Our Heroes

BY Mubarak Dahir

September 11 2011 4:00 AM ET

Father Mychal F. Judge XLRG (DO NNOT USE) | ADVOCATE.COMMark Bingham
San Francisco

Friends are certain he saved lives by keeping the hijackers from their intended target.

Evidence suggests that some passengers aboard United Airlines Flight 93 struggled with the hijackers, successfully foiling their plan to ram the plane into a target of national significance. And friends and family of Mark Bingham say it wasn’t a coincidence that the 31-year-old public relations executive was onboard the aircraft that crashed outside Pittsburgh.

“There is no doubt in my mind that Mark is a hero and did everything in his power to keep the plane from hurting innocent people,” says San Francisco resident Paul Holm, 40, Bingham’s former partner. Holm cites two incidents in which Bingham overpowered would-be muggers, one of whom was even armed with a gun. “Mark saved my life at least once, probably twice, in the past,” Holm says, “and I know he saved countless others” by his heroics on Flight 93.

At a September 17 San Francisco memorial for Bay Area victims, California senator Barbara Boxer singled out Bingham for praise as an American hero. Boxer also presented a folded U.S. flag to Holm in Bingham’s honor.

Holm met Bingham in December 1993, at a Christmas party thrown by a mutual friend. “At 7 a.m. the next morning my phone rang, and it was Mark, calling for a date.”

He describes his former boyfriend as a handsome, confident, and competitive man who loved sports and played on a gay rugby team. “He hated to lose — at anything,” Holm recalls.

A graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, Bingham was a strapping 6-foot-4, 225-pound man who, Holm says, moved comfortably in many circles. “At a French restaurant, he loved foie gras and sauternes, but he was also happy sitting on the couch with a bur­ger, watching the football game.”

Peer-Olaf Richter, an account manager at the Bingham Group, the public relations company Bingham founded, says “being in the office with him was like being on the field with him. He was daring professionally as well as physically.” Richter too is convinced that Bingham would have been involved in any attempt to thwart the hijackers.

Another friend, Mike Eccles of Oakland, Calif., describes Bingham as fearless and recalls being riveted by Bingham’s stories of recently running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. During the adventure, Bingham was gored by one of the bulls. Says Eccles: “Mark loved telling that story and wore the scar as a souvenir.”