To say that I wish the Flight 93 Memorial in Somerset County didn’t exist is a bit of an understatement. After all, the events of September 11, 2001, that led to United Airlines Flight 93 crashing into this field in rural Pennsylvania are something that no one alive on that day will ever forget.
On that fateful day, I had just started my freshman year of college and it was one of the very few days that I was homesick during my entire four years. Even now, as I write about it, despite not knowing anyone who was directly affected on that day, I still feel a wave of sadness come over me.
Despite knowing that it would be a very somber and moving experience, I’ve visited the Flight 93 Memorial twice: once during my first visit to the region and once to see the visitor center that opened in September 2015.
The roadway to the visitor center winds through barren fields for several miles between Route 30 and the visitor center. The memorial to those who died on Flight 93 is unique in that it isn’t located in the middle of bustling New York City or next to a military facility just outside of Washington, DC, but instead, in an empty field.
The Flight 93 visitor center sits on a hillside above the crash site. Imposing stone walls guide visitors along a path that follows the flight path that the plane was on just prior to the crash.
Before walking into the visitor center, continue to the end of the path. This spot features an overlook of the crash site far below. From here, you can see the Wall of Names that is located under the flight path, and, further in the distance, the large boulder that marks the spot of impact.
Inside the visitor center, a series of panels tell the story of the September 11th attacks and of Flight 93. These panels use everything from news clips to artifacts to tell the story of Flight 93 and the tragic events of that day.
In my opinion, the most moving element is a series of telephones where visitors can listen to calls made from the doomed flight. It’s nearly impossible not to choke up as you listen to people leave a message for loved ones from the plane.
There are also artifacts on display that were recovered from the wreckage. These include everything from pieces of the airplane to personal items of the passengers like driver’s licenses and tickets.
Overall, the visitor center is fairly basic but incredibly well done. Fortunately, there are tissue boxes scattered throughout the center as its hard to leave with dry eyes.
The second section of the memorial is the crash site down below the visitor center.
There are two trails that lead down to the crash site: one that’s roughly a mile in length and another that’s three-fourths of a mile. These can be made into a two-mile loop hike for those that want to walk. It’s also possible to drive to the bottom area and greatly shorten the walk.
If you visited the Flight 93 National Memorial prior to September 2015, this lower area was the complete memorial. Here a few placards tell the story of the crash and the men and women aboard the plane.
At the end of the lower walkway is a wall that contains 40 panels, one for each innocent passenger and crew member on the flight. Each panel has the name of one person killed in the crash etched onto it.
Looking out over the field, you’ll notice a large boulder in the middle. It was placed by the National Park Service to mark the spot where the nose of the plane plummeted into the ground.
Before leaving the grounds of the Flight 93 National Memorial, make sure to stop at the Tower of Voices.
This 93-foot tower sits on a knoll above the road and is the final element designed to honor those that died here. While it’s still being worked on, the final design will feature 40 wind chimes to honor the 40 innocent people on the doomed flight.
The wind chimes are planned to make a beautiful sound, and I can’t wait to visit again when the Tower of Voices is completed.
Thinking back on my visit to the Flight 93 National Memorial, it’s amazing to think back on that day in 2001. While I think that it’s a very important place for people spending time in Somerset County to visit, it definitely will leave you with a somber feeling.
Still, this visit to some of the most hallowed ground in Pennsylvania should not be missed by anyone traveling through Laurel Highlands.
Flight 93 Memorial
Address: 6424 Lincoln Highway