Flight 93 Memorial
Pittsburgh, PA - Events of Saturday, July 21, 2018
On Saturday, Lora and J. Michael planned to go to the annual reunion held by the breeders from whom they got their two boxers so we planned a day trip of our own. We went to visit the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, with our RVing friends from the Pittsburgh area, Pat and Mike. We picked them up in the morning and headed out the PA Turnpike to the memorial.
September 11, 2001, was unlike any previous terrorist attack. That day, terrorists belonging to the extremist group al Qaeda instituted a new tactic. Instead of hijacking an airplane and holding the passengers ransom for some concession by the United States such as the release of one or more of their members who had been captured, the terrorists used the planes as weapons.
Three of the four planes that were hijacked early in morning of September 11 made it to their intended targets - both of the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. The fourth flight, United Airlines Flight 93 from Newark to San Francisco, was delayed because of heavy air traffic. Once the flight was finally in the air and was approaching Cleveland, Ohio, the terrorists herded the passengers to the back of the plane, forced their way into the cockpit, took over the controls, and turned the plane to the southeast toward Washington, D.C.
A number of passengers made calls to 911 and to loved ones using cell phones and Airfones. Because Flight 93 had been delayed, they found out about the other suicide attacks that had already been carried out that morning. Although the intended target of Flight 93 was unknown at the time (investigators have since concluded it was the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C), the passengers decided to try to take control of the aircraft to prevent their flight from reaching its target. During the attempt by the passengers to storm the cockpit, Flight 93 went down in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, about 60 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.
As we arrived at the memorial, we noticed a line had formed at the Learning Center near the parking lot. Two journalists who were involved in the reporting on the crash right afterward and over the following weeks were scheduled to speak in just a few minutes so we decided to find seats and listen in.
Dennis Roddy (left in the photo below) works for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and covered the investigation of the terrorists following the 9/11 attacks. Tim Lambert works for a radio station in Harrisburg and covered the families of the victims. Tim's family also happened to be one of the owners of the land on which Flight 93 crashed so he was given unprecedented access to the crash site. That also gave him the opportunity to develop close relationships with many members of the victims' families.
The presentation by Dennis Roddy and Tim Lambert was very interesting because it gave some insight into what went on behind the headlines. Afterward, we headed out past the visitor center to the observation platform. From there, we could see the actual crash site. The walkway to the platform follows the flight path of the plane.
The approximate location of the impact is marked by a 17-ton boulder, which is the dark spot at the far end of the brighter green strip of grass in the center of the photo below.
Because Flight 93 hit the ground at a fairly steep angle (40º) going 563 mph, the 154-foot aircraft was reduced to tiny, unrecognizable fragments. The largest pieces of the wreckage measured only about 6 feet by 7 feet, and there were only a few that were anywhere near that big. With such destruction, bodies of the victims were unrecoverable. The impact location and surrounding debris field is considered to be the burial site of all passengers and crew and is therefore fenced off and closed to the public.
Shortly after the crash, a temporary memorial was erected on a hillside near the site. In 2002, Congress approved a bill to establish a permanent National Memorial. During the presentation we heard when we first arrived we learned from Tim Lambert that negotiations for the acquisition of land went very slowly. It wasn't until about 9 years after the crash that the National Park Service finally acquired the land. The first phase of the memorial was completed just in time to be dedicated on September 10, 2011, one day before the 10th anniversary.
Tim Lambert's family owned the land at the center of the impact zone and donated 6 acres in the immediate area of the impact for the memorial. Organizations representing the victims' families and various conservation groups have purchased additional land to act as a buffer zone. Other adjacent land owners have signed agreements not to develop their land resulting in a total of 2,200 acres dedicated to the Flight 93 Memorial.
The first phase of the memorial was a shelter and the Memorial Plaza. The shelter is to the left in the photo below taken from the observation platform, and the Memorial Plaza extends from the shelter to the impact site at the right.
From the observation platform we headed back to the Visitors Center where there are displays featuring timelines of the September 11 attacks. There is a lot of specific information on Flight 93 including an animated flight simulation of the final minutes of the flight. There are also videos of news reports from the time, information on all of the passengers, and voice recordings of some of the phone messages they left for loved ones. It was all very interesting and very moving. Unfortunately, it was a Saturday so it was also very crowded so we couldn't see and listen to as much as we would have liked. We strongly recommend visiting on a weekday if at all possible.
From the visitors Center, we drove down to the Memorial Plaza and walked the to impact site.
At the end of the Memorial Plaza is the Wall of Names listing all 40 of the heroic victims of Flight 93.
Also from the end of the plaza you can view the 17-ton boulder that marks the approximate location of the impact.
We knew we would spend a couple of hours at the memorial so we anticipated we would be hungry by the time we left. Therefore, Margery had done some research into possible places to eat in the area and found the Lincoln Cafe located only a few minutes down the road from the memorial. The cafe gets excellent reviews on Trip Advisor, Yelp, and Facebook.
Lincoln Cafe has a variety of sandwiches that include one side for about $6 to $9. They also have smoked ribs and chicken on weekends. Pat and Mike got a half rack of ribs and half a smoked chicken to share. They said both were good, but they liked the ribs better. We both got Philly cheese steaks, which were also very good.
After lupper, we headed back to Pittsburgh. We stay in touch with Pat and Mike by phone and by text message, but it's been a long time since we've seen them. It was great to be able to spend the day together.
The next morning, we said our good-byes to Lora, J. Michael, and Lydia and took off for Berlin, Ohio, where we spent the next week eating out and playing tourist. We'll tell you about our stay there in upcoming posts.