On September 13, 2001, William Wendt, a Massachusetts freelance photographer on assignment for The New York Times Magazine, was arrested at the UA Flight 93 crash site, charged with criminal trespass for walking into a restricted zone, escorted to an unmarked car and whisked off to an undisclosed location, where he and assistant Daniel Mahoney were subsequently detained for several hours.
“It was not obvious where the plane had crashed, which is why we started walking around – to find it. We didn’t know we’d wandered onto part of the crash site because that area was unmarked by signs or crime scene tape.” He adds, “When we returned to take our photos, what struck me the most was that it seemed like I was photographing a staged crime scene. I’m a little hesitant to comment on it. Strange things happened that day.” So says William Wendt, in two separate telephone interviews conducted in August 2008.
According to Wendt, the media was required to first register at press tents and then wait to be ferried by bus to the Flight 93 impact zone. The press pool was made to wait long stretches of several hours for the bus, which only seated about 50 people. It made three or four trips back and forth, says Wendt, and that was it. The photographer recalls that the Feds created delays with the bus. “The media was pretty upset. Only a small percentage actually took the bus ride because most refused to wait around that long. There was an outcry from the press.”
Wendt and Mahoney never did get to ride that bus and, like the rest of the media present, were not allowed to get very close to the crater. “I spoke with people who came back from the bus ride. They came back to report that they were allowed a lousy vantage point – no vantage point. My colleagues kept telling me there wasn’t much to see and it wasn’t worth the wait. There was a pit, but no visible plane wreckage.” He likens their reactions to those of riders on overhyped amusement park rides – the media bus riders were clearly unimpressed with what they’d been shown.
“I remember a lot of talk amongst the press about the plane being in several pieces over a stretch of land. Yet the evidence seemed to suggest something else. People around me were saying that a fisherman had found a fuselage in a lake 8 miles away from the crater. There was a big buzz about that.”
Wendt also photographed Ground Zero and the Pentagon crash site. Regarding the Pentagon, Wendt says “I stopped the vehicle on the beltway, told my assistant to wait there and then I ran down the hillside. I had to jump over some fences, too. There was no way I was going to miss getting that shot. For me, it was the opportunity of a lifetime. The image I got was captured commando-style, and I’m surprised I didn’t get arrested doing that. Right off the bat, I was thinking there’s no way that a jetliner made that hole. I found it unbelievable that people were actually believing that’s what happened.”
When asked why he thinks the media is apparently disinterested in seeking truthful answers to the many questions swirling around 9/11, Wendt responds, “Maybe the media is too frightened to pursue it. Actually, I’m very surprised that they’ve failed to do this. I remember press people talking at the time about how the whole thing looked like an American-Israeli operation, like the Mossad had a hand in it. That was the word on the street. You want to know if I believe the government about what happened that day? Let’s just say there are all these stories that make you think one thing, but the brunt of what you see hits you and then common sense tells you it’s got to be something else. I think there’s been a cover-up.”
Wendt’s voice is tinged with sadness as he tells me, “9/11 was a turning point for this nation. I’m still haunted by it.”
This article was published in a special 9-11 edition of the American Free Press in 2008.
(Re-posted at Lisa Guliani's Facebook.)