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Red Crossers Remember 9-11 Crash of Flight 93 in Pennsylvania


After Flight 93 crashed near the small town of Shanksville in Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001, Paul Bomboy, a paramedic, American Red Cross volunteer and employee of the company that owns the property on which Flight 93 crashed, was the first person on the scene.

There wasn’t much for Bomboy and other first responders to see. The plane virtually disappeared when it plowed nose-first into the soft earth of the strip-mined field, and some smoke and charred trees were the only signs of the crash.

While the site crash was being cordoned off and a five-mile backup of fire trucks and ambulances formed, Bomboy unlocked company buildings, ran phone wires, ordered tarps and portable toilets and otherwise worked with county emergency management to establish an on-site office.

Then Bomboy donned his Red Cross hat, joining others from the Keystone Chapter in nearby Johnstown to secure food and water for State Police, Federal officials and volunteers pouring by the bus loads into Somerset County.

Marjorie Montanari, a registered nurse and Red Cross disaster health volunteer, watched the horrors of September 11 unfold from her home in Kittanning, about 80 miles north of Shanksville. When Montanari learned one of the hijacked planes had crashed into a nearby Pennsylvania field, she went to the Armstrong County Chapter of the Red Cross, and answered phone calls late into the evening. The next day she went to Shanksville, where she rode with the families on the buses that transported them to and from the crash site.

Wally Jewell, a disaster volunteer with the Greater Erie County Chapter and a retired college professor, was quickly on the road, driving a Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle and other chapter volunteers south on I-79 to Somerset County. Jewell fed three meals a day to members of the Pennsylvania State Police guarding the perimeter of the crash site. Included on his rounds were mounted patrols. In addition to food for the men and women on duty, Jewell always made sure he had carrots and apples for the horses.

The Red Cross Response to the Crash of Flight 93

For nearly a month, the Red Cross provided family care and emotional support to the families of the 40 passengers and crew who lost their lives on Flight 93. The Red Cross also provided mass care, feeding and emotional support for crash site responders, officials and volunteers.

Red Cross health professionals worked directly with the families of those who had lost their lives on Flight 93. They were stationed at four strategic locations: the lodge where the families were secluded; the morgue; operations headquarters; and close to the hazmat teams on the ground.

Carol Schwartz, a registered nurse and a Red Cross volunteer, remembers riding with the families on the buses that took them to the site for the first time. One of the first Red Crossers to arrive, she also helped set up the room for the families at the lodge.

At the request of United Airlines, Red Cross staff did not wear Red Cross vests. The Red Cross office on the second floor of the lodge was there if needed, to secure medications families may have forgotten in their shock, to provide a place from where to make a phone call, and to listen.

The first time what was going on really hit home for Schwartz was when United Airlines posted pictures and detailed biographies of each victim on the walls of the lodge. “The area was so peaceful,” she says. “The walls gave the families so much solace; to be there was a very humbling experience.”

The emotional support the Red Cross provides is not only for victims and their families, but also for response workers.

Red Cross health professionals assigned to work with hazmat teams on the ground and in operations headquarters did a lot of listening in Shanksville, and they passed out sunscreen, lotion and water. They also passed out socks to guards who wore holes in theirs while patrolling the perimeter of the site.

It is the mission of the American Red Cross to provide relief for victims of disasters. At Shanksville, more than 300 Red Cross workers, mostly volunteers, provided food, mental health counseling, emotional support, basic first aid services and comfort items for responders, officials and volunteers.

Victoria Connor, director of communications and public support at the York-Adams Red Cross Chapter, talks about the profound effect being at Shanksville had at the time and since. “Red Cross workers were expressing the nation’s sorrow, providing comfort in as many ways as we could,” she recalls.

Support from the Community

“A community in total disbelief and bewilderment” is how Blossom Aberg, a Red Cross volunteer with the Centre Communities Chapter in State College and a retired school psychologist, remembers the scene at Shanksville the day after the crash.

Aberg describes the vacuous feeling of being there among many responders and no survivors. She talks about a stranger putting an arm around her and saying, “I don’t know what you do, but thank you.”

Acts of kindness from the 80,000 residents of Somerset County are still recalled and remembered. “Whatever we asked for we got,” Carol Schwartz remembers. “Everybody embraced these people.”

When the buses carrying family members to and from the crash scene went by, adults and children lined the roads, shoulder to shoulder, hands over hearts, holding American flags, and totally silent.

Students from local elementary and high schools, and Johnstown College, made posters that touched the heart.

Businesses gave willingly. Somerset Hospital provided crutches and wheel chairs. Wal-Mart gave toiletries. Food providers brought meals and snacks to the site so the Red Cross didn’t have to leave the area. Churches opened their doors as offices and places to warehouse supplies. Motel workers went out of their way to help Red Cross lodgers.

Many local residents also volunteered, and were trained on the spot to serve in Red Cross reception areas, canteens and warehouses.

When the relief and recovery work ended and people were going home, the last thing volunteers saw in the airport were hanging white sheets saying thank you.

Memorial Ceremonies

Two memorial services were held in the Shanksville area, one on September 17 and a second, smaller service three days later for families and friends who could not attend the earlier service.

Much of the memorial service planning was done by Red Cross volunteer Ginny Barnett, who remembers the 12-hour days and the profound sadness. She says she had to stay focused on the work that needed done.

Victoria Connor describes the two Memorial Services as very personal and meaningful. Some volunteers gathered ivy and flowers for living centerpieces. Others sifted earth from an area near the site, filling vials for each family member. Barnett says the little vials of dirt are a tradition in aviation disasters.

Scott Snyder, executive director of the American Red Cross in Butler and Mercer Counties, remembers the concern when one week after the terrorist attacks First Lady Laura Bush decided to attend the first memorial service. He remembers the First Lady’s courage and compassion. Refusing the ride arranged by the Secret Service, Mrs. Bush walked up the hill to the tent. Once the service was completed, she stayed and talked with family members until the last one had left.

This Saturday, Mrs. Bush will return to Shanksville for the 9th Memorial Service, accompanying First Lady Michelle Obama. Staff of the Johnstown chapter of the Red Cross will again provide water, coffee and first aid and support to the families and to the general public, says Keystone Chapter executive director Colleen Sherman.