The 40 passengers and crew who died when hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in southwestern Pennsylvania during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were to be honored in a new way during the 13th anniversary ceremony at the Flight 93 National Memorial.
A Congressional Gold Medal awarded to those who died at the site of the memorial will be presented Thursday as part of the ceremony. Bells will be rung and the names of the victims will be read at 10:03 a.m., the moment the airliner crashed as passengers fought with hijackers for control of the jet.
Thursday's ceremony also comes as the National Park Service marks progress on a $17 million to $23 million phase of the project that includes a visitors' center and a learning center, which officials hope will boost the number of annual visitors to the memorial from 300,000 to more than 500,000. Ground was broken on the project a day before the 12th anniversary ceremony last year, and a media tour of the construction progress was held Wednesday.
"It's a time for me to reflect, a time for me to think about my brother," Gordon Felt said during the media tour, "which isn't easy." Felt's brother, Edward, was among the passengers killed. Gordon is president of the Families of Flight 93, a support group of victims' families which has had input on the memorial park's design.
Dennis Hastert, who was Speaker of the House of Representatives when the attacks occurred, was scheduled to deliver the keynote remarks at Thursday's ceremony. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett also was scheduled to attend.
The Congressional Medal will be on display at the memorial through Sunday. It will go on permanent display once the visitor's center opens, hopefully for the 14th anniversary next year.
Flight 93 was traveling from Newark, New Jersey, to San Francisco when four hijackers took control, with the likely goal of crashing it into the White House or Capitol. The 9/11 Commission concluded that the hijackers downed the plane as the 33 passengers and seven crew aboard the plant revolted.
That happened after several passengers learned in cellphone calls with loved ones that three other hijacked jets were crashed into the World Trade Center towers in New York City and the Pentagon near Washington earlier that morning. Passenger Todd Beamer is credited with helping lead the revolt with the simple command, "Let's roll."
Although work on the memorial continues, including plans for a 93-foot-tall tower with 40 wind chimes, other aspects of the park have been completed, including roads and a Memorial Plaza near the crash site that consists of a white stone wall that traces the doomed plane's flight path, with each victim's name engraved on a separate panel. Forty memorial groves of trees have been planted, and large sections of the park have been replanted or reforested.
The visitor's center design also will recall the plane's flight, as the design calls for it to be split in two in a line that marks the path of the plane overhead.