Location: Stonycreek Township, Pennsylvania
Webpage: National Park
General Description: On the morning of September 11, 2001 four commercial airliners were hijacked by al Qaeda terrorists in a planned attack on the United States. Two are flown into the World Trade Center’s twin towers in New York City causing their eventual collapse. A third was flown in the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. A fourth plane, United Flight 93 bound from Newark to San Francisco, is delayed 25 minutes from takeoff. After 46 minutes flying over eastern Ohio, hijackers in first class attacked the pilot and flight crew at 9:28 am, turning the plane to the southeast towards Washington, D.C, most likely aiming for the White House. Several passengers were able to make short phone calls and learned about the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon and correctly concluded that they were next. They quickly decided to mount an unarmed assault on the hijackers and you can hear the sounds of a fight on the flight recorder. Just before 10 am the plane is seen to be flying low and erratically over southwest Pennsylvania as the hijackers attempt to disrupt the attack. At 10:03 it crashes upside down, probably deliberately by the hijackers, traveling 563 mph into the Somerset County field killing all 33 passengers, 7 crew members, and 4 hijackers. The crash is so violent that only very little is left larger than your size of your hand, however, DNA of everyone killed was identified. Once the recovery effort was completed, the crash site was covered and is today marked by a sandstone boulder at the edge of the field leading into a stand of hemlocks. There are a number of ways that visitors can explore the site. The Visitor Center includes exhibits about the tragedy that occurred on September 11, 2001 both in general and specifically about Flight 93. From the Visitor Center you can view the crash site from an overlook along the flight path of the plane, drive to the Memorial Plaza that outlines the debris field, or walk to the Memorial Plaza along a curved tree line walkway from the Visitor Center.
1) The Visitor Center is likely the fanciest structure adorning a National Park. I don’t know if it is just because of the modern history being memorialized here or the belief that a grand structure is needed to memorialize this tragedy. Personally, I felt it was overdone as this should be a solemn site that is not dominated by this huge concrete structure. In any case, it is a beautiful structure that takes your breath away and does a great job of eliminating any view of the crash site until you walk onto the overlook. It is a neat effect, I will admit. Inside the Visitor Center there are a series of exhibits that provide a timeline of the events on September 11, 2001 in general, with the expected TV footage of the coverage of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The exhibits then provide detailed information and timeline of Flight 93 with additional exhibits about the recovery efforts and a few of the small remains found.
2) At the Visitor Center there is an overlook of the crash site that follows the flight path of the plane. From here you can get a great overview of the area to be seen up close at the Memorial Plaza.
3) The walk down to the Memorial Plaza is a pleasant walk on a gravel path that descends in a huge curve to the plaza. They have planted red maple trees all along the path, but as they were just planted this year, they did not provide any shade and many had not survived the transplantation and summer drought. They have also planted a huge number of native trees between the walk and road that someday will make a great orchard.
4) The Memorial Plaza is a paved walkway from the parking lot to the view of the crash site along the flight path where you can get a good view of the sandstone boulder through a wooden barrier. The general public is not allowed any closer access, however, family members are allowed access to the site at any time. There is a nice concrete wall constructed along the flight path with the names of all the victims. The walkway also outlines the edge of the debris field.
5) You can either walk back to the Visitor Center along the tree lined walkway or take the shorter distance uphill along a path they have cleared in the grasses of the old strip mine, which they are continuing recovery efforts. I recommend taking this path because you get a number of great views of the crash site as the trail winds back and forth up the slope.