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Bicyclists Roll Out Cross-Country Tribute to 9/11 Flight Crews

April 03, 2006|Carla Rivera | Times Staff Writer

On a clear, crisp morning Sunday, Sheri Burlingame huddled in the cold at Dockweiler State Beach, planes from Los Angeles International Airport roaring overhead, and remembered another bright morning five years ago when her husband kissed her goodbye and boarded an airliner headed for L.A.

He would never arrive. Capt. Charles F. Burlingame was piloting American Airlines Flight 77 on Sept. 11, 2001, when it was hijacked and crashed into the Pentagon.

"Chic" Burlingame was one of 33 crew members on four United and American flights hijacked by terrorists that day. On Sunday, at the end of a runway at LAX, family members and colleagues began a journey to honor their memory and those of the nearly 3,000 others who perished in the attacks.

The Airline Ride Across America is a cross-country bicycle ride intended to raise money for the Pentagon Memorial, the Flight 93 National Memorial in Pennsylvania and the World Trade Center Memorial.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday April 05, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
9/11 tribute: An article in Monday's California section about a cross-country bicycle ride to honor 9/11 flight crews said that pilot Mark Clark was making transcontinental flights on a 707 in 2001. Clark was flying mostly 767s.

The five riders who set out will pedal for 33 days through more than a dozen states with stops along the way in Shanksville, Pa., and New York City. They are scheduled to end May 9 at the Pentagon.

"I think it's a wonderful way to pay tribute to all of the crew members," said Burlingame, who lives in Nashville and will drive the support vehicle. "It's an emotional trip but I think a healing process for us."

The ride is the brainchild of Thomas Heidenberger, a US Airways pilot whose wife, Michele, was a flight attendant on Flight 77. Heidenberger, 59, said he got the idea about six months ago, flying out of L.A. for the East Coast on a crystal clear morning of blue skies similar to 9/11.

A triathlete and marathoner, he began seriously preparing in November, quickly winning sponsors and donations of equipment and other support. He set up a website,, to chronicle the ride's progress and hopes to raise $100,000 for each memorial. Just as important, he said, is to recognize the sacrifices of crew members who lost their lives.

"I don't want them to be forgotten," said Heidenberger, who lives near Washington, D.C. "This is an effort to tell their individual stories, because that's never been done before."

Darren Shiroma was one of several active and retired flight attendants who came out Sunday to support the ride. Many were dressed in blue uniforms and wore white ribbons.

"Every day flights take off and land, we have those crew members in our thoughts and it's important that they're never forgotten," said Shiroma, a union representative for United Airlines in Los Angeles. "They died in the line of duty, and with all of the heightened security concerns since 9/11, flight attendants are on the front lines."

Mark Clark, a San Francisco-based pilot for American Airlines, said he needed no persuading to join the ride. In 2001, he was flying transcontinental flights on a 707 from the West Coast to New York and Boston. It could just as easily have been his plane that was targeted, he said.

"For a while I had been thinking that the lives of the crew members had sort of got lost in the shuffle," Clark said. "I'm an avid cyclist, so when I heard about the ride, I thought what a great way to memorialize them."

Though he is an experienced long-distance cyclist, the ride will be a challenge, Clark said. The participants plan to travel at least 100 miles and as many as 160 miles a day during the first two weeks.

They will take a southerly route to the Dallas-Fort Worth area then head northeast, where they expect to hit hilly terrain through Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia. A different crew member will be honored each day, and one flight will be honored each week.

The other riders are Robert McGee, who works in passenger services for US Airways in Tampa, Fla.; Paul Guttenberg, a pilot for American Airlines who lives in Davis, Calif.; and Rob Zettel, a pilot for United Airlines based in Washington, D.C.

The road to the Pentagon will be especially rough for Heidenberger and Burlingame.

"The last leg will be the most emotional," Burlingame said.

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