‘Let’s Roll’: Flight 93, 11 September 2001

On September 11, 2001, United Airlines Flight 93 departed Newark, New Jersey, one of the main New York airports, for San Francisco, California. It was 8:42 am. 37 passengers and 7 crew settled down for the almost 6-hour flight.  About three-quarters of an hour later, at around half past nine, 4 hijackers entered the cockpit and took control of the plane.  

Aware that something was wrong, passengers and crew phoned family and friends on the ground and were told that passenger planes had been flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre at 8.46 am and 9.03 am.  A third plane was crashed into the Pentagon Building in Washington D.C. at 9.37 am. Realizing that their flight was in all probability being used for the same purpose, the passengers and crew of Flight 93 decided to take action.

The story of  Flight 93  has been dramatized in the film of the same name and is based on voice recordings and telephone calls made by the passengers and crew to their family and friends on the ground.

Passenger Todd Beamer in a telephone conversation with Lisa Jefferson told her that the passengers were going to try to take back control of the plane and according to Lisa, the last words she heard him say were “Are you guys ready? OK.  Let’s roll.”

It is thought that they planned on ramming the cockpit door with a service trolley. The last moments of Flight 93 are not known, but at  10.03 am it crashed with the loss of all on board. The intended destination of the hijackers is not known either, but it was possibly a building in the capital, Washington D.C, only 20 minutes away. The death toll for the awful, world-changing morning of 9/11 was 2,996,  which included the 19 hijackers of the 4 aircraft. Perhaps it may have been higher had Flight 93 reached the destination planned by the hijackers.

On September 9, 2001, I was at my desk in Dublin, Ireland, when at about 2 pm local time  I noticed a news item about a plane having crashed into the World Trade Centre. We turned on the office  TV and watched the incredible events unfold over the following few hours.

Seven years later, I was privileged to visit the site at Shanksville, Pennsylvania where Flight 93 crashed – a rural, remote and peaceful place.

911 Memorial

Shanksville Memorial of the dead

At that time a  temporary memorial had been erected, the design of the permanent memorial not yet finalized. (Although still not fully completed, the first phase of the Flight 93 National Memorial was completed in time for the 10th anniversary in 2011 and can be seen here.)Even as a temporary memorial, this was a special place, with an eerie silence in spite of the number of visitors.

The location is very rural with little signs of habitation, although there are buildings quite nearby on the other side of the hill. One of the images that has remained with me is of the eyewitness descriptions from workers close by. They told of the plane flying upside down, so low that they ‘could almost count the rivets’,  how it disappeared over the hill, and, moments later – silence  – followed by huge explosions.

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The scene of the impact where Flight 93 crashed into the ground.

Traveling at 450 -480 m.p.h, Flight 93 crashed at 10.06 am.

All on board were incinerated as the thousands of gallons of fuel ignited in a huge fireball. The flight recorders were recovered from some 25 feet below ground, but no human remains were recovered. It was possible however to confirm the identities of all 44 persons using DNA  matching.

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Another view of the site of impact

At the time of my visit, a depression in the ground was the only sign that anything had happened here. Such was the extent of the explosion, debris was spread over an area of about 8 square miles and the largest piece of metal recovered was only 2 feet long.

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Shanksville Flight 93 impact site

There was a stillness about the place that defied the horror of the violence that happened here. Hundreds of acres were scorched by the fireball, and the surrounding trees burned for several hours. 

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Benches bearing names of the dead 

The temporary memorial had seats bearing the names of the passengers and crew.

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more benches….

A Park Ranger in attendance was able to answer any questions and a book containing some key point details of the events on board Flight 93 was available to read.

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The temporary Memorial Wall

Relatives and friends leave mementos such as flag s, caps, messages, jewellery and flowers on a 40-foot memorial ‘wall’. 

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Some of the items left at the wall

These personal tributes, often very poignant, are carefully collected by the National Park Service at regular intervals.

At the time of my visit in October 2008, over a million people had made the pilgrimage to this site to remember those who are seen as having given their lives to save others. The 40 passengers and crew on Flight 93 are generally regarded as national heroes.

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There were 40 wooden angels, one for each of the victims, and a large cross near the perimeter of the memorial which was located about 500 yards from the crash site which is known as the ‘Sacred Ground’.

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A photograph and short bio of each of the 40 victims can be seen here.

As the 12th anniversary of 9/11 will be on Wednesday of this week, I thought that my pictorial record of the temporary memorial  from 2008 would be an appropriate commemoration of all those who lost their lives on that fateful day, and most especially to the 40 people on Flight 93 who perished  in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

I am grateful to Jane and Bob Noren, my hosts during my visit to the USA in 2008, and in particular to Jane who drove with me to see this very special place.

References 

http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/08/08/1060145871380.html

http://www.history.com/topics/flight-93

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flight_93_National_Memorial

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31 Comments

Filed under My Oral History, My Travels, Significant World Events

31 responses to “‘Let’s Roll’: Flight 93, 11 September 2001

  1. Yes, this post is a fine commemoration of all those who lost their lives that day as we watched helplessly on television. I have never visited Shanksville so I appreciate your personal observations. May we appreciate every day. Peace to you and yours.

  2. Jane Noren

    Thank you for remembering us in “Let’s Roll”, which was very factual, and well written. Good job! It was a beautiful Fall day when we went and I remember all of the pictures you took. The site is quite different now, with gorgeous granite memorials and a path of concrete and granite leading out to a beautifully done high wall depicting the path of the last few seconds of the flight before hitting the ground. The indentation, or the gravesite of all those lost is still very much visible, and it is still a very somber place today and will be for many years to come. Jane Noren

  3. A fine tribute SV, thank you.

  4. Jane

    Thank you for remembering us in “Let’s Roll”, which was very factual, and
    well written. Good job! It was a beautiful Fall day when we went and I remember all of the pictures you took. The site is quite different now, with gorgeous granite memorials and a path of concrete and granite leading out to a beautifully done high wall depicting the path of the last few seconds of the flight before hitting the ground. The indentation, or the gravesite of all those lost is still very much visible, and it is still a very somber place today and will be for many years to come.
    Jane

    • Hi Jane
      It was indeed a beautiful day and it was a stunning experience. I would not ever have seen this place had it not been for your generosity. I am pleased that the permanent memorial is there finally. It looks and sounds a very fitting monument to the horrific events of that day. There certainly was a surreal atmosphere there when we visited and I have no doubt that will remain the case.
      Thank you for your comment. Much appreciated. A

  5. I knew nothing of this memorial, other than it existed, so thank you for ‘taking’ us to it. We were staying at our daughter’s home, in Victoria then, when I heard the first reports come in on the radio… It was very late, but there was no sleep for me that night. I woke my husband after the second plane went into the towers, but he didn’t realise what the extent was, so it was some time before he woke again and it fully registered.
    As with the rest of the world, I was totally stunned, disbelieving at first… sad and horrific memories, but so vital that we remember…
    Thank you…

    • Hi Chris
      I think Flight 93 is not as familiar to many as the other three crashes, and the crash location is off the beaten track. Those like us who are not in the USA would rarely hear reference to it. September 11th is one of those days where most people can remember where they were as the horror unfolded. It changed everything.
      Thanks for your input. A

  6. You’ve missed some details, The terrorists chose that date as September, the 9th month and the 11th day to make a statement – 911, the USA call for emergency services, letting us know on each anniversary, that another emergency was pending.

    Also, I do believe that it was learned the last plane had intended to crash into the White House as one final crippling blow. The old cut off the head and watch the chicken run around aimlessly.

    I visited the site in 2007 just prior to visiting Ireland. Even so many years later, the site was still being evacuated of debris, bodies, etc. It is amazing how fast we recover once the site was cleared.

    Back on that day, I was switching on the news prior to leaving for work and watched the first plane fly into the first tower. I delayed my departure and watched the second plane fly into the second tower and watched both towers crumble. It was such a mess, looking like Armageddon had finally arrived on our doorstep.

    • Thank you for the additional information. I included a reference at the bottom of the piece that says ‘Intelligence officials believe the likely target for flight 93 was the White House, based on information from Abu Zubaydah, an al-Qaeda leader in US custody’ but I did not research this any further.
      It was a day that changed the world and all of us for sure. I had been to the top of the World Trade Centre in September 2010 and stayed in a Manhattan Hotel that fell subsequently, so it was very shocking to see.
      Thank you for the information and for stopping by!

  7. Now the big question is, do the ends justify the means? Do we (USA) bomb Syria or try a more civil route to peace? I believe that if we choose a military solution, there will always be some mistake that will take it to a full war and so many more to die. A tough nut to crack no matter which direction this takes.

    • Hi Jim. Hopefully there will be no bombing of Syria. Overnight developments are encouraging. It is such a politically complex geographic area, the consequences of any military action could spread to many countries and last for many years. Hopefully diplomacy will work. Hope you are keeping well. A

  8. Pingback: “Look Mama, a plane!” My September 11, 2001 Story | SueAnn Porter

  9. The photo of the benches brought a sudden and unexpected tear to my eye. It is good to hear about the memorial, thanks for writing this.

    • Thank you Clare. I think the benches have now been replaced by upright marble slabs. This temporary memorial was well worth seeing and in a way added to the desolation of the place. Thank you for dropping by. A sad day.

  10. Reblogged this on Back On The Rock and commented:
    A vivid, educational and emotional tribute to the heroes of Flight 93.

  11. Thank you for remembering and for posting your pictures of the memorial.
    It’s difficult to believe it’s been 12 years since that tragic day. I lived in the Washington D.C. area at the time. I knew people who worked in the Pentagon, as did my father. He worked there his entire career, but thankfully he had retired years prior. He knew people who were killed.

    I vividly recall glancing out my office window thinking what a perfect fall day it was. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, it was magnificent. Along with my co-workers, we watched on TV as the second plane hit and later, as both towers collapsed…I’ll never forget.

  12. A very loving post in the midst of horror. I just hope, hope, hope that nothing so awful ever happens again.

  13. This gave me chills I still feel shaken when 9/11 comes around and relive the terror that struck us all that day. I would like to visit this memorial and Ground Zero in NY, but also know that it would be overwhelming. I’m happy for now to see it through your pictures and tale instead.

  14. Pingback: Revisiting Shanksville on 9/11 – Let’s Roll | A SILVER VOICE FROM IRELAND

  15. Thanks for this evocative post Angela. The courage of those passengers and crew was inspirational.

  16. This pierced my heart when I first read it… and did so again now…such bravery ..
    I have included your blog in INTERESTING BLOGS in FRIDAY FOSSICKING at

    https://thatmomentintime-crissouli.blogspot.com/2018/09/friday-fossicking-14th-sept-2018.html
    Thank you, Chris

    • Thank you so much. I am quite proud of this post as the site it is much more poignant than the big constructed memorial. I am not sure that has even been completed yet.

      • So you should be, it is in many ways, more of a personal tribute. I especially love the names on the seats…I think that would mean more to the families than the usual names on plaques, though all have their place.

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