SHANKSVILLE, Pa. The 45 passengers of United Airlines Flight 93 did not survive last week”s terrorist attacks on the United States but they are nothing less than heroes in the eyes of many Americans whose lives they may have saved.
Flight 93 was the only one of four hijacked jets that did not hit a major target in the assault, instead crashing into uninhabited farmland about 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.
Both of Pennsylvania”s senators suggested several passengers were able to overtake the hijackers and divert the plane from its path toward Washington.
Republican Sen. Arlen Specter said he thinks the plane was headed toward the U.S. Capitol, “that I believe is standing today because of the efforts of the people who are buried not too far from here.”
Specter named three men: “Mark Bingham, Jeremy Glick and Thomas Burnett, who may have saved the U.S. Capitol and its leaders, Senate and House members, including the two who are sitting here today.”
To these three passengers, Specter said he and fellow Republican Sen. Rick Santorum want to give the Medal of Freedom, the government”s highest civilian award.
“Here in particular I think we owe a special moment of thanksgiving for what we believe happened on this plane,” Santorum said.
The senators denied reports of military intervention in the crash of Flight 93.
Two planes were flying within a 25-mile radius of Flight 93 just before it went down, one a small private jet and the other a C-130 military cargo aircraft, but Specter said neither plane was involved with the crash.
When asked if Flight 93 had been shot down, FBI Special Agent William Crowley said the military plane had no weapons on board.
Santorum confirmed Crowley”s statement that military force was not used to bring the commercial flight down.
“There was no military action,” Santorum said.
The events of what occurred in the minutes before Flight 93 crashed are still unknown.
The “black box” flight data recorder was located at 8:25 p.m. Friday in a crater created by the crash 25 feet below the earth”s surface and was immediately sent to labs for testing, Crowley said. While the results of these tests may not be available for weeks, workers are continuing to clean debris from the crash, found as far from the site as New Baltimore, eight miles away.
Because of the severity of the crash, Specter said, no body parts remain. Instead, victims must be identified by DNA and dental records.
Several forensic dentists have been called to Shanksville to help with the identification process, Crowley said.
Santorum and Specter presented the FBI agents working at the crash site with the American flag that hangs over the U.S. Capitol, thanking the agents for their dedication.