A ceremony steeped in shipbuilding tradition kicked off major construction Friday on a U.S. Navy assault vessel named in honor of United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
It is the second of three new Navy ships named for the sites of the Sept. 11 attacks. The USS New York entered service last month and the Arlington, memorializing the strike on the Pentagon, is under construction.
At the Northrop Grumman Corp. shipyard near New Orleans, the keel of the Somerset _ named for the Pennsylvania county where Flight 93 went down, killing all 40 passengers and crew members _ was authenticated by the ship's sponsor, Mary Joe Myers, the wife of retired Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"Out of tragedy, we can now turn our focus to a tribute to those brave men and women of Flight 93," Myers said. The ship will "take the power and courage of the United States to the four corners of the world."
Myers initialed a plaque stating the keel _ the ship's basic foundation _ has been "truly and fairly laid." Afterward, Northrop Grumman welder Lanford Bridges cut the initials into the plaque with a torch.
The $1.2 billion vessel is expected to be delivered to the Navy in 2012. The Somerset is 684 feet long, is serviced by a crew of 350 sailors and can carry up to 800 Marines into assault operations. It has a flight deck that can handle helicopters and the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.
Flight 93 had left Newark, N.J., for San Francisco when four terrorists commandeered the cockpit. Investigators believe terrorists crashed the plane as passengers rushed the cockpit, making it the only one of the four airliners hijacked that day that did not reach its intended target, believed to be Washington.
"We continue to inspired by the selfless courage of those on Flight 93," said Gordon Felt, who lost a brother, Edward, in the crash. Felt is president of Families of Flight 93.
The ship is a San Antonio-class amphibious dock vessel. The first five ships in the series _ the USS San Antonio, USS New Orleans, USS Mesa Verde, USS Green Bay and USS New York _ are in service. Three other ships in the class are under construction: Anchorage at the Avondale yard, and Arlington and San Diego at Northrop Grumman's yard in Pascagoula, Miss.
(This version CORRECTS headline to third ship in series, CORRECTS that Felt is not a welder.)