INTRO MUSIC On September 11th, 2001, Dennis Fritz was working as an ATC controller at Johnstown County Airport in Pennsylvania. I normally don't work in a tower and it just so happened that on 9-11 I was working in the tower in ground control when everything had taken place. We were kind of busy that day so we had no idea what was happening and about 9-30 I got a call from Cleveland Center. They called and asked us if we had any traffic in the area, if we had anyone in the pattern and we said yes we did and they said well they directed us to recall traffic that we were talking to, get them all down, tell them they have to recover and land and as soon as the last one gets down give me a call because they were going to be diverting more aircraft in there. We're going to be closing the airspace and it did make sense to me. So we called all the aircraft that we were dealing with which was about, I don't know how many we had at the time. We brought them back in the land and I called Cleveland back and I said okay we've got all our aircraft down and he says okay we're going to start diverting about 15 aircraft into your airport. I said what's going on? He said, I said why are you closing our airspace? He says no you don't understand, we're not closing just this airspace, we're closing the airspace across the country. So I figured something big was happening.
A couple minutes later, and this was about 10 o'clock I say, 10 o'clock, a couple minutes after 10, I don't remember the time exactly but it's pretty close to 10 o'clock. They called and asked if we had a large aircraft, can you see anything out there at all? And we were looking and an aircraft was a 757 on a day, I said how far out are you? He says 12 miles, he says 15 miles, looks like he's heading directly towards you.
I said no I can't see anything at all. So we picked up a binoculars, did some, we were looking more, we couldn't see anything and he called back and said we suggest you evacuate the tower. That aircraft's now 12 miles south of Johnstown heading there at a high rate of speed. And one of the guys says well I'm going to be getting out of here. I said we're not going anywhere, we can't see an aircraft.
You know we can't see anything, there's nothing out there, we're not in any danger. And it was probably a minute after he called me, he said the aircraft just turned back south and I lost radar contact with him. He says if you see anything give me a call back. Well as soon as I got off the phone with him the line started ringing and we had a report of an aircraft that crashed south of the field about 15 miles.
And it got to a point where it was so bad we weren't taking any more calls. And we notified, I talked to 911 and they were going to go ahead and dispatch crash and fire rescue people. Here's Christian Boyd, a paramedic and volunteer firefighter working that day at the Somerset Ambulance Substation.
He was one of the first people to report to the crash site of Flight 93. It started like any other day, shifts started at 8. Usually I worked with a gentleman named Doug Whitfield from Myersdale and he had traded shifts that day with a paramedic named Kevin Husick, whom I've known all my life. So Kevin showed up and I thought, oh that's neat, that's a surprise because I don't normally get to work with him. And you kind of work with the same people over and over it seems like at that station you can kind of predict who you're going to work with. And he showed up so I thought, oh this is neat, we'll find something interesting to do today. He likes to clean the ambulance and shine it and wax it up. So keep yourself busy because that station is normally a slower station.
You might run and have two runs a day, sometimes none. It's quiet. I remember I took my work uniform shirt off and Kevin took his off because he was going to start on the ambulance on the outside and he was going to wash it or something. And I was going to replace the bulbs on the front grill and we were both volunteer firemen so we had pagers. And I started hearing all these local fire departments, their tones going out over the air on the pager. And Kevin said, where are we going now? I said, I'm guessing probably a brush fire.
Maybe a barn fire. Because it was a big alarm assignment, you could tell. You could tell each department that was like that's Stoystown, that's Boswell, that's Shanksville, that's Friedens.
You could tell. Then the fire whistled and Stoystown blew which was right down over the hill from the ambulance station. So I hurried up and got my uniform shirt on and we buttoned up the station, locked the doors. And the dispatcher came across the air and said what it was, plane down, reported commercial aircraft in the area of Shanksville off of Skyline Drive. And all I had to do, I looked down toward Shanksville down Route 30 East and I could see a big column of smoke.
And Kevin came out and he said, did they say plane down? And I said, yeah. I said, look, and he said, oh, man. So I said, I know where it is, get in the ambulance.
I took Skyline Drive just as they said, went up to the top of the hill and looked down over the hill and you could see fire in the trees and debris scattered everywhere. And I said, well, we got to get closer. So we went down around this side road and that was it. I pulled as close as I could just looking at the picture.
I pulled as close as I could without going into the crater or putting anyone in danger. And I had no idea what it was really or looked like brush fire in the trees, a stand of pine trees and a big, big hole in the ground. I mean, it looked like about the size of a nice in-ground swimming pool, maybe two or three of those at one point.
I thought this doesn't look good and I'm going to be here a while. And we looked around and we determined that there were no survivors and I still did not believe that it was a passenger or a commercial airline. The only thing that that made me realize or believe that it was a commercial passenger airliner was a tire, the size of the tire and the width of it. I knew that it had to come from a bigger aircraft just from being on planes before. But other than that, the largest piece of plane that I noticed was about the size of a refrigerator and it was part of the fuel sludge. And the only way that I knew again that it was a passenger airline was because of the window.
Still had a window intact, the small windows that they have. We were awestruck. We thought, you know what, this is something bad that happened on TV.
We just saw a few minutes ago and it just happened here, we think. And Jill, our boss, came out and we talked to Jill, we talked to the police, we talked to the firemen, we said, what do you want to do? Our job was to look for any type of information that might lead to what this plane is.
Christian was sent into the wreckage with his fellow first responder, Michael. I did find wallets. I found driver's license. Someone was from, I want to say San Diego or San Francisco, California.
They had a Latin name or a Spanish name, I can't remember. But I remember looking at that man and I thought, San Diego, you know, just pictures of kids, pictures of family, money scattered everywhere on fire. One of the things that still stands out in my mind that I can remember was a Bible on the ground that was burning. That it was, started burning, I think from the right, lower right hand corner, looked like where it was burning, it was burning kind of diagonally. I thought that was weird.
I mean, because you're not supposed to really, you know, burn Bibles or whatever. That just caught my attention and Mike, who's a pretty strong Catholic, I called him. I said, look, you know, it's this thing. It just kind of gave us an eerie feeling. I didn't really like to see that.
I think he just patted the edge of it, kind of put it out. That was it. And you were listening to Dennis Fritz, an ATC controller at a nearby airport and Christian Boyd, the local EMT in the Shanksville area, both of their responses to Flight 93. And a special thanks to the Flight 93 National Memorial for providing us this audio. It's a beautiful museum. And if you're in the Pittsburgh area, please go and check it out. Heck, make a road trip to Stoystown and see it for yourself. More of our 9-11 special here on Our American Stories.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-17 19:05:08 / 2023-02-17 19:09:09 / 4