The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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September 9, 2006

Photo under fire

Local woman forced to defend shot's integrity

SHANKSVILLE — If a picture’s worth a thousand words, Val McClatchey’s is the Da Vinci Code.

Her photograph of a mushroom cloud of gray smoke rising above the bucolic countryside – snapped just moments after the crash of Flight 93 – has become a target for 9/11 conspiracy theorists.

Five years later, the 50-year-old Indian Lake woman is frustrated by allegations the photo is a masterful hoax.

“It’s extremely disturbing,” said McClatchey, owner of Mtn. Lakes Realty near Indian Lake.

“My main focus,” she added, “is to protect the integrity of the photo.”

Conspiracy theorists, specifically the blog Killtown, contend the photo is an elaborate fraud that starts with McClatchey and winds up to the highest levels of the federal government.

Killtown suggests the photograph is a fake, claiming the gray smoke looks more like a plume from an ord-nance blast than the black cloud from a jet crash.

“If it really was an ordnance blast not too far beyond the white barn and white farm house, then this would be a true smoking gun and one of the clearest examples of complicity in the 9/11 attacks by the U.S. government, because what else could have caused such a large explosion and who else would have been behind it?” Killtown wrote.

McClatchey is incensed at the allegation.

“These people are making all these conspiracy theories about the very country that fought to give them the freedom to write the garbage they do,” McClatchey said. “They’re the biggest hypocrites in the world.”

McClatchey says she will not respond directly on the blogs.

“The more fuel you add to it, the worse it gets,” she said. “Sooner or later, like a fire if you don’t put oxygen in it, it’s going to die.”

Joanne Hanley, Flight 93 superintendent for the National Park Service, agreed.

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