En español | At 10:03 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, United Airlines Flight 93 — headed from Newark, New Jersey, to San Francisco — crashed into a remote field just outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania, a small borough of approximately 313 people located 60 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. And while the Flight 93 National Memorial provides a minute-by-minute look at what happened that day in Pennsylvania and around the nation, it never lets visitors forget that the real story is found in the heroism of the 33 passengers and seven crew members who gave their lives to protect others.
The memorial, run by the National Park Service, pays tribute to those brave souls who, facing certain death, chose to stop four terrorists intent on diverting the plane to Washington, D.C., with the goal of crashing it into the U.S. Capitol. Realizing that the plane had been hijacked, the passengers and crew made an agonizing decision. “They took a vote to try to take the plane back,” says park ranger Robert Franz, describing the events of that day. “This memorial honors their courage and their strength, and the deep love that they had for others.”
The memorial was established by Congress in 2002 and built in stages, after an international design competition that drew some 1,100 entries, by Paul Murdoch Architects and Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects. Ground was broken in 2011, and the visitor center complex finally opened in 2015, on the site of a former strip mine. It sits at the edge of a serene, bowl-shaped field that's encircled by a crescent of 40 groves of 40 maple and oak trees, radiating outward.
If you go
Location: The Flight 93 National Memorial is at 6424 Lincoln Highway in Stoystown, Pennsylvania (use this address in your GPS; searching for the site itself may not take you to the correct entrance).
Hours: Open daily from sunrise to sunset except major holidays.
Parking: Ample parking is available, and paved roads and walkways connect all of the memorial's components.
Price: Entry is free. Audio tours are available; rangers also lead special programs each day focused on the story of Flight 93 and the Tower of Voices.
Driving into the 2,200-acre site, you'll first come to the Tower of Voices, a striking 93-foot-tall landmark containing 40 wind chimes, whose sounds are meant to be “gentle reminders” of the voices of the passengers and crew — a late addition to the memorial that was unveiled in 2018. Down the road at the visitor center, a black granite sidewalk that follows the flight path of the doomed airliner leads to an overlook high above the crash site and debris field, where you'll see a 17-ton sandstone boulder marking the point of impact.
A museum recounts all of the details of the day, including a timeline of events for all four flights hijacked on Sept. 11: Flight 93, the two planes that brought down the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center, and the one that hit the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. Poignant exhibits include debris found at the Pennsylvania crash site and heartbreaking recordings of phone calls that passengers and crew members made to their loved ones — like Thomas E. Burnett Jr., who called his wife from the plane to say, “We have to do something. We can't wait for the authorities. ... It's up to us. I think we can do it."
The museum includes each victim's personal story, such as that of Nicole Carol Miller, a 21-year-old student in California who had been scheduled to fly on Sept. 10, but due to a thunderstorm that evening had to change her flight to the next morning. Another, Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas, who was pregnant, was flying home to California after attending her grandmother's funeral in New Jersey. She'd been planning to write a book encouraging women to follow their dreams.
You can also drive or take a trail down to Memorial Plaza at the boundary of the crash site to pay your respects at the Wall of Names, where 40 polished marble panels are inscribed with the names of the people who perished.
It's a moving, at times gut-wrenching, tribute, immortalized by the words etched in glass at the overlook: “A common field one day. A field of honor forever."
The 20th anniversary
A series of educational and memorial events at the site is scheduled for Sept. 8-12, including the Sept. 11 observance, which the public is encouraged to attend. The ceremony begins at 9:45 a.m., and at 10:03, the time of the crash, the names of the passengers and crew members will be read, the Bells of Remembrance will be rung in their memory, and a wreath will be placed at the Wall of Names. See the Park Service website for more information.
Pittsburgh-based freelance journalist Vanessa Orr's work has appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and numerous other publications.