On eve of 9/11 anniversary, Flight 93 gets national memorial

Thousands are expected outside this village in southwestern Pennsylvania for the dedication of phase one of a national memorial to those on United Airlines Flight 93 who foiled an apparent bid by al-Qaeda hijackers to strike Washington.

Then-president George W Bush, on his third visit to Shanksville since September 11, 2011, is scheduled to attend, along with Vice President Joe Biden and former president Bill Clinton.

Nightfall will see the solemn lighting of more than 2,900 luminaries in memory of all 9/11 victims.

On Sunday, President Barack Obama is to join a two-hour commemorative service at the spot where Flight 93 went down -- lifting the profile of a virtually forgotten episode of the 9/11 attacks.

Security will be tight, after the Federal Aviation Administration declared a no-fly zone up to 18,000 feet over Shanksville, about 200 kilometers west of Washington, for much of Sunday.

So far, the Flight 93 National Memorial comprises a "field of honor" that gently descends to the crash site, plus a visitors' plaza.

Future plans call for a memorial wall by 2014, a grove of 40 trees and, in time, a 93-foot (28-meter) "tower of voices" comprising 40 wind chimes -- although 10 million dollars still needs be raised before the project is done.

Several days of heavy rain which triggered floods in much of Pennsylvania this past week forced organizers to alter the staging of this weekend's events, although fairer weather is forecast from mid-day Saturday.

Notwithstanding a Hollywood movie, the story of Flight 93 has largely been overshadowed by the destruction of the World Trade Center and the direct hit on the Pentagon.

In-flight recordings pulled from the rubble revealed how the passengers and crew, aware of the World Trade Center attack from mid-air cell phone calls to loved ones, fought the four hijackers for control of the Being 757.

The plane crashed in a fireball at 10:03 am, hitting the ground at 906 kilometers an hour, just 20 minutes' flying time from its presumed target, the Capitol building. Everyone on board died instantly.

In the aftermath of 9/11, local volunteers took on the task of greeting visitors and maintaining a makeshift memorial along the chain-link fence that overlooks what some call "America's first battlefield against terrorism."

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