Monday, April 2, 2012

Feb. 29, 2012, Tribune-Review, Somerset coroner denies Flight 93 remains in landfill,

February 29, 2012, The [Pittsburgh] Tribune-Review, Somerset coroner denies Flight 93 remains in landfill, By Richard Gazarik,

The coroner who handled the remains of the 40 passengers and crew who died in the crash of United Flight 93 near Shanksville disputes a Pentagon report that those remains were dumped in a landfill.

Longtime Somerset County Coroner Wallace Miller took issue with government reports on Tuesday that some remains recovered from the terrorist attack on the Pentagon and Flight 93 were sent to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware and subsequently disposed of in a landfill.

"That's not correct," Miller said yesterday. "No remains from here were ever sent to Dover, Del."

Wallace said the unidentified remains from the Flight 93 crash were kept in three caskets for a decade, then buried on Sept. 12 at the Flight 93 National Memorial site as part of the 10th anniversary observance of the 9/11 attacks. Friends and relatives of the passengers and crew who died in the crash watched as the remains were interred in the Stonycreek field in where the plane went down, Miller said.

The government report stems from an investigation into allegations that the remains of some service members killed in Afghanistan were mishandled. During that probe, a 2002 memo surfaced stating that remains from the attack on the Pentagon and the crash of Flight 93 had been dumped in a landfill.

Miller said he suspects the Pentagon confused the remains of the 9/11 victims with those of service members killed in combat.

In November, Pentagon officials admitted that the remains of 274 service members has been dumped in a Virginia landfill between 2003 and 2008.

The Pentagon has ordered another review of procedures at the military morgue, which now places the ashes of unidentified body parts in urns and buries them at sea.

Miller said the only remains that left Pennsylvania were DNA samples sent for testing to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Quantico, Va.

"They were returned to me. That's all that left here," he said.

Once the samples were returned, they were given to family members, Miller said.

Dover Air Force base is where the military's mortuary affairs service is based. All military personnel killed anywhere in the world are sent there.

A spokeswoman for the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operation at Dover referred questions to the Pentagon.

Todd Spitler, an Air Force spokesman, said the Air Force had no comment on Miller's statement. He referred questions to the Department of Defense.

Relatives of Flight 93 passengers, many of whom have repeatedly commended Miller for his compassion in dealing with the grieving families during the past decade, said they could not believe the Defense Department report.

Ken Nacke of Baltimore, whose brother, Louis, died aboard Flight 93, challenged the reports by national media outlets, including The Washington Post.

"I couldn't see that happening," Nacke said. "The painstaking way Wallace and his staff handled it, I think it's far-fetched. I just know that's the case, because he took such great care in handling everything."

Alice Hoglan of Redwood Estates, Calif., whose son, Mark Bingham, died leading an attempt to retake the aircraft from terrorists, questioned the accuracy of the military's investigation.

"I defer to Wally," she said. "I'm not so concerned about human remains being buried in a landfill as I am about the unfinished business of 9/11 -- that being airplane security and Islamic terrorists."

Sen. Bob Casey called the allegations "truly disturbing."

"The Pentagon should work with officials on the ground to get to the bottom of this and determine what actually happened," Casey said.

Sen. Pat Toomey said he wrote Defense Secretary Leon Panetta yesterday asking for an explanation of the conflicting accounts.

"I ask that you promptly clarify if any remains from the Pentagon and United Flight 93 were cremated and disposed of in a landfill," Toomey 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," he said.

Read more: Somerset coroner denies Flight 93 remains in landfill - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

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