UNIONTOWN – That sunny day in September 2011, retired Pennsylvania Police State Trooper Chuck Depp knew what had happened in New York City. He knew what had happened in Washington, D.C.
And at a certain point the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, he knew what had happened in Shanksville, about 60 miles away in Somerset County.
“I knew what was going on, because I had a experience with some other plane crashes in my career,” said Depp, who retired as the head of detectives at Troop B’s Uniontown barracks, Fayette County.
That was around 10 a.m.
Hours before, United Airlines Flight 93 had departed Newark (N.J.) International Airport, bound for San Francisco International Airport.
Around 8:46 a.m., American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the One World Trade Center; around 9:03 a.m., United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into Two World Trade Center; and around 9:38 a.m., American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the western side of the Pentagon in Washington.
Finally, around 10:03 a.m., Flight 93 crashed into a field in rural Shanksville, about 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.
Almost four years later, the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States would conclude that passengers aboard Flight 93 tried to overcome their abductors in the cockpit, and the terrorists — believed to have been targeting the White House or the U.S. Capitol.
“I knew Somerset would not have the manpower, so I took the whole station,” Depp, a Punxsy native who served as a PSP trooper for 25 years before his retirement in July 2009, said about responding to the site. “We needed to get control, so I took as many guys as I could.”
Depp had previously served on the details following the crash of US Air Flight 427, which crashed Sept. 8, 1994, near Aliquippa, killing all 132 people on board.
“I was familiar with what needed to be done up there,” he said about heading to Shanksville.
Depp and his troopers manned the inner perimeter of the crash site — that is, from the craft itself and outward.
“It was a big, huge circle, almost a mile-and-a-half, with everyone in line, surrounding the whole site,” he said.
Flight 93 crashed in a field near the largely rural Shanksville, close to the woods.
“What we had was the crash site itself and debris in the field,” Depp said. “We established a perimeter around the first scene — about 60 troopers, surrounding the crash site. We had to maintain integrity of the crash site, keep onlookers from coming in, monitoring for evidence.”
Anyone who came in or out — responders, or agents from the ATF or FBI — had to go through the state troopers. The number of troopers monitoring the site eventually increased to 82.
Depp’s troopers from Troop B remained at the scene for 13 days, processing and photographing any piece of evidence found. He said he contacted his wife at home and asked her to pack him a bag of clean clothes to be transported from Uniontown to Shanksville.
Troopers had to keep their minds on their duties and not what was going on elsewhere, as the number of people coming in and out of the site grew and grew, as pieces of evidence — as well as the remains of the passengers, or parts of the aircraft’s engine, discovered a quarter-mile from the site — were found.
“We didn’t know what else was coming down,” Depp said. “I was worried about my family: My kids were young at the time — six and eight. I had two young kids in school and a wife at home. But at the crash scene, I kind of blocked it out.”
The discoveries during those 13 days yielded gruesome and surprising results.
“One of the troopers found a wallet from one of the terrorists,” Depp said. “A Saudi Arabian driver’s license.”
Today, Depp works for Ford Business Machines near his home in Uniontown. He said about that sunny day in September 2001, “It’s a shame people forget about it.”
Even 10 years later, he said, it seems like yesterday.
“I think time has flown a little bit,” Depp said. “It seems like it wasn’t that long. We should never forget it.”