Relatives of Flight 93 victims say cockpit recording proves passengers were heroes

Friday, April 19th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PLAINSBORO, N.J. (AP) _ Relatives of those killed in the Sept. 11 crash of United Flight 93 said it was hard to tell whether the muffled voices they heard on the cockpit recording were their loved ones.

Still, after listening to the recording in two private sessions Thursday, they were certain that each passenger had died a hero.

``There were 40 heroes on board Flight 93,'' said Alice Hoglan, mother of passenger Mark Bingham.

Forty-four people were killed when the airliner, bound from Newark to San Francisco, crashed in a field in rural western Pennsylvania.

Flight 93 has taken on special meaning as the only one of the four planes hijacked Sept. 11 that took no lives on the ground. There is evidence passengers fought back after one cried, ``Let's roll!''

``I can say that listening to the tape confirmed for me that there was a heroic teamwork effort,'' said Hoglan of Los Gatos, Calif., whose son called from the air before the plane crashed.

The listening sessions, held in a central New Jersey hotel, marked the first time the federal government played cockpit tapes for relatives of victims from any U.S. plane crash. FBI Director Robert Mueller approved the unprecedented sessions at the request of family members.

Relatives said they were asked not to discuss details of the recording because the information could jeopardize the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, who is accused of being an accomplice in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Many who listened to the recording opted not to talk to reporters, and were escorted out by police. Some who chose to spoke emphasized the heroism they felt passengers demonstrated.

``Obviously, the enormity of the tragedy is here, but it's a very proud moment,'' said Hamilton Peterson, son of passenger Donald A. Peterson. ``These were clearly people who, when confronted with the unthinkable, digested and acted upon it in no time at all.''

Reporters were barred from the sessions, and officials have declined to offer details on the contents of the 31-minute tape.

Federal agents interviewed relatives at the sessions, asking about their loved ones' lives, the effect of the crash on the survivors and the families' views on the death penalty, Hoglan said.

A transcript of the cockpit recording was put up on a screen, and relatives listened to the tape through headphones.

Thomas Burnett, whose son Tom was on the flight, said he heard the cries on the cockpit tapes.

``A lot of it we couldn't follow very well,'' Burnett said.

Federal authorities had sent a letter to families asking them to bring photos of victims to the hotel and give an impact statement that can be used during Moussaoui's trial, said Kenneth Nacke, whose brother, Louis Joseph Nacke, died on the flight.

Grief counselors were on hand, and federal authorities emphasized that relatives could leave the sessions at any time.

``They said it was very graphic detail of what went on in the cockpit. They said it was horrifying,'' said Mitchell Zykofsky, whose stepfather John Talignani died in the crash. ``That was enough for me to decide that I didn't want to hear it.''

Federal officials told relatives the recording would be played at Moussaoui's trial, said Deena Burnett, Tom Burnett's wife.

``I think when you hear it this fall, it will confirm that the American spirit on Sept. 11 was best represented on Flight 93,'' she said.