Our route home from New York took us straight across Pennsylvania. We wanted to detour to the Flight 93 National Memorial, especially since we missed visiting Ground Zero. Fortunately, time and weather both permitted, so we made a quick visit before reaching Pittsburgh for the night.
Note: this post is part of my trip report series about our summer road trip to New York. Click here for the introductory post and trip report index.
Date of Visit: June 12, 2018
Flight 93 National Memorial – Location
Near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, about 80 miles east of Pittsburgh. The memorial entrance is on US 30, about 4 miles east of Stoystown. When coming from Pittsburgh on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, take the Somerset exit. Turn left at State Highway 281, then right on US 30. Then, turn right at the access road. When coming from the east, take the Bedford exit, and follow the signs for US 220 south. Take the exit for US 30 and turn right (west). Proceed 23 miles to the access road and turn left.
Coming in from the east, US 30, while scenic, is a narrow, winding road. The drive from the Turnpike took about 35 minutes. Though the visitor center closes at 5 pm daily, you can tour the memorial grounds from sunrise to sunset.
The Memorial Grounds
The memorial currently consists of two sections. The first is the visitor center, on the north end of the complex. From there, a ring road leads to Flight 93 crash site and memorial plaza. We arrived after 5 pm, so we headed straight to the memorial plaza. If visiting both, you can also walk from the visitor center to the crash site.
At the memorial, you first enter the memorial plaza, with a walkway then leading to the crash site. We visited the site in reverse order, starting with the crash site. As you walk down the pathway, the impact site is to your left.
Along the left wall, you can see a few mementos left behind by visitors along the way.
Beyond the wall is the crash site itself.
United Flight 93, en route from Newark to San Francisco, was hijacked by the 9/11 terrorists approximately 45 minutes after takeoff. The hijackers turned the plane around over northeast Ohio. Most believe they intended to strike the US Capitol Building. Thirty minutes later, passengers and crew overpowered the hijackers as the plane flew over Pennsylvania. The hijackers then crashed the plane in this field, rather than risk losing control of the plane. You can find a detailed history of the flight here.
First responders described the impact crater as roughly 15 feet deep and 30 feet across. Today, the only hint of the crater is a large boulder placed at the approximate point of impact.
At the end of the walkway is the “Wall of Names”, located on the plane’s final flight path. This is a series of panels containing the names of the 40 passengers and crew who died on Flight 93.
Standing here and looking at the field to the right feels surreal. It’s hard to believe a place this beautiful was the site of something so horrific.
After spending a few minutes here, we walked back to the memorial plaza. Here, there are a few exhibits detailing the background of Flight 93.
There is also an exhibit with the names and photos of all 40 passengers and crew of Flight 93.
Also at the plaza is a small seating area, facing the wall of names, where visitors can quietly pay respects.
Meanwhile, directly in front of the seating area is a wreath laying area.
The large American flag flying proudly adds to the powerful scene (pardon the poor lighting).
Also at the memorial plaza is a small shelter. Visitors can leave messages to the men and women who died here. Each day, the National Park Service compiles the messages and adds them to the “Tribute Collection”. My mother added a note to the board before we left (not pictured).
This was an incredibly somber, difficult place to visit. Honestly, just writing this post made me a little emotional. But I’m really glad we made the time. I encourage anyone traveling through the area to make a detour to the memorial.