Cell Phone Caller: 'We Are Being
TODD SPANGLER, Associated Press Writer Tuesday, September 11, 2001
(09-11) 21:30 PDT SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- The mother of a San Francisco man
believes her son died a hero aboard one of the airplanes hijacked and destroyed
Mark Bingham, 31, was sitting in seat 4D in the rear of First Class on United
Airlines Flight 93 from Newark to San Francisco. The plane crashed
into a grassy
field outside Pittsburgh, and Bingham's mother believes he helped prevent the
hijackers from reaching their intended target.
"The fact that he was so close to the action, it is likely that he was able to
get at these guys," Alice Hoglan said. "He was probably close to where the
hijackers did their thing.
"It gives me a great deal of comfort to know my son may have been able to avert
the killing of many, many innocent people."
Hoglan, a flight attendant for United, described her son as cerebral and
sensitive, but also athletic. He attended the University of
and was on the rugby team the year it won a national title, she said.
He was once attacked on the street in San Francisco and wrestled his
the ground, Hoglan said.
Federal officials have said the intended target of the plane may have been Camp
David, the presidential retreat in Maryland. Flight 93 was the only one of the
four planes that missed its target Tuesday.
Bingham called his mother early Tuesday morning from an airphone on
the plane. He
began their conversation with the words, "Hi Mom. This is Mark Bingham,"
providing a clue to his state of mind as he spoke.
Hoglan said her son told her the aircraft had been taken over by three men, who
said they had a bomb. He mentioned no other weapons.
She believes the call was made 10 to 15 minutes before the plane crashed.
Bingham owned a public relations firm, The Bingham Group, with offices in New
York and San Francisco. He was splitting his time between the two cities.
"He was coming home," Hoglan said.
Hoglan was surrounded by her son's friends Tuesday at a relative's home in
"He's a very delightful man," she said. "I'm pleased that he was my
son, and the
last thoughts were of his family."
Person of the Year, This is
the Mark Bingham Life Story
His life was rich and dramatic for 31 years before he boarded Flight 93 on
September 11. Now for the first time, the people who knew and loved Mark share
their intimate stories
By Jon Barrett
From The Advocate, January 22, 2002
It took a while for Alice Hoglan to muster the courage not to mention the
technological know how to check the messages on her son's mobile phone. Mark
Bingham had had the phone with him when he boarded United Airlines Flight 93
nearly two months earlier. So, of course, it was destroyed along with
else on board when the plane crashed in a field in Somerset County,
Pa. But like
some sort of space-age time capsule that captured the terror and the confusion
that has become known as September 11, Bingham's voice messages sat on an AT&T
Wireless computer waiting to be retrieved.
Hoglan knew there were at least two messages because she had left them herself.
Mark woke her up at 6:44 a.m. Pacific time with an air phone call to tell her
that his flight had been hijacked. However, it wasn't until after the call was
disconnected and Hoglan turned on the TV that she realized the hijackers'
probable plan for her son's plane.
"Mark, this is your mom," she said in her first message. "It's 9:54
time]. It's a suicide mission, and the hijackers are planning to use your plane
as a target." Today, she corrects herself when she repeats the message: "Of
course I meant to say 'weapon.'"
Her messages were two of the 44 left on Mark's phone in the wake of the
hijacking. One was from Mark's father, Jerry Bingham, in Florida.
"I'm looking at
this big wreck and I'm hoping you're nowhere near it," he said, according to
Hoglan. Others were from rugby teammates, fraternity brothers, business
associates, and boyfriends. And at least one was from his roommate in New York
City, Amanda Mark. "Mark, call me!" she pleaded.
Mounting evidence suggests Mark had access to the information his mother was
trying to get to him. Cockpit recordings support the theory that he and the
others on board took amazing measures in attempting to overcome the hijackers.
The victims of Flight 93 have been heralded as citizen soldiers who, when faced
with then-unimaginable circumstances, gave their own lives to save thousands of
others. Mark, meanwhile, has been singled out by the media as the
It's a distinction that makes many of those who were close to him uneasy. Not
that they were uncomfortable with Mark's sexual orientation. Most of them don't
hesitate to mention his nickname, "Bear Trap." He liked his men big and hairy,
they say. It's just that the moniker "gay hero" says so little about a man who
was as varied as the 44 unheard voice messages his mother found on
The word giant better represents Mark Bingham, his friends might say. But even
then they wouldn't be talking about his 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame.
They would be
describing the life they watched him lead.
One of Alice Hoglan's most vivid memories is from the summer of 1970, when she
split from her husband and moved from Phoenix-the town in which Mark
was born on
May 22 of that year-to Miami. "I ran to the airport with him stuck like a
football under my arm," she says.
Mark-who at the time was called Jerry, after his father-knew that day only
through the stories his mom told him. But it was nevertheless one of the most
significant in his life in that it marked the start of his partnership with his
"We were always a team, and I depended on him way too much," Hoglan
says. "It was
too much emotional strain for a little boy to have a single mom thrashing about
After eight years in Miami, where Mark and his mother lived on a
houseboat in the
shadow of the Orange Bowl-hence Mark's lifelong obsession with the Miami
Dolphins-the pair moved to California.
Soon after her divorce, Hoglan decided to take the K from her son's
Kendall, and call him Kerry-a name she says he hated because "it sounded like a
girl's." So when her son was 10 and about to start a new school in Redlands,
Calif., she gave him an opportunity few people ever have. "I said,
been complaining about your name, and now's the time to change it,
here don't know you yet.'" After thinking about his mom's proposition
for just a
minute, he responded, "OK, I'll be Mark."
"It was a brave and very definite thing. He just chose it," Hoglan remembers.
"And when we got to the classroom and the teacher said 'This is Mark
heard a kid say, in a whining voice, 'Another Mark!'"
The two of them didn't stay anywhere long those first few years in
addition to Redlands, they were in Riverside, before being inspired by one of
Hoglan's favorite authors-John Steinbeck-and moving to Monterey.
There they lived
in the back of a pickup for a few weeks while Hoglan looked for work and, more
than a couple of times, depended on the fish Mark could catch at the wharf for
supper. "I look back on it now and say, 'Wow, that was a really cool,
character-building experience,'" Hoglan says. "But it was pretty
grim. There was
never a lot of money, and that may have been the nadir of our existence."
Mark was a sophomore at Los Gatos High School in Los Gatos, Calif.-where he and
his mom had moved a few years earlier-when he met Todd Sarner. "I think what
brought us together originally is that we didn't fit into any of the cliques,"
says Sarner, also a sophomore at Los Gatos at the time. "We weren't
and we weren't really the nerdy, brainy kids."
Sixteen years later their relationship was so strong that Mark had
been the best
man at Sarner's wedding, and Sarner was the one who dropped Mark off at the San
Francisco airport in late August for what turned out to be his last
flight out of
the city. But Sarner is the first to tell you that their friendship
out that way.
"We kind of had a cantankerous relationship at the beginning," he says. "Back
then a lot of the fights were about what heavy metal band was the
best. Mark was
really into a band called Queensryche, and I was into a Japanese metal band
Sometimes Mark, Sarner, and other friends would collaborate on music
videos-complete with big hair, makeup, and air guitar-that they would videotape
at Mark's house, usually when Hoglan, who is a flight attendant for United
Airlines, was away on a trip. "They would get made up in these outrageous
Metallica and Iron Maiden getups, using my makeup," Hoglan says.
Mark and Sarner also collaborated on the rugby field. And though the
exactly suit Sarner, it was perfect for Mark. As physical a sport as
rugby is, it
no doubt helped cultivate the sense of fearlessness in Mark that Sarner later
addressed in his eulogy on September 22 in Berkeley, Calif. "I tend to believe
that the truth is that Mark did have fear," he said, "but that he took action
Mark traveled overseas with his high school rugby club-breaking several of his
bones along the way-and was recruited to play for the University of California,
Berkeley, where he helped the school win two national championships. But when
19-year-old Mark met 38-year-old Mark Wilhelm, his athletic
have paled next to the seemingly insurmountable task of keeping his sexual
orientation a secret.
Wilhelm had placed a personal ad in a San Jose, Calif., newspaper, and Mark was
one of the men who responded. His letter reflected a tug-of-war between the
gregarious, confident young man everybody knew-the guy who could roll over any
foe on the field while winning the friendship of any face in the crowd-and a
private life he was only beginning to accept himself. "I've got no idea what I
want to do with my life, but I know I'll be a success at something," he wrote
Wilhelm. "I'm naive but smart, funny but shy. I've lots of friends, but I'm
lonely for a buddy that can share my secret."
Mark, who Wilhelm said was in the physical shape "few of us ever see past 19,"
shared more about himself after the two of them met in person. He told Wilhelm
that he had known he was gay since he was 12. He also said, while
a dramatic bent to what was undoubtedly a very real fear, "If my family or
friends ever found out, I'd have to kill myself." Wilhelm adds, "Mark was very
closeted, but it was almost as if he was leaning against the door."
In fact, it was less than two years afterward that Mark came out to Sarner, who
laughs now when he remembers his initial reaction: "When did that happen?" And
only months after that, Mark came out to his mother when they were
California's Sonoma County.
"I was just loving being with my son that day," Hoglan says, pulling her long
hair back with one hand. "Then he said, 'Mom, I have something to tell you, and
I've promised myself that I was going to tell you before the sun went
when he said that, the sun was streaming into our faces-it was setting.
"I was really astounded [when he told me]. I hadn't any idea that my
son was gay,
and up until that time I had been vaguely antigay," Hoglan says. "So with those
words, I began a journey."
Mark was on a journey as well. His best friend and mother knew he was
gay, but to
most people Mark was still the outstanding rugby player, the Chi Psi fraternity
president, and the guy who would get so blasted on vodka and orange
juice at Cal
football games that he sometimes dashed onto the field in often-successful
attempts to tackle the opposing team's mascot. His softer side was no less
remarkable. Friends say he had a Clintonian ability to bring people
out of their
shells, to make them feel like no one else was more important. He made a
concerted effort to be both the life and the lifeblood of all his social
He was also a mama's boy who, along with some college friends, parked
in front of
his mom's house a car that was painted from front fender to back
bumper with the
words ALICE HOGLAN IS A GODDESS. "I don't know where he got that," Hoglan says,
still blushing, with a mixture of embarrassment and pride. "I never
told him that
I was a goddess!"
Mark was fresh out of college and in classic form when in December 1993 he met
Paul Holm at a Christmas party. "I noticed him standing at this table, where he
proceeded to eat a whole bowl of shrimp," Holm says. Mark noticed Holm too and
walked over, stuck out his hand, and with a big grin said, "Hi, I'm
Who are you?" The two of them spent the rest of the party talking
about a number
of things, not the least among them Cal Berkeley, where Holm had also gone to
At 7 o'clock the next morning a telephone call and Mark's voice on
machine woke Holm up. "I don't know if you remember me," the voice said. "It's
Mark from last night, and I wanted to see if you wanted to get together today."
The two of them were together for the next six years.
"We had a very intense and wonderful relationship," says Holm, who shared with
Mark his home in San Francisco's Castro district for five of the
years they were
together. "We did everything from sitting in front of the TV watching
traveling to France once or twice a year."
The couple also had a fondness for feasting on fine food and wine while chewing
on each other's hopes for the future. It was during one such meal
that Mark first
mapped out an ambition to start his own public relations firm. "We spent hours
and hours talking about everything, including business," says Holm, who started
his own firm, the Holm Group, when he and Mark were together. "When I was going
through some memorabilia, I found an old menu where, on the back, we
the potential names for our companies. And there was THE BINGHAM GROUP in big
letters among all the others."
Upon graduating from Cal in 1993 with a degree in social sciences, with an
emphasis in international relations, Mark went to work for high-tech PR
powerhouse Alexander Communications (now Alexander Ogilvy) and later took a job
with 3Com. High-tech PR, like rugby before it, was a perfect fit for
Mark, who as
a teenager knew his Commodore 64 inside and out. And there was no
better place to
ride the rising high-tech wave of success than San Francisco in the
Soon the going got so good that Mark decided to realize the dream he first
outlined on the back of a restaurant menu. The Bingham Group officially opened
for business in 1999 in a loft space Mark shared with a friend's
By focusing on what he knew best-high-tech PR-Mark was able to secure
a number of
clients, hire several employees, and, in May 2000, open his own office on San
Francisco's Lafayette Street.
"At the office-warming party there were probably 200 people, and it took me 20
minutes to get in the door and another 15 minutes to get a spot inside," Hoglan
says. "But by that time in my life I had become much more accustomed to having
Mark be a larger-than-life figure. He wasn't famous, exactly, but he was
extremely popular, and I kind of basked in his reflection."
Derrick Mickle was playing in a flag football game at San Francisco's Dolores
Park when he first ran head-on into Mark. "Here was this huge guy who was just
tearing people up," he says. "And it was kind of frustrating because
I had played
a lot of pickup football growing up and there was always an unspoken rule that
you didn't showboat."
Mickle soon learned that Mark wasn't showing off but that he just "never dumbed
down his game to placate anyone." It wasn't long before Mickle, who
at Vassar College, tossed the idea of a gay rugby team Mark's way.
When the idea
was no more than a "what if," Mark was enthusiastic, he says. But
when Mickle got
serious, Mark became "dead against" the prospect. "He said, 'You'll never get
accepted by the [rugby] union'; 'The guys out there will tear you up'; and 'You
won't ever find enough players.' "
Mickle went ahead without Mark's blessing, and just two months after he first
fielded a "rag-trap of rugby players" for the San Francisco Fog's
in October 2000, Mark had a change of heart. "He came out for a practice and
proceeded to act the same way as when I met him. He just plowed through the
field, leaving a sea of bodies," Mickle says, adding that after the team's
initial response of "What the hell is this guy doing?" Mark's intensity
eventually helped raise the level of everyone's game.
And after practice, "Mark's great, nurturing spirit came through," says Bryce
Eberhart, who was among those Mark ran over on the field that first
went up to everyone and patted them on the back and told them they were doing a
Once again Mark had fallen in step with a program that was just right for that
point in his life. And in the summer of 2001, when the Fog was accepted as a
permanent member of the Northern California Rugby Football Union, he didn't
hesitate to share his enthusiasm in an E-mail to his teammates:
"When I started playing rugby at the age of 16, I always thought that
in other guys would be anathema,Ó he wrote. "I loved the game but knew I would
need to keep my sexuality a secret forever. As we worked and sweated
and ran and
talked together this year, I finally felt accepted as a gay man and a rugby
player. My two irreconcilable worlds came together.
"We have the chance to be role models for other gay folks who wanted to play
sports but never felt good enough or strong enough," he continued. "More
importantly, we have the chance to show the other teams in the league
that we are
as good as they are. Good rugby players. Good partyers. Good sports. Good
Despite the tone of his E-mail, Mark never considered himself a gay
fact, he thought of himself more as a man of action than a man of example. He
supported John McCain's 2000 presidential bid, for instance, despite
senator's stand on gay issues-he opposes hate-crimes legislation and the
Employment Non-Discrimination Act. McCain, who spoke at Mark's September 22
memorial service and calls him "an American hero," tells The Advocate he won
Mark's support in the campaign because "I was straightforward and not your
Says Holm: "Mark was very proud of being a gay man, [but] it wasn't the first
thing he would define himself as."
But whether Mark intended it to be or not, 2001 was turning out to be a
transitional year for him in many ways, including the way in which he
his sexual orientation with the rest of his life.
"The two things in his life that he thought would never come together, did,"
Mickle says, referring to Mark's E-mail to the team. "When they fused, it was
like a lightbulb going off in his head."
After his six-year relationship with Holm ended in 1999, Mark was for the first
time socializing as a single and openly gay man. And, along with Eberhart and
other new friends from the Fog, he liked to mix it up while going out on the
town-maybe stopping by a straight club before hitting a gay bar, such as the Lone
Star Saloon, which uses the slogan "Bears, Bikers, and Mayhem!"
"If we were going to do some sort of nasty shot in a bar and no one
wanted to do
it, Mark was always the first one to give it a try," Eberhart says.
"He would be
the one to eat the worm."
Mickle says Mark was not "straight-acting," as some people have suggested since
September 11. "He was just acting like Mark. Sure, your gaydar would
hit 0 every
time [you saw him], but you would be so wrong."
Things were changing at work as well. Business was so good when Mark opened his
firm that he was basically able to pick and choose what clients he
wanted to work
with, says Peer-Olaf Richter, an account executive who started working for Mark
in January 2001. But by that summer the bottom had fallen out of the technology
market, and the Bingham Group's roster had fallen from six full-time clients to
two. That was incredibly hard for Mark.
"I learned very early on that he was really good at making immediate contact,
chitchat, and building bridges between people," Richter says. "Then, when the
industry turned sour and it got to be much more about hard facts, I don't think
he really enjoyed the profession. Essentially, everything he had
built up in that
short amount of time had basically crumbled and fallen to pieces."
Mark, a man who friends say hated to lose at anything, started to
spend less time
at his San Francisco office. He also was considering relocating
full-time to New
York City, where he already was living part-time and had opened a satellite
office in the Chelsea apartment he shared with Amanda Mark.
And, Richter says, while he and his colleagues were in the office
the loss of clients and the shrinking budgets, Mark was checking in
Las Vegas, Monaco, or Pamplona, Spain-where he took his now-infamous
run with the
bulls. "At the time, we were sitting in the office saying to
ourselves, 'What is
that man doing?' " Richter says.
Hoglan acknowledges that her son was a "wild and unpredictable boss" at times.
She also concedes that there were times that as a mother she wanted to urge him
to settle down. "He spent a lot of money, goofed off with his friends, worked
like a dog, and lived the life that I have always dreamed of," she
says. "And now
I'm just really glad that he did."
Mark spent Monday night, September 10, at Matt Hall's home in Denville, N.J.,
where the two men ate ice cream, watched Monday Night Football, and
while Mark trimmed his goatee in front of the bathroom mirror.
The two met on America Online in June, and after several dates they
spent a week
together in early September at the Southern Decadence festival in New
shy guy who says he "never made the first move," Hall was amazed with the
confidence Mark exuded. "He took me by the hand in front of the Phoenix bar and
said, 'Let's go meet people,' " Hall says. "Then he started going up to people
and saying, 'Hi, I'm Mark Bingham from California. This is Matt from
Their time together had been romantic, but Hall says they had an understanding
that they were to be "just friends." Nevertheless, that Monday night
Mark turned to Hall and asked, "When do we talk about making this relationship
"I just looked at him and said, 'You need to be on this coast
full-time,' " Hall
says, admitting that even though Mark's question took him by surprise, he was
excited about the possibility of a more serious relationship with him.
The tension from Mark's question hung over the men well into the next morning,
and by 7 a.m., when they were racing toward Newark airport, it was
the stressful possibility that Mark was going to miss his flight home to San
Francisco. He ended up being the last to board the plane, getting to
his seat so
late that he had only enough time to make a quick mobile phone call to Hall
before turning off "all electronic devices," as the flight attendants were
"He called me at 7:49 a.m. and said, 'Hi, thanks for driving so crazy to get me
here. I've made the plane, I'm sitting in first class, and I'm drinking a glass
of orange juice,' " Hall says. "I said, 'OK, have a good trip. Give me a call
when you get there.' I never told him how much I loved him," Hall adds. "With
Mark, you were always going to see him again. You were always going
to talk with
Nobody knows for sure what Mark did those two hours after he hung up with Matt
Hall. One can imagine that he ate a first-class breakfast, rummaged through the
newspaper for the latest on the Dolphins, who were scheduled to play
Bills that weekend, and reached across the aisle to introduce himself to his
We do know that at 9:44 a.m. Eastern time, he called his mom. "Hi, Mom, this is
Mark Bingham," he said when she picked up the phone. "I just wanted
to say that I
love you. I am on a flight from Newark to San Francisco, and there
are three guys
on board who've taken over the plane, and they say they have a bomb." It's the
minutes after that call to his mother, those between when the hijackers took
control of the plane and when it crashed in Pennsylvania, that have everyone
Todd Sarner says that one of the most frustrating things he's experienced since
September 11 has been knowing "more than anything I've known in my life" that
Mark was involved in taking the plane down-but then not knowing how
explain how he knows.
"I keep having this image from watching Mark play rugby a couple of years ago,"
he adds. "His team had just kicked the ball, and there were probably 15 people
between Mark and the guy who caught it. And I just remember watching Mark do
something I've seen him do a thousand times-duck down his head and go
crowd fearlessly, like he wasn't even there, and then tackle that guy."
Did Mark Bingham help tackle the terrorists on September 11? Investigators will
be combing through the wreckage of Flight 93 and listening to the cockpit voice
recorder for months and maybe years to find out. But the people who
knew Mark and
watched him live his life say they have all the proof they need.
From the archives of The Advocate
10/23/01: Our Heroes: Mark Bingham
Friends are certain he saved lives by keeping the hijackers from their intended