Frank Monaco was the commander of state police Troop A at Greensburg, and the coordinator of the state's 400-man crash site team, when Flight 93 went down. Three years later, Monaco, a New Kensington native, was directing the state police Bureau of Drug Law Enforcement. In late July 2007, he was appointed chief of Penn's Plum police department.- AC
By Zack Pettit
Charleston Daily Mail
May 8, 2008
Frank Monaco recalls the day he was assigned as troop commander of hundreds of state police officers at the scene of the United Airlines Flight 93 crash on Sept. 11, 2001.
"It was without a doubt the busiest 24 hours of my life," he said.
Monaco was teaching a class that day for Pennsylvania State Police when he got a call informing him a plane had gone down in a remote section of Somerset County, just a few miles inside his jurisdiction.
"Another five minutes and it would have been in Maryland," he said.
Monaco, now police chief at Plum Borough Police Department near Pittsburgh, told his class he had to leave immediately, and he set for 11 days of duty at the crash site atop an abandoned strip mine.
He gave a detailed account of the time he spent there as a part of the West Virginia Public Safety Expo at the Civic Center. Several other speakers were on hand to lecture to emergency personnel regarding other well-known disasters and emergencies.
When Monaco arrived on the crime scene that day, several civilians were already there handling bits of debris, which at that point was considered evidence.
The plane had hit the ground at about 600 mph at about an 80-degree angle, he said.
The earth was so soft at the point of impact, about 90 percent of the plane was underground, making the recovery of essential evidence more difficult, he said.
He said every piece of wreckage, whether it was a piece of paper or a body part, was crucial to the investigation because of how much evidence was burned up and lost in the World Trade Center attack earlier.
"It was the busiest day in Pennsylvania State Police history," Monaco said to a room of about 50 various emergency personnel. "We had flight manuals in Arabic, duct taped hands, fingers, toes ... bits of paper everywhere."
And that was before the media and everyone else arrived, he said.
"Every goofball on the planet was coming up to the site," he said. "The media was terrible. Some had to be arrested."
And although the FBI headed the investigation because it dealt with terrorist actions, the responsibility given to Monaco and his officers was paramount, he said.
He had the responsibility of securing the scene, establishing an inside and outside perimeter -- assigning some officers to posts inside the forest -- and monitoring the entrance of hundreds of people each day.
And without ideal communications, electricity, lodging, food or clothing, Monaco also had to think on his feet.
He did his best, but said it was the donations from people and businesses that made the investigation bearable.
"Everybody wanted to do something," he said. "Everyone wanted to be part of it."
Countless people sent homemade spaghetti and stews, which he had to turn away each time because of the possibility of food poisoning, he said.
But then restaurants and other businesses started getting involved and donating material to help the cause, he said.
"Wendy's started sending chicken, burgers and chili every day," he said. "Then McDonald's, Olive Garden. They turned away the pizza though, because the Red Cross thought we would be traumatized by the pizza sauce. They thought it looked like blood."
Cell phone companies also gave out free phones and set up towers on the hill, allowing for better communication.
Monaco also coordinated every officer to stand at attention and salute the busloads of family members when they began arriving.
He recalled those as some of the most heart-wrenching moments.
And, furthermore, with so many officers stationed at the site, there was a shortage of officers doing regular patrol duty around the state.
He said officers were pulling 14-hour shifts pretty much all over the state.
But the lack of police presence in those town and cities didn't matter, he said.
"If you recall," he said, "people got civilized for a few weeks." "Everyone kind of stayed home"
Now in hindsight, he highlighted some tips and recommendations for dealing with a similar situation.
The biggest things, he said, were to establish a perimeter, eliminate the unnecessary people, coordinate all agencies and have an identification system.
"You never know what's going to happen."
The Expo continues Thursday.
"Frank Monaco, Major, Pennsylvania State Police, Bureau of Drug Law Enforcement, On-Scene Commander, Investigation of UAL Flight
93, September 11, 2001."