PR Exec Among Dead on Flight That Fought Back
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Holmes Report

PR Exec Among Dead on Flight That Fought Back

Mark Bingham, president of technology public relations firm The Bingham Group, was among the passengers on doomed United Airlines flight 93.

Paul Holmes

NEW YORK—Holland Carney recalls the day when Mark Bingham, then an account executive in the San Francisco office of Alexander Communications, showed up at work with a black eye. When she asked him what had happened, he told her that the previous night two men had attempted to mug him. He had fought them off.
That was five years ago, before Carney—formerly head of Alexander’s San Francisco office, became a Laguna Beach-based consultant, before Alexander became Alexander Ogilvy, and before Mark Bingham became one of a handful of heroes on board United Airlines flight 93, which crashed Tuesday morning in a field in southwestern Pennsylvania.
Among those who knew Bingham—Carney included—there is no doubt that Bingham reacted to the hijacking of the 757 jet the same way he reacted to that mugging five years earlier, that he was among the heroic few who fought back against their attackers, bringing the plane down hundreds of miles from its intended target.
“There was a kind of fearlessness about him,” says Carney.
Says Catherine Hatch, who worked with Bingham at Alexander, “The first thing I thought when I heard was that if I had been on the plane I would have felt so safe knowing he was there.”
Ken Montgomery attended the University of California at Berkeley with Bingham, but did not really get to know him until they worked together at Alexander, where they became best friends. “The fact that they think he went down a hero, that would be typical of Mark,” he says. “The funny thing is, if he had overpowered the hijackers and they had all lived, an hour or two later they would have been buying him a beer. He had that kind of infectious personality.”
Bingham graduated from Berkeley, worked briefly in sales for a cell phone company, and joined Alexander Communications in San Francisco in 1994, working on a number of accounts, including Hewlett-Packard. He was, by all accounts, a natural. “It was as if he was born to be a tech PR guy,” says Carney. “The phone has been ringing off the hook and I have gotten hundreds of e-mails from people who worked with Mark, both PR people and reporters. I got a call from a guy at PC World and the editors there knew him and respected him.”
Stacey Wueste was first a colleague of Bingham’s at Alexander and then a client while at Hewlett-Packard. Says Wueste, now a senior director of PR at Siebel Systems, “He used his intellect to make sure he was giving the media what they wanted as well as giving clients what they needed. He was able to build a great rapport with everyone he worked with.”
“He was my first boss,” says Hatch. “I learned everything from him. He was terrific with the media; he had the kind of personality that people were drawn to him.”
“His greatest strength was his energy,” says Montgomery. “He was one of those people who believes that failure is not an option. He was extremely competitive, but never in a way that he wanted to crush someone else. He was competitive in a way that he was always trying to see how high he could go. He had a real can-do approach.”
That approach extended beyond his professional life and into his personal life. He was an avid rugby player, although he struggled to reconcile his love of sports with the fact that he was gay. He had recently joined a gay rugby club, the San Francisco Fog, writing to his teammates: “When I started playing rugby at the age of 16, I always though that my interest in other guys would be an anathema—completely repulsive to the guys on my team…. 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.”
He also loved fine wine and the nightlife of New York city, and had recently returned from a trip to Europe, where he ran with the bulls in Pamplona.
In 1997, Bingham left Alexander and joined Burson-Marsteller, where he worked for about a year before joining 3Com, where he was a public relations manager. The Bingham Group was launched in 1999 in San Francisco, and opened a New York office in March of this year. Known for its fun and engaging work environment, clients include 3Com, Adflight,, NetSanity, Tenrec, and
“To work for Mark was probably to work for someone who would give you a sense that you were a truly valuable person,” says Montgomery. “He was very empowering.”
Bingham was one of three passengers on United flight 93 who placed calls to loved ones after the hijacking. His mother, Alice Hoglan, of Los Gatos, Cal., described the call from her son in an interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer:
“At 6:45 yesterday morning, the phone rang, a friend of the family answered it, and ran to get my sister-in-law. He said to her, ‘I want to let you know that we—that I love you.’ And Kathy told him, ‘Well, we love you, Mark.’ And then she went to get me, and I ran to the phone.
“Mark said, ‘Mom, this is Mark Bingham.’ He gave me his last name, he was so rattled. He said, ‘I want to let you know that I love you.’ I told him that we all love him. He said that he was on United flight 93 from Newark to San Francisco and that there were three guys who had taken over the aircraft, and they say they have a bomb.
“I asked him who are these people, and he seemed distracted, didn’t hear the question, didn’t answer. Then he came back on and said, ‘It’s true.’ I said, ‘I believe you.’ I told him I love him, and then it went dead. He was not calling from his cell phone, he was calling from the air phone, probably at his seat. He was seated at the back of first class, toward the front of the aircraft. It was a pretty light load that day.
“We were hoping that Mark had a chance to perhaps work with other passengers to thwart the—the intent of these hijackers.”
Later, Hoglan told co-host Charles Gibson, “We know that Mark was a very active and—and take-charge guy. He was a large man. It’s likely, based on things that we’ve heard, that he was able to participate in at least thwarting the—the efforts of these people that took control of the aircraft. We know that of the four aircraft that were hijacked, his was the only one that didn’t reach its target, and we hope that Mark was able to take an active stand against these folks in any case.”
Ken Montgomery got out of the public relations business a year ago, after a stint as vice president of corporate communications for CenterBeam, an Internet start-up. He moved to Malawi in eastern Africa, where he works at an orphanage for children whose parents were victims of the AIDS pandemic, teaching mathematics and geometry and English. He will return there soon, but he will not forget his friend.
“I always believed that when were 50 or 60 years old we would be at a ball game together and something would happen and he would say something to me and we would both break into hysterics, and no one else would know what we were laughing about. He was that kind of friend.”
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