Flight 93 memorial still $5 million away from completion

A year after the dedication of the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville, Pa., the project remains short of its financial goal and is the only one of the three major 9/11 tributes that isn’t fully funded.

When the memorial was dedicated on Sept. 10, 2011, it was $10 million short of completion. A May fundraiser in Washington and other donations, from schoolchildren to corporations, have raised $5 million, allowing construction to proceed on the second phase.

But another $5 million is needed to finish one of the signature elements: a 93-foot tower with 40 chimes representing the passengers and crew who died.

“It’s not easy raising this kind of money for this kind of memorial,” said Gordon Felt, who until January was president of Families of Flight 93. “My fear is the farther out we get from September 11, 2001, the more challenging it’s going to be.”

According to the National Park Foundation, the charitable arm of the National Park Service, more than 1.8 million visitors have come to the site, about 80 miles east of Pittsburgh, where the hijacked United Airlines flight crashed 11 years ago. Since its dedication last year, 350,000 people have visited the memorial, many of them part of school and tour groups.

Vice President Joe Biden, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will visit the site this week to commemorate the 11th anniversary of 9/11.

Nearly 3,000 people were killed that day, most of them at New York’s World Trade Center and at the Pentagon outside Washington. Of the four planes that the terrorists hijacked, Flight 93 was the only one that failed to hit its intended target. While that goal remains unclear, the doomed aircraft was only 20 minutes’ flight time from the nation’s capital.

The passengers’ decision to take back the plane from the four hijackers likely saved many more lives.

“Unfortunately, a lot of times Flight 93 is relegated to only a sentence,” said King Laughlin, vice president for the Flight 93 National Memorial Campaign at the National Park Foundation. “That doesn’t tell enough of the story.”

The first phase of the memorial, which included a white marble wall bearing the names of the victims and a long slate pathway bordering the crash site, was finished in time for the last year’s 10th anniversary.

With the additional funding, work on the second phase has begun. It includes a visitors center and a learning center for school and tour groups, as well as 40 groves of 40 trees in — like the chimes — a tribute to each victim.

“I think that we’ve made some wonderful progress this year,” said Felt, whose brother, Edward, was a Flight 93 passenger. “We’re not there yet.”

In July, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded two grants totaling about $3 million for infrastructure improvements, such as a pedestrian bridge over a wetland area. But the project has relied mostly on private contributions.

“The hope has always been that we would raise those funds on the private side,” said Patrick White, the current president of Families of Flight 93 and whose cousin, Louis “Joey” Nacke II, was part of the group of passengers who stormed the cockpit. “We know how lean the Department of Interior and National Park Service budgets are.”

In May, a fundraiser at Washington’s Newseum raised more than $2 million and put additional donors on the radar, White said. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush attended, as did House Speaker John Boehner.

“Obviously we’d love to see one or more very large contributions that would put us across the finish line,” said White.

He hopes the memorial will be complete by September 2016.

Most of the 110,000 donors are individuals, Laughlin said. Only 20 Fortune 500 companies have made major contributions.

“We certainly appreciate those that have, but there’s room for other companies to support the project,” White said.

The Alcoa Foundation, the charitable arm of the New York-based aluminum maker, said last week it would give $255,000 to the project, and that it would match all contributions until Oct. 1.

Unlike the Pentagon memorial, which received aid from defense contractors, and the World Trade Center monument, which received support from the financial services industry, the Pennsylvania memorial has no natural source of corporate support. Flight 93 crashed in a rural area, and its victims weren’t concentrated in a single industry.

The Tower of Voices would complete the project as originally designed. White said he will finally feel a sense of closure when he hears its 40 chimes ring.

“I envision looking up at this tower, and hearing them kind of in their own harmony saying, ‘Well done, rest now, thank you,’ ” he said. “It has quite an emotional significance for me.”