For first responders and emergency personnel, the Flight 93 crash in Shanksville on 9/11 proved to be a situation, during so much uncertainty, that many had not faced before.
Newly released documents from one of those in charge of the responders that day provides new insights.
At the State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg, a new exhibit, “A Witness to History,” has opened.
The witness is the man who was in charge of the state police on September 11, 2001, and the notes, 43 pages of them, that he made immediately after the crash of Flight 93.
The exhibit is based on handwritten notes from former state police commissioner, Colonel Paul Evanko, who provides amazing insights, on a sometimes minute basis, from the morning of September 11, 2001.
“It’s one of the most perfect archival documents that I’ve seen in 37 years. It’s about a significant event done by someone who could comprehend what was happening to the extent anybody could comprehend it.”
Some of Evanko’s notes, details and questions include wondering if a bomb was on board Flight 93, while other notes show concerns for the much larger unknowns that suddenly came to the forefront.
“He wrote a note that we train for major disasters in cities. But rural disasters like this pose problems we have not thought about.”
Evanko was first notified of the Flight 93 crash just after ten o’clock that morning. Within an hour he had state police setting up a perimeter at the crash site, and along with help from the FBI, designating the site as crime scene.
“They really take you back to the panic, the fear, that visceral feeling that morning of 9/11, that like today was such a crisp day in September, it was that kind of day, and it puts you back in that time.”
Evanko, multi-tasking, was hearing from the president, the governor, his own personnel and many others asking many questions.
“How do you house the responders? How do you feed them? Do laundry? The notes are telling us he realized we didn’t train for this, so he made it up as we went along.”
Through the chaos, confusion and terror, Evanko had the presence of mind to keep on writing what comes to mind.
“What you see is his tremendous emotion that he’s feeling, but clearly holding in check because he needs to respond professionally.”
The documents are a vital history and reflections of another Pennsylvania battleground.
“You think of Gettysburg, Flight 93, even Three Mile Island. These are major rural events that happened here in Pennsylvania that we need to remember and reflect on.”
Also included at the museum is the official resignation notice of then Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge, who went on to become the nation’s first Director of Homeland Security.
Evanko saw the need for that office early on, writing on the day of the Flight 93 crash to expect this is not over.
This exhibit, “Witness to History,” will be on display at the State Museum of Pennsylvania through early next year.