Monday, April 9, 2012

Dave Berkebile's Shanksville Video

September 6, 2011, New York Times, The Lede, Amateur Video Shot on 9/11 Shows Smoke From Plane Crash in Pennsylvania, By Robert Mackey,
12:32 pm,

September 6, 2011, Amateur Video Shot on 9/11 Shows Smoke From Plane Crash in Pennsylvania, By ROBERT MACKEY, 12:32 pm

Amateur video recorded on Sept. 11, 2001, after a hijacked jet crashed in rural Pennsylvania.

Updated | Wednesday | 8:49 a.m. On Sept. 11, 2001, minutes after United Flight 93 crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pa., a man who lived two and half miles away reached for his video camera and recorded smoke billowing into the sky.

That video, narrated by Dave Berkebile, the stunned onlooker who recorded the images, remained largely unseen until Saturday, when it was posted online by The Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, a Pennsylvania newspaper.

Mr. Berkebile died this year but his wife, Cathy, explained to Arlene Johns, the city editor of The Tribune-Democrat, that the couple always kept a video camera handy at their home in rural Pennsylvania, so that they could shoot "beautiful sunrises and sunsets."

In an e-mail to The Lede, Ms. Johns explained that, in an era before social media, Mr. Berkebile apparently tried to give his video "to a local television station but was rebuffed — without them even looking at it. So he put it in a drawer."

Mrs. Berkebile told The Tribune-Democrat that since the couple lived so close to the crash site and the day was clear, "everything was totally visible and he had the presence of mind to grab (the video camera) and go running out the door with it."

As Ms. Johns reports on the Tribune-Democrat's Web site, about four years before his death, Mr. Berkebile gave his video to Val McClatchey, "the woman who shot the only still photograph of Flight 93's haunting, skyward aftermath."

McClatchey recently donated the video to the National Park Service for an oral history of 9/11. She had endured years of harassment from conspiracy theorists who believe Flight 93 was shot down by U.S. military jets and that her photo was a fake.

Donna Glessner of the National Park Service said the video authenticates the McClatchey photo and also has historic significance because of its timing and content. "No one else has a video of that smoke cloud," said Glessner.

As my colleagues Jodi Rudoren and Ed Wong reported on Sept. 13, 2001, two days after everyone on board was killed, several of the passengers had made phone calls from the plane to tell "the people they loved that they would die fighting," and that they would try to take the cockpit from the hijackers.

In another Tribune-Democrat article on the crash of Flight 93, David Hurst reported on Monday that the local coroner, Wallace Miller, dismisses out of hand the conspiracy theories that still swirl around the jet’s crash.

Pick a myth surrounding United Airlines Flight 93. Wallace Miller has probably heard it.

But 10 years after the Boeing 757 fell from the sky onto a Somerset County strip mine – and years since lengthy, fact-filled reports have been released to squash those theories – Somerset County's coroner is among those tired of the "conspiracy" talk.

"Its all foolishness," said Miller, who was among the responders at the scene that day. "There's ample evidence to prove everything happened the way it happened. To even still be mentioning it, it's crazy."

Here is the description of the last moments of United Flight 93 from the first chapter of the 9/11 Commission report (see the original document for footnotes indicating sources):

During at least five of the passengers' phone calls, information was shared about the attacks that had occurred earlier that morning at the World Trade Center. Five calls described the intent of passengers and surviving crew members to revolt against the hijackers. According to one call, they voted on whether to rush the terrorists in an attempt to retake the plane. They decided, and acted.

At 9:57, the passenger assault began. Several passengers had terminated phone calls with loved ones in order to join the revolt. One of the callers ended her message as follows: "Everyone's running up to first class. I've got to go. Bye."

The cockpit voice recorder captured the sounds of the passenger assault muffled by the intervening cockpit door. Some family members who listened to the recording report that they can hear the voice of a loved one among the din. We cannot identify whose voices can be heard. But the assault was sustained.

In response, Jarrah immediately began to roll the airplane to the left and right, attempting to knock the passengers off balance. At 9:58:57, Jarrah told another hijacker in the cockpit to block the door. Jarrah continued to roll the airplane sharply left and right, but the assault continued. At 9:59:52, Jarrah changed tactics and pitched the nose of the airplane up and down to disrupt the assault. The recorder captured the sounds of loud thumps, crashes, shouts, and breaking glasses and plates. At 10:00:03, Jarrah stabilized the airplane.

Five seconds later, Jarrah asked, "Is that it? Shall we finish it off?" A hijacker responded, "No. Not yet. When they all come, we finish it off." The sounds of fighting continued outside the cockpit. Again, Jarrah pitched the nose of the aircraft up and down. At 10:00:26, a passenger in the background said, "In the cockpit. If we don’t we'll die!" Sixteen seconds later, a passenger yelled, "Roll it!" Jarrah stopped the violent maneuvers at about 10:01:00 and said, "Allah is the greatest! Allah is the greatest!" He then asked another hijacker in the cock-pit, "Is that it? I mean, shall we put it down?" to which the other replied, "Yes, put it in it, and pull it down."

The passengers continued their assault and at 10:02:23, a hijacker said, "Pull it down! Pull it down!" The hijackers remained at the controls but must have judged that the passengers were only seconds from overcoming them. The airplane headed down; the control wheel was turned hard to the right. The airplane rolled onto its back, and one of the hijackers began shouting "Allah is the greatest. Allah is the greatest." With the sounds of the passenger counterattack continuing, the aircraft plowed into an empty field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, at 580 miles per hour, about 20 minutes' flying time from Washington, D.C.

September 3, 2011,  Tribune-Democrat,  Flight 93 crash site video surfaces,


SHANKSVILLE — As the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks approaches, a video shot just minutes after the crash of United Airlines Flight 93 has surfaced.

While the video does not show the moment of impact, it clearly shows a mushroom cloud rising from the site of the crash at an abandoned strip mine near Shanksville.

The voice of Berlin resident Dave Berkebile, now deceased, can be heard speaking calmly in the background.

"This is the remains of an airplane crash over on Lambertsville Road,” he said. "Probably a terrorist bomb on board that blew up."

Berkebile said the crash “shook the heck out of the house ... A great, big, black cloud just mushroomed right up into the air.”

Then he added: "I wonder if there is anything left of Lambertsville.”

Donna Glessner, who is collecting oral histories for the National Park Service, saw the video and said she believes it is the earliest known video of the crash.

“I thought it was just a very important historic piece," she said.

"No one else has a video of that smoke cloud." At the time of the crash, Berkebile and his wife, Cathy, lived on Blue Bird Road.

Although he passed away in February, his wife, who has since moved out of the state, spoke about events that day.She said a video camera was kept at easy access to shoot vistas from their home, which was situated on 40 acres.

"My family lives in the city," she said. "They had never seen the mountains. Up there on my mountain are the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets. Also snowstorms.

"So I kept the video camera all charged up so I could go out and shoot anything gorgeous to show my family."

Berkebile said their initial thought when they heard the explosion was that it was dynamite.

Although the distance between their home and the crash site is 8 miles by road, it is just 21/2 miles by air and Berkebile said they had an unobstructed view of the skies above the crash site.

"Everything was totally visible and he had the presence of mind to grab (the video camera) and go running out the door with it.”

August 06, 2006,  Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Conspiracy theorists blog that Flight 93 photo is fake,  by Caitlin Cleary,  Sunday,

Copyright Val McClatchey

This image of the smoke cloud left by United Airlines Flight 93 after it crashed into a field in Somerset County on Sept. 11, 2001, was taken by Val McClatchey from the porch of her home.
Click photo for larger image.

STOYSTOWN, Pa. -- It was a remarkable shot that produced a one-of-a-kind image: a green pasture, red barns in the distance and, against a brilliant blue and cloudless sky, a lone mushroom cloud of dark gray smoke.

Taken the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, seconds after United Airlines Flight 93 plunged into a nearby field, the eerie photo was, and still is, according to the FBI, the closest thing it's got to an image of the crash itself.

Val McClatchey snapped the single picture with her new digital camera. The wife and mother had been sitting on the edge of her sofa, clutching her second cup of coffee and watching the smoking towers of the World Trade Center on TV, when she heard the sudden surge of a plane engine, followed by a violent, house-shaking boom. Mrs. McClatchey grabbed the camera and ran onto the front porch of her house along Indian Lake.

"I didn't even aim. I was just like, 'Oh, my God,' " she said. She dropped the camera, jolting the battery loose, then tried in vain to call her husband, son and daughter. She had no idea what she'd captured until the state police put a call out to people in the area, asking for photos, debris and other evidence. She took a printout of her photo to the police, she said, and, within an hour, FBI agents were at her house.

Once the full, national scope of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks had settled in, word spread quickly of Mrs. McClatchey's photograph, and soon, everyone wanted to buy a copy.

"But it's not something that felt right," she said.

She copyrighted her photo and gave it a title, "End of Serenity." This would later prove an apt description of what was in store for Mrs. McClatchey, 50. She would find herself the target of 9/11 conspiracy theorists and involved in a copyright lawsuit against The Associated Press.

"Right now, it's become more of a curse than a blessing that I took it at all," she said.

During the next few years, the photo would appear in magazines and newspapers, from Newsweek to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, with Mrs. McClatchey's permission. It became part of a fund-raising brochure for the Flight 93 Memorial Fund. Copies are available upon request, with proceeds going to the charity Heroic Choices, formerly the Todd Beamer Foundation.

Mrs. McClatchey's photo was included in the Smithsonian Institution's traveling exhibit, "Bearing Witness." And her personal story appears to fit seamlessly into the larger narrative of the Shanksvsille crash site and temporary memorial, when, dozens of times a day, volunteers such as Donna Schmucker tell Mrs. McClatchey's story and other witness accounts to the visitors who stream onto the site, holding up her photo in the laminated pocket of a binder for all to see.

But Mrs. McClatchey's fame has recently taken a sour turn. The real estate agent has recently become a target of bloggers calling themselves "9-11 researchers," who are seeking to prove that the U.S. government was complicit in the attacks that brought down the Twin Towers, pierced the Pentagon and crashed United Airlines Flight 93. "The End of Serenity" has turned out to be their smoking gun.

The smoke plume doesn't line up right, they say. It is too large in the frame. The smoke is characteristic of an ordnance blast, not a jet fuel fire, further evidence that the government shot down Flight 93. They analyze wind direction, debris patterns and camera trajectories, all in the service of the theory that the crash was faked.

They have visited Mrs. McClatchey's office and called her at home, posting satellite maps of her property and accusing her of digitally altering her photo to insert a fake smoke plume. The bloggers have picked apart her story, highlighting inconsistencies in different news accounts and questioning her motives. Others have described her as "surly," "hostile," "irate" and "defensive." People have called her at home, accusing her of being anti-American and of "holding the photo hostage."

On a simple Google search, Mrs. McClatchey's name now pops up in the same sentence as "total fraud."

"Val McClatchey has made it unmistakably clear to us that she intends to milk her 9-11 claim to fame for all it's worth, truth be damned," writes Lisa Guliani, of WingTV (World Independent News Group), who traveled to Stoystown to interview Mrs. McClatchey.

"If the smoke plume was photo-shopped on there, then that could mean either that the photo was simply a fraud by Val, or it was a fraud by her and the FBI and/or other government agents since she did mention that the FBI did inspect the memory card from her camera," writes a blogger identified as Killtown.

Mrs. McClatchey was taken aback by the personal criticism by those who, she said, "hide behind their aliases."

"This Killtown, whoever he may be, I find it very disturbing that this is a 16-page attack on me personally," said Mrs. McClatchey, who opened her real estate company a year and a half ago. "My business is named. That hurts me personally. It's pretty disturbing. My whole life is out there, a map to where I live, a map to my office. It's a safety issue for me. There's some crazy people out there."

Killtown's blog links to hundreds of conflicting witness accounts and news stories, video and photos of suspicious damage and debris, and other 9/11 conspiracy blogs, attempting to build up a preponderance of doubt about the government's claims. Killtown posits whether the World Trade Center towers were brought down by explosives, and whether the Pentagon was hit by a missile. (The blogger identified only as Killtown could be reached only via e-mail. He or she agreed to be interviewed without ever revealing identity and never got in phone contact with this reporter.)

About Mrs. McClatchey's "End of Serenity," Killtown concludes that either the smoke plume in the photo came from a bomb blast closer to her house, or that the picture was faked by Mrs. McClatchey or the FBI. Killtown writes: "If the first is true, then Val may be off the hook. If any of the latter two are the case, then Val, you got some splainin' to do!" He then proceeds to post her home address, phone number and personal e-mail information.

Mrs. McClatchey acknowledged that a lot of people are alleging she fabricated the photo, but she stands by its authenticity. Days after Sept. 11, neighbors saw the image, still in her camera. The camera and computer were new, and she didn't have access to Photoshop or any other photo-altering software.

"I know that photo is completely legitimate," Mrs. McClatchey said. "Other people saw the same thing I saw."

Special agent Jeff Killeen, of the FBI in Pittsburgh, confirmed that the photo of the barns and the smoke plume was "a very legitimate photograph."

V.W.H. Campbell, Post-Gazette

Val McClatchey looking over the Flight 93 Memorial site which she had not been to since November 2005.
Click photo for larger image.

"We consider that a photo that was taken moments after Flight 93 crashed to the ground," Mr. Killeen said. "It's a remarkable shot. It's remarkable that someone had the wherewithal to snap a photo of the crash. This is a one-of-a-kind. We really don't know of anything else."

The photo is even more surprising considering the sparsely populated area around the crash site, Mr. Killeen said. He compared "End of Serenity" to a hypothetical photo of the first bombs hitting Pearl Harbor, or a still image of one of the commercial jetliners in mid-collision with the twin towers.

As for the 9/11 conspiracy theorists, Mr. Killeen said, "They can debunk all they want." On Sept. 11, he was at the site shortly after the crash, and knows the amount of debris and other evidence that was gathered from the scene but was never made public. Officials did look into the possibility that Flight 93 was shot down, he said, "but there's no evidence to suggest that whatsoever. None."

Mrs. McClatchey still occasionally gets requests for copies of "End of Serenity." She prints them out on her personal printer, and says she has no idea how many hundreds or thousands of dollars the photo has raised for the Heroic Choices charity. She operates on the honor system, she says, and simply forwards the checks to them. Representatives from the charity did not return calls requesting comment.

Mrs. McClatchey has begun accepting some money, on account of her copyright action against The Associated Press, which, she says, distributed her photo without her permission.

"So here I am, in the middle of this nasty lawsuit," she said. "I have kept some of the money, because now I have some legal fees. It's very unfortunate, because I was trying to do the right thing."

David Tomlin, assistant general counsel with The Associated Press, confirmed that litigation was in progress.

"To the extent that we distributed her picture, we assert we had permission to do so," Mr. Tomlin said. "We deny infringing on her copyright."

Across the country road from Mrs. McClatchey's home is a fenced-in pasture with red barns under a bright blue sky, the same scene from "End of Serenity."

Given the headaches of a lawsuit and the blunt personal criticism from the bloggers, Mrs. McClatchey wonders if her quick decision to grab her camera that morning nearly five years ago and capture the last puff smoke that was Flight 93 was the right one. But she is glad to be able to give something back to the families of the dead, and thinks her photo will stand the test of time and conspiracy theorists.

"The truth speaks for itself," she said.
First published on August 6, 2006 at 12:00 am

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