The valiant voices of 40 airline passengers and crewmembers who were a ray of hope on a dark day in America 17 years ago echoed again Sunday across the rolling hills of rural Pennsylvania.
A gleaming concrete and steel structure that climbs 93 feet into the sky was dedicated to the heroes of Flight 93 – the New Jersey-to-California plane commandeered by four hijackers on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 – two days before the anniversary of the horrific attacks in which 3,000 people died.
The Tower of Voices features a wind chime for each person on board with its own distinctive sound.
“Together their voices will ring out into perpetuity, with this beautiful Somerset County, Pennsylvania, wind,” park Superintendent Stephen Clark said.
The tower is the final phase of the 2,200-acre Flight 93 National Memorial at the crash site about two miles north of Shanksville in Somerset County. A visitor’s center opened three years ago; a memorial plaza was dedicated on the 10th anniversary in 2011.
But it is the chimes – aluminum tubes five to 10 feet long that weigh nearly 150 pounds – that are intended to be the most evocative.
The voices onboard Flight 93 are seared in Americans’ memory.
After hijackers stormed the cockpit 45 minutes after takeoff and announced the plane was returning to the airport, more than a dozen passengers and flight attendants made nearly 40 calls – some leaving wrenching voicemails, others learning from loved ones of the terror in the skies elsewhere that day.
The information gleaned from those calls cemented a resolve aboard the aircraft: The passengers and crew decided to fight back.
“When they learned that, it galvanized them as a group,” Clark said. “They said, ‘We’re not going back to any airport. This is a suicide mission.’”
Several passengers and flight attendants talked over their options and voted on a plan to reclaim the plane. Passenger Todd Beamer was heard saying: “Are you ready? OK. Let’s roll.”
As the passengers raced toward the cockpit, a struggle ensued and the plane crashed into a field near a strip mine. Flight 93 was the only flight not to reach hijackers’ intended target, which officials believed to be the nation’s capital.
The structure’s architect said it was vital to remember those voices.
“We wanted to do, I’ll call it a living memorial in sound, because the last memory of many of the people on the plane were through their voices on phone calls,” Paul Murdoch said. “And we wanted to use the natural forces of the site to activate the chimes.”
President Donald Trump is expected to attend a memorial ceremony Tuesday in Shanksville, along with Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.