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Crash debris found 8 miles away

 

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Farmers from Stonycreek Township watch as a state police helicopter circles their fields

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By Debra Erdley
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Friday, September 14, 2001

A southeasterly wind and a 3-year-old’s keen eye brought the crash of United Airlines Flight 93 home to a family in tiny New Baltimore borough, more than eight miles from the Somerset County crash site.

Three-year-old Hunter Stoe was helping his father, Andy, with the trash Wednesday night when he spied a slip of paper on the grass near the trash can.

When Andy Stoe glanced at the paper, ready to toss it in the trash, he saw it was a charred payroll check made out to Antonio B. Costa of San Jose, Calif.

Investigators now concede the canceled check and a portion of a charred brokerage statement Stoe found nearby on Thursday afternoon are from the crash.


Costa, a 59-year-old construction worker, was not a passenger on Flight 93.

“He’s here and fine,” his daughter-in-law Leeza Costa said from her San Jose home yesterday afternoon. “We can’t figure out how it got there unless maybe they were moving mail or documents for a bank.”

Stoe said authorities initially insisted crash debris could not have traveled over a mountain ridge more than eight miles from the crash.

Late yesterday afternoon, however, FBI Special Agent Bill Crowley said experts from the National Transportation Safety Board had checked weather reports and determined that lightweight materials might well have traveled over the mountain by a southwest wind that reached a speed of 9 knots.

“The NTSB says it is not only plausible, but probable,” said Crowley.

About two miles from the crash site, Ron Trent, a 63-year-old third-generation farmer, never imagined anything like it could happen so close to his home. He was stunned when agents asked him to postpone cutting his hay until they can search the field.

Looking over his farm’s rolling hills, Trent shoved his cap back on his head and scratched his chin.

“I believe this country is in a bad situation, the situation this country is in right now, and I don’t think it’s going to get any better.

“That sure is pretty. I’m sure glad I grew up here. I guess it (the crash) really put Shanksville on the map,” he said.

Farther down the road, searchers had tied flags in one of David Scott’s cornfields to mark areas they wanted to search more closely.

“It’s just too bad we couldn’t be on the map for something other than disaster,” said Scott, chatting with neighbors William Flamm and Meno Yoder, as a state police helicopter circled low over his fields.

Investigators also descended on nearby Indian Lake. The resort community two miles from the crash also became part of the official search area after small pieces of crash debris were recovered from the 750-acre lake.

John Fleegle, an Indian Lake Marina employee, said FBI agents were skeptical of his reports about debris in the lake until they traveled to the lake shore Wednesday afternoon.

Fleegle, marina owner Jim Brant and two of Brant’s employees were among the dozens who witnessed the crash from Indian Lake. Fleegle had just returned to the marina to get fuel for a boat that had run out of gas when Carol Delasko called him into the drydock barn to watch news of the World Trade Center attack.

“All of a sudden the lights flickered and we joked that maybe they were coming for us. Then we heard engines screaming close overhead. The building shook. We ran out, heard the explosion and saw a fireball mushroom,” said Fleegle, pointing to a clearing on a ridge at the far end of the lake.

Delasko, who ran outside moments later, said she thought someone had blown up a boat on the lake. “It just looked like confetti raining down all over the air above the lake,” she said.

Fleegle, Brant and a fellow marina worker, Tom Spinelli, jumped in a truck and rushed to the crash site.

In the woods, they saw only a crater and tiny pieces of debris.

Fleegle said he climbed on the roof of an abandoned cabin and tossed down a burning seat cushion that had landed there.

By Wednesday morning, crash debris began washing ashore at the marina. Fleegle said there was something that looked like a rib bone amid pieces of seats, small chunks of melted plastic and checks.

He said FBI agents who spent the afternoon patrolling the lake in rented boats eventually carted away a large garbage bag full of debris.

Kate Moses, a former Pittsburgh woman whose retirement home is located near the Indian Lake golf course far from the lake, said she felt the impact from the crash and went to look outside. Later, her neighbor found a brokerage statement for a $2 million stock account had landed in her yard.

“How could that have happened? It’s just a horrifying thought. I’ll never be the same. I know that,” said Moses.

A confirmed Broadway buff who loves New York, Moses said the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the hijacking that ended near her Somerset County home have made her hesitant to even consider traveling to New York anytime soon.

Back in New Baltimore, Andy Stoe is keeping track of everything so he can explain it all to Hunter when the toddler gets a little older.

And he holds the peace of his tiny valley town more precious than ever.

“It could have crashed here just as easy as anywhere. Thank God they put it down somewhere unpopulated,” said Stoe, as Hunter pushed a toy bulldozer through his sandbox.

Debra Erdley can be reached at derdley@tribweb.com or 412-320-7996.

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