Flight 93 Memorial National Park is located at the site of the crash of United Airlines Flight 93, and honors its passengers and crew. These 40 “ordinary” citizens thwarted an attempt by al-Qaeda terrorist hijackers to crash a San Francisco bound Boeing 757 into the U.S. Capitol building on 9/11/2001.

As we were camped only 50 miles from the memorial, we made it our first stop while visiting Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Kirk & Vicki at Flight 93 Entry

Kirk & Vicki at Flight 93 Entry


Flight 93 Memorial Visitors Center

Flight 93 Memorial Visitors Center

 

Structures aligned with the final flight path

Structures aligned with the final flight path

Located about 80 miles southwest of Pittsburgh, PA, the once open pit coal mine, is now a somber reminder of the lives and innocence lost that day.

33 passengers, 7 crew members, and 4 terrorist hijackers.

The memorial site is 400 acres, with an additional 1,800 acres surrounding it and acting as a buffer area. The visitors center complex is located on a hill above the impact site, its walls and observation deck align with the final flight path. The congruous design moves one’s eyes out to and across the horizon and then down to the debris field where a single boulder marks the place of impact. The lower section of the memorial features the Wall of Names and a 1,400′ walkway bordering the debris field.

The 40 acres surrounding the impact zone are off-limits to all except passenger and crew family members.

We visited the World Trade Center, one of the other terrorists targets, before 9/11, and marveled at how the observation deck made it feel as if we were looking out the window of an airplane. Never in our wildest dreams could we have imagined what was to come.

Radical Islamic terrorism has forever changed our daily lives.

As divided as we are politically, it’s stunning how quickly we, as a country, can come together in the face of adversity or tragedy. No where is this better exemplified than the action taken by the passengers and crew members of Flight 93.

The Passengers and Crew of Flight 93

The Final Flight Path of Flight 93. The Visitors Center Complex on hill, Wall of Names left.

The Final Flight Path of Flight 93. The Visitors Center Complex on hill, Wall of Names left.

The mostly indescript monolithic visitor’s complex sits prominently atop the hill overlooking the crash site, its walls in harmony with Flight 93’s  final flight path. It climbs out of the hill skyward, jutting proudly out like like the prow of a ship. It’s a stunning memorial that provoked a wide range of emotions and raised a lot of questions in our minds.

What must it have been like on that plane?

Once in flight, the passengers aboard knew about the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Their flight had been delayed in Newark, which defeated the terrorists plans to attack all 4 sites at the same time. Realizing they had been hijacked, some used cell phones and in-flight phones to call loved ones and others. A flight attendant called United Airlines to report the hijacking.

There is much we do know, but what really happened on that flight … we’ll never know. The decision by the passengers to initiate a counter-attack… what must that have been like? How must it have felt to go from a leisurely trans continental flight to an all out fight to save the country’s Capitol?

Part of What We Know about Flight 93

The final flight path of Flight 93 is easily envisioned by following the direction of the main walls of the visitor’s complex along the walkway to the observation deck, by the Wall of Name and ending at the large boulder marking the impact site. When we were there, some 2,000 acres of native grasses and wildflowers were bending in the breeze backed by a thick Hemlock grove. Trees in groups of 40 have been planted along the long drive between the Visitor’s Complex and the Memorial Walk.

Boulder marking the impact site

Boulder marking the impact site

It’s a beautiful setting memorializing a tragic event. All 44 people that boarded Flight 93 for San Francisco lost their lives that fall morning including 4 al-Qaeda terrorist hijackers whose ideology promotes martyrdom by violence and murder and promising paradise to those who lose their lives for Allah.

It is noteworthy that each of the sites targeted on 9/11 are on this day abundantly beautiful. In fact, they are notable works of art.  In each instance, ordinary citizens have come together to turn ruins into great beauty. Also noteworthy is the size of the manifest. How unlikely is it that a commercial flight, Boeing 757, would hold only 33 passengers and none of them children. How amazing it is that they were able to pull off an effective attack with only 10 minutes to plan, when the terrorists had spent years.

“For a flight with only 33 passengers, there was an astounding amount of athletic prowess on board – and not just weekend warriors who played high school ball. The manifest included a black belt in judo, a brown belt in karate, a national rugby champion, two wrestlers, a weight lifter, an all-county field hockey player, a swimmer, a sprinter, and a sky diver. These were driven, competitive people.”  Tom McMillan author of the book ‘Flight 93 .’

 

 

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