On a grey and windy morning, people started arriving today at a temporary Flight 93 memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, a 10-foot tall chainlink fence stuffed with American flags, firefighter helmets and drawings from children.
Many of the early morning visitors had no connection to the doomed flight, but just wanted to pay their respects on the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
“I didn’t understand when everything happened,” said a crying Carol Fritz, 15, who drove up this morning from Uniontown with her uncle.
“My kids, my grandkids are going to ask me what happened. I wanted to tell them, tell them I was here.”
With a theme of “United in Courage, Community and Commitment,” the family members of those who died on Flight 93 will remember their loved ones and recognise the efforts of those leading an effort to build a permanent memorial at the site at a solemn ceremony.
Later today, President Bush and the first lady were to meet privately with the victims’ families at the crash site.
Flight 93 was en route from Newark, New Jersey, to San Francisco when the hijackers took over, likely with the goal of crashing the plane into the White House or the Capitol.
The plane crashed after passengers apparently rushed the cockpit in an effort to wrest control from the terrorists.
John O’Leary, 41, a firefighter from Eastchester, New York, just outside of New York City, came to see the site today instead of going to the site of the World Trade Centre.
O’Leary said coming to Shanksville felt more real to him than going into New York, where the site of the terrorist attacks is now a construction zone.
“Everything’s fenced off,” O’Leary said. “Up here, everything’s right here. You’re in the heart.”
Since the crash, a group of volunteers, known now as the Flight 93 ambassadors, point visitors to the crash site and describe what happened aboard the plane on September 11, 2001.
Forty-five volunteers now take turns working two-hour shifts each day, some months guiding more than 25,000 visitors.
That day, it didn’t take first responders long to realize there would be no survivors: Combing the site, all they could find at first were small pieces of a commercial aircraft – and bits of a United Airlines in-flight magazine.
“It was a pretty scary time,” says a former assistant fire chief, Rick King, whose truck was the first to arrive. “I just remember driving down the road, wondering what we were about to see.”
Searchers recovered only about 8 percent of the potential human remains but were able to identify everyone from the fragments they did find, said Somerset County Coroner Wallace Miller.
“Most of the material was vaporised,” he says.