hankinson and her associates have seen $2 million in donations stream in. That shows that passion for a permanent memorial is there, officials say.

Yesterday, county commissioners named a task force to mull over everything from the spirit to the scope and plan that permanent memorial. There are 78 of them, with a few more to be recruited -- a group that ranges from relatives of Flight 93's victims to residents of eastern Somerset County to a historian and a landscape architect.

On March 1, they will gather in Shanksville-Stonycreek High School, one of the few places in tiny Shanksville big enough to hold them, to start the mission that is supposed to yield a plan within three years and a memorial two years later.

"People will be amazed at how many families will try to attend and be involved," said Jennifer Price, whose mother and stepfather, Jean and Donald Peterson of Spring Lake, N.J., died aboard Flight 93.

One official has suggested the memorial and land around it could cover 500 acres. County Judge Kim Gibson, co-chairman of the task force named yesterday, said it's guaranteed to be a multimillion-dollar project.

Gibson's co-chairman, Houston resident Lawrence Catuzzi, who is the father of crash victim Lauren Grandcolas, said yesterday that the impact site itself, where most of the human remains vanished, likely will be treated as sacred ground, "like a cemetery."

"That's what it is," Price agreed. "That's where 40 people are."

Officials said that just about everything else about the memorial is open to planning.

"I don't think anybody has any preconceived notions that anyone is pushing at all," Joanne Hanley, regional superintendent with the National Park Service, told reporters. "We'll look at a number of different alternatives."

The task force, announced by county Commissioners James Marker, Brad Cober and Pamela Tokar-Ickes, will offer input to a yet-to-be-named advisory commission. That commission, in turn, will recommend to the federal government what the memorial should be like.

The effort will yield something much more permanent and elaborate than the graded area where volunteers now answer questions and visitors leave mementos that range from flags to ball caps to Bibles.

"Our loved ones got on a plane and never returned," said Price, who like Catuzzi was linked to yesterday's news conference via phone. "It's wonderful to be involved in something that's tangible."

Tom Gibb can be reached at tgibb@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1601.

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