Observations all along the line - Kimball & the Southern Panhandle First

"This is going to be one of the worst days of my lifetime."

12 years later, Klark Byrd still remembers the feeling of shock he felt on the morning of September 11, 2001. The former Kimball resident can still smell the smoke, the burnt foliage and airplane fuel. He still vividly recalls how he and his family watched from their yard in rural Pennsylvania as a large commercial airplane flew overhead.

It was an odd location for that size of an airplane. Somerset County, roughly an hour and a half from Pittsburgh, was not a common route for such aircraft. Byrd, his mother and his mother’s boyfriend Dave stared up at the plane.

“Dave pointed up there and said, ‘I wonder what that plane is doing up there.’ I told him that it was probably just trying to get to an airport, and as we watched it, all of the sudden, it made a nosedive.”

While much of the nation watched their televisions, in horror, as a series of terrorist attacks dealt a devastating blow to the country, Byrd bore witness to the final seconds of United Flight 93 in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. It was 10:02 a.m. on September 11, 2001.

“It’s just one of those things where you kept your ear to the news,” said Byrd. “After the third plane hit, you didn’t know what to expect. Then, we saw the fourth plane, and it’s just … wow. There really aren’t words to describe it. Your mind goes blank and your mouth falls open.”

Byrd had been in the car earlier that morning when he heard the news of the first airplane crashing into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Like many, Byrd initially thought it was an accident.

“When the first tower was hit, and I heard that on the radio, I thought, ‘That’ll teach them to use reflective glass,’” recalled Byrd. “I thought it was just a dumb pilot who didn’t see where he was going, and he crashed into the side of this tall building.”

17 minutes later,United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center, and rips apart floors 75-85, prompting a major explosion that shocked those watching, leaving many speechless and in tears.

“We were driving, and when we got home, we turned on the TV,” said Byrd. “That’s when we saw the footage of the second one hitting, and my gut sank. When Dave started saying, ‘This is a military strike,’ I thought, well, he might not be wrong.”

Those fears were confirmed 34 minutes later, when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the western façade of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

“When we heard that the Pentagon got hit, I thought, ‘This is going to be one of the worst days of my lifetime,’” recalled Byrd. “I just thought, ‘America is at war, and we aren’t even ready.’ I didn’t think that it was terrorists, but I thought some other country was doing a military strike on us.”

Byrd and his family watched, in horror, as the first tower collapsed, followed shortly thereafter by the second, leaving a smoky silhouette of the New York City skyline in its wake.

Unbeknownst to them, terrorists had hijacked another airplane, United Airlines Flight 93, en route from Newark, New Jersey to San Francisco, California.

The team of four hijackers took control of the plane as it was over central Ohio, turned it around and headed southeast, towards Washington, D.C. The turn placed the aircraft on a trajectory over Somerset County, where Byrd remembers being outside with his mother and her boyfriend and discussing the attacks.

That is when they noticed a lone aircraft in the sky.

Thinking it was simply being routed to the nearest airport, possibly Pittsburgh, Klark watched the aircraft as it suddenly went into a straight nosedive, leaving the helpless family with nothing to do but stare in shock.

The aircraft sped toward the ground, making impact at a speed of 563 mph. Shortly before it hit, Byrd and his family lost sight of the plane on the horizon. Countless questions flooded into Byrd’s mind. Yet at the same time, he was shocked at what had just transpired near his usually quiet rural home.

They quickly piled into Byrd’s 1988 Ford Escort, and took off towards where they saw the plane disappear on the horizon. Speeding through the roads surrounding their hometown, Byrd’s foot is seemingly glued to the pedal, which is pushed clear to the floorboards. Upon reaching a nearby town, Berlin, they learn a plane had crashed in a field near Shanksville.

“We followed everyone up there and we got to the field,” said Byrd. “I just remember the smells and the sights. There were cops everywhere. By the time we got there, the cops already had it all taped off between the trees. Officers were standing at very close intervals, not letting anyone get close to the scene other than what you could see from the road. But you could see a lot.”

The crater left was monstrous, measuring over a hundred feet in diameter, scarring the green grass of the land. Parts of the aircraft were discovered across the land, leaving many to only stand, in awe, at what they were seeing.

Some at the site were solemn, standing in silence as they looked at the burnt carcass of the aircraft. Others, according to Byrd, were frantic, running around taking photographs like “frantic little squirrels.”

With the scent of burnt metal and foliage still strong in the air, Byrd and his family remained on the scene much of the day, finally retreating when darkness fell that night, forcing police officers on overnight duty to build small campfires nearby to stay warm.

“If it had just been a plane crash, it would have been powerful enough,” said Byrd. “To learn, days later, of people who fought for their lives and ultimately brought that plane down, just seared that image into my mind.”

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