Posted: 4:55 p.m. EDT October 2, 2001
Updated: 5:10 p.m. EDT October 2, 2001
SHANKSVILLE, Pa. -- Three groundwater monitoring wells show no evidence of groundwater contamination and nearly 6,000 cubic yards of dirt sifted for human remains and aircraft debris will soon be returned to the crater left Sept. 11 by United Airlines Flight 93.
But despite official efforts to the contrary, the abandoned strip mine is still far from normal.
Curiosity seekers and well-wishers continued to visit the site where the hijacked Boeing 757 crashed, killing all 44 people on board three weeks ago, even as officials updated the media on restoration efforts Tuesday.
"Sometimes reality is a little more stark if you can see it first hand," said Ellen Stewart of Johnstown -- who drove more than 20 miles with her children, Kelly, 14; Molly, 13; David, 11; and Ryan, 10; on Tuesday.
"This is the place where an incredible act of bravery took place. This is where modern-day heroes died and how often do you have a chance to see something like that?" she said, referring to reports that some passengers overpowered hijackers and crashed the plane before it could be turned against another target.
Flight 93 was the only one of the four hijacked planes that did not take a life on the ground that day and United Airlines and other officials have discussed a memorial, but made no formal plans.
Environmental Resources Management of Wexford, Pa., will fill in the crater caused by the crash, which was dug 50 feet deep by recovery workers.
Betsy Mallison, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, said that investigators still don't know how much jet fuel was spilled at the crash site. But whether it burned away or evaporated, much of it seems to have dissipated, Mallison said.
Shanksville Mayor Ernest Stull said that officials have been very sensitive to residents' concerns and would continue water monitoring.
Somerset County Coroner Wallace Miller said that he plans no more major sweeps of the area, like that over the weekend by 250 recovery workers. They found unspecified human remains and enough minuscule pieces of plane debris to fill one-third of a dumpster, Miller said.
Miller said that he considers the crash site to be just like a cemetary.
The number of victims identified still stands at 12. Miller said that he is waiting for DNA results to help identify the remaining victims, but that might not be done for a few months.
Miller said he's not sure when he'll relinquish control of the site, although it likely won't happen until spring. But even then, instinct as much as any hard-and-fast guidelines will rule, although Miller said recovery efforts at the site have gone faster than he anticipated.
"I think I'll reach a point in my own mind where I'll think we've done every thing possible," Miller said.
Among other details Miller ticked off from a mental checklist are about several dozen trees that were charred and will have to be replaced.
When all the work is done, PBS Coal of nearby Freidens, Pa., will get back the site where it had been doing mine reclamation work when the crash occurred.
Until then, the makeshift memorial at the site consisting of dozens of flowers and countless American flags continues to grow.
Colleen Walker and her mother, LaVerne Walker, both of Johnstown, laid purple gladiolas and chrysanthemums at the site.
"It's wonderful, it's very, very moving," LaVerne Walker said of other mementos left at the site. "It's a beautiful place for a resting ground."