On eve of 9/11 anniversary, Flight 93 gets national memorial
Families and dignitaries gathered Saturday on a daisy-dotted field to honor the 40 passengers and crew of the fourth 9/11 airliner.
Crowds flocked to this village in southwestern Pennsylvania for the solemn dedication of phase one of a national memorial to those on United Airlines Flight 93 who foiled an apparent bid by Al-Qaeda hijackers to strike Washington.
Then-president George W. Bush, on his third visit to Shanksville since September 11, 2011, was scheduled to attend the mid-day ceremony, along with Vice President Joe Biden and former president Bill Clinton.
Nightfall will see the solemn lighting of more than 2,900 luminarias in memory of all 9/11 victims.
On Sunday, President Barack Obama is to join a two-hour commemorative service at the spot where Flight 93 went down -- lifting the profile of a sometimes overlooked episode of the catastrophic 9/11 attacks.
Security was tight, after the Federal Aviation Administration declared a no-fly zone up to 18,000 feet over Shanksville, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) west of Washington, for much of Sunday.
So far, the Flight 93 National Memorial comprises an elongated walkway that passes a circular field surrounding a 17-ton boulder -- the exact point where the Boeing 757 slammed at full speed into the ground.
Planted by the start of the walkway are three young elm trees, representing the World Trade Center and the Pentagon as well as Shanksville.
Future plans call for a memorial wall by 2014, a grove of 40 trees and, in time, a 93-foot (28-meter) "tower of voices" comprising 40 wind chimes -- although 10 million dollars still needs be raised before the project is done.
"We need to ensure that those lost, including the 40 heroes of Flight 93, are never forgotten," said Neil Mulholland, president of the National Park Foundation, in an appeal for funds.
Several days of heavy rain that triggered floods in much of Pennsylvania this past week forced organizers to alter the staging of this weekend's events, although fairer weather was forecast from mid-day Saturday.
Notable upon the stage were the flags of Germany, Japan and New Zealand -- in remembrance of wine merchant Christian Adams, 37, student Toshiya Kuge, 20, and lawyer Alan Anthony Beaven, 48, the non-native-born Americans on the flight.
Notwithstanding a Hollywood movie, the story of Flight 93 has largely been overshadowed by the destruction of the World Trade Center and the direct hit on the Pentagon.
In-flight recordings pulled from the rubble revealed how the passengers and crew, aware of the World Trade Center attack from mid-air cellphone calls to loved ones, fought the four hijackers for control of the Being 757.
The plane crashed at 10:03 am, hitting the ground at 563 miles (906 kilometers) an hour, just 20 minutes' flying time from its presumed target, the Capitol building. Everyone on board died instantly.
In the aftermath of 9/11, local volunteers took on the task of greeting visitors and maintaining a makeshift memorial along the chain-link fence that overlooks what some call "America's first battlefield against terrorism."
The 2,200-acre (890-hectare) site has drawn up to 6,000 people a week in the summer months, with an uptick seen this year, said Marlin Miller, 78, a retired Methodist pastor who is one of the volunteer guides.
"The story's not about Shanksville, but what brave people (aboard Flight 93) did that day," he told AFP Friday, as a steady drizzle failed to deter several dozen people from coming off nearby Interstate 70 to pay their respects.
"We planned on coming up and we picked today to come. Tomorrow will be a bit busier," Bill Irwin, 36, a farm-fencing salesman from Saltsburg, Pennsylvania, said Friday alongside his wife Wendy, 35, and their four home-schooled children.
The Irwin family had discussed Flight 93 the night before, Wendy Irwin said, "and we cried a lot. It was very emotional... We cried over what people did on that flight, what they did for our country."
The new memorial is not without its detractors, however. In the local Daily American newspaper, opponents of its design took out a large advertisement to allege that its curved format resembles the Islamic crescent, facing Mecca.
© 2011 AFP