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Stoic father visits Somerset crash site of Flight 93 to say thanks

Thursday, September 20, 2001

By Tom Gibb, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

STONYCREEK, Pa. -- He is pretty sure his son -- a 6-foot-5, rugby-playing public relations executive -- was in the fray when passengers rushed the hijackers who had seized control of United Airlines Flight 93 sometime before it crashed nine days ago.

"He's not one to sit on the sidelines," Jerry Bingham said last night. "He never was."

"I wish we could have done more; it was so final last Tuesday." A tearful Lt. Gov. Mark Schweiker replies to a reporter's question as to what made the crash of Flight 93 different from other disasters in his experience. He visited the crash site in Somerset County yesterday with state Adjutant General William Lynch, background. (Franka Bruns, Post-Gazette)

But Bingham, a ruddy, stocky man, tall like his son, offered none of the same brand of bravado as he sat before reporters last night during a pilgrimage to Somerset County to mourn his son.

He didn't call for hard, swift retribution against the air pirates' backers, saying simply that he put his faith in President Bush.

He played down portrayals of Flight 93's passengers as heroes who resisted rather than submit to the hijacking. In the carnage at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, too, there were heroes, he said.

The main reason he decided to talk publicly, he said as he sat shoulder-to-shoulder with his wife, Karen, was just to thank everybody -- from all of Somerset County to United Airlines -- who buoyed them as they mourned the death of son Mark Bingham, 31.

"When you have that much love coming from so many people, it makes your grief a lot easier," said Bingham.

His remarks at the eastern Somerset County crash site came on a day when the laborious investigation continued but the human toll took center stage.

The Aftermath:

Flight 93 crash site touted as memorial to victims

FBI transcribing crash recording

Flag flown in show of support is burned

Among the victims

How to Help

Alcoa donating $2 million to aid victims of terror attacks

Schedule of Events


In a meeting with reporters after a visit to the crash site yesterday, Lt. Gov. Mark Schweiker dissolved into tears.

The American Red Cross and United finished plans for a memorial service this afternoon for more of the crash victims' families, the second of two services this week. According to Red Cross spokeswoman Jill Bode, today's service will include Vice President Dick Cheney's wife, Lynne, as well as Gov. Tom Ridge.

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller will join Ridge earlier in the day for an inspection of the crash site.

Red Cross officials said yesterday that they were expecting 132 people from 11 families -- bringing the number of mourners who have visited the crash site to 373 from 15 families.

Among them will be Mark Bingham's father and stepmother, "because this is what we have, this is the place where he went down," Jerry Bingham said.

Before the plane crashed, The Associated Press reported, Mark Bingham used a cellular phone to call his mother, Alice Hoglan, back home in California, reporting: "We've been taken over. There are three men that say they have a bomb."

United spokesman Joseph Hopkins said yesterday he did not know how many passengers placed cellular phone calls from the Newark-to-San Francisco flight.

"I've heard that it was about 20," he said.

"If you knew him, you loved him, and that was it," Bingham said of his son. "I don't know when you get over it exactly. Maybe you don't."

Schweiker, on his first visit to the crash site, was overwhelmed.

He and Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Joe M. Allbaugh had just visited the memorial, a makeshift collection of hay bales serving as an altar covered with flowers, photos and goodbye letters from family of many of the 44 victims.

But when he sat down with reporters, Schweiker broke down in tears, then a few sobs. For a full minute, he wrestled for composure when a reporter asked how Pennsylvania's response to the Sept. 11 United airliner crash differed from state responses to other crises.

"I wish we could have done more. I wish we could have done more," he said, crying. "It was so final last Tuesday. When you respond to a flood or a tornado ... there are mechanical things you can do quickly. ... Often you can save people."

Schweiker, wearing a baseball cap bearing the words "United Flight 93," a gift from workers at an emergency morgue set up four miles away, visited the crash site for about half an hour with Allbaugh.

On Monday, the federal government announced that the areas and people that fell victim when terrorists downed four jetliners could be eligible for federal compensation to cover losses ranging from lost wages to temporary housing. But during their visit, Allbaugh and the lieutenant governor barely talked business.

The plane crash, into a stretch of reclaimed strip mine idle for more than two decades, cost no lives on the ground and caused none of the structural damages left when terrorists used jetliners laden with passengers and fuel as bombs to strike the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon. But Pennsylvania is running up costs on efforts ranging from posting 400 state troopers here to paving dirt roads over which heavy rescue equipment must travel.

Schweiker said yesterday that he had no estimate of the costs.

"We're bearing much of the expense in Pennsylvania right now," he said, "and I'm proud of it."

Instead of focusing on finance, Schweiker and Allbaugh focused on appreciation. Allbaugh told recovery workers during the visit to the crash site memorial, "You've done yeoman's work here" while Schweiker lauded Flight 93's crew and passengers.

Faced with a hijacking in progress, they tried to overpower the hijackers and probably spared the Washington, D.C., area from a second attack, Schweiker said.

"In the skies over Pennsylvania, we began to fight back," he said.

Recovery work, which officials estimate could last another two to four weeks, is yielding larger parts of the jetliner as teams sift deeper into the crater left by its impact.

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