When you think of 9/11, does it evoke images of the World Trade Centers collapsing and the Pentagon burning? Absolutely.
Does it evoke images of Flight 93? Sadly, for me it did not. At least not until I visited the Flight 93 National Memorial outside Shanksville, PA.
Flight 93 never made it to its intended target, and we have forty brave passengers and crew to thank for that.
NOTE: This memorial has a new entrance. Google Maps was directing us to the old entrance when we saw a sign pointing us to the new entrance.
The visitor center exhibits take you almost minute by minute through Flight 93’s fatal journey. We learn who the passengers and crew were, where they sat, who they called, what they said, what they did, and why they did it.
United Airlines Flight 93 was a Boeing 757-200 configured to seat 182 passengers. On September 11, 2001 there were only 33 passengers and seven crew members, not counting the four terrorists. In the following image, crew member seats are shown in blue, passengers in yellow, and hijackers in gray.
All the 9/11 terrorists purposely chose flights that would be lightly booked to reduce the chance of resistance. They also chose long distance flights because the planes would be carrying a lot of fuel, increasing the devastation when the planes struck their targets.
8:42AM Flight 93 takes off from Newark International Airport, bound for San Francisco1
NOTE: Superscripts on the timeline below relate to the numbers shown on flight path above.
8:46:30AM – American Airlines Flight 11 strikes 1 World Trade Center
9:03:02AM – United Airlines Flight 175 strikes 2 World Trade Center
9:24AM – Flight 93 receives message to “beware any cockpit intrusion”2
9:28AM – Flight 93 is hijacked and a mayday transmitted3
Using knives, the hijackers force their way into the cockpit and gain control of the aircraft. During the hijacking, several passengers and crew are killed or injured. The hijackers claim to have a bomb and force the remaining passengers and crew to the back of the plane.
9:30AM – Thirteen Flight 93 passengers and crew begin placing at least 37Airfone and cell phone calls4
I listened to three recorded messages from Flight 93 passengers. Two of the passengers were eerily calm. One matter-of-factly mentioned where to find and unlock a safe containing her personal papers. All of them were aware that two planes had already hit the World Trade Center. While expressing hope, they were saying goodbye to their loved ones.
9:30AM – Passenger Tom Burnett learns from his wife that two planes crashed into World Trade Center
9:32AM – Flight 93 hijacker mistakenly notifies air traffic control at Cleveland Center of the hijacking; FAA notified5
9:34AM – Flight 93 climbs and turns to the southeast6
9:37AM – Passenger Jeremy Glick tells his wife that they are voting on whether to storm the cockpit
9:37:46AM – American Airlines Flight 77 strikes the Pentagon
9:41AM – Flight 93’s transponder is turned off but is tracked by radar from Cleveland Center8
9:44AM – Passenger Tom Burnett tells his wife that “a group of us are getting ready to do something.”
9:46AM – FAA notified that Flight 93 heading toward Washington, D. C.9
9:50AM – Flight Attendant Sandy Bradshaw tells her husband that passengers are discussing how to overpower the hijackers
9:55AM – Hijacker enters frequency for Reagan National Airport to aid in flying to Washington, D.C.10
9:55AM – Airfone operator hears Passenger Todd Beamer say, “Are you guys ready? Let’s roll.”
9:57AM – Flight 93 passengers and crew begin assault on hijackers11
The cockpit voice recorder captures voices in English and Arabic, screams, shouts, breaking glass, alarms and the sounds of fighting. The aircraft’s flight data recorder records the planes erratic flight path until the plane hit the ground.
9:58AM – Flight 93 rocks violently from side to side in hijacker’s effort to throw passengers and crew off balance12
10:00AM – Hijacker says, “Is that it? Shall we finish it off?” Another hijacker responds, “No. Not yet. When they all come, we finish it off.”13
10:03AM – Flight 93 crashes in Stonycreek Township, Somerset County, PA14
Flight 93, carrying 5,000 gallons of jet fuel, hit the ground at 563 miles per hour. The impact left a crater 15 feet deep and 30 feet wide. Both wings left distinct impressions in the ground. To get a sense of the scale of the impact crater, look at the emergency responders to the left of the impact area.
The crash reduced the aircraft and the people on board to unrecognizable fragments. The largest piece of debris from the 154 foot long aircraft measured six feet by seven feet. The only way to identify any of the passengers, crew and hijackers was through DNA analysis.
Of the four planes involved in 9/11, only Flight 93’s cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder were recovered. Neither was recovered from the planes that hit the World Trade Center. Only the flight data recorder was recovered from the plane that hit the Pentagon.
Evidence obtained from the Flight 93 crash site are several weapons that may have been used by the hijackers, handwritten instructions to the hijackers titled “The Last Night”, and a bank card belonging to one of the hijackers, which was used to trace the flow of money to the terrorists.
Although the memorial is a work in progress, there is plenty to see.
A long black stone walkway follows the final path of Flight 93, passes between two tall concrete walls and ends at an overlook where, in the distance, you can see a sandstone boulder marking the point where the plane hit the ground.
At the end of the flight path walk is an overlook where you can see a memorial wall engraved with the names of the passengers and crew. An opening in the wall leads to a sandstone boulder marking the impact site.
You can take a trail to the Memorial Plaza and crash site or you can drive to a parking lot at the plaza.
From the parking lot, an angled black stone wall traces the extent of the crash site. This boundary wall ends at a white marble wall engraved with the names of Flight 93’s passengers and crew. You can look through a gate at the sandstone boulder marking the impact point.
If you walk in the other direction from the parking lot, you will cross the wetlands bridge. This area looks as though it is still being developed. From the bridge you get a good view of the Visitor Center Complex. To the right of the complex are the young trees that form part of the Memorial Groves. There are forty Memorial groves, one for each passenger and crew. Each grove contains forty trees. The groves arc from the Visitor Center Complex to the Memorial Plaza.