Senators Seek Highest Honors for Hijack 'Heroes'
By David Morgan
SHANKSVILLE, Pa. (Reuters) - The doomed passengers of a hijacked airliner that crashed near Pittsburgh could be awarded America's highest civilian honors after apparently thwarting an attack on a U.S. landmark, Pennsylvania's two U.S. senators said on Friday.
An FBI spokeswoman said search crews found the cockpit voice recorder of United Airlines Flight 93 at the crash site on Friday night, raising the possibility that further details will be learned of the drama on board.
``We got the cockpit voice recorder at 8:25 p.m. EDT,'' said FBI agent Linda Vizi. ``It's going to the National Transportation Safety Board in Washington.''
She said the device was located 25 feet below ground, but could not say if it was in working order.
As the nation observed a day of remembrance for the victims of this week's stunning attacks on New York and Washington, Sen. Arlen Specter said Americans aboard the flight could be posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian award.
``All the indicators are that they rushed the pilot and brought the plane down,'' Specter told a news conference near the rural crash site 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.
He and his fellow Republican Sen. Rick Santorum toured the wooded area where the Boeing 757 plowed into a strip mine at 450 mph, after veering off its San Francisco-bound course over Ohio and turning southeast, possibly toward Washington.
All 45 passengers and crew members on board were killed. Some passengers phoned loved ones to say they were planning to move against three hijackers who claimed to have a bomb.
Flight 93 was the only one of four hijacked planes not to hit a U.S. landmark.
The senators said they believe the plane was meant for the U.S. Capitol, whose huge marble dome presents as imposing a symbol of U.S. power as the World Trade Center towers that were destroyed by two commandeered jetliners.
``There's a deep debt of gratitude. We're now looking into the Freedom Medal for those people who were on board the plane who may have saved the U.S. Capitol, and the senators and House members including the two sitting here,'' Specter said.
He said the plane which crashed into the Pentagon near Washington appeared to have been intended originally for the White House.
To pay homage to the people on board the flight, the two senators brought with them a flag that had flown over the Capitol to fly over the crash site.
``This flag has flown over the United States Capitol that I believe is standing today because of the efforts of the people who are right now buried not too far from us,'' Santorum told reporters after a brief open air memorial service near the crash scene, where an American flag flew half-mast next to a wooden cross.
``Here in particular, I think we owe a special moment of prayer and thanksgiving for what we believe went on in this plane,'' added Santorum. ``Potentially, this plane was targeted at a building that many of us would have been in, had it proceeded on its course.''
The plane's flight-data recorder, which tracked changes to the in-flight systems, was found 15 feet underground on Thursday, in a huge crater created by the plane's impact.
FBI special agent Jack Shea said the National
Transportation Safety Board could announce soon whether the recorder
was in working order.