Off the turnpike exit at Somerset, past farms and fields, is a gravel lot. In the middle is a squat building with corrugated aluminum for walls and a line of porta-potties. This used to be a scrap yard but now it is a construction site where crews have been working for months to build the Flight 93 memorial.
Visitors look past the construction to a divot in the ground where the plane slammed into the earth September 11, 2001.
"If you imagine being there that day, it was a metal scrap yard and recycling operation. And on September 11th there were guys working outside and Flight 93 came screaming overhead about 600 miles per hour, inverted and then crashed in the fields in front of us here," said Jeff Reinbold, National Park Service site manager during a recent visit.
For years, visitors to the site had to stay hundreds of yards away from the impact zone. The new permanent memorial to the 40 passengers and crew who died on that plane takes visitors down the hill below the Western Overlook right on eye-level with the crash site.
Ken Nacke's brother, Louis, was on Flight 93. He was part of the group that picked the design for the memorial. He doubted it would be done within a decade of the terrorist attacks. "It's mindboggling. … You know my mom said she'd never see it done. And I told her before I came up here, I says, September tenth, you're going to see the dedication of the memorial," said Nacke.
All the phases of memorial will come with a total cost of $62 million. The first phase will open to the public September 10th.
"We felt very strongly that this place needed to be about Pennsylvania. … And so the challenge to the designers was to come up with a design that works for this place. If you took it out of here and went to Manhattan or went to the Pentagon, this should make no sense," said Reinbold.
The road to the memorial passes drainage ponds left over from an old mining site. Then, there's a black concrete walkway skirting the Flight 93 crash site. It is lined by a low, sloping wall. On the other side is an untamed field, and a great big boulder marking the approximate spot where the plane went down.
"It hit with such force that basically the place was turned to very small pieces. We treat this whole area as the final resting place of the passengers and crew. … It is off-limits to the public. The reason the walkway takes this kind of crazy shapes is that this is the edge that the Somerset County coroner marked the debris from the plane and human remains have been found," said Reinbold.
It's believed that the 40 passengers and crew on Flight 93 discussed and voted on a plan to stop the four terrorists aboard from getting to their desired target. Many think that target was the U.S. Capitol.
The plane hit the earth just yards from a hemlock grove – a part of the site that inspired the memorial's architect, Paul Murdoch. "These dark trees here are the hemlock that absorbed the entire impact and inferno of the crash. … and we value that grove as a very special place," said Murdoch. "If you've ever been in a hemlock grove, they're very dark and deep and moody. Like they're enchanting, somehow."
From the path, you can stand, or sit on a bench, or lean low on the wall, and look into the tree line. To the right, there's more path. At the end, 40 free standing individual slabs of white marble are engraved with the names of the 40 passengers and crew of Flight 93. They make a wall of names that's been kind of off-limits. Family members are supposed to get the first look at them, up close. "People often say to us, it almost looks as if people could come back out of this," said Reinbold.
There are two portions of the memorial that have yet to be built. And Flight 93 fund-raising foundation still needs to raise another $10 million to cover the project's cost.