‘A place of heal­ing, re­spect and tran­quil­ity’

Dozens of peo­ple plant seedlings at the Flight 93 Na­tional Memo­rial to honor vic­tims of 9/11 at­tacks

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY KEL­LIE B. GORMLY na­tional@wash­post.com

som­er­set county, pa. — A few dozen peo­ple spread out on a bumpy, bull­dozed hill­side, pierc­ing the ground, twist­ing up the dirt, dig­ging holes and plant­ing del­i­cate seedlings.

Some­day this rocky former min­ing site will be cov­ered with tens of thou­sands of baby trees ris­ing out of the ground. But vol­un­teer ef­forts to plant along this South­west­ern Penn­syl­va­nia ex­panse aren’t meant to cover up what hap­pened here. In­stead, the trees are meant to help peo­ple re­mem­ber.

On Sept. 11, 2001, United Air­lines Flight 93 crashed into this field, a hi­jacked San Fran­cis­cobound jet ul­ti­mately felled af­ter pas­sen­gers and crew mem­bers re­volted, pre­vent­ing ter­ror­ists from reach­ing their in­tended tar­get in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. Of­fi­cials be­lieve the ter­ror­ists wanted to crash into the U.S. Capi­tol Build­ing — but ul­ti­mately hit the ground in Penn­syl­va­nia at more than 500 miles per hour rather than fully lose con­trol of the hi­jacked plane.

The “Plant a Tree at Flight 93” project — which has pro­vided thou­sands of vol­un­teer-planted baby trees in des­ig­nated spots at the 2,200-acre site since 2011 — aims to honor the vic­tims of Flight 93 with some­thing beau­ti­ful and ben­e­fi­cial, of­fi­cials said. This year, some 500 vol­un­teers came out on Fri­day and Satur­day to plant more than 11,000 new seedlings among 17 acres. By 2020, lead­ers hope to have 150,000 trees.

“It will help heal this scarred land where the crash site is, and where the mine used to be,” said Henry Scully, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Friends of Flight 93 Na­tional Memo­rial. “It is all part of the heal­ing process.”

The trees — in­clud­ing 15 species, such as black cherry, black lo­cust, Amer­i­can ch­est­nut, red oak and white pine — will help make the memo­rial site “a place of heal­ing, re­spect and tran­quil­ity,” Scully said. The Pitts­burgh na­tive lost sev­eral friends in the 9/11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks on the World Trade Cen­ter in New York.

Flight 93 was one com­mer­cial air­plane out of four that were hi­jacked in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, with al-Qaeda ter­ror­ists tak­ing con­trol of the plane af­ter it left Ne­wark on its coast-to­coast flight. Be­cause its take­off was de­layed, it was still air­borne af­ter air­planes hit the World Trade Cen­ter and the Pen­tagon. Pas­sen­gers and crew, learn­ing of the at­tacks and a na­tional ground­ing or­der for all air­craft, worked to thwart the hi­jack­ers’ plans to use Flight 93 in a sim­i­lar at­tack.

All 44 peo­ple aboard were killed — 33 pas­sen­gers, seven crew and four hi­jack­ers — but no one on the ground was in­jured.

The memo­rial, part of the Na­tional Park Ser­vice, sur­rounds the area where the flight hit in a ru­ral part of Penn­syl­va­nia, which by flight time is about 20 min­utes from Wash­ing­ton. The tree-plant­ing ef­fort is in­tended to re­for­est the area and pro­vide a wind­break for the memo­rial.

Vol­un­teers broke off into teams of 20 Fri­day, with each mem­ber pair­ing up with a part­ner, one to do the dig­ging, an­other to do the plant­ing. The seedlings have about a 75 per­cent sur­vival rate, with the rest suc­cumb­ing to dam­age from win­ter weather or deer, Scully said. The baby trees stand about 1 to 3 feet tall, but af­ter sev­eral years of growth, they will serve as a shield against the strong winds that blow across the memo­rial site.

The plant­ing event at­tracted many peo­ple in con­ser­va­tion lines of work, like bi­ol­o­gist Natalie Shearer, 39, of Pitts­burgh. She squat­ted down with a seedling, while her co-worker and plant­ing part­ner — Jesse Kil­losky, 29, of Fin­leyville, Pa., — stomped on a dib­ble bar to carve out the dirt. Both women work for AECOM, a Pitts­burgh-based en­gi­neer­ing firm that does en­vi­ron­men­tal con­sult­ing.

“It’s re­ally a good ex­pe­ri­ence,” Shearer said. “It’s such a sa­cred site.”


Vol­un­teers plant trees Satur­day at the site where Flight 93 crashed in Som­er­set County, Pa., dur­ing the 9/11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks. The “Plant a Tree at Flight 93” project aims to plant 150,000 trees by 2020.

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