Pilot Witnesses Flight 93's Final Moments
Pilot's Widow Seeks Answers
Posted: 3:49 p.m. EDT September 19, 2001
Updated: 9:06 a.m. EDT September 20, 2001
PITTSBURGH -- A pilot of a single-engine Piper might have been the last person to see United Flight 93 before it crashed in Somerset County on Sept. 11.
Local pilot Bill Wright (pictured, left) told Team 4 investigator Paul Van Osdol that he thinks that he witnessed a struggle for control of the plane.
Wright was flying over Youngwood, Westmoreland County, and was getting ready to land in Latrobe under order from air traffic control.
Then, an air-traffic controller asked him and his passenger to look out the window.
Wright was flying a Piper Arrow when he spotted a jet crossing behind him -- about three miles away. It was close enough for him and his photographer to see the United Airlines colors.
Wright was flying over Youngwood for about 20 minutes before Flight 93 crashed in Stonycreek Township.
Wright said that he knew that there was a problem when air traffic controllers asked him to give them Flight 93's altitude.
Wright thinks there's only one reason air traffic controllers in Cleveland would have been asking him about the altitude. He said that it was probably because the terrorists had cut off all radio transmissions to air traffic controllers.
"We figured there was a hijacking in progress, and we were seeing it happening, but that's all we knew," Wright said.
Wright got another clue when he and his passenger saw the path that the plane was taking.
"(It) went behind us. (We) lost sight for a while and when it came back (the passenger) said, 'It's turning toward us. Now it's turning away. Now turning back toward us.' So it was rocking its wings.
"It would bank hard left, bank hard right and then back to hard left. We saw it bank three or four times before we got away from it."
Wright said that may have been when several passengers were fighting back against the terrorists.
"The story of the plane being taken over, that fits," Wright said.
Within moments controllers ordered Wright to land immediately.
"That's one of the first things that went through my mind when they told us to get as far away from it as fast as we could -- that either they were expecting it to blow up or they were going to shoot it down, but that's pure speculation," Wright said.
Witness accounts have the plane flying over Johnstown, Pa., before crashing in Stonycreek Township.
Wright said that he wishes that he could have done something about Flight 93, but there wasn't much more he could do in a single-engine Piper.
On Thursday at 3 p.m., a memorial service will be held at the site. It will be attended by Gov. Tom Ridge, the vice president's wife, Lynn Cheney, FBI Director Robert Muller and Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Father Talks About Son, Crash Site
Jerry Bingham said that visiting the wreckage of United Flight 93 in western Pennsylvania is the closest he can get to his lost son.
"It is pretty much all we have. This is where the plane went down. This is where my son is. This is where he died and we have to accept it," said Bingham, of Wildwood, Fla. "It could be worse because there are people who don't know where their family member is."
Mark Bingham, 31, of San Francisco, was one of 44 who died when the plane was hijacked and crashed 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh last week.
Bingham was one of four passengers who called from the plane from cell phones during the hijacking. He called his mother, Alice Hoglan, in California in the moments before the crash and told her that he loved her.
Jerry Bingham said that his son doesn't deserve to be singled out as a hero any more than the other passengers on the flight.
"Everyone on that plane was a hero," said his wife, Mark's stepmother, Karen Bingham.
FEMA Head, Schweiker Visit Somerset Crash Site
Federal Emergency Management Agency director Joe M. Allbaugh and Lt. Gov. Mark Schweiker visited the crash site of United Flight 93 on Wednesday to thank recovery crews for their efforts.
"I am inspired by the work you've done," Schweiker told Red Cross workers.
Added Allbaugh, "You've done yeoman's duty here. ... The entire country appreciated what Pennsylvania has done at the site."
Schweiker -- who also oversees the state's disaster planning and recovery efforts as chairman of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Council -- broke down and wept when asked about rescue efforts.
"I wish we could have done more," he said. He explained that his job typically involves responding to fires and floods -- where there are people who can be helped.
"It was so final last Tuesday," he said.
Schweiker and Allbaugh visited the crash site memorial, were family members visited the day before and left behind photographs and memorabilia for their lost loved ones. He said he was certain that Flight 93's passengers fought their captors and thwarted the hijackers from attacking Washington.
"In the skies over top of Pennsylvania, we began to fight back," he said.
Attorney General John Ashcroft is scheduled to visit the crash site with FBI Director Robert Mueller and Gov. Tom Ridge on Thursday. Lynne Cheney, the wife of Vice President Dick Cheney, is also expected to visit, according to a Red Cross spokeswoman.
Pilot's Widow Seeks Answers
The widow of the co-pilot whose plane went down near Pittsburgh wants to know what happened during the crew's struggle with hijackers.
Melodie Homer of Marlton, N.J., said she wants to hear what's on the cockpit voice recorder, which was recovered after last week's crash in Shanksville, Pa.
"I have to know, because I think sometimes what you imagine is even worse," Melodie Homer said Wednesday on ABC-TV's "Good Morning America."
Leroy Homer, 36, was an Air Force Academy graduate who, as a young boy, passed time at a nearby airport to escape his seven sisters. By age 16, he had a license to fly small planes.
Given his training, Melodie Homer believes her husband would not have let the plane crash into a public building if he could help it.
"He's a military man. He's very brave. He would have done whatever he could do to not have that plane harm any more people," she said.
Passengers on the United Airlines Flight 93, which had left Newark, N.J., bound for San Francisco, made cell phone calls during the flight indicating the pilots had been taken out of the cockpit. One passenger said he and two others were going to try to thwart the hijackers' plans.
All 45 people aboard died when the plane crashed into a rural field in southwestern Pennsylvania.
Melodie Homer said she contacted United shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City to check on her husband's well-being, and was told the airline would try to get a message to him.
When she heard about the crash near Pittsburgh a short time later, she was hopeful about her husband's safety.
"I figured, based on the time he had taken off, he would have been way past Pittsburgh at that point. He would have been somewhere in the Midwest ... ," she said.
Investigators said the plane had gone further west before the hijackers turned it around.
"And then I saw it on CNN myself, (that) his flight number had gone down in Pittsburgh," Melodie Homer said.
The couple had been looking forward to the first birthday of their daughter, now 10 months old.
Melodie Homer said that a memorial service is scheduled at a church in Canada, where she and her husband were married, and a second one is planned for New Jersey.
Leroy Homer, a native of Hauppage, N.Y., was an Air Force reservist and a recruiter for the Air Force Academy.
Penn Hills Woman Escapes WTC Disaster
A Penn Hills, Pa., woman and several colleagues were on a break in an employee orientation on the 61st floor of the World Trade Center's tower number 2 on Sept. 11 when they noticed that something was wrong.
Smoke and papers were flying in the air from tower number one next door.
"It kind of looked like confetti, but I thought, 'Where is the parade and why are the papers so big?'" Michele Brown said.
Brown and the others were then evacuated down as far as the 44th floor, but then told not to leave because of the damage that was done to tower number one.
Then, the second jet hit her building and they were on the move again.
"At some point, I ran into a pregnant lady that was a floor below me," Brown (pictured, left) said. "She had come from the 100th floor and she was struggling. So I was with her and at some points we had to stop and sit down because she was so tired."
They made it outside before tower number two collapsed.
"There was this big dust cloud that kind of overtook me and another woman," Brown said. "We were running to get away from it, but we couldn't. So we kind of just huddled on the ground. I remember looking at her and debris had fallen on her."
Brown eventually made it back to her hotel at about 2 p.m. and called her family in Pittsburgh.
Brown has since talked to the pregnant woman she helped. Her name is Sandra.
The woman and her baby are OK. Brown said that she plans to buy gifts for the baby when he or she is born.
Local Woman's Father, Uncle Missing At WTC
Donna Greer of Belle Vernon, Pa., lost her father and uncle in the attacks last Tuesday on the World Trade Center.
Greer watched the towers collapse without knowing that her father was inside.
Her father, 55-year-old Clyde Johnson, was visiting his brother, 50-year-old Herbert Johnson, in tower number two.
"They were in the second tower, on the 40th to 50th floor," Greer said. "They were the last ones, trying to get everyone out. The next minute, it collapsed. That's the last I've heard."
Greer wrote a poem and dedicated it to her father:
Daddy, you were my light.
I was your reflection.
You were my champion even when I didn't need one.
You were my heart.
I was your soul.
I love you, Daddy.
Please come home.
Greer has posted that poem on her front door and plans to take a copy with her to New York.
"Just to touch the ground he died on, just to do that will be some type of closure for me and my family because I cannot go on like this," Greer said.
Team 4 Probes Baggage Security
A Team 4 investigation showed that when you check your baggage at an airport counter, there is a chance that no one will ever scan it to see what's inside.
The FAA doesn't require all baggage to be scanned for explosives. At Pittsburgh International Airport, only bags deemed suspicious are run through an explosive detection machine.
One local flight attendant said that he can't believe that the FAA hasn't changed that rule in the past week.
"I don't understand why that's not the No. 1 priority," flight attendant Tony Araujo said. "I mean, on Saturday, they confiscated my nail clippers. OK, if that's what you have to do, that's what you have to do. But what about the checked bag situation, you know?"
The airport authority said that airlines are responsible for scanning baggage. The airlines say that they are following FAA guidelines.
Previous Local Stories:
Sept. 18, 2001:
Local Company Wants To Give New York Statue Local WTC Survivor Describes Her Escape
Sept. 17, 2001:
Relatives, Friends Tour Somerset County Crash Site Play Ball! Pittsburghers Love New York
Sept. 16, 2001:
'Let's Roll,' Flight 93 Victim Heard To Say Before Crash
Sept. 15, 2001:
FBI Explains Other Planes At Crash, Local Rescue Team Returns From NYC, Steelers Among Crowd At Vigil
Sept. 14, 2001:
Second Black Box Found At Somerset Site; Governor Leads Vigil
Sept. 13, 2001:
Flight 93 Data Recorder Found
Sept. 12, 2001:
Alleged Partial Flight 93 Cockpit Transcript Obtained FBI Searches New Castle Apartment Pittsburgh International Airport Revamping Security FBI Interested In Local Townhouse, Car Westmoreland County Man Among Crash Victims Munhall Woman's Brother Calls From WTC Rubble
Sept. 11, 2001:
Plane Crashes In Somerset County Flight 93 Passenger Said He Planned Action Cities Knew Plane Was Coming, But Not Where Tearful Ridge Promises Help From Pa. State Watches, Reacts As Attacks Unfold
Copyright 2001 by ThePittsburghChannel. All rights reserved. This material may not be
published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.