Mark Bingham's story has been published to remind everyone that heroism knows no
sexuality. We're proud to be able to publish this extract below.|
United Airlines Flight 93 finally took off from Newark International Airport’s Runway 4-Left
at 8:42 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. In contrast to the confusion on the ground,
which had caused the flight’s 42-minute delay, the sky that morning was quiet and
clear. And as the Boeing 757 banked left along the Hudson River and headed west toward
San Francisco, the sun’s intensity was the only thing that could have hindered the
view of lower Manhattan and its signature World Trade Center towers for Mark and
the other passengers on the righthand side of the plane. They may have even seen
the dot in the distance that was American Airlines Flight 11. The Boeing 767 crashed
into the World Trade Center’s north tower just three minutes after Flight 93 took
off from Newark International.
Mark’s flight was well beyond Manhattan by that point, however, and its seven-member
crew was preparing for another routine flight across the country. Of the five
United Airlines flight attendants on board, Wanda Green and Lorraine Bay were
stationed in first class. As they introduced themselves to Mark, Tom Burnett,
and the other passengers in the front cabin—which included four Middle Eastern–looking
men—they handed out menus and explained that breakfast would be a choice between an
omelet and a fruit plate.
At about 9:06 a.m., as United Airlines Flight 175 slammed into the World Trade Center’s
south tower, Deborah Welsh, who is believed to have been the purser on Flight 93, was
probably announcing to the cabin that the in-flight movie that morning was A Knight’s
Tale, starring Heath Ledger.
In the 24 minutes that Flight 93 had been in the air, life on the ground had been
altered more than most of the 44 people on board could have ever imagined. And it would
be at least another 25 minutes before they would know anything about it.
The only notice that the plane’s captain, Jason Dahl, and his first officer, LeRoy
Homer, had received to indicate something was amiss was a message that flashed across
the cockpit computer screen shortly after 9 a.m. It read: “Beware, cockpit intrusion.”
Either Dahl or LeRoy typed “Confirmed” in response.
At 9:25, as the jet approached the outskirts of Cleveland, Dahl made his first and
only contact with air-traffic control in the city. “Good morning,” he said. Just
as Dahl radioed Cleveland, four men in first class—Ziad Samir Jarrahi, Ahmed Alhaznawi,
Ahmed Alnami, and Saeed Alghamdi—started to put red bandannas on their heads.
It’s likely that this was not the first time these men, who all looked as if they were
in their 20s or early 30s, had caught the attention of the others on the plane. As
Mark and the other passengers shuffled through their morning newspapers and bantered
with the flight attendants, these men could not be bothered. They didn’t have
time. For if they were following instructions, each of them had to silently pray
“There is no God but God” 1,000 times before putting on their bandannas.
Then, at 9:28 a.m., an air-traffic-controller heard a quick scream and the sound
of a struggle coming from Flight 93 and asked, “Did somebody call Cleveland?” After
40 seconds of dead air in response, the air-traffic controller heard one of the
United pilots scream, “Get out of here! Get out of here!”
What happened in the next couple of minutes is unclear, since the tape recovered
from Flight 93’s cockpit voice recorder, which recorded on a continuous loop for a
half-hour, doesn’t start until shortly after 9:30 a.m. It begins with the sound of
a woman, most likely a flight attendant, pleading for her life. Gurgling and choking
noises also can be heard and are assumed to be coming from Dahl and Homer, who were
struggling either to say something or to breathe.
It’s also unclear exactly how the hijackers broke into the cockpit. They could have
simply barged in, since the cockpit door was designed only to withstand 150 pounds
of pressure. Or they may have forced a flight attendant to let them in. Either
way, it’s widely believed that Jarrahi and one of the other hijackers forced their
way into the cockpit and used either knives or box cutters to slash the throats
of both Dahl and Homer. The other two hijackers, meanwhile, divided the passengers and
flight attendants into two groups and split them between the plane’s front and back
cabins. They were both armed with knives, and one had what he said was a bomb strapped
to his body.
It’s also not clear if Mark was in the front or the back of the plane at this point.
Jarrahi, who is believed to have been flying the plane, tried to calm the passengers
by making an announcement that ended up going to Cleveland air-traffic control rather
than throughout the plane. “Hi, this is the captain,” he said in a heavily accented and
winded voice that suggested he was attempting to catch his breath after his struggle
with Dahl and Homer. “We’d like you to all remain seated. There is a bomb on board.
We are going to return to the airport. And they have our demands, so please remain
But the passengers and the flight attendants did not remain quiet. Instead they
telephoned their loved ones using the GTE Airfones on the plane and, in some
cases, their own mobile phones. Mark called his mother at his Aunt Kathy and Uncle
Vaughn’s home, where she was helping to care for their newborn boys.
Alice, who was in her room with baby Garrett, heard the phone ring at 6:44 a.m.
Pacific time. But the phone in her room wasn’t working, so she assumed Carol
Phipps, a family friend who was also there to help with the babies, would pick
it up in another room. After a series of rings, the phone stopped. Then, when
it started ringing a second time, Carol picked it up. “Get Kathy or Alice quickly,”
Mark said in a muffled voice. “Is this Lee?” Carol asked, referring to another of
Mark’s uncles. “No,” he said, and then again pleaded, “Get Kathy or Alice quickly.”
Alice then heard Carol pad quickly down the ranch-style home’s long hallway to
Kathy and Vaughn’s bedroom and then knew something was wrong when she heard Kathy
run to the phone. Alice got out of bed herself and, as she approached Kathy, heard
her say, “I love you too, Mark. Let me get your mom.”
“When she saw me, she said, ‘Alice, come talk to Mark. He’s been hijacked,’ ” Alice
recalls. “Then she handed me the phone and a piece of paper that had ‘Flight 93’ and
‘United’ written on it. I took the phone and—oh, I can’t remember what I said—
but I heard Mark say, ‘Mom, this is Mark Bingham.’ It wasn’t until Mark used his
last name that Alice was hit with the weight of what Kathy had just told her.
“I found out later from Kathy that Mark had said he wanted to let us know that he
loved us—in case he never saw us again. He didn’t say anything about not seeing me
again when we talked, though. What he did say was, ‘I just want to tell you that
I love you. I’m on a flight from Newark to San Francisco and there are three guys
on board and they have taken over the plane and they say they have a bomb.’ At some point
he added, ‘I’m calling you from the Airfone,’ and then asked, ‘You believe me, don’t you, Mom?’
“ ‘Yes Mark, I believe you,’ I said. ‘Who are these guys?’ Then he was interrupted by someone
who was speaking in a low-toned male voice that, by its cadence, sounded like it was speaking
English. I just heard these muffled voices for about 30 seconds, and I kept hoping Mark
would come back on the phone.
“When he did come back, he repeated, ‘I’m calling you with an Airfone.’ I remember that
distinctly because I knew Airfones are pretty conspicuous things, and I was afraid
he would bring attention to himself and that the hijackers were going to pull him out
of his seat and kill him. But I didn’t express that to him. I just asked him again,
‘Who are these guys?’ After another long pause he came back and asked again, ‘You
believe me, don’t you, Mom?’ And that was the extent of our conversation. There was
another long, agonizing pause, and I could hear ambient noise. But then the phone
just trailed off.”
No one at the Hoglan home yet knew the fate of the other American airliners, the
third of which—American Airlines Flight 77—had crashed into the Pentagon at 9:45 a.m.,
a minute after Mark had placed the call to his mother. When it became clear that Alice’s
phone call with Mark was indeed over, Vaughn turned on the TV to see if there was any
news of the hijacking. The family immediately saw taped footage of what turned out to be
United Flight 175 crashing into the south tower of the World Trade Center.
“When I heard from Mark that his plane had been hijacked, I thought it was going to be a
long, agonizing wait, but that [the hijackers] would eventually release him,” Alice says.
“And then I saw Flight 175 hit the World Trade Center.” Alice knew in her gut, even
before she heard the details of what she was watching, that it hadn’t been Mark’s plane
that was crashing on TV. How could it be? she asked herself. He was just on the phone
with me. But what that footage immediately confirmed was that what was happening to
her son was not going to be a typical hijacking, if there could be such a thing.
What, if anything, could she do? “We just cast about, Vaughn and Kathy and I,” Alice
says. “Then Vaughn came up with a couple of good ideas.” He told Alice to call the FBI,
who asked her a series of questions about the hijackers that she couldn’t answer. He
also suggested she try to call Mark back on his mobile phone to let him know
the full scope of the terrorist attack he was now a part of. If Mark had the
information about the fate of the other flights, Vaughn reasoned, perhaps he and
the other passengers on Flight 93 could wrest control of the plane from the hijackers
and save their own lives—not to mention countless other lives on the ground.
Alice made two phone calls to Mark’s mobile phone, neither of which were answered.
She left a message both times. In the first she said:
“Mark, this is your mom. It’s 10:54 a.m. [Eastern time]. The news is that it’s been
hijacked by terrorists. They are planning to probably use the plane as a target to
hit some site on the ground. So if you possibly can, try to overpower these guys if
you can—’cause they will probably use the plane as a target. I would say go ahead and
do everything you can to overpower them, because they’re hell-bent. You know the number
here. OK, I love you sweetie. Bye.”
In the second message, she reiterated her point:
“Mark, apparently it’s terrorists and they’re hell-bent on crashing the aircraft. So if
you can, try to take over the aircraft. [fumbling for words] There doesn’t seem to be much
plan to land the aircraft normally. So I guess your best bet would be to try to take it
over, if you can. Or tell the other passengers. There’s one flight that they say is headed
toward San Francisco. It might be yours. So, if you can, group some people and perhaps do
the best you can to get control of it. I love you, sweetie. Good luck. Bye-bye.”
It would be impossible for a mother to prepare herself for the kind of horrifying situation
Alice faced that morning. Yet, with the exception of a couple instances where she said
something other than she’d intended—“I miscalculated the time from Pacific to Eastern
and actually made the call at 9:54 a.m.,” she says. “And I meant to say they planned to
use the plane as ‘a weapon’ rather than as ‘a target’ ”—Alice’s messages reflect a
composure few mothers might imagine themselves having in the same situation.
“There’s no doubt I was worried, but I was trying to think about what could be done
rather than what was likely to happen,” Alice says. “We were still very hopeful too.
Vaughn and Kathy and I were hopeful that since the terrorists had already accomplished
a truly ugly thing, perhaps they would land Mark’s plane safely."
Mark never got the messages his mother left on his mobile phone, but there is no doubt
he got the information she was trying to pass on to him through other passengers who
also made phone calls to their loved ones.
Tom Burnett made four phone calls to his wife, Deena Burnett, at their home in San
Ramon, Calif. In the first he told her that the hijackers had knifed a man. Then,
when he called back a second time, he told Deena that the man who had been knifed
was now dead. Deena informed Tom about the attack at the World Trade Center, and then
he asked her a series of questions about the attack. “I could tell Tom was formulating
a plan because of the way he was trying to put it all together, and that had sort of
a calming effect, because he sounded so clearheaded,” Deena told Rolling Stone magazine.
When Tom called a third time, Deena told him about the Pentagon. He again asked
questions and then concluded, “I don’t think they have a bomb. I think they’re just
telling us that for crowd control.” In his final call, it was evident he and at least
some of the other passengers had formulated a plan. “A group of us is going to do
something,” he said. When Deena protested, urging her husband not to draw attention
to himself, he said, “Deena, they’re going to run this plane into a building somewhere
in Washington. We’ve got to do something. If they’re going to crash this plane, we’ve
got to do something.”
Jeremy Glick, a 31-year-old former national judo champion from New Jersey, also telephoned
his wife, Lyz Glick, and told her that the passengers were going to take a vote over
whether they should stage an attack against the hijackers. And Todd Beamer, a 32-year-old
who had graduated from Los Gatos High School the year before Mark, talked with operator
Lisa Jefferson when he couldn’t reach his wife, Lisa Beamer. He too said the passengers
had decided their only chance for survival was to fight back. Flight attendant Sandy
Bradshaw, meanwhile, called her husband, Phil Bradshaw, in Greensboro, N.C., and said
she and several other flight attendants were filling coffeepots with boiling water
to throw at the hijackers. And flight attendant CeeCee Lyles, who telephoned her
husband, Lorne Lyles, in Fort Myers, Fla., said, the passengers were “getting ready
to force their way in the cockpit.”
Deena Burnett later told Alice Hoglan that during one of her phone conversations
with her husband, Tom, she heard a heavy pounding sound in the background. “When
she asked what it was, Tom told her, ‘That’s my seatmate. He’s trying to get somebody
out from hiding in the bathroom to help us,’ ” Alice says. “Tom Burnett was talking
Meanwhile, the two terrorists in the cockpit were having trouble controlling the plane.
Their difficulty started when they turned off the autopilot shortly after storming
the front of the plane. As if it were an automobile at cruising speed that was
suddenly downshifted, the plane staggered in midair. The cockpit recorder also
picked up a series of clicks that sound as if the hijackers were nervously and
perhaps randomly pushing buttons and flipping switches throughout the cockpit.
According to air-traffic control records, the jet U-turned over Ohio before making a
beeline for what appeared to be Washington, D.C., first flying over part of West
Virginia and then heading into Pennsylvania. Its erratic flight path over West Virginia,
during which the plane made a series of sharp turns, suggests the hijackers were
trying to knock the now-rowdy passengers off their feet. According to the conversations
they had with their families, the passengers and flight attendants knew that the plane was
flying southeast and, understanding what had already happened at the World Trade Center
and the Pentagon, assumed they were heading toward a target in Washington, D.C. The first
clear indication of their uprising on the cockpit voice recorder came at 9:55 a.m.,
when one of the hijackers in the cockpit suggests that the other two be let in for
their own safety.
Just before 9:57 a.m., Sandy Bradshaw told her husband, “We’re running to first class
now.” Operator Lisa Jefferson heard Todd Beamer say, “Let’s roll.” And CeeCee Lyles,
who was still on the phone with her husband, screamed, “They’re doing it! They’re
doing it! They’re doing it!” Then, at exactly 9:57 a.m., the cockpit voice recorder
picked up the sounds of what was the first counterattack in the war on terrorism:
Crashing galley dishes and a distinctly male American voice shouting, “Let’s get
Obviously rattled, one terrorist suggested cutting oxygen off outside the
cockpit. Another can be heard on the cockpit voice recorder saying, “Take it easy.”
Still another voice suggested scrapping the mission and crashing the plane. Their
scheming was interrupted by another male English-speaking voice, although unclear
whether the passenger had broken into the cockpit or was just on the other side
of the door. Obviously unprepared for what had befallen them, the terrorists seem
to have panicked and started to fight for control of the jet, with one of them shouting,
“Give it to me!” at 10 a.m.
At 10:06 the cockpit voice recorder catches its last voice—one of the terrorists
screaming, “Allah akbar!” (God is great). Now in a steep dive, the 757’s wings
tipped back and forth like a seesaw, according to eyewitnesses on the ground.
And as it crashed into a rolling field in rural Somerset County, Pa., the jet,
which was traveling faster than 570 miles per hour at the end, exploded into a
fireball and created a crater 50 feet deep. Flight 93 ended at 10:06 a.m., an hour
and 24 minutes after it left Newark International Airport, 22 minutes after Mark
telephoned his mother, and 12 minutes after Alice left the two desperate voice-mail
messages on her son’s mobile phone.
• • •
Alice’s messages were two of the 44 she was able to retrieve from Mark’s AT&T
mobile phone account several months after the attack on September 11. There were
probably many more messages left on Mark’s phone that day. But as a result of
the nation’s overburdened communications network on September 11, some of
them were not actually recorded. Amanda Mark, for example, says she left several
messages on Mark’s mobile phone, but only one made it to his voice-mail.
Played in order, the messages serve as a sort of seismograph, measuring the confusion,
horror, and despair Mark’s family and friends—and indeed, many people around the
world—experienced that day. The first messages are fast and fragmented, as though
the people leaving them were scrambling to make sense of the situation and find
the words to convey the gravity of the emergency. “Looking at this big wreck,” Mark’s
father said, as he tried to stop himself from sobbing. “My God, this is just devastating,”
Ken Montgomery said. “I just can’t believe this.”
Amanda just wanted to know where her roommate was. “Where are you? Call me, please,” she
said. When she left that message, Amanda, who works for Morgan Stanley in midtown
Manhattan, was also busy determining the whereabouts of her coworkers, at least
one of whom was in the World Trade Center for training that morning. “At about
9:30 or 9:40 [between 10 and 20 minutes before the first tower collapsed], I was
telling him to get the fuck out of there,” she says. “And my boss told me I was
overreacting.” Once she gathered everyone, she took those who lived outside
Manhattan and therefore couldn’t go home to the apartment she and Mark shared in
Amanda knew Mark was planning to fly out of Newark that morning. And when she heard
about Flight 93, she knew he was on that plane. “I, of course, hoped that he was
on the earlier flight, but I know Mark. He would have slept in as long as he could
and gone for the later morning flight, which was [Flight 93],” she says. She wasn’t
convinced enough that she didn’t call, however. And she tried Alice too. It was
Alice who finally answered by the middle of the day and confirmed her fear. Yes,
Alice told Amanda. Mark had called her and he was on that flight.
The next messages show how the tragedy forced the callers to second-guess themselves.
Nothing in the world was as it was supposed to that day. Mark told most of his
friends that he wasn’t going to fly home until late in the week. But they couldn’t
be sure. The messages also are a testament to persistence. When Mark didn’t answer
their first calls, they dialed and dialed again until they could get through. “Hey, Mark.
This is Mary, Damon’s mom,” Mary Billian said in the message she left, when her
son hadn’t heard back from leaving his own message. “Just trying to check up and
to make sure that you and Amanda are OK.”
Steven Gold had to work late September 11, but he made every effort to stay on top
of the day’s news. Still, he didn’t give a second thought to Mark’s safety until his
partner, Bill Hollywood, called him at about 2 p.m. and asked if Mark was supposed to
be flying that day. “I immediately told him no, because I knew that Mark wasn’t
supposed to be heading back until the end of the week,” Steven says. “But of course
then I started to worry.” In his first voice-mail message, Steven said, almost
calmly, “I didn’t know if you were in New York or not. But I was just calling to
make sure you were OK. Give us a call.” The second was a bit more urgent, however. “I was
just hoping that I could get in touch with you,” he said. “Bill and I are a little
worried about you. Give us a call as soon as you get this. Let us know you’re OK.”
It wasn’t unusual for Steven to get Mark’s voice-mail when he called, but it was
unusual not to get a call in return. So when he was headed home at about 8 p.m.,
he called Mark and Amanda’s apartment. “I asked to speak to Amanda, and the
person who answered said she couldn’t come to the phone. Then I said, ‘Actually,
I want to speak to Mark,’ and Amanda came to the phone. As soon as she said ‘Hello,’ I knew.”
Just as Steven knew from Amanda’s voice, the last messages left on Mark’s voice-mail
that day indicate a sense of knowing as well. Just a series of hang-ups, they are
a kind of technological coda—a confirmation that Mark’s life had really ended.
©2002 Alyson Publications