New reports of remains cloud legacy of Flight 93
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
By Sally Kalson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Somerset County Coroner Wallace Miller was mystified on Tuesday by reports out of Washington, D.C., that unidentified human remains recovered from the Flight 93 crash site had been incinerated and dumped in a landfill.
"Where they would have gotten those remains, I have no idea," said Mr. Miller. "The only remains that left Somerset County were samples sent for DNA testing to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Quantico, Va."
The Families of Flight 93 are equally skeptical, said spokeswoman Lisa Linden.
"This is impossible to believe," she said. "The remains from the Flight 93 crash were under the care and control of ... Wallace Miller. Period."
A report prepared by the Defense Health Board subcommittee, headed by retired Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, said small portions of human remains from the terror attacks on the Pentagon and Flight 93 were taken to the Dover Port Mortuary at Dover Air Force Base and wound up in a landfill. The Washington Post first reported the story; the Post had previously reported that remains of service members had been cremated and then disposed of in a Virginia landfill.
"Prior to 2008, portions of remains that could neither be tested nor identified, and portions of remains later identified that the [person authorized to direct disposition of human remains] requested not to be notified of (requesting that they be appropriately disposed of) were cremated under contract at a civilian crematory and returned to DPM," the report said.
"This policy began shortly after September 11, 2001, when several portions of remains from the Pentagon attack and the Shanksville, Pennsylvania, crash site could not be tested or identified. These cremated portions were then placed in sealed containers that were provided to a biomedical waste disposal contractor. Per the biomedical waste contract at that time, the contractor then transported these containers and incinerated them. The assumption on the part of DPM was that after final incineration nothing remained. A DPM management query found that there was some residual material following incineration and that the contractor was disposing of it in a landfill. The landfill disposition was not disclosed in the [contractual] disposal agreement."
The review didn't specify the quantity of remains or how they came to be at Dover Port Mortuary. "All I can say is they didn't come from us," Mr. Miller said.
Mr. Miller oversaw the retrieval, identification, storage and return of all human remains from the Flight 93 crash in Stonycreek Township near Shanksville on Sept. 11, 2001.
All identified remains of passengers and crew were returned to the families, he said, and those that could not be identified were put in three caskets and buried on Sept. 12, 2011, at the Flight 93 National Memorial.
The DNA testing at Quantico produced 44 separate profiles, Mr. Miller said. "Forty were positively identified as passengers and crew and returned to the families."
As for the other four, presumably belonging to the four terrorists, "They were taken into custody by the FBI as part of a criminal investigation, which is ongoing," he said.
In September, FBI spokesman Paul Bresson told the Post-Gazette that the FBI still held the remains of all nine of the terrorists who were aboard the planes that crashed into the Pentagon and Stonycreek.
The report about the remains being disposed of in a landfill prompted a letter from U.S. Senator Pat Toomey, R-Pa., to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, seeking clarification of whether any Flight 93 remains were, in fact, cremated and sent to a landfill.
"The heroic passengers on United Flight 93 gave the ultimate sacrifice for our nation, and their families deserve to know the fate of their remains," the senator wrote. "It is critically important that we get to the bottom of this matter, clear up any remaining doubts and ensure that those responsible for any mishandling of remains be held accountable."
Sally Kalson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1610.
First published on February 29, 2012 at 12:00 am