First Published: September 2002
       This is an OutUK Archive Item and so some of the links and information may be out of date.
Bravery in the face of unimaginable terror prevented greater tragedy on September 11, 2001 when a group of passengers overpowered the hijackers of United Airlines flight 93. Their heroism and sacrifice inspired us all. One of these passengers was Mark Bingham, a living-out-loud, gregarious, gay man. But who was Mark Bingham really? What was it about this man that caused his friends to unanimously say that he must have been one of the men who rushed the hijackers?
Leading US gay current affairs magazine The Advocate's senior news editor Jon Barrett has been talking to those who knew him best.

He starts with the mother who instilled in him the belief that he could be anything, to the friends, lovers, business associates, and rugby teammates who complete the picture of a man determined to never take second place.

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 quiet.”

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 about Mark.”

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 them!” 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 Chelsea.

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

Hero of Flight 93 : Mark Bingham
by Jon Barrett
Advocate Books/Alyson Publications £9.99
You can order it direct from Amazon.

To commemorate this anniversary we present items from the OutUK Outback Archive which reflect the events of 9/11 and its aftermath.

Eyewitness Reports From New York and Washington
The Personal Story of Flight 93 Hero Mark Bingham
More on The Anniversary of September 11th 2001
OutUK sponsors the The Bingham Cup
Results and pictures from the 2004 Bingham Cup
Attack on America - The story of 9/11


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