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9/11: A Year After / WHO WE ARE NOW

Terry Butler

September 11, 2002

For two years, Terry Butler, 43, has worked as a mechanic at Stoystown Auto Wrecker in rural Pennsylvania, a site known simply as "The Yard" to locals, where customers drop in to get spare parts for their cars. On Sept. 11, he was removing a radiator when he heard United Airlines Flight 93 zoom over his head. He was one of just a handful who saw the plane go down. It's been a year of tragedy and drama for this region of Pennsylvania, about 70 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. It's the same place where, in August, nine miners were trapped in a flooded coal mine for 77 hours before they were rescued. A year later, Butler still has trouble going to the spot in the compound where he was standing when he saw Flight 93. So far, he has been unable to walk up the hill to the crash site.


"I guess I was more or less in the middle of The Yard that day.

I was just taking off some parts and I heard a plane. Usually the planes only fly in one direction, so when I heard it, at first I was looking in the wrong direction. When I turned around, there it was.

It seemed like you could just reach out and touch it. I never saw a plane up close like that. It was just right there.

I looked up and saw it coming right above the trees there. It started to go up, then just missed a hill, made a right turn and then went down.

I wish I had turned my head. But I didn't. I saw it go down.

I radioed to the shop down there and they called 911. I heard the fire whistle go off. You could see the highway from where I was, and I saw the first firetruck come up the hill.

I still wonder what was going through their minds on that plane, how they took the plane over. I guess they assumed this was going to be it, that they had no chance of survival.

It's getting a little easier. But as the days get closer [to the anniversary], we're getting more people asking us where it happened, where the memorial will be. There are more people stopping in now, asking about it and wondering where it happened.

It's in a remote area. It's hard to find. You have to draw up a map so people won't get lost. I really don't go into details. People wonder where it went down. I point and show them. I show them how close it was.

I've never been up there. It's hard. I want to go up there [today]. I'm going to try to go up.

With the miners, that was really tough. It seems like one thing after another around here. This is going to affect people forever. It's tough."


As told to Scott Gold

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