SHANKSVILLE – One scenario kept recurring to James Broderick as he drove to the United Airlines Flight 93 crash site on Sept. 11, 2001.
“I was thinking to myself, ‘How would I respond to this? Am I even going to know the difference between a hijacker and a passenger?’ ” Broderick said. “That was going through my mind the entire time coming out here to this site. ‘Am I going to know the difference between a good guy and a bad guy?’ ”
Broderick was responding in his role as a Pennsylvania State Police officer. But, when he arrived at the location, all he saw was an impact crater and few definable parts, including the remnants of an engine, while debris still rained down. There were no survivors – passengers, crew or hijackers – from the plane that was taken over as part of al-Qaida’s attack on the United States, which also included strikes against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Broderick made a radio call saying he saw a “large hole” and “did not feel that anybody could survive that type of crash.”
He recalled the day’s events during a “Witness to History” speaker series event at Flight 93 National Memorial’s Visitor Center Complex on Sunday. Broderick was joined by Kevin Huzsek and Rick King, who were with the Somerset Area Ambulance Association and Shanksville Volunteer Fire Company, respectively, on 9/11.
‘Nobody to help’
Huzsek, to this day, recalls the feeling of arriving at the scene and not seeing any survivors.
“I was trained as a paramedic,” Huzsek said. “I am supposed to help people. When I arrived on scene that day, the most difficult thing for me was there was nobody to help. That was the most difficult thing for me that day. It still carries on here 20 years.”
The crash in Somerset County was part of the emotional and chaotic morning when the nation was under attack. Reports had already come in about other planes being hijacked.
King called his wife and told her to get their children out of school, while wondering what else could happen locally or across the country.
“I was driving and I look over at the firefighter who was sitting in the opposite seat, and I looked at him, and I said, ‘Keith, I can’t swallow.’ … Emotions were just unbelievable,” King said.
‘Sept. 12 effect’
All three spent hours, days, months and now years dealing with the crash of Flight 93.
King recalled how the community rallied to help first responders, offering emotional support and sending supplies, such as food and water. He referred to the outpouring as part of the “Sept. 12 effect.”
“We all remember that feeling,” King said. “We had it.”
Now, even 20 years later, King said the events of Sept. 11 and immediately afterward are “like it happened yesterday.”
He said: “It’s something that’s engrained in your mind.”
King, Broderick and Huzsek became visibly emotional – at one time or another – when talking about their memories.
“You just have to live through it and do the best you can,” Broderick said.
The panelists all spoke about the importance of talking with others about Sept. 11 to help process their thoughts and feelings.
“That’s the biggest thing,” Huzsek said.